Creature Features in Review : It (1990)
Chad’s take on It.
In 1990, the world of Stephen King expanded even more as ABC aired a miniseries adaptation of his legendary book, IT. The movie would span across two parts and feature a large ensemble cast, the same group of characters, both as children and as adults. The success or failure of the film aside, Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise has gone down as one of the more brilliant portrayals of a Stephen King character, alongside Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence and Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes.
We find ourselves now in the year 2017, on the brink of a new film adaptation, this time set for a theatrical release as opposed to television. And while the original miniseries continues to have legs in terms of the fans, as the years go on, it seems to take more of a turn towards being mocked and criticized as a joke and a failure, a betrayal of source material which I concede is likely King’s greatest book. Continue Reading
Creature Features in Review: The Stuff (1985)
Tonight’s showing has to be one of the strangest selections within the sub-genre Creature Features. And it because it technically is very much a creature feature, its makes the very in your face metaphor all the more brilliant. Of course, I’m talking about The Stuff. Filmed with a 50’s sci fi B-movie in mind and with voice-overs worse than a Kung movie, we’re guided through a fairly simply story structure with a much complex core. Its a creature flick that begs the question, if we are consumers of the creature are we not in fact monsters ourselves? The Stuff, for all purposes, has lasted the test of time and remains one of the best 1980’s anti-consumerist flick. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out a trailer on YouTube and give it a chance. I’m not promising you’ll like it, The Stuff will require some patience, but if you’re a fan of horrible 80’s horror, or horrible horror in general, you might just enjoy yourself.
Are you eating it…or is it eating you? During the summer of 1985, director Larry Cohen introduced America to the discovery of a mysterious, yet delicious, white gooey treat. Found by a group of miners bubbling up from the earth, the Stuff quickly sweeps across the nation. Soon after, conglomerates pick up the Stuff and break record sales. Former FBI agent Mo Rutherford remarks, with some disbelief, that folks are willing to stand in line at two in the morning, just to buy some Stuff. Another protagonist, a young boy named Jason, refuses to eat the Stuff as he watches his family become addicted, turning into mindless drones– craving nothing to eat but the Stuff. In one of the oddest scenes (yes, there are a few) Jason is forced to watch his family slowly slip away from rationality and into…something else entirely. When an attempt to fool his folks into thinking he’s eaten some of the Stuff fails, Jason scarcely escapes, his father yelling out in the middle of the street, chasing after him, “It’s good for us, Jason…it kills the bad things inside us.”
What…you’ve never heard of this movie, The Stuff? I’m not shocked; unless you’re a connoisseur (see what I did there?) of obscure horror, The Stuff is by far one of the most obscure-ee horror movies I’ve ever seen. This very low-budget does take on, as other classic horror flicks such as Dawn of the Dead (78), American consumerism and consumption during the 1980’s. Some of the other films during this era, and some of my personal favorites of glorified 80’s consumerism, include Evil Dead 2, Friday the 13th part 8, and Videodrome.
Film critic Brian Dillard had this to say regarding The Stuff:
“…another 1980’s horror flick… mixed wit and gore with anti-consumerist ideology. On the surface, The Stuff is just an exploitation flick — a jumble of The Blob [and] Invasion of the Body Snatchers… full of amateurish special effects and hammy performances.”
If that’s what’s on the surface of the movie, cheesy effects and a hammy attempt at saying something, is there anything beneath? I’d point out all the random commercials that pop up during the movie which I think are brilliant parodies to everyday life. It almost calls out the audience (we) and asks if we can tell the difference. Are we that conformed to commercials that even fake ones seem real to us? This aspect really reminds of the appeal in Invasion of the Body Snatches, more especially the 1978 version as it focused more on the characters and their doppelgangers. Its about paranoia, almost, and The Stuff really brings that paranoia into focus. Can we trust anyone to be objective regarding a product that they are bought into? Can we trust a representative or legislator to be unbiased toward a private sector entity when (s)he get’s campaign donations from private corporations? Not to get political, but…have we become like Jason, being told to “eat it” because its good for us?
