Suspiria (2018)

By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 29, 2009

*AVAILABLE ON VOD/BLU-RAY/DVD*
Released Oct. 26, 2018
Rated R – 2hr 32min
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz


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Berlin 1977, and the city is in the throes of political strife, eventfully known as ‘The German Autumn’. It is in this heated moment that bright-eyed American Suzy Bannion (Johnson) arrives to join the renowned Markos Dance Company, under the instruction of famous instructor Madame Blanc (Swinton). Meanwhile, star pupil Patricia (Moretz) has gone missing, but not before informing her therapist Dr. Klemperer (also Swinton) that she suspects the dance troupe is a front for a coven of witches. As his suspicions lead him further into harm’s way, it would seem the women of Markos Co. may be interested in Suzy for more than her preternatural talent.


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I wish I could clearly say, but I’ll try my best. Suspiria certainly does not lack for ambition – its epic runtime, unorthodox story structure, elaborate dance sequences, hallucinatory visuals, multi-faceted intertwining allegorical narrative – easily surpasses, among similar films, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan in its challenging difficulty to decipher. It is not an easy watch, nor does it have any intention to be.


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Narrative: Uhhhh…….Ok. Ok – gotta figure something out here. Alright, here it goes: Suspiria begins with a mock playbill card informing the audience that the story will be presented in six acts and an epilogue, and if that strikes you as an odd way to begin a film, then buckle up – it only gets weirder from here. There’s a lot of story to unpack, and some of it is presented without context only to supply something of an explanation later, provided the viewer can keep it all in mind as the movie rolls on – I felt as if I should have taken a primer class before diving into this. However, despite its sometimes disorienting subplots and bewildering structure, the story at the heart of the matter isn’t all that complicated and is what could have been initially expected – an expansion upon the plot of Dario Argento’s 1977 original. There’s more characters and more plot points, all with greater depth and detail than the source material, and when focused, illustrates a great untapped potential to the mythos of Argento & writing partner Daria Nicoldi’s Three Mothers series of ancient malevolent witches installed in high places across Western civilization. There’s a lot of superfluous and indulgent stuff here though – it may supply greater rewatch value or it may be really extra; time will ultimately sort that one out. Also, it’s a ‘big twist’ film, but as you watch it, it becomes obvious that there’s going to be one, or everything would just play out as intended, and that’s rarely how stories work. Whether that big twist sticks the landing is debatable, but it’s revealed during one of the most bizarre climactic sequences I can recall, so I’ll be damned if I know for sure.

Acting: If I had gripes about the narrative, I have none here. Firstly, Tilda Swinton is amazing in this. She’s one of those with a reputation for generally elevating anything she’s in, as she does with her more orthodox role as instructor Madame Blanc, but it’s her part as octogenarian male psychologist and WWII survivor Dr. Klemperer that’s a showstopper. Unrecognizable and fully immersed, she becomes a frail and guilt-ridden old man who believes he has enough fight left in him for a bid at personal redemption from the ghosts of the past, but grossly underestimates the nature of what he’s up against. That’s not to undersell Dakota Johnson though. Unfairly maligned from her involvement in the Fifty Shades trilogy, which I intentionally have not seen, she puts forth a physically demanding performance both bold and nuanced that should rightly erase any doubt anyone may have had in her abilities. The rest of the supporting cast, led largely by Mia Goth, all do a fine job as well. That’s a good thing too, because Suspiria – with its lofty aspirations – would have been doomed on arrival with any weak links in the acting chain.


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Before this, I would have scoffed at the idea of a scene with someone being danced to death. Not now though.


Direction: Here is where the comparison between this version and Argento’s original must be made. Argento’s was visually stunning – a colorful and dreamy atmosphere periodically shattered by sudden outbreaks of horriffic violence. That creation of discomfort through the juxtaposition of beauty and atrocity is a hallmark of Italian horror cinema of its age, as defined by Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, and others. Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, on the other hand, exists in an ugly and brutish world of stark and largely drab colors, and seems generally more interested in ferocity than beauty. In fact, the difference between the two films is so great that they barely have anything in common beyond the shared premise and, I never thought I’d use this phrase, but Dario Argento made the more coherent version. That’s not a failure on Guadagnino’s part though, because it’s extremely obvious that his was made to be difficult to consume and digest. And despite the bleak color palette, there are a great many standout sequences within – often using dance and contortion to create hypnotic and cryptic imagery – but perhaps none more so than the mind-melting climax. It’s even difficult to find words to explain – perhaps if Andy Warhol and Ken Russell collaborated on hosting a bloody nudist Grand Guignol sativa-soaked rave in a cobblestone crypt? It’s baffling.

Horror Elements: While there’s little in the way of tension or suspense throughout Suspiria – opting instead for anxiety and contemplative unease – there’s certainly some top-notch gore FX. One sequence in particular – outside of its splatter-filled sixth act – involves an unfortunate dissident in the dance troupe being literally broken every which way through a spell cast via ritualistic dance that is absolutely brutal to watch. It’s among the worst beatings ever adminstered in the history of film – no joke. It’s representative of the way that the movie is not here to play around. There’s also some pretty notable makeup work down the final stretch – the demonic servant of the lead witch, in particular.


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Mother Susperiorum’s little helper.


Music: One of the best-known attributes of Suspiria is that it is scored by legendary Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, and that fact is apparent far more than expected throughout the film. There are multiple scenes where actual songs with lyrics play out as opposed to the typical musical accompaniment, and the effect can be rather jarring, as Yorke’s vocals compete for attention with the action and dialogue on screen. While I assume Yorke merely delivered exactly what was requested from him, it’s especially distracting during the movie’s bonkers finale, although this is totally the type of flick where the lyrics are likely carrying some kind of additional subtext on top of everything else going on because it has no qualms with being excessive.

TL;DR: Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is assuredly not for everyone, horror fans or otherwise. While the story is straightforward enough, it is rife with details that are difficult to follow or decipher. The ambition is admirable though, and if you have any interest in it at all, you should see it, even if you ultimately hate it. It’s ironic that a remake would deliver something so unquestionably unique, even if it makes for a difficult watch.

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On the Radar – The Wind

By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 15, 2019

The prairie pioneer is an often romanticized figure in American lore – credited with building a nation out of wilderness with little more than grit and can-do spirit. While they did indeed persevere over time, the reality is hardly the simplistic and infantilized history as taught in our public schools. Instead, apart from those who were attracted by gold rushes or were running away from their checkered pasts (or looking to expand them), many were naive youth, seeking a seemingly easy opportunity and drawn by the promise of a homestead – of 160 acres of land and bountiful freedom; just show up, and it’s yours. Generally, what awaited them was the desolate despair of the colonist – lonesome, under-experienced, and far from help in a world that wasn’t theirs and that bitterly resisted their attempts to claim it.


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This appears profoundly unpleasant.


