I think we can all put our finger on the horror moment that sparked the passion we have for this genre. At some point in our past, we saw a movie, read a book, played a game – whatever it might have been – and that was the start of a journey that has yet to cease. For some, that journey began at a very young age. For others, it took a little while longer but is no less impactful. No matter when it happened, that moment lit a fire that cannot be put out.
Over two years ago, I got writers from a variety of outlets to suggest their ways to survive a horror movie. Earlier this year, several of them returned with a swath of new voices, all extolling their favorite horror performances that don’t get the recognition they deserve. Today, I am proud to host over 40 different voices who answered a simple question for me: which horror movie had the greatest impact on you?
Please join me in celebrating every person on this list as they share their personal thoughts and feelings.
Michelle Swope – A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first horror movie I saw in a theater, because I was finally old enough to make my own decisions about what movies I saw. That was a big deal. Up to that point my parents had always tried to shield me from horror, so being able to see A Nightmare on Elm Street on my own in a theater kind of signified me breaking free from my parents in a way. I felt like I could finally express myself as a horror fan. I remember not sleeping for about a week after seeing it, but I loved that rush that you get from being scared, and I wanted more. I don’t think I appreciated it then as much as I do now because I was busy trying to consume as many horror movies as I could, but the eighties were such an extraordinary time to be a horror fan.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was partially responsible for my love of practical effects. I think Tina’s death scene is one of the most terrifying and mind-blowing horror movie deaths ever created. All the blood and the way she tumbled around the room and across the ceiling was beyond anything I could have ever imagined and that’s what made it incredible and unforgettable. The other movie that was responsible for spawning my appreciation of practical effects, before A Nightmare on Elm Street, was The Thing (1982). My stepfather loved movies and secretly showed us The Thing on VHS. Obviously VHS wasn’t as cool as seeing it in the theater. The Thing is filled with horrifying practical effects and I loved it. You just can’t top the practical effects found in horror movies in the eighties. Now in 2019, when it seems like everything is CGI, there are filmmakers who are consciously making an effort to use practical effects that are a throwback to the eighties and I think that’s amazing.
Matthew A. Collins – Alien
An inimitable keystone of modern film-making? Check. A seminal and widely lauded classic of the sci-fi horror genre? Check. The quintessential claustrophobic haunted house nightmare, spawning countless failed attempts to emulate or recapture its essence? Check and double-check. Preaching to the choir? Don’t mind if I do.
Yet there is a moment in this exercise of elegant narrative simplicity many might overlook, that in my view cements it as one of the smartest horror films of all time. Sure, the facehugger, the chestburster, the air duct sequence, Ash’s betrayal, and the final surprise, are all wonderful moments that no film before or since has quite managed to top. However, the moment of Brett’s encounter with the “Starbeast” (aka Xenomorph XX121 aka I’m-a-huge-Alien-nerd) is a subtle yet distinct inversion of expectations and has influenced my own thought process in storytelling and direction ever since.
A dank, foreboding chamber, heat exchangers dribbling their run-off, and the haunting chime of gently swaying chains: this is where Harry Dean Stanton’s character Brett meets the fully grown Alien, and his end. And when at last he turns to face what has descended behind him, how does he react? In any other film of its ilk, a character encountering the titular monster for the first time would no doubt have immediately let out a blood-curdling scream. And yet, his reaction is one of confusion and bewilderment as much as it is of fear. You can see his mind struggling to process the strange, foreign shape before him: he doesn’t even know what he’s looking at. And at the tender age of eight years old, neither did I.
Until the creature’s inner jaw struck.
UK-born, LA-raised, NY-educated. Having been described as “subtly bizarre” by far too many people, I make my way as a filmmaker, game designer, and now I suppose a novelist who had a lovely award-winning stint of short films and micro-budget features several years ago. Since returning to LA, bigger fish have been on the fryer and I’m about to embark on my first big feature film Heart Land in New Zealand at the end of this year. You can witness my sporadic inanity on twitter: @mattcms and at some point very soon, I am told, peruse my production company’s redesigned website: www.centermassstudios.com
Kelly Gredner – Alien
I first watched Ridley Scott’s Alien when I was probably too young to do so and it gave me nightmares for years. The nightmares were so intense that it was only within the last eight years that I have had the nerve to revisit it. This movie has been in and out of my life for greater than 22 years, for better or for worse! It is infamous, and it’s essentially a perfect film. The premise, world-building, cinematography, acting, score, and creature designs resonate within me more so as an adult than they ever did as a kid. What mainly makes it now my favorite horror film of all time (replacing The Exorcist) is its ability to combine absolute, isolating horror, and incredible feminist themes. Themes like bodily autonomy, violation, rape and forced motherhood. Alien, as we all know, gave us the amazing Lt Ellen Ripley. With her rise to becoming the sci-fi horror icon, this warrior woman of horror as we know her today, is relatively unmatched in her incredible survival skills. Alien gave us Ripley, and those horrific, nightmare-inducing Xenomorphs, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Terry Mesnard – Alien
When you are eight and raised on a steady diet of 1930s Universal Monsters and 1950s flying saucer/little green men movies, you have a very specific idea of what horror is. It’s Abbott and Costello meeting horror icons. It’s a robot shuffling out of a flying saucer. It’s black and white. Iconic, but safe. Comforting. Then, one day when you’re eight, your dad turns to you and asks, “You want to see something scary?”
Of course, I did.
I’m still unsure why my parents decided to introduce me to Alien when I was eight years old. Maybe it was because they were sick of me watching Star Wars on repeat, rewinding the tape as soon as it ended before watching it again. Maybe it was because I was becoming slightly obsessed with monsters. Maybe it was the same darkly humorous thoughts that would later push my dad to drop a plastic spider on me as the credits of Arachnophobia ran. My parents don’t remember introducing me to Alien, but I sure do. Because it was the day I became a horror fan.
I was not prepared for the spidery monstrosity that attached itself to Kane’s face. And I certainly wasn’t prepared for the dinner scene when the alien burst from Kane’s chest, painting the cast and set red. I couldn’t fathom what was happening. It felt so real. In the old 30s and 50s horror movies, I enjoyed the special effects but I could tell they were effects. But this worm with teeth and covered in blood and viscera was real. And it broke me.
And there were my parents, looking over at me with a cheshire grin plastered on their faces. “Do you want to stop?” my dad asked. And my head bounced in curt up and down nods, as if it were attached to a tightly coiled spring. I was done.
Except I wasn’t. After many sleepless nights filled with nightmare creatures and the feeling of pressure in my chest that often was just our Siamese cat perched on my stomach, I realized I was hooked. Alien made me the horror fan I am today. And like most people who experienced horror films in their childhood, I needed more. That intense fear and terror I felt became a kind of white whale that I would be chasing for the rest of my life. Looking for that new thrill that would bring me back to that eight-year-old kid in a small house in Alaska, where I saw a thing that could not possibly be. The thing that broke my mind.
Stephanie Crawford – Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
When my parents “officially” allowed me to start watching horror movies when I was about 12, my excitement quickly turned to a kind of dread: Was I too much of a coward to actually watch these? See, my mom got me a stack of horror tapes for my birthday, and I had to take three entire days to get through Evil Dead because it was just too grueling and gory to me. Still, the genre was too intriguing, and I fought too hard and watched so much late-night Cinemax to get there, so I soldiered on to its sequel, Evil Dead II.
It was like a lightbulb got turned on over my head right before Bruce Campbell was swung into it. Sure, it was gory, but it was also hilarious, charming, and a lot of fun. That was my first taste of subgenres and the fact that you can be effectively scary while still pulling off some very choice Three Stooges bits. It encouraged me to keep watching and to do it with an open mind, and I’m thankful every day that it did. I’m still partial to both horror comedies and more traditional horror films that have a sense of humor, but the best thing is that the genre sits at a massive table with room for everyone—even the blood-covered goofballs—and we’re all pretty cool with sharing our plates with each other.
Alex DiVincenzo – Freddy vs. Jason
I was somewhat of a late bloomer when it comes to horror fandom. I didn’t have a cool older sibling, friend, neighbor, or relative who introduced me to the genre. I had seen a handful of horror movies growing up (Child’s Play and Scream each terrified me at different points in my youth), but it wasn’t until Freddy vs. Jason was released on DVD in early 2004 that I became enamored.
I knew of Freddy and Jason pop culturally, but I had never seen any of the combined 17 films that comprised the A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises when Freddy vs. Jason piqued my interest. I didn’t want to wait to rent them all before seeing the two slasher icons duke it out, so I figured I would get the gist by seeing the first movie in each respective series. Elm Street became an immediate favorite, but little did I know that Jason isn’t even the killer in the first Friday.
