From my beginnings in 1997 as staff writer and news editor at Universal Studios’ Horror Online (my undying gratitude to my mentor Joe Sena, thank you, sir, for bringing me into this business), to my years at Fangoria under the great Tony Timpone and Michael Gingold, to now a decade here at Dread Central (working with the amazing Steve Barton, whose humility prohibits him from understanding how positively he’s shaped and nurtured the genre), I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel the world, traipsing from film set to film set in an effort to document productions, from the big (those Legendary Godzilla flicks) to the small (Zach Passero’s 2007 indie Wicked Lake, comes to mind), and hundreds in between.
But what’s always most interested me are the stories behind those artists themselves, and their thoughts unexpurgated from the marketing machine that is film. Who are they? Where did they come from? What were those defining moments which shaped them as young creatives, and the ones which impacted them, and their art, during their careers? And ultimately, how those stories have created the genre itself, and have given rise to the decades of boogeymen who’ve haunted our fever dreams.
With that, I’ve embarked on a journey which will hopefully provide a platform to these men and women in order to discuss uncensored with me their lives and experiences in horror, in a collection of articles and essays for the forthcoming book Unearthed: A Look Behind the Terror.
To be edited by Steve Barton, portions of these interviews will appear here on Dread Central in an interview series entitled Unearthed, commencing this Friday with a two-part sit down with Child’s Play and Fright Night filmmaking legend Tom Holland, in which he reminisces upon his relationships with the late directors George A. Romero and Tobe Hooper, before appearing unabridged in the eventual tome.
I hope you’ll join me on this literary adventure, and want to thank everyone who has over the last twenty years.
5 Zombie Films That Flipped The Script
The undead have long been a source of horror for cultures around the world. The thought of our loved ones returning from beyond the grave as shells of their former selves has filled countless people with feelings of dread, grief, and terror. Then there’s that whole pesky “they want to eat our flesh” thing going on. As if being in mourning wasn’t enough, now I’ve got to worry about remaining intact?
Netflix’s upcoming horror/thriller Cargo stars Martin Freeman as a man who wanders the Australian outback with 48 hours to live after being bitten by a zombie. The twist in this story is that Freeman has his one-year-old daughter with him and he needs to find a safe place for her before he turns.
Having seen the film, I can tell you that it’s pretty damn fantastic. The zombies are distinct enough that you’ll feel like you’re watching something new and the themes hinted at through the story, while not entirely unique, are so rarely touched upon in zombie films that it feels like a fascinating experience. Cargo has no issues bravely facing racism, xenophobia, environmental concerns, and the fear of loss, not only of one’s life but of all that will never be experienced. It’s horror with heart and it never shies away from that, for which I applaud it.
Because of the release of Cargo, we decided to take a look at five other zombie films that brought something new and exciting to the table.
“Stranded in rural Australia in the aftermath of a violent pandemic, an infected father desperately searches for a new home for his infant child and a means to protect her from his own changing nature.”
Cargo was directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke from a script written by Ramke. It stars Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, Simone Landers, and David Gulpilil.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
It may not seem all that original now but George A. Romero’s 1968 classic really was revolutionary upon its release. Prior to this film, zombies were mostly thought of in terms of the Haitian folklore that was seen in movies like White Zombie. In that film, zombies weren’t mindless ghouls intent on devouring the living, they were freshly dead corpses resurrected by a Bokor (a necromancer) who wiped the mind of the zombie and made them their personal slave. Romero changed all that by taking the same concept and removing all possibility of the ghouls being controlled. Rather, they became the shuffling corpses that are now cultural icons.
Train to Busan (2016)
South Korea’s 2016 zombie film received, rightfully so, wild critical acclaim and the love of horror fans across the globe. Wasting no time in getting into the action, Train to Busan felt like a breath of fresh air because it masterfully blended humor, over-the-top action, horror, social commentary, and genuine emotion. Elements of each of these traits have been seen countless times throughout zombie films but the culmination of everything made Yeon Sang-ho’s film one of the best entries in the genre in this decade, possibly this century.
28 Days Later (2002)
Raw, gritty, vicious, and undeniably beautiful, 28 Days Later is a masterpiece of intensity and emotion. The first zombie film in many years to truly make it feel like the world was over, it created a believable story and focused on interesting, nuanced characters. As with Train to Busan and Night of the Living Dead themes of class warfare and social commentary were most certainly present, creating a film that felt fresh and exciting. There’s a reason 28 Days Later was credited with revitalizing the zombie genre and it’s because it brought new, albeit infected, blood into the mix.
Seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger in a dramatic role bereft of action or comedy should already clue you in that this movie is aiming to do something different but it’s the actual meat (no pun intended) and potatoes of the story that offers a fresh perspective on zombies. Schwarzenegger’s Wade is distraught and desperate after learning that his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is infected with the “Necroambulist virus” and has days left before she changes into a cannibalistic creature. Rather than focus on the terrors of what might be, Maggie opts to focus on what we know will be lost. Maggie will never know what an adult life will be life. She will never know a love that lasts the rest of her life nor will she have the chance to be a parent. Her grief at what she will never experience is matched by Wade’s overwhelming anguish that he cannot protect his daughter or be there for all those moments that could have been.
As King Theoden mournfully stated in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, “No parent should have to bury their child.”
The Girl With All The Gifts (2016)
What if the zombie was actually the character we, the audience, were pushed to care the most about? Enter Colm McCarthy’s 2016 brilliant film The Girl With All The Gifts and you’ll have that same experience. Never failing to bring scares, the film also isn’t afraid to ask how can we love that which can put us in so much danger as well as cause us so much pain? Sennia Nanua positively shines as Melanie, a young girl infected with a fungal disease that will send her on a mindless, flesh-hungry rampage were it not for a cream that remaining humans can rub on their arms to curb her appetite. As with 28 Days Later, The Girl With All The Gifts doesn’t shy away from commentary on race and class differences. But its true strength lies in its ability to make you feel for the very thing that should strike fear into your heart.
This post was sponsored by Netflix.
Interview: Author Alex White on ALIEN: THE COLD FORGE
Titan Books new novel Alien: The Cold Forge finds a group of scientists conducting experiments on the titular beasts on a remote space station, and as you might expect, things don’t go so hot. While the basic setup may sound like familiar ground, author Alex White manages to twist and subvert expectations at nearly every turn, developing a book with some great characters, creepy horror setpieces and intriguing tweaks to the Xenomorph lifecycle.
I recently got to ask Alex some questions on Alien: The Cold Forge, covering how he got the job, alternate story concepts and if there was anything from the movies that was off bounds while he was writing the book.
Dread Central: Hi Alex. First off, could you give a quick overview of your writing career prior to Alien: The Cold Forge?
Alex White: I started out writing screenplays, which was a major part of my independent studies in college. Around 2005, I started seriously writing novels, and I sold my fifth book, Every Mountain Made Low, in 2015. My agent, Connor Goldsmith, parleyed that into the Alien deal for me, as well as my forthcoming three-book space opera, The Salvagers. The first book, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, arrives June 26th of this year.
DC: How did the concept for The Cold Forge come to you?
AW: My agent called me to let me know that I’d scored a pitch meeting with Titan editor Steve Saffel, and I had to come up with a couple of ideas, fast. I was at Adaptive Path’s UX week when Double Robotics did a presentation using their telepresence robot, and I was fascinated by the idea. What if you had one survivor in an alien outbreak who was cut off, only able to influence the outcome through telepresence? How would the other survivors react? Would they be grateful or upset?
I was also dealing with a lot of Silicon Valley tech bros at the time, and Dorian naturally evolved from the amoral folks that work at a lot of those companies. When we’re chasing profits, it’s important to ask: who gets hurt? Dorian doesn’t have that reflex.
DC: Did you pitch any other ideas for Alien stories to Titan for the book?
AW: I pitched three, but I only really remember two of them. There’s the one that eventually became The Cold Forge, and there was another that took place on a military academy on a planet overrun by aliens. The idea is that you have a bunch of troubled outcast teens who’ve been shipped away from home to get discipline, then an outbreak kills most of the adults. It sounds YA, but I wanted to turn it into full-on Lord of the Flies.
DC: Pretty much every character in The Cold Forge is flawed or corrupt in some way. Was it fun to write a story without any traditional heroes?
AW: Absolutely, because honestly, I think it represents the reality of a survival scenario. Also, can you imagine living with your coworkers for years at a time? I doubt I’d be able to survive that with a clean conscience, myself.
DC: Dorian Sudler has to one of the great all-time assholes in the franchise to date. How did you dream up such an odious character?
