Thursday, May 26, 2016

YA Novels for Horror Film Fans

I love horror movies. You know I do. But if you read this blog, you may have no clue that I also love reading – do it pretty much every day, in fact. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the books I read are horror, young adult horror to be exact. Why YA? Honestly, I’m not sure why, but for some reason adult horror novels don’t typically do it for me. I don’t know if my lizard brain is stuck in adolescence or what, but YA horror just seems to hit a sweet spot that can really scare the shit out of me.

To be fair, it’s easier to scare me with a book than a movie, for whatever reason. When I’m sitting alone in bed, with the silence pressing in all around me and a story blowing up to monstrous proportions in my imagination… well, what merely seems unsettling in the daylight can become truly terrifying at night. I think maybe it’s the aspect of being totally alone, without even characters on a screen (even ones in peril) for company.

Anyway, I thought I’d drum up some book recommendations for those of you who love horror movies! And in no particular order, here they are.

For fans of The Witch: Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
Daughters Unto Devils, about a family living on the desolate prairie in the 1800s, delves into a lot of the same themes as this year’s The Witch: the shame and fear surrounding sexuality, the double-edged sword of religious devotion, and the insanity that can be brought on by isolation. Both also feature a healthy dose of the supernatural. This is one book that really, truly kept me up at night.

For fans of urban legends: Boy Heaven by Laura Kasischke
Laura Kasischke’s writing is simply unmatched in terms of creating an evocative setting. In Boy Heaven, she tells the story of three girls at cheerleading camp who smile at the wrong boys at the wrong time. It’s literally framed as a campfire urban legend, and it works perfectly as such. You can practically feel the muggy summer air and hear the cicadas chirping in the cabins. The ending packs a punch, too. If you like Boy Heaven, I also recommend checking out Feathered by the same author, which is about a spring vacation in Cancun and brings to mind The Ruins and And Soon the Darkness.
For fans of slashers: Ten by Gretchen McNeil
Ten is a classic slasher in novel form: ten teens away for the weekend at a house party on Henry Island start to get picked off by an unseen killer, one by one. It features a lot of the slasher tropes we all know and love from horror film (which I appreciated), and it’s good, creepy fun.

For fans of ghost stories & psychological horror: Frost by Marianna Baer
Another book with all the hallmarks of a horror movie: boarding school, old Victorian houses, and possible ghosts that may possibly be making things happen – scary and dangerous things. On the other hand, Leena, the main character, could just slowly be going insane… and therein lies the delicious, suspenseful mystery.

For fans of American Mary, complicated women, and/or heavy metal: Boring Girls by Sara Taylor
This is an all-time favorite read of mine. I’d actually say it’s more of an adult novel, but it features teens and I’ve seen it described as YA. It’s about two girls, Rachel and Fern, who get deeply involved in the metal music scene, even forming their own band. It’s a tough scene for women, though, and the book really explores what it’s like to be a girl in a man’s world, and the things that can happen when people are stripped of agency over their own bodies. It’s not really scary, but it’s a tough, powerful read that brings to mind American Mary and other horror movies with complex female characters.

For fans of It Follows and/or the realistic supernatural: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
This is another of my all-time favorite spine-chilling reads, and should appeal to anyone who loves a story with a creeping sense of dread. Though I’m struggling to express exactly how it reminds me of It Follows, it simply does. The story of Chloe, her sister Ruby, and a mysterious reservoir features the same sort of subtle, skin-crawling horror, and it’s the kind that really stays with you.

That's all for now, though there surely further installments knocking around in my brain. What horror novels do you love? Let me know in the comments, or talk to me on Twitter!

Monday, May 23, 2016

100 Best Horror Movies Ever: Black Christmas

It’s an exciting day, folks! The first entry into my 100 Best Horror Movies Ever Challenge – and we’re starting with the classic slasher (some might say The Classic Slasher), Black Christmas. It’s the original “he’s calling from inside the house” movie, as well as one of the first slashers. Yes, Black Christmas is the awkward older sister of Halloween; it did much, influenced many, and yet gets so little credit.