Nevertheless, I went into Freddy vs. Jason with my limited knowledge… and I loved every second of it. 15-year-old Alex was admittedly scared, but I also enjoyed the unexpected sense of humor, the gratuitous bloodshed, the hip cast, the colorful cinematography, the WWE-worthy battles, and the metal-filled soundtrack. I’m sure nostalgia clouds my judgment, but 30-year-old Alex still admires all of those aspects.
With the floodgates opened, I went on to rent the rest of the Elm Street and Friday the 13th films, followed immediately by Halloween (which remains my all-time favorite movie). I then moved on to the other horror staples, like George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy (there were only three at the time!), The Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hellraiser, The Exorcist, Alien, etc. The quest to see more genre films simply never ceased.
It feels a little weird to say that Freddy vs. Jason, of all movies, changed my life. It’s far from a classic – or even one of the strongest entries in either franchise – but I cannot deny the impact it had on me, sparking a deep-seated interest in the genre. More than half of my lifetime later, that passion still thrives as I pursue the dream of making my own horror films.
Alex DiVincenzo runs BrokeHorrorFan.com and makes indie movies in New England. In his spare time, he can be found watching horror movies, defending pop punk, petting dogs, and eating pizza. You can follow him on Twitter (@alexislegend and @brokehorrorfan) and Instagram (@brokehorrorfan).
Jerry Smith – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is a film that really opened my eyes to how spectacular a slasher film can feel if done right. It’s the fourth film in its respective series and while other franchises began to lose their edge in their later sequels, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is the perfect example of a series being alive and full of energy.
I’ve always said that if you removed the character of Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, it would still be a perfect coming of age story. Unlike a lot of other slasher films, you genuinely care about each character and when each one meets their end thanks to our favorite mama’s boy, it’s heart-wrenching.
Everything from Crispin Glover’s silly dance, the recurring “dead fuck” joke, the introduction to series fave Tommy Jarvis and my favorite portrayal of Jason thanks to Ted White, to what is easily the most intense death scene in the entire series (poor Rob), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was a film that taught a very young me that writing good characters is just as important as writing good kills. A very entertaining film and an excellent example of a slasher sequel done right, the fourth Friday the 13th film is one for the books and a film I adore so very much.
Sarina Vazquez – From Dusk Till Dawn
From Dusk Till Dawn is hands down the horror film that has had the biggest impact on me, no contest. Horror movies were a staple in my house growing up, my dad was and still is a big horror fan. Some of my oldest memories with my family involve us settling in around the TV to watch the latest scary movies we picked up from Blockbuster. I remember attempting to talk about the movies I watched with my friends at school and finding it odd that so many of them weren’t allowed to watch them and I could never really understand why. Yes, they scared me but what kind of crazy people didn’t like being scared? I was hooked on that adrenaline rush only horror movies could give me.
From Dusk Till Dawn resonated with me on a different level. I didn’t get a chance to see it until it was released on DVD and it completely changed how I watch horror movies. I was always aware that they were just movies, the monster was a guy in a mask and nobody actually died but I hadn’t really put much thought into how they were created until I saw From Dusk Till Dawn. Quentin Tarantino’s character Richard Gecko peering through the gunshot through his hand is still one of my favorite shots to ever be featured in a movie. I had always enjoyed trying to figure out how the effects were created and that shot blew my mind. When Salma Hayek’s character Satanico Pandemonium’s head changes from her human form to her vampire form my jaw hit the floor. The vampire with the mouth for a stomach, the rat, I couldn’t get enough. I needed to know how this was done.
The DVD had a special featurette on how the effects were created and watching it changed how I would watch horror movies forever. The effects were created by many people but the two men most prominently featured in the featurette were Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero, you may have heard of them. It was the first time I had ever seen the creation of special effects and I was in awe of these guys. There was so much imagination and ingenuity and flat out hard work that went into the creation of even the simplest effect I could hardly wrap my head around it.
From Dusk Till Dawn gave me a new perspective and made me appreciate the other people behind the camera as well. I started paying more attention to the effects and who the team behind them were. I started following Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero’s careers and what they were working on which has been an incredible journey. It was the first film I watched that really made me realize how big of a collaborative effort these works are. I gained a new respect for film making as a whole, not just special effects but the cinematography, music, and editing as well.
Lindsay Traves – The Fly (1958)…?
It took me a while to really start to understand and lean into my horror fandom, but I knew that I enjoyed fear from a pretty young age. As a kid, I had trouble sleeping. This usually meant a flashlight beside my bed to read Archie comics when I got bored, but eventually, my parents let me have a TV. I stayed up all night sometimes, watching that little tube on mute so no one else could hear. But the thing about basic cable is that there are only two things on after midnight; porn and scary movies.
I’ll never forget that night, watching something unsettling with no sound, and turning it up just a bit for a scene in what I thought was a lab or a doctor’s office. There was this woman looking frightened while a man in a lab coat got increasingly agitated then suddenly revealed his hand from under the medical table; the claw of an insect! AHHHHHH!!! For years, I didn’t understand what appealed to me about that scene, and maybe 12 years later, as I started to morph (like a man into a fly-man) into a horror fan, I grew to accept that 1958’s The Fly was what made me. Surely one of the most notoriously terrifying films about a man turning into an insect was the catalyst of my horror fandom. So learned am I, a scholar of the terrifying, made into a fan by delayed sleep and a famous Vincent Price vehicle.
So I was gathering my thoughts for this fun opportunity to be featured in a collab article for Dread Central, recalling this experience of mine, and decided it was the perfect time to re-watch the scene from The Fly that scared me so. And I’ll tell you what, the fly-man scenes didn’t ring any bells. I swear it was in black and white, and I certainly recall there was just a bug hand in the scene. So I did what any film journo would do after 5 minutes of failed internet research; I took to twitter with a vague scene description. After a couple “The Fly 1958!” suggestions, @WTLTE threw out Mant.
“No!” I shouted in an extreme The Twilight Zone voice when some internet deep-diving told me Mant was a parody b-horror film within a movie, Matinee, about a “film producer who released a kitschy horror film during the Cuban Missile Crisis.” “It can’t be,” I winced, as I played through the last scene of this comedy short to see a dentist reveal his ant hand from under his tray of tools. “That’s impossible!” I cried like a young Skywalker as I witnessed, for the second time, the scene that made me a horror fan, realizing that it wasn’t from a terrifying classic, but from a campy horror comedy parody. And you know what? When you look deeply at my horror fandom, that checks out.
Turns out I never saw The Fly, I guess.
Lindsay is a writer based in the Big Smoke. After submitting her Bachelor’s thesis, “The Metaphysics of Schwarzenegger Movies,” she decided to focus on writing about her passions; sci-fi, horror, sports, and comics. She’s probably talking about Scream right now or convincing a stranger to watch The Guest, or even more likely drawing a detailed timeline for the Alien franchise. You can find her horror film reviews and interviews at Nightmarish Conjurings, a cool piece on the Vulcan salute on startrek.com, takes on the horror genre in Grim Magazine, and thoughts on comics universes at CBR. You can sometimes find her recommending often missed great movies to fill your watch list at www.thesmashlist.com and a running internal monologue @smashtraves.
J. Blake Fichera – In The Mouth of Madness
It was a chilly September evening in 1995, and to help celebrate my seventeenth birthday, my friends came over to chow down on pizza, chug some mega-jolt cola and watch a movie. As my parents retired to their room, relinquishing the majority of the house to us, we slid a rented VHS cassette into the VCR and hit play. At the time, we thought it was just another movie to add to the ever-growing list of movies that we would watch together during our four short years of high school—and maybe for my friends, it was just that, but for me, it was a cinematic experience that quite literally changed my life forever.
The film was John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994), and it has impacted my life in so many ways, that a few short paragraphs in a joint blog post are not enough space to tell the whole story. So I will, instead, tell you about just one. As a few of you may already know, I wrote a book titled Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers, for which I interviewed several composers who have made significant contributions to the horror genre—including John Carpenter. That book, and my obsession with horror film music, likely would not exist today, if it were not for In the Mouth of Madness. From frame one of its New Line Cinema logo, we hear the music of John Carpenter. And, as we are bombarded with the quickly cut images of a printing press constructing, what we will later discover is the catalyst for the apocalypse, our ears are savagely attacked by a Metallica-esque guitar-driven theme–courtesy of Mr. Carpenter, Jim Lang, and The Kinks‘ Dave Davies.
