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Best Horror Movies of 2015

I have to admit, I was watching horror flicks right down to the wire to make sure I got as many as I could in before making my annual top 13 list. There were some I had high hopes for that didn’t make the cut like Let us Prey and, believe it or not, Paranormal Activity – The Ghost Dimension. And then there were the usual pleasant surprises that just had to make the cut. Unlike other years, there was no question about my #1 movie. I love it so much, I’ve made it my favorite movie of the 21st century.

Oddly enough, there are no cryptid movies on the list this time around. Didn’t really see any worth considering, other than Zombeavers. That’s right, I said Zombeavers.

OK, enough of my preamble. Will you join me for the countdown?

#13 – A GIRL WALKS HOME AT NIGHT

Admittedly, I’m not a big vampire guy (though I do love Near Dark!). This Iranian art-house vamp flick may be a little slow for some, but I loved the change of pace. And the fact that it was in black and white gave it huge points in my book. Heavy on atmosphere and subdued performances, I give it two fangs up.

A girl walks home alone


#12 – ORB

You all know I love alien movies. I can’t make a top 13 list without including at least one. Knowing that, I watched just about every alien-esque movie that came out last year. Most were total duds or just plan confusing. Not so with Orb, a neat gem that reminded me a lot of the movie Bug (the Ashley Judd one, not the awesome 1975 drive-in creature feature with Bradford Dillman). Three siblings are confined in a lake house. One of them is a vet who is admittedly crazy, but says he has something captured in the basement. Aliens + paranoia = Hunter bliss.

Orb


 

#11 – BACKCOUNTRY

You like Jaws? How about moving the action to land and substituting the shark for a bear? Yeah, that hits the spot. Based on a collection of camping gone wrong stories, this one literally had me holding my breath. It was one of those Netflix random discoveries that makes my subscription worth it. This city boy is staying the hell out of the woods now.

backcountry-movie-poster-bear


#10 – GOODNIGHT MOMMY

Ah, those crazy Austrians and their demented children. This subtitled affair is a slow burn of sheer craziness. I figured out the twist early on, but it didn’t matter. The execution makes this a must-see for true horror fans. Kids are creepy – especially twins who collect hissing cockroaches and are left on their own like feral children. TV star mommy with a shrouded face thanks to mucho plastic surgery makes for a very unsettling home in the middle of freaking nowhere. And I love what those boys do with super glue. Bad kinder!

goodnight mommy


#9 – ALMOST MERCY

You know that weird kid that everyone swears will grow up to be a school shooter? Well, in Almost Mercy, he has a friend – a strange girl, no less – to keep him grounded. Or can she? I can’t get over how good this movie is. It’s bleak, funny, sarcastic, loaded with social commentary and drenched in blood. And if you think you know what it’s about by my description or the blurb on IMDB, try again. Watch this so you can be one of the cool kids.

almost mercy


#8 – THE GREEN INFERNO

Man, a lot of people have dumped all over this cannibal gore fest. I guess I just don’t run with their crowd. The latest movie from Eli Roth, starring his lovely wife, Lorenza Izzo (who was also in Knock Knock – yowza), delivers on what it promises to be – a brutal movie about conservationists getting what they deserve, at least according to Trump. The gore in this one was way over the top for a theatrical release, and for that, I applaud Roth. And you will truly hate the asshole activist leader. Watch it on an empty stomach. Or if you’re truly badass, watch it during a pig roast. Mmmmm, long pig.

the-green-inferno-movie-poster-360x200


#7 – CREEP

2015 was the year for Mark Duplass, who gave us a great indie horror movie like Creep, and a big budget clunker like The Lazarus Effect. Creep is a 2 man show about a dude hired online to film a guy going about his regular day because he’s dying and wants to leave a record of his life behind for his child. Duplass is downright unsettling. You will never be able to get ‘Tubby Time’ or ‘Peach Fuzz’ erased from your brain after watching this. This is part of a series of low budget horror flicks that Duplass is slated to make for Netflix. You have to check it out.

