Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

For the last few years, I’ve stopped at the front of my favorite box stores where I search for Halloween supplies to peruse the array of digital and lighting effects. But, little friendly ghosts spinning around on the front of my house didn’t entice me. Then, a few weeks ago I received an invitation to take a gander at AtmosFX’s digital decorations. As I explored, what came to mind was my childhood trip to Disney’s Haunted Mansion.  But, unlike the cheesy, friendly ghosts there, AtmosFX has created spectacular, realistic effects like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Few deliveries have been met with as much anticipation as my package from AtmosFX containing the 2017 Digital Decorating Kit.  The kit comes with an all-in-one projector, 14 digital decorations, a tripod, a remote, and a screen. It sells for $199.99.

DDK box 600 x 600

The setup was very simple.  Just pop the SD card into the back of the projector, screw on the tripod, put batteries in the remote and you are ready to go.  For a quick preview I hung the projection material in a doorway and looked through the included options.  I was surprised what good choices came on the SD card without buying one of the premium packages.  The image below is the “Beckoning Beauty” from the card.


It even included options for holidays other than Halloween.  I can’t say I’d be likely to use most of those, although I may add fireworks to my front window next Fourth of July and the general floating party balloons would be cool for a kids party

My only complaint with the equipment is that the ball on the tripod is not stiff enough, particularly when the projector is mounted vertically. It wouldn’t take much of a jar for it to come tumbling down.  It is also short, so you need a table to set it on.  Therefore, I swapped it out for an inexpensive standalone tripod that allowed me to easily adjust the height too.

Just a few minutes after opening the box I was ready to go.  I simply hung the included material from two plastic hooks stuck a few inches above the back of the hallway door frame with the projector set up behind it.  I also connected my computer to the television and played one of the selections from Unliving Portraits on it.  The below video shows Unliving Portraits‘ “Withering Heights – Trio” on my television and “Beckoning Beauty” from the included SD card in the hall doorway.


Hollusion is AtmosFX’s word for effects projected onto a special material creating the illusion of a hologram such as a ghost floating in the air or passing by a window. And, while they do have some family friendly alternatives like the Boo Crew or Jack-O’-Lantern Jamboree, it was the creepier collections that caught my attention. I choose three to try out. That wasn’t easy with all the cool options. But, hard as it was to pass up Zombie Invasion, Bone Chillers, Macabre Manor and others, I chose Phantasms, Blood Walls and Unliving Portraits to test.  You can also purchase individual scenes from each package.

Phantasms includes variations on four characters: the “Demonic Poltergeist”, the “Seductive Siren”, the “Sinister Spinster” and the “Wicked Wraith”. The siren and the spinster are both humanoid figures while the poltergeist is sort of a demonic skeleton like creature and the wraith more along lines of a reaper.

Each featured creature has clips optimized for different purposes such as using AtmosFX’s 3D form, creating a Hollusion, projecting onto a wall or showing on a television. The TV folders for example show clips from an old movie that becomes staticy and then the phantasm breaks into the scene.

For my cemetery by the pond I chose “Rise of the Wraiths” which features various reaper-like characters floating upward among whisps of glowing smoke as they wail and moan.

Blood Walls includes three options, “Bloody Massacre”, “Dripping Blood” and “Words of Warning”. The first two include blood splatters and drips while the third has various options for writing such as “join us” being written in blood.


To test how the digital decorations work outdoors, I set up the projector in my workshop projecting the window version of “Bloody Massacre” from Blood Walls onto the material hanging from the inside of the door so it could be seen through the window.

I then hammered two electric fence posts into the ground behind the plants surrounding my small pond and cable-tied a piece of bamboo to each.  I put clips on the projection material and cable-tied them to the bamboo. The video below shows the result. If you listen closely you’ll notice the effects include sound.

Note than the darker it is, the better the effect.  The wraiths in the above video appear to float up from behind my plants and the screen isn’t visible.  The indoor scene in the first video doesn’t appear to blend quite as well, because lights were on in the surrounding room so I could read the directions.  With the lights all off, the effect is amazing.  You can add lighting without showing the screen though.  The tombstones have spotlights on them and I actually forgot to turn the porch light off when filming the massacre inside in the lab, but it still looked good.


All in all, I was very impressed with AtmosFX products and can’t wait to choose a permanent place for them among my displays.  Visit for some fantastic videos showcasing hollusions in action as well as instructional videos on setup options.


Halloween playlists can be found on just about any music service you choose.  However, they tend to be short and chock-full of kiddie type selections like Monster Mash.  I needed a longer playlist I could set to shuffle and not bother with again.  Also, one that had appeal for three generations of attendees.

Below you will find the songs/artists on my Spotify playlist called “Frau Mason Halloween Bash” (username kimmason65).  The 385 song list boasts 24 hours and 51 minutes of playtime – plenty of time to last an entire party as well as the preparations.  It encompasses genres from punk to bluegrass.

Comment with suggestions for additional songs.

