Friday, October 28, 2011

Horror Movies for Dummies

A friend challenged me to watch 30 horror movies this month, bonus points if I could get some ones I'd never seen before. Sadly, my schedule has been frenetic at best, and I don't think I'll be able to meet the challenge. But it did get me thinking. There are different kinds of horror. Some are better than others. Not all movies are created equal. And horror is a very ghettoized genre. It certainly doesn't help that it's difficult to write but every anonymous twit with a word processor thinks he can turn out something shocking and scary when he's really just aping whatever clunkers he saw at the box office recently.

So it occurs to me that it's time to provide a list of essential horror movies for those who are still relatively new the genre. If you want to do bizarre, shock, or haunted magic, you have to know how to do it right. You have to know the history of the horror genre. Since movies are my thing, I'll that there. So here, in chronological order, are the horror movies I believe are mandatory viewing if you want to add horror to your magic.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: This is the granddaddy of all horror films. a surrealist tale of madness and entrapment. It set the bar for the rest of the century.

Nosferatu: The original "Symphony of Horror." While some contend that Werner Herzog's 1979 remake with Klaus Kinske was better made, the original still has a strong place in film canon.

Haxen: If you're not into documentaries, large portions of this movie are going to be difficult to get through for you. However, it contains some striking visuals and will give you an introduction to real world superstition and religious fanaticism that shaped Western culture for centuries.

The Universal Studios Monster Movies: Take your pick. Whether you're watching a vampire, a werewolf, a mummy or the creature from the Black Lagoon, it's all magic, baby!

The Val Lewton Horror Collection: I argue that Val Lewton is one of the most underrated horror filmmakers of the Golden Age. His clever use of light and shadow and camera work made his movies unbelievably creepy.

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers: This was arguably the birth of paranoid sci-fi, and though I love the remake as well, the original is still worth watching.

Psycho: This is Neo-Gothic horror at its finest. A tiny pocket of wrongness and evil in an otherwise normal world. There's a reason the shower scene became a pop culture icon.

The Haunting: Please see my earlier review for why you need to see this movie.

Night of the Living Dead: I'm not just recommending this one because I'm a Pittsburgher myself. This was a game-changing movie that redefined the zombie mythos and created a new face of evil for artists all over the world.

Rosemary's Baby: Forget that Paranormal Activity crap. If you want demonic overtones, this is how you do it. An intensely creepy movie with a bleak, tragic ending but not for the reasons you might initially think.

The Wicker Man: This is without a doubt one of the single greatest movies about the evil that men do. The creepy behavior of the villagers juxtaposed with the sunny locations and cheerful Scottish folk music really gets under your skin.

Halloween: This is Movie Zero for the slasher genre and actually has comparatively little gore and a small body count. It builds itself up on unrelenting creepiness and atmosphere, which is a good lesson for performers to observe.

The Thing: The next two are for the shock magic fans. Body horror in the 80's was all about the spectacle of the wet death. It hit audiences in a very vulnerable place. John Carpenter's foray into the genre is one of the bloodiest and bleakest films you'll ever see.

The Fly: What separates a virtuoso artist like David Cronenberg from a kitsch king like Herschel Gordon Lewis is the intelligence behind their works. This is one of Cronenberg's most successful movies, despite its intense gore, because it plays out more like a tragic opera than a monster movie.

The Hitcher: A distinctly less gory 80's affair than one would expect. This film is mostly defined by Rutger Hauer's chilling performance.

Se7en: Not a pretty thing to see, certainly, but a great example of the evil that men do. Other than that, I'm have to be honest. The 90's was pretty desolate. There were very few good horror movies that decade, and even fewer great ones.

28 Days Later: Zombie purists will argue this isn't a true zombie movie, but it stands out as a strong entry for 2000's horror for being the best of the scientific zombie flicks of recent years.

The Mist: This is seriously one of the bleakest films on this whole list. Really. The ending is such a friggin' downer. There are some parts that are a bit cheesy, but the atmosphere is great.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Geese - There's a Lesson in There

I looked out a window at lunch today and saw a flock of geese flying south for the winter. I remembered that the reason they fly in a V formation is to make the trip easier. The strongest of the flock are at the front, taking the heaviest winds and drag. The weaker members are at the back of the V where they take less wind resistance. In other words, you can tell who the leaders of the flock are based on their strength and status by watching how the flock flies.

My point? Humans are not so different. If you watch people long enough, you start to notice subtle signs and signals. When performing for a group, watch for who's got the status. Who is the leader. They're the one you really need to win over. Impress them, and the rest of the group will follow.