THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) dir. Roger Corman

Director: Roger Corman
Producer: Roger Corman
Writers: Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Matheson
Stars: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey

“She’s obsessed by thoughts of death, poor child …

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The Fall of the House of Usher (alternately titled House of Usher) (1960)

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) is the first of seven Poe adaptations that Roger Corman would commit to film. Poe fanatics who prefer only pure and literal interpretations of his stories will dislike Corman’s House of Usher; it is a generous interpretation of Poe’s tale and the following films in the “Corman-Poe Cycle” would continue to be as the series continued through the early 1960s. For the record, I am never bothered by—and, in fact, often appreciative of—a director who creates an homage to a piece of literature, rather than a scene-by-scene copy, often, for example, cutting scenes or revising plot for the sake of brevity. Corman necessarily did the opposite: Poe’s stories are short (if dense), and much of the text’s composition is physical detail, which translates in exciting ways to set design, but not so much to dialogue and actual plot construction. As a result, his story is quite a diversion from the original. As for its faithfulness to the spirit of Poe’s story—that is arguable. At times, Corman’s film seems a fitting representation and, at others, seems to lack something essential (though whether or not Corman altered the mood to fit his preference is better left to experts on his horror, which I am not, having only seen his science fiction). However, as a stand-alone piece, and taking the source material into account to a lesser extent—as I prefer, so as to not overshadow Corman’s product itself—The Fall of the House of Usher is a visually pleasing, eerie, and entertaining movie and a stark depiction of repressed Gothic sexuality.

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The desolate site of the House of Usher. (Image courtesy of Roger Corman and Floyd Crosby.)

Phillip Winthrop (Mark Damon) travels from Boston to the fallow, desolate site of the House of Usher in search of his fiancée, Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey), who left for her ancestral home months back, and has since fallen ill. Mr. Winthrop is uncertain of her condition, but eager to marry and return to the city. Unfortunately, the appearance of the manse is approximate to the dread it inspires; to say that Winthrop’s greeting is discouraging is putting it mildly. After the manservant, Bristol (Harry Ellerbe), leads him nervously inside, he leaves him at the threshold of an imposing study, wherein sits Roderick (Vincent Price), mournfully strumming a lute and positively horrified by Winthrop’s arrival. Roderick makes it immediately clear that Winthrop is unwelcome, but once Madeline is alerted to his presence (rather conspicuously, when the chandelier falls and nearly kills him), the gig is up, and Roderick is forced to reluctantly allow him to stay. Over the course of several days, as Roderick fights to keep Winthrop away from Madeline, he is forced to reckon with the curse of the Ushers and, perhaps more dauntingly, his own powerlessness in the face of it.

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THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) dir. Ti West

Director: Ti West
Producers: Josh Braun, Larry Fessenden, Roger Kass, Peter Phok
Writer: Ti West
Star: Jocelin Donahue

“You’re not being rude. I understand.”

“Actually, no . . . I’m afraid you don’t.”

“Excuse me?”

The House of the Devil Movie Poster


THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) begins on the day of the 1983 total lunar eclipse, when college sophomore Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) finally finds respite from her dumpy undergraduate dorm and inconsiderate roommate. Faced with a hefty deposit for the rental of her dreams, she responds to an ad posted on campus: “BABY $ITTER NEEDED.”

Later that night, when Samantha and Megan (Greta Gerwig), her best friend, who agrees to give her a ride, arrive at the Ullman residence, they are forced to face an unsettling truth: this is no ordinary babysitting job. In fact, as Mr. Ullman (a supremely creepy Tom Noonan) hesitantly confesses to Samantha, there is no baby. “You see, we actually don’t have a child,” he says, adding: “We have a child, but he’s grown. It’s—this job tonight is not for a child, but for my wife’s mother.”


$$$!!! (Image courtesy of Ti West and Eliot Rockett.)