  1. (Don’t Feed) the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
  2. (It’s A) Monster’s Holiday – Buck Owens
  3. 19th Nervous Breakdown – The Rolling Stones
  4. 9 Crimes – Damien Rice
  5. All on Black – Alkaline Trio
  6. A Nightmare on my Street – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
  7. A Spindle, A Darkness, A Fever and a neck – Bright Eyes
  8. Abercrombie Had A zombie – Fats Waller
  9. Abracadabra – Steve Miller Band
  10. Adam’s Song – Blink-182
  11. After Midnight – Dorothy
  12. Ain’t No Grave – Crooked Still
  13. Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked – Cage The Elephant
  14. Aliens Exist – Blink-182
  15. Am I A Psycho – Tech N9ne
  16. American Psycho – D12
  17. Angel is the Devil – Steve Earle
  18. Animals – Maroon 5
  19. Arsonist’s Lullabye – Hozier
  20. Back in Black – AC/DC
  21. Bad Company – Bad Company
  22. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Rivival
  23. Bad Things – Jace Everett
  24. Bad Things – Rayland Baxter
  25. Ballad of Dwight Fry – Alice Cooper
  26. Bang Bang – Nancy Sinatra
  27. Bang Bang Bang – Dorothy
  28. Banks of the Ohio – Joan Baez
  29. Barbara Allen – Joan Baez
  30. Barton Hallow – The Civil Wars
  31. Basket Cast – Green Day
  32. Bat Out of Hell – Meatloaf
  33. Beat on the Brat – Ramones
  34. Because – The Beatles
  35. Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Bauhaus
  36. Best of Burden – The Rolling Stones
  37. Billion Dollar Babies – Alice Cooper
  38. Black Magic Woman – Santana
  39. Black Peter – Grateful Dead
  40. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
  41. Black Saint – Witch
  42. Black Skinhead – Kanye West
  43. Bloodletting (The Vampire Song) – Concrete Blonde
  44. Bloodsucker – Southern Culture on the Skids
  45. Bloody Mary – The Horrors Remix – Lady Gaga
  46. Blue Devil – Hank Williams III
  47. Blue Moon – Frank Sinatra
  48. Body Snatcher – Billy Idol
  49. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
  50. Bones – Little May
  51. Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf
  52. Bottom of the River – Delta Rae
  53. Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day
  54. Brain – Banks
  55. Braineaters – Misfits
  56. Break on Through (To the Other Side) – The Doors
  57. Burn – The Cure
  58. Burn She-Devil, Burn – The Cramps
  59. Burn the Witch – Queens of the Stone Age
  60. Candyman – Grateful Dead
  61. Candyman – Grateful Dead
  62. Caroline Says II – Lou Reed
  63. Castin’ My Spell – Johnny Otis
  64. Change (In the House of Flies) – Deftones
  65. Climbing up the Walls – Radiohead
  66. Close to Me – The Cure
  67. Cold Ethyl – Alice Cooper
  68. Country Death Song – Violent Femmes
  69. Creep – Radiohead
  70. Criminal – Eminem
  71. Curse of the Mummy’s Hand – Misfits
  72. D.O.A. – Bloodrock
  73. Dammit Janet – Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon
  74. Dance with the Devil – Breaking Benjamin
  75. Daughter of Darkness – Tom Jones
  76. Dark Lady – Cher
  77. Day-O – Harry Belafonte
  78. Dead Flowers – The Rolling Stones
  79. Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo
  80. Dead! – My Chemical Romance
  81. Dead Souls – Nine Inch Nails
  82. Deal with the Devil – Pop Evil
  83. Death Death (Devil, Devil, Evil, Evil, Song) – Voltaire
  84. Demon Woman – Flight of the Conchords
  85. Dentist – cast
  86. Desperado – Alice Cooper
  87. Devil – Papa Roach
  88. Devil – Southern Gothic Revival
  89. Devil Boy – Tech N9ne
  90. Devil Don’t You Fool Me – Josh Farrow
  91. Devil Gate Drive – Suzi Quatro
  92. Devil in a Sleepin’ Bag – Willie Nelson
  93. Devil In Disguise – Elvis Presley
  94. Devil in my Car – The B-52’s
  95. Devil Inside – INXS
  96. Devil May Dance – AJ Roach
  97. Devil Pray – Madonna
  98. Devil Rides – Mogwai
  99. Devil Town  – Bright Eyes
  100. Devil Town  – Daniel Johnson
  101. Devil Woman – Marty Robbins
  102. Devil Woman – Cliff Richard
  103. Devil’s Backbone – The Civil Wars
  104. Devil’s Dance Floor – Flogging Moly
  105. Devil’s Daughter – Vaudeville Etiquette
  106. Devil’s Daughter – Hank Williams III
  107. Devil’s Food – Alice Cooper
  108. Devil’s Got a Hold – Travis Barker, Slaughterhouse
  109. Devil’s Got a New Disguise – Aerosmith
  110. Devil’s Night  – D12
  111. Devil’s Plaything – Danzig
  112. Devil’s Right Hand – Johnny Cash
  113. Devil’s Swing – Godsmack
  114. Devil’s Whisper – Raury
  115. Devils – Amelai Curran
  116. Devils & Dust – Bruce Springsteen
  117. Devils with a Blue Dress – Mitch Ryder
  118. Did You Ever See a Dream Walking – Al Bowlly
  119. Dig It Up – Hoodoo Gurus
  120. Digital Sea – Thrice
  121. Dire Wolf – Grateful Dead
  122. Disturbia – Rihanna
  123. Down by the River – The Dirty River Boys
  124. Dracula – Gorillaz
  125. Dracula’s Duece – The Ghouls
  126. Drag Me Down – One Direction
  127. Drag The River – Southern Gothic Revival
  128. Dragula – Rob Zombie
  129. Early Sunsets Over Monroeville – My Chemical Romance
  130. El Paso – Marty Robbins
  131. Enter Sandman – Metallica
  132. Enter the Circus – Christina Aguilera
  133. Every Breath You Take – the Police
  134. Evil Eye – Billy Idol
  135. Evil (Is Going On) – Howlin’ Wolf
  136. Fear of the Dark – Iron Maiden
  137. Feed My Frankenstein – Alice Cooper
  138. Fiction – Avenged Sevenfold
  139. Fire – Jimi Hendrix
  140. Fire on the Mountain – Grateful Dead
  141. Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  142. Fresh Blood – Eels
  143. Friend of the Devil – Grateful Dead
  144. Funeralopolis – Electric Wizard
  145. Gallows Pole – Led Zeppelin
  146. Gang Bang – Madonna
  147. Ghost – Ella Henderson
  148. Ghost on the Dance Floor – Blink-182
  149. Ghost Riders in the Sky – Johnny Cash
  150. Ghost Town – Adam Lambert
  151. Ghost Train – Southern Gothic Revival
  152. Ghostbusters – Ray Parker jr
  153. Ghosts that We Know – Mumford & Songs
  154. Ghosttown – Madonna
  155. Gloomy Sunday – Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson
  156. God’s Gonna Cut You Down – Johnny Cash
  157. Godzilla – Blue Oyster Cult
  158. Gollum’s Song – Emliana Torrini
  159. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
  160. Graves – Whiskey Shivers
  161. Graveyard Boogie – Buster Doss & Arkansas Playboys
  162. Greenwood Sidey – Anna & Elizabeth
  163. Halloween – John Carpenter
  164. Halloween – Misfits
  165. Halloweenhead – Ryan Adams
  166. Halloween Parade – Lou Reed
  167. Haunt you Every Day – Weezer
  168. Haunted – Evanescence
  169. Haunted – Charlie Simpson
  170. Haunted – Poe
  171. Haunted Blues – Memphis Minnie
  172. Haunting – Halsey
  173. Hearse with a Curse – Mr. Gasser & The Weirdos
  174. Heads Will Roll – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  175. Heathens – 21 Pilots
  176. Helena (So Long & Goodnight) – My Chemical Romance
  177. Hell Hole – Spinal Tap
  178. Hell in a Bucket – Grateful Dead
  179. Hell’s Bells – Cary Ann Hearst
  180. He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask) – Alice Cooper
  181. Hey Joe – Jimi Hendrix
  182. Highway to Hell – AC/DC
  183. Holiday/Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day
  184. Hotel California – Eagles
  185. House of 1000 Corpses – Rob Zombie
  186. House of Horrors – Insane Clown Posse
  187. House of Leaves – Poe
  188. House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
  189. Howlin’ For You – The Black Keys
  190. Hungry like the Wolf – Duran Duran
  191. Hurt – Johnny Cash
  192. Hurt – Nine Inch Nails
  193. Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte – Patti Page
  194. I Appear Missing – Queens fo the Stone Age
  195. I Can Make You A Man – Tim Curry
  196. I Love the Dead – Alice Cooper
  197. I Miss You – Blink-182
  198. I Put a Spell on You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
  199. I walked with a Zombie – Rocky Erickson, The Aliens
  200. I Wanna Be Sedated – Ramones
  201. I Wanna Be Well – Ramones
  202. I Want Candy – Bow Wow Wow
  203. I’ll Fly Away – Ralph Stanley
  204. I’m a Ghost – Scrappy Cartoon
  205. I’m Your Boogie Man – KC & The Sunshine Band
  206. I’m Your Witch Doctor – Them
  207. In The Pines – Lead Belly
  208. Inmates (We’re All Crazy) – Alice Cooper
  209. Iron Man – Black Sabbath
  210. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – Bob Dylan
  211. Jack’s Lament – The All-American Rejects
  212. Jack the Ripper – Screaming Lord Sutch
  213. Jack the Ripper – Misfits
  214. Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark – Dolly Parton
  215. Jeepers Creepers – Al Donohue & Paula Kelly