The film was Carpenter’s first theatrically released feature since 1992’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and its rock-fueled opening montage felt like Carpenter announcing to the world, “I am back! Now kneel before the master.”
My young teenage mind was blown–by not only the movie but also its score. I needed to own this music, and though finding a horror movie soundtrack in a pre-Amazon world was not easy, I did! After much searching, I discovered the John Carpenter/Jim Lang opus on CD, hiding amongst a plethora of orchestral scores and compilation movie ‘song-tracks,’ at the Tower Records store on South Street, in Philadelphia. It was the first horror movie soundtrack I ever bought, and it led to my purchasing other John Carpenter soundtracks, then other horror movie soundtracks, and then eventually to my discovering and falling in love with the music of Goblin and Fabio Frizzi, etc. It started a chain reaction that led to my writing a book about horror film music twenty years later; which in turn, has now led to my continuing to explore and celebrate horror film music in many different mediums—from magazine articles, and album liner-notes, to podcasts—for the past five-plus years…and beyond.
No film has impacted my life more than John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, and I probably would not even know the esteemed Dreadcentral.com Editor-In-Chief Jonathan Barkan, or have been asked to contribute to this very article, if it were not for that fateful night in September of 1995.
J. Blake Fichera is a professional film/television editor and producer, and is the author of the book Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers. His writings can also be found in numerous magazines, including Video Watchdog, MovieMaker, Rue Morgue, and Scream. He hosts the film music-themed podcasts Scored to Death: The Podcast and The Damn Fine Network’s Cuts From the Crypt, and is the co-host of the nostalgic movie podcast, Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers. You can follow him @scoredtodeath on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Laura di Girolamo – The Craft
Fourteen-year-olds don’t know much. But by that age, I definitely knew that I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t pretty, and nobody else wanted to talk about The Smashing Pumpkins and The Legend of Zelda as much as I did. When you’re a kid and you don’t fit in, it’s difficult to put your finger on why – as an adult, my theory is that this was the onset of my issues with anxiety. But at when that rollercoaster of teenage hormones really started to pull out of the station, I only knew that the status quo felt wrong to me, and it seemed like there was no one in the world I could relate to.
The night I idly flipped through cable and discovered this movie about teen girls who used their combined witchy powers to fight back against oppressors felt like an epiphany. You know the one. That moment where Sarah, Bonnie, Rochelle, and Nancy walk across the high school quad in slow-mo, resplendent in the peak of mid-90s goth wear? Iconic with a capital I. The Craft isn’t a perfect movie, and twenty-three years later it’s disappointing to see such a powerful – literally – friendship deteriorate into girl-on-girl bullying. But there’s a reason why The Craft is such a cult classic: it’s beloved by a lot of other women just like me, women who were once fourteen year olds who wore too much black and were starting to understand what it was like to be angry all the time – angry at their parents, angry at racism and classism, angry at boys who treated them like disposable scorecards. It was liberating, to see young women who weren’t powerless, who could fight back. And when Nancy, in response to a leering bus driver’s warning to “watch out for the weirdos,” informs him, “we are the weirdos, mister,” I felt like maybe it was okay to be a weirdo. Maybe I could fight back, too.
Laura Di Girolamo is a film journalist, a social media marketer for not-for-profits, and the co-director of The Bloody Mary Film Festival, which spotlights the works of female-identifying Canadian horror, sci-fi, and fantasy filmmakers. You can read more of her work here and follow her on Twitter here.
Kimberley Elizabeth – IT (1990)
Like most horror fans you talk to, I discovered our beloved genre prematurely. I was maybe five or six years old when I first set my eyes on Tim Curry’s terrifying grin peeking out of the ‘torn’ white double-VHS tape, just daring me from our family entertainment center. I’m not sure how it happened – whether my parents left me unattended too long, or one of my older siblings was feeling particularly cruel – but it wasn’t long before my naive little butt was parked in front of the television.
And…I made it about 15 minutes. Tim Curry’s wide, bloodshot eyes daring little Georgie from the sewer, every tooth sharpened to a snake-like point, all hiding under the illusion of a friendly carnival clown. I couldn’t hit the stop button fast enough.
It was years before I could dare to finish the mini-series. It affected me so deeply, I always had to sleep with blankets on my feet and without any limbs hanging off the bed, at fear Pennywise the Clown would pop-up at the edge and tickle my toesies, or pull me under like the clown in Poltergeist. My nighttime It terrors got so bad, we had to rearrange my room so my bed was positioned right under my bedroom light switch (and therefore, no emotionally crippling late-night runs from lightswitch to bed).
That face, that laugh.. they haunted me. It’s almost absurd that I’m such a huge horror nut now, but horror gave young me an outlet for my creativity and over-active imagination. As soon as I had conquered Pennywise, there were more and more badges to earn. Each new horror film became a challenge. A conquest. I’m still a huge scaredy-cat, but I think that’s an asset as a horror fan. I get the most out of each jump, each violin pluck, and each toothy, vile grin.
Kimberley is Host and Creator of Nightmare on Film Street, a candid, comedic horror movie podcast and horror website. Her favorite horror films are Creepshow II, Poltergeist, and From Dusk ‘Till Dawn. Find her on Twitter (@kimmikillzombie), and Instagram.
Trace Thurman – Jaws 2
For as long as I can remember, my two favorite sub-genres of horror have been slashers and aquatic horror. You see, the first horror film I ever saw was Jaws………2. Yes, you read that correctly: out of all the horror films in the world, Jaws 2 is the first one I ever saw. Essentially a remake of the first film until it becomes a straight-up slasher during its final act, Jaws 2 shaped me into the the type of horror fan I am today: one who gets off on ridiculous scenarios (Another killer shark? Really?), teens getting killed in increasingly gruesome ways (RIP Eddie and Marge), and killer creatures (any creature will do, but those that are water-based are the cream of the crop). Without Jaws 2, I might have grown up to be an entirely different person!
I have no idea how old I was when I first saw Jaws 2, though I imagine I couldn’t have been older than five. I just remember being at my grandmother’s house one summer and coming across an airing of it on TBS (or maybe it was TNT…). It wasn’t until Marge’s death sequence, in which she is swallowed whole by the shark, that I truly knew what fear was. The image the shark twitching its neck (do sharks have necks?) as it swallows poor Marge is one that haunts me to this very day. In the years that followed my initial viewing of Jaws 2, I was hesitant to even swim in my parents’ pool because I thought there was an invisible shark in the water waiting to eat me. These fears shaped a significant portion of my childhood. So often did I think about underwater monsters that it led me to seek out any and all types of aquatic horror films because I was as fascinated by them as I was scared by them. It was through this form of exposure therapy that I was able to conquer my fear of sharks and learn to love them and the films that featured them.
As much of an impact Jaws 2 has had on me, it might surprise you to know that it isn’t even in my Top 10 horror films of all time. Those spots are reserved for arguably superior films like Scream, Halloween and the first Jaws. Though I’m aware of its flaws, I still respect the hell out of Jaws 2 and appreciate it for its place in my childhood. I cannot deny the impact this film has had on my life and I am forever grateful to it for introducing me to the horror genre. Jaws may be the better film, but I would watch Jaws 2 over Jaws any day of the week.
You can follow me on Twitter @TracedThurman, read my work on Bloody Disgusting or listen to Horror Queers, a weekly podcast I co-host with fellow Bloody Disgusting writer Joe Lipsett that looks at various films in the horror genre through a queer lens.
Noah Levine – Monster House
I just want to know who in God’s name thought making a children’s animated film about a cannibalistic haunted house that thrives on the corpse of a dead freak show performer in its basement was okay? Like seriously? A group of kids even stumble upon her lifeless body for crying out loud. It’s covered in cement, lying belly-up in a circus cage in the basement of the house. The house even had a uvula for gag reflex! The whole thing is pure nightmare fuel, especially for a 7-year-old. I was way too young to see this movie and it fell right into place alongside all of the other films and shows that traumatized me as a kid (one being Scooby-Doo).
When I was young, horror terrified me. I was scared of everything even remotely creepy. Yet, at the same time, I loved Halloween and spooky things so much. It really made no sense and was quite a paradox. I used to say “I’m scared of monsters but I love them.” I guess after films like Monster House, my fear kind of changed into a sort of morbid fascination. I even ended up getting a companion picture book and a Gameboy game based on the film. I simply couldn’t get enough of Monster House. It has always remained one of the main movies that opened the floodgates to the darker side of horror cinema for me.
