Archive for Best Of

Smucky’s Favorite Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2016 was undoubtedly a strange, perhaps frightening year; and when it comes to horror, these qualities are quite promising. This was an incredible year for horror films. Reflecting on my favorites, I am reminded that I missed several of the best; yet I can’t resist writing about the ones I experienced. Thus, Smucky’s favorite horror films of 2016:

(For the record, the ones I regret missing are as follows: Under the Shadow, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2, The Untamed, Beyond the Gates, The Monster, Eyes of my Mother, and Evolution.)

9. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

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While I haven’t seen February yet (a continually delayed release), I couldn’t resist Oz Perkins’ sophomore feature. This poetic exploration of a haunted house is one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year. Perkins creates a mist-shrouded and cerebral atmosphere through magnificent imagery, patient revelations and musings on the afterlife that leave a lingering chill. It’s not a film to me, but a sensory immersion.

8. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

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Cliches and cheap scares aside – though these have their charms, too – André Øvredal’s return to the director’s chair is one of the year’s most original films. It builds its atmosphere of dread slowly, focusing on the mundane, and revealing its uncanny truths with the relish of a rotten advent calendar. With ingenious set pieces, stomach-churning suspense and an utterly terrifying villain, Jane Doe is a morbid blast.

7. GREEN ROOM

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I almost passed this one up; the premise sounded rehashed. And I have learned my lesson – this film cannot be missed. Jeremy Saulnier crafts both a masterclass in violent mayhem, and a layered character study. When your characters are so nuanced and realistic, it becomes even more disturbing when they die painfully. I will never enter a dive bar again without thinking of this film.

6. DEAREST SISTER

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Mattie Do is one of cinema’s most exciting new voices, and her second film is proof of her talent. This searing sociological ghost story is creepy, gruesome and disturbing, but not just because of the phantoms. Do’s exploration of politics, class, greed and family is rendered with brutal human realism. From a genre perspective, it’s entertaining and scary, but there is far more going on under the layers of flesh.

5. SOUTHBOUND

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Anthologies are tough to pull off; but the team behind Southbound seems to have it down to a science. With four stories that all exist in the same world – a purgatorial desert full of demons – the film adopts an atmosphere of the bizarre that harkens back to The Twilight Zone, while creating a dreadful experience all its own. I was enthralled by the environment, thrilled by the individual tales, and amazed by the film’s ability to end it with cohesion.

4. THE INVITATION

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Karyn Kusama is incredible; and this tense, utterly disturbing film is a reminder of her talent. A simple premise – a dinner party that begins dissolving into a cult gathering – becomes a deep and frightening exploration of grief’s effect on relationships. Being partial to Suburban horror stories and occult thrillers, this is right up my alley; and Kusama renders these elements brilliantly through her attention to suspense and character.

3. THE LOVE WITCH

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I adore this film for many reasons – it’s visually gorgeous and uses old school cinematic techniques with brilliance; it shocked me with its depth and tragedy; and it introduced me to the voice of Anna Biller. This lush, complex and upsetting thesis on objectification and sexuality could only have been crafted by Biller, whose attention to detail alone is mind blowing. As far as I’m concerned, she is one of the premiere auteur voices of the decade.

2. TRASH FIRE

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Not only does Richard Bates’ third film revive authentic Gothic cinema – satirical, pitch-black, and rich in grotesque imagery – but it broke my heart, then mended it (sort of) with its strangely empowering conclusion. Equal parts millennial comedy, familial horror and identity drama, this film surpassed my expectations in every way. It’s also one of the few horror films this year to feature a substantial queer character; let’s have more of that in 2017.

1. THE WITCH

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A standard choice, maybe, but it deserves the number one spot. Robert Eggers meticulously recreates a Puritan-era farm, populates it with characters who come loaded with neuroses and paranoias; then unleashes an utterly frightening supernatural force upon them. It’s unapologetically a horror film, a psychologically realistic one, that leaves the viewer harrowed and invigorated. I haven’t seen anything like it, and probably won’t anytime soon. It also introduces us to a new horror icon; who else has pledged their souls to Black Phillip?

In lieu of a 10th spot, I’ll list a few films that came out last year but I only saw recently; or films that haven’t technically been released yet, such as: the subdued and touching psychological thriller They Look Like People; Baskin, the decade’s coolest descent into Hell; a Lovecraftian effects extravaganza, The Void; and a film that both made me retch and blew my mind, We Are The Flesh.