  216. Jim in the Line – Harry Belafonte
  217. Keepin’ Halloween Alive – Alice Cooper
  218. Killer Queen – Queen
  219. Kim – Eminem
  220. Kiss Kiss Kill Kill – Horrorpops
  221. Kiss Me Deadly – Lita Ford
  222. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
  223. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones
  224. Let Me Hear you Scream – Ozzy Osbourne
  225. Lil’ Devil – The Cult
  226. Li’l Red Riding Hood – Pharaohs, Sam the Sham
  227. Little Devil – Neil Sadaka
  228. Little Drop of Poison – Tom Waits
  229. Little Ghost – The White Stripes
  230. Living Dead Girl – Rob Zombie
  231. Long Black Veil – Lefty Frizzell
  232. Lotion – Greenskeepers
  233. Lonesome Road – Joan Baez
  234. Love Is a Murder – The Constellations
  235. Love Potion No. 9 – The Clovers
  236. Lucifer – Jay Z
  237. Lullaby – The Cure
  238. Mack the Knife – Bobby Darin
  239. Mad House – Rihanna
  240. Maneater – Daryl Hall & John Oates
  241. Me and the Devil Blues – Eric Clapton
  242. Midnight Rambler – The Rolling Stones
  243. Millie and Billie – Alice Cooper
  244. Misguided Ghosts – Paramore
  245. Monster – Kanye West, Jay Z, Rick
  246. Monster Mash – Bobby Boris Pickett
  247. Mr. Crowley – Ozzy Osborne
  248. Mr. Ghost is Going To Town – The Five Jones Boys
  249. My Body’s a Zombie for You – Dead Man’s Bones
  250. Nightmare – Jack Turner
  251. Nightmares – Violent Femmes
  252. Night of the Vampire – Roky Erickson
  253. Nocturnal Me – Echo & the Bunnymen
  254. No More Mr. Nice Guy – Alice Cooper
  255. No Quarter – Led Zepplin
  256. O Death – Ralph Stanley
  257. Oh Coely – Neutral Milk Hotel
  258. Once Upon a Dream – Lana Del Rey
  259. One Way Road To Hell – The Guess Who
  260. Ouija Board – Morrissey
  261. Paint it Black – The Rolling Stones
  262. Party Time (as heard in  – 45 Grave
  263. Perfect Day – The Constellations
  264. Pet Sematary – Ramones
  265. Play With Fire – The Rolling Stones
  266. Please Mr. Grave Digger – David Bowie
  267. Posin Ivy – The Coasters
  268. Pretty Polly – Vandaveer
  269. Psycho – Muse
  270. Psycho – System of a Down
  271. Psychobitches Outta Hell – Horrorpops
  272. Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
  273. Psychopath – St. Vincent
  274. Railroad Boy – Joan Baez
  275. Renegade – Styx
  276. Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
  277. Road to Hell – Bruce Dickinson
  278. Runnin’ with the Devil – Van Halen
  279. Scary Monsters – David Bowie
  280. Science Fiction, Double Feature – Rocky Horror Picture Show
  281. Screaming Bloody Murder – Sum 41
  282. Screaming Skull – The Fleshtones
  283. Season of the Witch – Donovan
  284. Seven Devils – Florence & the Machine
  285. Severed Crossed Fingers – St. Vincent
  286. Shadows fo the Night – Pat Benetar
  287. She Put a Hex on You – Them
  288. She Wasn’t Nothing But a Devil – John Lee Hooker, Jr
  289. She’s My Witch – Southern Culture on the Skids
  290. She’s So Cold – The Rolling Stones
  291. Shout at the Devil – Motley Crue
  292. Shovel and Bone – Terrance Zdunich
  293. Silver Dagger – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez
  294. Skid Row (Downtown) – Soundtrack
  295. Skin and Bones – Foo Fighters
  296. Sleep Tight – The Creepshow
  297. Some Folks – Alice Cooper
  298. Somebody’s Watching Me – Rockwell
  299. Somewhere That’s Green – Alan Menken, Ellen Green
  300. Somewhere That’s Green – cast
  301. Song of Joy – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  302. Sorcerer – Stevie Nicks
  303. Speak of the Devil – Misfits
  304. Spooky – Dusty Springfield
  305. Spooky – Classics IV
  306. Spooky Movies – Gary Paxton
  307. Spooks – Louis Armstrong
  308. Steven – Alice Cooper
  309. Strange Brew – Cream
  310. Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
  311. Suddenly Seymour –
  312. Sugar Cane – Southern Gothic Revival
  313. Sugar, We’re Goin Down – Fall Out Boy
  314. Suicide is Painless – Johnny Mandel
  315. Superstition – Stevie Wonder
  316. Surfin’ Dead – The Cramps
  317. Suspiria – Goblin
  318. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Marilyn Manson
  319. Swingin’ at the Seance – The Deep River Boys
  320. Sympathy For the Devil – The Rolling Stones
  321. T’aint No Sin (To Take Your Skin Off) – Fred Hall
  322. Tear you Apart – She Wants Revenge
  323. Teenage Frankenstein – Alice Cooper
  324. Teen Angel – Mark Dinning
  325. Teenage Lobotomy – Ramones
  326. Teeth – Lady Gaga
  327. Tell Laura I Love Her – Ray Peterson
  328. That Little Old Graverobber Me – Don Hinson & The Rigamorticians
  329. That Old Black Magic – Sammy Davis Jr
  330. That Ole Devil Called Love – Billie Holiday
  331. The Boogieman – The Jackson 5
  332. The Boogie Monster – Gnarls Barkley
  333. The Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Tony Bennett, Sting
  334. The Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon – The Cramps
  335. The Devil Beneath My Feet – Marilyn Manson
  336. The Devil is Me – KISS
  337. The Devil Made Me Do it the First Time – Billy Joe Shaver
  338. The Devil’s Chasing Me – The Reverend Horton Heat
  339. The Devil Takes Care of his Own – Band of Skulls
  340. The Devil Went Down To Georgia – Charlie Daniels
  341. The Devil’s Rejects – Rob Zombie
  342. The Devil’s Rising – Southern Gothic Revival
  343. The Devil’s Son – The Creepshow
  344. The Devil’s Workday – Modest Mouse
  345. The Devils Movin In – Hank Williams III
  346. The Ghost of Eli Renfro – The Nashville Bluegrass Band
  347. The Ghost of Smokey Joe – Cab Calloway
  348. The Ghost Who Walks – Karen Elson
  349. The Graveyard Shift – The Ghouls
  350. The Green Manalishi (with the two pronged – Fleetwood Mac
  351. The Hanging Tree – Angus & Julia Stone
  352. The Haunting – Anberlin
  353. The Killing Moon – Echo & the Bunnymen
  354. The KKK Took My Baby Away – Ramones
  355. The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash
  356. The Mercy Seat – Johnny Cash
  357. The Curse of Millhaven – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  358. The Monster – Eminem, Rihanna
  359. The Number of the Beast – Iron Maiden
  360. The Phantom of the Opera – Andrew Lloyd Webber
  361. The Quiet Room – Alice Cooper
  362. The Raven – The Alan Parsons Project
  363. The Skeleton Rag – The American Quartet
  364. The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkle
  365. The Third Death – Isolbel Anderson
  366. The Time Warp – Patricia Quinn, Richard O’Brien, Little Nell
  367. The Witch Queen of New Orleans – Redbone
  368. The Wolf – Ben Rice
  369. The Woman is a Devil – The Doors
  370. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitgerald – Gordon Lightfoot
  371. They’re Hanging Me Tonight – Marty Robbins
  372. This House is Haunted – Alice Cooper
  373. This is Halloween – Citizens of Halloween
  374. Thriller – Michael Jackson
  375. Time Warp – Patricia Quinn, Richard O’Brien, Little Nell
  376. Tombstone Shadow – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  377. Toxic – Britney Spears
  378. Tribute – Tenacious D
  379. True Blood – Justin Timberlake
  380. Twighlight of the Dead – Misfits
  381. Twilight Zone – Golden Earring
  382. Undertaker – Southern Culture on the Skids
  383. Undertaker Blues – Buddy Moss
  384. Unholy – KISS
  385. Vampire – John & John
  386. Vampire Blues – Neil Young
  387. Vampires Will Never Hurt You – My Chemical Romance
  388. Vicious – Lou Reed
  389. Voicething – Goldtrapp
  390. Voodoo – Godsmack
  391. Voodoo Cadillac – Southern Culture on the Skids
  392. Wafaring Stranger – Jack White
  393. Wake Me up Wehn September Ends – Green Day
  394. Walk Like a Zombie –  Horrorpops
  395. Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed
  396. Wayfaring Stranger – Jack White
  397. War Pigs – Black Sabbath
  398. Why Didn’t Rosemary? – Deep Purple
  399. Witchcraft – Frank Sinatra
  400. Welcome to my Nightmare – Alice Cooper
  401. Welcome to the Black Parade – My Chemical Romance
  402. Werewolf – CocoRosie
  403. Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon
  404. White Room – Cream
  405. Wicked – Southern Gothic Revival
  406. Wicked Annabelle – The Kinks
  407. Wicked Game – Chris Isaak
  408. Wild Thing – The Troggs
  409. Witch Doctor – David Seville
  410. Witchcraft – The Spiders
  411. Witchy Woman – Eagles
  412. Wolf Like Me – TV On the Radio
  413. Yellow Floicker Beat – Lorde
  414. You Look Like the Devil – Willie Nelson
  415. Zombie – Natalia Kills
  416. Zombie Dance – The Cramps
  417. Zombified – Southern Culture on the Skids
  418. Zombie Zoo – Tom Petty

