Michael West is the critically acclaimed author of Cinema of Shadows, The Wide Game, and Skull Full of Kisses. A life-long fan of all things horror and Halloween, he lives and works in the Indianapolis are with his wife, their two children, their bird, Rodan, and turtle, Gamera. Fans can keep up with him and his writing by visiting his website: http://www.bymichaelwest.com
After reviewing Michael’s Cinema of Shadows recently, I thought he’d be a perfect author to coax into writing a little something for the Monster Movie Marathon. Well, boy howdy, did he go the extra mile in writing a testimonial to Halloween and the monsters who revel in it. Enjoy.
by Michael West
I’ll admit it: I’m a creature of habit…of tradition, if you will. Every year, I must watch It’s A Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original cartoon, thank you very much!) sometime on or shortly after Thanksgiving. Call me sappy, but it just doesn’t seem like the Christmas season unless I’ve seen those flicks at least once. The same is true about my beloved All Hallow’s Eve. Sure, I can carve a pumpkin and put graves in my front yard, but I’m just not fully into the festive spirit of the holiday until I watch some Halloween-themed movies.
Fast forward to October 30th, 1978. Myers is now an adult and must appear before the court. When his psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) arrives to escort him, Michael steals the car and heads back to Haddonfield. He arrives on Halloween, finds three teenage friends to stalk—Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), Annie (Nancy Loomis), and Linda (P.J Soles), and picks up where he left off 15 years before.
Jennifer’s blog Book Den might be one of the most deceptively embracing of the horror genre. But make no mistake, once you start reading her blog you realize she has a strong appreciation for dark fiction in all its forms, from straight-up horror to the dystopian YA.
I asked her to write a little something for the Monster Movie Marathon, and she wound up choosing a movie I think goes under a lot of people’s radars. I’ll admit I didn’t care for the movie when I first saw it, but it’s kind of grown on me as the years accumulate. And it’s got Oliver Platt, so how bad can it really be.
Growing up on the Louisiana coast, I had my fair share of alligator encounters. It wasn’t until one particular nightmarish encounter that I became as terrified of reptilian beasts as mother nature probably intended. (You’d be amazed how far an alligator can torque its body mid-air.) Despite my fear – or maybe somehow because of it – Lake Placid is one of my favorite monster movies.
When a diver is torn in half in front of the local sheriff (Brendan Gleeson), a game warden (Bill Pullman) and a paleontologist (Bridget Fonda) are brought in to help investigate. Rounding out this enjoyable ensemble is an eccentric crocodile guru (Oliver Platt) and a resident of Lake Placid (Betty White). If you haven’t seen Lake Placid and you are a fan of Betty White, she’s worth the price of admission.
We discover early on there is a giant 30-foot crocodile in the lake, so like any predictable horror movie the characters need to swim, hang out on the water, and stand on the shoreline. There are a few things, however, that make Lake Placid unpredictable and one of my favorite monster movies. One is the level of humor. The chemistry of the cast and the humorous frights give Lake Placid a strong comedic element. It’s nice to see people get dismembered and want to laugh about it. Secondly, Betty White. And lastly, I love how much I wind up rooting for the crocodile.
If you come across a copy of Lake Placid and you enjoy comedy in your monster movies, it’s a fun little flick.
For my Halloween guest post, I wanted to talk about two of my all-time favorite werewolf movies, American Werewolf in London and Dog Soldiers. I first saw American Werewolf in London when I was eight. We’d just got a VHS recorder for the first time, and my dad took to renting films like a crack addict would in later generations. Dad loved to rent horror films, and this was one of the first I’d ever seen. (Funny story: now in his old age, Dad can’t watch horror, and he’s rather fond of chick flicks. Yes, really.) I’ve seen it many times since that first viewing, it has stood the test of time well, perhaps because actor David Naughton does such a great job convincing me of his struggle to stay in control. Then again, this film stays fresh in my mind because of David’s first transformation. In an age before computers made everything easy with CGI and blue screens, filmmakers struggled to make a sequence that conveyed the grueling agony that a human would go through turning into a wolf. And they succeeded, I think, because to this day, I recall David’s hand stretching and shiver.
You don’t really see the werewolf often in the film, but you don’t have to. That first transformation has so much visual punch, it carries you through the cheesier parts of the film. Then there’s the dream sequence with the Nazi monsters killing David’s family to keep the tension going. I admit, the film loses a bit of tension with the final act taking place in a porn theater. So there’s all these moans killing the tension even while the grisly ghosts are giving David ideas on how to kill himself. But as you can see, this blend of morbid humor and violence influenced me quite a bit, since it shows up in a lot of my work.
