THE LAST KNOCK presents: Gore – What is it Good for?

The Last KnockDoes gore have merit in horror at all, or is it just an insipid extra a film’s narrative doesn’t need? We dive deep into the blood puddle to find out. We’ll look at BRAINDEAD, HELLRAISER, GROTESQUE, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, THE BEYOND and many more.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS: @AnnThraxx, @MartySimms, @loveleov, @FriscoKidTX, @LoudGreenBird, @doubleagent73, @PromoteHorror, @DarcWorks, @GorillaProducer, @BleedingCritic, @dvdinfatuation, @flcamera, @Brianmcse, @Clive_SJohnson, and @NylaVox.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with Author William Galaini

The Last KnockTrampling in the Land of Woe author, William Galaini talks about Hell, how his character traverses said landscape, and what makes horror work. Join us for a lively discussion about the macabre, Alexander the Great, and Confederate soldier making up for a bad existence.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS: @craigster1970, @pindancingangle, @Garvey66, @dixiefairy, @AnnThraxx, @EmilieFlory, @RealJillyG, and @Theladyphantom.


Crash Analysis Support Team: Seas of Cheese: The Case for 80s Horror and Why We Should Love It – Guest Post from Randy Brzoska

house-of-the-long-shadows-british-quad-1983-12707-pSEAS OF CHEESE: THE CASE FOR EIGHTIES HORROR AND WHY YOU SHOULD LOVE IT

Jonny and Billy recently did an excellent THE LAST KNOCK podcast about my favorite decade for horror: the 80s. And let me tell you, it got me juiced. I know, I know. You’re thinking: big hair, ALF, Kajagoogoo, Prince movies. Fine. Laugh all you want. But the 80s were more than a punch line. In the midst of all that ridiculousness and excess, there was a lot of serious creative work going on. In fact, I’d argue that in terms of horror, the 80s was the most fecund and inventive decade of the 20th century.

A lot of this was a reaping of what was sown in the 70s. Many of the authors and directors that would dominate the 80s cut their teeth in the previous decade. Punk may have been dead, but its spirit haunted the 80s. In addition, the adventurous and experimental spirit that matured in the 70s crossed into a decade that took the nihilistic excesses of its predecessor in new, more optimistic (though perhaps also, paradoxically, more cynical) directions. All the boundaries exploded in the 70s by films like THE EXORCIST, ALIEN, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, HALLOWEEN and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE were gone forever.

Practical special effects also came into their own, perfected and pioneered by the likes of Rick Baker, Tom Savini, and Stan Winston among many, many others, and filmmakers subsequently became less restrained about showing gore and creature effects. Less was no longer more. More was more! The greater the shock value, the better.

Culturally, here in the U.S, we had to contend with the dawn of Reagan conservatism, the death throes of the Cold War, AIDS, soulless materialism, the rise of corporate power, Baby Boomer nostalgia, yuppies, and Tipper Gore (and that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg). There was a lot of anxiety for horror auteurs to drill into. And drill they did.

The result was that, for a time, horror could have its cake and eat it, too. The genre was given mainstream cache by the monstrous success of authors like Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, etc… Filmmakers like John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and Wes Craven crafted films that simultaneously didn’t insult the audience’s intelligence and were blockbuster successes—unimaginable in today’s box office environment.

But there was also a lot squirming under the surface, too: a thriving independent subculture ready to take advantage of the audience’s appetite for terror and the burgeoning VHS rental market. Straight-to-video became both a way to make money from cheap, exploitive films and also a way for inventive filmmakers to circumvent the chokehold of the studio film distribution system. Many films found an audience almost exclusively through word-of-mouth and VHS rental.

In short, it was glorious. Of course, by decade’s end cynicism, greed, and irony usurped a lot of the earnest energy the decade had in abundance in its early years. The economy sucked. The fun was gone. And the genre was too self-aware, but lacked the verve and wit to deconstruct and make fun of itself the way Wes Craven would in the 1990s with SCREAM. Everybody yearned for what had been. Nobody was thinking about what would be.

In any case, Jonny and Billy did a great job of highlighting some of the best films of the decade. Here are some additional worthwhiles and their horror cohort (by year) from the decade that brought us DONKEY KONG and Boy George.

EFFECTS (1980): A director may or may not be creating a snuff film depicting his cast and crew being murdered. It’s not perfect, but I think it captures the anxiety people felt upon seeing new special effects that were so good they shocked even the most jaded audiences. You knew it wasn’t real. But boy it looked real. The film is inventive and its conceit is novel. It’s cohort for that year includes: FRIDAY THE 13th, THE SHINING, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, ALLIGATOR, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, THE CHANGELING, MANIAC!, ALTERED STATES, and THE FOG.

