There is a sequence in Wes Craven’s Scream where local horror buff Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) takes centre stage before a group of apparently in-the-know teenagers and explains to them the various rules of scary movie survival. “There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie,” he exclaims with hilarious passion. Be a virgin. Don’t announce your imminent return. And damn it, everyone is a suspect!
Taking inspiration from the lovely people over at Man Crates, I reckon it’s time we shifted our collective focus away from the reactive and towards the proactive. Let’s stop worrying about who the killer is and start worrying about how to conquer said killer. A zombie apocalypse? Forget wearily looking around for fresh water, we ought to start stocking up on the good stuff now. Below is a list of must-have possessions, things everybody should own in the event of a horrifying disaster. Let’s not kid ourselves, in a few years The Walking Dead will probably be eligible to win Best Documentary Series at the Emmys.
You check out Man Crates’ numerous crate combos here — my personal favourite is the Retro Gamer edition. The crates are primarily aimed at guys (we’re notoriously indecisive when it comes to gift wish lists) though I reckon many women out there would be interested too. Crowbars at the ready.
1 — Water (lots)
Given I’ve already mentioned it, this one shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Apparently us humans can only go around three days without water — unless you’re Frodo Baggins who, along with his mate Sam, went something like a week without H2O replenishment. Hoarding water is just common sense. You might even be able to recycle it too, though I’m certainly no expert.
2 — Michonne’s sword (and Michonne)
A weapon is essential, and you wouldn’t want to be lugging around a chainsaw all day and night. A gun would be excellent for a while but you would be snookered when the ammo runs out. I always fancied myself as a bit of an archer — on Skyrim, anyway — but arrows numbers would eventually diminish too. I reckon you’d want something long in length to avoid any close combat, and a Katana blade perfectly fits that bill. Perhaps it’d be best just to hire Michonne as your personal bodyguard.
3 — Notepad and pen(s)
You’d need something that would help pass the time in between any monster-evading exploits, and since technology requires power (which, presumably, would be difficult to garner in a world ravaged by villainous creatures), I reckon the old notepad and pen combo would do the trick. Us film fanatics could write. Arty folk could draw. Gamers could play noughts and crosses. Endless fun.
4 — Netflix
I know I said earlier technology would be a moot possession in an apocalyptic landscape, but who am I kidding? It’s 2015. Us Millennial lot can hardly survive a day wrapped up in bed without the wonders of Netflix. Chances are the big baddie at large — be it the Xenomorph from Alien, Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or Ghostface him/herself — would end up addicted to Orange is the New Black anyway.
5 — Bear Grylls
He is basically humanity’s version of a pocketknife. Bear can hunt for food, he can seek out accessible shelter, create fire without equipment, built rafts to cross rivers etc. Even the world’s most powerful man, Barack Obama, trusts him (though according to the President, Bear’s culinary skills leave something to be desired). And besides, if you can’t survive a real life horror movie with a guy called “Bear” by your side, your survival chances were probably null upon arrival.
Bonus — Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility
This isn’t cheating, is it? You could sit peacefully, sword in tow, guzzling water, jotting down notes in between episodes of Twin Peaks, Bear Grylls camped by your side, and remain hidden from the atrocities of reality. I suppose if we are venturing down the magical route, Hermione’s Time-Turner would be a better option.
There you have it. Some words of advice, free of charge. What more can you ask? If you have anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments section below.
Release Date: October 29th, 2014 (UK); October 31st, 2014 (US)
Genre: Drama; Fantasy; Thriller
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella
Based on author Joe Hill’s novel of the same, Horns represents another opportunity for Daniel Radcliffe to shed his boy-wizard skin. The actor ought to be commended for selecting varied post-Potter roles that, at least from the out looking in, continue to pose different challenges: in recent years, he has played an Edwardian-era lawyer, a Beat Generation poet, and now a horn-growing murder suspect. This might be his most interesting role on paper, but not even Radcliffe’s admirable effort can save Alexandre Aja’s inconsistent adaptation.
Labelled a killer by many in his community, Ig Perish (Radcliffe) wakes up one morning to discover a pair of bulging discs protruding from his forehead. The swollen abnormalities eventually evolve into manic-looking devil horns which, despite Ig’s best efforts, cannot be remove. Bereft of answers, he tries to get on with his life in as normal a manner as possible, and this mainly involves conferring with childhood mate and legal counsel Lee (Max Minghella). Only, those around Ig don’t quite follow suit.