It’s in that more harsh and unforgiving realm that Emma Tammi’s The Wind is set, an exercise in utter isolation of the kind that few modern Americans could even bear to imagine. The film stars Caitlin Gerard (Insidious: The Last Key) as Lizzie, a homesteader wife reeling from the grief of stillbirth and left for days on end by her oblivious husband who must regularly travel to the nearest yet very far depot for supplies. This leaves her responsible for all their farm’s many chores, and her only company are her overly needy ‘neighbors’, Emma & Gideon – a mile away yet still burdensome. It would be bad enough to be lonely, grieving, neglected, over-worked, and irritated, but then, an ill and nebulous presence blows through on the wind, the area’s reverend begins speaking of demons, and Emma’s mind begins to descend into psychosis. It wouldn’t be horror if things didn’t get worse from there.

The first feature from documentary filmmaker Emma Tammi and an expansion of screenwriter Teresa Sutherland’s short The Winter, The Wind opened to strong reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September. Produced by Soapbox Films (Southbound), Divide/Conquer (Cam), and Mind Hive Films, the movie will be coming to select theaters and major VOD outlets on April 5th from one of the leading distributors of horror content, IFC Midnight (The Babadook, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Pledge, and many more).

Here’s the trailer:



In other On The Radar news, previous feature The Laplace’s Demon will be coming to Amazon Prime Video and VOD on February 22nd.


On the Radar


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On the Radar – Lords of Chaos

By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 8, 2019

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If a biopic of your life story is also a horror film, you may have made some questionable decisions. Such is the case of infamous Norwegian black metal band Mayhem (have you heard of the band that used a photo of their lead singer’s suicide as an album cover? That’s them). Pioneers of a homegrown music scene that loathed attention yet reveled in outrage, the members of its most notorious band lived up to their name, starting with outrageous stage shows that involved self-mutilation, moving on to a spree of church arsons, before finally culminating in murder. An internal power struggle ultimately resulted in one member killing another in a knife fight, which isn’t even the previously mentioned murder, and the band is still active today. If they didn’t want attention from normies, they had a peculiar way of showing it.


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“Just burning down another church, or as we like to call it, Saturday night.”


Lords of Chaos is the first feature from prominent music video director Jonas Åkerlund in almost a decade. He’s seemingly made something for nearly every platinum-selling musician around – from Lady Gaga and Coldplay to Rammstein and Ozzy – and assumably, this is the music story that he most wants to tell (he himself being a founding member of Swedish metal band Bathory). Rory Culkin (to help keep track of Culkin brothers, he’s the one from Scream 4 and Signs) stars as Mayhem founding guitarist Euronymous, whose penchant for both projecting image and generating controversy would lead to opening a record store, launching a record label, and growing his band’s scandalous profile. However, he finds his credibility challenged by fellow black metal musician Varg, played by Emory Cohen, leading to an escalating feud and competition of metal legitimacy that will eventually end in bloodshed. As the film admits to be based on both truth and lies, it’s likely impossible at this point to decipher where reality ends and legend begins, but Lords of Chaos is set on depicting a blood-curdling tale of a youth culture scene that descends into misanthropic destruction.

If this sounds compelling, then the good news is that the film is slated for a limited theatrical release from distributor Gunpowder & Sky a month from today on February 8th. Whether or not it will receive a same-day VOD release or if that will happen at a later time remains to be seen – it’s common for these buzzed-about indie films to get a simultaneous roll-out. In the meanwhile, here’s a brief teaser trailer for Lords of Chaos.



In other On The Radar news, Braid will be getting a limited theatrical+VOD release from Blue Fox Entertainment on Feb. 1 while IFC Midnight has Pledge coming out on Jan. 11th, this upcoming Friday.


On the Radar


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Horror Watch – January 2019

By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 1, 2019

January has traditionally been regarded as a dumping ground for new movie releases, but with a greater quantity of films being produced now more than ever before, distributors have scheduled quality titles throughout the entire calendar in an effort to get some distance from competition. There’s also people – like me – who have a demand for new horror content year-round. With that, here’s 11 of the most notable releases for this month.


The Demonologist – Jan. 1

Directed by J.M. Stelly
Starring Brian Krause, Jared Bankens, Lara Grice

Official Synopsis:
Detective Damien Seryph investigates a string of murders that connects to a group trying to bring forth the 4 King Demons of Hell. Damien’s past connects him to those involved and will force him to become “The Demonologist”.

Available on VOD


Lifechanger – Jan. 1

Unrated – 1hr 24min
Directed by Justin McConnell
Starring Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Elitsa Bako

Official Synopsis:
Drew has to shapeshift, or face painful death. He has to find someone and make a copy. He becomes them, and they die horribly. Enter Julia, the object of Drew’s affection. How can he make things right when he’s never the same person for very long? LIFECHANGER follows one shapeshifter’s twisted quest to repair the damage he’s caused, while leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

Available on VOD.


Escape Room – Jan. 4

Rated PG-13
Directed by Adam Robitel
Starring Taylor Russell, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine

Official Synopsis:
Six adventurous strangers travel to a mysterious building to experience the escape room — a game where players compete to solve a series of puzzles to win $1 million. What starts out as seemingly innocent fun soon turns into a living nightmare as the four men and two women discover each room is an elaborate trap that’s part of a sadistic game of life or death.

Coming to theaters everywhere.


Rust Creek – Jan. 4

Rated R
Directed by Jen McGowan
Starring Hermione Corfield, Denise Dal Vara, Jeremy Glazer

Official Synopsis:
An overachieving college student gets lost on her way to a job interview. A wrong turn leaves her stranded deep in the Kentucky forest. The woman must defend herself against the harsh elements and a band of ruthless outlaws. She is forced into an uneasy alliance with a strange loner who has unknown intentions.

Coming to limited theaters and VOD.


The Vanishing – Jan. 4

Rated R – 1hr 41min
Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm
Starring Gerard Butler, Peter Mullan, Ólafer Darri Ólafsson

Official Synopsis:
On an uninhabited island 20 miles from the rugged Scottish coast, three lighthouse keepers arrive for their 6 week shift. As they settle into their normal quiet routine, something unexpected, potentially life-changing occurs – they stumble upon gold. What follows is a tense battle for survival, fed by isolation, paranoia and greed, leading three honest men down a path to destruction.

Coming to limited theaters and VOD.


The 6th Friend – Jan. 11

Directed by Letia Miller
Starring Jamie Bernadette, Chantelle Albers, Dominque Swain

Official Synopsis:
Six college best friends throw their own private graduation party that goes terribly wrong when an uninvited guest arrives. Five years later, the girls gather once again and endure a night of far more horror and bloodshed.

Coming to limited theaters.


