Tag Archives: monsters

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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Surprise! This Book Just Transformed Into My Worst Fear

I love Halloween because it’s the one time of year wearing a costume is socially acceptable. It’s the time you can be someone or something you’re not. You can taste what it’s like to be a monster, or your favorite fictional character, or a concept.

zombinatorLots of people in Pittsburgh, pretty much everyone apparently, wants to “taste” what it’s like to be a zombie—there are zombie walks, massive humans vs. zombies games on college campuses, zombie literature, a zombie store, and new zombie movies all the time.

Before I go any further, let me say this: I don’t scare easily.

Spiders? I put them outside so they can eat annoying bugs. Snakes? I had a pet snake when I was a kid, and the only reason I don’t have one now is because my dogs would probably try to eat it. Bats? I squeal with delight when I see one because I think they are super adorable (and they eat half their body weight in insects per night!). Insects? As long as they aren’t trying to bite me, dive bomb me, or fly into my mouth or ear, I don’t bother with them. And I love the ones that help my garden, like bees and lady bugs.

I do have one mortal fear, though: Zombies.

That’s right. I think bats are the cutest things ever, snakes make great pets, and spiders are my friendly household helpers, and yet I’m Terrified—with a capital T—of zombies.

It’s the idea that a monster could scratch you ever-so-slightly and yet still infect you with a disease that turns you into a mindless husk of a body with cannibalistic leanings. It’s the slow and relentless onslaught. The overwhelming numbers. That once they start coming, you can fight, but humanity’s demise is inevitable.

Walking Dead Book OneOnce, I tried reading The Walking Dead, and got ten pages in before I slammed the book shut. “Nope. No way. Not going to happen,” I told the book.

Miniature WifeLately, I’ve been stumbling onto zombie stories everywhere. This past weekend, I was reading The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales, and BAM, surprise zombie story! I had to read it, because I have this compulsion about finishing books, and aside from the surprise zombies, I really enjoyed the delightful weirdness of the collection.

That night, I made my husband hold my hand after we turned out the lights, because I couldn’t stop thinking about the zombies and their gray teeth and slurping sounds.

bprdhellonearthoneLast month, I was reading B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, and BAM, zombies! I’ve encountered the traditional slow-moving raised-from-the-dead zombies in Hellboy before (and those don’t really scare me), but these were mindless mutated half-animal creatures that got turned into zombies from breathing a gas released from a gigantic monster. UBER CREEPY.

weliveinwaterEven Jess Walter’s seemingly normal collection about class and race issues, We Live in Water, contains a surprise zombie story. It’s not a typical zombie story—people are turned by taking a recreational drug that changes their brain chemistry—but it’s still a zombie story.

stitchedIf you look at the cover of Stitched by Garth Ennis, a writer I greatly enjoy, it looks like a war comic with some scary reaper dudes. NOPE. It’s about voodoo zombies who can’t be killed. I read this one anyway, but man did it freak me out.

All these zombie stories act kind of like zombies themselves. You think you’re safe and comfortable and then all of a sudden your best friend has become a flesh-eating monster, and you have to fight for your life. I think I’m safe and comfortable reading fun quirky short stories about miniaturized wives or class issues in a decaying city, and then all of a sudden I’m reading a story about zombies and I’m terrified.

I guess this is one of the risks of being a science fiction and fantasy reader in the zombie-obsessed 21st century. It makes a kind of sense—lots of people believe we’re all turning into zombies because of too much work, because we listen to the same talking heads and don’t think for ourselves, because there is always a new virus that does scary, scary things to the human body.

So I’m not going to stop reading these types of stories, even though they make me want to hide under the covers like a five-year-old afraid of the monster in the closet.

How about you? Do you love zombies? Hate them? What’s your favorite zombie story?



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Caffeine, Monsters, and Dead Dogs: A “1,001 Movies” Update

My quest to watch 1,001 movies in 2012 is off to a good start, with a total of 206 films under my belt.  I credit my success thus far to an iron will and a never-ending flow of coffee, both of which have transformed me from a meditative morning lark to a wide-eyed, popcorn-chomping night owl. It’s a small price to pay for the amount of fun I’m having, though.

A great deal of the amusement value of this project derives from seeing how various themes and motifs play out across films and genres. For some reason, this particular crop of movies–chosen randomly from the master list–skewed to films that depicted violence and/or horror.  I’m not too keen on guts and gore, but I do love a good scare or disturbing thrill, so I was very interested in the depiction of monsters and the monstrous in films like Heavenly Creatures, The War Game, A Clockwork Orange, and (naturally) Monsters.  Packing film to the gills with gore is easy–I’m talking to you, Mel Gibson–but it’s far more difficult to psychologically disturb your audience with subtly-composed shots and well-written dialogue.  Monsters, we learn from watching films, do not necessarily have pointy teeth or tentacles, and the most monstrous acts are frequently committed by the externally beautiful.

The best example of this phenomenon from this round of movie-watching is, hands down, Takashi Miike’s Audition.  The story, which is based on fiction by Ryu Murakami, revolves around Aoyama, a lonely widower who wants companionship, but isn’t sure how to get back into the dating game.  A movie-mogul friend, who is currently casting for a project, suggests Aoyama sit in on the auditions and use them as a search for the perfect bride. Though skeptical at first, Aoyama slowly comes around to his friend’s point of view and falls in love with one of the young women who auditions.

What happens next is a surreal blend of psychological horror and non-linear narrative that will have even the most careful viewer blinking with confusion.  There is some gore involved, but it is used both sparingly and skillfully, so that by the time you get to the really icky parts, you’re already frightened out of your mind.  Clearly the villain of the piece is monstrous…but then again, so are the cultural attitudes that created her.  No easy answers, but definitely plenty of sitting on the edge of your chair, shouting at the screen, and covering your eyes.

All that being said, the hardest part of the film for me was watching the cute little beagle run around Aoyama’s house, knowing that when the camera keeps cutting to the adorable dog in a horror movie, something bad is bound to happen sooner or later.  In fact, the number of dogs–and I’m including werewolves here–who don’t fare very well in this batch of film made me a little nervous.  Do filmmakers genuinely not like our four-footed friends?  Or is it just an easy way to tug an audience’s heartstrings?  Making me care about a critter, and then subjecting it to a horrible demise, isn’t very nice.  But, as I am learning, the point of some films isn’t to highlight the “nice” – the focus is on probing our darker sides and selves, and bringing that hidden darkness to light for analysis and discussion.

I still don’t like it, but I suppose I’ll just have to soldier on.  Here’s a complete list of films from round 2 of the project:

  1. Monsters
  2. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
  3. Withnail and I
  4. An American Werewolf in London
  5. Un Chien Andalou
  6. Heavenly Creatures
  7. Wild Reeds
  8. Anvil: The Story of Anvil
  9. Apocalypto
  10. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  11. The Wedding Banquet
  12. A Clockwork Orange
  13. The War Game
  14. Audition
  15. Barren Lives*
  16. The Third Man
  17. Hour of the Wolf
  18. Cabaret
  19. Talk to Her
  20. Alphaville
  21. Gabbeh

Do you like horror movies? Why or why not? If you’ve seen any of the films above, which ones strike you as “monstrous,” and why?

Leigh Anne

who also managed to finish reading A Storm of Swords, and has eagerly dived into A Feast for Crows.

*available via Netflix streaming


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