THE HAND (1981): Oliver Stone and Michael Caine team up to create a really great bad movie. Goes to show you can come back from anything. Horror cohort: POSSESSION, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, THE HOWLING, EVIL DEAD, THE BEYOND, and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

ALONE IN THE DARK (1982): Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau, and Jack Palance star in this underrated thriller about a bunch of homicidal lunatics who escape from the asylum and wreak havoc as homicidal lunatics are wont to do. Palance’s character is great and the ending of the film is fucking perfect. Horror cohort: THE THING, CREEPSHOW, POLTERGEIST, HALLOWEEN III, Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, BASKET CASE, and TENEBRAE.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983): Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine—the four horseman of the cinematic apocalypse!—are all together for the first and only time in this film. (BTW: I’m writing this on the day Christopher Lee died, an event I was convinced would never happen. R.I.P.) Horror cohort: THE HUNGER, THE KEEP, VIDEODROME, CUJO, XTRO, CHRISTINE, & SLEEPAWAY CAMP.

RAZORBACK (1984): An Australian horror featuring a giant warthog. Don’t laugh. The premise seems ridiculous, but the film is surprisingly effective. Horror Cohort: NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, NIGHT OF THE COMET, C.H.U.D., CHILDREN OF THE CORN, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, and GREMLINS.

THE BRIDE (1985): This is the sort of over-the-top, unintentionally funny film that only the hubris of Really Serious People with Artistic Vision and A Budget can make. What a glorious disaster. Jennifer Beales “won” a Razzie for a performance that pretty much killed her career for a while. Sting at least had a day job he could scurry back to. Horror Cohort: FRIGHT NIGHT, DAY OF THE DEAD, LIFEFORCE, PHENOMENA, RE-ANIMATOR, and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986): What a year this was! This low key slasher might be the most underrated of the bunch, but it’s still pretty well-known among horror aficionados. 1986 was loaded. Take a look for yourself: ALIENS, THE FLY, FROM BEYOND, IN A GLASS CAGE, THE HITCHER, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, CRITTERS, HOUSE, LITTLE SHOP OF HORROS, VAMP, and NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.

THE HIDDEN (1987): Kyle Maclachlan hunts down a parasitic alien that takes over dead bodies and makes them experience digestive distress. I’m not really doing it justice. It’s a nice B-movie sci-fi horror and MacLachlan is better than the material…in a good way. Horror Cohort: HELLRAISER, DOLLS, ANGEL HEART, BAD TASTE, EVIL DEAD II, LOST BOYS, NEAR DARK, THE GATE, and RETURN TO HORROR HIGH.

THE NEST (1988) and SLUGS (1988): Both movies are ridiculous and cheerfully revolting, basking in prolonged kills and lots of disgusting effects. They’re crawling with campy pleasures and you’ll find plenty to laugh at (much of it unintentional), but you’ll do it while peeking through your fingers; some of the sequences have held up surprisingly well. Horror cohort: NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, PIN, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, CHILD’S PLAY, MANIAC COP, PUMPKINHEAD, THE BLOB, THEY LIVE, and PHANTASM II.

INTRUDERS (1989) and PARENTS (1989): Clips from both movies are used in Skinny Puppy’s x-rated version of their video for “Worlock”. INTRUDERS is by no means a great movie nor is it a particularly original one. But the kills! The kills are inventive and squirm-inducing. Conversely, PARENTS is a horror/comedy directed by Bob Balaban (!) and starring pre-crazy Randy Quaid about a boy who suspects that what his parents are serving for dinner is Soylent Green before it becomes Soylent Green, if you know what I mean. He takes it upon himself to find out, literally, how the sausage gets made. Horror cohort: PET SEMATARY, SOCIETY, THINGS, THE DEATH KING, THE EXORCIST III, WARLOCK, and TETSUO: THE IRON MAN.

All right, enough for now. I’ve got a novel to finish and the next installment of THE ELEMENTS OF (HORROR) STYLE to write. Got something to add? Leave it in the comments or tweet me at @RSBRZOSKA. Cheers!

(Photo from Twin Lens Film.)


THE LAST KNOCK presents: Monster Makers: Rick Baker

The Last KnockThe world renowned special effects makeup master, Rick Baker, began his career by creating masks in his parents’ kitchen. Now, the seven time Academy Award winner continues to bring us great films with his stellar work. We’ll look at his career, and his horror films, from SQUIRM and the INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, to VIDEODROME, THE RING, and so much more.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS: @xanderfilm, @CFAweiss, @theadman40, @JohnRosePutnam, @promotehorror, @badchopsuey2, @RonGizmo, @doubleagent73, @WGalaini, @RealJillyG, @Theladyphantom, @EmilieFlory, @Mel_McBoutin, and @johnnyveins.