Pledge – Jan. 11

Directed by Daniel Robbins
Starring Zachery Byrd, Phillip Andre Botello, Aaron Dalla Villa

Official Synopsis:
Three friends get the chance to live the college dream when they’re invited to join an elite fraternity—but first they’ll have to survive the hazing from hell. Freshman social misfits Ethan, David, and Justin are desperate to improve their terminally uncool reputations by pledging one of their university’s prestigious Greek houses. When every frat on campus turns them down, they are unexpectedly recruited by a shadowy social club offering them access to an exclusive world of raging parties, eligible coeds, and VIP social status. The catch? A sadistic initiation ritual that goes from depraved to deadly over the course of 48 booze- and blood-soaked hours.

Featured in our On The Radar series.
Coming to limited theaters and VOD.


Dry Blood – Jan. 15

1hr 23min
Directed by Kelton Jones
Starring Clint Carney, Jaymie Valentine, Kelton Jones

Official Synopsis:
In a rural mountain town, an unstable drug addict must unravel a surreal murder mystery as he’s terrorized by malevolent ghosts, a deranged sheriff, and the frightening hallucinations from his withdrawl.

Coming to VOD & Blu-ray/DVD.


Glass – Jan. 18

Rated PG-13 – 2hr 9min
Directed by M. Night Shymalan
Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy

Official Synopsis:
Sequel to Unbreakable & Split – David Dunn pursues the superhuman figure of The Beast, while the shadowy Elijah Price – Mr. Glass – holds secrets critical to both men.

Coming to theaters everywhere.


The Final Wish – Jan. 24

1hr 35min
Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr.
Starring Lin Shaye, Michael Welch, Melissa Bolona

Official Synopsis:
From the creator of Final Destination – After the death of his father, Aaron returns home to help his grief-stricken mother and to confront his past. Going through his dad’s belongings, he comes across a mysterious item that is more than it seems.

Coming to limited theaters.


Animas – Jan. 25

1hr 23min
Language: Spanish
Directed by Laura Alvea & Jose F. Ortuño
Starring Ángela Molina, Luis Bermejo, Iván Pellicer

Official Synopsis:
Alex is a girl with a strong personality. She’s very close to her best friend Abraham, a shy, insecure boy as a consequence of his complex relationship with his parents. Everything changes when Abraham’s father dies in a bizarre accident. From this moment on, Alex will be thrust into a mind-bending trip where the line between reality and nightmares will start to start to blur.

A Netflix exclusive release.


Don’t Leave Home – Jan. 31

1hr 26min
Directed by Michael Tully
Starring Anna Margaret Hollyman, Lalor Roddy, Helena Bereen

Official Synopsis:
An American artist’s obsession with a disturbing urban legend leads her to an investigation of the story’s origins at the crumbling estate of a reclusive painter in Ireland.

A Shudder exclusive release.


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Top 10 of 2018

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 30, 2018

With nearly 50 movies to consider, these are what I decided upon as the finest of the year. However, despite everything I watched, there are some notable exceptions. We didn’t launch until Sept. 15th, and while a solid effort was made at playing catch-up, the clock ran out and a few managed to slip through. Those would be Suspiria, The House That Jack Built, Revenge, The Clovehitch Killer, Incident in a Ghostland, and Anna & The Apocalypse. We tend to focus on streaming offerings here at Terror Spective, so those limited theatrical and VOD releases tend to fall by the wayside. Got no excuses for Revenge though – it got cut in favor of Christmas Horror Week, but it’ll get covered very soon. Also, I’m going to skip making a worst-of list – I reason that the actual worst horror films of 2018 were ones I purposefully avoided, because I’d much rather find titles to recommend than hate on.


Honorable Mentions:

(alphabetically)

– The Endless
– Overlord
– Prodigy
– Unsane
– The Witch in the Window


The Top 10

TOP 10 2018 LIST

Happy 2019 from Terror Spective!


Some more stuff to read if you want:

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Our Favorite Performances of 2018

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 29, 2018

It’s the honest truth – 2018 was a ridiculously good year for horror. A simple Top-10 Movies list, which will be posted tomorrow, just wouldn’t suffice for the wealth of horror offerings made over the last 12 months, so I decided to break down the year’s best into 10 different categories to better explore all the greatness there was to be enjoyed throughout. Since we didn’t launch until mid-September, I’ve been scrambling to cover as much ground as possible, and while I didn’t get to everything, there’s nearly 50 films here in consideration. So with that, let’s get to it.


Best Content

This is for honoring the various providers and producers of horror material who consistently release quality films.

2nd Runner-Up – IFC Midnight

IFC MIDNIGHT LOGOYear after year, IFC Midnight cranks out a wealth of quality films – The Babadook and The Autopsy of Jane Doe being a couple of the most famous – and this year was no exception. Regrettably, the clock ran out on reviewing some of these titles for ’18, but their notable releases were: The Clovehitch Killer, Ghost Stories, Pyewacket, Wildling, The Devil’s Doorway, What Keeps You Alive, Lowlife, Our House, Feral, Welcome to Mercy, and Midnighters.

1st Runner-Up – Blumhouse

BLUMHOUSE LOGOI’ve mentioned it several times the last few months that Jason Blum is an exceptionally busy person. With something like 30 film production credits this year – most all horror – he shows no signs of slowing down in the future either. With a winning formula of tight budget management and faith in creator control, he’s been doing his part to forward the genre by proving that it can be profitable and interesting at the same time. Now that’s he been flexing his growing influence by acquiring classic franchises, there’s no telling what promising potential projects may lie ahead. Their notable releases were: Halloween, The First Purge, Upgrade, Unfriended: Dark Web, Insidious: The Last Key, Cam, Delirium, Truth or Dare, Stephanie, Seven in Heaven, All the Creatures Were Stirring, Into the Dark, and non-horror early Oscar favorite BlacKkKlansman.

Best – Shudder

SHUDDER LOGOThe best $5 a month a horror fan can spend. While their original content may not be as prolific as that of Blumhouse, both the quality and quantity of the original and exclusive content they procure and the bargain price at which it offered propel it to the top of the category. They have an amazing collection of classic and archival titles too. It doesn’t take long to gather that Shudder is operated and cultivated by diehard fans who know the good stuff when they see it. Their notable releases were: Mandy, Summer of 84, Terrified, Revenge, Satan’s Slaves, The Witch in the Window, You Might Be the Killer, Downrange, the Joe Bob Briggs marathons, Deadwax, Ruin Me, Still/Born, and Dead Shack.


Best Monster

This one speaks for itself, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking as well.

2nd Runner-up – Werner (Overlord)

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1st Runner-up – Mutant Bear (Annihilation)

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Best – The Jotun (The Ritual)

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Best Character Performance

This category is for those who weren’t given much depth, screen time, or dialogue, but still managed to make a big impact. (Sorry Michael Myers, Predator, and The Strangers, but you’re all disqualified for familiarity.)

2nd Runner-Up – Sharon Morgan As Her (Apostle)

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What straight-up scares there are to be had in Gareth Evans’ bleak period piece Apostle are provided by this mysterious blood-guzzling deity-like figure who, while imprisoned in an entanglement of her own overgrowth, is quite capable of travelling in an astral manner to occasionally antagonize (or perhaps warn) our hero at inopportune moments.

