It may be surprising to some to find out that I have a special place in my heart for horror/thriller films. From gorgeous cinematography (Midsommar) to hauntingly ethereal settings (Crimson Peak), award-winning storytelling (A Quiet Place) to laughably outdated garbagefires (Leprechaun), I can’t get enough of ’em.
I guess my love of thrills may be surprising considering what a massive scaredy cat I am. Yes, I did cry in the beginning of The Phantom of the Opera when I first saw it at 12 years old because the organ prelude music was too scary. Yes, I do have an active phobia of people in costumes due to a traumatic interactive showing of Cats! at a local theatre. Yes, every roommate I’ve ever lived with has complained about me gasping in terror whenever they come home at a completely normal time for absolutely no discernible reason.
But I love horror movies as a genre because of their ability to dramatize our humanness in a way that no other one can. In the realm of horror stories, anything can be real and nothing is absolute. We doubt what we know is true. We’re stripped away from normalcy and into a primal state of survival. We are forced to question what is important, and sometimes the answers can be as shocking as the swamp monster or crazed killer that got us there in the beginning.
I’m just saying….a rom-com can’t do that.
It may also be surprising that I love horror movies simply because of the blatant misogyny the genre seems to have always inspired. Women are seemingly always cast in reoccurring tropes: the damsels in distress (best case scenario), the “sluts” who are punished thoroughly for their promiscuity, psycho exes who just can’t take rejection from the bland lead, sexy ghosts, sexy vampires, sexy camp counselors, sexy corpse. I guess it’s cool that horror movies are the only genre where women get more screen time and speaking roles than men, but is that really a win when most of the screen time is dedicated to gratuitous shots of a teenage girl in Daisy Dukes and a bra, caked in blood, running around screaming?
While the sexist (and not to mention, racist ((ever wondered why the black sidekicks never make it to the end?)), homophobic, and transphobic) tropes are aplenty, there have also been excellent and creative examples of movies turning these stereotypes on their head. Take an infamously sexist genre and make it feminist?
So to get you in the mood for Spooky Season, grab a PSL, your weighted blanket, and your BFF as you watch these iconic Scream Queens survive and thrive.
I randomly picked this movie out at the library because I saw it had Adam Devine on the cover and I swear to God, he is my brother Keegan’s doppelgänger. Little did I know that I’d love it so much, I would make my sisters rewatch it with me for a second time 6 hours after the first viewing.
The film is about a teen girl named Max (played by American Horror Story spooky queen Taissa Farmiga) who had a recently lost her mother, an iconic former 80s scream queen herself, in a car accident. Her and a group of her friends get transported into her mother’s film Camp Bloodbath where they have to battle the 80s slasher killer and keep the hapless camp counselor character tropes alive too.
The flick is not only a massively fun romp, it managed to bring so much more love and affection to commonly unexamined characters. They lovingly teach the brazen “slut” trope that she’s capable of keeping her clothes on. The “mean girl” turns out to have a heart of gold, and “the final girl” is only the final girl due to the cooperation and sacrifice of all the others.
It was a small moment but the one that really got me was the endearing support of Max’s love interest (played by that guy who was the bad guy in the first Hunger Games, sorry I’m all Googled out). He had mad Fred-From-Scooby-Doo vibes, where he easily could’ve assumed leadership and bossed everyone around, but instead he let Max lead. He supported her as she dealt with seeing her mom alive and wanting so badly to save her, and kept away the advances of the camp philanderer (expertly played by Adam Devine) while calling out his homophobia. Seeing a healthy dude in a horror film, where all men left to their own devices tend to lean towards the evil side, was a sweet relief. It let the women rule the screen all the more.
I dragged my younger sister to see this movie with me before she went to off to college. By the time we left the theatre, we were so dumbstruck and shooked, I made her read out loud every article she could find on it on our way back home. What seems like a simple film about a demonic game of hide-and-seek (already a scary enough concept itself) turned into a rollercoaster I wanted to keep riding with a white-knuckle grip.
This movie is about a new bride on the day of her wedding as she marries into the immensely wealthy family of her groom. The family made their money through board games, so the bride doesn’t bat her insanely, perfectly long eyelashes at the suggestion of a midnight game that would initiate her fully into the family. But when it turns out to be hide-and-seek, the family shows that just how they maintained their good fortune…through the ritualistic sacrifice of the unlucky participant of this particular game.