Crash Analysis: The Kids Aren’t All Right

ATaleofTwoI had the pleasure of presenting this paper at the MAPACA Fall Conference in Philadelphia, 2011 on Lisa Miller’s Horror Panel. Afterwards, The Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association printed the work in their The Gazette. Unfortunately, the publication from that year is no longer available online, so I present it here. Enjoy:

The Kids Aren’t All Right:

Horror Movies Remind Us that Protecting Children at Home is an Illusion

William D. Prystauk

© 2011, Crash Palace

To be successful, a horror movie must play off existing fears to extract that all important jolt from the audience. This means the basics: isolation, being surrounded by unreliable people, finding one’s self to be helpless (due to lack of phones, weapons or knowledge of surroundings), no escape routes, unforeseen threats and where the ordinary becomes Freud’s “the uncanny.” In addition, one of the most ordinary, and at times taken for granted elements in our lives, is the home. A home is our refuge, our fort – our protective womb. The place where we expect to be protected. Yet, this is most often exploited in horror movies where our beloved and sacred homes become prisons, torture chambers and tombs.

No wonder so many horrors are home based, where we see a family enter their new, happy house only to find it possessed, or haunted (by the ethereal or the corporeal). In these instances, especially with family based horror fair, such as Poltergeist or The Amityville Horror, the audience usually becomes invested in wanting to see the children saved from ghosts, demons and serial killers. Now that the protective walls of the home have been breached by outside forces or from internal netherworld forces, audiences long to sigh in relief as the children make it out alive, with the family unit intact, of course, thus increasing the suspense. Even many audience members without children of their own long to see the outcome where kids and teens survive to enjoy another day.

But what if the child is the source of horror? What if the ones we are sworn to protect – love to protect – bring us grief, pain and even death? To do this, we’ll look at three different movies that approach the issue from different perspectives: 1956’s The Bad Seed, 2002’s A Tale of Two Sisters and 2010’s The Last Exorcism.

The home protects each of us as if a womb – and this is not to feminize the home by any means. It is that the home nurtures us, helps us grow as if we are indeed in a womb manufactured outside the forces of nature. Therefore, whether young or old, we feel familiar and at ease with our surroundings because we have grown within them as we once did in our mother’s bodies. As Gaston Bachelard states in The Poetics of Space, “A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability” (17). Yet we are never made aware of this illusion of stability until disaster strikes: a break-in, a fire, or even flood damage, as examples. Horror movies, however, are apt to remind us of our delusions in short order.

This illusion of stability, or its shattering to be more precise, is clearly evident in 1973’s The Exorcist where Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) could not protect her daughter, Regan (Linda Blair) from being possessed by a demon – nor could the mother drive the demon out herself. Instead, she remained completely helpless as others tended to her daughter. Exorcism, the act of extracting a demon from a human host, has been a prevalent theme in horror movies, where the possessed is usually a child or teenager. And although the exorcism movies may have been prevalent in the seventies, thanks to the success of The Exorcist, there has been a resurgence in the new millennium with the “fact” based The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005, followed by

Exorcismus (2010), and Insidious and The Rite (2011). The most interesting of the films, however, is Daniel Stamm’s 2010 hit, The Last Exorcism.

Taking place in the back woods of Baton Rouge, The Last Exorcism is a mockumentary that follows Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) as he uses tricks and illusions to extricate a demon in the possession of Nell Sweetzer (Ashely Bell) because he at first believes the teen is only acting out for attention. Once the reverend realizes Nell is truly possessed, he does everything possible, including putting his life on the line, to save the girl.

The most intriguing aspect of the film, however, is Nell’s fundamentalist father, Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum). He is convinced, beyond a doubt, that his daughter has a demon inside her, which is a far cry from what the reverend thinks is happening. Cotton Marcus sees Nell as a tormented teenager not just undergoing hormonal changes, but she may be suffering from emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of her father – a strong personality not to be thwarted. Louis, concerned for his daughter’s soul and what she might unleash upon the world if she remains possessed, has other concerns regarding his modest home tucked away in the woods. He has a wife and three other children to protect.

Playing the role of the fundamentalist Christian father, where Louis’ home is his castle and his family is his responsibility, he is out to protect them at all costs. Throughout the movie, Louis deteriorates as Nell’s condition worsens. No longer hoping for the reverend to save his daughter, Louis must save her soul – and the remainder of his family – by killing her. Though this act may seem ridiculous, cruel and in exact opposition to his beliefs, Louis is a desperate man, and by killing his own daughter, he will in fact live up to his requirements as protective father, and will thus maintain the safety of the home. After all, Nell’s soul is far more important in his Christian mindset than her physical being. The Sweetzer home, as a collective, as a family, must be protected and maintained even at the cost of one of its members. Louis would rather remove his daughter than see the rest of the family tainted or destroyed by what possesses her.

The final act, as the demon within claims more of Nell, pits Cotton Marcus and his renewed faith in exorcism against Louis’ Old Testament need to sacrifice his daughter.

