Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

It’s baaack!

After an absence last year- what with the first part of the month finding me in the hospital, and the second half not really finding me in a horror movie mood- my October Horror movie marathon, which began in 2003 as sort of a way to try and deplete my Netflix Queue of several entries, was continued this year. My viewing was sometimes erratic (I didn’t really get started until a few days into the month), and my wanting to continue with polishing off films from earlier this year- which has generally been put on hold in the past- cut into the amount of films from Netflix I watched, but I compensated.

How? By revisiting some films I haven’t seen in quite a while from my own collection, including “The Sixth Sense,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and the underrated “Frailty,” which held up exceptionally in the six years since I’ve seen it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any creative impulse to drive me this year as there was for the last three Octobers I’ve done this- which has seen me compose pieces (available below) inspired by the moods and feelings evoked by the genre- but the point was never to force creativity but to give myself a greater familiarity with a genre that, typically speaking, has devolved into formula by looking back at some of its’ more famous (and not-so-famous) entries. The result itself has inspired a greater admiration for the masters of the genre, and deeper regret for the directions hacks have taken it in recent years. I hope you can find some entries here that might lead you in the same exploratory directions I’ve been taken. I hope you enjoy! Happy Halloween!!

Brian Skutle’s Macabre Musical Trilogy
“Otherworldly March” (2004)
“Gothic Twilight” (2005)
“Darkness for Voices, String Quartet and Tubular Bells” (2006)

Thanks for listening,

Brian Skutle

“I think of horror films as art, as films of confrontations. Films that make you confront aspects of your own life that are difficult to face. Just because you’re making a horror film doesn’t mean you can’t make an artful film.”- David Cronenberg (director, “The Fly,” “Spider,” “A History of Violence”)

Brian’s 5th October Halloween Horror-a-Thon: The List
“28 Days Later” (2003)- A
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IX” (1998)- A
“Saw IV” (2007)- B+
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VIII” (1997)- A-
“Blindness” (2008)- B
“Stephen King’s It” (1990)- A-
“Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary” (2003)- B+
“Frailty” (2002)- A-
“Creepshow” (1982)- B+
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VII” (1996)- A+
“The Invisible Ghost” (1941)- B
“The Frighteners” (1996)- A-
“The Sixth Sense” (1999)- A+
“Masters of Horror: Dario Argento- Jenifer” (2005)- B+
“The Masque of the Red Death” (1964)- A+
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI” (1995)- A
“Horror of Dracula” (1959)- A
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919)- A+
“Saw V” (2008)- B+
“The Grudge” (2004)- A-
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1920)- A
“Nosferatu” (1922)- A+
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V” (1994)- A-
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Halloween” (1997)- A
“The Ring” (2002)- A+
“Session 9” (2001)- A-
“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)- A+
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV” (1993)- A+
“Cat People” (1942)- A
“Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn” (1987)- A
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III” (1992)- A+
“Blood: The Last Vampire” (2001)- B
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Fear, Itself” (1999)- A+
“The Haunting of Molly Hartley” (2008)- C
“Alone in the Dark” (2004)- D
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II” (1991)- A
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush” (1999)- A+
“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” (1990)- A+
“Psycho” (1960)- A+
“The Shining” (1980)- A+

Brian’s 10 Favorite Frightfests
10. “The Grudge” (2004; Takashi Shimizu)- While the trend of remaking Japanese horror movies isn’t exactly gone- see this year’s “The Eye”- it has seemed to lose steam. Well, when the best efforts in the field are the first two, that’ll no doubt happen. When he sought to remake “Ju-On” with an American cast- led by “Buffy” star Sarah Michelle Gellar- Sam Raimi brought on the Japanese film’s own writer-director Shimizu to bring Stephen Susco’s screenplay to life. With the help of a dark score by Christopher Young and his own gifts in the field, I’ve always though Shimizu’s accomplishment here was much-maligned.

9. “Psycho” (1960; Alfred Hitchcock)- Ten years ago, maverick director Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting,” “My Own Private Idaho”) did the unthinkable and remade this legendary Hitchcock thriller shot-for-shot, in color no less. To what end, critics are still figuring out, but the classic original still looms large, with Anthony Perkins’ unforgettable performance as Norman Bates, a man whose devotion to his mother is beyond creepy, and a story that turns the audience on its’ head with the expectations it sets up, and the surprises it has in store.

8. “Horror of Dracula” (1958; Terence Fisher)- Though no other film has captured the allure of Bram Stoker’s tale as hauntingly as Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” Britain’s Hammer Films came closest with this dramatically powerful first film in their own Dracula franchise, with Christopher Lee rivaling the iconic Bela Legosi in the role of the titular vampire, and Peter Cushing in a terrific interpretation of Dr. Van Helsing, whose hunt for the Undead One has rarely been so visceral.

7. “Stephen King’s It” (1990; Tommy Lee Wallace)- The film lacks some of the bite of more intense horror movies, but this made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel has always been a favorite for me, if mainly because of the bonds of friendship King’s story revels in as the Loser’s Club has to face childhood ghosts and return to Derry, Maine, to fight a demon that takes the form of Pennywise the clown (played by Tim Curry). A lot of TV actors- mainly funnymen like Tim Reid, John Ritter, and Harry Anderson- bring their A-game to this entertaining genre entry.

6. “The Ring” (2002; Gore Verbinski)- Verbinski may have made blockbuster bucks directing the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, but for my money, he hit the jackpot first by making this tense thriller, Hollywood’s first remake of a Japanese horror classic. To star, he chose Naomi Watts, who projects her natural intelligence and strength along with your typical horror movie vulnerability as a reporter who starts to try and uncover the dark secrets of a videotape where the viewer dies after seven days. Just when you think it’s over, Verbinski and his collaborators have one more twist in store to curdle your blood.