As the movie comes to an end, following the efforts of a few good men and women, and a boy, the public becomes aware of the vile intentions of the conglomerates pushing the fluffy white alien goo. People “wake up” and see how The Stuff is actually a living thing. Yet, as the credits roll, we (the audience) are left with the feeling that the profligate has been set back up as the company executives comment that “the Stuff seeps out from many places in the ground.” We are given a true nihilistic ending as anyone can get, that there will always be more Stuff.
If you’re screening The Stuff for the first time, it will time some getting used to the low quality in which the film was shot, unless you are already a member of the 80s splatter zombie corp and uber-obscure VHS demon flick rentals from Italy club. If that’s the case, then the low budget shouldn’t throw you off. The story is there if you’re willing to follow it. Low budget doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. Just look at Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead as an example of how low budget films can become The Stuff of legend (oh man, I kill myself).
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Thomas S. Flowers creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!
Creature Features in Review: COMING SOON!!!
Greetings folks! Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. As we begin this new year it is my great pleasure to announce the start of a brand new “In Review” series. Creature Features…beloved by many, loathed by some, irrefutable masterpieces that tell a tale of where the world is during each era of release. From the nuclear wastelands of Hiroshima in Godzilla and the radiated test sights in Them! to the hideous shadows in swamps and space fiends coming to terrorize quiet small town America in Critters and Swamp Thing to the worlds of mad science and mythology to humanoids and mutations, Creature Feature films have been at every turn in pop culture. Spanning decades, here at Machine Mean, thanks to our mob of talented and twisted guest writers, will bring to you beginning this Thursday and running until December, on every Thursday a Creature Feature in Review. Set your clocks and mark your calendars.
The fun begins this Thursday on Jan 5, 2017.
Follow the series on Twitter at #MonsterThursday
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): Movie in Review
Read the following quote: “They’re already here! Help! You’re next! They’re coming! They’re coming!” Disturbed? Bothered? Maybe a little scared? Well, you should be. This quote is meant to knock you off kilter. In this 1978 remake of the classic 1956 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” there are no pulled punches. With a surprised PG rating, the fear is turned up high, not with over-the-top gore or practical effects (though there are some really haunting scenes) or naughty language, but with an idea, a very real idea of not knowing the people around you. Who are they? We don’t know. You don’t know. But they’re odd. They talk without speaking. They look cold and calculated. The city is as it always has been, but slowly and surly those unknown faces are being replaced with even stranger ones. Stoic. Everywhere. And always watching.
Before we delve into this review, here’s a quick fire synopsis to jog your memory:
“This ‘remake’ of the classic horror film is set in San Francisco. Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) assumes that when a friend (Brooke Adams) complains of her husband’s strange mood, it’s a marital issue. However, he begins to worry as more people report similar observations. His concern is confirmed when writer Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum) and his wife (Veronica Cartwright) discover a mutated corpse. Besieged by an invisible enemy, Bennell must work quickly before the city is consumed” -Wiki
Let me back up.
Remember the quote at the beginning of our discussion? That quote comes from a very odd character, one you may recognize, if you’ve got a good eye. At the end of the 1956 film, producers felt on edge to leave the movie with the writer’s original script as Doctor Bennell walks down the freeway, shouting, “They’re here already! You’re next!” Instead, they added the scene which implied the FBI rescuing America, rushing in and destroying the invaders. The quote at the beginning is from the 1978 version, with notions of 1956, where we find the leading cast members driving in the city and theorizing. Matthew Bennell is attempting to calm his love interest, Elizabeth, who is convinced something is terribly wrong with her live-in boyfriend, Geoffrey. “He’s just…different,” she says. All of a sudden, a man dashes out and lands on the hood of Matthew’s car. He’s grey haired with wide bloodshot eyes and looks eerily like Dr. Miles Bennell from that small town in California. Panicked, he begs for help. Realizing, no help will be given, he warns Matthew and Elizabeth…”They’re here,” he shouts. “They’re coming!” And he dashes off, only to be run down in the middle of the street. This little scene is the most genius one in the film. Not saying there aren’t other more jarring scenes, because there are, but this one is superb because it ties together the past to the present.
The scene also implies that the events of 1956 did not end with the salvation from the hands of the FBI, but the invasion has continued to grow, slowly, and now, those “pods” have set sights on the budding metropolis of San Francisco, and as we see during the dockside events in the 1978 Invasion movie, as the “pods” are being loaded into the ships docked at port, the world seems to be their game. While in 1956, the invasion event was isolated to the small town… that’s simply not the case anymore.