The tone at the beginning is almost wholly comedic. Animal horns fully realised, whenever a mournful Ig finds himself in the company of others, people start acting horrendously: a mother vehemently denounces her young daughter’s fairly innocent behaviour; a receptionist spits vulgarities in the presence of a child; and a doctor yearns for drugs, only not the healthy kind. Yet it all feels forced. The aloof ambience doesn’t really have a foundation, spawning with no support. Why are people acting abominably? Why does Ig have horns? And if we must: who killed girlfriend Merrin (played by a seriously short-changed Juno Temple)?
The latter question is the one that instigates the film’s goings-on, but it isn’t necessarily the one that drives the piece. Horns doesn’t really have a central pivot point as far as the narrative goes. Instead, there a few floating plot strands, none of which are amply examined. Most time is spent disputing the reality of Ig’s jagged head attire; there is an ongoing debate surrounding whether the horns actually exist, or if they are simply a figurative manifestation of guilt. See, not everyone is privy to the mini antlers, and the presumption therefore is that they can only cast a spell on immoral folk: “Maybe the horns just don’t work on good people?”
It’s a premise that has potential, as evidenced by the book’s success, but director Aja struggles to maintain a settled tone, nonchalantly jumping around from dark comedy to revenge-thriller to grotesque horror. This hampers events on-screen and distracts us. You get the sense a straightforward crime-mystery would have been more palatable — the oddness, the tonal inconsistency, is too isolating. It also hurts Ig; he gets caught up in the film’s vacillating tonal underbelly, cracking jokes one minute and weighed down by despair the next. Radcliffe affords his character a degree of watchability, but it is tough to sympathise with a wimpy and agitated protagonist.
Aja is aiming, it seems, for a 21st century hipster-ish Twin Peaks. Heather Graham appears as a waitress wearing bubblegum-red lipstick and cream -pink overalls. If that is not enough, at one point the camera pulls away from a band playing in a club, the background aquarium-blue in colour and the atmosphere red-tinted. Though, by then you’ve probably already loaded up disc one of the Twin Peaks box set. Whereas David Lynch’s mesmeric concoction — both TV series and film — bore elements of genuine horror and hazy addiction (not to mention its band of universally compelling characters), this succumbs to a disorientating factor that it never shakes. Horns needs a Horne.
We get a Scream citation in the form of a doting detective, short hairdo and moustache combo invoked, but sadly it ain’t circa-1996 David Arquette. Even though there is always room for peer admiration, the film gets too caught up in saluting other, frankly better, horror instalments and inevitably misses its own creative train as a result. When Horns does try to chisel out original content it makes a host of unsubtle references to faith and Hell. A parade of snakes stalk Ig at one point, but on this occasion Parseltongue bites the dust.
In another underfed narrative thread, an explosive childhood flashback recalls The Butterfly Effect. Its intention, I guess, is to subsidise the edgy themes at large and suggest that violence once brought Ig and his cohorts together and now violence is in the process of tearing them apart. Had screenwriter Keith Bunin spent more time exploring how we, as a public, engage in tragedy-induced media frenzies, there might have been more for viewers to chew on. Gone Girl is a recent film that bitingly critiques how people reveal their true selves in dire moments, and it is overflowing with fascinating relevance. Admittedly, Gone Girl is also simply an all-round better film.
Horns is quite well-played in parts. A battle sequence performed to “Personal Jesus” makes very little sense yet garners a chuckle. The outing also has a laudable non-distinctive aesthetic; it could be set at any time in the last thirty years. The piece deposits its comedic purpose for something scarier later on, though it’s nothing truly frightening. It’s all just a bit grim really.
Release Date: December 20th, 1996 (US); May 2nd, 1997 (UK)
Genre: Horror; Mystery
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette
Within minutes, it asks us to consider our “favourite scary movie”. Characters relentlessly quote or refer to other characters from other films, such Pyscho’s Norman Bates or Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees. Wes Craven’s Scream is both a love letter to horror cinema and a skilfully rammed knife in the genre’s back. It is vibrant and arrogant and brash. Kevin Williamson pens a screenplay that inverts commonality, and does so for two reasons: to offer fans something new, and to prove that you still can offer fans something new.
Take the bloody prologue as an example. One of the greatest bait and switch openings to ever grace the silver screen, it suddenly manoeuvres from harmless small talk between Drew Barrymore’s unsuspecting teen and an anonymous caller, to effervescent morbidity. “Turn on the patio lights,” orders the unidentified voice, and from then convention is flipped: our proverbial heroine dies in an instant, despite almost escaping, almost alerting her parents, almost relaying the correct answer. You need to know your horror history or else bad things will happen. If that’s not an advert for the genre, what is?