Usually, in most horrors affecting the children of the home, the parents are more than willing to sacrifice themselves for their children at any cost. And we see this in The Exorcist, Poltergeist and Funny Games to name a few. But The Last Exorcism was not the first to present a parent finding no other recourse but to kill his or her own child.

In 1956, The Bad Seed, based on William March’s celebrated novel and successful Broadway play, brings us eight year old, Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack), full of sugary sweet Eddie Haskel like praising and well wishes – the “smart ass” kid always out to pull a fast one on friends and strangers with a smile and placations. Though not possessed by a demon like Nell Sweetzer, little lovely Rhoda is evil incarnate. She wants things her way at all costs and is not afraid to kill to make that happen, such as drowning classmate Claude Daigle to get a medal for penmanship Rhoda felt she deserved. As the boy’s “accident” and Rhoda’s nonchalant behavior about the death continue to plague the mind of her mother, Christine (Nancy Kelly), it is clear that Rhoda’s protector is on to her.

Though the book explores the notion of “nature” versus “nurture”, the movie is more concerned with the mother and how she will handle the situation with Rhoda. After all, Christine is in a quandary: How could people ever believe her darling princess to be a murderer? Seeing no way out, Christine decides to do what she must: Kill her own daughter before she kills again. But this decision is not reached quickly and it is not taken lightly. As the story progresses, Christine’s desperation rings loud and clear. She suffers in silence and her anxiety grows as she watches Rhoda manipulate, hurt and steal from those around her. When a handyman is almost burned to death at the tender hands of Rhoda, the mother realizes she must act.

In this instance, however, Christine has no other purpose than to protect the world around her. And since Christine realizes she also killed someone in her past and that her genes may be responsible for the creation of another monster, after poisoning Rhoda and putting her to bed for her final sleep, the mother attempts to take her own life. Here, the once safe and vibrant home has turned into an emotional torture chamber and now looms to become a death chamber. In the safety and seclusion of home, Christine initiates the final act that will remove them both from society. Interestingly, the mother leaves no note behind to explain her actions to a world that will in no doubt be bewildered and will condemn her for her terrible actions. It is as if nothing exists now but the home as a prison where both mother and daughter will be put to death behind closed doors. This is very fitting because the mother never seems to even leave the home and had already made herself a prisoner long ago because of her horrific nightmares. Subconsciously, Christine knows she has killed and treats herself as if she is under house arrest for her crime. Once she realizes Rhoda is following in her wake, there is no choice but to do what she may have wanted for herself a long time ago.

Christine was clearly in a state of denial about herself as well as her daughter, and she needed a large amount of evidence before getting over the fact that Rhoda is not a sweet little angel, but an envious perfectionist hellbent to get everything she ever wanted – with the cool lack of conscience one would expect from an assassin. Then again, what parent would not be in denial? Granted, there are no absolutes, but many can only envision their offspring as angelic souls that respect others. After all, if the child is truly a “bad seed”, then parents must share in the blame – especially an eight-year-old girl. And we can not imagine any parent wants to see himself or herself as a failure in child rearing, hence the denial. Furthermore, there must be an element where parents convince themselves that they can make the situation “right” because a child can not be held accountable for such violent acts – the parent simply failed on the grandest of scales. Again, denial and the lack of acceptance that the child is his or her own person with a propensity for choosing to be good or evil.

Denial is certainly a key factor in most horrors involving children and teens in the home. In the riveting, A Tale of Two Sisters the father, Bae Moo-hyeon (Kap-su Kim) is in such denial about his one daughter’s apathetic condition, he can barely look at her and he functions like a robot, even though Bae soo-mi (Su-jeong Lim) is bitter, angst ridden and self-involved. The father’s denial is so deep, and he has become so impotent as a husband, a father and a man, he invites guests to visit his emotional torture chamber of a home for a sit down dinner that goes horribly awry. It’s not until near the end of the film where the father, so wrought with sadness and despair that he clearly becomes a truly broken man, just matter-of-factly tells Bae soo-mi everything she needs to know about her sister, her mother and her world, and simply walks away leaving his daughter absolutely dumbfounded. His denial and depression are so deep, because he has failed so miserably as a husband and father, he knows he cannot cope with his daughter’s distress and abandons Bae soo-mi in her moment of revelation.

In all three films, the daughters have threatened the family dynamic whether by their own hand or via possession, turning the home into a house of horror. Where peace and comfort should reign supreme, anxiety and fear take hold, threatening, dissecting and destroying the family unit. Moviemakers, playing on the fears that an enemy can lurk within, compounded by the fact that the enemy is a child that should otherwise be protected and that the parents are virtually helpless, whether by choice or other means, creates an unsettling sensation in the minds of the audience, to say the least.

