October Movie List 2016

Every year I make a list of 30 horror movies to watch in October. A countdown of sorts. My rules are that at least 15 have to be movies I’ve never seen (although it can be more) but only 15 can be movies I’ve seen before and want to watch again. I’ve written about the movies as I watched them in the past, but people have asked for my list, so this year I’m posting the whole Halloween movie marathon in advance. A couple caveats. I don’t always watch the movies in order, and I don’t always get to all 30 – I do actually have a life – but I usually come close. If you want to play with the list yourself, there’s a link at the bottom to my IMDb list.

Vampire hunter Van Helsing returns to Transylvania to destroy handsome bloodsucker Baron Meinster, who has designs on beautiful young schoolteacher Marianne. (85 mins.)
Director: Terence Fisher
This is classic Hammer Studios at it’s best
Image of Phenomena

2. Phenomena (1985)

A young girl, with an amazing ability to communicate with insects, is transferred to an exclusive Swiss boarding school, where her unusual capability might help solve a string of murders. (116 mins.)
Director: Dario Argento
Another one I’ve seen before and one of my favorite Argento film
Image of Flesh for Frankenstein

3. Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

In Serbia, Baron Frankenstein lives with the Baroness and their two children. He dreams of a super-race… (95 mins.)
Flesh for Frankenstein is legendary for it’s weirdness (it has Udo Kier, to be expected,) but a film I’d never seen before, figured it was time.
Image of Frankenhooker

4. Frankenhooker (1990)

A medical student sets out to recreate his decapitated fiancée by building her a new body made of Manhattan street prostitutes. (85 mins.)
Shlocky horror comedy at it’s best. I saw this film in theaters when it came out and I still think about it on occasion. There is a lot of Frankenstein in the list this year, in part because of the passing of Gene Wilder and the inclusion of Young Frankenstein in the marathon
Image of A Nightmare on Elm Street

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. While the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep. (91 mins.)
Director: Wes Craven
I haven’t seen this one since it came out in theaters. Gave me nightmares then, curious to see if it holds up.
Image of The Tomb of Ligeia

6. The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

A man’s obsession with his dead wife drives a wedge between him and his new bride. (81 mins.)
Director: Roger Corman
Roger Corman knows how to do horror, especially with Vincent Price starring. I hadn’t seen this particular film and decided it was time.
Image of Thir13en Ghosts

7. Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

When Cyrus Kriticos, a very rich collector of unique things dies, he leaves it all to his nephew and his family. All including his house, his fortune, and his malicious collection of ghosts! (91 mins.)
Director: Steve Beck
Stupid name thing aside, I’ve heard good things about this one. Plus I enjoy Tony Shalhoub in pretty much anything.
Image of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

8. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Hypnotist Dr. Caligari uses a somnambulist, Cesare, to commit murders. (78 mins.)
Director: Robert Wiene
This is a classic of cinema that somehow I’ve never managed to watch.
Image of Spiral

9. Spiral (2000)

The inhabitants of a small Japanese town become increasingly obsessed with and tormented by spirals. (90 mins.)
Director: Higuchinsky
The Japanese know how to do Horror. I have it on good authority that this is a fun one.
Image of Young Frankenstein

10. Young Frankenstein (1974)

An American grandson of the infamous scientist, struggling to prove that he is not as insane as people believe, is invited to Transylvania, where he discovers the process that reanimates a dead body. (106 mins.)
Director: Mel Brooks
R.I.P. Gene.
Image of Raw Meat

11. Raw Meat (1972)

There’s something pretty grisly going on under London in the Tube tunnels between Holborn and Russell Square… (87 mins.)
Director: Gary Sherman
I’ve heard about this film a number of times but never seen it. From what I’ve been told, it’s a pretty shlocky affair, but a fun one.
In honor of the great El Santo’s 99th birthday, I’ve included one of his many, many horror themed films to the list. I haven’t seen this particular one, but I have seen other Santo “horror” movies. They aren’t really frightening affairs, but hey, it’s Dracula and the Wolf Man!
Image of Parents

13. Parents (1989)

A young boy living in 1950s suburbia suspects his parents are cannibalistic murderers. (81 mins.)
Director: Bob Balaban
I’m a sucker for suburbia gone bad. Plus Randy Quaid. Always wanted to watch this one, so it makes the list.
Image of Onibaba