1st Runner-Up – Consuelo Trujillo As Hermana Muerte (Veronica)

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It probably wasn’t intended for this blind, chain-smoking, no-nonsense nun to steal the show during her brief appearances – she was merely supposed to be the plot dumper who gives our heroine important story-moving information that she couldn’t be privy to otherwise – but she does, and it was something of a mistake to waste such a memorable character. In fact, I don’t remember a whole lot else.

Best – David Howard Thornton As Art the Clown (Terrifier)

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Terrifier doesn’t succeed very well at all as a movie – there’s barely any effort applied to provide even the most basic of narratives – but as a showcase for its spotlight villain, Art the Clown, it actually does quite well. Thornton nails the balance of extreme menace and ironic whimsy – exactly what you’d want from a killer clown – and his depiction of the near-invincible and out-maneuverable psycho is, essentially, the entire film.


Best Screenplay

Some movies don’t have the advantage of deep budgets or fancy effects to gain and hold the audience’s interest – they must rely largely on the strength of their story to get the job done. And some times, movies do have those things and still have damn good scripts.

2nd Runner-up: Ari Aster – Hereditary

1st Runner-up: Isa Mazzei – Cam

Best: Matt Leslie & Stephen J. Smith – Summer of 84

More so than any other film up for consideration, Summer of 84 is especially reliant on its plot beats, story twists, and subversions of expectations and tropes to succeed. Further, the movie is quiet about what it’s up to, subtly building toward a third act that hits with a ton of force. It’s a fiercely rewarding mystery with a devastating finish, and Leslie & Smith’s script provides the elements that make it shine.


Best Director

The director is the one who is ultimately held responsible if a movie is completed as a disastrous mess, so it’s fair they get the credit when it turns out great. The best generally exhibit a blend of vision, control, and resourcefulness, and this year, these were our favorites:

2nd Runner-Up: Panos Cosmatos – Mandy

1st Runner-Up: John Krasinski – A Quiet Place

Best: Paul Urkijo Alijo – Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil

While fans are gushing over the fantastic debut feature of Herediary creator Ari Astor (who I had at 3rd runner-up), this phenomenal first film from Basque writer/director Alijo has gone sadly overlooked. Visually stunning and thematically strong with an engaging story and strong performances throughout, Alijo conjures comparisons to filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro and Terry Gilliam while establishing a unique tone that is decidedly his own, and for that, he takes the top spot here.


Best Youth Performance

You might not realize just how many roles there are for children in the horror genre until you start counting. There’s a lot, and that makes sense too. Children in peril is a fast way to engage an audience when you want to scare or unsettle them, and evil children are even more effective. Also, increasingly, horror is more closely examining parental relationships as well. As such, there was actually a lot of competition here.

2nd Runner-up: Charlie Tacker – The Witch in the Window

1st Runner-up: Simone Landers – Cargo

Best: Savannah Liles – Prodigy

Liles’ performance as sociopathic super-genius Ellie – a child so dangerous that she is held in restraints and treated with terror in a highly classified government facility – is the glue that holds this whole movie together. Largely dialogue-driven, her battle of wits with unorthodox psychiatrist Fonda, played by Richard Neil whose performance is very solid as well, makes for a surprisingly riveting film.


From here on out, the rest of the categories are pretty self-explanatory.

Best Supporting Actor

2nd Runner-up: Rich Sommer – Summer of 84

1st Runner-up: Linus Roache – Mandy

Best: Eneko Sagardoy – Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil

As captive demon Sartael, Sagardoy brings the complex and mischievous imp to charismatic life – portraying a conflicted antagonist that is torn between a sense of hellish duty, resentment for his failures and resulting captivity, and a desire to simply be free of it all. With his piteous obligation to responsibility paired with a lack of enthusiastic conviction to see it through, rarely has a demon been as readily relatable as his.


Best Supporting Actress

2nd Runner-up: Andi Matichak – Halloween

1st Runner-up: Andrea Riseborough – Mandy

Best: Laurie Holden – Pyewacket

Pyewacket is on a list of films that I was too harsh toward early on in my reviews and one of the motivators behind re-designing my whole rating process. While I harped on this film’s third act and its handling of its supernatural elements, it’s likely that I missed the greater point about a catastrophic relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter. Holden plays a frustratingly and realistically human role as Mrs. Reyes, torn apart over the grief of losing her husband while simultaneously blind to her daughter’s own struggles with the loss of her father. She’s both sympathetic and infuriating, so when the summoned demon of the title takes on her form to torment the young daughter, the film takes a chilling turn. This is one of the performances that has stuck with me after binging dozens of movies.


Best Actor

2nd Runner-up: Anders Danielsen Lie – The Night Eats the World

1st Runner-up: Alex Draper – The Witch in the Window

Best: Nicolas Cage – Mandy

No surprises here, as the one-time Oscar winner and two-time nominee has finally been paired with a role that both demands and accommodates the wild and unhinged performances that Cage has become associated with in his later career. The character of Red is not terribly special – a seemingly average Joe with a hidden past who is sent on a quest for bloody revenge after miscreants kill his wife and leave him for dead. To say it’s been done understates how often it’s been done. Yet, Cage breathes fire on what becomes a crusade to purge the earth of an evil and toxic force as much as it is to right the wrongs endured by Mandy, and the amazing film simply wouldn’t astonish like it does without him in the driver’s seat.


Best Actress

While the best female lead performance of the year was easy to decide upon, this was an extremely competitive category which included the likes of Natalie Portman, Sandra Bullock, and Emily Blunt. This is who we went with.

2nd Runner-up: Claire Foy – Unsane

1st Runner-up: Madeline Brewer – Cam

Best: Toni Collette – Hereditary

This was the easiest decision to make throughout this entire process. Collette turns in a tour de force performance for the ages as the supremely troubled Annie, who struggles with the loss of her mother, with whom she had a complicated and bitter relationship, and things only get far worse from there. Hereditary is her showcase, full stop, and her portrayal of an excruciating descent into madness and despair will be talked about for many years to come.


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On the Radar – Secret Santa

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 18, 2018

ON THE RADAR LOGO XMAS

Part of the magic of the holidays is coming together, spending time, and sharing food & presents with those we love. That’s a thing we like to think, right? In an effort to idealize a season that we’ve laden heavily with expectations and romanticized notions, many actually experience a sharp spike in anxiety when confronted with the prospect of buying the right gifts, preparing the perfect meal, arranging the most elaborate decorations, or enduring awkward and cringe-inducing gatherings with barely tolerated relatives. What if all that self-inflicted stress, those delusional ambitions, and repressed passive-aggressive loathing boiled over into an unrestrained orgy of blood-letting and brutality? Secret Santa would be the result.


ON THE RADAR SECRET SANTA INNER 1

When it’s three hours into Christmas dinner and your relatives are giving you that ‘drop the weapon’ look, it’s time to lay off the eggnog.