I think it’s important that studios keep putting out “kids” movies with a morbid side. It certainly helps introduce a younger generation to the more macabre side of filmmaking. House with a Clock in its Walls is a recent example of a good, yet dark, children’s film. Hell, even Poltergeist was rated PG!
Emily von Seele – Night of the Living Dead (1990)
It might not be as highly regarded as George Romero’s original, but Tom Savini’s 1990 version of Night of the Living Dead is a film that had a profound impact on me as I was really starting to embrace horror. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I would stay up late on the weekends and watch whatever horror moves would play on late-night cable. This often led me to the trailer door of Joe Bob Briggs and his show Monstervision on TNT. One weekend, he was showing Night of the Living Dead (1990). I had heard of this title, and though I did not yet know that the version I was to watch that night was a remake of George Romero’s immortal classic, it had an impact on me nonetheless.
This was the film that first introduced me to the zombie. The stumbling, bumbling, yet still super dangerous walking dead. I remember going upstairs to bed after the movie had finished and sneaking a peek through the living room window to see if any ghouls were quietly making their way up the lawn (you can never be too careful). This movie opened a new corner of horror up to me and I walked through with no hesitation. This was where I first saw Tony Todd, who would later become a horror icon, and got to see Patricia Tallman fight bravely to escape and go find help. I got to gaze upon the rotten and wounded flesh of the zombies as they slowly advanced en masse toward the quiet farmhouse. This was the first time I experienced the terror that comes with the idea that the putrid dead might one day rise and begin to devour the living. As much as I grew to love Romero’s original film when I saw it years later, Savini’s take on the material remains a favorite of mine. This was the film that kept a frightened 14-year-old deliciously scared and awake in bed after midnight on a Friday. And today, when I push play on my DVD long after the sun has set, I can still feel a bit of that fear and that excitement.
You can catch me and my many ramblings on Twitter @horrorellablog. For my more carefully worded musings, you can find my work at Bloody Disgusting, Daily Dead, and on the Dead Ringers Podcast, where I am often a cohost.
Brennan Klein – Pieces
I first got into horror the summer before my senior year in high school, where I devoured pretty much every slasher franchise under the sun. But it was the weekly movie screenings with my best friend Shannon in freshman year of college that really cemented my taste. The day that changed our lives was when a Netflix disc arrived in the mail (doesn’t that just take you back?), with a synopsis reading: “A psychotic serial killer armed with a chainsaw terrorizes a college campus, collecting body parts from each of his victims to create a human jigsaw puzzle.” It seemed straightforward enough, and the poster even has the tagline “It’s exactly what you think it is!” Spoiler alert: it is NOT exactly what you think it is. Unless you thought it would be a film shot in Spain but set in Boston where professors with food poisoning attack people around corners, a killer is able to hide a chainsaw behind his back, and people constantly drop ludicrous but indelible dialogue, leading to the ultimate line reading of all time: Lynda Day George’s “Bastard!…. Baaaaastard!… BAAAAASTARD!!!”
Pieces is the premier bad-good epic of the slasher golden age, and it melted. our. brains. This was the first time that I realized a movie could be more than the sum of its parts (and there are a LOT of parts in Pieces). It’s not very good, and yet it’s an unparalleled watching experience. It’s not very scary, and yet the sheer uncanniness of its construction leaves you off-kilter and disturbed. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and that’s a quality Pieces taught me to value in cinema above all else. It has guided my viewing ethos since that very day: a movie doesn’t have to be good or bad to pique my interest. It just has to take me to a place that I could never have guessed and test the limits of what a movie is supposed to be, whether accidentally or on purpose. In its own way, Pieces is a triumph of the avant-garde. It exposed me to the fact that a work of art doesn’t have to play by the rules to be valuable, and that’s a truly inspiring revelation as both a viewer and a creator.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror franchises from tip to tail! He also produces the LGBTQ horror podcast Attack of the Queerwolf! on the Blumhouse Podcast Network.
Alexandria Boddie – The Shining
I was 9-years-old, and we had just moved to Houston, TX after my mother remarried. It was our first time having cable and a big screen TV. It was a Friday evening, and my little sister and I were channel surfing and landed on USA or TNT, I can’t remember which. There’s a little boy, riding his tricycle down the hall of a hotel, turning a corner, and then two twin girls appear. We were into creepy shit, so we stuck around, right up until a flood of blood poured through The Overlook. Because we had started watching in the middle of the film, we didn’t know its title and weren’t yet conversant with the channel guide button, so it was a while before we knew that the movie was called The Shining.
The significance: my step-father had a copy of the book. In our new house, in the office was a bookcase filled with thick books that didn’t previously interest me, even though I was a total bookworm. They weren’t The Babysitter’s Club, so why bother? So once I realized that the movie was based on a book that we already had, I took it off the shelf and dove in. It was my first time reading a book that kept me up late at night, quickening my heartbeat, losing sleep, arriving to 4th grade math needing a nap already. Thus began my love affair with all things Stephen King, horror fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, and more. As an actress, my career goals include depicting a vengeful spirit from the 1800s, wreaking havoc in the year 2124. I want to be an alien queen, and I want to be a fanciful fairy. I think of Jack Nicholson’s presence, Shelley Duvall’s fear, Stanley Kubrick’s composition, and BLOOD!
To this day, I’m a sucker for a brand-new King title: I’ll still cop a book not even knowing the plot. And that love has extended to authors such as Alice Sebold, Gillian Flynn, Aimee Bender, and more. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is next on my book wishlist. I respect writers with the talent, actors with the presence, and directors with the chops who give me that adrenaline rush, and that dread.
Indie singer/songwriter, performance artist, and Grace Jones stan. I compose theremin-based soundscapes for Pyramid Tracks, write about my fabulous, nomadic showgurl life on my blog, and offer my body to fashion and art. Visit alexandriaboddie.com, follow @oddboddie on IG, Twitter, & SoundCloud, subscribe to youtube.com/c/alexandriaboddie, follow me on Facebook, and leave a tip: patreon.com/oddboddie.
Valeska Griffiths – The Craft
I’ll admit I had a bit of trouble coming up with an answer to this question. In a horror landscape containing the likes of Sleepaway Camp, Raw, The Descent, Jennifer’s Body, Night of the Living Dead, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, even the most casual horror fan can identify a dozen films that left a lasting impact (whether that impact is felt in the light of day or only after darkness falls is another matter entirely). Since I have to choose just one, I think that I need to settle on a film that was released during a very impressionable time in my life. A time when I was searching for answers, for identity, for a sense of self, and for my tribe. A film that placed young women at the forefront, that explored their desires, fears, and strengths…before undermining its own message of sisterhood by falling back on the trope of feminine competition. I’m speaking, of course, of The Craft.
The first half of the film is a brilliant and affecting examination of female friendship and power fantasy and makes a strong case for the importance of solidarity in the face of oppression. The heroines are immensely likable, relatable, and share a genuine bond. The casting was perfection, the soundtrack iconic. While I may be disappointed by the all-too-predictable conflict that manifests in the latter half, I’ll never forget how I felt—and still feel—watching the young women claim and wield their power side-by-side, with wry humour and confidence, and rocking some fabulous 90s fashion.
Valeska is the founder of anatomyofascream.com, the executive editor of Grim Magazine, and co-host of Fright School, a Toronto-based interactive horror screening and discussion series. She has written about genre film for various websites and contributed to the upcoming book Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion and Worship in the Horror Film from House of Leaves Publishing. She is a freelance writer, zombie enthusiast, and Camp Arawak drop-out who balances a passion for maple syrup with a love for blood. Valeska spends her time critiquing slasher films, watching makeup tutorials, and living deliciously. October is her natural habitat. You can follow her on twitter @bitchcraftTO.
Bill Bria – The Evil Dead
It’s difficult to think of another horror movie that had a bigger impact on me than Sam Raimi’s 1981 gore-soaked classic The Evil Dead. The film was a formative experience for me in many ways, not the least of which was allowing me to become a fully-fledged horror fan. In truth, before I saw Evil Dead I was already a horror fan, even if I didn’t realize it. I’d watched Ghostbusters and Alien dozens of times by that point, and seeing Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with my family every Halloween had become a tradition. But The Evil Dead belonged to the unmistakable category of “Horror,” a movie that couldn’t be misfiled at the video store, something that didn’t have spaceships or comedians with which to confuse the issue—it was here to scare, to gross out, and it was rated R. It was everything I had been told by my parents to avoid and which I myself had no interest in experimenting with, especially since just looking at horror movie VHS boxes would freak me out. I was so not predisposed to watch it, in fact, that I didn’t see it so much as collide into it by accident, an incident which in hindsight seems almost like a weird sort of destiny.