This playlist will be updated overtime. You can also view it as a spreadsheet on Google Drive here –

Finally, my top 10 picks of women who epitomize maternal relationships depicted in horror (see also #11-21; #22-33:

10. Vera Cosgrove played by Elizabeth Moody in Dead Alive (1992), directed by Peter Jackson: Henpecked Lionel Cosgrove does his best to cater to his mother. But, when she is bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey while interfering with his new found relationship she becomes a zombie and Lionel really has his hands full. Despite his best efforts to sedate and care for his carnivorous mother and her victims, the undead count she creates keeps growing. Soon Lionel’s house is teeming with zombies, everything is out of control and something must be done about his unruly dead guests. Still lauded as the goriest film of all time, Dead Alive continues to hold its own among the top horror comedies.

9. Mrs. Trefoile played by Tallulah Bankhead in Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), directed by Silvio Narizzano The classic Hammer horror film starring Stephanie Powers, Donald Sutherland and the incomparable Tallulah Bankhead. When Patricia (Powers) drops in to pay her respects to her dead fiancee mother, she is imprisoned by the religious fanatic who is determined to purify her soul. As the domineering mother, controlling everyone around her, Bankhead takes her place among the matriarchs of psycho-biddy/hag-horror.

8. Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), directed by James Cameron: Sarah kicked butt in the first Terminator, protecting her unborn son from a cyborg monster from the future. But, she really brings it on in the sequel, leading the now teenage boy on a journey to change the future, aided by her colorful friends and pursued by a more advanced cyborg model. No mom ever was as bad-ass as Sarah Connor, so don’t mess with John!

7. Ruth Chandler played by Blanche Baker in The Girl Next Door (2007), directed by Gregory Wilson: No psycho-mom can match the depravity of Aunt Ruth, particularly given she is based on a true story. Among the most disturbing torture-porn movies ever made, one feels dirty just watching the film about a young girl who goes to live with her aunt and cousins after her parents are killed. Before long her aunt has her chained in the cellar, allowing her young boys and their friends to repeatedly torture and rape her.

6. Grace Stewart, played by Nicole Kidman in The Others (2001), directed by Alejandro Amenábar: This throwback to old school ghost stories made more at the box office than any other Spanish film. The story centers around Grace’s obsessive efforts to school and protect her children alone in an old, isolated mansion while she awaits her husband’s return from the war. Grace maintains that the children have an extreme sensitivity to the sun and systematically keeps it from showing into the house by locking every door and covering the windows in thick drapery. But, she soon begins to suspect someone, or something else is in the house and they aren’t abiding by her rules.

5. Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin played by Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer:  Eleanor Iselin set the mold for all domineering, controlling, ruthless mothers to follow. Under her direction, Raymond’s bumbling stepfather fueled a red scare that would put him on track to take over the presidency of the U.S.  Despite her later claim that she resented having to sacrifice her son to get the job done, she doesn’t hesitate to manipulate Raymond and destroy any chance for him to find happiness. While the 2004 version stands above most remakes, even the able skills of Meryl Streep don’t hold a candle to the chilling performance of Angela Lansbury.

4. Mrs. Bates Voiced by Virginia Gregg in Psycho (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock: The first mother to come to mind on any horror list is likely to always be Mrs. Bates, the mother from horror’s first slasher film. From then on, insanity would be closely linked to the mother/child relationship on film.

3. Constance Langdon played by Jessica Lang in American Horror Story (TV Series: 2011-present), multiple directors:  While Lang’s performance as Fiona Goode, the coven leader and daughter’s tormenter in Coven, the 3rd season of the television series; It is in the first season as Constance Langdon that Lang’s character stand out in among an outstanding parade of characters.  As the former owner of Murder House, Lang continually drops in on the new family to stir up laughs and trouble.  Her wise cracks and shenanigan’s elevate television’s most interesting foray into horror to dark comedy.  And while her inept mothering instincts and preoccupation with men and drink spawned monsters like her offspring chained in the attic or the troubled teen that massacred his schoolmates, she is willing to go to great lengths to protect her young.  She also birthed the show’s most sympathetic character, the mentally-challenged Violet who she at once spoils and abuses as she attempts to do a more successful job at fulfilling her role as mother.  It’s a daunting task for someone so completely out of their mind and carrying so much baggage.

2. Margaret White played by Piper Laurie in Carrie (1978), directed by Brian De Palma:  Piper Laurie’s over the top performance as the bible thumping, smothering mother of a young telekinetic girl created one of horror’s most memorable characters in a movie that helped launch several significant careers.  Mrs. White’s efforts to shelter her child from the sins of the world create a timid social outcast struggling to find her place.  But, taking charge of the emotional roller coaster of the teen years gets even more complicated when you’re telekinetic.

1. Edith “Mama” Brennan played by Javier Botet and Annabel played by Jessica Chastain in Mama (2013), directed by Andrés Muschietti:  The most recent addition to the list is a no brainer for top spot as the movie’s foundation is the maternal instinct. Young children Victoria and Lily are helpless in the woods for five years before their uncle finds them, surviving only because they are cared for by a wandering entity who happens upon them.  When they are found and go to live with their uncle and his girlfriend the entity is not willing to give them up.  Annabel, the uncle’s girlfriend, is full of self-doubt and asserts several times that she is not prepared to deal with raising girls with such extraordinary needs, but at every turn she rises to the occasion and does what is best for the girls.  But are the girls willing to give up the only mother they remember?  And, will she let the them?

Part II of the madcap matriarchs countdown continues with #11-21 (22-33 ; #1-10):

21. Natalie Koffin played by Rebecca De Mornay in Mother’s Day (2010), directed by Darren Lynn Bousman: Inept criminal brothers escape jail and return to their childhood home not realizing their mother doesn’t live there anymore. They hold the new owners and their guests hostage as they await instructions from their mother. It turns out the captives were better off before the sadistic ring leader arrived on the scene. A remake of an 80’s movie by the same name that I have not yet seen and thus, is not included here.

20. Mary Brady played by Alice Krige in Sleepwalkers (1992), directed by Mick Garris: Mary Brady and her son have a unique relationship, in part because they are the only known members of a bloodthirsty species that feeds on people’s life-force. Their outsider status binds a close, downright incestuous relationship and mom is non too pleased when her son starts noticing other girls his own age.

19. Christine Penmark played by Nancy Kelly in The Bad Seed (1956), directed by Mervyn LeRoy: One of the great horror classics (My review here). Nancy Kelly reprises her stage role as a mother falling apart as she slowly comes to the realization that her young daughter is an emotionless serial killer. She suffers alone, amidst a parade of comedic charactures, whilst trying to figure out how to protect her little devil and the people around her.

18. Beverly R. Sutphin played by Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom (1994), directed by John Waters: An amusing horror comedy concerned with the possibility that a seemingly perfect, doting mom is in fact a serial killer.  Could she be doing people in for lapses in what she considers responsible behavior – like recycling their trash.

17. Mrs. Violet Venable played by Katherine Hepburn in Suddenly Last Summer (1959), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Unhinged by the death of her momma’s boy son Sebastian, Mrs. Venable will stop at nothing to protect his good name, even if it means tricking psychiatrist (Montgomery Clift) into lobotomizing her niece (Elizabeth Taylor). This film burned quite an impression on my young mind as I suspect it did Eli Roth’s as his creepy Hostel kids are very reminiscent of Sebastian’s horde of boys. According to screenwriter Gore Vidal credited it’s success with a bad review which denounced it as “the work of degenerates obsessed with rape, incest, homosexuality, and cannibalism among other qualities.” Tennessee Williams wrote the original play on which it’s based.

16. Rosemary Woodhouse played by Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), directed by Roman Polanski: In Polanski’s first American film, a young woman becomes increasingly paranoid that everyone around her is involved in an evil conspiracy concerning her unborn child. The stellar cast includes John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon.

