Tag Archives: horror movies

Don’t Go In There!

It’s hard to say why I find horror movies, and haunted house movies in particular, so appealing. It probably has something to do with being frightened, but from the comfort and safety of my couch or theater seat (the credits roll, and I’m reminded that none of this is real). It could also have something to with the house I grew up in, the “original homestead” of my ancestors in Oregon. While I don’t recall it being particularly haunted, it was a shadowy old Victorian house in great disrepair, and years after we moved out I heard rumors that it was the sort of abandoned house that teenagers would dare each other to spend the night in (I will not include a photo here dear readers, because I don’t want it to haunt your dreams). Of course, scary movies might also appeal to me because of my family’s occasional visits to the Timberline Lodge for dining — the Lodge served as the exterior of one of the (imho) most creepy movies ever filmed, The Shining.

Pop Pilgrims The Shining from Timberline Lodge on Vimeo.

Whatever the reason, I like a good, scary haunted house movie. And whether you prefer your haunted house movies to be atmospheric or funny, there’s sure to be something on this list that appeals to everyone:


The Amityville Horror
A couple’s Long Island colonial house on the river’s edge seems perfect–until it isn’t.


The non-ghosts are scarier than the ghosts in this film. After a  trendy New York family moves into an old farmhouse, the former tenants (a couple of likable ghosts) contact the afterlife’s bio-exorcist “Beetlejuice” to help them scare the family away. The Danny Elfman score for the film is also killer.


The Changeling
After the death of his wife and child, a composer moves to a secluded mansion, where he attracts the unwilling attention of a possible ghost. An underrated gem, with some scenes that inspired the director of the more recent The Conjuring.


The Conjuring

One of the best haunted house movies to come out in years, this 2013 film focuses on a family terrorized by a dark presence in the secluded farmhouse they just moved into.

The Evil Dead
Five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the Tennessee woods unwittingly resurrect malevolent demons and spirits.


The Haunting
Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, this psychological thriller tells the story of four people who come to a haunted house to study its supernatural phenomena—and may never leave.


House (1977)
After learning that she will be sharing the summer with her father’s new girlfriend, a young girl invites some friends to join her at her aunt’s house instead. With a sick aunt, a bloodthirsty cat, and evil spirits lurking around, the girls find that it might have been better to stay at home. A very weird, crazy film that is half horror, half dark humor.


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Unusual Monsters


Watch out for monsters! Image from: http://www.rogerebert.com

I’d be willing to argue that almost all good horror movies are metaphors (with the added caveat that not all horror movies are good). While I realize that some folks may not be fans of the genre, I wish it were given a little more respect. Although there are plenty of goofy and campy monster movies, there are also quite a few that deal with more serious issues. As with other fringe genres, horror movies have the freedom to deal with weighty social matters—race, gender, and social inequality—through metaphor.

americannightmareThe recent documentary The American Nightmare makes this argument by mostly focusing on the horror movie renaissance during the 1960s and 70s, its main thesis being that during this time of great social unrest, many issues were being worked out through horror movies. Pittsburgh’s own George Romero is featured in the film, and admits that Night of the Living Dead was partially inspired by the violence he witnessed during the civil rights movement; and famed make-up artist Tom Savini found working on special effects to be a cathartic experience after the horrors he witnessed in the Vietnam War.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not trying to take all the fun out of the horror genre (I can appreciate a good, campy horror movie with the best of them), I’m just trying to make the case that there’s a lot more to this most lowly of genres than gory effects and spooky noises. Here are my picks for a few intelligent and original contemporary horror movies:


Monsters was shot on a meager budget with non-famous actors, but is a solid monster/alien movie. After aliens land in Mexico, the central part of the country is quarantined. An American tourist trapped south of the quarantine line attempts to travel through the “infected zone” with the help of a local journalist. What starts as disaster-monster-road movie morphs into a love story about the horrors of xenophobia.


This movie does something kind of impressive—it makes you feel sympathy for the Mexican cannibal family at the center of the film. After all, they don’t want to eat people—it’s just what they’ve always done.  We Are What We Are  starts with the passing of the father of said cannibal family, and then examines the dysfunctional dynamics of the clan as they try to “provide for the family” after the death of a parent. [Side note: this movie was just remade in the United States, and has been getting mostly glowing reviews.]