The movie is not only gorgeously set in the ultimate spooky, magnificent family mansion, perfectly cast, and fast-moving, it’s also really funny. Like not just for a horror movie funny where a character will say some awful pun or dramatic “not today, bitch” line that barely cuts the tension. It’s uproariously funny, which made the jump scares that much more scarier as the viewer kind of forgot what they were watching.
Without spoiling it, I found it incredibly moving and surprising, with an ending that still makes me say “WTF”. By the time our final girl makes it to the end, you just want to buy her a drink and get her a good lawyer…as well as a highly-recommended therapist.
Listen, I’m not bold enough to write a sloppy synopsis for the genuine work of art from the mind of director/actor/writer/comedian/genuinely-someone-I-would-join-a-cult-for Jordan Peele. But I would be awfully remiss to not include Lupita Nyong’o, who is somehow simultaneously the most beautiful woman in the world and a creepy nightmare creature who crawled out of the very mind of Pennywise himself. She plays both doting mother whole-heartedly dedicated to the survival of her family AND the villainous leader of a subterranean race of creatures bent on uprising. Or rather, the good and bad, light and dark, humanness and otherness of each character. I nominate Lupita for a total of four Oscars for the amount of depth, magnetism, and eerie creepiness she gave for each side of each character; the committee will be hearing from my lawyer if she does not receive each and every accolade ((my lawyer is just me in a wig)).
You thought I’d really write up a horror movie list in the year of our Lord 2019 without mentioning my girl Bev? As if. Listen up, Losers. Bev has survived her motherless, traumatic childhood, her abusive father, middle school bullies, adolescent love, AND an alien creature masquerading as a demonic clown bent on world domination by feeding on the bone-chilling fear of children and also their flesh…..ALL WHILE ROCKING THE SHAGGY BOB OF MY DREAMS??!!! We love an icon.
As the only girl of the gang and a burgeoning young woman, she combats the sexual gaze of everyone by being relentlessly and authentically herself. She is confident, brave, and bold. I argue the dynamic of It would be sorely lacking without our feisty redhead heroine.
Also in It: Chapter Two, I’m totally going to spoil it and tell you that Bev grows up to be a gorg bombshell badass who helps defeat Pennywise once and for all and ends up with Ben, her friend who crushed on her forever, wrote her swoon-worthy poetry, and grew up to a sensitive, rich hottie. Bev, girl, teach me your ways.
If you’re familiar with Jemaine Clement and Taiki Waititi’s mockumentary vampire flick What We Do in the Shadows, you’re probably a very cool person and we’d really get along well. In fact, let’s go get Moscow Mules and talk about the Kiwi accent and the genius of the line “we’re werewolves, not swear-wolves” while wearing fabulous gothic capes and mysterious elbow-length gloves.
Okay, now that we’re back, lemme tell you all about the delightful genius of the Hulu show Clement produced of the same title. In it, four vampires immigrated from vague European principalities of yesteryear to take over America…or at least their small corner of Staten Island. Out-of-touch with our modern world (and overly reminiscent of this brilliant Key and Peele sketch about needlessly sexy vampires), they rely on their socially awkward but ever-loyal familiar, Guillermo, who brings them virgin victims from his LARP-ing club. There Nadja, the sole vampiress of the group, decides to turn Jenna, the awkward college student who is constantly belittled (played by the incomparable Beanie Feldstein) in an act of pity. She encourages Jenna to use her new powers and immortality to reek havoc over the pathetic mortal men around her. Jenna, lacking the sexiness and vague Romanian energy of Nadja, does her best which is always just kind of “eh”. I have had tears rolling down my face in every scene that she is in.
Is she a traditional scream queen? Perhaps not, but she is the LARP-ing, awkward vampire the world, or at least Staten Island, needs.
This Spooky Szn, I’m channelling the energy of the Sanderson Sisters and only watching women-led, kickass thrillers that have been on my to-watch list forever, like Life After Beth, A Girl Walks Alone at Night, and the upcoming Zombieland: Double Tap.
Let’s just all agree not to support The Incel Community’s Wet Dream…ooops sorry I meant to type Joker.