creep


#6 – BONE TOMAHAWK

Of course an author who wrote a horror western (Hell Hole) is going to love a horror western movie. The fact that it stars my hero, Kurt Russell, had me all in from the word git! Part The Searchers and part The Hills Have Eyes, Bone Tomahawk is a dusty ride through dangerous terrain with the ragtagiest bunch of ragtags ever assembled. The spooky race of Trogs that have kidnapped a woman and Russell’s deputy are freaking bizarre. Saddle up and hit the trail!

bone-tomahawk-poster-203x300


#5 – WE ARE STILL HERE

Horror movies need more main characters north of 40 (coming from a man living in that altitude). You get better, more believable actors and a sense of gravitas that can’t be found in most tits ‘n zits flicks. Barbara Crampton is one of my all time faves (and yes, I met her last year!), so I had to watch this one. An older couple settle in to a house that is very haunted, but by what? There are several scenes that actually disturbed me and made me jump. And the third act is just bat shit wild. After watching this, I dare you to go into your basement with the lights off. Go on, I triple dog dare you!

we are still here


#4 – THE VISIT

M. Night Shyamalan is back! The Visit is about the most fun you’ll have with a horror movie. And, it’s found footage done right. The performances by the kids are great and grandma and grandpa are simply off their rockers. If I was staying with them overnight, I’d need a diaper (like grandpa and his dirty diaper shed) and 10 Xanax. This is one I can watch again and again. Naturally, there’s a twist at the end, and the payoff is damn good. Let’s hope M.’s days of The Happening are behind him.

The_Visit_(2015_film)_poster


#3 – THE FINAL GIRLS

This wonderfully original premise has a girl who gets reunited with her deceased scream queen mom by transporting into the 80’s slasher flick that gave Mom her start. I loved living in an 80’s slasher movie for an hour and a half, considering I was a teen during that golden decade. The Final Girls is snarky, nostalgic and touching as all get out. My wife actually cried when we watched it. And she’s as jaded a horror fan as I am. It’s a trippy movie with lots of blood, just enough laughs and a few salty tears. This one really took me by surprise.

final girls


#2 – SPRING

In any other year, this would be my top movie. Maybe because I’m getting older and soft, but I can’t get Spring out of my head. It’s a horror love story. That’s right, a horror love story. Set in Italy and beautifully shot, the story centers around an American 20-something who stumbles into and falls in love with an exotic, mercurial beauty who just happens to turn into a different creature every night. These are the two best performances of the year, hands down. It was done so well, I was ready to pledge my love for Louise despite her monstrous nature and the possibility she may kill me. I had vivid dreams about this for nights afterward. I haven’t had a movie affect me like that in at least 20 years. Right after it ended, I ordered it on Amazon. This will be one I go to every year.

spring-movie-horrorfilm


#1 – IT FOLLOWS

There is nothing I don’t dig about It Follows. First, it’s a totally fresh idea wrapped around familiar territory. From the opening scene of a neighborhood that brought me right back to Halloween to the nerve jangling synth soundtrack, I was smitten. A curse in the form of a shape shifting ghost that will follow you until it catches you and kills you can only be transmitted by sex. That’s right, VD meets an ethereal Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. I posted a full review when I saw it that you can read here. It Follows is my favorite horror movie of the past 30 years. I don’t think I’ve been this jazzed by a movie since The Thing. I’ve watched it several times and it only gets better. I listen to the ass kicking score when I write. I may even tattoo a scene from it on my body one day. Yep, you can count me in as an unapologetic, rabid fan.

It follows


If you want another top 13 list that is very different from my own, check out my partner in Monster Men crime’s list. Old Jackie has quite a few great recommendations even I have yet to watch. Between the 2 of us, you definitely have enough movies to keep you busy during a big ass snowstorm!

Sex & Horror: Forever Intertwined but Why?

God bless Spencer Blohm. Just when my blogging mind is getting weary, he comes to the rescue with another indepth look at our favorite genre. I absolutely love this particular topic. I mean, horror without sex is like Halloween without candy, football without arrest records, politics without worthless bastards. OK, enough of me. Spencer, take it away…


Sex and horror have always had a twisted relationship ever since the iconic shower scene of Hitchcock’s Psycho, but there’s a lot more to it than simply providing titillation for the genre’s target demographic. In fact, just about every horror flick has some sort of sexual insinuation or encounter that leads to the untimely demise of those involved. The Cannes Film Festival hit It Follows, recently released on Blu Ray, involves a sexually transmitted “haunting” that follows its infected victim with the intent of murder. Sitting as a prime example of an examination of the relationship between teenage sexuality, taking that step into adulthood, and typical horror tropes, this film does not condone or condemn the sexual encounter like others typically do.

