Welcome back, Geek fans! I hope you all enjoyed last week’s exchange between myself and Michelle; it’s a shame that American political debates can’t be conducted with the same level of honesty and respect between the parties, but that’s a big reason why I geek… it allows me to ignore harsh realities and exist in a peaceful bubble of non-aggression. In part because of how vitriolic and ridiculous things are out in the big, wide world—and also because it’s already October, so I’m trying to get into the spirit of the season–I’m going to focus on something that brings me joy: horror films.
Now, I’m fairly dangerous when it comes to recommending and discussing horror films, because while I am not an art-house auteur nor was I exposed to a lot of the “classics” and grindhouse films that make up a significant segment of the genre, I have taken more than a class or two that has analyzed many of the books ultimately responsible for producing and influencing the first horror and science fiction movies. I’m much more likely to talk through various critical approaches in interpreting the film or in analyzing the director’s/cinematographer’s visual choices than shriek in terror (Seriously, I wrote my Master’s thesis on Dracula and Carmilla, as well as a conference paper on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.). in short though, I liked vampires long before they sparkled, and I discovered zombies thanks in large part to the first Resident Evil film.
Ironically, I’m less freaked out by the undead than I am by alien/science fiction films—because, realistically, science can go from fiction to fact in startlingly quick succession. I am not, however, a fan of slasher and snuff films; there’s plenty of examples of horrific things that people do to each other every day on the news, so I don’t feel the compulsion to watch it play out in technicolor and call it “entertainment” (this is one of the reasons why I’m no longer watching The Walking Dead, although losing Beth and then Glenn’s “death” played a significant role, too). It’s almost easier to stomach if the monster’s look human, but are so very obviously a different species altogether… Except androids. Fucking androids are just plain creepy and there’s nothing good about them at all! (I say as I start watching the new and intriguingly premised Westworld.)
But whatever your preferred horror poison, here’s a list of films/shows that I love (and sometimes love to hate) and that have made a bright, crimson splash on my psyche:
- Dracula (1992)—oh, Francis Ford!… So much about this film deviated sharply from the book, but it’s impossible to hate too much. (Or is it?!) The sets, the costumes, Keanu Reeves’ nearly perfect performance without his surfer-dude patois, the complete switch of sexual subtext to just plain sexual text… So much that could (and did) go wrong, but watching it all, it somehow feels just right.
- Prometheus (2012)—believe it or not, I had never actually sat down and watched the Alien films before seeing this prequel, though I had seen the odd scene here and there over the years. While the originals are packed with suspense and the de rigeur horror film angst over the female body and reproduction, this film posed a more philosophic question regarding the essential why of life and reproduction, of creation. Michael Fassbender is perfectly disturbing as android David, playing a cool but far from detached foil to Charlize Theron’s spurned daughter and Noomi Rapace’s religiously conflicted scientist. It posited some very terrifying answers to the existential question of creation: why are we here? If we are made in God’s image, and we create things simply because we can without thinking through the consequences of our actions, how disappointing and horrifying to consider that it was simply because no one thought to stop him?
- Underworld and Underworld: Evolution—dark and gritty, with an amazing cast and the frightening premise of a vampire-werewolf hybrid? Perfection! Kate Beckinsale kicking ass in black leather and with a whole lot of ammo? Sold! The supporting performances by Bill Nighy and Derek Jacobi alone are worth watching, and I’m sure there’s a plot in there somewhere… It seems a re-watch is order, geeky ones! (Especially as I hear a new one will be out soon.)
- Resident Evil (1-3)—another great series with a strong heroine at the lead as well as a critique of corporate America that’s positively Fight Club
- Dracula 2000—a lovely mix of campy and earnest, Gerard Butler plays a newly liberated Count discovering the delights of 20th Century New Orleans. I particularly enjoyed the twist at the end, revealing Drac’s “true” identity.
- White Zombie—okay, so the film itself isn’t very long and hasn’t aged very well, but the Haitian setting and the grounding of the zombie in Voodoo culture really is a must-see for fans; if only to measure how far the genre has come, and the origins of our society’s fear of the shambling undead.
- Crimson Peak—a newer addition to my favorites list, the visuals are absolutely breathtaking and the classically Gothic premise makes it a literary, as well as a cinematic treat. Plus, there’s this attractive English gentleman by the name of Tom in it…
- True Blood—fair warning: I watched through the end of season five and washed my hands of the series (Michelle and I have started watching from the beginning and will finish the series soon); I came to the show as a fan of the books and stayed for the plot… Okay, so I stayed for the many shirtless hunks. To be fair, when the author admits to being bored with the characters and the premise and just throwing fairies into the mix, it’s hard to actually defend any of it. Still, the political overtones and fairly heavy-handed comparison of vampirism to the LGBT civil rights movement was something that the show banked on and delivered incredibly well. I particularly loved the Lafayette-Jesus relationship in seasons three and four.
- The Mummy and The Mummy Returns—consciously campy and with graphics that seesawed wildly between great and ghastly, it’s endlessly quotable and thoroughly enjoyable (in part because it’s obvious how much fun they were all having during filming). Plus, the romance between American cowboy Rick and unlikely damsel Evelyn plays out with lots of banter and sass to keep things interesting.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer—I don’t know why, but I debated mentioning this show; however, more than any other, it has most assuredly influenced my love for the dark side… and for bad boys with hearts of gold. Overall, the show was about a girl trying to get through school, then to get through adult life with her sense of humor intact and, well, to get through it all alive. Literally going through hell (and heaven) for her family and friends, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, BtVS served up a heroine who was doing the best she could with the hand she had been dealt. In particular, one of my favorite episodes ends with Buffy asking Giles to help her pretend that life gets better: “Yes. It’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and… everybody lives happily ever after.” Without promising the audience their own happy ending (up-tempo musical number included), Buffy gave many of us a weekly escape from the drama and hell of our everyday lives.
There are plenty more, and please feel free to send along any recommendations you might have… Stay geeky, my friends! —J.J.