 

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Five Horror Films to Protest Valentine’s Day

Posted in Best Of, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Today is perhaps the most successful, and often the most depressing, manufactured holiday of all time. For those in a healthy relationship, it’s a fine excuse to spend an exorbitant amount of money and celebrate your love. But what about the single weirdoes? Smucky has a way to battle the pink hearts and lovey-dovey message of Valentine’s Day. For those who like their hearts gushing blood, here are five horror films that throw romance out the window.

HELLRAISER

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Infidelity is just the beginning with this one. With sado-masochistic demons, multiple flayings, and reanimated corpses using sex as a bargaining tool, this is about as un-romantic as it gets. But hey, with pain comes pleasure… right?

FRANKENSTEIN

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Talk about rejection. Not only does your creator hate you, but the rest of humanity wants to torch you down, too? We’ve all been there. Considering that director James Whale was battling with his own sexuality (ultimately resulting in his tragic suicide), this adaptation takes on a whole new dimension.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

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It’s hard to find love. It’s hard to keep it. And it’s much, much harder when the world is being taken over by body-stealing aliens who usurp bae’s body and turn her into a monster. Also one of the bleakest 50’s horror films, this one turns you off dating (and sleeping) for a while.

EXCISION

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Pauline is hopelessly single. But she doesn’t give a shit. While she does have major problems ( and I mean major), Pauline loves herself and won’t let anyone change her. In a fairly vapid dating society, she’s kinda inspiring. But also this movie is awesomely disgusting. Good choice to scare off a potential suitor.

ROSEMARY’S BABY

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Only the sickest people watch this classic and say, “Let’s get married and have a kid.” NO. After watching what Mia Farrow goes through, I’m hiding in a cave with a few cats and a dog. Satanists can keep their matrimony and birth plots to themselves.

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment below with your favorite anti-romance horror film!

Horror Stories for a Snowy Night

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2015 by smuckyproductions

 

Yuletide is upon us! The nights grow dark, the air cold, and the wind carries voices of ice… the perfect time for a few fireside shivers. Here is a (partial) list of classic and contemporary stories that suit themselves for a cold night, when you tremble from something other than temperature.

  1. THE WENDIGO by ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

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Algernon Blackwood is the unchallenged master of the terrified awe that nature inspires – like an evil twin of the Romantics. “Wendigo” is my personal favorite of his famous tales. His ill-fated group of hunters who encounter the titular spirit in the winter woods are witnesses to a horror that we all understand: being at the mercy of the elements. It evokes a sense of ever-present dread, lurking over the treetops and blowing in on the snow – something that we can’t see, but it sure sees us.

  1. OH, WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD by M.R. JAMES

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No December reading list is complete without M.R. James – he is one of the best practitioners of the fireside ghost story. While many of his stories are worth reading, “Whistle” combines the best traits of them all: chilly seaside atmosphere, ancient relics, and slow-building uncanny events that blow up into shocking terror. All with a cheeky sense of humor. Suffice to say that James actually makes the ghost-in-a-sheet cliché frightening.

  1. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES by ANGELA CARTER

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As with the entirety of her collection, Angela Carter is phenomenal at paying tribute to fairy tales while also subverting them. Here, we find a deeply dark version of Red Riding Hood – a snow-shrouded village in Eastern Europe; a young girl with a vital task, and the boy who seduces her; the horrible, animal secret that might kill her. It’s both frightening and hideously erotic, realizing the full potential of the werewolf/sexual awakening metaphor.

  1. SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW by CONRAD AIKEN

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Cited by some as one of the first psychological thrillers in short American fiction, this story has a bizarrely simple premise: a boy becomes obsessed with snow. Somehow it manages to be weirder than it sounds. On one hand, it’s a deeply disturbing supernatural horror story; on the other, it’s an upending exploration of mental illness and obsession. All while having a supremely chilling atmosphere.

  1. MIRIAM by TRUMAN CAPOTE

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What would you do if a helpless little girl follows you home… and refuses to leave you alone? Set in a bitter, empty New York winter, this shivery tale reads like the purest of nightmares: surreal, impossible, but inescapable. It’s also a horrifying meditation on loneliness and manipulation. Capote knew how to scare readers with his true stories, but he also could craft fictional terror, all too well.

