What We’re Watching – Horror Edition #1

Brook West: October is never officially Halloween season until I watch Scream (1996). It’s the mother of all my guilty pleasure horror and slasher flicks.

Typical teenage slasher movies are like drunk people during tailgating—they’re predictable, annoying, and the thrills are cheap. This is where Scream stands alone. While embarking on a parody of its very genre, Scream manages to rouse almost as many scares as laughs. The film is about the serial killer, “Ghost Face,” who murders based on horror film principle and the teenage victims’ failure to know their horror film trivia. Scream focuses its attention on the high school student Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), as the killings coincide with the one-year anniversary of her mother’s murder by Cotton Weary (Live Schreiber). The film is directed by Wes Craven, the man behind the slasher classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven gets away with not only making fun of the slasher genre he helped immortalize, but also sneaking in some stabs at himself. The film stars Courtney Cox as the relentless reporter, Gale Weathers; the fumbling deputy sheriff Dewey Riley, played by David Arquette; best friend character Tatum Riley, played by Rose McGowen; Principal Himbry, played by Henry Winkler…

…and, of course, who can forget the infamous opening scene when the phone rings and Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is the first person to answer the seemingly simple question, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”

Adelaide Blair: Them! (1954) is my favorite of the 1950s big bug films. It’s basically a police procedural with a very strange criminal. Policeman Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) finds a little girl wandering in the deserts of New Mexico. They locate her trailer, but find no sign of her family. Soon, more disappearances and deaths occur, along with several mysterious sugar robberies. An FBI agent (James Arness) is brought in to assist, as well as scientist Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn, who may be most famous for playing Santa in Miracle on 34th Street). With the help of Dr. Medford’s daughter Pat, also a scientist, they discover that the culprit is a colony of GIANT ANTS! The ants are so big because of radiation from the first nuclear bomb tests. They must destroy the giant queens in order to SAVE MANKIND!

While the effects seem very dated now, this film was nominated for a special effects Oscar that year. The bugs are clunky to modern eyes, but are much more believable than some of the giant bugs that would come later. I like the mix of police procedural and fantasy, and cannot stress enough that this is a really good movie. Folks were worried about the repercussions of atomic power, and the movie is not played for laughs: all the actors deliver great performances. I’m not saying it’s Ben-Hur or anything, but it’s a far cry from the campy bug hunt I was expecting the first time I saw it. It’s a very fun watch and highly recommended.

Brandi Sperry: I’m a pretty big horror fan, but one of the must-see films that I hadn’t actually gotten around to—until last night—was Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992). Even though I was warned by our very own Benjamin Nason going into it that it would be the goriest movie I’d ever seen, I was not quite prepared. Definitely should have finished the nachos before starting the film.

The action starts right off the bat, with a mission to capture a Sumatran rat-monkey (why you would ever want one, I don’t know) going terribly wrong. Like, limbs being hacked off within minutes wrong. And the best/most-nausea-inducing thing about the film is that when a limb gets hacked off (and many will be), we see it in all its glory/atrocity. The special effects here are impressive and fun, getting more and more and MORE over the top as the film continues and the rat-monkey-zombie-rotting disease spreads about idyllic 1950s Wellington. There will be barrels of blood spilled, piles of flesh, and dozens upon dozens of the grossest (and most hilarious) sound effects I’ve ever heard.

I don’t think I’m in the minority of horror fans when I say that I would rather see the sort of physically produced effects on display here (including some delightful stop motion animation for the rat-monkey), even if they don’t look 100% “real,” than not-real-looking CGI. It’s more viscerally satisfying, and there is also joy in watching that level of creativity on the filmmakers’ parts, and appreciating that kind of labor. It might seem silly to say, but there’s a sense of heart (figurative, not literal, heart) in the kind of look-what-we-can-do glee on display here that is difficult to match with CGI. It all works so well, in a film that also takes time to care about its characters, and features a great comedic performance from the leading man Timothy Balme, matched well with Diana Peñalver as the woman who would pursue him even through a sea of puss and blood.

All in all, a great horror comedy that I’ll be glad to revisit in the future…without snacks.


Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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