Scream’s role in revitalising the slasher genre ought to be celebrated. Diverting tonally from the superbly mean-spirited Texas Chain Saw Massacres and Exorcists of the 1970s, this embraced the madness and subsequently recaptured the imagination of viewers with self-reflective normalisation. Whereas earlier audiences sought out squeals and yelps (as seen in this recording of a 70s Halloween screening), cinemagoers in the 90s were clearly after something different. Craven obliged, combining wit with exhilarating chills to create an atmosphere that encouraged knowledgeable grins.
More recently, Final Destination and Saw have built entire franchises atop Scream’s perceptive hallmarks, and filmmakers such as Ti West and Adam Wingard likely fostered their own brand of creative horror having gazed upon Craven’s work. Edgar Wright published a touching tribute to the late director, noting the visceral influence Craven’s portfolio had on him in his younger years, an influence that once again reared during the production of Shaun of the Dead (you can read that tribute here).
The story is straightforward: a rampaging killer is loose in Woodsboro, a small Californian community seemingly dominated by obnoxious teens and roving reporters. Still living with the demons brought on by her mother’s murder, Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell, who wholly endears) unwittingly gets caught up in the knife-wielding drama. Knowing the killer’s identity before seeing the film doesn’t undo its value, which is sort of the point; though guessing is part of the fun, horror doesn’t have to be about who is under the hood. The preceding thrill is worth its weight in gold.
Speaking of said killer, the villain here is a maniacal conglomeration of humour and fear. The way Ghostface runs is both funny and scary, as is the way his/her mask droops. Ghostface appears anywhere and everywhere: reflected in the eye of a deceased victim; scampering through neighbourhood forests; hiding behind school closets. It could be anybody under the black cloak and as such a prevailing air of bubbling uncertainty exists (“There’s a formula to it, a very simple formula. Everybody’s a suspect!”). Characters act erratically around each other, but no more erratically than normal teenagers act, which helps to harnesses any disengaging silliness.
Famous for breaking the fourth wall and openly discussing the rules of horror, Scream’s meta ambience still holds up almost two decades on. Perhaps this is indicative of a lack of evolution in the genre, or perhaps it is simply because Wes Craven had a penchant for predicting and challenging the future Zeitgeist. Regarding scary movies, Sydney lays it out for us: “What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.” And normally it is insulting, but not this time.
Patrick Lussier’s snappy editing feeds the edgy (and also comedic) aura, as do Marco Beltrami’s brassy convulsions. Mark Irwin’s camera often shows us what Sydney does not see — for example, the killer’s feet and costume descending into view beneath a bathroom stall door that our protagonist checked only moments prior. Scream is not, incidentally, an out-and-out comedy. We laugh when the film acknowledges absurdity, a trait familiar to the genre that is often ignored in favour of a more serious approach.
At one point the song lyrics “say a prayer for the youth of America” ring out before the view instantly cuts to a house party. The insinuation could be anything. That youngsters lack focus and are too materialistic. That the teens in this film are in grave danger. It could even be a nod towards the social plight of kids in the real world — 1996, after all, continued to play host to the consumerist, ratings-gorging MTV Generation.
The outing even manages to appraise the media in between its scary movie satire. It is tough on said industry, embodied by journalist Gale Weathers’ constant need to invade the teens’ privacy as well as her less than admirable moral motivations (“Do you know what that could do for my book sales?”). But there is a blunt nod towards the media’s role in serving justice too.
It all culminates in an intense, enjoyable and smartly executed wild goose chase with so many well-earned twists and turns. And, like in all great horror flicks, you really want the innocent lot to make it through the bloodbath unscathed. Well, maybe a little scathed. Those are the rules after all.
Release Date: April 17th, 2015 (US); May 1st, 2015 (UK)
Genre: Horror; Thriller
Starring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Will Peltz
Sitting in the cinema, half regretting my decision to see another potentially uninspired scare-free jaunt, half suppressing those cynical emotions, it became impossible to avoid the endless stream of horror trailers. Insidious: Part 3 — Even More Insidious (I think). A Poltergeist remake (Poltertwice, I think). There were probably others. To judge a film before seeing it is unfair and ultimately pointless, however the trailers all shared that annoyingly familiar ‘quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG!’ effect. It was obvious then that Unfriended needed to bring something fresh to an often exploited genre.
Much like The Blair Witch Project was back in 1999, Levan Gabriadze’s film is, for the most part, refreshingly different. Not afraid to embrace its target audience, the entire 83 minutes are relayed to popcorn-crunching teens and young date-nighters via computer screen. As a result, Unfriended is able to manoeuvre around the usual formalities and upload some genuine moments of terror. The monitor format is a novelty but it is one that surely reverberates with many viewers who feverishly delete search histories and spend far too long formulating replies to mates.