I was at a friend’s birthday party in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we, as well as the rest of our pals, were in eighth grade at the time. We’d already had the cake and ice cream, and now it was time for my friend’s birthday movie viewing. Having been one of those kids whose parents let him watch whatever the hell he wanted, my friend chose Evil Dead, and just by the title alone I knew it was bad news. I had to get out of there, lest I embarrass myself by being too scared. I tried to concoct some excuse as to why I had to have my mom come and pick me up, but when I called our house phone, nobody was home. Filled with a mixture of nervous fear and the courage that manifests when you instinctually know it’s time to face that fear, I decided I’d sit in the back of the room out of sight, so if I got too scared I could hide and/or make a break for it. As the film played, I discovered to my increasing delight how much I was able to handle it. More than that, I was ecstatic at how much fun I was having—by the time Bruce Campbell’s Ash was running around the possessed cabin losing his mind, I was marveling at how creepy it all was while still having a sense of humor as well as exhibiting a love of filmmaking, with trick shots and effects that were incredibly endearing in their DIY-ness. After it was over, I not only wanted to watch it several more times, but I needed to know everything about how it was made, why, by who, and so on. I spent the rest of that year renting and watching not just Evil Dead, but dozens of other horror films, beginning a lifelong love affair with the genre as well as, with the advent of DVD, an education through special features and making of books. Looking back, I suppose that I, too, succumbed to the clarion call insidiously chanted by the film’s Evil Force that day: “join us.”
Bill Bria is a writer, actor, songwriter, and comedian. Sam & Bill Are Huge, his 2017 comedy music album with partner Sam Haft, reached #1 on an Amazon Best Sellers list, and the duo maintains an active YouTube channel and plays regularly all across the country. Bill’s acting credits include an episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and a featured part in Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He lives in New York City, which hopefully will be the setting for a major motion picture someday. You can follow him on Twitter, read his film writing at Crooked Marquee and Vague Visages and check out his comedy videos and more on YouTube.
Ariel Fisher – The Exorcist
Growing up, I was never allowed to watch scary movies. They were the dominion of my older brother, four years my senior. I would sneak glances at the likes of Jaws and Carrie while he watched in the living room, but that was about as close as I ever got. Then, one day while I was at my friend’s house, we were flipping through channels on TV and stumbled on the newly released “Version You’ve Never Seen” of The Exorcist. Her parents must have had specialty channels because this certainly wouldn’t have been on standard cable in the middle of the day. So, while no one was watching us, we grabbed some snacks, went back to her room, and sat down preparing ourselves to be scared. We had no idea what we were in for.
At 13, The Exorcist left an indelible imprint on my brain. I went home scarred and didn’t sleep for nearly two days. I couldn’t look at the stairs, or my Irish Catholic step-father’s crucifix. When my cat, Ozzy, got the nighttime zoomies and ran around like a maniac, I’d flinch at the sound his paws made on the floor. It’d be years before I would watch it again. My brother and cousin would try to convince me it was all fake. My makeup artist step-sister even showed me how Dick Smith did the head spin. Nothing helped. But I became fascinated by the process and exhilarated by the sensation. I’ve gone on to appreciating “harder” stuff like Martyrs, but I still hide behind my hands every time I watch The Exorcist.
Ariel Fisher is a writer, editor, and podcaster from Toronto, Ontario. She’s written for Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Birth.Movies.Death., and Atom Insider, and was a contributor to Spectacular Optical’s Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television. She is also the Editor of Shudder’s weekly newsletter The Bite. You can find her and her work on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, her website, and TinyLetter.
J. Danielle Dorn – The Fly (1986)
Being born in 1984, I wasn’t old enough to appreciate Cronenberg’s remake for what it was the first time I saw it. I was young (I want to say 11 or 12, mature enough to handle gross and/or scary movies without having nightmares but not old enough to appreciate metaphor or understand how culture informs a film’s message) and it had an impact on me in that sense. Of course, I watched it again when I was a teenager, and again when I was in college, and I’ve seen it several times since then. It is definitely the reason I started exploring body horror in the first place, and why that particular subgenre is where I do my best work. When I tell people who aren’t horror fans that it is one of my favorite films and also it was probably instrumental in shaping who I am as a person, they tend to regret asking me to talk about writing in the first place.
The Fly is a disgusting, gore-filled remake of a beloved classic made by a non-mainstream director that saw commercial success, probably because people who don’t consider themselves horror fans were able to connect with the characters. The story itself serves as an analogy for the disease process and the impact it has not only on the one suffering from terminal illness but the patient’s loved ones. Geena Davis’s character, as much as she wants to save the man she’s fallen in love with from his fate, has the sense to recognize there is nothing she can do, and she has to grieve while he’s still alive. Jeff Goldblum’s performance as an intelligent, kind of (okay, super) weird loner type whose personality is warped by what’s happening to him physically resonated with me. I live with chronic pain and multiple comorbid mental illnesses, and writing within the horror genre has helped me come to terms not only with my diagnoses but with the trauma that is directly responsible for many of those diagnoses. The Fly isn’t a film that gives the audience hope, but it helped me feel understood, at least for an hour or so. It also made me violently afraid of flies, for a time, and who doesn’t want to come away from watching a horror film with a new neurosis to add to the collection?
J. Danielle Dorn is a horror writer and former mental health paraprofessional. Kirkus Reviews listed their debut novel, Devil’s Call, as a ‘Must-Read Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Book’ in 2017. You can buy it from Amazon or follow them on Twitter @bigdornenergy.
Jessica (aka Spinster #1) – The Witch
My journey into fully exploring the horror genre started later in life. For many years, I lived on the fringes of horror watching the classics and more well-known popular films until I saw The VVitch. Released in 2015 and was the directorial debut of Robert Eggers, this film is a supernatural horror tale about a Puritan New England family in 1630 suspecting their eldest daughter, Thomasin, of being a witch. I watched this film a year after its release and I remember the experience quite vividly. I was enraptured by this film; from its brilliant combination of the set, score, dialogue, cinematography and acting that blended together folklore and historical events surrounding women and witchcraft. I never grow tired of this film and with every re-watch, I see a new element to it that I want to talk to other horror fans about.
This film has had a major impact on how I watch and talk about horror movies. Particularly when people, who know very little about the genre, like to dismiss it as low brow cinema. This is one of the films I use as an example of how intelligent horror films are in engaging with both historical and modern societal expectations. This film also impacted me because I had just started to embrace my own path as a witch. Through my studies and practicing of witchcraft, I found liberation in embracing my femininity, sexuality and instinctual nature. That is why the final scene in which Thomasin makes the choice to “live deliciously” moves me emotionally. As I was able to identify with the ‘Thomasin’ within me who had been looking to find a place find empowerment as a woman in such a restrictive world.
Jessica aka Spinster # 1
Website: Spinsters of Horror
Twitter: @horrorspinsters @SpectralJess07
Instagram: spinstersofhorror, spectraljess07
Paul Le – When A Stranger Calls Back
Over the years, my opinion of this television film has changed for personal reasons. Seeing it as a kid, it scared me on a primal level. But as I got older, I connected more to its foremost protagonist and how the character played against tropes firmly etched in the slasher sub-genre. Her coping mechanisms with immediate trauma spoke to me and my own.
I gravitate back to the sequel more than the original because it executes loneliness in a way that other similar horrors don’t. In spite of its innate sadness and melancholic perspective on grief and survival, When a Stranger Calls Back creates a hopeful outlook as it introduces a supportive surrogate family for the main characters–something I’ve always longed for.
I’m a horror, Godzilla & magical girl loving freelance writer who mainly works at NOFSpodcast right now. My main horror interests include slashers, anthologies, East Asian, and creature features.
Josh Hurtado – Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
As a child, I was absolutely terrified by horror movies. I place a lot of the blame on my father who traumatized me with Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space at age 7. He thought – correctly – that it was a hilariously bad film that we could enjoy making fun of together. I, on the other hand, thought that space vampires were going to murder me in my sleep and proceeded to make a laser gun out of Lego bricks and slept with it for six months.
But I digress.
It wasn’t until I reached high school in the early nineties that I finally decided to give scary movies another try. I had a group of friends who were no strangers to the local Mom and Pop video stores, and they were constantly bringing home whatever tapes had the scariest covers, at which point I would excuse myself and go listen to Green Day alone in my room.