Yet there is another element at play. When thinking of “children gone wrong” in the horror genre, these films come to mind: The Omen from 1976, The Good Son (1993), The Children (2008) and 2010’s Insidious. They are important because they represent but a handful of instances where the child causing grief in the home involves boys. Most tales have girls at the centerpiece for evil, possession and mayhem. But why?

Author Armin Brott, whom Time labeled “the superdad’s superdad” says that “As our children grow, we remain more protective of girls than boys.” Although this seems too prevalent in western society, women and young girls around the world are still the primary victims of abuse, from genital mutilation to early marriage, human trafficking and forced prostitution, which is confirmed by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the United Nations and countless other worldwide institutions and their numerous studies. Yet a strong dichotomy exists because the “damsel in distress” archetype is still heavily relied upon in horror movies.

One of the world’s oldest female archetypes, the poor damsel, is in need of saving throughout all genres of literature and film, and from a multitude of different cultures. “The shadow side of this archetype mistakenly teaches old patriarchal views that women are weak and teaches them to be helpless and in need of protection” (“A Gallery”). Therefore, the audience’s role is significant. Like the parents, or heroes in the movie, we collectively want the girl to be saved. Call this Lamia’s and Krieger’s “White Knight Syndrome” without the romantic attachment. As Dr. Lamia told me in regard to so many young woman being the prime attraction to horror in the home, “I am not sure about the choice of young girls in distress by filmmakers, but would speculate that it could be the utilization of gender bias – the erroneous perception that females are more vulnerable or emotional, and therefore subjects with whom a viewer would likely empathize.” This “perception of vulnerability” may be the key because attractiveness does not seem to play a role. Many of the girls, such as The Exorcist’s Regan and Poltergeist’s Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), and even the ruthless Rhoda from The Bad Seed, are presented as “cute” and innocent. Although Bae soo-mi is an attractive young woman, this is a secondary characteristic to her mental state, and in the film her character is usually under many layers of clothing and indulges in little cosmetics. Finally, in The Last Exorcism, Nell is presented as a homely young teen. Regardless of the overall intentions, even for those audience members without children, there is a need to reach through the screen and rescue the child from the clutches of evil – let us say this reaction is akin to “it takes a village.”

If sex appeal is not the main factor in choosing young women or girls to be at the center stage of horror in the home, it must be the notion from filmmakers that females are still considered “the weaker sex” and better represent true innocence. However, filmmakers may be playing off an audience’s misconception of the weaker sex, where moviegoers see the female “victim” as innocent when she is actually callous, especially in the case of Rhoda Penmark where the child is a dichotomy – sugar and spice in its umpteenth form. Therefore, horror movies are not necessarily exploiting girls or laughing at a parent’s perspective of seeing their child as angelic when they are not. Horror movies showcasing the child as an enemy from within is simply exposing a truth that certainly may exist, which cateogorizes these films as cautionary tales. Dr. Heide, professor of criminology at the University of Florida, says in a CBS News article that “On average, about five parents are killed by their biological children in the United States every week” (“Q&A”) and in a twenty-four year study, “Girls younger than 18 were the killers in 20 percent of the matricide incidents committed by juveniles” (“Q&A”). And, sadly, the US Census Bureau continues to turn out statistics revealing that juvenile crime is alive and well. Horror movies dealing with this type of subject matter, whether the young brute is male or female, “pull out the tenets of the human experience and examine them in their ugliest guise, to hopefully be more honest about the things that destroy us from within, and change our ways” (Bishop).

Ultimately, there seems to be no end to having children, especially girls, as the motivating force behind horror in the home. This is the last thing we expect as parents and as adults in society: to find a child responsible for ruining a family and its figurative home from the inside – rotting a house as if afflicted with blight. Even though we may not understand why violent home invasions occur, we can grasp that negative external forces were trying to get something from within a protective structure. Yet, to have a home shattered by a family member that lives within its walls, a true domestic terrorist – a traitor – stuns us and leaves us torn between saving the child or finding no other recourse but to destroy the child. And this double- edged sword of rescue and retribution will no doubt keep moviegoers on edge for many more horror movies to come.

Works Cited

“A Gallery of Archetypes.” MetaReligion. StrasoSphere, 27 OCT 2007. Web. 01 Sep 2011.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Reprint. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994. Print.

Bishop, Ally. “Arrived.” Message to William D. Prystauk. 05 Sep 2011. E-mail.

Brott, Armin. “The Difference Between Boys and Girls.” Canadian Parents – Canada’s Parenting Community. Rogers Digital Media, 2011. Web. 01 Sep 2011.

Heide, Kathleen M. “Q&A: Why Kids Kill Parents.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive Inc., 10 Apr 2010. Web. 23 Sep 2011. < main6383938.shtml>.

Lamia, Dr. Mary. “Speaking Inquiry via Psychology Today.” Message to William D. Prystauk. 01 SEP 2011. E-mail.

(Photo from a scene of A Tale of Two Sisters from Fangoria.)

