Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

When I began this tradition in 2003, my initial reason was so I could steam through the horror DVDs in my Netflix Queue. It’s been an interesting experiment that has led to the discovery of new and exciting genre favorites like the early Hammer classics, silent masterpieces like “Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” and “Vampyr,” and the rediscovery of personal faves like “Friday the 13th: Part VI- Jason Lives.” I’ve even been so inspired by what this genre and annual “festival” has had to offer that I’ve written four pieces inspired by the sounds and visions of the genre.

This year, however, has been less focused on new discoveries (my Netflix Queue isn’t much smaller than it was) than on brands in the genre. Year after year, the “Simpsons’s” “Treehouse of Horror” episodes continue to be favorites to watch (though spacing them out gets trickier every year). But that wasn’t the only “brand” I delved into. I also watched a great many Stephen King adaptations- several I’d seen before (like “The Mist” and “Cat’s Eye”), but also a couple I’d never seen before (like “Rose Red” and the miniseries of “The Shining”)- several “Friday the 13ths,” a few Wes Craven films, the entire “Saw” franchise, and even the latest movie of George Romero’s “Dead” franchise.

So I hope you enjoy this year’s annual horror movie marathon as I did experiencing it. Also check out the pieces-linked below-I’ve composed inspired by such dark journeys into the macabre. I’ve also embedded the short film “Walpurgis Night” by my friend Mathew Timms, which I was privileged to write the music for. I hope you enjoy!

Brian Skutle’s Macabre Musical Saga
“Otherworldly March” (2004)
“Gothic Twilight” (2005)
“Darkness for Voices, String Quartet and Tubular Bells” (2006)
“The Hour of the Wolf” (2009)
“Walpurgisnacht (Original Score for the Short Film ‘Walpurgis Night’)” (2009)

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,” “The Dead Zone”)

Brian’s 7th October Halloween Horror-a-Thon: The List
=“Hatchet II” (2010)- C+
=“Cat People” (1942)- A+
=“Saw” (2004)- A-
=“Survival of the Dead” (2010)- B
=“My Soul to Take” (2010)- F
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XII” (2001)- A
=“The Ghost of Frankenstein” (1942)- B
=“Saw II” (2005)- A-
=“Friday the 13th” (1980)- A-
=“Friday the 13th Part 2” (1981)- B+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XI” (2000)- A+
=“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)- A
=“Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (1994)- A
=“Saw III” (2006)- A-
=“Case 39” (2010)- B-
=“Creepshow” (1982)- A-
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror X” (1999)- A-
=“The Masque of the Red Death” (1964)- A+
=“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1965)- A+
=“Young Frankenstein” (1974)- A+
=“Let Me In” (2010)- A
=“Stephen King’s It” (1990)- A-
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IX” (1998)- A+
=“Saw IV” (2007)- B+
=“The Mist” (2007)- A- (B&W version- A+)
=“Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn” (1987)- A
=“Cat’s Eye” (1985)- B
=“Friday the 13th: Part VI- Jason Lives” (1986)- B-
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VIII” (1997)- A+
=“Wait Until Dark” (1967)- A
=“Psycho” (1960)- A+
=“Saw V” (2008)- B+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VII” (1996)- A+
=“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Halloween” (1997)- A
=“Horror of Dracula” (1958)- A+
=“Stephen King’s Rose Red” (2002)- A-
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI” (1995)- A-
=“Saw VI” (2009)- B+
=“Nosferatu” (1922)- A+
=“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Fear Itself” (1999)- A
=“Paranormal Activity” (2009)- A
=“RiffTrax Live!: The House on Haunted Hill” (1959/2010)- A+ (Actual Film- B+)
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V” (1994)- A+
=“Frozen” (2010)- B
=“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush” (1999)- A+
=“The Ring” (2002)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV” (1993)- A
=“Saw 3D” (2010)- B+
=“Stephen King’s The Shining” (1997)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III” (1992)- A+
=“The Shining” (1980)- A+
=“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II” (1991)- A
=“Bubba Ho-Tep” (2002)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” (1990)- A+
=“Friday the 13th: Part VII- The New Blood” (1987)- B

Brian’s 10 Favorite Frightfests
10. “Friday the 13th” (1980; Sean S. Cunningham)- Two years after John Carpenter redefined the modern horror movie with “Halloween,” along came the legend of Crystal Lake. One day, negligent camp counselors were fornicating in the woods while young Jason Voorhees drown. The next year, they were killed. Now, Crystal Lake (also known as Camp Blood to the locals) is open again for business, but an unknown force still roams the woods. If you’ve followed even a little horror over the years, you know who it is. Thirty years later, the origins of this iconic (if artistically-ridiculous) franchise-along with the first sequel the next year-still intrigues as it introduces a new force in horror.

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 blatant 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- who returned to the genre brilliantly this summer with “Drag Me to Hell”- 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)
“Drag Me to Hell” (2009; Sam Raimi)
-“The Exorcist” (1973; William Friedkin)
“The Frighteners” (1996; Peter Jackson)
“Hour of the Wolf” (1968; Ingmar Bergman)
-“Jaws” (1975; Steven Spielberg)
-“Scream” (1996; Wes Craven)
-“Shaun of the Dead” (2004; Edgar Wright)
“The Signal” (2008; David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush)
-“Sleepy Hollow” (1999; Tim Burton)

Macabre Masterworks I Plan on Adding to My Collection
-“Army of Darkness” (1993)
-“The Birds” (1963)
-“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
“Diary of the Dead” (2008)
-“Freaks” (1932)
“Friday the 13th” (2009)
“The Frighteners (Director’s Cut)” (1996)
“Grindhouse: Planet Terror” (2007)
-“Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” (1922)
-“Interview With the Vampire” (1994)
-“In the Mouth of Madness” (1995)
“Man With the Screaming Brain” (2005)
-“The Mummy: The Legacy Collection” (1932-1944)
-“Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
-“Shadow of the Vampire” (2000)
“The Shining” (1980/Collector’s Edition DVD)
-“Troll 2” (1991)
-“The Val Lewton Collection” (1942-1946)
-“Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (1994)
-“The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection” (1935-1946)
“Zombieland” (2009)

“The Horror…the Horror”: 2010 in the Genre
=“Let Me In” (A)
=“Splice” (A-)
=“The Wolfman” (A-)
=“The Crazies” (B+)
=“Daybreakers” (B+)
=“Frozen” (B)
=“Survival of the Dead” (B)
=“Legion” (B-)
=“The Last Exorcism” (B-)
=“Case 39” (B-)
=“Hatchet II” (C+)
=“Piranha 3D” (C-)
=“My Soul to Take” (F)
=“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (Haven’t Seen)
=“Devil” (Haven’t Seen)
=“Paranormal Activity 2” (Haven’t Seen)
=“Resident Evil: Afterlife” (Haven’t Seen)
=“Saw 3D” (Haven’t Seen)

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