There are so few remakes nowadays that are as brilliant as this one, if we can even call Invasion of the Body Snatchers a remake, just as it is difficult to call John Carpenter’s The Thing a remake as well, though he has testified, calling his work as such. One would think, given the way remakes and reboots are the norm today, someone within the echelons of Hollywood would remember the key elements from classic remakes of original films. To make a remake great, or even attempt to create something even more grandiose than the original, as we’ve seen in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there must be a balance between disassembling what made the original great, understanding those themes and nuances, and then reassembling the components into something new. And of course we would hope the remake was thoroughly thought-out and warranted as well. If the balance is done right, the remake shouldn’t feel like a remake at all, but another “title” movie. Personally, I don’t even like using the term “remake” for films like these. If the balance is done right, I’d rather call them “continuations.” But I know I am in the minority with such notions.
Originality, of course, is the name of the game, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers has it in spades. The relationships are what sold me. Donald Sutherland as the hardnosed Health Inspector, who is as sharp as a razor with snobby overpriced restaurant owners, always with a keen eye for rat turds, but is soft as rose petals and somewhat blinded with his love interest, and unavailable by the way, Elisabeth Driscoll, played by the fantastic Brooke Adams. Watching them on screen is mesmerizing. How he loves her, yet understands he cannot have her, but still wants to protect her. And how can we forget the dynamic between pop-psychologist Dr. David Kibner, played by late-great Leonard Nimoy and Jack Bellcec, a not-so-popular (or even published writer for that matter) philosopher who scoffs at how easily Kibner pumps outs books; also one of Jeff Goldblum’s earlier roles by the way. I found it very interesting how the first of the friends to put the mystery together, though perhaps she went a bit far in her “Worlds in Collision” and “Flowers in Space” paranoia, was Nancy Bellcec (played by Alien star Veronica Cartwright), Jake’s wife, who at the end (SPOILERS!) is the sole survivor of the small party of friends. And it gives me even more pause in how she survived. Every time she is swallowed up by the crowd and separated from Matthew and Elizabeth, we assume she was “taken.” However, there she is, she turns up unscathed because she has learned to “act” like one of the “pods.” Though how much of that is really an act, I wonder. When Matthew and Elizabeth are discovered, unable to hid their humanity and doing a poor job “blending in,” Nancy quietly disappears into the mob as they turn on her friends only to turn up again at the end. What does her character tell us? What questions does she raise? Perhaps, that to survive a world in which individuality has faded into a common core one must assimilate similar behavior of the so-called “hive mind…” It certainly begs the question of what the original writers were thinking (be it fear of Communism or fear of Conservatism), and of course what was Kaufman thinking as well.
To all of these questions, I imagine, we must answer for ourselves.
With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Hungry for a TALE with gory substance?
Pick up FEAST for only $2.99 on Amazon!!!
FIGHT THE FUTURE: X-Files in review
With all the hoopla going on, in anticipation of the return of Dana Skully and Fox Mulder in the 6 episode event starting up in January 2016, I though it’d be a good idea to revisit not just the television show, but also the movies. Here, I want to focus more or less on Fight the Future, the 1998 cinematic debut of the X-Files from boob-tube to movie theaters. Personally speaking, and I’m sure many of you will agree, the X-Files defined my 1990s television experience, introducing ideas in a compelling narrative about two FBI agents who couldn’t be further apart, but are yet drawn together through circumstance, all-the-while, the outside world seems to be encroaching upon them, where friends are rare and trust is precarious.
As the show airs in 1993, we are guided into the dark and deary basement office of one Fox Mulder who has been, more or less, red flagged for his strange and unorthodox methodology and theories. Fox, in his own words, believes he is “the key figure in an ongoing government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials. It’s a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet, so, of course, no one believes me. I’m an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it’s gonna be the shit-storm of all time” (Fight the Future, 1998). Dana Skully acts as his counterpart, the yin and yang so to speak, of the duo. She’s the rationalist, balancing the supernatural and keeping Mulder rooted. As Fox says regarding the relationship, “But you saved me. As difficult and frustrating as it’s been sometimes, your God-damned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over. You kept me honest. You made me a whole person. I owe you everything, and you owe me nothing. I don’t know if I want to do this alone. I don’t even know if I can” (Fight the Future, 1998). And as we can extrapolate from his tone in the 1998 movie, their relationship develops over time. Dana started out as an outside perspective, brought in by the higher-ups to report back on Agent Mulder’s case files, aka the X-Files, to basically debunk his work. But through the course of their investigations, she caught glimpses of things she (or science for that matter) could not explain. And let me say right here and now, Fight the Future and the show has some of the best scriptwriting I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching play out on screen . So, now that the players have been set up, lets talk a little about the movie and where it fits in the lexicon.