However, there was something about that Evil Dead 2 VHS cover – you know, the skull with eyeballs – that I was powerless to resist. I sat down on the couch and buckled in, and within a half-hour, I was entranced. Sam Raimi’s patented mix of screwball physical humor and gallons of splatter had me in stitches. I’d always known horror to be the thing that scarred me that one night in second grade with my Dad. But this was different.
Evil Dead 2 was violent, hilarious, brilliantly acted in a virtual one man show by Bruce Campbell, and engaging. This opened up a whole new world for me, I went on a quest to find more films that would excite my lizard brain the way Dead By Dawn did. Along the way, I’ve found Dead/Alive, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, The Return of the Living Dead, and so many others.
Horror comedy is a tough thing to nail, and it had certainly been done many times before I saw Evil Dead 2 around 1992, but you never forget your first. This was the film that made me fall in love with horror, and for that reason, it will always have a place in my slimy, black heart.
J Hurtado is a husband, father, high school math teacher, and for the last nine years a writer/editor at Screen Anarchy where he’s covered every type of film you can imagine, focusing on cult indie horror and South Asian genre films. Based in Texas, he has also worked as a programming consultant for Fantastic Fest since 2013. For up to the minute hot takes, you can follow him on Twitter.
MontiLee Stormer – Poltergeist
I was 9 years old when it opened and I nagged my mother to take me to see it. Horror movies were . . . not her thing. I cajoled, I pleaded, I threated. She said it was not for me, that I was too young. I either wore her down or she used her psychology degree to give me exactly what I wanted. I spent the last 20 minutes of that hard PG (it was originally an R) movie literally under my seat. My sisters and I used to sleep with the closet light on in our shared bedroom, but those 120 minutes put the kibosh on that. I couldn’t even tell my mother I wasn’t sleeping because then she’d be right. It gave me nightmares. I was too young to have seen it. I couldn’t give her the satisfaction.
But I was terrified.
While I don’t remember the Beast coming out of the closet to snap at Steven, do remember my mother pulling on my arm as I’d taken refuge in my hands and on the floor. I spent a lot of personal capital getting into that film, demanding to see ghosts and scary things and I got my desires shoved down my throat. What I lost in blissful sleep, I gained in an imagination that let an over-tired mind run amok. When I drifted, I was sucked into the closet as often as I was saved. As I got older, my heroes evolved, my closet evolved, my imagination became bigger than disappearing with the TV People.
But not really.
When I’d sufficiently recovered – which is a lie, to this day I sleep with an eye mask and earplugs – I not only wanted to experience that feeling of safe, helpless terror with every movie I watched, I wanted to provoke it in others. I wanted to take normal everyday people and see what kind of humanity they had inside. My stories are rooted in my childhood insomnia, yet watching Poltergeist is still like seeing it for the first time, every time, and I’m 9 years old, and I’m under my seat, pretending to pick Reeses Pieces off the floor of a loud and scary movie theater. For me it embodies what horror is – good people, thrown into circumstances beyond their control, facing terror together and not letting themselves become the monsters. POLTERGEIST taught me that bad things happen to people for no good reason. Sometimes dads become shills for corporate greed. Sometimes little girls disappear. Sometimes kids get hurt. Life is horror, but sometimes we make it. It’s a strangely comforting thought.
I started writing and I asked myself, could I give readers love and drama and laughs and terror and allow them to put their complete faith in me to bring them out safely on the other side, past the monsters and the death and the loss? Well, yeah. So, that’s what I do. I take everyday people and give them carnivorous breasts, or super-effective love spells, or the tools to resurrect the dead. Sometimes I give them exactly what they want and I see what happens. I take them to the theater and force them to see the screen. I pull on their arms and whisper, “this is what you wanted.” I see what humanity they have. I want to see what they lose in the process.
It really is the best job in the world.
MontiLee Stormer is an avid reader, horror writer, and film reviewer. When not killing imaginary people with words, her free time is spent in front of an available monitor, knitting and watching horror movies. Her love of cinematic horror began with the 80’s Detroit Area staple – The Saturday Thriller Double Feature. Her first theatrical horror movie experience was 1982’s Poltergeist, and she will cheerfully discuss the conspiracy theory of Spielberg’s direction vs Hooper’s name check. If you think Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, she will also fight you. She can be followed on Facebook, enraged on Twitter and her reviews can be dissected on Film Obsession.
Christine Makepeace – Poltergiest
I was way too young to be watching Poltergeist. It was the middle of the afternoon on some random, lazy weekend and I was wrapped in a blanket, peering through its crocheted holes. A man ripped his face off in chunks and it turned my stomach so profoundly I swore I’d never eat again. Grotesque bodies bobbed threateningly in muddy water—a tree came to life. The dead terrified a family so completely that they were driven from their idealistic home.
It was thrilling and macabre and very much my childhood aesthetic, but it wasn’t just the horror that captivated me. Here was this wonderful, playful, supportive family. No one yelled, no one fought, and the parents seemed to actually like each other! Having come from a broken home, this was completely foreign to me.
Poltergeist’s appeal wasn’t its portrayal of a perfect, nuclear family, but the respect that family treated each other with, even in the face of the unthinkable. It showed me something I’d never really seen before, and the movie marriage between JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson quietly became the method by which I measured true partnership. While its visceral visuals might have been enough to cement Poltergeist’s place in my heart, the relationships are what ended up leaving a lasting impression.
Natasha Pascetta – Phantasm
The night before I started 9th grade, I made a decision that would go on to affect my life in ways I could have never known.
I rented Phantasm from WOW Video.
I honestly had no idea what the movie was about. I just knew I liked the sound of the title and I needed a movie to distract my nervous mind from the impending reality that I was about to start high school. So I popped in the tape and was immediately taken by the characters, especially Mike.
The fearlessness that shone in Mike’s eyes when he was forced with taking on the Tall Man inspired me. In a way, I saw the movie as an allegory for me entering 9th grade. If Mike could take on the Tall Man, his army of undead dwarves, and flying metal spheres, surely I could take on Gloucester Catholic High School.
After watching Phantasm, I didn’t feel so scared and nervous anymore. In fact, I can remember riding on the bus the next morning and passing by a fleet of ice cream trucks. I smiled to myself and knew I could handle anything 9th grade threw my way.
After that initial viewing, Phantasm became one of my favorite movies to revisit.
It wasn’t until years later that I came to truly understand and appreciate the labor of love Don Coscarelli and his team put into Phantasm. The movie serves as a bright beacon of independent filmmaking. Don literally willed this movie and its characters into existence and, now, they will live on forever in the hearts and minds of fans. As a fledgling filmmaker myself, I look to the production of Phantasm for constant inspiration and motivation.
For Phantasm’s 40th anniversary this year, I helped organize a “hearse stuffing” contest sponsored by FANGORIA at the Alamo Drafthouse as a homage to the Avco Embassy publicity stunt that was used to promote the original release of Phantasm in 1979. We fit 30 (live!) fans into a hearse, beating the previous record of 27! There were many people at the event that had never seen the movie before and I felt a great deal of joy being able to introduce Phantasm to new fans. It was a memory that I will cherish forever.
The mystique of Morningside Mortuary continues to capture my imagination, the hard work and passion that Don Coscarelli put into the movie continues to inspire me, and, to this day, I try to keep Mike’s fortitude within my heart whenever I feel I need a shot of confidence.
Natasha Pascetta is the Director of Digital Production and “Vanguard of the Vault” at FANGORIA. She is also the writer, producer, and director of the award-winning short film “Road Trash.” You can follow her on Instagram @natashapascetta and listen to her new podcast CLASS OF on the FANGORIA Podcast Network.
Megan Davis – An American Werewolf in London
An American Werewolf in London is definitely the film that had an impact on me as it is the first horror I remember seeing properly, thanks to my parents.
Blew my mind as it covered so many subgenres all in one horror film, and was actually an amazing film to finish it off.
I feel it also helped get me into special effects, as that werewolf transformation is still, hands down, some of the best practical effects, I have yet to see. Rick Baker is just a god with special effects.
I have run my own website, spinetingle.co.uk, where I review horror films, for years, and recently moved that over to YouTube too, Meg Murder on YouTube. I also have a Twitter account, @spine_tingle, and an Instagram, @spinetingle, and have recently become a trained freelance journalist.
Ashley Maniw – Scream
As embarrassing as this is to admit, I didn’t start watching horror until I was almost a teenager because I was too scared. For years, I lived under the impression that all horror movies were basically snuff films, so when I watched Scream (1996) at a sleepover, even though I was terrified, it actually blew my mind.
