Archive for atmospheric

Contemporary Horror Stories to Read in October

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Only a week and a half until the big day! That means we’ve got to start stocking up on our Halloween-themed films and literature. The dark days are just around the corner… don’t be caught without your proper collection of spooks.

As a follow-up to Smucky’s post at the beginning of the month, I’ve dug up some other stories that fit the October bill – this time, ones that have been published in the last few decades. For some fresher terror, look no further than our list of CONTEMPORARY STORIES TO READ IN OCTOBER.

  1. JERUSALEM’S LOT by STEPHEN KING

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Mr. King is the obvious choice, but that’s because he has such a wealth of horror tales, ranging from more experimental to classic, atmospheric chillers. This one, a prequel to the amazing “’Salem’s Lot,” captures a Lovecraftian tone with degenerate themes and a terrifying secret lurking beneath an abandoned town. It’s got everything – a creaky old mansion, ghouls in the walls, a Puritan settlement that went to the devil, and a decaying church that harbors a horrific evil. And even better, it explains in part what makes ‘Salem’s Lot such a magnet for evil. Though published recently, this story is classic, in the best way.

  1. THE LADY OF THE HOUSE OF LOVE by ANGELA CARTER
Artwork by Lee McConville

Artwork by Lee McConville

Part of the monumental collection “The Bloody Chamber,” this is the only story not adapted from a specific fairy tale. Instead, it inverts the vampire myth, spinning a melancholic and beautiful portrait of a young undead woman who despises herself for drinking blood. The imagery – a shambling Gothic castle, a blood-stained wedding dress, and a corpse-like woman feasting on virile young men – is stunning. There’s quite a statement made about archaic spooks and real-life horrors, too. A must read for a rainy afternoon.

  1. THE DAEMON LOVER by SHIRLEY JACKSON

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You can’t have a best of list without mentioning Ms. Jackson. Though “The Lottery” is her most accomplished story, I find this one equally haunting, in an even more subtle way. It follows a woman who is supposed to be married, but she can’t find her groom – and no one else seems to think he exists, either. Like some of the best horror, it’s unsettling and disturbing because nothing happens, but the implications are awful. Perfect for its spectral plot and dark images of phantasmal New York in the rain.

  1. THE FUNERAL by RICHARD MATHESON
From the 'Night Gallery' episodic adaptation

From the ‘Night Gallery’ episodic adaptation

A bit of tongue-in-cheek macabre to lighten the mood this month. Richard Matheson is the master of the uncanny mundane, and this is a great example – a funeral director gets the strangest offer of his life when a man asks to host his own funeral. And the guests? They’re all monsters – from a witch to a werewolf, and some vampires thrown in between. This is a delightful mash-up of our favorite monsters, and Matheson’s genre genius elevates it to hilarity. Not scary in the least, but certainly a huge amount of monstrous fun.

  1. ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD AGAIN by NEIL GAIMAN

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Like “The Funeral,” this story is a melting pot of classic horror tropes – best of all, it’s set in Lovecraft’s fishy town Innsmouth, and narrated by one werewolf Lawrence Talbot – but it has a dreadful weight of its own. Gaiman has a ridiculously brilliant imagination, and here it wanders through dreary, fog-filled streets where hideous rites are being performed. With sea monsters, a creepy fortune teller, and a character from the Universal vault, it’s hard to go wrong.

I’m sure I’ve missed some, so send in suggestions at your leisure! And happy reading, freaks.

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Films That Haunt Me (Halloween edition): HORROR HOTEL

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2015 by smuckyproductions

The second time Christopher Lee has made it into a Film That Haunts Me, and certainly not the last. In the days when Hammer was dominating the market, there were still smaller horror films being produced, and this is one of the most striking examples. Once again delving into the world of witches, today we check into the HORROR HOTEL.

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(Not the most accurate title, but its alternative is a big spoiler.) This low-budget chiller follows a young college student as she travels to a mysterious colonial village to research witchcraft. She picked the right place – the witches who were burned at the stake centuries ago have decided it’s high time to get revenge. When the student goes missing, it’s up to her boyfriend and her brother to find her, but the witches are more powerful than they realize.