Crash Discussion: Decade of Horror – The 80s

The Last KnockWe traipse through the decade with a bloody blade as the slasher reigned supreme, yet show how the 80s re-defined the vampire sub-genre. This ten-year block was built on the back of independent 70’s horror, but it also may have contributed to what many see as a drought in the 90s.

This week’s SCREAM OUTS to: @JossRadillo @1Unatrualsoul @SamesCarolyn @Theladyphantom @RealJillyG @EmilieFlory @RiversofGrue @aicforever @AnnThraxx @VicsMovieDen @TrashFilmGuru @HMPod @dixiefairy @flickmixx @HeatherOmen @Chris_Stuckmann @OwenMcCuenQuest @davidpbaker

Crash Analysis Support Team: The 1990’s – Horror’s Lost Decade – Part II: 1995 – 2000

tlbsquewPlease allow me to once again preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers may exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

The World of the 1990s: A Tale of Two Decades

The Late 90s: The Best of Times?

As the first baby-boomer to be elected to the U.S. Presidency, Bill Clinton now occupied the White House and was seeking, what would turn out to be, a successful re-election, thanks to, among other things, votes being divided by three candidates (what?!).

The economy improved and grew, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing at 11,000 in 1999. The unemployment rate dropped to almost four percent, something unseen for decades. Technology, as it does, grew exponentially. The internet became accessible to most folks, and email and websites gave birth to the boom creating millionaires and billionaires.

Evil, of course, still plagued the world, but in the U.S. during the late 1990s, it seemed to be something that happened to someone else. Crime overall was decreasing and would ultimately reach record lows, despite far-right terrorism persisting, in the likes of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. Tragic school shootings continued, the most notable being Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999.

O.J. Simpson, apparently, didn’t kill two people in Brentwood, California, an event that created what would become the modern media’s frenzy of nonstop news coverage we have today.

Wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo exploded, but seemed worlds away, and while U.S. troops were involved via NATO, no Americans, thankfully, lost their lives in these battles.

Islamic fundamentalist extremists remained, but most of the killing occurred internationally, as seen in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, and the attack of the USS Cole in Yemen. With no significant event within the U.S., Americans would be lulled asleep and distracted until they were awakened on September 11, 2001 at 8:46 A.M.

It seems the biggest crime committed in the U.S. during the late ‘90s was perpetrated by the aforementioned President Bill Clinton relating to a sex scandal in the White House (Oh my god!). This resulted in only the second impeachment of a President in American history. He was eventually acquitted and, somehow, the country managed to heal and survive as it anticipated the next apocalyptic event: the Y2K bug!

Cinema of the Late 90s: Post-Mortem

The mid-1990s pretty much picked up where the early ‘90s left off: mindless action movies such as TRUE LIES, INDEPENCE DAY, and FACE/OFF kicked ass; we laughed as comedies like AUSTIN POWERS, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, and any comedy by Jim Carey seemed to get broader; we cried during LEAVING LAS VEGAS, DEAD MAN WALKING, and especially as the TITANIC sank while becoming the highest grossing movie ever at the time; special visual effects, particularly computer-generated images (CGI) were finally maturing in films like ERASER, ARMAGEDDON, and THE MATRIX; crime-dramas still thrilled us in movies like THE USUAL SUSPECTS, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, and FARGO; 1997’s BATMAN AND ROBIN killed poor Bruce Wayne and the superhero sub-genre for years; and Steven Spielberg found another way to horrify us with a non-horror movie, this time with the World War II epic, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

Independent Cinema: Alone and Scared in the Dark

Before everything went digital and “DIY” became part of our lexicon, young cinephiles filled with dreams, drive, and determination, gave birth to what we refer to now as “independent” film-making. It’s more that they were just outside the Hollywood studio system; they funded movies themselves and maximized every penny, introduced us to quirky characters and told off-beat stories, marketed and released films themselves.

Richard Linklater’s SLACKER inspired Kevin Smith to make CLERKS; Steven Soderbergh, Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, and Darren Aronofsky launched successful careers. Though horror-free in the ‘90s, Smith, Jarmusch, and Aronofsky eventually went on to make horrors in the 21st century, as well as Linklater with his 2014 horror, BOYHOOD…just kidding…

A Danish film-maker, Lars Von Trier, who would also go onto to produce horror movies later in his career, co-founded the Dogme 95 consortium in 1995, which restrained participating directors to strict rules. The first gem to be borne of this was 1998’s THE CELEBRATION by Thomas Vinterberg.

Though many of the notable independent film-makers and movies of the ‘90s were not horror (relax, I’ll talk about BLAIR WITCH later), one man, Robert Rodriguez, who in some productions literally wore all the hats, did give us FROM DUSK TILL DAWN in 1995, and despite his success, still maintains his one-man-show style of film-making to this day.