14. Onibaba (1964)

Two women kill samurai and sell their belongings for a living. While one of them is having an affair with their neighbor, the other woman meets a mysterious samurai wearing a bizarre mask. (103 mins.)
Director: Kaneto Shindô
Another J-horror and a highly regarded classic. I saw it many, many years ago and remember it being quite chilling.
Image of Shivers

15. Shivers (1975)

The residents of a suburban high-rise apartment building are being infected by a strain of parasites that turn them into mindless, sex-crazed fiends out to infect others by the slightest sexual contact. (87 mins.)
Cronenberg films aren’t always good, but they’re always interesting. I’ve been curious about this one for a while.
Image of Feast

16. Feast (2005)

Patrons locked inside a bar are forced to fight monsters. (95 mins.)
Director: John Gulager
I thought Project Greenlight was pretty stupid, honestly, but friends who’ve seen this film have mentioned it over the years as worth a watch, so I’m getting past my hangups and putting it on the list.
Image of The House by the Cemetery

17. The House by the Cemetery (1981)

A New England home is terrorized by a series of murders, unbeknownst to the guests that a gruesome secret is hiding in the basement. (86 mins.)
Director: Lucio Fulci
A recent Blu-Ray release is what gets House by the Cemetery on the list. I’ve seen most of Lucio Fulci’s filmography more than once, but never seen this one in decent quality.
Image of Student Bodies

18.Student Bodies (1981)

A killer named the Breather tallies up a score of teenage bodies in this scathing parody of slasher films. (86 mins.)
Director: Mickey Rose
I admit in advance that this movie is stupid. It was stupid when I saw it back in the 80’s. But I’m curious about watching it again, just for the phone scene (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen it)
Image of Mr. Vampire

19. Mr. Vampire (1985)

The planned reburial of a village elder goes awry as the corpse resurrects into a hopping, bloodthirsty vampire, threatening mankind. Therefore, a Taoist Priest and his two disciples attempt to stop the terror. (96 mins.)
Director: Ricky Lau
I’ve seen very little Chinese horror (Korean and Japanese, lots) and this series has always been well reviewed. I finally tracked down a copy so it makes it into horror movie marathon ’16.
Image of Wither

20. Wither (2012)

Ida and Albin are a happy couple. They set off to a cabin in the vast Swedish woodlands to have a fun holiday with their friends. But under the floorboards waits an evil from Sweden’s dark past. (95 mins.)
Wither, aka Cabin of the Dead, is a Swedish take on Evil Dead, or so I’ve been told. The original Swedish promotions for the film make it look like a lot of fun.
Image of The Comedy of Terrors

21. The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

Dishonest undertaker Waldo Trumbull and his sidekick Felix Gillie are creating their own customers when they cannot find willing ones. (84 mins.)
Vincent Price made so so many horror movies, and I love horror comedy, so I’m finally getting around to this one.
Image of The City of the Dead

22. The City of the Dead (1960)

A young coed (Nan Barlow) uses her winter vacation to research a paper on witchcraft in New England… (78 mins.)
Director: John Moxey
City of the Dead, AKA Horror Hotel, is a frequently touted Christopher Lee film that has never quite risen up in queue high enough to watch, until now
Image of Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

23. Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)

Two bumbling American cops hunt for the mysterious Mr. Hyde in London, England. (76 mins.)
Director: Charles Lamont
Abbot and Costello actually made a lot of “Meet” movies, The Mummy being one of my favorite Abbot and Costello films of all time, and since I do love me my horror comedy, this year we get Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego.
Image of Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde

24. Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

In Victorian London, Dr. Henry Jekyll attempts to create an elixir of life using female hormones stolen from fresh corpses… (97 mins.)
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Speaking of Dr. Jekyll, here’s the Hammer Horror take on the classic story, complete with their sexploitationist angle.
Image of John Dies at the End

25. John Dies at the End (2012)

A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion? (99 mins.)
Director: Don Coscarelli
I keep seeing this recommended on Netflix…so I’m watching it.
Image of The Bad Seed