Samantha is understandably put off—couldn’t you have just put “Elder Care” on the sign, you fucking weirdo?—but is ultimately swayed into staying by Mr. Ullman’s promise of twice the pay, which comes to a whopping $400, or $100 per hour. Megan, for her part, is sufficiently spooked, and can’t seem to leave fast enough. It takes substantial coaxing on Samantha’s part for her to even agree to return to pick Samantha up afterward. It is only after Megan leaves, when Samantha is alone with the Ullmans and their creeping, silent house, that the true nature of the job becomes clear . . .

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THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) dir. Tobe Hooper

Director: Tobe Hooper
Producer: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hanson, Paul A. Partain

. . . had they lived very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day . . .


In 1974, there was no slasher. No Michael Myers, no Jason Voorhees, and certainly no Freddy Krueger. There was no monster-plagued suburbia, no broken closet doors. No “Do you like scary movies?” None of the telltale sh sh k k, the quiet orchestral reckoning that signals Jason’s approach. However, when October of 1974 rolled around, there was an onscreen monster who finally slayed more than just one victim. There was desert. And there was, emblazoned on billboards across real-life America, another question: “Who will survive . . . and what will be left of them?”

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) begins in Muerto County, Texas in the August of 1973: five young adults drive through the desolation. Sally (Marilyn Burns) and Franklin (Paul A. Partain) Hardesty have decided, on this plain August afternoon, to drive out to visit their grandfather’s grave and poke around the old family estate. They’ve enlisted their friends, Pam (Teri McMinn) and Kirk (William Vail), as well as Sally’s beau, Jerry (Allen Danziger), to join them, and the gang readily takes advantage of the opportunity for adventure, smoking joint after joint, pondering astrology, and making surprisingly interesting conversation. (Although, perhaps my surprise reveals a bias of my own . . . a giant fan of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, I’m well-accustomed to the shallow talk of Camp Crystal Lake’s counselors.) As they drive, discussing fate and the stars—as, of course, Pam pages through her astrology magazine—the news blares over the radio. Trouble is afoot.


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THE GRUDGE (2004) dir. Takashi Shimizu

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Producers: Taka Ichise, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert
Writers: Takashi Shimizu, Stephen Susco
Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Takako Fuji, Bill Pullman, Yuya Ozeki


When it comes to contemporary classics, THE GRUDGE is a perennial favorite. The telltale crooooooooooak of Kayako as she slowly and jerkily makes her way down the stairs was a significant part of my childhood, delightedly uttered to scare the wimpy. Although she isn’t the first to come to mind when one considers horror’s most famous faces, distant from the notoriety of the Michaels and Jasons of all-American slashers, the monster in this American reboot of Japanese hit JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002) is no less an icon.

In case you’re sufficiently older or younger than I am to the point that THE GRUDGE phenomenon missed you, here’s the skinny:

A young nurse, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, the period’s quintessential scream queen) travels overseas with her boyfriend (Jason Behr) to study abroad in Tokyo. Between studying and staring dreamily into said boyfriend’s eyes, she manages to land a substitute in-home nursing role for an older American woman, Emma Williams (Grace Zabriskie, who, it must be said, bears an unsettling resemblance to the emaciated Ellen Burstyn of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM a few years prior in 2000). Karen is surprised to find that Emma is almost always silent, tight-lipped and all eyes staring straight ahead. Emma’s reticence is only the first surprise in store . . . unfortunately, poor Karen is not informed in advance of the house’s two other residents, Kayako (Takako Fuji, the actress who portrayed the same character in the Japanese original) and her son, Toshio (Yuya Ozeki, also from the original portrayal) . . . unwelcome and undead.


The basis of THE GRUDGE is the idea, originating in Japanese folklore, that a powerful event leaves an emotional stain on the physical setting, often in the form of a supernatural entity, as in this case. (Image courtesy of Takashi Shimizu and Hideo Yamamoto.)

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OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) dir. Mike Flanagan

Director: Mike Flanagan
Producers: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Stephen Davis, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Brian Goldner
Writers: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Stars: Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Elizabeth Reaser

The Ouija board is a remnant of Spiritualism by now so hackneyed that the archetype does not so much conjure up demons for audiences as it does eye rolls. Leave it to Mike Flanagan (HUSH [2016], OCULUS [2009]), horror’s latest darling, to revitalize a plot device that is otherwise dead (no pun intended).