AW: I was dealing with a lot of Silicon Valley tech bros at the time, and Dorian naturally evolved from this utter prick of a venture capitalist who shared a cab with me one evening. When you’re dealing with big data in particular, it’s easy to violate privacy, manipulate people and outright disenfranchise folks (Check out Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil). On my product teams, we have a strict rule: “Don’t pitch me anything you don’t want used on you.” With any advancement, you might churn a good profit, but you also might end up ruining someone’s life. That’s why it’s important to ask: who gets hurt? Dorian, like that venture capitalist, doesn’t have that reflex.
DC: The relationship between Blue Marsalis and her android/nurse Marcus is also pretty intriguing, where she uses his body as an avatar to escape her own bed-ridden condition. Where did that idea come from?
AW: While I’ve already talked about Double Robotics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my friend’s father passed from complications of ALS around that time. Another friend of mine has a terminally-ill daughter, and watching the trials that poor kid has to endure is heartbreaking. I wanted the readers to feel the difficulties that come with a terminal condition, as well as the discrimination. Terminally-ill people are often treated as though they’re already dead. Friends drift away, unable to witness the pain unfolding before them.
Blue deals with all of that, especially the fact that her life is considered worthless by the others. If they’d managed to get to an escape pod, do you think Blue’s crewmates would’ve rescued her? If she’d died out there, who would’ve spoken a kind word?
DC: The Cold Forge reveals Facehuggers don’t actually implant an embryo but inject a black goo-like substance instead that rewrites DNA. Did you receive any pushback about making this change to their life cycle?
AW: Nope! It’s 100% in keeping with Alien: Covenant and you never actually see a larval injection onscreen. In fact, 20th Century Fox requested ZERO changes to the manuscript and sent a page full of compliments, which is probably a first!
DC: The book feels somewhat inspired by video game Alien: Isolation, including how the Xenos are depicted and certain passages like Sudler hiding in a weapons locker. Have you played the game?
AW: Oh, I absolutely did. My god, that game was a masterpiece. The thing that really stuck with me was the audible weight of the creatures. I’d never felt them so substantially in the movies.
DC: Are you a fan of any of the other Alien Expanded Universe stories, be it games, comics or novels?
AW: Oh yeah. In the 90s, I had every Dark Horse book and comic. I played all of the games, especially AvP and AvP 2 (and that badass Capcom beat-em-up that took all my quarters). Strangely enough, the creator of the AvP games was Rebellion, and their publishing arm is the company that bought my debut!
DC: Were there any story ideas that were off-limits while writing the book, e.g. mentioning certain characters or events from past movies?
AW: When I started writing, Covenant hadn’t come out yet, and Prometheus was considered a separate license, so I couldn’t use the black goo. About a month into my contract, Covenant came out and boom! I get to use everything I want.
DC: How have you found the fan response to the book so far?
AW: Incredible! They love it, and they’re so happy to tell me that. I’m really blown away by the kindness and excitement from this fandom. There are a lot of really great folks out there, especially the ones from AvPGalaxy.net.
DC: Would you pay another visit to the Alien universe if the opportunity presented itself?
AW: You bet! I’ve always got a few more ideas in me. I’m also planning to do a commentary on my thought process while writing the book, which you can find in my newsletter.
Exploring a Variety of Horror in Japanese Anime
In the early 2000s, Japanese horror films took American audiences by storm. These pictures took form through numerous remakes, with such classics as Ringu (The Ring), Ju-on: The Grudge (The Grudge), and Honogurai Mizu no soko kara (Dark Water). These J-Horror remakes offered stories woven with Eastern folklore, dealing with ghosts, precognition, and yōkai, including lots of psychological twists. For some American filmgoers, these remakes were their first horror films, kicking off a life-long love for the genre.
In regards to other Japanese art forms, horror has shown remarkable promise through manga. One need not look further than the work of Junji Ito; the writer and illustrator is responsible for creating some of the most visceral and disturbing work within the genre. His short story collections, as well as his famous graphic novel Uzumaki, present worlds of psychological madness and despair.
It’s no secret that American audiences continue to love all sorts of media from Japan. However, there’s one medium from Japan that is met with as much love as it is met with criticism: Anime.
