Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

This year, the ninth for my “mostly” annual October horror movie marathon (I skipped 2007 on account of being in the hospital half of the month), has been an interesting one for a lot of reasons. We took in an unexpected, but welcome, houseguest for most of the month, which required some adaptation, but brought about pleasant surprises in many ways. One of them was the fact that I had someone else to watch horror movies with– a very exciting prospect. To be fair, we didn’t watch as many as I think either of us wanted, but being able to share some of the old Universal monster movies with someone was a fun experience.

Still, I think the most memorable moviewatching experience we shared this year was watching 2009’s infamous “The Human Centipede.” During the movie, and especially afterwards, we had a LOT to talk about. The funniest thing we both noticed was that, for all its lack of morality, the film was anything but dreadful. There were times when both of us wanted to turn away from the screen, to be sure, but the movie never lost our attention. (Although neither of us were quite ready to watch the 2011 sequel, “Full Sequence,” either.) This was a far cry from another first-time watch *I* took in later in the month, the equally-provocative “I Spit on Your Grave.” Unlike “Centipede,” this film was not only lacking in any sense of morality, but it was lousy storytelling as well. Sure, this type of film ruled, to an extent, in the sleazy grindhouse theatres of the ’70s, but for a film that was said to have been intended as a parable of female empowerment, all I saw was an overly offensive glorification of violence against both genders.

All that being said, the format, and content, of the past month remained very much the same compared to year’s past. I re-introduced watching all of the available “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of “The Simpsons,” although I’ll probably just stick with the most recent ones, as well as the best, starting next year. I did skip out on some movies I tend to watch on a yearly basis (such as “Scream” and “The Frighteners”), but that was mainly because I watched a lot of films for the first time, as well as focusing in, primarily, on Warner Bros.’s fantastic Val Lewton box set, which has an abundance of riches. My top 10 favorite horror films didn’t change this year, but the runners-up were shaken up with new classics (“The Cabin in the Woods”), in addition to beloved gems rediscovered (“The Blair Witch Project”).

I also made up for my inability to record a piece inspired by the month’s moviewatching last year (courtesy of some technical difficulties), and created not one but TWO works this year– one that was completely fresh this year (“Organ Grinder”, which can be heard below), and one that was inspired by the ideas I came up with last year (“Labyrinth of Terror”, which can also be heard below). Both were exciting, new explorations of themes and moods I’ve been delving into since I wrote my first “October Horror”-inspired piece in 2004, and single interesting, intricate new paths in my artistic journey.

I hope you enjoy! Don’t get too scared, now.

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)
“Organ Grinder” (2012)
“Labyrinth of Terror” (2012)

Mathew Timms’s “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 9th October Halloween Horror-a-Thon: The List
=“Creepshow” (1982)- A-
=“Haxan” (1922)- A+
=“Cat People” (1942)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIII” (2002)- A
=“I Walked With a Zombie” (1943)- A
=“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920)- A+
=“Dracula” (1931)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XII” (2001)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XXIII” (2012)- A-
=“Horror of Dracula” (1958)- A+
=“Drag Me to Hell” (2009)- A+
=“Isle of the Dead” (1945)- A-
=“Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” (2011)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XI” (2000)- A-
=“Friday the 13th” & “Friday the 13th: Part 2” (1980 & 1981)- A- & B
=“28 Days Later” (2003)- A
=“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)- A
=“The Simpons: Treehouse of Horror X” (1999)- C+
=“Insidious” (2011)- A
=“Blood: The Last Vampire” (2001)- B
=“Frankenstein” (1931)- A
=“Sinister” (2012)- A-
=“The Human Centipede: First Sequence” (2009)- B
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IX” (1998)- A+
=“The Mummy” (1959)- A
=“Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944)- A
=“Dominion: Prequel to ‘The Exorcist'” (2005)- A-
=“The Masque of the Red Death” (1964)- A+
=“House at the End of the Street” (2012)- B
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VIII” (1997)- A
=“Frailty” (2002)- A
=“The Ghost Ship” (1943)- B+
=“Paranormal Activity 4” (2012)- C
=“The Ring” (2002)- A+
=“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush” (1999)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VII” (1996)- A+
=“Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)- A+
=“Son of Frankenstein” (1939)- B+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI” (1995)- B+
=“Silent House” (2012)- F
=“Psycho” (1960)- A+
=“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V” (1994)- A+
=“Freddy vs. Jason” (2003)- B+
=“Hour of the Wolf” (1968)- A+
=“Nosferatu” (1922)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV” (1993)- A
=“Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” (2000)- D
=“Stephen King’s It” (1990)- A-
=“I Spit on Your Grave” (1978)- F
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III” (1992)- A-
=“Creepshow 2” (1987)- B+
=“The Leopard Man” (1943)- A-
=“Evil Dead II” (1987)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II” (1991)- A
=“The Curse of the Cat People” (1944)- A
=“The Cabin in the Woods” (2012)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” (1990)- A+
=“The Shining” (1980)- A+

Brian’s 10 Favorite Frightfests
10. “Friday the 13th” (1980; Sean S. Cunningham) & “Friday the 13th: Part 2” (1981; Steve Miner)- 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. Over thirty years and twelve films later, Jason has moved from being a terrifying stalker to ridiculous parody, but this origin story, and the 1981 sequel that further set the stage for continued terror, still intrigues as it introduces a new force in horror.