Trivia: What was the first movie to be filmed, edited, and released digitally? Hint: Yep, it’s a horror!

Answer: 1998’s THE LAST BROADCAST, written, produced, and directed on a reported budget of $900.00 by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler. It’s found-footage of documentary film-makers seeking to chronicle the Jersey Devil. The movie is actually effective and creepy, until the last few minutes when it comes off the rails. It’s an unfortunate miscalculation by the two film-makers. Avalos and Weiler, as well as their movie, would soon be completely overshadowed by a found-footage horror the next year. They would go on to continue working in the business, but not see the heights their found-footage successors would reach.

Late 1990’s Horror: Still Dead on Arrival

Okay, so what horror did we get? Again, a lot of the same: sequels trying to capitalize on previous movies that were only marginally successful themselves (seriously, how many friggin’ LEPRACHAUN’s and PUMPKINHEADs did we need?). One sequel, though, the actual seventh installment in the series, NEW NIGHTMARE, proved to be a hit with critics, yet was the lowest grossing film of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, but still earned a profit. Wes Craven came back with the hope of saving the dying franchise, and wrote and directed after many years of silence between him and ole Freddie Krueger.

An unrelenting stream of Stephen King adaptations continued (NEEDFUL THINGS, THE MANGLER, the LAWNMOWER MANs, the CHILDRENs OF THE CORN, THINNER, APT PUPIL, the SOMETIMESes THEY COME BACK, etc.), most of which failed to reach the commercial prosperity of his novels. Ironically, King’s most successful adaptations derived from his non-horror stories, THE GREEN MILE, which was both critically and commercially triumphant, and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, which earned most of its money post-theatrical release and currently holds a #1 ranking on the Internet Movie Database, or as the kids call it: IMDb.

On the subject of adaptations, old classics such as FRANKENSTEIN and MARY REILLY failed both critically and in the box-office, yet involved some of our most heralded film-makers and actors: Robert DeNiro, Julia Roberts, John Malkovich, Kenneth Branagh, etc. SLEEPY HOLLOW fared better, but was still met with lackluster critical reception.

Remakes tried to capture the success of their predecessors, but Roland Emmerich’s GODZILLA and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL sucked (that’s the technical term). THE HAUNTING was panned by critics yet posted a profit despite its inflated eighty-million-dollar budget, and after the phenomenon that was GOOD WILL HUNTING, Gus Van Sant could’ve made almost any movie he wanted. What’d he do? The unwanted and unneeded shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO.

Honorable Mentions: SPECIES appealed to both horror and sci-fi audiences and spawned more than a couple sequels, while THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE and STIR OF ECHOES seemed to resonate with movie-goers. To be nice, I’ll throw in AMERICAN PSYCHO, though it was released in 2000.

Case Study: SCREAM: The Loud Outlier

1996’s SCREAM, directed by (reluctant) horror icon Wes Craven, started out as another classic mid-90s spec-script story and ended as a classic horror movie production. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson wrote a fun, irreverent script, with one of the most memorable openings in horror cinema history, and a surprising, though wholly implausible, ending. The screenplay created enough buzz to start a bidding war with Harvey and Bob Weinstein of Miramax Films via Dimension Films, winning the auction. With a “meager” budget of $15 million (remember, Jim Carrey earned $20 million a film during this time-period), casting included recognizable actors, but nobody A-list caliber, and this was shot in limited locations over a period of seven weeks. The rest is well documented history: the movie grossed $173+ million worldwide, spawned more sequels than it should have (for a total gross of more than $604+ million worldwide), and launched or reinvigorated several careers.

So successful was the film, that the Weinsteins gave, essentially, a blank check to Wes Craven to direct whatever movie he wanted to. The result: MUSIC OF THE HEART, a 1999 drama Craven was able to squeeze in between SCREAM 2 and 3, that, admittedly, I’ve never watched, and although Meryl Streep’s performance was nominated for an Academy Award, and the movie received generally favorable reviews, it seems many others skipped it as well.

Also as a result of SCREAM’s success was the decade’s only true franchise; not merely sequels, but a franchise in the true commercial sense: lucrative sequels for years to come with a unique killer, costumes and other merchandising, etc. It grew from a movie to a recognizable brand.

SCREAM is sometimes credited as reigniting the horror genre, but nothing more than inferior teenage sub-genre, slasher-films followed: 1997’s I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, 1998’s URBAN LEGEND, etc. While I don’t prescribe to the notion the SCREAM jumpstarted ‘90s horror, I do credit the movie with being ahead of its time in its self-referential, meta-approach, which has infiltrated and grown in the 21st century in so many ways.