Fight the Future was released in 1998, fitting between the end of season five and six. The show aired by in 1993 with some of the more darker episodes and best creature features. With the show, we’re given a central story arc mixed with “filler” episodes, episodes which typically have nothing to do with the main story. While the main story plots are intriguing, for the X-Files, I’m more of a fan of the fillers, the go-betweens. In these episodes, you’ll find more of the scares, the darker stories intermingled in the global conspiracy ones. Some of the best in this category include: Home, Squeeze, Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, The Host, Die Hand Die Verletzt, Folie à Deux, etc etc, just to name a few (and these few are some of my favorite episodes). If you have a Facebook account, you can follow the day to day episodes on the official X-Files page. They’ve also included some very unique fan made mondo posters to par with each episode. Between “filler” and “central story,” Fight the Future was part of the main story arc. Its counterpart, I want to Believe, released in 2008, was the filler equivalent to the shows, which doesn’t mean it was bad because of it, though I don’t think it found much footing with fans in 2008. Maybe they were hoping for something more to the central lexicon than a filler, but as I said before…
Looking at Fight the Future as a stand alone would be confusing, I think. To watch this movie and understand what’s going on, you’d have to be a fan of the show. Though, Carter did throw in some clues here and there. Still though, I still think if I watched Fight the Future without ever having watched the shows, I’d feel as if I was missing some insider joke. I’m a really happy they did it that way, while not leaving a newbie out of the loop entirely, the movie was made for fans of the show. Consider Serenity, the movie based on the cult-loved Firefly. They made that movie so that anyone can walk in off the street and understand everything going on. Sure, they might miss a few relationship side jokes, but overall, the movie was a restart on the show. I feel it would have been better, had they ignored the noobs and made the damn movie for the fans. Does that make sense, or am I going crazy? Sure, maybe Josh what’s his name was just trying to finish his show knowing Firefly would never return to television and the story he came up with was the best he could do…
Back to the X-Files…
Fight the Future is a fast paced movie; which is rare, to be a 2 hour movie based on a television show which airs for roughly 45 mins. From the very start, we’re drawn in to this global event, from the Ice Age opening credits to the black blood virus to team Fox and Dana working the bomb threat in Dallas, all the way to the conclusion and those sinister bestial aliens the story whips us and keeps us glued to the set. There is a small lag near the middle, but even so, there you’ll find some damn fine writing, my favorite is with Mulder at the bar, as part of the quote above with him describing himself to the bartender and why he’s drinking so much. And then there’s the moment between Skully and Fox in the hallway when Fox tells Dana how he feels and they ALMOST kiss, an adolescent teen-girl expectation, I know, but one that had been built up over time…had someone walked in on the movie at that moment without ever knowing the events in the show, it would have seemed silly. But for those in the know, the romance between the two has been a slow and methodical build up, finally realized towards the end of the show and actually acknowledged in I Want to Believe.
If you haven’t seen Fight the Future, even if you’ve never seen the show, I think its a safe bet to assume there are enough clues for you to understand what’s going on. And if you’re a long time fan and haven’t seen this movie…well, I’m not sure what to say to you… FOR SHAME!!!