“Doris, listen to me. A scam is a lie. We don’t lie; we help people. We give them closure, we give them peace, we heal their hearts . . . that’s something that can’t happen without a little showmanship.”


Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), widowed and raising a teenager and small girl alone in the 1960s, is looking to spruce up her business when the film begins. Clients, who come to her to communicate with the dead during séances in her dining room—a con pulled off in part due to daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) who, in the (dis)honored tradition of the Fox sisters, furtively blow out candles and rap on wood to create the illusion of spirit communication—have been fleeing after readings, often without paying, either unconvinced or unsettled by the events of the séance. Fatefully, Lina tools around with a Ouija board at a friend’s party—classic—and on the car ride home, mentions it to Alice: “It was actually pretty fun. You should consider getting one for the act.” Lo and behold, when Alice drops by the store to replenish her candle supply, a board is prominently displayed and she grabs one on impulse. The success of the act shifts in a positive direction . . . everything else, not so much.

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PEEPING TOM (1960) dir. Michael Powell

Director: Michael Powell
Producer: Michael Powell
Writer: Leo Marks
Stars: Carl Boehm, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley

PEEPING TOM (1960) dir. Michael Powell

It’s safe to say that we all have something in common with Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm): we photograph. We take SnapChats of our craft beers, Instagram our pregnant bellies and college acceptance letters, and update Facebook with family photos on holidays. Mark, for his part, like so many professional photographers, photographs the beautiful. Then, he kills them. Viewers are never once privy to the pictures that Mark takes—no doubt the filmmakers’ way of shielding viewers from what would be a bloody sight indeed—but we can assume that they are somewhat more hideous than your average selfie.

Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), side by side with his other eye: the projector which plays his films, over and over again. (Image courtesy of IMDb.)

PEEPING TOM (1960) opens with a kill, Mark’s first of the film. A beautiful blonde prostitute perishes and, soon afterward, Mark heads home to his apartment. There, festivities rage as the good-natured redhead downstairs, Helen Stephens (Anna Massey), turns twenty-one. In spite of Mark’s apparent eccentricity—not only does he keep stolidly to himself, fail to tell anyone that he is the son of the landlord, and carry a hulking mid-century camera with him everywhere, but he peeks into the Stephens’ living room through the picture window on a regular basis—Helen seems infatuated with him, first eagerly inviting him to her party and then, following his polite refusal, delivering a piece of birthday cake to him. When she begs Mark to show her the films he screens in his apartment, she has no idea that she is in for a disturbing viewing experience.

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HOLY HELL (2016) dir. Will Allen

Producers: Will Allen, Tracey Harnish, Alexandra Johnes
Stars: Will Allen, Michel Gomez, Cristala Allen, Gina Allen

CNN poster for Holy Hell, depicting people sitting cross-legged in a field

HOLY HELL (2016) dir. Will Allen

What’s in a cult? Our culture is saturated with them. The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, and The People’s Temple (the site of the Jonestown Massacre) may be the most famous of American cults, but they’re hardly the only few. A cult is defined by three characteristics, all of which are rather vague: a charismatic leader, the use of “coercive persuasion,” and some form of exploitation. In movies, cults are glaringly suspicious. The leaders are always heavy-browed and blank-eyed, darkly hinting about “transcending Earth” or “becoming one” or something equally as ominous. But, if in real life cults were so obviously spotted, it’s safe to say that they would have died out long before now. Would you notice a cult if the leader demanded no sacrifices? If the fellow members were the smartest, most creative people you had ever met? If your siblings were also members?

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MISERY (1987), by Stephen King

“Annie, Misery is dead.” But already, incredibly, he was thinking, I could bring her back. The thought filled him with tired revulsion but no real surprise. After all, a man who could drink from a floor-bucket should be capable of a little directed writing.