Ghosts are spooky, but do you know what’s even more terrifying? Grief.  After moving to a creepy old house in Seattle, George C. Scott is trying to get over the death of his wife and daughter—but a malevolent ghost won’t leave him alone. The Changeling is neither gory nor violent, but earns its ‘R’ rating by being just plain scary. Technically, it’s not a contemporary horror film, but it only recently became available on DVD. If you like haunted house movies, this one’s for you.


This horror-comedy definitely subverted all my expectations. We all know the set-up: college kids on vacation at a lake encounter scary looking backwoods boys. Except in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil the heroes are the two hillbillies, who are a couple of nice guys just out to enjoy a quiet vacation in the woods. The misunderstanding between the college kids & the two lovable rubes reaches a comic, and grisly, conclusion. Warning: this movie does contain a good deal of gore, but is also smart and very funny.


Who knew that Michael Cera could play such a creeper? Picture being trapped and isolated in a foreign country with one of the most obnoxious travel companions you can imagine. That pretty much sums up Magic Magic, in which the protagonist slowly starts to unravel after not being able to sleep and not understanding the local language or customs in rural Chile. This is an unsettling movie, and not recommended for anyone who has ever dealt with the horrors of insomnia.

What scary movies are you watching this Halloween season?



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Appalachian Autumn

As the cool evenings settle in for a proper Southwestern Pennsylvania autumn, thoughts often turn to the horror end of the spectrum. As a full disclaimer, I’m not a horror guy. I like some stuff a WHOLE lot, though. For example, Night of the Living Dead stands as one of the best films of all time to me. Also, Carnival of Souls is a fantastically strange, oddly dreamlike horror movie from 1962. They are both available on one DVD for your convenience! Likewise, the original 1963 version of The Haunting is all but unmatched in atmosphere and tension. That film is mind-blowingly good.

Movies are cool and all, but where my interest really lies might be closer to explorations of the cryptozoological kind. One of my favorite cryptozoological/mythical creatures has to be the Mothman. Having roots in the Appalachian region (and I don’t need to remind you that Pittsburgh is the Paris of Appalachia) , the Mothman is a very interesting creature. Some say he is a harbinger of disaster, some that he is the result of ecological catastrophe. Still others look at him as another little-known mountain monster.  One of the best places to get more information is Donnie Sergent’s book Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend. This book cobbles together facsimiles of the handwritten eyewitness reports, along with news clippings to illustrate a very thorough picture of what the Mothman is all about.

If the cryptozoological isn’t your cup of tea, I would point you in the direction of some excellent fiction by the Appalachian writer Manly Wade Wellman. His collection of short stories Valley So Low: Southern Mountain Stories is a fantastic collection of creepy, interesting, engaging, well written horror. His style struck me as being one that gives enough to create the scene, to illustrate what the reader needs, but I didn’t feel overly burdened with description or setting. Rather, Wellman uses his considerable skill to give the reader what they need and point them in the direction he wishes them to go. He knows when to back off and when to push the reader to a particular spot. Filled with stories of forbidden knowledge, strange creatures, and off-putting half-forgotten places in the mountains, Wellman puts together a fantastically odd, weird, (and at the risk of repeating myself…but I just can’t help it) CREEPY collection that is worth curling up with on a cool autumn night.

There you have it, dear Eleventh Stack reader! A few classic horror films of note and two thoroughly Appalachian sources for some Autumnal creepiness! Enjoy!

Eric – who is gearing up on blankets and tea for cool nights spent reading with the cats

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Solidly Thrilling Haunts and Monsters

Being a horror movie fan follows the cycle of addiction. The more you consume, the more you are inured to the thrills of the product, making you “need” to watch more to find said thrills, with less chance of actually being thrilled. Mostly you will encounter the same predictable tropes, until you find yourself watching a never-ending stream of B or C-grade films, just to see how bad they can be, or re-watching the classics from years past.  That can be fun.  It has its charms.

But sometimes I find myself wanting to be surprised, or wanting a chill of real terror from a new movie. I’m here to tell you that there are fun, genre-bending scary/monster movies out there. They’re not straight horror, but they all deal with the unknown. Here are five of my favorites from the past four years or so:

Lake Mungo (2008)

Lake Mungo was distributed under the banner of the Afterdark Horrorfest, a group of films that are supposedly “too disturbing” for regular distribution. I’ve watched my fair share and have been less than disturbed. Sometimes I found myself feeling sleepy.