15. Possessed Henrietta Knowby played by Theodore Raimi in Evil Dead II (1987), directed by Sam Raimi: From the moment Annie Knowby enters her parents cabin the laughs, thrills and scares are nonstop, punctuated by the intermittent, tormenting commentary from her possessed, dead mother who is locked in the root cellar. One of the best and most fun horror films of all time, with lead Ash brilliantly played by Bruce Campbell.

14. Donna Trenton played by Dee Wallace in Cujo (1983), directed by Lewis Teague: Stephen King himself is on record stating Wallace’s performance is the best in any of his films. She portrays a mother who is trapped in a Pinto with her young son while being attacked by a rapid St. Bernard. One of the few actually scary movies based on King’s novels.

13. Mommy played by Wendy Robbie in The People Under the Stairs (1991), directed by Wes Craven: A gem by horror master Wes Craven, who wrote and directed. A young boy and two burglar adults break in and become trapped inside the house of his evil landlords. They discover they are not alone. A crazed brother and sister who call themselves Mommy and Daddy have been kidnapping young kids to create the perfect family. Once the children disappoint they are locked up under the stairs and replaced.

12. Rachel Keller played by Naomi Watts in The Ring (2002), directed by Gore Verbinski: Reporter Rachel Keller discovers a tape which when watched results in the viewer’s death within seven days.  Having been careless enough to let her son have access to it, she’s now in a race to save both their lives by uncovering the truth about the mysterious little girl shown on the tape.  The only American remake of a Japanese horror film (Ringu 1998) that was as good (or better) than the original. Ringu and its remake are arguably among the most influential films in horror.

11. Ada played by Uta Hagen in The Other (1972), directed by Robert Mulligan:  This eerie, dream-like treasure tells the story of a young boy in the 1930’s who suspects his twin of being responsible for several deadly accidents in their farm community. With the recent death of his father and the loss of his mother to depression, his grandmother tries to fill the parental void by teaching the boy astral projection.  She soon fears her game has helped erode his grip on reality.

Since before Norman Bates told us “A boy’s best friend is his mother”, mothers have been granted a special place in horror.  Some sacrifice themselves to protect evil spawn or innocents while others drive their offspring mad through overbearing manipulation, ridicule and abuse.  Not an easy list to narrow with so many great options: (see also #11-21; #1-10)

33. Laura played by Belén Rueda in The Orphanage (2007), directed by J.A. Bayona: Produced by Guillermo del Toro (who appears as an ER doctor), The Orphanage is a creepy, suspenseful ghost story revolving around Laura’s search for her missing son.  But, Laura’s motherly instincts are as misfocused as her childhood memories, making her ill equipped to follow clues from beyond.

32. Nola Carveth played by Samantha Eggar in The Brood (1979), directed by David Cronenberg: A psychologist’s (Oliver Reed) therapy leads his patient to manifesting her anger in the form of mutant children.

31. Lady Haloran played by Eithne Dunne in Dementia 13 (1963),  directed by Francis Ford Coppola: The matriarch of Haloran Castle interfers in her sons’ relationships, forcing them instead to center their lives on their sister who drown as a child on the estate. But she may be out manipulated by the murderous wife of one of them. An eerie classic that plays like a ghost story until someone very human starts wielding an axe. But, it’s hard to say who is doing what with so much madness in the gene pool.

30. Grandmother played by Louise Fletcher in Flowers In The Attic (1987), directed by Jeffrey Bloom: A repentant mother returns home and follows directives from her mother to start her life over in the way she had been expected to, even though it means erasing the three children from her unapproved marriage by locking them in the attic.

29. Ma played by Yvonne Decarlo in American Gothic (1988), directed by John Hough: A fun, campy, slasher about unsuspecting friends who find themselves trapped on an island with a demented family headed by over the top isolationists Ma & Pa played to the hilt by Yvonne Decarlo (Lily Munster) and Rod Steiger.

28. Mrs. Wadsworth played by Ruth Roman and Ann Gentry played by Anjanette Comer in The Baby (1973), directed by  Ted Post: Social Worker Ann Gentry fights overbearing mother Mrs. Wadsworth for her 21 year old son who still wears diapers and acts like a child.  While overall, probably the worst movie on this list,  it’s odd enough to keep you wondering what in the world might happen next, and with this wacky group of women it’s not generally anything expected.

27. The Woman played by Pollyanna McIntosh and Peggy Cleek played by Lauren Ashley Carter in The Woman (2011), directed by Lucky McKee: Peggy Cleek seems alarmed when her husband brings home a feral woman and ties her in the shed as a family pet.  But, her protective instincts for her children and compassion for the captive are overpowered by her obedience to her husband, causing her daughters to form a bond with The Woman.

26. Henrietta Stiles played by Elsa Lanchester in Willard (1971), directed by Daniel Mann: Long after she was the Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester was nagging poor Willard to do something about the rats.  He finds his first friend in the smartest one and learns to control an army of them.  But he soon finds out he’s not the one in charge after all.  Willard launched the early Michael Jackson hit Ben, the name of the rat who challenges his authority.  Crispin Glover is great as Williard in the remake but the mother is less memorable in the 2003 version.

25. Wendy Torrance played by Shelley Duvall in The Shining (1980), directed by Stanley Kubrik: Wendy Torrance seems ill equipped to deal with what little she notices of what’s going on around her.  But, she somehow manages to come through when her son is threatened by his psychotic father and the ghosts of the Overlook hotel where the family are snowbound caretakers for the winter.

24. Lucy Harbin played by Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket (1964), directed by William Castle: One of the more memorable attempts late in Crawford’s career to repeat the magic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  In this cult classic from horror’s master of gimmicks, Lucy Harbin returns to rebuild her life and relationship with her daughter after 20 years in an asylum for murder.  Immediately her sanity become questionable.

23. Claudia Hoffman played by Sigourney Weaver in Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997), directed by Michael Cohn: Sigourney Weaver is wickedly spectacular as the stepmother trying to recapture her beauty and eliminate the object of her jealousy.

22. Mabel Chilton played by Miriam Margolyes in Ed and his Dead Mother (1993), directed by Jonathan Wacks: Steve Buscemi takes an offer to reanimate his recently dead mother in this horror comedy.  The dead are never as cooperative when they return as they were in life and, Ed’s mum is no exception.

The big surprise this Christmas was happening upon a body horror film that the whole group, including those who were not horror fans, enjoyed – American Mary.  It’s very unusual for the uninitiated to be drawn to movies from exploitation subgenres such as body horror and rape/revenge. American Mary certainly falls squarely into these groups, yet one guest deemed it “tastefully done”.  That perception is quite an accomplishment for a film from such highly criticized subgenres of horror.

American Mary tells the story of a smart, sexy medical student whose financial struggles lead her to perform underground body modification operations.  Though initially Mary Mason’s only interest is a financial quick fix, she accepts it as a new vocation after being disillusioned by the mentors she once admired and quitting medical school.  Like David Cronenberg’s Crash (James Spader, Holly Hunter, Rosanna Arquette), the film concerns itself less with debating the ethics of such practices than portraying the perceived benefits to its proponents. But, like any mad scientist centered tale, dismissing the potential repercussions of messing with nature can have unforeseen consequences.  When her first client remarks “I don’t think it’s really fair that God gets to choose what we look like on the outside”, Mary doesn’t give it much thought.  She knows after all, she’s capable of performing the procedure and it is what the client wants.  Unlike most mad scientists though, Mary is steered by her circumstances rather than delusions of grandeur and is both surprised and unaffected by the celebrity status she earns.

Most body horror films are a sort of visual slapstick that pique the interest of only the most hardcore splatter fans.  But, American Mary has a developing story and unusual, damaged characters who fascinate the viewer.  One can’t help but recall Todd Brownings Freaks (1932) when watching the film. Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) delivers a strong lead as Mary.  Jen and Sylvia Soska (Twisted Twins Productions), who wrote and directed the film, had her in mind when they wrote the part. According to an interview with Mad Mike at Maven’s Movie Vault of Horror, they were introduced to her work in Ginger Snaps after being teased at school and called the Fitzgerald sisters.  They rented the film to see what their bulliers meant. Isabelle manages to nail it, portraying a woman who is both hero and monster, displaying strength and weakness, compassion and viciousness and creating a believable, sympathetic, albeit morally ambiguous character.  The character, who dons a black apron, gloves and heels during surgery is reminiscent of the lead in Audition (1999).