26. The Bad Seed (1956)

A housewife suspects that her seemingly perfect eight year-old daughter is a heartless killer. (129 mins.)
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Haven’t seen this one in 20 years, but I recall it being a very atmospheric chiller and love a good evil child story.
Image of Messiah of Evil

27. Messiah of Evil (1973)

A young woman goes searching for her missing artist father. Her journey takes her to a strange Californian seaside town governed by a mysterious undead cult. (90 mins.)
Director: Willard Huyck
Honestly, I know nothing about this one, but I love the title.
Image of House of Dark Shadows

28. House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Vampire Barnabas Collins is released from his prison and searches for a cure to his affliction, so he can marry the incarnation of his lost love. (97 mins.)
Director: Dan Curtis
I love all things Dark Shadows, and only recently learned about this theatrical adaptation of the soap opera by the actual creator of Dark Shadows.
Image of Hell Comes to Frogtown

29. Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

‘Hell’ is the name of the hero of the story. He’s a prisoner of the women who now run the USA after a nuclear/biological war… (86 mins.)

 

Because…Well…Guilty pleasure…
Image of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

30. At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964)

A gravedigger prowls the city in search of a female to bear him a son. (84 mins.)
I’ve never seen this but it sounds spooky as all hell, so I’m in. (Plus there is a really well reviewed sequel!)

The full list at IMDb

Gene Wilder Marathon: Rhinocerous, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and The World’s Greatest Lover

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Gene Wilder movies over the years, and like a lot of people, when he died I decided to pay tribute with a mini movie marathon. But rather than revisit the beloved classics, I decided to dig a little deeper into his repertoire and watch some lesser known movies. The ones I chose were “Rhinoceros,” “The Worlds’s Greatest Lover,” and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.”

“World’s Greatest Lover” was both written, and directed, by Gene Wilder. I’d never actually heard of this movie before digging into his IMDb, and probably for a reason. WGL is a deeply flawed film, although it does have some truly funny moments. It co-stars a very young Carol Kane as the wife of Wilder’s neurotic and fame obsessed character. The two travel to Hollywood so that he can participate in a search to find “The World’s Greatest Lover,” who will star in a new film from a studio trying to compete with Rudolph Valentino ’s reign as the king of romance. The movie studio head is played by a typically manic Dom Deloise, who has a few good moments, but is basically just playing himself. The movie comes across as more farce than comedy, although that’s clearly not the plan. If you’re a huge Wilder fan you might enjoy it, just for being able to see Wilder doing his thing, but I have a hard time recommending the movie.

The next film on my list is “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” that co-stars a young Madeline Khan as the femme fatale to Wilder’s quirky detective, and Marty Feldman as his whacky assistant. Unlike WGL, this movie knows exactly what it is trying to be and is downright hilarious, thanks to Wilder doing his best slapstick, bar none, impromptu song and dance numbers, and a comically fraught sexual tension between Wilder and a pathologically lying Khan that delivers laughs scene after scene. This is an incredibly fun film that should really have a bigger part in Wilder’s legacy.

The final film in my mini-marathon is “Rhinocerous,” an adaptation of a play by absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco. Wilder plays an alcoholic accountant, caught in an epidemic that is transforming people into, yes, rhinoceroses. It co-stars Wilder’s “The Producers” co-star Zero Mostel and Karen Black. The film feels very much like a play, complete with monologues and dialog heavy scenes. But the absurdist humor that made the play so much fun is delivered flawlessly by Wilder and Mostel. In fact, watching the two play off of each other makes me wish we had seen more of the two of them on screen together. The movie has a terrible, horrible, musical score, but is otherwise a delightful, fun, film that gives Wilder a fantastic forum for playing both frenetic and mellow in the same role. It’s no “Young Frankenstein,” or even a “Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” but for the Wilder fan, a great movie you probably haven’t seen.

Cultural Appropriation

As a writer I have watched the conversation around cultural appropriation with a great deal of trepidation. The developments with writer Lionel Shriver at a writers festival in Australia put a nice fine point on the debate as it relates to creativity.

Simply put, the concept of cultural appropriation is that it is inappropriate for privileged whites to co-opt the cultural trappings of other groups, be they Mexicans, LGBT communities, or Australian aborigines in pursuits ranging from Halloween costumes, to restaurant menus and fiction or film.