For as much as the medium is loved by fans, there are others that point out how the form is home to many tropes. While we may love Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon, we can’t deny the overt melodrama of character’s dialogue and actions. Whether it’s the over-the-top machismo or extreme cutesy nature, it’s difficult to deny the, at times, cringe-worthy elements of the art form.
However, it’s extremely important to note that these elements do not speak for all of anime. There are just as many shows that does not rely on tropes (or uses them effectively within a story’s framework). And when the right combination of elements comes together, anime and horror can go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and chocolate.
So with that said, I want to highlight four excellent anime titles that do the horror genre justice. These works present their own blend of horror, and masterfully use their medium to give viewers chills (or even turn their stomachs).
The original video animation (OVA) is the main highlight of the Hellsing works (given that there was an anime and manga before Ultimate). What the OVA successfully accomplishes more so than the original works, however, is the extreme level of violence and darkness it exudes. Hellsing Ultimate follows our protagonist Alucard (the anime’s iconic vampire), along with the Hellsing organization; they work together to fight the monsters of the night that threaten mankind. The series overtime throws numerous antagonists at them, including the likes of Nazis, the Vatican, and other vampires.
What character tropes the anime uses work in its favor. There are a couple characters that act as comic reliefs, but other than those brief moments, the anime includes scenes of theatrical dialogue. In general, there are quite a few crazed antagonists throughout the anime; for the most part, many of these characters work. An example is Alexander Anderson, one of the show’s best antagonists, whose back story helps us understand his drive and personality.
However, it’s Hellsing Ultimate’s action sequences that make the show sincerely brutal and grotesque. Alucard is one of anime’s most powerful and iconic protagonists; while he takes on the role of anti-hero, his personality and ideals go beyond that of a flat archetype. For as repulsive and cruel as he can be, he also has a solid loyalty and respect to those close to him (or who he battles).
We see Alucard driven by pure bloodlust, but are also shown the somber traits of his personality. The former is where we see much of the anime’s ability to instill tension within its characters (and the viewer). His dialogue, as well as the voice acting behind it, present a sinister, even threatening aura. Given his extreme power, we see foes tear into Alucard, even tearing his limbs apart, and yet, he laughs and begs for more. His voice contains such a controlled, yet hysteric, masochistic nature, that we can empathize with the horror on his foe’s faces.
The violence is also splendid to witness for those looking for a gory rush. Hellsing Ultimate is packed with flailing limbs and literal waves of the undead. This animation also serves to masterfully capture the emotion of characters as mentioned previously; the show incorporates a hyper-realistic character design. Using a combination of stellar line work, coloring, and shadowing, the emotion of each character is genuinely felt. And for those seeking more pleasing aesthetics, the world of Hellsing Ultimate is a gothic delight. Weaving in those elements of shading and detail, the European structures are as beautiful as they are creepy.
For the horror fan who needs gallons of blood, you won’t want to miss out on Hellsing Ultimate.
Unlike the previous title, Perfect Blue is a film. Directed by Satoshi Kon and written by Sadayuki Murai, the picture tells the story of Mima Kirigoe, a famous pop singer who retires to pursue acting. I won’t give away plot details, but let’s just say that this film has a lot of similarities to Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.
The film is nothing short of brilliant. As the story progresses, the viewer will begin to question the reality of events as much as the protagonist. To sum Perfect Blue up as a psychological thriller may technically be accurate, but would also leave out a lot of the film’s details.
For all of Perfect Blue’s weirdness, it makes for a sincerely disturbing picture. As Mima strives to succeed as an actress, the stress continues to build upon her. Along with this stress comes a mysterious stalker and random violent actions taking place around her. This stress ends up taking over much of her psyche, altering her sense of time and reality. Getting into specifics would spoil the film, and the shock value of Perfect Blue is absolutely worth exploring firsthand.
The shock works in a way like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive; sporadic jumps in time and random bits of disturbing nature ripple throughout each scene, and will have the viewer scratching their head as to what is genuinely taking place. These transitions are jarring, revealing a combination of unsettling imagery as we witness Mima’s sanity unravel. Perfect Blue represents masterful editing, as well as relatable characters.
In a unique way, the world of Perfect Blue feels close to the real world. Beyond the psychological elements, there’s nothing that fantastical that plays into anime stereotypes; even the way characters are drawn is plain, even bland. Wherein a lot of anime characters are given flashy detail and spruced up with bright colors, Perfect Blue gives us very ordinary people (with the exception of Mima and some other girls). For an animated film, Perfect Blue feels very human; in turn, this makes the blend of unsettling, even horrific scenes, more believable.