13th1980’s Friday the 13th (available on Vudu) practically created the slasher subgenre, and a running theme of that and countless other horror franchises is the villain’s tendency to punish those who engage in drinking, drug use, or premarital sex. This almost always leads to a finale in which a “virtuous virgin” who has abstained from temptation throughout the film is able to defeat the monstrous evil she confronts. This “Final Girl” trope, originally coined by Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, is typically portrayed as the conservative idea of what a women “should be,” and has pervaded horror cinema for decades, leading to dozens of predictable climaxes.

But as the trend became more obvious, horror filmmakers began to examine and deliberately subvert it, to varying effect: Cherry Falls (hard to find, but you can get a copy here) tells the story of a killer who targets virgins at a high school, and  Wes Craven’s Scream (currently on Netflix) gave us characters who were fans of horror films and knew about both the sex and Final Girl rule – rules which the film cheekily broke in its third act. The 2009 film Jennifer’s Body (on Verizon on-demand) gives us a demon who possesses a gorgeous teenager and feeds on her male classmates. When the trope is inverted in this manner, the killing often occurs during intercourse. This is made as explicit as possible in the unsettling French film Trouble Every Day (hiding, but is on Google Play), about a femme fatale who seduces men so she can eat them, and in the 1995 sci-fi thriller Species, in which an alien takes the guise of a beautiful woman for the purpose of mating with a human and creating a new breed to destroy all of humanity.

Regardless of how the trope is utilized, the misogyny behind it remains intact. There often seems to be a notion that women’s sexual behavior is to be scrutinized, revealed, and accounted for, whether she is villain or victim. This idea has close ties to the puritanical culture that demonizes sex in the first place, and reinforces the concepts of “slut-shaming” and male-dominated, patriarchal society. The flip side of the argument is that the Final Girl trope itself originally grew out of feminist ideals; the physically strong male film hero who fights his way through danger had been replaced by a willful young woman who uses guile to escape a grisly fate. Whatever the reasoning, the stubborn trope continues to exist, even in films that set out to deconstruct it.

it follows

The use of the monster as an STD metaphor in It Follows further strengthens the link between sex and death in horror, and reinforces the absurd notion that having sex, which creates life, could lead to murder, which ends it. Why is this link so durable in horror cinema? Perhaps it’s the commonly held belief that premarital sex is somehow wrong and deserving of punishment. A more plausible psychological explanation is Freud’s “death drive”, the impulse in us that is drawn to danger and actually thrilled by the prospect of potential harm. Furthermore, Freud presented the overarching idea that this death drive coincides with a drive to seek pleasure, inexplicably linking sex and horror as part of human nature.

Regardless of what drives it, sex and horror will continue to have a long and fruitful relationship. As long as films like It Follows and Cabin in the Woods (see here) continue to find new and intriguing ways to explore the connection, there’s no reason for it to stop anytime soon.

The Lords of Salem : Rob Zombie Gone Wild

I’ve been a fan of Rob Zombie ever since I heard Thunder Kiss ’65 back in the grunge days of 1992. Hell, when my girls were born, I used to rock them to sleep to White Zombie. And believe it or not, they fell asleep like little angels while he channeled Blade Runner and chanted he was More Human Than Human.

When he made his directorial debut with House of 1000 Corpses, I was the first in line. I knew the backstory in getting that movie made (Hollywood nightmare), and even though it was choppy and strange, I dug it. When he unleashed The Devil’s Rejects on the world, I knew he had arrived. That was one sick, twisted flick. And I still attest that his hillbilly horror take on the Halloween movies would be appreciated even more if they weren’t remakes of a legendary franchise.