For so long I had been told that horror movies would give me nightmares – no one ever told me that horror films could also be really, really fun and relatable. Neve Campbell plays Sidney Prescott with all the vulnerability, and strength, that a young woman could have in her situation. Her character arc of overcoming her own fears and feelings of inadequacy to save everyone (well, everyone who’s left) at the end is still powerful and resonating. Sidney’s female counterparts – Tatum (R.I.P.) and Gale Weathers – weren’t just expendable; they were well-rounded individuals and helped make the film more relatable. I could see myself in these characters.
I re-watched it to the point of obsession, almost wearing out the VHS. For an aspiring writer, the tight plot, mounting dread and quips wittier than anything written on Buffy was one of the best screenplay teachers I ever had. Watching it made me want to make movies and created a strong belief in me that horror could be fun, scary, feminist and grounded. Every time I watch it, I find a new layer to analyze.
Often imitated but never duplicated, Scream will always be my favourite scary movie.
Ashley Maniw is a freelance writer and screenwriter based in Toronto. Her current focus is critiquing films for lacklustre female representation to expose the gender gap in filmmaking and ruin your favourite movies. You can check out her work at Anatomy of a Scream, her blog or find her lurking on Twitter @AshleyManiw.
Emily Sears – May
I’m always looking for something unique or surprising when it comes to horror movies. So, the first time I saw Lucky McKee’s May, I felt I’d stumbled upon something pretty special.
May is an engrossing character study of a morbid and achingly lonely woman desperately looking to make a meaningful connection with someone. Angela Bettis is heartbreaking and sympathetic as the socially awkward girl who has difficulty keeping friends due to her bizarre and unsettling nature. But, like so many others, I connected with May the moment Jeremy Sisto’s Adam sits her down to watch his short cannibalistic horror film, mistakenly thinking she’ll be horrified or disgusted by it, only to realize that she’s completely into it. For too long we’ve been exposed to female characters in horror who look or run the other way when things get scary, so it was invigorating to see a woman not only enjoying the bleak and brutal nature of the genre but creating her own blood-soaked mayhem along the way.
Emily Sears is a freelance writer for hire based on the East Coast. She writes film editorials, reviews, and a monthly column at Birth.Movies.Death. She’s a sucker for coming-of-age stories and she’s currently writing her first novel for young adults. Follow her on Twitter @emily_dawn and read more at her website emilydawnwrites.com.
Tyler Unsell – The Girl With All The Gifts
Every year, thirty kids from across the United States gather at Truman State University to participate in a three-week course that seeks to combine critical thinking, survival strategies, and genre film criticism. Zombie 101 is a labor of love and one that I have directed for close to a decade. The many influences that go into the class are evident by looking at the syllabus but no movie has had a larger impact on me as a teacher than the 2016 film adaptation The Girl with All the Gifts. The rest of our filmography looks at a number of different themes, ideas, and storytelling techniques. Each movie offers unique insights our high school students can unpack. No movie has received quite the reception that GWATG gets.
We spend a great deal of time at Zombie 101 discussing how our high school kids are expected to learn versus how they actually learn best. TGWATG encapsulates just how necessary this argument is. Melanie our lead character along with a cadre of her classmates, while being half-zombie, represent the best hope the army and the rest of humanity has of surviving this version of the zombie apocalypse. The constant struggle our adults have in Girl reflect the tension most teachers and parents feel. Girl seeks to present a powerful vision of how we should be treating our students. In short, while it may be scary, there is hope in giving our kids the power and agency to solve their own problems. Adults should not fear that the world as they know it is over. In fact, Melanie says it best; “It’s not over, it just doesn’t belong to you anymore”. It’s a guiding educational philosophy and a badass way to approach the next generation.
Tyler Unsell has been the Director of Debate and Forensics at Park Hill High School for 15 years. He is also the Director of Zombie 101 at Truman State University. He is the Editor in Chief of Signal Horizon an online periodical that seeks to highlight the academic importance of horror and science fiction. He is also the co-host of The Horror Pod Class, a podcast dedicated to helping everyone explore the academic side of horror. You can follow him on Twitter (@tyunsell), Facebook (@tylerunsell), or join The Horror Pod Class study group on Facebook.
Joe George – Ghoulies
If they think of it all, most horror fans remember only remember 1985’s Ghoulies as a Gremlins knock-off with a great VHS cover (a bald green beastie emerging from a toilet), a great tagline (“They’ll get you in the end”), and little else worth noting. But Ghoulies is my personal ur-text, the movie that led me to love all things horror, — even though I didn’t actually see the movie into well into my adulthood, long after I’d watched better genre offerings.
As an easily scared kid with a vivid imagination, I was barred from watching horror movies. But that didn’t stop me from peeping box art at the video store or prodding plot synopses out of friends with more lenient parents. I witnessed Freddy’s pool party rampage and Ash’s battle against his hand in my mind’s eye long before I saw them on screen, but no movie captured my attention like Ghoulies. One look at that cover and I never saw my bathroom in the same way. I would avoid going for hours on end before finally relenting and doing my business with the door wide open. In easily the most athletic feat I’ve ever accomplished, I would flush the toilet and spring into the hallway in a single motion, fleeing the lavatory as (I was absolutely certain) a dripping demon scurried behind me.
I finally saw Ghoulies many years later, and almost immediately forgot it. No film could live up to my imagination, certainly not a Charles Band cheapie. But Ghoulies gave me my first taste of what horror could do — enflame my mind, make the familiar frightening, make me more aware of the world around me. And occasionally make me look very ridiculous.
Joe George’s writing on movies, comics, and television has appeared at Bloody Disgusting, Tor.com, Think Christian, Nightmare on Film Street, and elsewhere. He collects his work at joewriteswords.com and can be found tweeting nonsense from @jageorgeii.
Anya Stanley – The Wicker Man
I never quite got into the brand of hyper-Christianity that was found at my local church as a kid. In fact, by the time I was an adolescent, much of it made me uncomfortable with its contradictions and double standards. I thought it cult-like. The Heaven’s Gate mass suicide was all over the news at the time, and I was both fascinated with and terrified by the idea of a cult that can wholly consume people, compelling them to do anything seemingly of their own free will.
So when I found a VHS of The Wicker Man at my local video store, the summary on the back got me excited. I begged my dad to let me rent it, and soon enough I was watching pagans burn a man alive in a giant human effigy broiler. It gave me beautiful, horrifying nightmares for weeks. From that moment on, I have been a sucker for gang gang cult shit (what they call “folk horror,” but my term is better) in horror films.
Groupthink, especially in the woods, will always mesmerize me.
In addition to her Gender Bashing column at Dread Central, Anya Stanley’s horror analyses can be found at Birth.Movies.Death., Daily Grindhouse, Rue Morgue, and the recently revived Fangoria Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @BookishPlinko and catch her website.
Meghan A. Murphy – The Abominable Dr. Phibes
A particularly impactful movie for me has always been The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). A gorgeous, swirling art nouveau nightmare that makes horror into art. A gothic tale of the believed-to-be-dead Dr. Anton Phibes and his quest to punish the medical team he blames for his beloved wife’s death. But of course Phibes is a creative genius, so his revenge is intricately planned and devastatingly stylish in its execution. Every composition in this movie is designed like a jewelry box (filled with bats and locusts).
To a visual person like myself, it is amazing just to get lost in the pure cinematic fashion on display, the dark and glittery dream logic that threads through from beginning to end. And the whole masterpiece is anchored in singular, arch style by Vincent Price. Often in a cape, sometimes talking through a vintage victrola, but always at a full gothic eleven. A film that is almost all surface, and yet cuts to the bone with a gallows humor scalpel. Beautiful and dangerous. Like so many of my favorite horror films tend to be.
Michele Eggen – Gerald’s Game
I admittedly hesitated when I first read the prompt for this article. I wanted to fudge my choice a little because while I knew what the real answer for me was right away, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there again.
Gerald’s Game was a Stephen King adaptation that I had been looking forward to for years. I wanted to see just how someone could adapt this unique book to the screen and became even more interested when I found out that Mike Flanagan, who I am a huge fan of, was helming it. However, having read the book a few times before, I knew the subject matter – specifically dealing with sexual abuse and assault – that would be tackled therein. And it just so happened that when Gerald’s Game premiered on Netflix in September of 2017, I was in the middle of trying to deal with a sexual assault from my past that I had buried in my head for years and years. Needless to say, that was the darkest time of my life, so full of anger, hurt, and shame. I was scared of my own thoughts.