While Mary’s first bouts with illicit surgery leave her physically ill, her attitude changes as she learns more about the unethical arrogance of the surgeons she once aspired to be like.  When they invite her to a private party where she is drugged and raped, any line between mainstream surgical practice and the underground she has discovered disappear.  She captures her attacker for use in practicing and documenting procedures she is willing to perform including: genital alterations, amputation, teeth grinding and various other body revisions.  Soon, through the internet she becomes a revered celebrity, known as Bloody Mary,  for the body modification crowd.

The Soska sisters appear in the film as twins requesting some particularly extreme modifications, including the exchange of their left arms.  Mary’s other clients are freakish curiosities obsessed with expressing their inner selves through their physical appearance.  Mary becomes their savior through her willingness to do anything someone assures her they want.

A fascinating parade of clients is featured.  Reportedly, no computer effects were used in the film, which instead relied on makeup and actual body modification images and practitioners.  As Mary approaches her work as a professional, blood and gore is minimized, giving the film more the feel of a psychological suspense piece than a gore fest despite the subject matter.  However, the entire film is visually striking, seeped in deep reds and black.  I would assume that the twisted sisters were fans of Dario Argento (Suspira).  Whether consciously or not, certainly the masters of Japanese and Italian horror impacted the look of this film.

What is most horrific is the realistic obsession with body image the characters hold.  Beatrice, the sweet and likeable woman who has undergone over a dozen surgeries to make her look as much like Betty Boop as possible particularly stands out both for her performance and her chilling visage.

According to the Soska sisters, American Mary came about after they sent their first film Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009) to their favorite directors and got a response from Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) who wanted to see more scripts.  Though they didn’t have anything prepared they told him about several ideas and he requested seeing the one about the surgeon.  American Mary was written in just a couple of weeks and sent to him.  It was later filmed in only 15 days.  American Mary is the second of what the sisters call their “coming of age/adolescent triology” between Dead Hooker in a Trunk and Bob.  Stylistically they claim Bob will have more of a monster and reverse rape/revenge vibe with equal parts hilariousness and vulgarity.  Can’t wait!

Noir at its Best: The Window (1949)

Posted: November 22, 2013 in ****, Film Noir

At the intersection of horror and crime drama lies another of my favorite genres, Film Noir.  Recently I saw for the first time one that kept me on the edge of the couch more than any horror movie I’ve seen in a while – 1949’s The Window.  Like another favorite of mine, Night of the Hunter, The Window is centered around a young boy being relentlessly stalked.  Only in this case it’s not something he possesses his stalkers are pursuing, they are out to kill him because he has witnessed a murder they committed.

The boy is played by Disney’s Bobby Driscoll and he does an incredible job.  In fact, it earned him a juvenile Oscar in 1950 at 13 years old. Driscoll is one of Hollywood’s saddest stories.  Praised widely for his talent, he was released shortly after making Peter Pan, for which he was not only the voice of Pan, but the visage who inspired the animated character.  The story goes that he was released due to acne and soon developed a drug habit and legal problems which resulted in being boycotted on both film and stage. By 31 he was found dead in an abandoned building and buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave before it was realized who he was.  It has been claimed that Michael Jackson’s initial surgeries were an effort to create Bobby Driscoll’s nose.

While The Window has some in common with Rear Window, in that it opens with little Tommy witnessing a murder through a window, it is actually inspired by the fable Peter and The Wolf and the movie begins with a quote from Aesop.   Tommy has an active imagination and a propensity for tall tales.  So, when he recounts the atrocity he has witnessed to his parents (played by Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy) and the police no one believes him, leaving him on his own to face his evil neighbors.  Both Rear Window and The Window are based on short stories by Cornell Woolrich.  Woolrich had many of his stories and novels made into films, especially Noirs. lists 100 such writing credits from movies like The Leopard Man to television episodes on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Little Tommy is frustrated by his inability to get the attention of the adults around him.  Worse, in an effort to prevent him from getting into more trouble, his parents, who due to their financial woes must leave him alone during the day, lock him in their apartment, nail the window shut and tell the neighbors what he has said about them.  He is cornered and at the mercy of the killers.  Joe Kellerson, played by one of Noir’s most prolific villians, Paul Stewart, is no holds barred in his pursuit of Tommy.  One scene in particular, when Kellerson and his wife (played by Ruth Roman) catch up to Tommy completely took me by surprise with it’s depiction of a violent act towards a child that is still shocking by today’s standards. And, the finale is one of the tensest chases and standoffs ever put to film.

The Window was actually made in 1947 but shelved by Howard Hughes when he took over RKO due to his opinion that viewers weren’t interested in movies centered on children.  But, when it was released it saved the studio and propelled the careers of all involved save Driscoll, including director Ted Tetzlaff who was more associated with cinematography from films such as Notorious.

The Window has been remade multiple times including as The Boy Cried Murder (1966), Eyewitness (1970) and Cloak & Dagger (1984).

There are few villains in horror that pack the punch of little 8 year old Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed.  Rhoda instantly solidified my love for what remains one of my favorite subgenres – children that kill. And, she has never been dethroned as the quintessential model for all those that have followed. Played by Patty McCormack, who was more recently seen as Pat Nixon in Frost/Nixon, Rhoda is a disturbing mix of perfect etiquette, grooming and intelligence with a vicious determination to get whatever pleases her with no regard for even the most basic human compassion.

Rhoda, herself is at times perplexed by what makes her different from those around her.  A victim of genetics, hopelessly detached from the human condition, she struggles to understand what keeps her mother perpetually on the verge of hysterics.  The audience learns with her mother just how deep her affliction goes when she discovers her latest victim’s medal in her trinket box and announces she will return it to the fallen child’s parents to comfort them.  Rhoda insists it would be useless, saying “Claude is dead. He wouldn’t know if he had the medal pinned on him or not.”.  Her mother tries to explain the devastation they have both just witnessed by the boy’s distraught mother and Rhoda responds by suggesting “If Claude’s parents want a little boy so much, why don’t they just get a new one at the orphanage?”

The memorable characters in The Bad Seed are actualized brilliantly by the original Broadway cast.  The use of theater folk adds to the over the top feel of the entire production.  Fans of melodramas like The Two Mrs. Carrolls, Night of the Hunter will enjoy the humor and wonder what is intentional and what is a product of an overly dramatic style of acting.

A distraught Hortense Daigle attempts to bond with Rhoda.

Case in point, Hortense Daigle, little Claude’s distraught mother played by Eileen Heckart.  She was an acclaimed theater actress who also starred in movies like Burnt Offerings and many television shows including as Mary Tyler Moore’s hardnosed reporter aunt which captured Lou Grant’s heart.  The scene mentioned above is one of the most memorable.  Hortense visits the Penmarks, three sheets to the wind in order to find some new memory of her lost son to hold on to.  What ensues is a drunken rant acknowledging her lower station in life and what her son meant to her.  Heckart earned a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as a result of the riveting performance.

Evelyn Varden is likewise a jewel in this film, playing basically the same self indulgent, incessant talker she does in Night of the Hunter.  As Monica Breedlove, the Penmark’s landlady who adores little Rhoda, she breezes in and out chattering away and offering her armchair psychoanalysis, blind to the impending doom that surrounds her.  Her commentary and discussions with Reginald Tasker a writer friend, provide the context of the movie – the debate between nature and nurture.  While perhaps a bit over discussed for the modern viewer, the debate still rages on today and at the time these were brand new questions.  1950’s audiences were shocked by the idea that a child could ever become a criminal, much less a cold blooded murderer, especially if they grew up in a good home.

Leroy taunts an unaffected Rhoda.