Tunes of the 90s: The Devil’s Music

Just a quick aside to point out how if creeps and scares weren’t on the big screen in the ‘90s, they definitely popped up on the small one. Heavy metal songs and their accompanying music videos from bands like WHITE ZOMBIE, ROB ZOMBIE, NINE INCH NAILS, FEAR FACTORY, CANNIBAL CORPSE, TOOL, MINISTRY, SLIPKNOT, and of course, MARILYN MANSON, provided some of the more innovative and frightening images.

A couple of MARILYN MANSON’s videos of the late ‘90s were directed by E. Elias Merhige, who also gave us the visceral, experimental horror, BEGOTTEN, in 1990. It’s quite the viewing.

Metal bands are known for their outrageous, nightmarish album covers, but black metal band MAYHEM’s 1995 release, DAWN OF THE BLACK HEARTS, actually has the suicide photo of bandmate, Dead (not his real name), on the cover. This is, mind you, the photo the band took upon discovering Dead’s body prior to notifying the authorities. Other urban legends surround this sordid ordeal about what the band did prior to reporting Dead’s death. So infamous was this time-period in Norwegian black metal, that a movie, LORDS OF CHAOS, is in development about it.

Partying like it’s 1999: Reasons to Celebrate the Ending of the Decade

Cinema in general, and horror specifically, got a running start as it exploded into the new millennium, into the open arms of eager audiences. We pick up steam in 1998 with fantastic non-horrors: THE BIG LEBOWSKI, AMERICAN HISTORY X, FIGHT CLUB, THE TRUMAN SHOW, and, of course, THE MATRIX, among many others. On the horror-side, the aforementioned, THE LAST BROADCAST, though not seen by many and appreciated more years later, foreshadowed what was to become in horror movies.

1999 is when we really take off, both horror and non-horror. AMERICAN BEAUTY, MAGNOLIA, and GIRL, INTERUPPTED were so very unique, while also critically and commercially successful. A small, little-known film, FOLLOWING, by some guy, Christopher Nolan, foreshadowed his brilliance to come.


1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT marked a seminal moment in the history of cinema, marrying the spirit of true independent film-making with genius, capitalistic marketing. I bet you can still find people to this day who think the movie is real footage.

The backstory is almost urban legend, if you’ll forgive the bad pun: Film-makers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez wrote a short outline about the Blair Witch who haunts the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, with the anticipation of the actors improvising dialogue. Three amateur thespians were hired, and on a reported initial budget of somewhere around $20,000, filming began and lasted for a period of eight days.

What happened next is where the magic occurred. Websites went up online detailing these three missing students and the finding of their footage. Old-fashioned word-of-mouth traveled electronically. At the time, the internet could be used to market the hell out of this movie, but wasn’t established enough to verify if the story about these film-makers was true or false ( wouldn’t really become popular until years later).

The result of all this? $248+ million at the box-office, critical acclaim, and while it technically wasn’t the first found-footage movie, it created the sub-genre that gave birth to the dozens that followed throughout the 2000s.

On the topic of THE BLAIR WITCH not being the first found-footage horror, detractors of the movie point out that 1980 saw the release of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, a bastard of a movie; and the aforementioned LAST BROADCAST the year prior. While, admittedly, not the biggest fan of THE BLAIR WITCH, I don’t feel the film-makers stole any ideas, or even paid homage in any way. Check out all three and see if you agree.

THE SIXTH SENSE: Beginning the 2000s with an Ending      

I’ll end this article with a movie known for its ending: M. Night Shyamalan’s late-1999 modern-classic: THE SIXTH SENSE. Although the ending had been done before (it’s essentially beat-for-beat the same as The Twilight Zone’s THE HITCH-HIKER), and I know it’s fashionable to beat up on poor M. Night, I won’t. His direction is tense, suspenseful, and Hitchcock-esque. The movie is scary, poignant, and I never saw that twist-ending coming. Neither did my girlfriend at the time or other movie-goers in the theater, and neither did you.

THE SIXTH SENSE seemed to reinvigorate the ghost story sub-genre of horror movies, one of my favorites, making me a happy fan, and the 2000s became filled with them (just think any Asian horror movie released in the past fifteen years). Also, surprising twists and shocking endings, unfortunately, seemed obligatory as screenwriters and directors tacked them on with varying degrees of effectiveness.

As far as Mr. Shyamalan, well if you’re reading this article, you probably know his fate to date, so like I’ve stated previously, I won’t beat up on him, and just state that I think he’s a talented director, particularly with horror movies, and I think finding the right screenplay would do him, and us, some good.

Stay tuned to Part III, the conclusion to 1990s horror-movies…

Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter, director, and producer. Also a decorated law enforcement officer of eighteen years, he currently serves as a police officer in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul previously served with the U.S. Department of Justice as a federal officer and the Newark Police Department, where he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the department’s highest award, and responded to Ground Zero in New York City after the 9/11 attacks. CASE #5930, the short film he wrote and produced, will be released in early 2015.

(Photo from The Last Broadcast Movie.)