My name is Ricardo Sanchez. My family is mostly Spanish, German and Irish. But because of the name, I have more than a passing familiarity with anti-Hispanic sentiment that is mainly targeted at Mexicans. So I have a foot in both the privileged white community and a toe in the  disadvantaged minority community (for the record, I’m not saying I am a member of a disadvantaged community, only that I have experienced bias based on my name.) Because of this perspective, I do understand a lot of the arguments of the groups that have championed the fight against cultural appropriation, and as much as I might sympathize with a desire to see marginalized or minority voices heard (in the case of the arts) I think the whole notion of cultural appropriation (CA after this) is bullshit. Particularly in America.

As far as the United States is concerned, there is only one “native” culture and we’ve pretty much decimated it. The dominant “culture” is in fact a culturally appropriated mix of Spanish, French, English, and African (for the most part) influences that permeates everything from our food to our music and literature. Without CA we would not have New Orleans, probably the best pro-CA argument one could make. Creole food alone is 100% American, and %100 borrowed from the Spanish, French and African inhabitants of Louisiana. Rock and Roll got it’s start in blues with black musicians, but would anyone really argue the case that it was inappropriate for the Rolling Stones to make their blues influenced music? What about “The Grapes of Wrath?” Should Steinbeck not have written a mentally challenged character since he, himself, was not mentally challenged? I’ve picked some fairly easy examples of where the CA argument fails, but what about when you push it? A white guy writing about a black, lesbian amputee? There are three distinct cultures there that might be appropriated. Rather than ask if it’s okay for a white guy to write that story, one might ask, is it only okay for a black, lesbian amputee to write that story? The CA argument, taken to it’s logical conclusion, would have to be yes. Because nobody else could understand where the character is coming from.

I’m playing absolutes, which is a little disingenuous, but it helps me make my point – decrying cultural appropriation is a slippery slope, like any form of censorship, and that’s essentially what it is. Writers should be free to write any character that serves their story, regardless of what cultures it might pull from. If I think I can tell a compelling story about a black lesbian amputee, nothing should stop me from writing it. If it sucks (hell, even if it’s good) nobody will read it. And if it does get read, it’s because the story is universal enough that people are engaged, regardless of their own backgrounds.

Yes, we should absolutely do more to help marginalized groups tell their own stories. Yes, white male (and female) writers certainly have some advantages over non-white writers, partly due to education levels, partly due to cultural bias, and partly due to market economics. And we should absolutely work to level the playing field so all creators have access to readers. But when you consider that there are virtually no geographically based cultures (LGBT, or deaf, and a few other cultures are different in this regard, but the anti-CA argument doesn’t distinguish between Mexicans and people with dwarfism) on Earth today that haven’t taken, or stolen, something from some other culture, the whole concept of cultural appropriation seems absurd on the face of it. Mexican culture isn’t unique, it is a mix of native cultures and Spanish influence. Spanish culture is, itself, influenced by the Moors, the Basques, the Catalan, the Castilians, and the Romans. The Romans by the Greeks. And so on and on. Go back far enough and we can all trace our roots to every culture of which homo sapiens is a member. Dismissing CA doesn’t let us off the hook with regards to helping unique, unheard voices reach more ears, but it also doesn’t make someone like me, a cisgendered straight white-ish guy, a villain for thinking it’s fucking idiotic to say “you can’t write that!” because I’m not my character.

Queer (Tragic) Storytelling

Jo Chiang, on the New York Times, has written an article about creative choices and the real world impact of storytelling on marginalized groups that I found really compelling.

The initial thrust of the piece is that characters in queer relationships frequently end up with tragic endings. The author, Jo Chiang, sites a statistic that 35% of on screen queer characters end up dead. I don’t know how accurate the number is and what type of character is being considered (main character, supporting, character of the week) but I would be curious to know what percentage of straight characters also end up dead, for context, as killing characters is a time honored tradition for writers to up the drama and conflict. 

I agree with Ms Chiang’s desire to see more on screen queer romance have a happy ending, but I question some of her assertions about the intent on the part of creators. She singles out a show I really enjoyed, “Person of Interest,” as an example where queer characters are “punished” for their orientation. One female character is shot and presumed dead upon confirmation of her feelings for another woman – but she fails to mention that the actress had to take a break from the series for maternity leave. Is this really a creative choice to punish the character? (Plus we all sorta knew she was going to make a come back) Then later, her lover does in fact get killed. But this takes place in the final culmination of everything the show has been building up to finally coming to a close. The character’s death is also both a noble and reasonable ending for her story in many ways. More importantly, the character is treated with the same narrative respect that the male lead receives. 