To be fair, this movie is missing most of the tension, and the soundtrack, that makes Halloween so memorable. On the other hand, Black Christmas makes up for it with some seriously disturbing phone calls, some good creepy moments, and some truly ahead of its time material. I was surprised and delighted that Olivia Hussey’s main “good girl”/final girl was a driven woman who’d rather get an abortion than marry her weird, controlling boyfriend. This is not because I love abortions – I mean, only so much as the next lady who’s actively trying not to reproduce – but because that sort of character a) is not that common even today, and b) totally subverts the idea that all final girls are bookish, God-fearing virgins. The Blu-ray version of Black Christmas that I have includes interviews with some of the cast, and Margot Kidder gave us this gem of a quote: “It was the late 60s, early 70s, and we were saying and doing anything… these days, you have all the damn Christians down your throat.”

And that about sums it up, doesn’t it? Dare I say movies, like all art, could easily suffer a bit from our current preoccupation with political correctness (Donald Trump, who is likely the backlash of this pro-PC  movement incarnate, aside)? The horror genre, however, has always thrived in the face of “decency” and “morality,” and continues to thrive in adverse and frightening social conditions. And that’s why it’s great.

A few other points: Margot Kidder’s character. She’s never onscreen without a cigarette or a cocktail! She also has a really dirty mouth and a sense of humor (that fellatio joke fell flat for me, but it really worked for those cops); she’s the one I’d hang out with in this sorority house. And (spoiler alert for this 50-year-old movie) I appreciated that in her interview, Olivia Hussey noted that it was kind of ridiculous that the police never bothered to search the attic after her character bludgeoned Peter to death. There are corpses stashed all over this house! People are still missing! And the cops are just like, “Case closed, peace.”

...As am I, and thus ends the first post of this challenge. One movie down, 99 to go. As always, you can follow my antics (and occasional movie live tweets) on Twitter, under the hashtag #100BestHorrorMoviesEver. Next up: Repulsion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Movie Review Roundup #10

I have to admit, I haven’t been as into writing reviews lately. Despite having seen some great movies in the past few months, it always seems like someone else has already said everything I’m thinking, and it can start to feel redundant sometimes. Maybe I’m just in a rut, which is partially why I started my movie watching challenge – to remind me that horror is, first and foremost, an outlet for me to have fun. Or whatever you’d call subjecting yourself to movies that make your heart pound and your blood curdle (other people think that’s fun, too, right?). In any case, though, here are some movies I truly couldn’t let go by without saying something about them, and a few more tacked on for good measure.

Green Room. Dudes, I loved this movie with a passion I haven’t felt in a long time. A long, long time. It was gut wrenching, stomach twisting, tense as hell, and the experience of watching it was something like being stabbed in the stomach by a Neo-Nazi (I’m guessing). Now, I hate to direct you away from here, but this article at Audiences Everywhere says everything I felt about watching this movie – and why it’s really an important film – but couldn’t put into words so eloquently. (Please do yourself a huge favor, though, and see the movie before reading anything about it!)

The Witch. It’s a great time for horror, isn’t it? Because although I’ve heard complaints of The Witch being overhyped, I’m here to tell all you whiners that you are wrong. Well, okay, you’re not necessarily wrong (but I won’t take back the whiners part, sorry) – it wasn’t the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Not by a long shot. But does it really matter? I found this movie incredibly smart, deeply unsettling, and filled with a pervasive, breathtaking sense of dread. So it didn’t have jump scares – good, I say. The definition of horror is expanding here, right before our eyes, and you’re sitting there complaining about jump scares! Now go to your corner and think about what you’ve done.

10 Cloverfield Lane. We’re on a roll here, y’all, because this movie was great, too! John Goodman as a creepy, paternalistic doomsdayer living in a bunker? Check. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the spunky, resourceful heroine? Check. Tons of twists and turns topped off by a balls-out-insane ending? Check. This one was fun.