“No she’s not,” Annie replied dreamily. “Even when I was . . . when I was so mad at you, I knew she wasn’t really dead. I know you couldn’t really kill her. Because you’re good.

“Am I?” he said, and looked at the typewriter. It grinned at him. We’re going to find out just how good you are, old buddy, it whispered.


“Annie, I don’t know if I can sit in that wheelchair. Last time—“

“Last time it hurt, you bet it did. And it will hurt next time, too.”

–Stephen King


MISERY (1987), by Stephen King.

by Stephen King
Viking Penguin, Inc., 310 pp., $16.00

When acclaimed author Paul Sheldon finishes writing Misery’s Child, he is elated—finally, he can publish what he believes might be the next great American novel, a fast, clever manuscript he has titled Fast Cars, quite the drastic move for a writer known for a series of pulpy romance novels. To end the series, Misery Chastain has died and, truth be told, Sheldon’s not shedding tears over the matter. But when Paul awakens days after leaving the Boulderado Hotel where he writes, he finds himself in close quarters with his self-proclaimed “number one fan,” Annie Wilkes, an eccentric nurse with a maniacal obsession of Misery and her ilk. When Annie learns of Misery’s demise, it quickly becomes clear that Annie has no qualms about asserting her will, in ways that are bound to turn your stomach.

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TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001) dir. Claire Denis

Director: Claire Denis
Producers: Georges Benayoun, Phillipe Liégeois, Jean-Michel Rey
Writers: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
Stars: Vincent Gallo, Béatrice Dalle, Tricia Vessey

Little is clear when TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001) begins, dark and skewed imagery of the before and after of a bloody murder juxtaposed with a sustained shot of a couple groping and kissing in their car, a scene which feels even more obscene to behold than the former. Many viewers, like me, will be bewildered by such an ambiguous beginning … yet these images, perplexing as they are—and the gorgeous, brooding “Trouble Every Day,” by the Tindersticks, possibly my favorite horror-pic musical theme of all time—sum up the two most vital themes of the film: lust and destruction—and, inherent in each, raw instinct.


Coré (Béatrice Dalle), drenched. (Image courtesy of Claire Denis and Agnès Godard.)

Mr. (Vincent Gallo) and Mrs. Shane Brown (Tricia Vessey) travel to la ville d’amour purportedly to celebrate their honeymoon. Soon, however, it is revealed that Shane is on a less than romantic mission, determined to find renowned medical researcher Léo Sémeneau (Alex Descas), who specializes in the treatment of an ailment so maligned that other physicians refuse even to speak of it. As the Browns’ sojourn to Paris stretches ever longer—and poor June Brown scarcely leaves the hotel room, more or less abandoned by her monomaniacal lover—Shane must face ghosts he believed he long left behind … and himself.

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GREEN ROOM (2016) dir. Jeremy Saulnier

CONTENT WARNING: The following review contains discussion of white supremacy (including the appearance and activities of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups) and repeated references to the Holocaust.

Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Producers: Neil Kopp, Victor Moyers, Anish Savjani
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Imogen Poots

“What was the name of your second to last song?”

“Uh … ‘T-Toxic Evolution.’”

“It’s fucking hard, man. That’s the one I did her to.”

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The Ain’t Rights, a traveling punk rock band desperate for cash, know for sure that they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel when they reluctantly agree to play at a dive bar where an acquaintance’s cousin works. Tadpole (David W. Thompson) describes the punk rock scene at their new venue as “right-wing,” anathema to rebels Pat (Anton Yelchin, giving a captivating final performance before his sudden death in June 2016), Reece (Joe Cole), Tiger (Callum Turner), and Sam (Alia Shawkat). Still, they reluctantly press on, hoping for the best. Unfortunately, things could not be worse: what Tadpole understated as “right-wing” turns out to be a band of neo-Nazi punks … and that’s only the beginning of the misfortune to come. When Pat stumbles upon the scene of a stabbing, he is detained with the rest of his band and Amber (Imogen Poots), a local punk caught up in the same illicit mess.

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