There is a line of critical thought that suggests the viewer is the final arbiter of meaning, regardless of the creator’s intent. It’s a sentiment I can understand, but have always been somewhat uncomfortable with. Using “Person of Interest” as an example, either the creators did choose to inflict harm on their queer characters, in which case it’s totally fair to interpret it as a cultural bias toward violence against queer relationships, or the creators were writing around external circumstances and just trying to deliver the best story they could. 

Obviously, I believe creator intent is very important. I highlighted this poor example because Ms Chiang cites many other very good examples of queer relationships ending in tragedy in films, where there is no question about the choices of the creators. 

One of those examples is “Thelma and Loise” and their drive off the cliff. But could this story have had a non-tragic ending and still been worth watching? They could have turned around and given themselves up, but then we need to know what happens next and it is either A) a lot of publicity that rips up their lives on the way to a trial where they are acquitted or B) they are both sent to prison for manslaughter. Either alternative is a very different story and perhaps no less tragic.

While I think she over played her hand a bit, there is still a clear case to be made that, historically, Hollywood was able to include queer characters only if their on-screen romance is punished, ”The Children’s Hour” being a particularly good example of hers. She is also at least partially correct when she suggests that for a writer:

“Any character’s death can be shocking and upsetting, but taking a character who attained happiness despite the fundamental struggle of being queer and ripping them from that happiness? Now that’s tragic. And that’s how we’re taught to see the pain of queerness. As fundamental.”

But take queer out of that assertion and replace it with: black, Muslim, Irish, one armed man, a vampire. In the context of narrative, tragedy by definition is setting up a character for a fall. In modern narrative, we see more queer tragedy, but we are also just seeing a lot more queer characters.

There is a lot in the first half of Ms Chiang’s piece I could argue with, but all of this is really the lead up to her second, and more important, concern, which is about whether or not non-queer creators should tell queer stories, and if the industry history of tragic violence in queer stories results in real world violence, and finally what should be done about it.

In her piece, Ms Chiang says:

“The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that 2015 had the highest levels of violence against the L.G.B.T. community since 2011, the most frequent victims being transgender women of color.”

I have no reason to doubt this is true. L.G.B.T. issues receives a LOT of coverage in 2015, between bathroom bills, kids being denied access to their prom, and the litany of characters and TV shows with queer storylines being the central dramatic theme. I tend to believe (without supporting statistics) that the rise in violence may largely be a result of increased awareness – that those who feel threatened by changing social attitudes are lashing out at the people they identify as responsible for a decline in their world view. But it’s entirely reasonable to question whether repeatedly seeing queer characters punished for loving or being loved isn’t a part of the problem. 

Ms Chiang goes on to cite statistics about how white guys essentially dominate Hollywood and are the ones responsible for making most entertainment, including the shows and films telling queer stories. She doesn’t suggest that creators shouldn’t tell stories they don’t (or biologically can’t) identify with, but she does ask for more representation in content creation by the very people who’s stories are being exploited for commercial entertainment. I think she’s right to ask, but I don’t think the solution is to look to big Hollywood for a solution. 

Movie studios are businesses first. Most film isn’t art. Studios will make creative choices in the context of greatest profit at lowest risk. And the most certain way to achieve that balance is to staff the biggest name talent you can afford, which isn’t always going to lead to a lot of diversity, even with plenty of examples showing diversity isn’t a profit killer. 

So what is the solution? I don’t know, but I suspect the queer community will have to fend for itself, at least for a while. Thanks to venues like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, funding for projects no longer has to come from traditional Hollywood sources. A Stonewall movie directed by a more representative individual, featuring a cast more like the actual participants, could probably find crowd support quite quickly and easily. 

But whether you think I am right or being insensitive to queer concerns, Ms Chiang’s piece is thought provoking and a worthy read. As a writer, it certainly have me a lot to consider as I contemplate writing characters I can’t biologically identify with.