The Pope family, well-monied from their involvement in the pharmaceutical industry, have assembled for their annual Christmas party, and for the most part, dislike each other rather thoroughly. The over-bearing matriarch, her acid-spitting first husband, the offensive uncle, the horndog half-brother, his stripper girlfriend, the secretly cruel and conniving sister, the depressed one – they’re an upper-class white American potpourri basket. While they’re generally able to trudge their ways through the yearly ritual, not so much this time, as someone has spiked the punch bowl with a little something from the family business – an experimental military-grade truth serum that will have everyone speaking their unfiltered minds. However, this descends into chaotic savagery, as the waspish clan is no longer able to resist their darkest impulses either.


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“I told you a juicer was a terrible gift idea, Susan. Now look what happened…”


Director Adam Marcus and co-star Debra Sullivan have received praise for penning a script that doesn’t hold back, full of razor-sharp wit, outrageous offensiveness, and loads of vicious violence. The plentiful gore is offered up by legendary SFX artist and co-producer Robert Kurtzman, whose work includes From Dusk Till Dawn, Scream, It Follows, and numerous entries in the Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw, Halloween, and Evil Dead franchises. This also marks the first horror film by Adam Marcus since his debut 25 years ago – the absolutely bonkers and super-divisive Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.

I’ve personally always liked that much-reviled movie for all its irreverent, splattery, and batshit crazy charm, so I’m extremely curious to see what a quarter century of experience has brought to the guy who delivered the fever dream entry of the Friday the 13th series. Secret Santa has already been released in the UK by the Frightfest Presents label, and there, it has so far proven to be a love-or-hate experience too, but I suppose that’s always better than audiences responding with a collective shoulder shrug. Word on an American release has proven to be confusing, at best. While there’s no announcements from any official outlets, IMDb states its US date as today, and have seen that reflected elsewhere, but without any solid confirmations. Considering that, sometimes, films are dropped on VOD or streaming with less fanfare than a trip to the grocery store, it’s not impossible, but probably unlikely. Either way, as I’m eager to watch this, that would be preferable to having to wait another year to see it, which is also possible.


In other On the Radar news, the red-band trailer for previous feature Braid was released several days ago. Here it is:



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On the Radar – Starfish

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The grief experienced when losing a loved one can often feel like the end of the world, but upcoming release Starfish takes that to the furthest most extreme. Aubrey (Virginia Gardner, who played one of the unfortunate folks to find themselves in the path of Michael Myers in the most recent Halloween film) loses her best friend Grace, and after the funeral, breaks into her apartment and stays there as an immersive act of mourning. The next day, she wakes to find that a monstrous apocalypse has begun, and with the help of a cryptic mixtape left by her late friend, sets out in an attempt to save the world.

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There would appear to be at least one monster on the larger side of things on the loose.

With comparisons being made to It Follows and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it would seem that indie rock musician A.T. White has set the bar high with his directorial and screenwriting debut. According to outlet SyFy Wire, during a Fantastic Fest Q&A, White cited both real-life loss and the first two Silent Hill games as big influences on his creation of the Lovecraftian doomscape in Starfish. His unique use of music and its juxtaposition to the dire circumstances has also been noted in providing the film with a distinctly unique atmosphere. As per his IMDb profile, he intends on donating all his proceeds from the film to cancer research.

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Here’s some pretty solid evidence that Starfish is more than just feelings and snow.

While Starfish has received some criticism for being overly dreamy, contemplative, and experimental in its presentation, many festival screening reviews have praised the movie glowingly. Words like ‘beautiful’, ‘ethereal’, and ‘terrifying’ have been used to describe the unorthodox creature feature and leading actress Gardner’s film-carrying performance has been given much acclaim. As a big fan of psychedelic horror and monster movies, this is among my more anticipated releases of 2019, and the wait won’t be long either, as distributors Yellow Veil Pictures and The Orchard have acquired the film for a Spring release in limited theaters and digital VOD.


A bit of ON THE RADAR news – previous feature movie Pledge has been slated for a January 11th release date by IFC Midnight.


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2019: Horror on the Big Screen

2018 has been a fantastic year for horror – so much so, that a list is needed to count the ways:

– Michael Myers returned to classical form in a literal blockbuster revival of the 40-year-old Halloween franchise

– John Krasinski – Jim from The Office – surprised everyone as a truly legit genre writer/director with his nerve-rattling debut (and year’s highest grossing horror film) A Quiet Place

– we were introduced to an extremely promising new auteur, Ari Aster, with his terrifying debut Hereditary and got an unforgettable performance from Toni Collette as well

– fans were properly introduced to another auteur, Panos Cosmatos, with blood-soaked metal-infused acid trip Mandy which also had an unforgettable performance from Nicolas Cage

– a rip-roaring big budget Nazi monster war/action/horror hybrid in Overlord (which unfortunately flopped financially)

– we got new entries in fan favorite franchises – The First Purge, Insidious: The Last Key, The Nun and a long-awaited sequel to The Strangers

– more high-quality independent releases through VOD and streaming outlets than can reasonably be named in their entirety, such as the aforementioned Mandy, Summer of 84, Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil, Marrowbone, Pyewacket, Terrified, Terrifier, The Endless, The Ritual, Revenge, Veronica, Cam, Apostle, Incident in a Ghostland, The Witch in the Window, and so on.

All that – a horror fan bonanza – was a follow-up to what was already a banner year in 2017. We’re truly being spoiled right now and it’s great. Well, it gets even better, because 2019 is positioning itself to try and out-do these last two years. The amount of horror currently scheduled on the calendar is bewildering, and that’s not counting all the independent and unannounced films that will doubtlessly sneak up on us throughout.

So here’s 2019 at a glance (trailers and/or promo art included where possible):

Escape Room – Jan. 4

This promising early offering looks to bring Saw, Cube, and House on Haunted Hill together in a clever concept that might be quite the fun ride. Shame about that PG-13 though. Directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan, Insidious: The Last Key).


Eli – Jan. 4
Official Synopsis: A boy receiving treatment for his auto-immune disorder discovers that the house he’s living isn’t as safe as he thought. Directed by Ciarán Foy (Sinister 2, Citadel). [No trailer, no poster, already booked with competition – expect this date to change.]

[EDIT: On Dec. 12, it was announced that Eli has been sold to Netflix as a future exclusive and will not be receiving a theatrical release.]


Jacob’s Ladder – Feb. 1
Remake of the 1990 film starring Tim Robbins. Official Synopsis: After returning home from the Vietnam War, veteran Jacob Singer struggles to maintain his sanity. Plagued by hallucinations and flashbacks, Singer rapidly falls apart as the world and people around him morph and twist into disturbing images. [Another one with no promos yet. A possible re-schedule.]


The Prodigy – Feb. 8

A sharp-looking spooky kid thriller from director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact, At the Devil’s Door) and starring Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) and Colm Feore (one of those guys you’ve seen in a ton of things). [Why are trailers now begun with teaser trailers of the trailer? What sort of Russian nesting doll bullshit is this?]


