What is the greatest slasher ever made? That is an unanswerable question. We’ve all got our favorites. Without doubt, Black Christmas ranks as a mandatory view for many genre followers. In many ways it’s the original slasher. Prior to 1974 there weren’t too many lunatics targeting, stalking and slashing teenage girls to pieces. But Bob Clark made a major bid to change that, and thanks to a gorgeous seasonal horror film, it happened.
Black Christmas left a significant impression on John Carpenter as well, who would officially kickstart the subgenre four years later with another seasonal offering, Halloween. Since 1978 countless filmmakers have tried their hand at the hack and slash formula. Some have worked quite well (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Scream rank amongst the best) and others have failed. Regardless, they all owe a little tip of the hat to Clark and his Canadian classic.
You’re not reading anything you don’t already know. If you’re hanging out on Dread Central, chances are you’re very familiar with the aforementioned pictures, especially Black Christmas. But it’s important to hammer home the bearing of an original piece of art when directly comparing it to a contemporary reimagining. And that’s exactly what we’ve set out to do with this piece. Get down to the nitty gritty and compare, thoroughly, Bob Clark’s film and Glen Morgan’s 2006 rendition of the same story.
The story focuses on a sorority house and those living within it during the Christmas holiday. An assorted group of personalities, each young lady brings something unique to the table. Standing center stage within the narrative, Jess (Olivia Hussey) is the strong-willed thinker of the group. If she ever had her head in the sand, it was yanked free long before the events of Black Christmas. Barb (Margot Kidder) is an abrasive alcoholic, Phyl (Andrea Martin) is the loveable nerdy lass and Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) is also a colorful boozehound who carries a different load on her shoulders, as she stands in as the sorority house mother. And then there are a handful of other characters to closely examine, like Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon), Seargant Nash (Doug McGrath) and Mr. Harrison (James Edmond), all paramount players in the picture.
Everyone’s lives are turned upside down when the phone rings in the sorority house, and what sounds like more than a single lunatic begins spewing offensive remarks. The phone call ends with a simple but staggering statement: “I’m going to kill you.” And those words ring true, as one by one, beginning with the innocent and unassuming Clare Harrison, they’re savagely murdered in the single place they should feel safe, their own home.
Lt. Fuller finds himself in the middle of a massacre (as does Peter, played by the already firmly established Keir Dullea, Jess’ boyfriend and obvious red herring). There isn’t much he can do about obscene phone calls, and given the fact that Billy, the madman who’s making the calls and killing the women, has been hiding their bodies in the house, he takes limited physical action, initially. As far as the surviving ladies are concerned, the girls who aren’t accounted for have simply gone missing, and the situation hasn’t reached dire straights. But that changes in the final act, when a trace produces a shocking revelation: The calls are coming from inside the house, and the girls aren’t just missing.
From this point forward it’s a whirlwind of craziness. The film winds down with a surprise, and Clark leaves viewers completely baffled by the fact that Billy is not brought to justice. Hell, Billy isn’t even ejected from the home. He’s still in the attic, still prepared to continue fulfilling his murderous desires in the future.
- Standout Scenes
There are a number of memorable scenes in the film. These eight rank as the most memorable, some being downright iconic.
Intro POV Invasion
The film opens with a somewhat mysterious first person point of view. An unknown man scales the sorority house and enters the attic, from there he makes his way into the inner recesses of the home. In a petrifying moment we see (through Billy’s eyes) him standing, watching, just feet from Barb. Within killing distance, no doubt, though that moment will not come for some time. It’s a terribly creepy sequence of events.
The First Call
Moments after breaching the residence Billy makes his first phone call, it begins as a strange affair, but quickly progresses, venturing into perverted territory before ending on a jaw-dropping note. “I’m going to kill you,” he utters in a calm, collected voice. And we know the fate of these young women isn’t promising.