Much of what we learn about Rhoda comes from her interactions with Leroy (Henry Jones), the handyman.  Leroy is one character which no doubt will be taken up a few notches if Eli Roth (Hostel) ever does his planned remake of the movie.  Several scenes hint at a much darker character than is shown on screen.  He fantasizes about Monica Breedlove’s death as well as his sexual attraction for Mrs. Penmark and he finds pleasure in taunting and scaring children.  Rhoda, who doesn’t scare easily, becomes his primary target and the two share several scenes where he repeatedly tries to rattle her.

In one, he directly accuses her of purposely harming her school mate, who was found drown at the school picnic and he tells her that the police have “stick bloodhounds” who can sniff out blood, and no matter how much someone has tried to wash it away the police have a powder that will make it glow blue.  When the confident murderess retorts that they don’t execute children, he assures her they have a little blue electric chair for little boys and a little pink one for little girls.  Our first view of Rhoda’s coldness comes whilst Leroy is taunting her for not being more effected by her classmate’s death.  As she skates off Rhoda proclaims, “Why should I feel sorry, it was Claude Daigle that got drowned, not me.”

Christine Penmark talks with Monica Breedlove

Finally, there’s the star of the show, Christine Penmark, played by Nancy Kelly.  At the movie’s opening Christine has already begun to question her idyllic life, wondering about her own origins and the “disturbing maturity” of her daughter.  While presented as the perfect daughter, wife and mother, Christine annoyingly whines her way through the movie, gesturing overdramatically with her hands.  Early on she appears to be reaching out to console, particularly Mrs. Daigle or to beg for help from her landlady and husband.  Midway through the picture she spends most of her time hugging herself as if to protect her womb.  By the end, her hands are spasming all over the place, pounding on furniture and clawing at her stomach as if to claw out the source of evil.  But, luckily for Christine, her oblivious husband will stand by her without question, no matter how extreme her actions become.

Unfortunately, The Bad Seed suffered at the hands of the Hays code which stipulated crime could not pay, particularly murder.  The ending of the book and the play before it remains intact, but a new Hollywood version is tagged on so that nature can protect itself and true love prevail.  The result is a completely implausible disappointment.

The murderess Besse Danker who is mentioned repeatedly by Reginald Tasker is said to  have been inspired by real life murderesses Belle Gunness and Jane Toppan.  Both women killed dozens, the former for money and the latter in part, for sexual gratification.  Both also inspired other characters.  The Bad Seed likewise inspired future pop culture references, such as a spoof of Hortense Daigle’s breakdown by Kenny’s mother in South Park after one of his many deaths.  The movie is also quoted in 1993’s Without Conscience,  a book by a psychologist arguing for genetic links to behavior.  According to Wikipedia, “Robert D. Hare argues that March’s novel is a ‘remarkably true to life’ portrayal of the development of psychopathy in childhood, illustrating both Rhoda’s callous use of others to serve her own ends as well as Christine’s growing helplessness and desperation as she realizes the extent of her daughter’s behavior.”

The Bad Seed was actually remade for TV in 1985 with Blair Brown as Christine Penmark, Lynn Redgrave as Monica, David Carradine as Leroy and Carrie Wells in the title role – though that time as Rachel.  The result was disappointing.

Reports in 2004 proclaimed an upcoming remake by Cabin Fever director Eli Roth.  Unfortunately Hostel became a megahit before this came to pass and he shelved it to do a sequel to Hostel.  At the time Variety quoted Roth concerning the upcoming project, “Roth promises a new take with a modern horror sensibility. ‘The original was a great psychological thriller, and we are going to bastardize and exploit it, ramping up the body counts and killings,” said Roth. “This is going to be scary, bloody fun, and we’re going to create the next horror icon, a la Freddy, Jason and Chucky. She’s this cunning, adorable kid who loves to kill, but also loves ‘N Sync.’  Also involved was Luke Janklow as producer.  He was the grandson of the 1956 director Mervin Le Roy and great grandson of Warner Brothers studio co-founder Harry Warner.

Remakes are a shaky thing, more often than not totally missing the mark and disappointing.  But, there are exceptions and Roth’s take on this classic is one that would interest me.  A good remake can have the effect of not only bringing an old story to modern audiences, but introducing them to the original as well.

Rhoda in the 21st Century.

The golden age of slashers in the late 70’s and early 80’s quickly gave way to a parade of sequels and copycats which failed to enhance the genre. The trend unfortunately continues to date with few exceptions.  The issue seems to be the inability of filmmakers influenced by Directors like John Carpenter and Wes Craven to recognize, or at least accomplish, any of the elements that made films like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street work, beyond the spectacular kills.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always give props to great gore effects and death sequences.  And granted, they are particularly important for slashers and do seem to be enough to make a quick profit.  admittedly, Paris Hilton getting brained in House of Wax (2005)and the 3D effect of the decapitated girl’s head sliding down the shovel in the remake of My Bloody Valentine (2003) were enough for me to sit through those films.

But, to remember a film fondly and recommend it, it takes a bit more.  For the 21st century slasher, that most often seems to be more attention to character development and a healthy speckling of laughs. I’ve always regarded the memorial kill scenes in slasher films and splatter films more generally to be a form a visual slapstick.  As with slashers, slapsticks are pretty low on my list of favorite comedy sub genres.  But, who can resist Charlie Chaplin or even Dick van Dyke?

So, here’s a shortlist of slasher films made after 2000 that I enjoyed:

Honorable Mention: Satan’s Little Helper (2004).

Satan’s Little Helper

The story of a young boy who unwittingly aids a serial killer on Halloween night was an interesting setup that delivered a few chuckles, but overall didn’t maintain momentum and the cast just never seemed to mesh, making it feel forced throughout.  In the end it was a film that I wanted to like more than I actually did.  Jeff Lieberman was a bit more on the mark, with his entry into the animals run amok sub genre with Squirm.  He both wrote and directed both films.

3.  Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)

Tucker and Dale vs Evil Tucker and Dale vs Evil flips the slasher in the woods context.  Two amicable country boys take a fishing trip to a cabin in the woods and a mistaken by young college students as serial killers. 

In this comedy of errors the college students repeatedly fall prey to their own paranoia as they attack the laid back vacationers, who in turn think their new vacation property is overrun by members of a suicide cult.

Director and co-writer Eli Craig (son of Sally Field) delivers a witty script with well executed site gags for his first full scale movie.  He manages to make believable the most unlikely series of scenarios including self imposed death by wood chipper.

In addition, Tyler Labine (Dale), Alan Tudyk (Tucker) and Katrina Bowden as Allision, the girl from the group who befriends them after they save her achieve good chemistry.  Particularly Dale and Tucker, who play off each other like they really were childhood friends, displaying both moments of rivalry and those of cherishing each other.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a thoroughly enjoyable, fun movie throughout and places 3rd on this list only for its lack of scares.

2. Severance (2006)

Severance is a refreshing entry that fully embraces the slasher formula, offering both laughs and scares.  Throughout it feels like it was created by someone who grew up with a genuine love of the classic slashers, giving them an update by creating a grown up version.

The would be victims in director and co-writer Christopher Smith (Creeps) film are the sales staff for an arms company, gathering in a remote cabin for a team building retreat.  While the age and context of the characters nearly eliminates the gratuitous nudity and sex scenes often associated with slashers, in their place he substitutes additional character development and humor.

All of the characters are likeable and flawed, inviting comparisons to The Office.  A common source of the gags is in interrupting what seems to be a typical death scenario with a more reasoned reaction by the more experienced characters.  No women stumbling for no apparent reason and laying on the ground until the killer catches up here.  It manages to elicit surprise followed by laughter a couple of times early on which contribute to suspense in later scenes.

Smith also leaves no loose ends, bringing the story back around on a couple of occasions to tie up something long since forgotten about.  Severance is play by play by the book in sticking to the slasher formula yet delivers a refreshing film that reminds us what made the genre so popular.

1.  Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

One of the best films of any horror genre in the 2000’s, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon delivers equally well on both the comedy and the horror front.

Leslie Vernon plans on being the next famous serial killer and he invites a young film crew to document his rise to infamy.  The filmmaker’s struggle with their consciences as Vernon, played by Nathan Baesel explains the process of developing a back story and choosing victims to set the stage for a rampage that will put him on par with Michael, Jason and Freddy who he asserts are all actual people.