Happy Death Day 2U – Feb. 14

Sequel to the bafflingly good PG-13 timeloop slasher from 2017. Jessica Rothe returns as Tree, who finds herself trapped in another murder loop, but this time, she’s responsible for more lives than her own. Writer/director Christopher Landon also returns, which is generally good news for a second outing.


The Turning – Feb. 22
An adaptation of classic Gothic horror novella The Turn of the Screw, starring Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, Tully) and Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, It).


Us – Mar. 15

US JORDAN PEELE POSTERJordan Peele’s follow-up to Oscar-nominated blockbuster Get Out. Very few details yet on this one, but expect a high-profile trailer release once there is. Starring Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Black Panther), and Anna Diop (24: Legacy).

[EDIT: A basic plot synopsis for Us has been released and goes as follows: “A mother (Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o from ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ and ’12 Years a Slave’) and a father (Winston Duke from ‘Black Panther’) take their kids to their beach house expecting to unplug and unwind with friends (including Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss from TV series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’). But as night descends, their serenity turns to tension and chaos when some shocking visitors arrive uninvited.” Considering Get Out, I would not expect this to be a simple cut-and-dry home invasion thriller.]


Pet Sematary – Apr. 5

A new adaptation of the 1983 Stephen King novel – the Creed family move into a new home near a creepy patch of land that local kids have turned into a pet ‘sematary’. After their cat meets an untimely end, they bury him there despite warnings from the neighbor that the ground is ‘bad’. Things get worse. From the directors of Starry Eyes, Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer and starring Jason Clarke (First Man, Terminator Genisys), Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant, You’re Next) and John Lithgow (you know, John Lithgow).


The Curse of La Llorona – Apr. 19

Produced by James Wan and speculated as perhaps a Conjuring-verse addition. Official Synopsis: Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and her own small kids are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm.


Brightburn – May 24

This high-concept superhero horror film – a subversive riff on the Superman mythos – looks great judging by its trailer that just dropped on Dec. 8th. Starring Elizabeth Banks, it’s produced by now-divisive former Marvel director James Gunn, so close to release, we’ll be certain to hear all about this again. [Who’d have thought that someone who used to work for Troma would have such a filthy sense of humor? It’s a shock – I’m truly shocked.]


Child’s Play – June 21

CHILDS PLAY 2019 POSTERAny time horror is a hot box office commodity, you can now count on the reboots that nobody asked for, and here’s our first. Obviously, it’s a remake of the 1988 film that made a famous killer doll of Chucky, but he’s conspicuously missing from the promo material so far. Instead, we get ‘Buddi’ and the rumors, for whatever they’re worth, claim that this will be a rogue AI story – way more Black Mirror than black magic. Slammed by series creator Don Mancini, the film has an unknown director of shorts behind the camera, a video game writer penning the script, a cinematographer plucked from some Netflix original shows, and the SFX coordinator from the CBS series Zoo, all suggesting there may not be a ton of faith in this re-imagining.


Grudge – June 21

Here, we have the second reboot nobody asked for, and slated for the same release date, no less. Compared to the Child’s Play effort though, the talent lined up behind this new venture of Kayako and son is a whole different story. Directed by Nicolas Pesce (Eyes of My Mother and the upcoming buzz-heavy Piercing), written by Jeff Buhler (the Nightflyers show runner who also wrote or co-wrote previously mentioned Pet Sematary, The Prodigy, and Jacob’s Ladder), and starring Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, Birdman), John Cho (Star Trek, Harold & Kumar, Searching), William Sadler (The Mist, The Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard 2), and Emmy nominee Betty Gilpin (GLOW). It’s also co-produced by Sam Raimi, if it needed any more pedigree. With the two reboots sharing the same day, expect one to move, and don’t anticipate Grudge to budge.


Annabelle 3 – Jul. 3

The title will likely change to Annabelle: Something as we get an official poster and trailer closer to release. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are slated to return as the Warrens in Annabelle 3, marking the first time they have appeared in a Conjuring spin-off entry, yet the story is to center on their daughter Judy, so the lines between the various series are getting all blurry. This third chapter of the evil doll’s saga will mark the directorial debut of frequent Conjuring-verse scribe and screenwriter of both chapters of It Gary Dauberman.


Untitled Ari Aster project – Aug. 9

Tentatively titled Midsommar, writer/director Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary, the synopsis is as follows: A couple travels to Sweden to visit their friend’s rural hometown for its fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. Considering that Hereditary was initially about a family mourning the loss of Grandma, expect a lot of horrific twists and turns to occur throughout a film that emphasizes an atmosphere of growing dread.


It: Chapter Two – Sep. 6

IT CHAPTER 2 TEASER POSTERLikely the consensus choice for most anticipated horror film of ’19, just like in Stephen King’s novel, the now grown-up child protagonists of the first chapter will return to their cursed hometown of Derry for another and presumably climactic confrontation with otherworldly demonic manifestation Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The first film pulled down a worldwide box office tally of $700M, out-earning movies like Justice League, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the most recent Transformers release. With top-tier blockbuster numbers, It: Chapter Two should be the kind of costly spectacle virtually unprecedented for the horror genre. Andy Muschietti returns to direct, Bill Skarsgård reprises as Pennywise, and it stars Hollywood A-listers Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.


Are You Afraid of the Dark? – Oct. 11
This adaptation of the ’90s Nickelodeon youth horror anthology series has been in development hell for nearly 20 years. With previously mentioned Conjuring-verse writer/director Gary Dauberman in the production seat here, as well as providing the screenplay, there’s no word of a director, a cast, a filming date – nothing. With ten months to go before the optimistically announced release date, the odds of this flick coming out at this time are dwindling.


Zombieland 2 – Oct. 11

Pennywise doesn’t have the only highly anticipated second chapter coming out this year, as we’re all set to catch back up with the wild zompocalypse exploits of Tallahasse, Wichita, Columbus, and Little Rock – ten years after the release of the much-loved original. With the original cast, director, and screenwriters all returning, it seems virtually impossible that this reprise will disappoint.


Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – 2019

Another youth horror anthology here, based off the popular series of books by Alvin Schwartz with its infamous illustrations by artist Stephen Gammell, but this one has already been filmed and just waiting for an official release date. We also have a lot of horror talent lined up behind this title – co-produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, also co-written by frequent Tim Burton collaborator John August and creative duo Marcus Dunston & Patrick Melton (Saw IV-VII, The Collector, The Collection), and directed by André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Trollhunter).