  1. THE YATTERING AND JACK by CLIVE BARKER

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No one in their right mind would call this scary. But it’s an absolute blast to read – a combination of demonic horror clichés and brilliant dark humor, often bordering on slapstick. And it all takes place during a traditional Suburban Christmas. Clive Barker has an imagination of dark gold, and it’s displayed beautifully in this tale of holiday Satanism, with a hefty dose of satire as well.

  1. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES by NEIL GAIMAN

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Only someone like Neil Gaiman could take such a classic, overdone story – Snow White, in this case – and completely invert it, so the original is unrecognizable. I won’t tell you how he does it, but the effect is astonishing and wholly terrifying. This wintry fairy tale is a bleak and brilliant nightmare. Its minute twists of the source material alter the reader’s perception so fully that they can never go back.

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.

Top 5 Haunted House Films

Posted in Best Of, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by smuckyproductions

I have a special place in my heart for good haunted house movies. So, in honor of an age-old genre and in anticipation of my new book that uses many of its tropes, here’s a few of my favorites.

5. The Changeling (1980)

This film, extremely influential in the genre, creeped me out beyond words. While not the most well-crafted movie, the storyline is inventive and very chilling, with a great twist and heart-pounding climax. The mansion is perfect, full of hidden rooms and cobwebs. Certain scenes – those who have seen this movie will remember a rubber ball – are wonderfully spooky, and the seance sequence is one of my favorites of all time. A must-see, especially around Halloween.

4. The Woman in Black (1989)

This isn’t really a haunted house movie (the ghost can travel) and it isn’t even a movie, as it was produced for TV, but I forgive this discrepancies. I enjoyed the remake, actually, but the original is one of the only films to manifest its ghost in a truly creepy way – most movies, when they reveal their spirit, loose tension because it just doesn’t look right. The titular character is just terrifying. Again, the atmosphere provided by Eel Marsh House and the misty English countryside is spooky as hell. This movie proves that nothing can beat the British in the 80’s for sheer eeriness. Impossible to find, but worth the search.

3. The Others (2001)

While arguably not a horror film, this quiet tale is horrific enough to include here – at 13, this movie scared the crap out of me. The atmosphere and setting are all perfect, claustrophobic but also large enough to cause fear of the darker corners. Kidman is brilliant, and her character is wonderfully complex. The children’s performances are shockingly good, too. This movie is much more creepy than frightening, but I’ll be honest, the piano scene sends chills up my spine. The ending could have been cheesy, but it’s subtle and beautifully done. A fantastic movie in every sense, and the perfect ghost story for a cold night.

2. The Innocents (1961)

An obvious addition to the list. This film, with its chilling music (can’t go wrong when you have a little girl singing) and dark themes, is fantastic for any genre. Here is another film to make its physical ghosts terrifically scary – when the first apparition appears to the fabulous Deborah Karr in the window, it’s impossible not to be creeped out. The mansion is gorgeous, full of atmosphere. The ambiguous ending – was it real, or is she crazy?? – is ahead of its time, and brilliant. It’s a unique movie, so much so that I was a little put off at first, but when you learn to appreciate it, it will never let you forget it.

And, DRUMROLL PLEASE….

1. The Haunting (1963)

Four years after I saw it for the first time, this movie remains one of the scariest I’ve ever seen… and nothing happens. There are some strange noises, some creepy wallpaper patterns, and a hysterical leading woman (a brilliant performance by Julie Harris), but that’s it. It’s a brilliant piece of cinema. Not only does it raise interesting questions about the nature of ghosts, it also introduces some terrifying ones. Hill House is beautiful and frightening all at once. The cast is amazing. The script is genius. I could go on. Skip the awful remake and see this one – arguably the scariest ghost film of all time.

Honorable Mentions

– Poltergeist: My first real horror film. Would be on this list, but it’s just a little too much for my taste now.

– Full Circle: A great performance by Mia Farrow, wonderful score, cool story – worth a look.

– The Amityville Horror (1979): Rather terrible in some senses, but who can forget Jody? Great memories with this one.

– Dead of Night (1945): This isn’t a 100% haunted house film, but I love it too much to ignore it – one of the stories, after all, involves ghosts.

– The Entity: Very cheesy but very scary, it’s dated but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.