My Review: 5/5
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is secretly the most terrifying movie ever made…
In the glamour of watching a Steven Spielberg film, it is easy to understand how caught up we can get in the chaotic wonder of blinking strobes and superb John Williams magnum opus score. But, while we found ourselves in that childlike stupor, did we see what was really going on? The visuals dazzled us, no doubt there, but was the subversive message really received? Did we hear? Did we jump? Did we cower? Since watching, have we kept a precarious eye on the nights sky, glaring into the dark depths of the cosmos and wondering who or what is out there? And not only who or what, but what capabilities do they have? What technology or power can they subvert us with? Mind control? Abduction? Electromagnetism? Black outs? Radiation burns? Sickness? Madness? All these are terrifying symptoms, no? If you’ve paid attention you’ll find the terrifying powers listed here are all in that Spielberg film we’ve loved and adored since 1977. And this is why I think Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the most terrifying surreptitious movie ever made. While we were dazzled and awed, strange elongated aliens were abducting children in a blaze of orange fog. While we giggled and cooed over the keyboard synthesizers and light show, a husband and father of three aggressively and tragically lost his mind, eventually being taken away by these so-called visitors. If we can sit back down and watch this movie again, carefully, point for point…well, I’m sure you’ll agree: Close Encounters of the Third Kind IS a cosmic horror movie. Why? Well, this goes back to that ole Lovecraftian fear, not really knowing “what’s out there” or “where they come from,” and having zero control over “what they do.”
Since its release in the 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind has grossed over $337 million worldwide. Ray Bradbury declared it the greatest science fiction film ever made. The film was nominated for several Oscars; having only taken home one in cinematography. Had Star Wars not released the same year, I’m certain Close Encounters would have won all the eggs. No surprise there, if you’ve seen the movie the you know there is no denying the films powerful dream-like quality . There’s nothing uber complicated with the plot or story structure. Its actually rather cut and dry, in which some may say is a tad slow for our rapid fire attention spans. I too recall watching this when I was a kid on VHS and thinking it had its fair share of boring scenes; however, as an adult now, I think the movie has a fantastic pace in which every moment is important in some way. I think a part of why we never watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind thinking how horrifying the movie really was is because of the simplicity of the story, we glaze over and…again, coo over the musical numbers and flashy bulbs. Look at the film, watch the movie, even those on screen, especially at the end, the characters are all moon pied, as if surrendered to some kind of trace or hypnosis. AGAIN…isn’t that in itself a terrifying factor?
And we have to ask, what exactly do these aliens really want? If they’ve been abducting people for generations, what do they want with the one man crazy enough to have made it to Devils Tower? If they’ve been taking people all willy-nilly since before WWII, or even longer, well…it goes to say they probably already have a clear understanding of human anatomy. And if they can insert images and thoughts into our minds, well… this begs the question, how much more of us do they really need to know? To me, it all seems like a subjective test. A greater intelligence than our own giving humanity the equivalent of an SAT exam. Consider this bit from an article published by Keith Phipps:
When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a humble lineman for an Indiana electric company, investigates a power outage, he witnesses an unidentified flying object, a run-in that leaves him with what appears to be a severe sunburn. Nearby, 3-year-old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), follows some lights outside as his mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) chases after him. Both Roy and Jillian, who soon meet, are fascinated by their experiences, but this feeling soon takes a turn. Having strayed from his duties as a result of his sighting, Roy first loses his job then seems to lose his mind as he becomes fixated on alien encounters while his family looks on in horror. Jillian’s life turns even more dramatic than Roy’s when the UFOs return and draw Barry to them as Jillian fights their efforts to avail, in a scene Spielberg stages like an otherworldly home invasion, with Barry’s unwitting delight only amplifying the horror. Something from beyond Earth has arrived, but its intentions remain vague, as does its respect for human life.
And at the end, we get the impression of open communication with the whole sign-language gag. But I wonder…how open that communication really is. Neary was still taken. He was obviously still insane, giving no thought or hesitation of leaving behind his wife, two sons, and daughter. My impression is that these intelligent aliens are still rather indifferent about humanity. And indifference can be dangerous. I question the “friendliness” of the final encounter, the film to me reeks of its post-Watergate-pessimistic era of misguided trust. Sure, they are taking Neary to some place that might be benevolent and beautiful, but how do we know and we’re never guaranteed his return. Will they bring him back as they did the countless others? (Did you see the billboard with all those names and pictures of people they believe had been abducted? Freaking insane number, right?) The final act is the answer to the entire mundane meets the spectacular and secretive undertone of the movie, we don’t know, we don’t know if Neary will return, we don’t know what they’ll do with him, and we have absolutely no power to stop them from taking him. And we have to ask ourselves, would we take a ride with these cosmic visitors?
Would we even have a choice if they came for us?
