“If you were my friend, you would believe me a little.” -Alice to Yvonne, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Patterns emerge when you watch a ton of movies in the same genre, and two of my least favorite things in horror are:
- how often friends, lovers and family minimize the protagonist(s) feelings and continually gaslight them as they’re being haunted and terrorized. They don’t listen or believe their friends, their daughters, their girlfriends. Somehow people who “love” them need around 3–4 deaths of loved ones in a row under weird circumstances to finally believe that something is going on. Unfortunately, this checks out given that America’s favorite pastime isn’t baseball, but denial, and I find it fascinating how that manifests in popular culture.
- almost immediately following a grisly murder sequence, a friend/lover often comes to the survivor and asks: “Are you okay?” WHAT?! How is that the question you land on? We are so concerned when someone isn’t “okay,” or at least is no longer pretending to be. That “Are you okay?” question clearly isn’t for the person in pain, but for the person asking the question, with the implication that one should always be okay.
While frustrating to watch because it’s so often forced (to lengthen a film), these tropes both magnify the scariest feeling of all: feeling alone.
That reflex is telling. It’s a reflection of our society as a whole: what keeps the monsters alive (and thriving) isn’t because we don’t have enough weapons or money or XYZ, but because we don’t listen to each other.
And now, some quick hit reviews!
The Pit (1981)
“I told you my story and you don’t believe me.”
A bullied boy finds a pit in the woods with prehistoric man-monsters inside. Unfortunately, his creepy teddy bear is the only one in town who will listen to him.
Of course, this Dennis the Menace isn’t quite worth our sympathy, because he’s a sociopathic pervert, but that’s also a byproduct of his upbringing. Even the grandmothers in town hate this repressed, weird kid. The only one who pays the boy some attention is his poor babysitter who struggles with setting boundaries until it’s too late, much like Better Watch Out.
Nothing excuses what this boy ends up doing and becoming– what we’re witnessing is akin to the birth of an Incel, a mass shooter– but remember: The Pit and the growing hunger that emanates from within is borne out of real trauma and pain that has gone untreated and been ignored.
Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers (1992)
“It’s just you and me, Clovis.”
Before we were even dating, this 1992 flick was the first I ever watched with my future wife on edibles, with two of our mutual friends being our (sober) chaperones. I remember that it felt like we were being watched. I also remember that while they questioned the film choice, my future partner and I had never known such certainty: this movie is a blast.
Eight years later and this movie from Mick Garris feels like even more of a miracle. I mean, cat vampires?! Forget The Shining or Stephen King’s 1,408 other stories, THIS is his most brilliant concept.
Mom and son cat vamps move into a new town and need to feed in between their own lovemaking. Yeah. The incest in this film makes Game of Thrones seem chaste, even if perhaps they’re not literal mom and son and merely the vampiric equivalent.
The cast is a treasure trove of familiar faces: Twin Peaks’ Mädchen Amick gets a bewildering opportunity for a not-so-Risky Business dance, Brian Krause apparently had personality before he was cast on Charmed, Ron Perlman has been playing assholes for a long time, and this film might boast the best collection of horror cameos out there. Then there’s Sparks, who plays Clovis the Attack Cat, an instant entry into the Animal Actor Hall of Fame for being the partner/foil to a hilarious cop named, yes, Andy (Dan Martin).
You can tell this insane film is made by insane cat owners — they are our saviors and our tormentors. Our fates may hinge upon their feline whims, but the fate of your evening is always improved when Sleepwalkers makes an appearance on your TV.
When revisiting the myriad of Dracula adaptations, I’ve noticed that the trouble begins because people are too focused on their work to heed the local warnings about vampires.
Here, Renfield ignores their pleas not to go because: “It’s a matter of business.” Whether it’s Renfield or Jonathan Harker or both, they are early products of the Industrial Revolution, of capitalism, where common sense and health gets superseded by (the promise of) wealth.
How perfect that their reward for going above and beyond their duties is to have their literal life-force drained, to become slaves to Dracula, just as they were subservient to their bosses and vampiric economy.
The Night of Bloody Horror (1969)
“Wesley can’t make any friends!”
Gerald McRaney seems like one of those actors who’s always been 58, but this film proves otherwise. Here, he plays Wesley, an alcoholic who lives with his mother, still haunted by past childhood trauma that he’s repressed.
Trouble is, every time he relapses and blacks out, he wakes up and people close to him have been murdered. Is this the lamest whodunnit ever or is something more dastardly going on?
Thankfully, both the reveal of Wesley’s trauma and the killer is perfectly fucked up, a twist that a classic slasher will echo 11 years later.
I could do without the love story between Wesley and the woman who literally picks him up off the street when he’s passed out drunk and starts dating him. Questionable choice, lady, but to be fair, everybody in this movie is making questionable choices, because they’re all suffering.
This is my first Joy Houck Jr. experience and definitely ensures another. I don’t think there’s a better testament to a filmic victory than that.
P.S. I learned minutes after finishing this movie that my therapist named her newborn son Wesley, fodder for continued nightmares.
Urban Legend (1998)
At one point in the opening act of this horror comedy that ranks highly in Dawson’s Cinematic Universe, Michael Rosenbaum with hair (pre-Smallville Lex Luthor) describes Joshua Jackson with glorious frosted tips as, “Brilliant. He’s brilliant.” This is following a stellar prank performed by Jackson in a college classroom taught by Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger). It’s hard to overstate how meaningful a moment this is to me. Every time I watch this movie, it feels like I’ve found buried treasure from adolescence.
I’ve been (trying) to write up every movie I’ve seen since September 15th, and I’ve seen a lot. Follow me on Letterboxd @wanderinggreene if you want to peruse them all. For more varied content, subscribe to my free newsletter Wanderings for pop culture, sport and travel musings.