It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”
“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.
Fear not, we are just a few months away from warmth. But while we are still reaching for trench coats and ear muffs, why not also reach for the best horrors about these frigid days and nights. I know most of you may cuddle in front a fire with 1980’s The Shining or 2007’s 30 days of Night. Not me. I go to 1981. Ghost Story, based on the novel by Peter Straub, made me the woman I am today: a goddess who tricked a man into believing I’m beautiful when I sleep. Furthermore, the iconic dialogue repeated throughout the film reminds me of my wedding vows: “I will take you places where you have never been. I will show you things that you have never seen. And I will see the life run out of you.”
The film opens to the snowy winter of 1979. In the small New England village of Milburn, we meet the Chowder Society, comprised of four elderly friends—Mayor Charles Wanderley (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), attorney Sears James (John Houseman), Dr. John Jaffrey (Melvin Douglas) and businessman Ricky Hawthorne (Fred Astaire). Years of weekly meetings to share ghost stories have brought the club close. They support each other through the worst of times, one of which we witness at the funeral of Edward’s son David (Craig Wasson), who fell from his apartment window after encountering the corpse of the woman he was sleeping with. Edward, devastated by this loss, contacts his other son Don (also Craig Wasson) for the funeral. But not long after they are united, Edward is lured out into a snowstorm by his deceased son’s voice. He calls back to the voice, but what arrives is a female specter that frightens Edward over the side of a bridge to the frozen river below. Don, doubting that his father committed suicide, approaches the remaining members of the Chowder Society. To gain membership, he offers his “ghost” story, telling of a woman he not long ago had an intense affair with before sensing her awkward disposition, her skin constantly cold and their affair ending only for her to ignite one with his brother. His story revealed, Don and the other society members soon discover that they may be haunted by the same woman.
This film excelled in several ways, one being that it turned regular props into items of fear. For example, a photograph that Don discovers is initially normal. It features four men in focus and a lady moving her head too fast for the camera’s shutter speed to capture her clearly. Although the viewer has likely seen a blurred picture like this before, the use of one here incites fear because the face may reveal the ghost that haunts Milburn.
Furthermore, the camera work, with its smart angles, often offered multiple perspectives in one frame. When we are first introduced to David’s brother Don, we are in his bathroom. To the right of the frame, the bathtub overflows with water, which feels significant, though at this point we can only wonder why. To the left of the frame, the bathroom door is open. Water seeps into the bedroom where Don walks into the doorframe, talking to someone hidden on the opposite side of the bathroom wall. You wonder: what could hold his attention enough for him to let water flood his expensive high-rise apartment?
This smart camera work comes from Jack Cardiff, who even shined in breaking the “do-not-break” 180 framing rule. In a short dialogue scene, Dr. Jeffrey’s wife Milly (Jacqueline Brookes) glances out the window as her husband awakens from his harsh nightmare. With the camera holding her in a medium shot, Milly travels from the right side of the frame and descends left to her husband’s bedside. For the viewer, Milly’s physical change strengthens our acceptance of her emotional change, which travels from irritation to concern.
While Cardiff shined as Ghost Story’s director of photography, his work was magnified through the eye of film editor Tom Rolf. The film manipulated time, returning us to David’s past relationship with Alma (Alice Krige), and going even further into the Chowder Society’s college years. Rolf pieced this mind-boggling puzzle together, accomplishing a format that offered equal states of satisfaction and hunger after each scene.
Even as a child, I received different levels of satisfaction from Ghost Story. For one, it taught me the power of a woman. It revealed that “hot” girls are given the world, no matter how paranoid they make men. Seeing how Alma’s beauty captivated these men let me know that if I played my cards right (e.g. brushed my teeth, showered, combed my hair, put on chapstick, etc.), I too, could one day make men fall for me. And guys, I was right. Thanks, Ghost Story.
I pray that this article conveys my love for this film. It will have you experiencing the chills that come with keeping secrets, especially deathly ones. Also, you will think twice about screwing with—and simply screwing—a crazy woman. All of this equates to one of the greatest horror films of the eighties. Point blank. Period.
In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.