The computerised approach neatly ties in with the overarching theme too: cyber bullying. A group of high school students reconvene over Skype for what appears to be common nightly arrangement. It is Blaire’s (Shelley Hennig) screen through which we gaze, making her the central character and also the least offensive. She is online with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), and three others — Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Adam (Will Peltz).
As the insufferable clan — for once, it looks like they’re supposed to be insufferable — banter back and forth, an unknown caller joins the conversation. Unable to fend off the uninvited, the group grow increasingly wary. As it turns out, this is the first anniversary of the death of Blaire’s childhood pal Laura Barns, who committed suicide after a bout of bullying. Is the appearance of this immovable online intruder a coincidence? Unlikely. Bad stuff is about to go down.
From the moment we log into proceedings there is a sense of unease. The Universal Pictures logo freezes up, doing that pixely thing your laptop screen does when you’ve left Netflix on pause for too long before eventually pressing play again. Avoid the impulse to charge out and complain about more shoddy projectionist work though — Unfriended is simply getting into its techno-distortion mentality. There is a lot more pixel interference to come.
This is a film aimed at the younger audience, and its attempt to relay an anti-bullying message is noted (though the chat in class tomorrow will probably be about blenders and Blaire’s iffy iTunes content). For a while it does feel like an R-rated public service announcement; like one of those road safety talks in school where you know the speaker, having finished flagging up things you shouldn’t do when behind the wheel, is about to reveal a harrowing true story involving a nearby accident. In Unfriended the thing you shouldn’t do is be a bully and the harrowing accident(s) is shortly forthcoming. Fortunately, by then PSA-mode is on the back burner.
We Millennials are an easy lot to scare — “Laura Barns” has unsurprisingly become a top YouTube and Google search — but the disconcerting atmosphere that lingers throughout Unfriended is authentic. Though this is still a Scream-esque roulette of death, the delivery unique. The computer screen framing method is overcrowding, leaving nowhere to look as group members are set for the chop. The first casualty is the most unsettling — this person’s still image left to linger on screen, subsidised by an oddness and a feeling that something isn’t right. As the evening wears on, Gabriadze incorporates a few subtle elements that bolster the drive for believability. For instance Blaire’s mouse cursor becomes an indicator of panic, moving more rapidly when she feels threatened.
Sadly, annoyingly, the generic pitfalls are there: dumb characters (they aren’t initially aware that it’s the anniversary of their friend’s death) and lazy scares. Blaire, despite her apparent internet savviness, doesn’t know what an online troll is. In 2015. And why don’t these people just simultaneously scamper to a nearby neighbour’s house for help? Perhaps the idea is that they’re all too sucked in by the grisly online culture to remove themselves from it, but even that seems a bit far-fetched in a life or death scenario. They also all appear to live alone, though to be fair that isn’t unrealistic given their prevailing lack of personableness.
It is entirely likely that the characters are supposed to be somewhat lame — they are bullies after all — however the shift towards lazily constructed frights is disappointing. A death involving a blender does pang you right in the sternum with a dollop of discomfort, but it is only momentary. Only brief and unimaginative, scaring you in the same way a random fire alarm blaring would. The aforementioned creepy images lodge into our headspace because they’re given more time to fester on screen, and because there often is something alarming about peculiarity.
The actors, who essentially spend an hour and a half manufacturing disturbed faces and loud shrieks through webcams, are perfectly fine. One asserts, “What we’ve done here will live forever,” capturing the film’s ethos in a nutshell. It is a pertinent message. Don’t be a bully, period. Don’t stock up on future regret through social media misuse either. In that sense Unfriended is scary, but it is also- ah, hold on. I have an incoming Skype call.
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Adrienne King, Peter Brouwer
It would go on to spawn nine awkwardly named sequels, a cash driven remake and horror’s first modern crossover but Friday the 13th’s greatest influence has always been contained within the lore of the genre itself. Part of a thriving gore group with strands etched through the seventies and early eighties, Sean S. Cunningham’s outing is fairly camp by today’s standards (no pun intended) but also an entirely palatable effort. Should we be thanking the director for his contribution to an occasionally riveting genre, or cursing him for his ‘how to’ guide on making a easy buck? Probably a bit of both in truth, but we definitely shouldn’t be ignorant.
You probably all know the story by now. In 1957, a young boy drowned in Crystal Lake. In 1958, two camp residents were brutally murdered. Twenty one years have passed and the summer retreat location is re-opening, its renovation being undertaken by owner Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) and a bunch of other counsellors. Of course, a blade-wielding killer has decided to pitch up for the night too.