Update: According to several sources, including Blumhouse News, “in honor of the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s classic feature CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, Sony Pictures has recently done a 4K restoration and is planning on re-releasing the film in theaters on September 1st.”
Thomas S. Flowers writes character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews horror and sci fi movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest contributors who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Horrible Women, or my favorite women in horror
With February being Women in Horror Month, I thought I’d do my part in honoring the many women who’ve made the genre I love so bloody fantastic. Women who have broken boundaries and defied not only gender clichés, but also social and cultural as well. Now, in all honesty, horror is not with its own stereotypical tropes, but in fairness, horror has also done more to mangle down those grey stone walls of truism. Slasher movies for one have a nasty habit of typecasting women into weak character roles. Yet, looking at it from another angle, you might notice that as said slasher movie victim is running around bumping into dead things and screaming at the top of her lungs, she survives while typically every single if not 99% of the male character population parishes in some grotesque way. At the very least, perhaps even slasher movies are saying that when the shit hits the fan, women are survivors. 2013’s home invasion horror movie You’re Next may or maybe count as a slasher flick (we’re going to roll with it), but in the film while there are a few damsels in distress, Erin Hanson (played by the beautiful Sharni Vinson) utterly dominates the movie, chewing bubble gum and kicking ass, taking no prisoners. To say the only contribution women have made for horror is to play its victim is a gross generalization. In movies where women are intended to be the victim, they survive. And then there’s the other side of the road. The villains. The most creepiest characters and monsters of horror, in my humble opinion, have been women. Consider Kathy Bates in Misery and you tell me if her portrayal as Annie Wilkes didn’t creep you the F out! Lets all be honest here, lets put aside our egocentric macho bullshit and come clean. Lets admit it, women have done more for horror than men. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite horrible women!
Lina Leandersson as Eli in Let the Right One In (2008):
Let the Right One In released in our most desperate hour, during a very strange and scary time for vampire tropes. I hate to mention here on my blog, but it needs to be said, in 2008, vampire lore had been polluted with Twilight-esk glowworm sparkle making me want to scream for trying to ruin a classic horror monsters! Yuck! And thank Zeus those days are over. Let the Right One In was an welcomed breath of fresh air, an absolute amazing horror flick. And Lina Leandersson playing the century’s old vampire Eli was magnificent. She was so innocent until she wasn’t. The best scene has to be at the pool when Oskar is confronted with some rather violent bullies. You do not see her inflict the carnage, but when Oskar comes out of the pool and you see all the gore surrounding this small adolescent girl, it is a utter chilling moment in horror history. Her portrayal as his protector was totally believable. The American remake was decent, but for this list I have to go with the original Swedish version. It was by far the superior.
Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully in The X-Files (1993-2003, 2008, 2016):
What can really be said about our favorite doubting Special Agent? The X-Files had a huge impact in my life growing up. And the show is still good. Better than most of what passes as TV nowadays, not to sound like some bitter old man. Gillian Anderson’s portrayal as Dana Scully is interesting. She’s the yin to Fox Mulder’s yang (not to sound dirty). She was the rational part of the relationship, Mulder was the wide eye dreamer who jumped at any and all shadow that spelled conspiracy or extraterrestrial or both. She was a skeptic, sure, but she had to be to level out Mulder’s eccentricism. She was also the scientist, the doctor, the brains of the operation. Her portrayal is interesting because its a role typically played by men. Are men not the more rational? DON’T ANSWER THAT! (cough-cough, wink-wink).
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens (1986):
Though the first time Miss Weaver portrayed Ellen Ripley was in Alien (1979), she did not feel to me as strong of a character as she was in its sequel, Aliens. She was a survivor, for sure in Alien, but in Aliens she kicked some major xenomorph ass! In James Cameron’s epic sci-fi horror, Ripley was easily the strongest character not only because of what she did, but the fact that she did it while struggling with PTSD, struggling with the memories of the traumatic events from the first film. She was a protector when at times you felt she was the one needing protection. Hell, she came out on top while every single one, save Hicks, of the supposedly badass Colonial Marines gets bush whacked! She even goes toe to toe with the “get away from her you bitch” queen bee! Aliens is an excellent movie for many reasons, but the best is watching Ripley transform from traumatized survivor to tuff-as-nails She-Ra!