I watched the movie anyway, and it completely devastated me in the best ways. I watched it once, then I watched it again. And again. I saw so much of what I was currently going through in the character of Jessie, and the struggle that was taking place inside her own mind, not her outside situation. The movie’s themes and metaphors spoke to me in a way that I really needed to hear at the time, about not living in the darkness of your past and letting those experiences and people eclipse who you are as a person. The movie helped me find the courage to continue to confront all of that and make the sun come out for myself again.
I’m not saying that I’m completely over it, because maybe I never will be. But whenever it gets tough, I sometimes still think about moments and images from Gerald’s Game, and I’m inspired all over again that I can do it. It just goes to show that one can find the healing and power they need in the most unlikely places, even horror movies.
Michele Eggen started writing about horror online in 2010 with her blog The Girl Who Loves Horror. She now (occasionally) contributes to sites like Wicked Horror, Ghastly Grinning, and F This Movie! when she’s not trying to watch every movie ever made. You can mostly find her movie musings on Twitter at @micheleneggen. Come say hi!
Vincent Bec – A Nightmare On Elm Street
Sifting through memories and favorite films created by years of watching horror movies, to determine which film has been most influential in my life, is no easy task. Should it be Night of the Living Dead (1968), my very first horror film? How about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), a film that has maintained a high position in my favorites for the last several years? Should it be one of my most rewatched horror films, such as Saw (2004)? I could pick one of my lesser-known favorites, like He Knows You’re Alone (1980), to avoid being cliche. I could choose a favorite that is dedicated to aesthetics, like The Neon Demon (2016), to appear artsy, or an obscure film to appear well-versed. As I think about all these things, I realize there is only one genuine answer. No horror film has impacted my life as greatly as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
A Nightmare on Elm Street may not be the first horror film I ever watched, but it is the film that kicked off my interest in the genre. It was 2008, freshman year of high school for me, and Johnny Depp would soon be named “Sexiest Man Alive” for the second time. I was into him, and therefore, wanted to watch his film debut. I ordered A Nightmare on Elm Street, behind my mother’s back, through Blockbuster, during a time when they sent DVDs through the mail. I immediately became obsessed with a world ruled by Freddy Krueger, and I brought my friends into that world with me. Soon all our jokes were about the film. Our running narrative was that Nancy is secretly in love with Freddy. After seeing the sequel Freddy’s Revenge (1985), we wrote our own version of Nancy’s diary, in which she professes her love, and lust, towards Krueger. My name on facebook was Nancy Krueger, and my friends referred to me as Nancy often. The 2010 remake became the first horror film I saw in theaters.
I don’t revisit A Nightmare on Elm Street often, but no horror movie since has permeated my life like it did. I have just as many friends who love horror now as I did then, but there are no inside jokes or fan fiction writing. My first viewing of A Nightmare on Elm Street came at the unique time in adolescence when we are all living in our own little coming-of-age film. It became a formative film to both my horror career and my life as a whole. Many of my current horror preferences share similarities with A Nightmare on Elm Street. I love slashers, 80s horror, and practical effects. Perhaps if I would have started my horror journey with a different film, my preferences would be different now. Perhaps watching any other horror film in that key time would have halted my potential love for horror, instead of fostering it. I honestly don’t know if Wes Craven’s genius combined with Robert Englund’s charm is what lead me to horror films, or if the same outcome would have happened with any film. Facts are, it is A Nightmare on Elm Street that started my journey as a horror lover, writer, and academic, and it is A Nightmare on Elm Street that I think of when reminiscing about my teen years. Nothing can ever change that.
Vincent Bec is a writer who enjoys rambling about the representations of gender and sexuality in horror films. They regularly contribute to Anatomy of a Scream and Grim Magazine. Their writing has also appeared on the websites Screen Queens and Scriptophobics. You can follow them on Twitter @slasherdaysaint.
Christal VanEtten – A Nightmare on Elm Street
Looking back on the horror films that had a lasting impact on me, Hellraiser is definitely up there, but A Nightmare on Elm Street will always sweep in for the win. I think I was 10 years old when a group of friends and I went to the base video rental store. Our hobbies included scaring ourselves shitless by picking up random horror movies.
Without much thought and going off of only cover art as a fear gauge, we ended up with Boogeymen: The Killer Compilation. That was the first time I was exposed to the popular franchises we know and love today… in 56 minutes. All included are brilliant in their own way, but watching the spotlight of Tina’s death scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street that night was the first time I ever projected myself into the shoes of a character. It was horrifying to the point I thought I could feel every slice and dice. That’s a sensation you don’t shake off, and having similar experiences watching graphic scenes even now, it’s interesting to think back on the first time.
Johnny Donaldson – Scream
Trying to decide on what film had the most impact on me is a fool’s errand. How does one decide? Is it my favorite film? The first horror films I saw, thereby introducing me to the genre I so love? One that affects me emotionally like no other? One that influences my aesthetic tastes? Do I just get craven with self-promotion and pick the one I *made*?
No. I think the best answer to this question is: What film crystallized my love of the genre most? What film took all my burgeoning love for horror and cemented as “Yep. This is my place, the place I belong”? For me, that was Scream.
By the time I saw Scream, on a jaunty new VHS tape my sister rented, in a ratty basement rec room on a ratty old TV, at age 13, I was already somewhat enamored of all that goes bump in the night. X-Files was my favorite show. Halloween and Poltergeist were my gateway drugs. I stayed Up (All Night) with Rhonda Shear and developed Monstervision with Joe Bob. But Scream hit me like a thunderbolt. It’s not my favorite film. It’s not the best horror film. But it’s one I have deep affection for because it came at the crux of merely being attracted to this forbidden fruit and suddenly beginning to understand it and crave it. It helped that Scream also came at the exact moment that I was beginning to craft my identity into “movie nerd.”
Prior to Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s meta classic, I was merely a child, with toys and fantasies more morbid than most and a healthy diet of (edited-for-tv) slasher pics amidst my Saturday morning cartoons. But Scream was, to put it in bluntly TMI terms, my cinematic puberty — the portal from merely engaging with horror as a funky and ghastly addendum to Saved By The Bell and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers viewings, something that could have potentially grown out of to something that, in that moment, I knew I loved. Scream is my most impactful horror film because it took me from being a Monster Kid to being a Monster Grown-up
Johnny Donaldson is a staff writer for Daily Grindhouse, a sometime actor (hire me), a cat dad, drinker of fine whiskey and all-around slinger of bad puns if you are unfortunate enough to give him the chance. He’s also the producer and one of the stars of Killing Brooke, out now from Wild Eye Releasing. You can follow him on Twitter @johnnydonaldson
Gem Seddon – Scream
I remember so much about the week before I saw Scream. A schoolfriend, eyes shot wide with excitement reciting every line from the trailer outside of P.E. class, the Friday night it opened wearing my favourite purple knitted sweater and ratty sneakers, the scattered May evening light as I walked to the theater, making way for two hours of armrest-clutching like I’d never known. I can still see it all. A testament to how much this movie absolutely, without a doubt, changed my world.
It wasn’t my first scary movie. It was, however, the first horror film I’d ever seen that felt brave. Not willing to retread the same steps as its predecessors, and not willing to disregard them either, in pursuit of a shiny new paradigm, Scream sculpted its own space. Both homage and benchmark.
Slashers dominated every sleepover I attended in the early ’90s. Gloriously trashy body horrors, the winding down of a genre, puttering on fumes, before Craven re-vitalised it. I laughed at Dr. Giggles. I scratched my head at Jason Goes To Hell. When Scream rolled around, things felt different. Here was a movie that knew that I knew those films. But let’s not kid ourselves: as a 15-year-old, the chances of me exiting the theater extolling the cleverness of intertextuality and post-modernism were non-existent. Watching it did prompt that desire to learn. I gobbled up every horror I could lay my hands on, enrolled in university to study film. Heck, I even wound up dragging an ex around Northern California a decade later to visit the film’s shooting locations.
And why? What pierced me, woke me up from my usual teenage reverie, to take notice of Scream?
The opening scene.
Slick. Terrifying. Perfectly designed to elicit a rainbow of terror. It fills you, nay, floods you, equally with dread and anticipation, a sort of wrongful nail-biting, because you want Drew Barrymore’s horror-lovin’ teen Casey to survive. You want her to outwit the killer, to run to the road, to throw the phone at her parents, mere feet away… but you know she won’t. That’s Craven’s genius lies: in that dichotomy of the audience experience, where you want the best for these characters we love, but are so damn drawn in by the concert of horrors that await them. And once the camera, staggered, almost staccato-like, stumbles down the garden to show us Casey’s body strung from a tree, I was hooked.