The First Kill
12 minutes into the film Clare is asphyxiated by Billy, who hides in her closet, hidden by plastic clothing covers. It’s a captivating and frightening scene due in most part to its subtlety. It also manages to set a very unforgiving tone, and triggers a recurring visual theme of the film. Clare, with a plastic bag wrapped around her head – her mouth gaping open – is shown numerous times throughout the picture. This is one of the finest death scenes of the film, despite the simplicity.
Clare’s father’s meeting with Mrs. Mac is hilarious on too many levels to speak on. It also ignites a serious movement; the search for Clare is precisely what leads to Billy’s discovery. And for the record, the shot focused on the nude peace sign poster is one awesome sliver of cinematic history.
At the 28 minute mark Sargeant Nash becomes the butt of the film’s grandest joke when Barb convinces him ‘Fellatio’ is a part of her telephone number at the sorority house. It’s humor at its finest, and it stretches through a small series of memorable scenes. It’s a fun, uplifting theme that counters the visual theme presented by Clare’s corpse.
A Kidder is Killed
Barb’s death by crystal unicorn is savage. It also symbolizes the end of all female delivered comedic emphasis within the picture. The wise cracker of the bunch and the most prominant personality, is done away with. And her death is just about as astonishing as her personality. Make no mistake, Margot Kidder steals the show handily, and seeing her killed (we do realize it’s inevitable well before it occurs) makes an impact on the viewer.
79 minutes into the film it is learned that the calls are originating from inside the home. An urban legend that’s long haunted the fragile minded is realised on film, and it is truly sensational. It’s the beginning of the final, fast-paced sprint to the credits.
After Jess and Peter’s showdown, which results in Peter’s death, we’re briefly led to believe all has been resolved. But it hasn’t, and anyone paying attention has picked up on the fact that Billy and Peter are two entirely different individuals. Not only that but – believe it or not – Billy is still in the house.
Black Christmas managed to surpass expectations. Released in Canada on October 11, 1974, and landing stateside two months later on December 20, 1974, the movie gained immediate steam. The film took in over $4 million. Subsequent trips to big screens produced more impressive numbers and the movie, shot on a budget of $620,000, more than pleased Ambassador Film Distributors and Warner Brothers (the film’s two primary distributors for Canada and the United States). It was a modest hit with fans (who no doubt also saw terror in the feature’s inspiration, an actual serial killer case in Westmount, of Montreal, Quebec, Canada), but a mixed bag with critics. Some loved it, some hated it. But it was the beginning of something special, and it has gone on to be recognized as one of the greatest independent films ever shot.
Glen Morgan’s remake arrived Stateside on Christmas Day, 2006. Fans weren’t eager to visit cinemas for a new telling of an old Christmas story. It stands to reason that many felt as though they’d already seen the film once, and given the rash of recent disappointing remakes (When a Stranger Calls, The Amityville Horror, The Fog, The Omen and Pulse were all recently released), there was little drive to chance another potential dud. But what’s interesting about the movie is that it isn’t quite as bad as a few of those other remakes (here’s looking at you Pulse, When a Stranger Calls and The Fog) were, and furthermore, it attempted to expand on the original tale.
The crux remains the same. The viewers are once more dropped into a sorority house where the residents are targeted by a lunatic with an affinity for cruel phone calls and attic dwelling. But this time around, there’s a twist in the story and a very obvious attempt at giving Billy a backstory, thus making him more of a character than a symbol. A series of flashback sequences show us the agony the man endured as a boy. And his childhood was indeed agonizing to watch. Essentially disowned by his mother, Billy witnesses the murder of his father – the only bright light in his life – at an early age. He’s also locked away in the attic (an example of the holes being filled, as it explains why the man is so damn comfortable in such a confined space; he’s used to it), abused and severely neglected. It all culminates in the birth of a monster. A monster who, even after growing into a man, cannot shake the pent up rage he’s been forced to carry for the better portion of his life.
