Halloweeny, good and bad

The other night, I made the mistake of going to the local theater to see the horrible new version of Halloween by Rob Zombie. It sucked. Unimaginative, tedious, unrelievedly grim, plodding, with no insight or interesting ideas, and it wasn’t even scary. There was no story except ‘serial killer marches through movie murdering people.’

I’d hoped for something frightening for Halloween, and was disappointed.

I should have just stayed home and read the Little Professor, since she has provided a nice assortment of century-old horror stories. The real thing. Stories with some imagination and style. Skip the bad slasher movies, read Fanu or James or Stevenson — they’re much more satisfying.


  1. Rolando Aguilera says

    I hate almost all recent horror movies for the same reason, but i have great expectatives with “the mist”. It seems like a perfect old style terror movie. I’m counting the days!!! I’m even thinking in coming to your country to see the premier (i’m about three hours from the border, at Mexico)

  2. Robert says

    It seems like so many horror movies these days have forgotten that its often scarier when we don’t see whats going on. The unseen provokes a feeling of dread that I have never experienced in anything else (it may help that I have an active imagination).

  3. skyotter says

    i’m not sure Rob Zombie is capable of scaring people. The Devil’s Rejects was the dullest “scary” movie i’ve ever sat through. it gave me boring dreams for weeks. seriously, i’d wake up yawning!

    “it’s just a dream … that movie ended weeks ago … it’s just a dream … i have entertaining DVDs to watch …”

  4. Kuhlmancanadensis says

    Personally, I am inviting people over this week to watch “Jesus Camp”. Sounds like a good horror flick to me.

  5. Nix says

    Myself I’m going to watch _Hush_ (Buffy s4.10) for Halloween. Ye ungods but that was a creepy episode.

  6. jeffox backtrollin' says

    Robert (#3 above) is correct in his assessment. That’s what is called “suspense” and cinema can show that very powerfully. Take Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” for example. . .

  7. Caliban says

    Hey PZ, you should’ve seen “30 days of night”. The vampires are genuinely creepy, nasty and even atheists! Although, i’m not sure thier atheist position is “framed” to appeal to the masses. :)

    For those who like scarry vampire flicks, this movie is a welcome departure from Anne Rice’s metrosexual, prancing, dandy vampires.

  8. mndarwinist says

    Off topic, PZ, but do you remember your post about the manager of Rockies seeing God’s hand in their ascent into the world series?
    Well we saw what became of that…

  9. noncarborundum says

    She’s missed my favorite scary story: Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”. No vampires, werewolves, or similar ghoulies and ghosties, just a haunting eeriness built out of little more than wind, water, sand, and trees.

  10. Graculus says

    I’m skipping the movie and just getting the soundtrack.

    Rob, go back to music, the world needs more groove metal.

  11. noncarborundum says

    Speaking of the hand of God, did anyone see the quote from Hurdle (repeated by Schilling) that the final game had “God’s fingerprints” on it because both pitchers had survived life-threatening illness (Lester: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; Cook: blood clots in the lungs)?

    Personally, it seems to me that if there were fingerprints on the game, they belonged to modern scientific medicine. Now if these guys had survived the same illnesses in the 6th century, Hurdle might have an argument. But today?

  12. Christ Davis says

    One of the better monster movies I’ve seen lately is Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host. A good creature, an engaging and well written story and it doesn’t end in a trite way, as so many crappy movies in the U.S. do. Takashi Miike’s Audition, or Visitor Q are also entertaining, and a bit bloody. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure; Takashi Shimizu’s Marebito; Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Can you tell I favor Asian films?

    I don’t think it is correct to call The Devil’s Rejects a “scary” movie, despite the recurring characters from House of 1000 Corpses. It was more of a revenge/road movie. And the music throughout was used coherently, to support the story. Just my opinion…

  13. ScienceBreath says

    I vowed to never see another Rob Zombie movie after the egregiously bad House of 1000 Corpses. Unremitting shite.

  14. craig says

    I was gonna recommend “The Host” but someone beat me to it.

    Anyway, “horror” movies for the last 20 years, with a few exceptions, have not been about horror at all. They’re just violence porn. A different thing altogether. I’m not even saying I’m against that. I was somewhat entertained by “Saw,” even though it’s a thoroughly immoral and misanthropic piece of crap. “The Cube” had a few interesting moments.

  15. Moses says

    I actually found “Charly” (1968, based on Flowers for Algernon) to be much more disturbing than most horror flicks. It starts out great, then the foreshadowing of the protagonists doom, then the inevitable slide… Hard to take. It was also very well acted, adding to the discomfort, with Cliff Robertson (Charly) won an Oscar for his performance.