That’s a big year lined up, and it doesn’t count the 3 dates that Blumhouse already has picked out for untitled & unspecified releases (May 31, Oct. 18, Dec. 13) or the date of Oct. 25 picked out by fledgling distributor Aviron Pictures (The Strangers: Prey at Night). There’s also a whole other set of horror-adjacent movies to get excited about like M. Night Shymalan’s Unbreakable/Split hybrid sequel Glass (Jan. 18), visually ambitious sci-fi invasion thriller Captive State (Mar. 29), Neil Marshall’s R-rated reboot of Hellboy (Apr. 12), Michael Dougherty’s kaiju sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31), dark X-Men related origin story New Mutants (Aug. 2), and an animated adaptation of fan-favorite The Addams Family (Oct. 11). And again, there are likely dozens more potential fan favorites and best-of-year contenders released by independent distributors – some of which you can read about in our weekly feature On the Radar, which highlights upcoming indie releases. All told, 2019 promises an exciting abundance of quality offerings for us horror fans – only time will tell if this is an indication of an emerging horror-centric culture or just another moment of market saturation before a decline. Either way, let’s enjoy while the getting is good.

Continue reading “2019: Horror on the Big Screen”

1991: The Worst Year in Modern Horror

It’s rather widely agreed upon that the decade of the ’80s was a pop culture golden age. Cinematically, most every genre took on a very distinctive identity that would have its films forever associated with that era, and horror was certainly no exception. The years of 1980 to 1989 would see 104 horror movies wind up on their respective year-end top 100 lists in regards to box office receipts. By comparison, the ’90s would go on to have nearly a 50% drop in that figure – a decline that would have been even worse if not for the saving grace of Wes Craven’s Scream in late 1996 and the revival it inspired. Despite the many masterpieces, fan favorites, and iconic characters that arose from the ’80s, the early ’90s would prove that it couldn’t last forever. Ironically, that which provided the basis for all the terror in the cineplexes was likely the very thing that ultimately poisoned the well for years to follow.

As 1980 began, Hollywood – that monolithic mecca that is universally recognized as the entertainment capital of Western culture – had almost fully regained its stature from a time that had almost killed it. Like the many things that Millennials are attributed for ‘ruining’, the Boomers were implicated for almost bankrupting the major American movie studios. Between the convenience of television and an appetite for the more explicit and challenging cinematic fare of European cultures, Hollywood was bleeding money on epic WWII movies and big-spectacle musicals that people weren’t buying tickets for anymore. The puritanical Hays code (or Motion Picture Production Code), which had governed acceptable movie content since the 1920s, was obliterated when studio MGM ignored a code denial and defiantly released Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up – with its nudity, sexual content, and drug use uncensored – to the tune of $120 million in adjusted-for-inflation (AFI) revenue. Studio executives, very much against their will, were forced to relinquish creative control to these young libertine filmmakers to save their businesses. The MPAA rating system would be introduced in 1968 and theater screens would never be the same again. The New Hollywood was born.

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Upon its release in December of 1966, Blow-Up, a sexually provocative murder mystery set in the London fashion world, blew up the long-standing adherence to moral conservatism in Hollywood and prompted the creation of the much more permissive MPAA rating system.

This time would prove to be a playground for budding auteurs and resourceful independent filmmakers alike. With the doors blown off of prior constraints on content, dark themes and mature material previously forbidden were now presented with a confrontational boldness to audiences that hadn’t realized how much they wanted all this grim realism. Novels that could have never graced the silver screen before – like Mario Puzo’s The Godfather ($719m AFI), Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange ($143m AFI), and most notably to horror, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist ($943m AFI) – became the kind of critically adored blockbusters that studio executives live for. The market was robust for aspiring indie directors too, with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (est. $73m AFI), Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (est. $17m AFI), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (est. $125m AFI), and John Carpenter’s Halloween ($184m AFI) – making millions on their miniscule production budgets and eventually propelling all 4 filmmakers to Hollywood stardom. All of these noteworthy successes, however, were not of the type that play to the wishes of the industry’s elite power players – the bankrollers, producers, and money managers. For them, relinquishing that much creative control to the creators themselves is far too risky and uncomfortable, as they would much rather hold the proverbial reins themselves. Ironically though, the daring films that proved to be popular would lead studios to re-finding the pulse of audience demand, and on the backs of filmmakers like Steven Speilberg and George Lucas, the age of the fine-tuned blockbuster would be reborn and their control over finished products would be restored.

Pumping out what the people wanted certainly wasn’t a problem at first, as many beloved classics were made throughout the ’80s, but a trend would develop that eventually proceeded to rot the genre from the inside out. Generally, the first entry in what would develop into a long-running franchise – Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street being the most famed examples – would stand quite well as a quality film, but cash-drunk producers and executives were enraptured with the money mills they could transform these titles into. This often resulted in a string of hastily-made sequels that typically abandoned the pretenses of story and atmosphere, along with input from original creators, in favor of pure crowd-pleasing elements, even if the final product made no coherent sense.

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In 1973, The Exorcist would forever alter the perception of horror in mainstream culture. When adjusting ticket prices for inflation, its success at the American box office is on par with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

While plenty of favorites still managed to arise from this cynical gold rush, the utter lack of long-term vision in cultivating these box-office behemoths, and their engineered copycats, would result in both massive audience fatigue and a wholesale critical black-listing of horror altogether. Factor in the impact of the emergent VHS and cable TV formats that allowed for even greater market saturation of often lower-quality films, and the party was over. A golden age of horror had come to a close. 1990 was still a modestly successful year however, but two troubling trends would emerge. Flatliners was a solid hit, but despite its overt horror subject matter, would see its marketing campaign focus more heavily on its sci-fi thriller elements and its all-star cast, consciously distancing it from the troubled genre. Also, many of the other notable films of the year – Arachnophobia, Tremors, and Gremlins 2 (which flopped, failing to make back its budget during its theatrical run) – were firmly horror-comedies, sometimes bordering on farce, and audiences buying such obvious mockery of a thing doesn’t generally bode well for the thing itself. So, the stage was set for the bottom to truly drop out in ’91.

That may seem like an absurd statement to make, considering that horror hallmark The Silence of the Lambs would be released in February of that year. Having gone on to sweep the Academy Awards’ ‘Big Five’ – picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay – the following spring, this film alone should save ’91 from being considered a low water mark, but therein lies a big problem. It’s not technically a horror movie. This, perhaps more than any other film, triggers the debate of ‘What is horror?‘ Some posit that it’s a difference in focus between suspense and fear, others present it as the presence or absence of gory violence or supernatural elements, and others still say that it involves whether or not death is the central-most theme. With the many inconsistencies in the application of the horror label over the decades, it appears to be largely a matter of the marketing approach to a thematically dark film, and Silence of the Lambs, modeling the success that Misery had the previous year as a ‘dramatic thriller’, followed suit and as much distance as possible was placed between the film and the horror genre by both the studio, Orion Pictures, and the A-grade Hollywood talent involved in the production. The tremendous success it enjoyed, both financially and critically, only exasperated horror’s commercial struggles and cheap reputation while establishing a trend of disallowing the genre, at least initially, to be associated with other banner films like Interview with the Vampire, The Crow, and Se7en.