Agnes, who had no significance in the original, is another new addition to the story. Agnes is Billy’s little sister… and daughter. She was always favored by mommy dearest, and one day, after being overlooked for years, Billy makes her pay for the attention she’s garnered from their mother. What became of Agnes after Billy murdered their mother and stepfather goes unexplained for the majority of the feature. But the mystery is indeed solved in the fading moments of the film. It’s a major adjustment in narrative, and its success has been lauded and admonished in equal measure. The bulk of viewers hated the spin. But the spin does open a big enough door to make viewers ask themselves (at least it should): Should I judge this film as a remake, or should I judge this film on its own merits and unexpected bravery?
Because it is a brave film. Even if it isn’t a great film.
In a lot of ways, it’s quite similar to Rob Zombie’s initial remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Both films utilize the familiar, but they also attempt to humanize the focal villains and explain exactly what drove them to murder. They’re films that have left genre fans on the fence as well.
- Standout Scenes
Morgan’s picture lacks the signature scenes that Clark’s totes in abundance. However, there are a few moments that are going to really please those with a love of the extreme. Because the picture sure as shit isn’t for the lighthearted.
A Graphic Tone Set Early
While Clark’s big aesthetic theme emphasizes Clare’s plastic-wrapped face, Morgan’s visual morsel comes in the form of removed eyeballs. Megan is one of the film’s earliest victims, and guess what. She has an eye removed after discovering Clair’s (a direct nod to the original) body in the attic. It’s relevant for a few reasons. Not only does it establish the recurring imagery we can anticipate from the flick, it also informs the viewer of just how truly graphic this experience is going to be.
The Return of a Familiar Face
In another tribute to the original movie, Andrea Martin returns, but not to reprise her role as Phyl, but to stand in as the modern day house mother, Mrs. Mac. It’s great to see her back, and it’s nice to see that she’s aged quite well. Knowing her personality has undergone a very radical change is also an interesting point to contemplate.
The Flashback Sequences
While extreme, and even offensive at times, the flashback scenes make for scintillating cinema. Some of the things that Billy is subjected to, including a stunning moment of incestuous conduct, are magnetic in their severity. It’s hard to look away from some of this craziness. But the sequences do explain Billy’s eventual fate, and there’s an unexpected takeaway in those points of disclosure.
Flesh Cookies and Tree Toppers
36 minutes into the film a caged and deranged Billy breaks free of the attic and slaughters his mother and stepfather. He turns mommy’s skin into flesh cookies and calmly eats them, with a nice cold glass of milk. Later in the film, during the final act we see Eve’s severed head placed atop Billy’s own morbid Christmas tree. It’s one hell of a topper.
The End of Anything Classic
The only tangible link between films meets an interesting fate when Mrs. Mac makes an attempt to escape the sorority house and acquire the aid of local law enforcement. But after Heather is killed in the car they’re planning to use to leave, she walks right into inadvertent death via icicle. How strangely appropriate!
All Twisted Up
71 minutes into the flick we learn that it’s not Billy that’s been running through the sorority sisters, it’s actually his sister/daughter, Agnes. Although Billy too shows up intent to shed some blood with his sibling. This is the most notable difference between films, and as odd as it may sound, it kind of works. At least it works in terms of creating something a little bit refreshing.
We touched down on the picture’s reception briefly already, but we’ll recap. Black Christmas 2006 was almost universally loathed. People absolutely hated it. Not only did the film miss debuting anywhere in the top 5 ranks at the box office, it didn’t even slide in within the top 10. It debuted at number 13 to a pathetic $3.7 million. It barely surpassed a total $20 million worldwide take in its entire theatrical run. The picture has a current score of 14% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer. IMDb sees the picture carrying an average score of 4.5. These aren’t promising figures. But for all the unabashed hatred the pic has earned over the last eight years, it’s performed fairly well on discs. In fact, Morgan’s film has cleared a solid $10 million more with home video sales than theatrical. It seems, despite the consensus disdain, there are a lot of people out there interested in owning the feature.