    Another one was “Play Misty for Me.” Came out in 1971. It was directed by Clint Eastwood and was shot on location in Carmel by the Sea and Monterrey, both places I had great familiarity with in those days. Between the plausibility brought on by the familiarity of surroundings and creepiness of the movie I had regularly recurring nightmares for months and on-and-off nightmares for over a decade. When I saw “Fatal Attraction,” I had to walk out fairly early in the movie because I knew what was going to happen and what would be the consequences to me if I saw it.

    Most other horror movies haven’t been too tough. The primary exception being Alien. Mostly, I think, because I had my “science fiction” mentality on when I saw the first part of it (and had to leave the room). Most of the Hitchcock movies had their moments with me, too.

    But those stupid clown ones. Or the “Chuckie” doll ones. Or the chainsaw ones. Or Freddy Kruger (I semi-knew the guy, he lived in Eureka and we’d bump into each other) movies. Or Jason, or Nightmare, or any of the other massively predictable ones featuring the same old tired cliche’s…

  16. Moses says

    Sorry. The Freddy Kruger guy (Robert Englund) lived in Fort Bragg, not Eureka. He was still, pretty much, a ‘nobody’ at the time. One of a lot of B-list actors that lived in Mendocino County in the 1980’s. He left, as far as I know, sometime in the mid-to-late 1980’s after he became successful.

  17. says

    I’ll probably spend Halloween watching the original 1963 version of “The Haunting”, which is about as good of a classic haunted house movie as one can get. The DVD is especially fun from a schadenfreude perspective – the audio commentary contains reminisces from the original cast and crew, who occasionally throw in a nice dig at the terrible 1999 remake. To paraphrase from memory: “We decided to shoot the film in black and white, because it was much more atmospheric. The director of the remake didn’t go that route. Didn’t seem to work out well for him.”

  18. Steph says

    The original Halloween wasn’t especially good either – the villain never managed to kill someone who saw him coming or even knew of his existance. All he did was jump out at people or sneak up behind them. The one person who was actually semi-ready to face him was a terrified teenager who repeatedly downed him with improvised weaponry. I’d make a better serial killer than he did, if I really wanted to go down that career path.

  19. Dr. Steve says

    Oh, it’s all about The Shining (Kubrick version please). Never been so scared of 2 little girls in my life (that is until I had one of my own).

  20. Dave Wisker says

    My film money’s on “The Innocents”, with Deborah Kerr in a great adaptation of Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw”.

    Book money’s on Oliver Onion’s “The Beckoning Fair One”.

  21. Ichthyic says

    One of the better monster movies I’ve seen lately is Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host.

    oh, i so completely have to disagree with that.

    After starting with an intriguing family interaction, and a slightly new spin on the “toxic monster” syndrome, the whole last half hour of the movie was absolutely farcical and completely ruined anything decent the movie was trying to build to.

    sorry, but after seeing so much hype for this, I was sorely disappointed.

    The monster itself was decent, but that’s as far as it went, and made it no better than the idiotic US “Godzilla” remake.

  22. Chris says

    I think the theme of Horror has been replaced with how much blood and guts you can show. Yea that plays apart in some horror movies but it wasn’t the only thing that it relied upon. I haven’t seen the original, but i’ve seen parts of the original film. I have to agree the new version of Halloween wasn’t that scary or impressive. I liked 30 days of night, it wasn’t scary but I like vampire flicks. However its depressing that we can’t come up with anything original anymore and must show more blood then ever. Look at 28 days later which was a good film, then look at its sequal. Horrible story line but more blood and guts. We are now having to take Japanese movies and making them into american versions which from watching the previews for the upcoming one missed call I can tell that the american version seems to have alot of changes and wouldn’t be surprised if you see more blood and guts in it. I can’t wait for The mist because religious zealots make a great horror film plot.

  23. says

    I’ll agree that the sequel to 28 Days bit hard; I was so looking forward to the sequel, only to be let down. IMO, the Alien movies were some of my favorites. Alien was downright scary; locked in a closed quarters with something that is the size of Andre the Giant, yet can get around in ventilation ducts and seems to learn very, very quickly. It was creepy, and we rarely saw the alien until the very end. Of course the sequel wasn’t really a horror film in as much as it was an action movie. I don’t even acknowledge 3 and 4 of that series.

    Now I’ll also disagree some and say that I loved the original Halloween films, but I never found them very scary. Well, unless you count Halloween 3, in which case you should be scared that it was ever made. I’ve not seen the remake, but I had low expectations considering that Zombie was doing it. He’s at least 0 and 2 with me (not aware of other films he’s done, mostly because I don’t care).