Clichés are abound in Friday the 13th, but given the film was made so long ago a degree of slack-cutting ought to be implemented. It’s true that we can namecheck all of the hackneyed genre norms even before the end of the prologue, a trend that remains throughout and — looking back many years later via eyes worn out by forest chases, old creaky barns and loved up teens — is ultimately a bit disengaging. Then again, who’s watching a thirty-four year old slasher romp with a view to criticise when the local loony shows up? We’ve seen it all before, yes, but there is still stupidity fuelled fun to be had.
Such is the general nature of the slasher brand, the film isn’t all that frightening. The formula on display dictates what winds up being a fairly kooky tone; having settled on the joke-making, characters find themselves separated from the group — either through lust, sheer idiocy, or both — and are picked off innocuously. That’s not to say creepy moments are completely benched. On the off chance we do get see some post-death imagery that is quite unsettling, though by and large the kill scenes themselves are silly. (And, to be fair, quite admirably executed given the tiny budget).
The same plot would see the light of day a few years later, this time under of the guise of Sleepaway Camp, and Friday the 13th could have made use of that film’s shocking conclusion. At ninety minutes long, Victor Miller’s screenplay really does begin to feel the weight of repetition, particularly as it approaches its final act. More time should be filled with scary suspense, and absolutely would be in a more serious affair. The comedic underbelly (one that has no doubt felt the effects of age) taints any tension and, despite serving up the occasional moment of light relief, sticks the knife anything attempting to divert away from light froth — a silly interaction with a snake effectively sums up this quandary, especially as the pay-off gag is funny.
The cast, comprised of good looking kids you might see in a Pepsi commercial, are nothing more than genre pawns resistant to backstories and peeled straight off the slasher victim conveyor belt. These days they’d most certainly be chopped to pieces by the force of modern critical consumption. (Rich coming from a film blogger, admittedly). There is no central character, nobody who is distinguished outwith the cloak of ‘last person standing’, and it is therefore difficult to care. A youthful Kevin Bacon shows up looking peculiar in his iffy speedos, though he’s not the worst offender. Peter Brouwer plays camp owner Steve Christy, a guy I’d have been scared away by upon arrival at Crystal Lake — topless, moustached, prone to face stroking… he is the definition of a dodgy customer. A wary truck driver sums the characters up rather efficiently: “Dumb kids, heads full of rocks”.
Having said all that, the film should be acknowledged for its role in inspiring an often lively genre and it is here through which the franchise as a whole thrives. Part of the Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street crop, Friday the 13th is a significant contributor to a pack that would go on to influence a new form of popular mainstream cinema, a whole new genre in essence. Director Sean S. Cunningham shifts from a conventional shooting framework to one with flavours of today’s abundantly utilised found footage style. It works too: we collaborate with the killer’s point of view, adding a more primal dimension.
Other moments usher in previous genres knowledges, such as Hitchcockian shadows, Janet Leigh-esque screeches and Carrie-like drenched gowns, suggesting a semblance of directorial nous. The piece is also an introduction to one of cinemas most recognisable baddies in Jason Voorhees, though here his form is somewhat diminished. Moral issues such as revenge are timidly hinted at but not worth their inclusion.
Indeed, Friday the 13th couldn’t be cornier if it was on a cob. Characterisation — or the lack thereof — is at an unfathomable premium and the horror outing isn’t really all that spooky. But it’s not really horror. Three decades ago the picture was one of the first in a less weighty, more dainty subgenre whose cleaver would end up spurring on the likes of Scream, one of the 90s’ best and a favourite of mine.
Release Date: October 17th, 1997 (US); December 12th, 1997 (UK)
Genre: Horror; Mystery; Thriller
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.
We probably shouldn’t be too surprised that a film called I Know What You Did Last Summer reeks of laziness. Just as someone couldn’t find the time to come up with a proper title — it ain’t bad, but it is a tagline at the end of the day — renowned screenwriter Kevin Williamson must’ve had better things to do when he should have been jotting down ideas for this particular outing. Odd too, given some of Williamson’s best work hit cinemas only a year prior. Released during the peak of slasher popularity, I Know What You Did Last Summer is an almost wholesomely generic film that seldom has something fresh to offer. Though when it occasionally does, it’s quite fun.
The day is July 4th — it always is — and a group of friends partying at the beach are celebrating the end of high school life. Fuelled by alcohol, their lively drive home in the early hours of the morning takes a violent turn when designated wheel man Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) inadvertently hits a stranger. A year later, the quartet reconvene to face their demons after Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) receives a worrying letter from an unknown threat.