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While lesser known than similar films of the time, this one is notable for two reasons. (SPOILERS!) One, it pulled a “Psycho” – surprise-killing of your protagonist – halfway into the film. Two, its atmosphere is so overwhelmingly unnatural that the events, while familiar, become more disturbing than they should be. Disembodied chants, smothering fog, suspicious townspeople who stare too long – it’s all there, working to suffocate the audience in unnamed dread. It won’t catch everyone, but it certainly got me. Sure, it’s cheesy 60’s horror, but there are a few scenes that are so sudden and brutal that I was legitimately shocked.

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There is a lot to appreciate here, namely the classic plot and the ever-terrific presence of Christopher Lee – but the craft of the film is also remarkable. The soundtrack is full of weird chants and shrieks, the lighting is surreal, and the set design is brilliant – the fog-filled streets and creeping secret corridors are both beautiful and very, very eerie. For such a low budget and an unceremonious release, “Horror Hotel” presents a delicately-crafted piece of cinema, detailed and measured. That is why it stands above the other double-billed B movies of the time.

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As an example of low-budget genius, and a generally entertaining occult thriller, “Horror Hotel” (or “City of the Dead”) is equal to its contemporaries like “Carnival of Souls” and even “Night of the Living Dead.” It’s a creeping, dreadful, dark film that chills just beyond the surface. And hopefully you won’t hear the Candlemass chants as they come for you.

Films That Haunt Me: “Carnival of Souls” (1962)

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Directed by Herk Harvey
Starring Candace Hilligoss

A brief explanation – I’ve decided to start a series of reviews centered around horror films that I find to be pure, beautiful examples of the genre – films that haunt me. To begin, there’s no better film to discuss than “Carnival of Souls.”

I first saw this film when I was 14, during a time when all I watched were horror movies. Being in the public domain, this was an easy one to find, and the semi-underground buzz around it made it intriguing enough. Though I was watching it on a tiny computer screen in broad daylight, this film had an undeniable effect on me, and I’ll never forget the atmosphere that so completely immersed me in the experience. 

For those who don’t know, “Carnival of Souls” follows a young woman who is plagued by visions of a strange, ghoulish man after she almost dies in a car crash. She finds herself drawn to an abandoned carnival near her small town, which soon begins to consume her life. The story is certainly influenced by the Twilight Zone, but the imagery and the oozing atmosphere are what set this film apart. It engulfs your psyche and dunks it into the woman’s world, which becomes increasingly nightmarish as the story nears its disturbing conclusion.

Watching this film, to me, is like wandering through an empty building at twilight. Everything is a little bit foggy, a little unreal, and the whole time you feel as if something is following you. The film is so low-budget that it almost feels as if it isn’t happening – the imagery is that disjointed and distinctive. It feels as elusive as the haunted carnival itself, evoking that unique feeling of walking through an empty, forgotten place. Though the sound is poor and the acting unusual, the flaws add up to a massively unsettling whole, and by the end it’s hard to remember exactly what happened – except for the singular moments of horror throughout. (In particular, the organ scene – fans of the film will know what I’m talking about.)

So, why is this such a perfect example of horror? It’s all in the images. This film, though lesser known, influenced such genre giants as “Night of the Living Dead” with its portrayal of ghouls and the undead. The spectral photography of the abandoned carnival, either empty or filled with these creatures, is stunningly creepy. Few films have utilized a natural location so well as this one. The film conjures images of poetic dread which, coupled with the eerie organ score, are impossible to shake away after the running time has ended. The simple story becomes more than it appears to be because of this – the very frames of the film feel haunted. 

Though it isn’t a great film in the traditional sense, “Carnival of Souls” ranks for me at the top of celluloid nightmares – films that make you feel, somehow, that you dreamt them. It is a master class in unsettling atmosphere and terrifying imagery. Watch this film on a calm summer night, just as the sun is setting – I guarantee you’ll never forget the experience.