David’s character is a wolf cursed recently, and he fights against his animal nature, which is the exact opposite of the wolf pack in Dog Soldiers. The pack in this film revel in being hunters, and they’ve got a bunch of their favorite food cornered in a cabin. Despite taking place in the middle of nowhere, it still feels a bit claustrophobic. This is due a lot to the camera technique making you feel like you’re standing too close to everyone and everything.
But you don’t really see much of the wolves until later in the film, not even in their untransformed human forms. Here, the stars of the show are a group of Scottish soldiers on what they think is a routine training operation. Kevin McKidd and Sean Pertwee both play soldiers fighting against the wolves, and what sucked me into this movie is Pertwee’s gruff sergeant character telling the story of a deceased friend’s tattoo. This has nothing to do with the wolves, but it’s just so creepy that it helps set the tone for the rest of the film. It also make Pertwee one of the easiest to identify with, second only to McKidd’s character. But McKidd cheated because he refuses to shoot a dog right at the start of the movie. That would instantly win cool point with me, even if I can recognize it as a cheap trick. Pertwee gets me liking him while he’s telling a scary story that has nothing at all to do with the movie. That’s talent.
Both films share the technique of flashing the camera around their monsters, which I think helps strengthen the fear factor. Visually, everything happens so fast that you don’t have a chance to process it all. Your brain even adds scarier details that may not have been there because the blurriness is something our mind doesn’t like. So we need to add detail to fill in the blurs. And what we see in our heads is most likely scarier than what was really on screen.
The movies chose to look at the wolf from slightly different perspectives. Dog Soldiers looks at the victims of a wolf pack, and while the soldiers are brash, there was not a one among them besides the evil commander who I was hoping would get eaten. With every other soldier, I was in classic horror movie viewer mode, yelling out, “No, dude! Run!” at all the times when obviously, someone failed to run fast enough.
American Werewolf in London looks at the monster itself and finds that some are victims of the curse rather than gleeful agents of evil. The transformation strips away David’s humanity in a painful way, and he cannot control his urges to change. In the aftermath of every attack, David is left with visions he doesn’t understand, and he is haunted by people claiming that he killed them. He’s struggling with his sanity, and so even if he is the monster eating people, when the police shoot him, I feel just as upset as Nurse Price with his fate. In fact, the ending upsets me so much that years later, I developed a kind of denial that it wasn’t “fair” because no one had used silver bullets.
Which I think is why I like werewolves so much as a story vehicle, because there’s the possibility to look at the monster and see their struggle against their inner animal just as much as there is to find a story with their victims. Which lends the mythos a more tragic aspect because you know how most werewolf movies will end. But a film like Dog Soldiers is no less entertaining for looking at the victims, even if they’re also meeting a similar grisly fate. It’s still tragic, and both films share similar themes. But writers are able to make either point of view sympathetic with the right tweaks.
Of course, both films share a sarcastic sense of humor, and I think that helps sell the horror better, and it makes the characters easier to like, even when they’re doing things I should feel uncomfortable with. Both films juggle dark humor and scares well, and both employ similar filming techniques with their monsters to keep me perched in my seat. Which is why both films are high on my list of films to check out for Halloween.
Brotherhood of the Wolf, is a 2001 French film directed by Christophe Gans. When I saw it in the theater for the first time, I fell in love. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot points or characters. I won’t bore you with who starred in the movie, though the gorgeous Monica Bellucci does costar as a prostitute on a mission from the Pope. What I want to talk about instead in the literal monster that slaughtered hundreds of victims and the human monsters that created and controlled him.
VVB (I call her Velvet) loves books of every stripe it seems, but she tends to favor the books with an element of darkness, weirdness, or the strange. And she maintains a great blog to express her love of such books. After you finish reading about her love for mummies, be sure to visit her blog which will have a review related to this very topic: http://vvb32reads.blogspot.com/
France, 2010; DVD
Available via Amazon
Directed by: Luc Besson
Starring: Louise Bourgoin
The year is 1912. Adele Blanc-Sec, an intrepid young reporter, will go to any lengths to achieve her aims, including sailing to Egypt to tackle mummies of all shapes and sizes.