Can you guess what horror film that tagline is from?
It’s the tagline for ASYLUM (1972), a British cult horror film from the TALES FROM THE CRYPT series, about a young psychiatrist, Dr. Martin, seeking employment at—you guessed it—a lunatic asylum, who must interview four inmates as a prerequisite. The inmates’ gruesome tales are anthologized, and it doesn’t take long for poor Dr. Martin to discover why the last employee in his position went mad himself!
ASYLUM received a mixed reception, leaving it to more or less fade out as each passing year is more packed with gore.
I’ve seen it. But maybe you shouldn’t. Not because it’s scary—that’s an ideal scenario, right?—but because it’s a two-star flick. Luckily, you’ve been warned…otherwise you might have wasted 92 minutes when you could have been binge-watching Breaking Bad. (That’s what people do when they’re not watching horror, right?)
That’s sort of my point in starting this blog. Some of my greatest joys in life are seeing horror movies and watching horror TV and reading horror journalism. I’ll digest pretty much anything I can get my hands on…whether it’s an A-flick like GOODNIGHT MOMMY, a B-flick like MANIAC (No, not the one with Elijah Wood)…or a letter significantly below those in the alphabet.
But I understand that not everyone enjoys seeing every single horror movie out there. Some people hate bad horror movies (like the critics!) and some people prefer them for their camp value. Some people like only certain horror motifs—just ghost stories or revenge films, for example. No matter what, there’s a horror flick out there for everyone…and that brings me to one of my OTHER greatest joys: sharing my recommendations with others. That’s why I’m here, in short—to let you know what’s good, what’s great, and what’s downright awful, no matter which you prefer.
Here’s the rundown of my assessment system, devised to be maximally helpful to occasional watchers and buffs alike:
Since not everyone likes every type of horror, I’m categorizing the films, TV shows, and books I write about into these categories of cinematic horror (which will apply to all mediums of horror, but were designed for cinema, which is why the examples listed are films). (This list was developed using Brigid Cherry’s Routledge Film Guidebook to Horror, which I highly recommend for fellow aficionados):
Seems general, but think of it as films including classic tales of horror—adaptations of horror with familiar monsters from legends, folk tales, classic literature, etc.
i.e. DRACULA; THE MUMMY; MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH; INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
Films involving the supernatural, ghosts, the paranormal…these films include motifs like witchcraft, Satan, and spirits (the uncanny). (These are my favorite, second only to the beloved slasher.)
i.e. ROSEMARY’S BABY; THE EXORCIST; THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT; THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
Films that explore disturbed psychology—serial killers, deranged, criminals and the like. They’re distinguished from slashers in that they focus on the mind of the monster over the monster’s actions.
i.e. PSYCHO; REPULSION; CARRIE; THE SILENCE OF THE LAMB
Creature Features (or simply “Monster Movies”):
Films involving creatures who invade the everyday, human world to wreak havoc and cause widespread death and destruction.
i.e. THE BIRDS; ALIEN, CLOVERFIELD; GODZILLA
Ah, yes. The cream of the crop. (Okay, I’m biased. But, seriously…have you seen HALLOWEEN??) So, these films feature a group of young people (often teenagers) who are menaced by a stalker. These films tend to take place in domestic spaces, chiefly the suburbs and feature The Final Girl (my pet subject of study, which I’ll post about in-depth later), who manages to fend off her attacker and survive until the film’s end.
i.e. HALLOWEEN; FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE; SCREAM (and so many, many more)
If you’re not a diehard fan, chances are you don’t enjoy these films, which heavily feature graphic body horror. Gore is focused on abjection (the disgust we feel toward our own bodies and bodily processes). These films often feature mutilation, disease, zombies, cannibalism, or S/M.
i.e. THE FLY (or literally anything by David Cronenberg); THE THING; EVIL DEAD; HELLRAISER
If you thought gore was bad, exploitation cinema is worse. These films are only for the most devoted horror fans, who are willing to cringe through anything for the sake of a good scare. They deal in the extremely taboo—torture, rape, Holocaust imagery, execution…you name it. (Note: These films will be carefully trigger-warned, as will all films/TV shows/books covered on the blog.)
i.e. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE; HOSTEL; SAW; IRREVERSIBLE
Considering the last two categories in particular—but for everything discussed and reviewed—I will provide trigger warnings for the following. Readers: please comment with other triggers that may arise for you!
- Body horror
- Sexual assault
- Holocaust imagery (Note: I don’t generally watch films that exploit the Holocaust, but in exploitation film, Holocaust imagery can unexpectedly pop up now and then.)
- Hate violence
I will also include anything less general that strikes me as potentially triggering on IMDb’s content guide, which I reference.
My rating system will be five-fold, which I hope will be helpful to you all. I rate films this way cognitively, because these are four things that primarily interest me in horror. Ratings will be out of five stars.
- There will first be a general rating of one to five stars assessing how “good” the movie is, like a standard review.
- Horror: Related to the scientific term ‘horripilation,’ which refers to the physical experience of shuddering and getting goosebumps, horror refers to shocks, jumps, and screams—bodily reactions—as well as less visceral experiences like revulsion and loathing.
- Terror: Fear—purely psychological.
- Gore: This rating is based on the quality of the gore, not the amount of the gore. Who doesn’t love good gore?! (Kidding!)
I’m in danger of getting a case of carpal tunnel if I go on, but as you can tell, this is a project that I’m really excited and passionate about. I hope that, together, we can grow to understand horror in new ways and share our views, recommendations, and, of course, what makes us shudder and squirm! There will be a review upcoming, of Blumhouse’s THE VEIL (dir. Phil Joanou, 2016). Stay tuned!
Note: If you’re interested in seeing ASYLUM, it’s free on AMC with a log-in and available on Amazon Prime digitally remastered. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is not yet available on free streaming sites, but you can rent it from YouTube, iTunes, and Amazon, starting at $2.99. You can also purchase your own copy at Barnes & Noble. MANIAC is available to rent at the same places, for the same rates, or you can screen it for free on Shudder with a subscription.