Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Horror That Made Me Happy in 2016

Well, I'm certainly not going to be the first person to point out that 2016 has been less than kind to a sizable portion of the population.   We voted in a despotic reality-show host to lead our country, heroes of geek/fringe culture are dying off before we can even finish reading the last person's obituary, and there's an overall sense of anxiety over what 2017 might bring us.

With that in mind, I think it's important to remember those things that made us happy over the last year.  So for the second year in a row, I give you the things that made me smile in the horror world.  As with last year, these aren't necessarily things that came out in 2016, but they are things that I first experienced this year.  Enjoy!

Horror in Film

The Witch

I was a bit tentative going into this movie as it was getting a ton of buzz, and the last couple of similarly hyped movies suffered from setting up expectations that were too high.  This was definitely not the case for Robert Eggers' feature film debut.  This flick sets a tone of dread that does not let up for the duration of its running time.  Very creepy movie that completely lived up to the hype.

Ginger Snaps


I know I'm about 15 years late on this one, but damn this was a good movie.  I mentioned when I first saw it that even though I'm not and never have been a teenage girl, I felt like this movie gave me a great glimpse at the relationship between two teen sisters, wrapped in plenty of gore and dark humor.  This is one of the best werewolf movies I've seen in quite some time.

Phantasm: RaVager

I was so terrified that this was going to suck.  I'd been keeping up with the production on this sequel as Phantasm is one of my favorite franchises of all time.  But knowing that they filmed bits and pieces over the course of a year with virtually no budget, and without Coscarelli in the director's chair for the first time in the series, I had a bad feeling Angus Scrimm's swan song might end the series on a sour note.  Fortunately, I was all kinds of wrong.  Sure, the lack of budget was evident in some laughable special effects, but the script was strong enough to overcome that, and it was just amazing to get one last road trip with Reggie, Mike, and Jody.  A very satisfying end to the series.

The Invitation

This is the best move I saw in 2016, and by far the biggest surprise.  I'd heard a lot about this movie by word of mouth, but I wasn't sure I'd dig a movie involving a cult.  Cults in movies tend to get on my nerves as I'm usually screaming at the protagonists to just get the fuck away from these people.  The Invitation, however, gives us a heartbreaking premise that makes the appeal of the group in question believable, and without giving too much away the twists in this movie are earned and logical.  And the final shot of the movie may be the first in which my jaw literally dropped.  This is an amazing movie and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Horror in Literature

Shirley Jackson

Why the hell did it take me this long to discover Shirley Jackson?  After reading a feature about Jackson, in Rue Morgue magazine to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday, I read both The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.  Hill House is a master class in psychological horror, making you constantly guess what's real and what's in the protagonists' minds.  I think I enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle just a bit more, however, if for no other reason that in having the best climax of any book I've read in recent memory.  Shame on me for not reading this sooner, but this is definitely a case of better late than never.

My Best Friend's Exorcism

In addition to horror, I'm also a big John Hughes fan, so Grady Hendrix's novel hit a couple of nerves for me.  Set in the late 80s, Exorcism tells the story of two best friends who have to navigate high school while also contending with the fact that one of them has been possessed by a demon.  It's a heavier read than I thought it would be, but it also leans on the hope that friendship is something that may be altered irrevocably but still manage to persevere.  My only real concern is that this is a book written by a man that focuses heavily on the relationships between girls, so I hope he at least got some input from women in his life when he wrote it.

The Witches

The Salem witch trials have always fascinated me, primarily because it was difficult to wrap my head around how an entire town could lose its mind to the point where it allowed the indictment and execution of a large group its own citizens on the charge of witchcraft.  Author Stacey Schiff takes a very deep dive into the class dynamics, politics, and religious factors that intertwined in such a way to lead to the deaths of nineteen men, women, and children.

Horror Podcasts
Since there will be some overlap with podcasts I mentioned last year, this year I'm going to focus on specific episodes.

Stuff You Missed in History Class--Interview with Victoria Price
This interview gives us a peek at Vincent Price that will only make us appreciate him more as a complex, flawed, fascinating man.

The Skeleton Crew--Phantasm Retrospective
A multi-episode series devoted to every episode of the Phantasm series, including the fifth and final entry that came out this year.  They give it the full Skeleton Crew treatment, including a significant amount of time spent talking about Reggie Bannister's "skullet," but in the end I was happy to hear that they liked more about the series than they didn't.

Exploding Heads--Now That's Horror! 40 Years of Horror Favorites
One of my favorite things about horror podcasts is getting to hear people be passionate about the genre, and this episode is nothing but three die hard fans geeking out over their favorite movies from 1976-2016.  One of my favorite listens of the year.

Girls Will Be Ghouls--Halloween Special
This episode is a great cross section of what makes Ashlee and Zena such a fun listen.  I got to live vicariously through Ashlee's trip to Fantastic Fest and got even more excited about Jordan Peele's upcoming horror flick Get Out.  Throw in some fun discussion about the Halloween franchise and a couple of movie reviews, and you'll see why Girls Will Be Ghouls is a damn fine show.

Faculty of Horror--Alien Retrospective part 1/Alien Retrospective part 2
Even as one of the few people who didn't mind Alien: Resurrection, I didn't think there'd be anything terribly interesting way to discuss it at length.  Hosts Andrea and Alex proved me wrong, so just imagine what they had to contribute to the more well-regarded entries.  They had so much to cover, this is one of their first two-part episodes, and the extra time pays off.

Horror Writing
I had a few exciting developments this year in relation to my own writing about horror, so please indulge me for a bit of self back-patting.

Women in Horror Month Interviews
I was lucky enough to do two interviews with women who I really admire in the horror community this past February.  My first interview was with Ashlee Blackwell, found of Graveyard Shift Sisters and co-host of the Girls Will Be Ghouls podcast.  My second interview was with Andre Subisatti and Alexandra West, horror academics and hosts of the Faculty of Horror podcasts.  I definitely recommend checking these out if you haven't yet, and keep an eye out in 2017 as I have some more fun interviews lined up.

Catalog From the Beyond
In addition to writing on here, I've also started contributing to The Daily Dead for a regular column called Catalog From the Beyond, in which I get into some of our horror icons' lesser known films.  I've done some older stuff, like Bela Lugosi's White Zombie, some newer stuff like David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, and some stuff in between.  Take a look I think you'll get a kick out reading them.  I know I've gotten a kick out of writing them.

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