9. “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. However, just when you think it’s over, Verbinski and his collaborators have one more twist in store to curdle your blood.

8. “Insidious” (2011; James Wan)- Seven years after they created the latest serial horror killer in “Saw’s” Jigsaw, director Wan and writer Leigh Whannell looked to a couple of other durable genre blueprints, those of the haunted house, and haunted kid, and delivered one of the few horror films that actually terrifies when a family’s eldest child lands, inexplicably, into a coma, which will uncover dark family secrets, and lead a father (Patrick Wilson) through his own childhood fears in order to save his son. I don’t know if I want to see this film go the way of “Saw,” but Wan and Whannell lay the groundwork for a franchise unlike any other in American cinema. I can’t wait to see what they have coming our way next…

7. “Psycho” (1960; Alfred Hitchcock)- In 1998, maverick director Gus Van Sant (“Milk,” “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’s unforgettable performance as Norman Bates, a man whose devotion to his mother is beyond creepy; a story that turns the audience on its head with the expectations it sets up, and the surprises it has in store (spoiler: Janet Leigh doesn’t last long); and one of the greatest, deceptively simple horror scores of all-time courtesy of Bernard Herrmann, who paved the way for other iconic themes to come.

6. “Nosferatu” (1922; F.W. Murnau)- If you need any proof as to how the silent era was 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. As with “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Haxan,” and the likes of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” the silent era brought a nightmarish touch to this story that sound takes away, and Murnau milks it for all its worth.

5. “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 in adapting the works of Edgar Allen Poe, especially with 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, full of sensual pleasures and wicked delights, is without compromise or peer.

4. “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. Director Fisher was a Hammer fixture that, in this film and others (especially “The Revenge of Frankenstein” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles”), became one of the great masters of the genre by delving deep into the Gothic and sensual origins of this type of horror story.

3. “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. Warner Bros.’s box set of Lewton’s films, which include other collaborations with Tourneur such as “I Walked With a Zombie” and “The Leopard Man,” is not just a treat for horror fans, but for anyone who appreciates cinema that moves through the shadows of the human experience.

2. “Evil Dead II” (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, “The Evil Dead,” Sam Raimi– who returned to the genre brilliantly recently 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, exemplified 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 underrated King adaptations such as “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:
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999; Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez)
-“Bride of Frankenstein” (1935; James Whale)
“Bubba ho-Tep” (2003; Don Coscarelli)
-“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush” (1999; Joss Whedon)
“The Cabin in the Woods” (2012; Drew Goddard)
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920; Robert Weine)
“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001; Guillermo Del Toro)
“Drag Me to Hell” (2009; Sam Raimi)
“The Frighteners” (1996; Peter Jackson)
“Haxan” (1922; Benjamin Christensen)
“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)
-“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” (1990; Rich Moore, Wes Archer, David Silverman)
“Stephen King’s It” (1990; Tommy Lee Wallace)

Macabre Masterworks I Plan on Adding to My Collection
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012)
-“Army of Darkness” (1993)
-“The Birds” (1963)
-“Freaks” (1932)
“The Frighteners (Director’s Cut)” (1996)
-“The House of the Devil” (2009)
-“In the Mouth of Madness” (1995)
-“Let the Right One In” (2008)
-“The Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
-“The Omen” (1976)
-The “Paranormal Activity” Series (2009-12)
“Scream 4” (2011)
“Silent Hill” (2006)
“Sinister” (2012)
-“Troll 2” (1991)
-“Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection” (1931-1945)
-“Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (1994)
“The Woman in Black” (2012)

“The Horror…The Horror”: 2012 in the Genre
=“The Cabin in the Woods”– A+
=“Familiar”– A+
=“The Woman in Black”– A-
=“Sinister”– A-
=“Dark Shadows”– B+
=“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”– B+
=“House at the End of the Street”– B
=“The Raven”– B
=“Chernobyl Diaries”– B-
=“Paranormal Activity 4”– C
=“The Devil Inside”– D-
=“Silent House”– F
=“The Apparition”– Haven’t Seen
=“Piranha 3DD”– Haven’t Seen
=“The Possession”– Haven’t Seen
=“Resident Evil: Retribution”– Haven’t Seen
=“Silent Hill: Revelation”– Haven’t Seen
=“Underworld Awakening”– Haven’t Seen

Read Previous “Month of the Macabre” Entries

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