- The Ultimate Verdict
There is no question (at least not in this mind) that Clark’s original is significantly superior to Morgan’s remake. The tension is palpable, the cast is stellar and all the terror left to the imagination exclusively is fantastic. It’s the kind of movie that makes you think all the while wrapping you up in a believable web of dread. The dialogue is amazing, the characters are quite memorable and the grainy picture carries with it a wonderful sense of nostalgia. It feels like a classic picture, and it does indeed deliver on scares. Morgan’s film, in contrast, suffers from poor decision-making and conflicting character practice. No one is genuinely illuminated as a heroine either. For a reasonable portion of the film Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, Heather, looks to be the final girl, until she bites the big one. Katie Cassidy isn’t a terrible performer by any stretch, but her character, Kelli, is forced to partake in some seriously illogical actions. There isn’t much that Cassidy can do about that, and that’s unfortunate, as it completely kills any hopes of her winning over viewers. It’s an awful character and exists in stark contrast to the very likeable and level-headed Jess of the original.
And yet for all of the qualities that the original boasts and the remake lacks, what Morgan’s film can accurately lay claim to is existing as a stronger visual film and a satiating morsel of a movie for those who love gore. It’s a vicious piece of work, but those beautiful, vibrant colors are stunning. It looks more like an actual Christmas movie than half of the Christmas movies out there, genre classification be damned. And on a brainless level, there’s fun to be had in Morgan’s movie. There really is. Close the critical eye and allow yourself to be pulled into the current of an animalistic tidal wave, and you could find yourself entertained. But you won’t forget which rendition of Black Christmas is the true winner.
My Neighbors Are Dead: The Best Horror Podcast You’re Not Listening To
Halloween has come and gone, but Dread Central readers know that our horror lovin’ doesn’t end once the trick or treaters have gone to bed. Sure, we do go back to being the dastardly death-loving heathens looked down upon by polite society rather than the valuable fountains of horror movie knowledge sought after throughout October, but horror fans are an interesting bunch.
Our fandom is not centered around one specific world like Whovians, Potterheads, or Trekkies but rather a love of a genre that is varied and vast. And if the comments section of any of our articles has taught us anything, it’s that horror fans know just about everything there is to know about horror films. We all know of the heavy hitters like Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, but what about the other characters that we weren’t privy to meet?
Enter: MY NEIGHBORS ARE DEAD.
My Neighbors Are Dead is a weekly improvised podcast in which host Adam Peacock interviews the lesser-known characters from your favorite horror films. The caterer from Damien’s party in The Omen couldn’t have had great business after serving food at the birthday of the Antichrist. And if you thought the theories in Room 237 were insane, just imagine what the directors pitched that weren’t accepted for the documentary!
Each week host Adam Peacock interviews some of the most skilled improv comics to tell “their side of the story” as unseen characters in our favorite horror films. This podcast is still relatively new, but it’s already been recommended by AV Club, Splitsider, Threadless, and now us. Meaning, if you start listening now, you’ll be able to show off your hipster street cred by knowing them “before they got famous.”
Adam Peacock co-produces the show with fellow Chicago “Second City” alum Nate DuFort, and the two have brought along hours of entertainment that speaks directly to the hearts of horror fans everywhere. Each episode is around a half-hour, allowing the perfect time for binge-listening or a great distraction during your morning commute.
In no particular order, here are my Top 5 favorite episodes:
1) The Blair Witch Project with TJ Jagodowski (Listen Here!)
2) The Omen with Alan Linic (Listen Here!)
3) Poltergeist with Paul F. Tompkins and Tawny Newsome (Listen Here!)
4) Room 237 with Marty DeRosa and Sarah Shockey (Listen Here!)
5) It Follows with Jeff Murdoch (Listen Here!)
Spend Halloween Night on George A. Romero’s Darkside
There are a ton of Halloween specials to view from the shows of the past. Some of my favorites are from horror anthologies. While most people will go to “Tales from the Crypt,” my favorite has always been George A. Romero and Rubenstein’s “Tales from the Darkside.” I love the creepy atmospheric simple tune in the opening credits accompanied by the voice over: “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But there is unseen by most an underworld, a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit. A darkside.” It sends chills down my back every time.