Lords of Salem

When I first heard about The Lords of Salem, I jumped out of my skin, itching to plug myself into Zombie’s distorted view on witches in Salem. It stars, of course, his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, as a Salem DJ called Heidi who shares the airwaves with Dawn of the Dead’s own Ken Foree and Jeff Daniel Phillips (who could double for Rob Zombie). One of the things I love most about Zombie is his knowledge of the horror and 70’s exploitation genres and devotion to the stars who helped build them. This time around, he employs Dee Wallace (The Howling, The Hills Have Eyes), Judy Geeson (It Happened One Night) and Patricia Quinn (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as a trio of sisters with something nefarious on their minds. It also stars Meg Foster as a beyond filthy, evil witch from centuries past. I met her last year at a horror con and thought she was the sweetest person on earth. I couldn’t believe what I saw on the screen was the same woman!

Here’s the premise : A mysterious vinyl album shows up at the radio station one night. When it’s played on the air, various women around Salem become entranced, having visions of pornographic witchly ceremonies in the 1600s. There’s a strong tie between Heidi and the man responsible for the Salem With Trials and the girl is about to go on an acid trip through hell to find out what it all means.

I came ouf of The Lords of Salem with my head spinning. The imagery here is graphic high-strangeness, and at times, unsettling. It has a very 70’s B movie pastiche and will leave you feeling like you just double-downed on acid.

SherriAt times, the narrative felt a little disjointed and Sheri Moon’s performance, finally not playing a murderous psychotic or stripper, is a little better than I thought it would be, but not strong enough to give her character the gravitas it needed. It’s not a scary movie, per se, but it does provide enough fuel for many nightmares to come. If a Rob Zombie song could weave itself to life, this is exactly what it would look and sound like.

I think most people are going to have a hard time wrapping their heads around this one. It’s great for me, but too odd for normal folk. And that’s just fine. The day Rob Zombie makes a movie for the masses, ala crap like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer, I’m catching the next comet to the far reaches of space. Humanity will have lost all meaning for me.

You need to go into it not expecting it to be a major feature cranked out by the Hollywood hit – I mean schlock – machine. Picture yourself in the back of a car at a dirty drive-in and enjoy.

John Carpenter Warped My Youth

I know that seems a harsh thing to say, but it’s true. Oh, he wasn’t alone with shattering my expectations of the genre I loved most, horror. But damn if he wasn’t the biggest influence on my entire generation.

When I try to list the top 20 horror films of my teen years, J.C. dominates. If I whittle it down to my top 10 of all time, he’s still the master. As a writer, director and musician, he’s the one I think of when I conjure up the images and sounds of the boogeyman and impending doom. The man was at the top of the heap for two decades, which is about a decade and 5 years more than most.

The Monster Men recently dedicated an episode to singing his praises. I can’t believe it took us 30+ episodes to do it, but better late than never. You can watch the video here.

My goal today is to give you a moment to stop and admire the filmography of one of the best in the biz. My first exposure to the legend was, naturally, Halloween. That movie defined the slasher flick, spawning hundreds of imitations. Shot in just a few weeks, it isn’t the least bit dated and is terrifying a new generation. As an added bonus, it gave us Jamie Lee Curtis! Big score. When I was a kid, my friend bought a William Shatner mask and painted it white with house paint so he could be Michael Meyers for Halloween. The dude nearly passed out from the fumes. I think he even puked a couple of times. But the mask was awesome.

Halloween_cover

Carpenter followed that up with The Fog, again with Jamie Lee and the seductive Adrienne Barbeau. Undead pirates seeking revenge on a sleepy little town. What’s not to like? John Carpenter was married to Adrienne for some time, which is why you see her in a few of his films. In fact, if John liked you, you could expect to be in quite a few of his movies. The man is loyal as hell.

Escape From New York is one badass of a flick. Snake Plissken could wipe out Al Queda singlehandedly and solve the debt crisis. “I’m the Duke of New York, A Number One!” For a whole year after that came out, you would hear me or one of my friends daily say, “Call me Snake.”

escape from ny

Now comes one of my all time favorite movies, The Thing. Growing up in my house, the original Thing was sacred, so we went to the movie with some trepidation. Carpenter pulled off the rare feat of creating a remake a thousand times better than the original. Great characters, fantastic monster effects for its time, and of course, Kurt Russell with a kick ass hat and a flame thrower. This and Escape From New York made Russell the epitome of the tough guy that every dude wanted to be in the 80s. The Thing is horror and sci-fi perfection. I actually heard people gagging in the theater when the monster was revealed for the first time. Nice.