    And let’s not forget the great George Romero! Anyone here like Land of the Dead?

  24. says

    28 Days Later was one of the vilest woman-hating screeds I’ve ever seen. Start out with an independent, interesting woman, get rapey on her for a while until the Hero Man saves her, and then throw her into domesticity and actually end the movie with her using a fracking sewing machine. No thanks. Also: not particularly a zombie movie.

    I found the new Halloween to be at least slightly better than the dullsville original, but disappointing after I loved The Devil’s Rejects so much. I can see being bored by The Devil’s Rejects if you expect it to be scary, but that wasn’t really the intention.

    The best recent scary horror movie I’ve seen was William Friedkin’s Bug, about a descent into credulous conspiracy-theory insanity. Very well done. Also, it’s not exactly the same type of thing, and I know a lot of people didn’t like it (for reasons I don’t understand), but Tarantino’s Death Proof is completely terrifying at times.

  25. Krista says

    Rob Zombie movies tend towards that. I am absolutely in love with the Saw series, mostly because the characters are somewhat three-dimensional, and the concepts are more scary than the implementation. The thought of being in a situation where I’d have to do something abhorrant (sp?) or meet a grisly end is… unsettling, to say the least.

  26. craig says

    “The best recent scary horror movie I’ve seen was William Friedkin’s Bug, about a descent into credulous conspiracy-theory insanity.”

    Weird… I liked it, but it never for a second occurred to me to think of it as scary or a horror movie.

  27. hinschelwood says

    “Who here can tell me who the villain was in the movie, Friday the Thirteenth?”

    That was Mrs Voorhees, wasn’t it? As in Jason’s mum? Didn’t Jason make a cameo at the end, or was that just every other film in the series?

  28. stormen_per says

    A horror movie I found genuinely frightening, was A Tale of Two Sisters. Good twists in the plot as well, although a bit too weird at parts. (Like, David Lynch-weird.)

    And yeah, exceptionally beautiful shooting. I’d recommend it solely on that.

  29. Dawn says

    I adore Hitchcock movies. I think they are the scariest things, because you DON’T see things and can imagine the worst.

    I also love the old horror movies: The Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. If it had Lon Chaney or (early) Bela Legosi in it, I love it.

    A moment of silence, from all Detroiters who remember Sir Graves Ghastly…..then the creaking of the coffin lid…”good evening”….

  30. Barn Owl says

    Although not originally a Halloween poem (though now it is often read at this time of year), Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is one of the creepiest pieces of literature ever, IMO. At the beginning, the narrator is amused (or pretends to be) by the raven, but by the end he’s completely mad:

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
    On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
    And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
    Shall be lifted — nevermore!

    Totally freaked out by a talking corvid.

  31. says

    I actually liked the original Halloween myself, especially since it’s scary/tense without too much over-the-top gore. Then again, one of John Carpenter’s other movies, The Thing is another one of my Halloween favorites and that one has all kinds of weird special effects in it (i.e. heads coming off, sprouting crab legs, and scuttling away).

  32. says

    How about Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now? Not exactly horror, but certainly scary. And it’s got Julie Christie in it.

    I thought the original Japanese version of Ring was pretty creepy too, and on the weird sci-fi/horror front I also quite liked Event Horizon, though I’m aware this may put me in a minority. Possibly of one.

  33. says

    Eh, Zombie lost me at House of 1000 Corpses. But anyway…I still like the original Halloween. It’s one of only two slasher movies that I actually enjoy and watch at least once a year.

    I love older horror movies, especially silent ones. As far as newer movies go, I really liked The Host (yes, I liked it enough to buy it), and I’m looking forward to 30 Days of Night.

  34. BaldApe says


    1. A category in a video store that seems to have little to do with content.

    2. The sensation felt when hearing another Bush administration announcement concerning Iran.

  35. says

    Scariest movie I’ve seen: Jaws.

    The original Halloween was very scary. What was good in it? Donald Pleasance for starters. Jamie Lee Curtis was pretty good, too.

    Alien is a great horror film.

    It seems today’s filmmakers don’t understand that the purpose of a horror film is to scare people. Killing off a dozen teenagers by random slashing is not very scary. A videotape that kills the teenagers who watch it, one week later, is.