Riding on the coattails of horror’s slashiest sub-genre at its peak, this may well have worked for audiences 15 years ago. For those 90s kids who were willing to manoeuvre away from their post-Fresh Prince couches and venture along to the cinema in a search for their latest scare kick, an air of fragmentary vindication likely arose. The proceeding 15 years haven’t done Jim Gillespie’s piece any favours though as these days I Know What You Did Last Summer communicates sluggishly rather than scarily.
Characters who were once amusingly familiar are now dully recognisable; here we watch incompetent cops, hysterical teens, unappreciative family members and an oddball whose home is a cabin in the woods fight it out for screen time. You could go one further and split our four leads into general types: the douche, the do-gooder, the good-looking chick and so on. The lot presented before us are hardly fleshed out at all, not figuratively anyway — when main ladies Julie and Helen reconnect after a year, the duo interact as if they’ve only been apart for the length of a toilet break. Emotion, posted missing.
It is peculiar, then, that we sort of like the characters. The high profile names involved do well with the lightweight personas laid upon them — at least the car accident at the beginning manifests as some sort of an attempt to taint our protagonists with an iffy moral shadow early on. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar are accommodating screen presences, and both veer closer to the scream queen tag than the annoying gal stamp. In a divergence from rule, we’re essentially roused to root for a pair of leading females and the film does well to split its time between them. Although Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Helen is a pageant contestant she is also quite resourceful and not stigmatised by her materialism. On the other hand, when he is afforded something to do Ryan Phillippe is either angry or the purveyor of comical nodes. “You can’t drive for shit, you know that?” Barry exclaims seconds before his pal runs somebody over. Slick.
Perhaps Kevin Williamson is aiming for self-awareness throughout his screenplay, akin to the tone promoted in Scream the year before. There is a noticeable pronunciation in certain elements that would indicate as such; from telling ghost stories around a campfire to dumping a body in a dark lake, at night, surrounded by mist and eerie silence. But the film gets caught somewhere amid tongue-and-cheek and deadly serious. Unlike Scream, a picture that successfully manages both overriding irony and a sinister underbelly, I Know What You Did Last Summer plods along an uncertain middling route. Humorous moments are infrequent yet amplified when they enter the fray. It doesn’t help when action lulls are supported by dialogue that is often erroneously funny. (“Maybe he wanted to die?”)
And it wouldn’t be a nineties slasher flick without splurges of stupidity either. Conversations are crummy but these are nothing compared to the baffling silliness on display, an unnatural lunacy that regularly exudes the horror norm. Some instances we are forced to forgive for the sake of sanity, such as the arrival of an ominous note on the exact same day Julie returns home, or that her mate just happens to work locally and not be in New York during Julie’s time of need. Other scenes are notable for their unavoidable absurdity: at one point Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character enters her bedroom and dozes off whilst the baddie hides in the cupboard, refraining from killing her. Guess someone behind the scenes managed to inform the villain just in time that there’s another thirty minutes to go.
Slasher outings aren’t really meant to be scary, not exclusively. The aim is to shock, to rattle the audience. Unfortunately this does nothing more than encourage a few winces. Admittedly, our persistence is somewhat rewarded with a couple of good ones. The first kill, for example, is impactful without being overly gory. From here Williamson’s screenplay hints profusely at who the killer is and does so effectively. We foresee a twist coming, we think we know the culprit. Ultimately, the conclusion flatters to deceive but the ponderous build up is admirable and an insight into what could have been.
I Know What You Did Last Summer clumsily loses touch with its tone. The piece cajoles between hokey and ominous, and the end result is rather fluffy. Sure, it is sort of fun if you are looking to suspend you brain for over an hour and a half. But it’s certainly not anything to scream about. And it’s certainly not Scream.
Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet
Sleepaway Camp is certainly a half accurate title in that Robert Hiltzik’s early 1980s slasher debacle has its fair share of camp, and in a way is a little confused as to what it wants to be. Although entertaining enough, it would appear that much of the film has lost a great deal of its edge over the past 30 years, making it come across as a tad goofy in the present day. However, the harrowing and shocking ending Sleepaway Camp unleashes goes a long way to reclaiming that lost tension.
Set during summer camp at Camp Arawak, the film follows a group of campers who fall victim to a series of seemingly unprovoked, random murders at the hands of an unknown assailant. In particular, events zone in on the experiences of Angela, a slightly disturbed and mysterious girl who lost her father and brother in a boating accident eight years prior.