The ThingPoster

Next was a string of more hits like Christine (Stephen King’s killer car flick), Starman and Big Trouble in Little China (more Kurt Russell!).

They Live, a movie about aliens that have infiltrated our lives and can only be seen with a special pair of sunglasses, was great because it starred my favorite wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Yes, it’s silly, but it also good fun. And it gave us the immortal line : “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

The Prince of Darkness is a creepy tale about the devil and a desperate race to stop a plague of evil that will consume the world. I just rewatched it recently, and now that I’m older with a firmer grasp of theology, it gave me even more chills.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Assault on Precinct 13, which I attest is actually a zombie movie, and maybe one of the best ever made. Towards the end of his run, Carpenter directed Vampires, a decent adaptation of John Steakley’s avant garde novel. I’ve never been able to look at James Woods the same way.

These aren’t all of John Carpenter’s movies, but they are the best of the best. Thank you J.C. for making me the horror junkie that I am. The big question is, who is going to be the one to fill his shoes? I’m not sure I see anyone on the horizon. Some might say Eli Roth, but I think he has more to prove. What do you think?

And what are some of your favorite John Carpenter movies and moments? If you need time to mull it over, play the soundtrack to Halloween in the background to help speed things up.

Evil Eternal Giveaway, Horror Cons, Movies, Ghosts and More

First let me kick things off by having a little giveaway this week. Evil Eternal, my little ode to demon slaying, is going to be in print on September 2nd. Thank you to everyone who bought the e-book. Now, as an author, my hot little hands get advance print copies of my books.

I’d like to give a signed copy away to one of you out there in blogger land. Entering the contest is muy simple. All you have to do is click on the book cover right here. That will take you to the Amazon page. Once you’re there, all I ask is that you give it a Like, then share it either through Twitter, FB, on Pinterest. If you hover on the Like button, icons to share through any of those will appear.

Once you’re done, just throw a comment here that you did it and you’re eligible. I’ll pick a winner on Wednesday, August 29th. It will be shipped out the next day. Scout’s honor.

This coming Friday, I’ll be heading to Gettysburg, PA to attend the Horrorffind Weekend. I’ll be with a crazy group of Samhain authors signing books, doing readings and having a ton of fun. Horrorfind weekend is my favorite weekend of the year. Hope you can attend! Then, the following Friday, I’m off to Indianapolis, home of cafeteria style food, to represent Samhain and meet the cast of Aliens at the Horrorhound Weekend Convention. It will be my first Horrorhound and I hear it’s enormous.

I was fortunate enough to do something super cool this week. I was invited to be a member of a paranormal panel for the NY Spotlight on Success show down at Chelsea Manor in NYC. Big thanks to Diana and Joe for letting me and my Monster Men brother Jack talk about all things ghostly. We had a blast, got to check out the ‘haunted’ spots in the club, and met a ton of great peeps, including paranormal researchers Dan Sturges, Laurence Hewett, and psychics Michelle Dauria and Krystin Reilly.

Aside from finishing what I hope is the final round of edits on my kids horror story, and getting ready to write another novella and novel, I’ve been recharging my brain by watching movies. What keeps little Hunter going? Here’s a sample along with my 3 word review. So, what are you watching?

Fantastic, creepy story!

Decent psychological thriller.

Lost slasher gem.

Oddly scary indy.

15 Scary Movies To See Before Halloween

As Jack was going through the Monster Men files, he found this episode that we had filmed and somehow forgotten. Lucky for us, it’s as timeless as Raquel Welch’s beauty. This time around, we go into the elements that make a wicked horror flick, and reveal our list of 15 must-see scary movies.

And here’s a drinking game you can play while you watch: One shot for every time you hear my cat scratching on the door, and one beer for every candy corn Jack and I eat. Guaranteed, you’ll pass out before you get to the 5 minute mark!

So, what scary movies would make your list?

 

And a big thank you to everyone who Liked the Amazon page for Evil Eternal and Forest of Shadows. Gotta keep that big mo’ rolling. Share pages when you can for any Samhain horror books and spread the word. There’s a new monster in town, and it’s name is Samhain!

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