    There are elements you need:
    – good actors. There’s no substitute for good actors in a scary film. See Robert Shaw in Jaws, Max von Sydow in the Exorcist, Gregory Peck in The Omen, and most of the cast in most Hitchcock films. (The cast of Alien was amazing.)
    – good story.
    – tapping into natural fears: fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear of being alone, fear of heights (Vertigo!), fear of the water (Jaws!). Vampire stories traditionally feed the fear of sex.
    – avoidance of cheap tricks like noises out of nowhere and people suddenly appearing from off-camera.
    – characters that we care about before they are mindlessly slaughtered. (Scatman Crothers in ‘The Shining’ comes to mind.)
    – snakes on a plane

    OK, maybe not that last one. :)

  36. says

    I think one of the most entertaining and scariest movies wasn’t even a horror movie, but one of the early Coen Bros. films Blood Simple. Maybe it doesn’t age well, I haven’t seen if for years, but when M. Emmet Walsh’s character “Loren Visser” is still coming after our hero with a knife through his hand into a windowsill, well, I still squirm to think about it.

  37. Deepsix says

    How dare you blasphemy Rob Zombie! Actually, I’ve never seen any of his movies…
    Besides, I’ve never cared for the slasher type horror movies. I prefer scary/suspense type such as The Sixth Sense and The Others. Everyone should see The Others with Nicole Kidman- great movie.

  38. sharon says

    Nearly all the scariest things I have seen in recent years have always been from east Asia: The Ring (not the bloody remake), Whispering Corridors (S. Korea), Audition.

    Not scary exactly, but I think I might try to get hold of Theatre of Blood for this Halloween, as I haven’t seen it for a while. If you’ve got Vincent Price and Diana Rigg, what more could you possibly need?

  39. redstripe says

    Check out the new 3D version of Nightmare Before Christmas. Not scary, but excellent nonetheless.

  40. says

    The best movies for “what you can’t see is scarier than what you can” are the Val Lewton flicks from the 1940s. I don’t really know who’s working that angle anymore; maybe the J-horror filmmakers who did Ringu, Uzumaki, Ju-on (the original version of The Grudge). I liked Frailty and The Devil’s Backbone in that vein; I seem to remember Stir of Echoes fitting that category as well.

    For blood’n’guts intense balls-out (no pun intended) horror, however, the best movie of that stripe in ages is The Descent. That was one bad-ass mofo. And nary a dude in sight.

  41. Leni says

    **Moderate 28 weeks later spoiler ahead***

    ethan wrote:

    28 Days Later was one of the vilest woman-hating screeds I’ve ever seen…

    I didn’t see the first one, but I thought the same thing about the sequel.

    Ok so there’s a rage virus, duh. I would expect a lot of violence. But there isn’t actually all that much violence in the movie, at least where you can see what’s happening. There’s some fast cut scenes with blood and fighting and screaming, but the only prolonged scenes of up close and personal violence are against the two main female characters.

    (Ok the teenage girl didn’t get it, but both the other women did, way worse than anyone else in the film.)

  42. dogmeatIB says

    PZ, if you saw or read any review of the movie, or even saw a commercial or talked to someone who saw it, and didn’t expect it to be a steaming pile of dung, I’ve got to say, I’m very disappointed in you.

  43. HP says

    Everyone knows that the gore in horror movies isn’t real, right? It’s all make-believe.

    Blood in movies is like volume in music. Bad music doesn’t get better by virtue of being loud, and bad movies don’t get better by virtue of being gory. Some music, though, is meant to be loud, and some movies are better — or at least more honest — when they don’t shy away from the consequences of violence and physical corruption.

    That said, I watched Roger Corman’s only mildly bloody Masque of the Red Death again this weekend. If all you know about Corman is his MSTK’d cheapo exploitation movies, you really need to see his Poe films. Masque… is a gorgeous, creepy, beautifully gothic film, IMO much more enjoyable than those of his competitors at Hammer. Ditto for Pit and the Pendulum, Tomb of Ligeia, and the other films in the series. Corman is a rational atheist and a liberal, too, so you don’t get the simplistic, Manichean moral conservatism that mars so many horror films.

    Speaking of freethinking cynics, in terms of literature, if all you know of Ambrose Bierce is his Devil’s Dictionary, he wrote dozens of ghost stories and horror stories that are wonderful. Two of my favorites are “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field” and “The Haunted Valley.” His stories are public domain and are posted all over the Web.

  44. jeffox backtrollin' says

    Back when, I was soooo scared of whatever Count Floyd had on. :) Especially Doctor Tongue’s Island of the Insane Stewardesses (in 3D).

  45. Ichthyic says

    and on the weird sci-fi/horror front I also quite liked Event Horizon

    nope, not alone. there were some genuinely creepy themes in there.

    I think they could have done a better job of fleshing out the old “I have such sights to show you” theme even more, and some of the effects were a bit over the top, but I still liked it overall.