5. “Cat People” (1942; Jacques Tourneur)- The first in a series of low-budget thrillers from producer Val Lewton, Tourneur’s film is not scary but sinuous, as a young Serbian woman (Simon Simone) finds herself dealing with fears of her innermost desires when she marries a New York man, but doesn’t feel as though she can act on her natural womanly desires, for fear that she’ll become a cat. The low-budget trappings only enhance the mood Lewton and Tourneur are able to achieve, while Simone’s performance not only fills you with dread but sympathy for her plight. Paul Schrader’s 1980s remake added more blatent sexuality, but included none of the original’s suspense.

4. “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964; Roger Corman)- Though typically known for low-budget B-movies like those you’d see on “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” writer-director Corman- a mentor to the likes of Scorsese and Ron Howard- nonetheless found his greatest storytelling strengths adapting the works of Edgar Allen Poe, especially in this opulent and striking story of the evil prince Prospero (Vincent Price) and the feasts of his court when the Red Death comes to town. Price is incomparable, and Corman’s vision of the tale is without compromise or peer.

3. “Nosferatu” (1922; F.W. Murnau)- If you needed any proof as to how the ’20s-’40s were the heyday for horror films, all you’d need to see is this evocative adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale from silent film master Murnau, which captures all the terror in the story through its’ haunting imagery (which so inspired Werner Herzog when he remade it, he shot his film in the same locations) and a lead performance by Max Shreck as Count Orlock that is impossible to forget. Like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages,” and the likes of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the silent era brought a nightmarish touch to the story that sound takes away- Murnau milks it for all its’ worth.

2. “Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn” (1987; Sam Raimi)- Maybe this is the type of movie Bryan Singer was trying for with his revisionist “Superman Returns.” Alternately a sequel and a remake of his cult classic, Sam Raimi returns to the woods and the unseen terror unleashed by the book of the dead with everyman star Bruce Campbell returning as idiot hero Ashe. The difference this time? This sucker is funny as Hell. Scenes of Ashe being followed by the evil- personified by Peter Deming’s zooming camera- and Ashe dealing with his dismembered and possessed hand have the intensity lacking in many a horror movie, with a darkly comic edge that makes it a laugh-out-loud riot.

1. “The Shining” (1980; Stanley Kubrick)- If John Carpenter’s “Halloween” two years before ushered in the modern era of horror films, Kubrick’s unsettling adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous masterpiece marked the end of the reign (for decades) of intelligent, adult-oriented horror films, stretching back to silent classics like “Nosferatu,” and continuing through the Universal legacy with Legosi and Karloff and the Hammer films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Make no mistake- intelligent horror found its’ way onto the screen- from “Silence of the Lambs” to “The Sixth Sense” to “Sleepy Hollow” to last year’s underrated King adaptations “1408” and “The Mist”- but with one visceral and brilliant entry, the reclusive master- with the aide of Jack Nicholson’s timeless nuttiness- brought the legacy of movie monsters past to its’ unforgettable peak.

Other Noteworthy Nightmares- More of Brian’s Faves:
-“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush” (1999; Joss Whedon)
-“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” (1990; Rich Moore, Wes Archer, David Silverman)
-“Bride of Frankenstein” (1935; James Whale)
“Bubba Ho-Tep” (2003; Don Coscarelli)
-“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919; Robert Weine)
-“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001; Guillermo Del Toro)
-“The Exorcist” (1973; William Friedkin)
-“The Frighteners” (1996; Peter Jackson)
-“Jaws” (1975; Steven Spielberg)
-“Scream” (1996; Wes Craven)
-“Shaun of the Dead” (2004; Edgar Wright)
-“Sleepy Hollow” (1999; Tim Burton)

Macabre Masterworks I Plan on Adding to My Collection
-“The Birds” (1963)
-“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
-“Diary of the Dead” (2008)
-“Dracula: The Legacy Collection” (1931-1945)
-“The Evil Dead” (1982)
-“Freaks” (1932)
-“The Frighteners (Director’s Cut)” (1996)
“Grindhouse: Planet Terror” (2007)
-“Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” (1922)
-“The Hounds of the Baskervilles” (1959)
-“Interview With the Vampire” (1994)
“The Mist” (2007)
-“Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
-“The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958)
-The “Saw” Movies (2004-2008)
-“Shadow of the Vampire” (2000)
-“The Shining” (1980- Collector’s Edition DVD)
-“The Val Lewton Collection” (1942-1946)
-“The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection” (1935-1946)

-“Army of Darkness” (1993)
-“Creature From the Black Lagoon: The Legacy Collection” (1954-1956)
-“The Grudge (Director’s Cut)” (2004)
-“In the Mouth of Madness” (1995)
-“The Invisible Man: The Legacy Collection” (1933-1944)
-“Lord of Illusions” (1995)
-“Man With the Screaming Brain” (2005)
-“May” (2003)
-“The Mummy: The Legacy Collection” (1932-1944)
-“The Omen” (1976)
-“Red Eye” (2005)
“Silent Hill” (2006)
-“Troll” (1986)/”Troll 2″ (1991)

“The Horror…the Horror”: 2008 in the Genre
=”Diary of the Dead” (A)
=”Cloverfield” (A)
=”Saw V” (B+)
=”The Signal” (B+)
=”The Happening” (B+)
=”Blindness” (B)
=”The Ruins” (B-)
=”The Haunting of Molly Hartley” (C)
=”Doomsday” (C-)
=”Funny Games” (F)
=”The Eye” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Mirrors” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Prom Night” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Quarantine” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Shutter” (Haven’t Seen)
=”The Strangers” (Haven’t Seen)

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