Jane Levy as Mia in The Evil Dead (2013):
I have no idea what some nerds have against this movie. It is absolutely fantastic. It wasn’t a reboot, it wasn’t a remake, it wasn’t a continuation; 2013’s The Evil Dead was simply another cabin-in-the-woods movie cast in an Evil Dead universe. The mood from the very beginning is grainy and dark, given the subject matter of Mia’s rehabilitation with drug addiction. And it just gets darker. And her struggles felt real. And when the table turns and her inner-demon, as they say, comes out…her creep factor goes sky high! It was fun watching Mia start off playing the victim of the demon that had taken hold of her, and then in actuality becoming the monster (and scary one at that!). And it was satisfying seeing her, by the end, transform into a person willing to literally and metaphorically come out swinging. Mia was not some Ash trope, she was her own character, and a strong and realistic one at that.
Gaylen Ross as Francine in Dawn of the Dead (1978):
While I struggled between Gaylen as Francine in the original and Sara Polly as Ana in the 2004 remake, because I feel both characters and women were strong in each of their respective films, in the end I had to go with Gaylen Ross. Blame it on my favoritism to the original classic or on my love for Romero or whatever you want. Regardless, who can deny the magnetism in Ross’ portrayal as Francine? She was a lone woman surrounded by male machismo and was still able to keep her voice heard over all the grunts and farts. From the very get-go, when they land at the mall and she states “Stephen, I’m afraid. You’re hypnotized by this place. All of you! You don’t see that it’s not a sanctuary, it’s a prison! Let’s just take what we need and get out of here!” Yet, while being overruled by the male majority, she remains patient and lets it slide until her prophecy becomes reality. Of course, her best line is when the boys hatch a plan to secure the mall without consulting her and she confronts them with her own demands, telling Stephen mostly to never leave her without a gun again because (she states mockingly) “I just might know how to use it.” And what’s more interesting is that she is not only the lone woman in the group, but also pregnant. That in itself says something to the strength of her character to deal with these boys and keep her cool in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist (1973):
As horror director and visionary Tom McLoughlin put it (and I’m paraphrasing here) Linda Blair as Regan was everything sugar and spice and everything nice, and she was set up so beautifully pared with her mother, but when she turned on us she became is absolute terror because while she is being victimized by the demon (or demons if you have read the book) she is also the monster, this evil thing that is in total control. Linda Blair did such a marvelous job with her role that The Exorcist is without argument the scariest movie ever made. But it was not just Blair and Regan that made the movie sensational, it was also Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, a strong independent single mother, balancing a profitable career and parenthood. Both actresses deserve mention as this list.
Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton in Hellraiser (1987) & Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988):
I wanted to give Ashley Laurence’s portrayal as Miss Cotton credit in both films because she was pretty much the same character types in both films, though you can imagine that in Hellbound she was struggling more with the hellish (no pun intended) events in the first movie. Miss Cotton was a believable loving daughter who did what she could to love her step-mother, but as they classic trope demands, her step-mother was quite wicked and unlovable. I love Cotton’s character. She’s not weak necessarily. She is a survivor. And she most certainly has her wits about her during times of tribulation. Consider the moment in Hellraiser when she first opens Lemarchand’s box (aka The Lament Configuration, aka The Puzzle Box). When the cenobites first appear, though terrified, for obvious reasons, she is still able to keep her cool and hatch a plan to trade her life for Frank’s. And at the end, when the cenobite attempt to alter the deal she sends each and everyone of them back to hell via solving the puzzle box. In Hellbound, though traumatized, she not only confronts the return of her wicked step-mother, Julia, but manages to humanize Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the other cenobites, turning them back to their original self’s. Clare Higgins also deserves mention here. I was not impressed with her portrayal as Julia in the first Hellraiser, her character was too needing of Frank to stand on her own. But in Hellbound, the gloves came off!! She was a strong and dominate villain, blood thirsty and seductive, even without skin. Yet, despite strong acting from Higgins, I’m more favorable toward Laurence as Cotton. She was smart and foul mouthed, a perfect combination.
Well, there you have it folks! Just a few favorites from the numerous women who have not only embraced, but also defined horror. Who are some of your favorite women in horror?
Thomas S. Flowers creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
A tale of revenge and BBQ!!!