    “DO YOU SEE?”

    btw, that was one of the things i liked about the original Hellraiser (1 and 2), too…

    “We have such wonderful things to show you”

    “We have an eternity to know your flesh”

    yup. good creepiness factor. No reason to graphically show you what they mean – let your imagination fill in the gaps.

    It’s very rare past teenage that a film can make you jump out of your seat (like Jaws and Alien did when they first came out), so I tend to favor horror flicks that work on the creepiness factor instead as I grow older.

  46. says

    Both commentors are right. Mrs. Voorhees was out to get the camp counselors when the camp reopened because of what happened to her son, Jason years ago on a Friday the 13th.

  47. Kseniya says

    I have a old, worn paperback of Lovecraft stories. In my admittedly limited experience with horror fiction, it’s uniquely and wonderfully creepy and otherworldly.

    The Shining scared me. Badly. I mean the book – I haven’t seen the movie.

    Event Horizon also freaked me out. It was too intensely horrible for me. I was sorry I saw it, but that doesn’t mean I hated it. I had similar feelings about another movie I thought was pretty good (Seven) and another I though was superb (21 Grams). “Did I really need to see that?”

    Alien was fantastic. I consider it a suspense film, more tense than horrific (with the exception of one or two very obvious moments).

    Dagon was my Halloween movie a couple of years ago. Again, horrible. Horrible! In a good way!

    Has anyone mentioned Re-Animator yet? No? From Beyond? No? Okay…

    I agree with the general sentiment that suspense and fear of the unseen is often more affecting than in-your-face blood and guts. Kinda like that odd bit at end of the fourth story in King’s Different Seasons book. It was downright Lovecraftian IIRC…

    Slasher flix tend to be rife with idiot-plots and otherwise mentally dull, even if they do get the adrenaline pumping at times. I avoid them. However, The Ring scared the crap outta me. I’m so lame! Nonetheless, I’m very interested in Audition, on the recommendation of a friend. Will I be able to sleep after I see it? That’s what concerns me most. :-)

  48. Ichthyic says


    if you’re intersted in Lovecraft, most of his stuff is public access, and I have just about everything ever written by the man in various electronic formats (text, html, pdfs, even audiobooks of some of the better known stuff).

    if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll figure out a way to get it to you.

    re-animator (the movie) is based on a Lovecraft story, btw.



  49. Der Bruno Stroszek says

    Everyone’s mentioned most of my favourites, but I want to throw out a line for what I think is the scariest film ever made – Ghostwatch. This is a mock-documentary broadcast by the BBC on Halloween ’92 and using real television presenters. It caused an awful lot of people to believe it was real – I had a friend who was insistent on its veracity for years afterwards.

    I must say, even though everyone knows it’s fake now, it is still absolutely traumatic to watch. There is a moment involving a cupboard door being opened that you may wish to avoid pausing your DVD on.

  50. says

    Der Bruno Stroszek: if you look at the most recent volume of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, you’ll find a good short story that riffs on Ghostwatch.

  51. Ichthyic says

    wow, that was simply the most thoughtful review of a zombie movie I think I’ve ever read.

    thanks, Dr. L

    Indeed, the author made an excellent case for the idea that the film was actually CRITICIZING misogynist attitudes.

  52. Dr. Locrian says

    Speaking of good horror, I don’t think anyone’s mention Thomas Ligotti yet. He’s by far the best contemporary “weird” horror writer at work today, the true heir of Lovecraft. His short stories are amazing (including one, ahem, “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum”), and he just wrote a novella titled “My Work is Not Yet Done”: think The Office meets Lovecraft & Poe.

    And some other things: I too generally prefer the more subtle scares of The Ring, The Haunting, the Val Lewton movies, but I think it’s too great a cliche to simply pit gore vs. dread.

    Back in the day, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, Videodrome, John’ Carpenter’s The Thing, Re-Animator, all of them butted up against the barrier of good taste, and many critics at the time railed against the “pornography” of violence. But they’re all generally recognized now as masterpieces in the genre (by those who are willing to consider horror as worth considering at all).

    Less blood does not always mean more scary, nor does throwing on the fake blood rescue a bad idea. Each individual movie needs to judged on its own terms. I think that horror at its best manages to dowse out those hidden undercurrents of fear that a lot of us don’t realize are flowing under our collective skins–at least, until a good movie/book brings it squirming into the light.

    For a true horror fan, that squirminess is something to be sought after–we WANT to be scared. That’s why I never understand the macho posing of the stereotypical Fangoria fanboy who brags about being able to take the worst blood and guts with a wink and giggle. But I understand where that attitude comes from: it’s a protection from the general distaste that the majority of people have for the horror genre, much like the social stigma of being a Star Trek or comic book fan.