HANNIBAL LECTOR

Despite becoming one of the most iconic characters in horror cinema, Hannibal Lector was initially distanced as far as possible from the genre. The marketing framed The Silence of the Lambs as a dramatic suspense thriller that just happened to contain moments of graphic violence and genuine terror. It would win big at the Oscars that year and since, no other film has won ‘The Big Five’ at the Academy Awards.

’91 also saw the development of studios vacating horror releases from the prime dates on the release schedule, relegating them largely to dumping grounds in January-March and August-October. Only in recent years has this trend started to reverse, both by horror being released steadily along the calendar and by genre blockbusters emerging from non-traditional times of the year. 1991 saw 3 releases throughout the post-holiday winter season – Warlock (Jan. 11, $19.8m AFI), Popcorn (Feb. 1, $9.1m AFI), and The Unborn (Mar. 29, $2.6m AFI), none of which succeeded to gain much attention, if not being outright flops entirely. (As a point of reference, most horror films need to gross at least $20-25m to be considered modest successes, but that is by no means a universal figure.) The following week, LGBT horror film Poison, slapped with an NC-17 rating and condemned by an American senator, would go on to earn a paltry $1.2m AFI. This was not an era where notoriety could be reliably counted upon as profitable publicity, and Poison would hardly be the only casualty of that fact, as demonstrated by the next film.

It would be another 4 months before horror would get to the big screen again, but this one was supposed to reverse the tide. With a budget of $20m AFI, Body Parts was easily the most expensive original horror production of the year, and with a August 2nd release date, Paramount Pictures was gambling that this gory thriller about a man who receives a limb transplant possessed by its former psychopath owner would take advantage of the shortage of competition and make some decent bank. Then, Jeffrey Dahmer happened. Not but 10 days before its scheduled release, the story about the discovery and apprehension of the infamous cannibal serial killer and his ghastly collection of people pieces captivated a nation. Disgusted by the gruesome details but driving the story’s exposure into the stratosphere through morbid curiosity, Dahmer dominated the news cycle. As such, public backlash against the upcoming release of Body Parts developed immediately, just by irrational association of the coincidental title, and marketing for the film was quickly suppressed. Occurring so close to the scheduled date, Paramount went ahead with the film’s opening, which sputtered to a $20m AFI run, failing to generate profit or cover the movie’s ancillary costs. Again, the very early ’90s were not a good proving ground for the idiom that any publicity is good publicity.

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Paramount Pictures was expecting its original horror-thriller Body Parts to hack up the competition. Instead, it was eaten alive by the media fervor surrounding infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Up next was Child’s Play 3, hitting the theaters four weeks later and less than 10 months after the release of Child’s Play 2. As the reliable horror money mills were consistently drying up, Chucky’s second outing had bucked the trend, pulling down $62m AFI at the box office, prompting to Universal Pictures to place the third film on a turnaround fast track of ridiculous speed. Audiences noticed the rush job, and the film ended up grossing only $32m AFI on a budget of $24m AFI – bleeding nearly half the revenue of its predecessor. Still regarded as one of the worst of the now 7-movie series – although it’s been received a little more warmly in recent years – there would not be another entry released until 1998, which would also scuttle the Child’s Play franchise title in favor of the ‘Of Chucky’ iteration.

A mere two weeks later, and doing no favors for the fortunes of little Chucky, came Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Financially, it was the biggest success for the genre that year, and by a sizable margin too, with a total haul of $75.7M AFI and an opening weekend that rivaled the Elm Street franchise’s biggest hit, The Dream Master. Improving 50% over the gross of previous entry The Dream Child, this would count as a win for New Line Cinema and appear as a bright spot in an otherwise dreary stretch, but all was not well in Springwood. It should come as no surprise that the film was received poorly by critics, for at this point, virtually all horror was dead on arrival with the film aficionado set, but the movie was not well regarded by fans either. If IMDb scores are to be trusted, Freddy’s Dead remains the lowest rated among all 9 entries in the series – this includes the tonally inconsistent Freddy’s Revenge, the shrugworthy predecessor Dream Child, and the frequently lambasted 2010 remake. It made for a thoroughly unsatisfactory close for one of the definitive franchises of the 1980’s (although, in ’93, Jason Goes to Hell would give it a run for every penny of its money in regards to disappointing fans) and basically served as the sickly swan song for an entire generation of horror.

Box Office for the Elm Street franchise with total grosses and opening weekends (adjusted for inflation)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) $66.7M $3.5M
Freddy’s Revenge (1985) $74.6M $7.4M
Dream Warriors (1987) $104.7M $20.8M
The Dream Master (1988) $109.8M $28.5M
The Dream Child (1989) $51.0M $18.7M
Freddy’s Dead (1991) $75.7M $28.2M
New Nightmare (1994) $39.6M $14.6M
Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) $125.2M $55.2M
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) $73.2M $38.2M

While Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was a box office success, its damage to the franchise was so thorough that not even a return of series creator Wes Craven with an ambitious and critically well-received entry was enough to rehabilitate its image with weary fans.

Yet, the death of an age is an opportunity for the birth of another, and seven weeks later would see the release of a film that made a stride toward something new, and it came from someone who was an architect of both the previous era and the one to follow. Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs was a subversion of what many had come to expect from mainstream horror, with its black inner-city protagonists, sharp biting satire of American society, and its tendency to mix moments of humorous levity in with its genuine scares – it was almost a total departure from the formula that had led the genre into its derivative dearth. Bafflingly released the day after Halloween (the only ‘horror’ release that October was Ernest Scared Stupid), the movie still went on to be a substantial hit, opening at #1 at the box office and going on to gross $52.5M AFI – more than quadrupling its production budget. Five years later, Craven would fully realize his blend of satirical themes and a distinct meta self-awareness mixed into a generally more playful horror tone with the genre-resuscitating blockbuster Scream.

From that release of what is often recognized as the quintessential 90’s horror film, the genre has never collapsed quite like it did in 1991. While its cultural influence has fluctuated, there has been virtually an unbroken chain of successful overlapping trends in horror cinema – the brief slasher resurgence inspired by Scream, Japanese-influenced offerings (The Ring, The Grudge), films shaped by the New French Extremity movement (the Saw series, Hostel, Alejandro Aja’s remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes), a string of remakes of ’70s and ’80s classics, a return of the zombie, the found footage format, The Conjuring and Insidious franchises of James Wan, the ascent of Blumhouse, and a renaissance of slowburn psychological terror. As 2019 approaches, there is now more horror and more quality horror at any one time than ever before. Technological advances have allowed independent filmmakers access to more sophisticated equipment and processes while the proliferation of the internet have given them the same leaps forward in marketing and distribution. We currently have an era where intrepid auteurs are thriving along side a Hollywood system that is getting increasingly better at balancing its profit-driven controls with more autonomy for creators, and this is the case for most every type of movie – not just horror. It would seem as if we are in the midst of a new golden age right now, and hopefully, there is no recurrence of 1991 in the future.