Lake Mungo, on the other hand, is a quiet gem of a movie that plays with the concept of being haunted; it’s also won several film festival mentions and awards. After Alice Palmer accidentally drowns at a local dam, her brother catches glimpses of her around the house (even catching some on film). The family brings in a parapsychologist to help them make sense of these appearances, and Things Get Revealed. There’s a twist in this movie but instead of the twist deflating the tension, things get creepier afterward.

Baghead (2008)

A group of friends and would-be lovers are feeling the need to get their big break into Hollywood. After seeing a terrible independentBaghead film made for almost no money, they decide to travel to a cabin outside of L.A. and write their own script–starring themselves–to get their names out there. Pretty soon bitter jealousy, awkwardness, and apathy get in the way of actual scriptwriting…until one of the group stumbles outside the cabin in the wee morning hours to puke and catches a glimpse of a man with a paper bag on his head, watching the house. Was it real? Who cares–it’s a great idea for a movie! But then things get waaaaaaay more creepy.

Written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass*, anointed kings of the dubious “mumblecore” designation within indie filmmaking, this movie is made more of build-up and realistic interactions between people than it is of serial-killer stalking. And it’s so much the better for it, because it gives you the feeling that you know the characters, so you’re more invested in the terror when Stuff Happens. This film has a twist, too, but even when I remembered it my second time through, I still enjoyed the movie. It’s hard to beat some silent guy in a paper bag mask standing outside the window for creepiness.

Troll Hunter (2010)

Another group of filmmakers are the protagonists of this movie, but here they are Norwegian documentarians doing a film for a university class. They think they’re on the trail of an infamous, unlicensed bear-poacher who is–of course–taciturn and ornery, and wants nothing to do with their eager questions and boom mics. So they follow him into the woods and abruptly discover that he is actually a secret government troll-hunter.

About five minutes into the film I was compelled to text a friend, “I MUST GO TO NORWAY” because the scenery was so beautiful. Luckily the special effects are just as breathtaking, and more of them than I expected were done without CGI. These are not wacky trolls. They don’t talk, and most of the humor in the script is the type that arises in truly dire situations. I’m pretty much convinced that trolls exist now.

Rare Exports (2010)

Continuing on the mini-theme of foreign films that dissect legendary figures of childhood, we have the Finnish movie Rare Exports. What started as clever film shorts about a company that hunts and trains the Santa Clauses who run wild in the Finnish mountains– shot by Jalmari Helander for his friends and family–became a full-length movie combining the powerful forces of childhood belief, the uncanny, and by-the-skin-of-your-teeth rescue missions.

A group of scientists is excavating a mountain in Finland. But it’s not really a mountain–it’s a containment unit for a folkloric being. The main scientist is a little obssessed with his mission, and he overlooks its possible danger. Of course things go awry, and a few miles away a little boy finds a naked old man cowering in a barn, just staring into space. The boy enlists his father and their community–a group of reindeer herders–for help. They suspect the old man may be Santa Claus, or perhaps the reason why all the reindeer have been slaughtered during the migration. It just gets weirder from there. i09 called it “the most disturbingly awesome Christmas movie ever.”

Attack the Block (2011)

The excellent tagline for Attack the Block tells you all you need to know about the plot: “Inner City vs. Outer Space.” In this case the inner city is a housing project in London, where a group of teenagers introduce themselves to the audience by mugging a young nurse on her way home from work. Straightaway afterwards a sizzling light falls from the sky into the park where they’re standing. When they investigate they find a small furry creature that’s black as night that’s just emerged from a metal pod. Their first instinct is to kill it; they follow through on that instinct, then bring the corpse to the lair of the council drug dealer for safekeeping (because they figure it can make them some money). What they don’t know is that the girl they mugged lives in the same building they do; that there are many more, much bigger versions of the creature they killed on the way; and that they have a long night ahead of them when all these paths cross.

I want The Cabin in the Woods and Prometheus to be as good as the ones I’ve listed here. Are there any scary movies you’re looking forward to, or have enjoyed lately?


*You may have seen their bigger-budget efforts Cyrus and/or Jeff Who Lives At Home


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