“Crypt” was grandiose with its big Hollywood player production team and unrated sensibilities being on HBO, but that left Romero and his usual no budget crew to have to try harder and be cleverer with the constraints of their budget and censorship since “Darkside”was syndicated. The very first episode of the series debuted on October 29th with a Halloween-centric episode that perfectly captures the atmosphere of Halloween.
Episode 1 is written by George A Romero himself and directed by Bob Balaban of Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame, who also directed the little known horror comedy, My Boyfriend’s Back. This episode is entitled “Trick or Treat” and is to Halloween what A Christmas Carol is to Christmas. It’s about an old, snobbish rich man who has a lien on every single farm and family in the town as they all owe him money. Every Halloween, his favorite holiday, he takes the IOU’s of every family and hides them in his house among a slew of horrors that he controls in a master operations room. Each family sends a child to his house in a Halloween costume to try and find the IOU’s so their family can be debt free. No one has ever found the IOU’s as the old man always scares the children out of their minds with his house of horrors before they can find them.
The set up for the episode is totally Romero. The old man, Gideon Hackles, has his colleagues come to help him count his money and check his investments at three in the morning so as to not deter his ability to make money during the day. Hackles obsesses over every penny and trusts no one to handle his money without him there which is why he hates banks. The only thing this mean ass old man loves more than money is scaring the shit out of children. We watch the children go into the house and lose their shit, but there is one kid whose family doesn’t want him to compete. Little Timmy Muldoon wants so desperately to help his family out of debt, but his family refuse.
In the end, Gideon is haunted by true spirits from hell that begin throwing his money everywhere, but he doesn’t fear the spirits as much as he fears losing his money. He literally crawls down to hell to retrieve his cash! Little Timmy Muldoon comes to the door of the house and is greeted by a cackling witch, but is unafraid. The witch rides off on her broom throwing down the IOUs, money, jewels and all kinds of riches at Timmy, who just catches them, smiling. In that instant, with that giant grin on his face, Timmy Muldoon represents all of us horror fans that see these monsters as their friends and the holiday of Halloween as something to revere. The FX are a little hokey but this episode bursts with that low-budget Romero spirit and is a really fun and interesting idea that’s great for the Halloween season.
The second Halloween centric episode is from Season 2 and was directed by the Gore Master himself, Tom Savini! This episode also aired on October 27th and was written by Michael McDowell, who wrote Beetlejuice! The episode is entitled “Halloween Candy” and it’s a great little atmospheric one location thriller that showcased a lot of Savini’s and Mcdowell’s talents and inspirations.
Old Man Killup is the nastiest and meanest old man on the block with only his son to begrudgingly take care of him. Every year after Halloween, Killup’s son has to clean the outside of the house from all the kids trashing it because Killup refuses to give the kids candy. Killup’s son leaves a bunch of candy for him to give out, but the mean old man instead spends the night telling the kids to go to hell until finally he’s had it and throws together a hodgepodge of different slimy things to throw in a kid’s trick or treat basket. Just like Jason gets pissed off at pre-marital sex, a little goblin-like creature that seems like the precursor to Sam from Trick ‘r Treat gets pissed off when you mess with trick or treaters. He begins taunting and horrifying the old man well into the Halloween night.
The creature itself is, of course, done by Savini and seems like an evolution of Fluffy from Creepshow. Its movements are a lot of fun as it moves around like a demonic acrobat and uses that to freak out Killup. The Goblin even haunts his dreams with imagery and foreshadowing of his fate. It’s a heavily underrated Savini creation and even more interesting that he gets to bring this creature to life from idea to screen as the director himself.
The passage of time and decay plays a big role in this episode. Killup is constantly hungry, stating that in his old age there’s nothing to do but eat. At one point the little goblin tears off Killup’s watch and Killup accidentally steps on it. This is a point where Killup continuously tries to fall asleep in hopes of passing through Halloween without any more kids or surprises, but as he keeps on starving, the night does not change and he is trapped, frozen in time. Even as he tries to eat the food he has in his fridge, it goes bad and decays with roaches erupting from it. It’s a really cool device that juxtaposes the passage of time in his house with his own internal clock of life. One cannot simply pass through Halloween night without honoring tradition.