Sleepaway Camp has garnered a distinct cult following since its release, much of which is a product of the film’s alarming ending. Without a doubt, the final scene is completely left-field and gives Sleepaway Camp a much-needed shot in the arm, as much of what comes before is a tad underwhelming. It is difficult to decipher which direction Robert Hiltzik intended to take the film, and how he wanted it to be perceived back in 1983, but thirty years south of its release it certainly veers closer to camp than creepy. That is not to say that it is a bad film, but for around seventy of its 88 minutes on-screen, it does not exceed the passable mark.
To its credit, Sleepaway Camp is fairly inventive when it comes to the murderer’s methods of killing, without bumbling over towards silly. The film was making its way into cinemas just as the slasher horror genre was entering a period of down-time — between the likes of John Carpenter’s masterful Halloween in the late-1970s and the slasher re-emergence through genre pioneers such as Scream in the mid-1990s. Sleepaway Camp does well, therefore, in its attempts to be creative at a time when many of the products the genre was producing were uninspired. However, it is unable to avoid some of the usual potential genre pitfalls. The dialogue is often rash and lacking in any efficiency, often taking a back-seat to the narrative itself and seemingly driven by unwarranted and lazy bouts of profanity. The production values are also inconsistent, with some of the visuals looking especially disgusting (in a good way), whereas others go overboard on the goofiness — another example of the film being confused as to whether it wants to be treated in a serious manner or whether it’s not taking itself too seriously.
None of the cast in particular stand out and, as previously mentioned, they are not given the greatest script to relay and exchange with one another, meaning many of the performances are forgettable. With that being said, Mike Kellin, who has a supporting role as the camp overseer, is eccentric and at times vaguely humorous in his role. Felissa Rose, who plays the main character Angela, is not given an awful lot to do, and as a result does not offer a lot more than a lifeless performance for much of the film — this has more to do with her character being poorly written than her actual performance in all fairness. However, she is the central figure of the best and most unnerving scene in the entire piece. Other than that, the nice characters are nice enough and the nasty ones are nasty enough, generating a bog-standard, clichéd feeling amongst the group of campers.
Even though much of the film is vaguely enjoyable, with some nifty character disposals for its time, a significant percentage of the goings-on are nothing more than just okay. It should be noted though that the main selling point of Sleepaway Camp (which, incidentally is an unjustified title) is the ending which it boasts, and it is true the finale gives the output a dose of essential last-minute energy to make the overall film a worthwhile watch.
Horror is a vast genre that encompasses a wide variety of sub-topics and thus it is difficult to whittle down such a large volume of films to a few personal favourites. Therefore, rather than pick five horror films of similar ilk, I have decided to select five different styles of horror film. Of the five, some will have similar characteristics, whilst others will not — that is just the nature of horror — but this way I have at least attempted to vary each pick.
I would also like to mention that I’m fairly new to the horror craze having not really been attracted to the genre before 2010. But everything is well now, I have seen the light. Or dark, I guess.
Eden Lake (2008)
Eden Lake is a British horror film released in 2008 starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as a couple seeking a peaceful, idyllic retreat. After settling in Eden Lake in the English countryside, their hopes for a relaxing break are quickly dashed when a group of unruly, violent youths decide to interfere.
This was filmed and released before Fassbender had really hit the big time and both his performance alongside Kelly Reilly’s (who recently starred in Flight with Denzel Washington) are one of the two reasons behind the success of this film. Not only are their performances convincing — which is often lost in horror — they are also harrowing, and this correlates nicely with the second proponent of this film’s success: it really is a horrifying watch. Rather than relying on scares, director James Watkins focuses on realism — even though the events of this film are somewhat rare, their depiction is realistic and they unfortunately do occur. The horror is delivered through the authentic nature of the film and, as a result, it is often an agonising and disturbing watch. Although it is gory at times, the gore is not over the top and did not take my focus away from the film, which again can be a detriment to some horror outings.
This is the kind of horror that gets to me most, when the events happening throughout the film are not illogical or far-fetched, but instead plausible, and that is what Eden Lake is all about.
From the realistic to the highly unrealistic, 2004 delivered the beginnings of the gruesome, and eventually repetitive, Saw franchise. Although the Saw films did in the end amount to gore and nothing else, the original Saw — filmed independently before being swept up by Lionsgate — was not only intriguing and encapsulating, it was also smart. That is correct, a smart horror film — they do actually exist.
I do not think I need to outline the plot of Saw as I imagine most people who are reading this are already aware of the premise (two men stuck in a room: how did they get there, who put them there, what have they got in common? and so on). All I will say is that this is a prime example of a horror film that can appeal to both fans of blood and guts and also to those who want more of a challenge when watching a film. It is without doubt a shame that the later additions to the franchise were so disappointing, but at the end of the day those films all stemmed from the success of the first — so I cannot complain really.