This is a film about obsession, and how some people are always striving to fit into an image. Mima is an empathetic character and watching her descent into madness is not only grim, it’s heartbreaking.
For those who like mystery and stories that involve ghosts and curses, Another is right up your alley. The show follows Kōichi Sakakibara, a young boy who has just moved back to his birth town. The show opens with him waking up in the hospital after being sick for a month. Students from the new school and class he will attend come to visit Kōichi, but immediately begin to act strange around him. He meets a girl by the name Mei Misaki, and eventually learns of the curse that haunts class.
The show does a great job keeping you in the shadows, slowly trickling bits of important information overtime. In the beginning, the viewer will sense a great deal of weirdness coming from the characters. It’s this feeling that, while people may appear normal, the viewer can tell there’s a larger act at play. The events that have led to the class’ curse are grim and make for sinister context in regards to their present state. Another comes with a compelling atmosphere. The animation utilizes stellar shadowing, casting a foreboding presence throughout the show.
If you are a fan of ghost stories like The Ring and The Grudge, you’ll love Another; there’s a consistent air of dread and uneasiness that roams about the characters and school. If you live for supernatural mysteries, Another offers a thrilling, dark journey in hopes to learn more about a curse. The show presents plenty of creepiness and twists, feeding into its overall gloomy plot.
This is the one anime on the list that comes with a warning. I had a friend recommend the show and say to me, “You won’t see what happens coming.” What takes place in episode one is super out of left field, and one of the most unique ways to trick an audience.
So before going into this show – please keep in mind that the following will include the first episode’s twist.
When you start episode one of School-Live!, we are introduced to Yuki Takeya, a cheerful high school girl that is the ideal example of cutesy anime tropes. Yuki’s friends are just as bubbly, all playing into typical girly anime tropes. As you watch the girls run throughout the school, you notice all the delightful colors and decorations.
The first episode continues in this way for the majority of its run time, up until the end. It’s revealed to the viewer that all this cuteness is inside Yuki’s head. The school is not full of bright colors and life, but is actually quite the opposite. We learn that Yuki’s friends are playing along with her to protect her, for the majority of the school’s population has been desolated by a zombie outbreak. Barricades protect broken windows and walkways, and the girls work to keep Yuki safe while trying to survive.
School-Live! throws tropes into the viewers face, amplifying the shock value of the twist. The rest of the girls use Yuki’s delusional mind state as an excuse to leave the school grounds for supplies. When we see the world through Yuki’s perspective, the animation becomes bubbly and full of color; the tone drastically shifts when we see the point of view from the other girls. This shift allows us to see the real horrors that surround them.
What transpires from there is a somber story of each girl’s desperation to survive and protect one another. The show also utilizes a series of flashbacks to provide context for each girl and where they were the day the outbreak first took place. The grim nature of their world weighs heavily upon their shoulders, and as the show progresses, the darkness of their reality leads to strain and despair.
This show is a surprising gem within the realm of horror anime. It’s a smart anime that knows not only how to play into the medium’s tropes, but the viewer’s expectations as well.
These four are just the beginning. There’s so much horror anime out there for fans to enjoy, including titles like Vampire Hunter D, Parasyte, Shiki, and more. You can find many of these titles on Hulu, Crunchyroll, as well as the Funimation streaming service.
Anime has much to offer horror fans through story, stellar voice acting, direction, and superb animation. While some of the horror to be found may be fun and action-oriented, there are plenty of titles that offer a sincere atmosphere of tension and fear.
What are some other horror anime titles you enjoy that are worth checking out? Let us know in the comments!
- Nicholas McCrae Kimble Discounting some of the millenium series reboots, yes, that is exactly the case.
- Matthew Horak stopped reading after "things go so hot". would you like me to be your editor? You had ONE job...here, let me do your job for you.... "things [don't] go so hot" or "things [do] go so hot". Thank...
- Swan Archives Sorry, have to call BS. Dean is confused. Phantom of the Paradise was never "recut to make it a horror movie more like Carrie..." Nor was it ever rereleased in the US. Never happened. The cut that was...
- Rottenjesus The only reason it's dark is because the DU is dead and it's never coming back.
- Jack Derwent Slappy Halloween was a much better title.
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