It’s a great tension builder and the night is so perfectly emphasized by the blue lighting representing the moonlight. Savini’s directing skills are really showcased with how minimalistic the setup is, but still manages to build so much tension.
When you’re checking out all the Halloween offerings for the season be sure to give these episodes a revisit or a first time watch as they are fun as hell! If you’ve got Shudder they’re streaming on there or go out and buy the new home video releases!
Trick-or-Sweetheart: Halloween Was Oddly Romantic in Victorian Times
We love Halloween horror. We dress up as rotting zombies or gory murder victims; we tell terrifying tales by a crackling campfire; and we watch slasher flicks with the most gruesome death scenes ever. Halloween is supposed to be scary, amiright?
But Victorian Valentine’s Day, er, Halloween, was quite a departure from what it is today. Back in the 1800s it was more about matchmaking and marriage than masks and machetes. Spiritualism was in vogue – what with seances and fairy photography – and so exploring the secrets of the unknown was more of a draw than being scary or getting scared.
Halloween made its debut into American society in the 1870s, though by then fall-time superstitions thrived among immigrants and ethnic groups. The holiday was pretty much considered a quaint custom of the Scottish and English, but its practice was not necessarily encouraged. It had “shameful” Pagan roots, after all.
However, stories about Halloween were featured in periodicals and ladies’ journals like Godey’s and Petersons in order to satisfy a readership eager for tawdry tales. They wanted to learn about ancient rituals, historical facts, and romance. Yep, at the time it was believed that the dearly departed could help you get a little action.
Victorian Era Halloween Greeting Cards:
All Hallows-themed fiction published in in the penny dreadfuls were often about “death by passion.” These untimely exits from the moral coil may or may not have spawned ghosts. Female readers devoured bodice-rippers with such titles as “Love’s Seed-time and Harvest,” “Love Lies A-Bleeding” and “If I Were a Man I’d Shoot Myself.” In 1881, St. Nicholas Magazine printed an article lamenting the demise of an Old-World holiday by turning it into an excuse to party: “Belief in magic is passing away, and the customs of All-hallow Eve have arrived at the last stage; for they have become mere sports, repeated from year to year like holiday celebrations.” Oh, the horror. And candy corn wasn’t even invented yet. (It came along a few years later, in 1888.)
The first Halloween parties were meant for matchmaking. Parlor games were played, everything from candlestick jumping to bobbing for apples, but one of the most popular was called “The Bible Trick.” Here’s how it works: Get a Bible and place a key between the pages, leaving the rounded portion sticking out. While the Bible is being supported by the fingers of two boys, hopeful girls recite these words: “If the initial of my future husband’s name begins with A turn, key turn.” Slowly repeat the letters of the alphabet, and when the right initial is reached the key will swing around and the Bible will fall. (Sounds boring AF, but hey – there was no Shudder or Chiller back then.) Another game instructed a couple to write their names on nut shells and then cast them into the fire; if the shell cracked they were in for a rough year, if the shell blackened but did not break they were going to marry. And here’s one last corker: Single young women were sent into a dark room and told to select one from a variety of boxes, each containing an object that had some sort of amorous significance for the year to come. What was actually in those boxes, we don’t know… but there were steam-powered dildos, “ladies syringes,” and hand-cranked vibration devices back then. (I’m just sayin’!)
The turn of the century heralded the end of the Victorian Era, and hence the women’s mags took an intellectual and proper turn: travel, politics, history and current events took the places of fiction and romance to meet the needs of their changing readership. Halloween parties were still popular, but adults seldom dressed in costumes for the occasion. Trick or treating became popular in the 1920s and 30s and the celebration of Halloween was given over almost entirely to children.
That’s not to say some folks don’t still consider Halloween an occasion for amour. After all, why else are sexy adult costumes the biggest sellers in America year after year? And perhaps the most romantic thing of all is when Rob Zombie married Sheri Moon on October 31. The couple will celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary this Halloween. Awwww. Cue the heavy-metal violins!
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