Not as gory as the later films, but far more intelligent and gripping, director James Wan has created a genius piece of cinema in regards to Saw.
Another British horror film, Triangle, directed by Christopher Smith and starring Melissa George and Liam Hemsworth, is of psychological descent. Released in 2009, the film follows Melissa George and a group of friends who get caught up in an electrical storm while on a boat trip. Fearing for their lives, they spot an oncoming cruise ship and climb on board… but all is not what it seems.
I had never heard of Triangle before I was recommended it by a friend — it was not commercially successful at all, grossing around a measly £260,000 on its opening weekend. I can only attribute this to a lack of publicity for the film or not enough people knowing about Triangle, because critically it was lauded. Melissa George is tremendous as the lead and the likes of Liam Hemsworth solidly support her. The twist completely caught me off-guard and film as a whole is scary and haunting. Smith manages the psychological aspect of the horror exceptionally well, ensuring the pace of film is upheld and there is no lull in the proceedings.
Daring, thought-provoking and creepy — Triangle exemplifies great psychological horror.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Billed as one of the most shocking films ever made when it opened in cinemas in 1974, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still as scary and intense in the present day. The film follows a group of friends who find themselves being hunted by a family of maniacal cannibals out in rural Texas. Directed by Tobe Hooper and starring a relatively unknown cast at the time, the film was banned in many countries across the world as it was claimed the film was too difficult for audiences to watch.
Everything about this film is terrifying: the antagonists, the setting, the atmosphere, and the music all adds up to an extremely chilling and unnerving experience. Perhaps the films’ greatest achievement is hardly using any violence whatsoever to create the horror, but rather forcing the audience into an uncomfortable viewing environment as a result of its consistently edgy plot created by a sense of helplessness the characters feel and the predicament we see them in. Then there is also that scene in the minivan with the hitchhiker — what is going on there? This film has a huge upside in that it is timeless. There have been many remakes, sequels and prequels (Texas Chainsaw splattered cinemas back in January of this year) but the original remains the cornerstone of horror in my opinion.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has gone on to be revered as one of the greatest horror films ever made and rightly so, it is an excruciating horror classic.
For me, the best all-round slasher film ever made is the first Scream film. Directed by horror king Wes Craven and starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, the film is set in the fictional town of Woodbury where a series of violent murders have been committed by an unknown assailant dressed all in black with a “Ghostface” mask on.
Scream has it all: scares, laughs, intrigue and cleverness. Released in 1996, it is often credited as the film that revitalised the slasher genre after a massive loss of interest in them throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend were born out of this re-emergence of slasher horror due to the success of Scream. The script is witty and jumpy, harping back to old slasher classics like Friday the 13th and Halloween, and even incorporating the ‘rules of horror’ and ‘horror clichés’ in a satirical form. The classic whodunit format plays out both in an engrossing and comedic manner, whilst the cast perform their individual roles very well. One of the greatest upsides of not just Scream, but the franchise as a whole, is the consistency throughout the films. Unlike Saw before where the repetition of plot points became too much as the films progressed, the Scream franchise just about manages to overcome that repetition problem. Although I admit the third instalment gets a little jaded towards the end, the return to Woodbury ten years on in Scream 4 felt fresh — and creepy — once again.
The collective Scream franchise is tremendous in my view, but the first Scream film was a resounding success critically, commercially and in every other way. What else can I say: Scream might just top the horror genre for me.
Just before I end I’d like to relay a few honourable mentions:
The Birds (1963) — How can I write a horror blog post without including the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, in some way? The Birds is just that: full of suspense.
The Shining (1980) — Perhaps one of the most iconic images in cinematic history is Jack Nicholson sticking his head through a bathroom door he has just axed apart and exclaiming, “Heeere’s Johnny!”
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) — The ultra-creepy portrayal of Hannibal Lecter by Anthony Hopkins is one of the scariest performances of all time, not to mention Jodie Foster’s exceptional take on a young FBI agent tasked to take advice from Lecter in order to catch another serial killer.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) — Though not considered to be anywhere close to one of the best horror films of all time, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. A group of teens stuck in the middle of nowhere being stalked by a crazy guy — what more do you want?
Funny Games (2007) — I have not seen Haneke’s original Austrian version, only the 2007 US remake. If what I am hearing about the original being better is true, I cannot wait to see it because this is harrowing — but in an impressive way.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012) — This was the closest of the lot to making into my top five, and maybe it should be there. It divides opinion like Marmite, but The Cabin in the Woods is a highly entertaining horror film with an unbelievable twist. I will say no more. Just watch it.
Please feel free to list your top five in the comments section if you wish!