Baesel does a remarkable job at creating the quirky antihero and the film is speckled with memorable characters played by prominent figures in horror including Robert England (Nightmare on Elm Street), Scott Wilson (In Cold Blood, The Walking Dead) and Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist).  All the aforementioned, save Rubinstein who has since passed away, are said to be returning along with the writer/director for a sequel this year dubbed B4TM (Before The Mask).

Wilson is particularly engaging as Vernon’s mentor, an old school killer that teaches him tricks like spending increasing amounts of time buried in a coffin so he will be able to come back after the victims think they’ve killed him and let their guard down.

One by one Vernon lays out the elements of slasher icon and describes how they are created with ingenuity and preparation.  The film is full of witty dialogue and clever humor that anyone who appreciates the classics will thoroughly enjoy, though it would be lost on the uninitiated.

I highly recommend Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon as a solid entry on lists for best horror, comedy, mockumentary or first person footage films of any sub genre.  But in order to appreciate it fully the original Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street are all prerequisites.

Photo by Kim Gottleib. Jamie Lee Curtis is directed by John Carpenter on the set of Halloween (1978) while Tommy Lee Wallace listens behind the door.

Photo by Kim Gottleib. Jamie Lee Curtis is directed by John Carpenter on the set of Halloween (1978) while Tommy Lee Wallace listens behind the door.

Slasher films would be a contender for the bottom slot if I were to rank the horror genres in order of my preference. However, they make sense as a starting point to this blog for a couple of reasons: I live in Bowling Green, Kentucky and I saw the best horror film I’ve seen in some time last night and it thoroughly embraced the classic slasher formula.

Admittedly, in my early years I adored what few entries into the genre I was exposed to on television, particularly Psycho (1960 dir. Alfred Hitchcock), Peeping Tom (1960, dir. Michael Powell) and Dementia 13 (1963, dir. Francis Ford Coppola). Dementia 13 doesn’t seem to be remembered by younger generations. Perhaps now that ghost stories are coming into vogue again people will start to appreciate the atmospheric spookiness that it achieved. Despite centering on an axe wielding lunatic it shared as many attributes with a ghost story as it did a slasher.

I had the pleasure of seeing Halloween (1978 dir. John Carpenter) in theaters when it was first released and babysitting would never be the same. I did have some trouble accepting the end and declared I didn’t like it because of the implausibility of it. Most movies then, at least the ones I could get away with seeing, wrapped their ending in nice neat packages. In fact, until nearly the 70’s the Hays Code actually required it to insure that crime didn’t pay. These days though, particularly with foreign made films, if you don’t get over that you are missing much of the best stuff out there. So, I did long ago.

Halloween became all the more interesting to me when I moved to Bowling Green to attend WKU. It’s the town referenced in the music credits (Bowling Green Philharmonic Orchestra, a.k.a. John Carpenter with a keyboard) for what some have claimed to be the most recognizable piece of music in the world.

John Carpenter’s father was head of the music department at WKU for years. My first apartment was on Chestnut Street, where police searched for Michael Meyers after he unleashed his rampage, and Smiths Grove, the location of the fictional sanitarium from which he escaped is just down the road. Not far in the other direction is Russellville, where the real Laurie Strode, Carpenter’s childhood crush, grew up. It took some time, but our city now embraces its connections to the master of horror it influenced and the films in which he acknowledges it.

Tourism set up a self guided tour that includes both locations in his life and those mentioned in the films and from time to time Carpenter has appeared at events for various local organizations.

His early partner in crime, Tommy Wallace is from the area. The two formed their first band, Tomorrow’s Children, here and the more popular later group, The Kaleidoscope, for which they projected Chaplin and Keaton films onto the bass drum. They still get together as Coup de Ville for shows among friends. To the public the group is mostly known for the bizarre video playing the theme song from Big Trouble In Little China.

Wallace’s role in several of Carpenters early movies was very significant, not least of which was being the guy that found the mask for Halloween (in his capacity as Production Designer). As most slasher fans know it was a cheap, plastic Captain Kirk mask bought in a quick run to the store that was painted over in white.  Simple, as was most of the beauty of Halloween, that’s why it remains one of the most profitable indie films of all time.

Wallace is also known as the director of Stephen King’s It with the iconic evil clown. He’s done several others, but I particularly enjoyed one of the more obscure ones, 12 Days of Terror, for which he wrote the teleplay. It claims to tell the true events that Jaws is based on. It’s a made for television, period piece (1916) that really keeps you on the edge of your seat and rooting for the characters throughout.

According to Wallace, their original plan had been to create a series of movies, entirely unrelated save taking place on Halloween. But they chose to bring back all their main characters for Halloween II (1981), condemning their third effort Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) to be rejected by fans when they realized Michael would not be making an appearance that All Hallows Eve. More a modernization of the mad scientist genre, Season of the Witch is not a slasher, rather the story, written and directed by Wallace, centers on a man’s race to stop a mask manufacturer who plans to blow up all his masks via a signal in his final television commercial, when the thousands of children he’s hypnotized during his media campaign, gather in front of their TVs, wearing their masks to watch a big reveal Halloween night. The 3rd installment of Halloween would forever waffle between “all time worst sequel” lists and “most under appreciated” lists.

Both Carpenter and Wallace graciously have done in depth interviews for the Amplifier. You can find a detailed history of Carpenter’s work by Mark Griffin here, and an extensive interview of Wallace by me, reprinted in its entirety here.

Halloween is undeniably one of the most influential movies ever made and was accordingly preserved in the National Film Registry in 2006. It launched such a steady slew of derivative work that it created in the minds of some non-fans the prejudice that horror and slasher are synonymous. I ran into one of those once and it turned out Alfred Hitchcock was his favorite director. Imagine that, praising the man who brought us leaps closer to modern horror with Psycho, The Birds and Frenzy, and the guy doesn’t think he likes horror!

Not all the post-Halloween slashers lacked originality. Noteably, Wes Craven’s contribution of Freddie Kruger, who stalked the teens of Elm Street in their sleep. It took the vunerability from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 dir. Don Siegel) where the protagonists struggled to stay awake (to avoid being replaced by will-less clones) to a whole new level.

Unfortunately, the volume of slasher films that made little more effort than following the outline put forth in Halloween, resulted in some of the worst horror films ever made. And some of those even had sequels! The trend continues today.

The central role sex plays in most slashers has also put it under attack. In addition to frequent nudity, slashers have been accused of having subtext condemning the more indulgent characters and leaving only the timid virgin to survive. Laurie Strode is the quintessential Final Girl. Defenders, point out that as an archetype, the Final Girl is an empowered female and therefore slashers elevated the role of the gender substantially, not just for horror, but film in general. Some feminist schools of thought are resistant to accepting that premise though, because inevitably Laurie cries on Dr. Loomis’ shoulder at the end and later entries follow with similar reunions with the Final Girl finding comfort from her boyfriend or father in the final scene.

Personally, I don’t fault Laurie for leaning on someone’s shoulder after protecting two kids all night from Michael Meyers in hand to hand combat. Though feminism has contributed immensely to pop culture, it is not without it’s pitfalls, frequently demonizing depictions of HUMAN frailty by heroines. I heard an interview once where Carpenter addressed his accusers. He basically claimed that it was no way his intention that the victims be considered immoral. He in fact, considered them to be normal kids, who in the process of experiencing life, ran into the killer.

At heart, the slasher’s theme is the story of David and Goliath, the Biblical tale of a young man who defeats a rampaging giant with just a sling shot. It’s a tried and true narrative that transcends generation and culture, so when it’s put to film well it’s destined to get us cheering as good triumphs over evil in the end. John Carpenter would make valuable contributions to several other genres, but for the slasher, he was THE game changer.

So, I’ll begin this journey through horror, spurred by pondering on how I could possibly arrive at a “greatest of all time” list, with a nod to Bowling Green’s hometown heroes and take a look at a few of what I consider to be the best slasher films I’ve seen. All the films I’ve mentioned here rate at least 3/5 stars in my book, most higher. I’d love to hear your feelings about them or recommendations for other slashers in the comments.