The Invitation. Another film that utilizes that creeping sense of dread and paranoia to great effect. The payoff is well worth the buildup, and the very end is a shocker. It gets bonus points for being about a cult, too, because I really can’t ever get enough of cult movies.

Nina Forever. Let me preface my opinion by saying I know this was a good movie. It was well written, simultaneously touching and gory (a great quality in a horror film), and had interesting, complex characters. But honestly, I wanted to like this more than I actually did… but I don’t know why, and I feel bad about it. I still recommend it, regardless of whatever sense that does or doesn’t make.

Bite. My stomach is stronger for having watched this, and that’s a high compliment for a body horror movie.

Ratter. As a woman, this film did scare me. As a horror fan… it suffered from all the usual issues of found footage (dull stretches, stilted dialogue, contrived scenes). Still, it was unnerving.

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer. The third installment in the I Know What You Did Last Summer franchise, which I didn’t even know existed until two days ago, was really not as bad as I thought it would be. It had that early-aughts, Final Destination sort of vibe to it. There are worse things.

Most Likely to Die. It seems that all these movies promising to evoke the cheesy, lovable slashers of the past are missing whatever ingredient that made those movies palatable. This one was just filled with bad acting, lame kills, and a kind of soullessness that doesn’t help to adjust my resting bitch face. But tragedy plus time equals comedy – maybe kids in 2055 will find this lovable?

What have you been watching lately? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Best Horror Movies Ever Challenge

Guys. GUYS. I’m starting something very exciting today – well, I think it’s very exciting, but your mileage will likely vary based on your tolerance for black and white, subtitles, and melodrama (I realize that may not be very many of you, but who needs a blog that gets read all the time, right?!). That’s right – I’m starting a movie challenge! And not just any movie challenge, but, as you might have guessed, it’s a horror movie challenge. The BEST horror movies, in fact, according mainly to Timeout’s Best Horror Films Ever Made List, but with some others sprinkled in for flavor. Because although I’ve seen nearly every relevant horror movie from the mid-90s on, my practical knowledge of earlier horror films is woefully underdeveloped. And we should always be learning, shouldn’t we? I mean, I can probably outline the plots of most of the movies on the list below, or ruin the big twists, but I haven’t actually sat through the majority of them, start to finish. That changes today! Or, you know, over the next many years it will surely take me to work through this rather ponderous catalogue.

So here’s the deal: I got rid of all the old chestnuts I’ve already seen a million times (Halloween, The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, etc.), though I kept a few goodies that I’ve seen before but wouldn’t mind refreshing my memory on (The Shining, Don’t Look Now, and everything else in bold below). And then there were a few movies like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – movies I’ve seen a million times but couldn’t bear to take off the list because I love them so much and would gladly watch a million times more. I’ve also made some creative substitutions, based on other “best of” lists and my own curiosity. For example, I’m not sure a lot of people would put Halloween III: Season of the Witch on a great horror movies list, but I’ve wanted to see the film that angered so many Halloween fans way back when, and so I put it in the original Halloween’s place on the list. Anyway, without further adieu, the list:

Fills you with a squishy sense of anticipation, doesn't it? Lucky for you, I’ll be starting on the challenge this week. Although I can’t promise a new entry every week, or every-anything (because life is crazy, and I live with my husband who doesn’t necessarily want to watch old horror movies every night of the week, gosh darn it), I will try to keep it regular enough that no one forgets the goal here: to watch a hell of a lot of great horror. I’ll also try to forewarn you of the next movie I plan to watch so you can watch along with me if that’s your jam. So get excited, people – tonight, we ride.

First on the chopping block: Black Christmas (1974).

(Oh and hey - you can follow the goings-on of this challenge on Twitter, too! I'll be tweeting about the movies as I watch them under the hashtag: #100BestHorrorMoviesEver)