October is usually the season of spooky stories and ghost hunts, what with Halloween right around the corner. This month, members of The Menagerie, along with acclaimed Literature Professor and expert on horror fiction, Vicente Groyon, give a few movies, books, TV shows, and video games to look into if you’re in the mood for a scare.
AIDEE: The Exorcist
When I first watched The Exorcist in a lecture room with some friends in the library, I had to excuse myself and cut the rest of my classes for that day. During its release in 1974, members of audiences were said to have burst out of the cinema vomiting and in tears. Dubbed as one of the scariest films of all time, director William Friedkin uses old-style horror and perfects realism in special effects to authentically capture the supernatural premise of the age-old battle between good and evil. Is 14 year-old Regan just another schizophrenic or has an evil spirit really possessed her? Unlike many horror films today that heavily rest on the element of shock, The Exorcist is a cinematic experience of raw human pain and terror despite personal objections and even faith. All you have to do is try to keep your eyes open. Not convinced of this classic? It’s a known fact that there were strange occurrences on set, including the death of one of the actors, just a few weeks after the premiere.
CHINCHIN: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Hell hath no wrath like a barber scorned. Sweeney Todd tells the tale of Benjamin Barker, a barber who was exiled and returns, 15 years later, seeking revenge. Based on the award winning Broadway musical, this film is perfect if you’re craving for something different than the usual monsters and poltergeists. Johnny Depp’s brilliant portrayal of the mad barber, coupled with the talents of Helena Bonham Carter, makes the movie worthy of a place in your Halloween screening list. And let’s face it: Halloween just wouldn’t be complete without a Tim Burton film.
This little-known TV show doesn’t get the love it deserves. Despite having an intensely loyal fan base and garnering critical acclaim over the years, Hannibal was cancelled on NBC just two seasons shy from its planned five season run. The story follows FBI profiler Will Graham and his quest to step into the shoes of the serial killers he profiles. As he descends further into his own dark and disturbed mind, he is introduced to the one person who can either save or break him—the infamous cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lecter.
The show itself is beautiful in a strange and horrific way. It is artfully subtle and mysterious, and at the same time, manages to produce the most blatant and horrific scenes. Though the titular character is believed to be a psychopath, the show can also be intensely moving and emotional. The season finale is a cliffhanger that’ll leave you—pardon the pun—hungry for more.
REX: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
The premise for this visual novel-slash-puzzle game released for the Nintendo DS is simple enough: you wake up on a ship with eight other strangers and find out that you have only nine hours to find a way to safety before the vessel sinks. The game, composed of long stretches of story segmented by puzzle sequences, is an excellent example of how video games are a perfectly viable medium of storytelling. Characters are interesting and well-rounded, each with a mysterious background that is seemingly part of a much bigger picture. Meanwhile, the sequence of shocking reveals, twists, and turns that take place as you painstakingly piece together the reason why you were forced onto the ship in the first place, will leave you playing non-stop.
The game, along with its sequel, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, released for the Nintendo 3DS, is proof that video games need not be filled with zombies and ghosts to be considered dark, chilling pieces of work.
YUSI: Blue Velvet
At first glance, David Lynch’s tale of a man chancing upon a severed ear comes off as nothing more than a detective story with an interesting hook. As the film unfolds, however, it reveals itself as much more malevolent than initially thought. Blue Velvet shies away from traditional horror theatrics with its neo-noir undertones and overt sensuality. The very nature of the story relies heavily on a deep psychological probe into the innate evil of man. It’ll wear you down mentally as opposed to jump scaring you like conventional horror would. It’s a spine-tingling work of macabre, one that manages to tread the fine line between a disturbing creep show and an intriguing mystery.
ZEA: Requiem for a Dream
If you want to be a tad bit unorthodox with your horror, and if like me, you’re not really a fan of cardiac-inducing suspense or debilitating gore, go with something disturbing. Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream is a masterpiece disguised as a cautionary tale narrating the lives of four characters as they get deeper and deeper into their own drug addictions. Aronofsky’s picturesque depictions of each character’s journey from desperation to doom evoke the anxiety that inhabits us all in the face of the loss of freedom and control, and in the almost effortless, gracious downward spiral that can befall anyone, once unguarded, in pursuit of a dream.
Hear me out. Yes, the name of this ‘horror’ film has been caught in the crosshairs of Internet criticism, but the film isn’t as bad as the name suggests. Relevant to today’s youth for its use of Skype and social media sites, the film focuses on a group of friends engaged in an online chat and, cue the horror music, it coincides with the anniversary of their friend’s suicide. Throughout the whole night, the seeming spirit of the deceased and the bullied haunts them, and all of their deep, dark secrets and insecurities are unraveled. The film’s probably going to be dated in a couple of years, but the premise has meat and the film delivers on a few aspects, particularly visual effects and acting. It’s also a mirror of how the youth are today, doubling as both a cautionary tale as well as a dark satire.
Guest of the month: Vicente Groyon (Professor, Literature Department)
Stephen King novels
You can’t go wrong with Stephen King, especially his earlier novels. Some say It is his scariest, but it’s quite long, and has a rather ridiculous climax. The book that scared even him was Pet Sematary, which delivers nasty chills that build up to a memorable last line. His short story collections are also worth trying, especially his first, Night Shift, but he has other collections as well.
Classic horror fiction
Every horror fan should have read Bram Stoker’s Dracula; the Victorian English gets easier to read the further you go, and many of the standard tropes of contemporary horror fiction were established in this novel. Many would also advocate H.P. Lovecraft’s work, but I prefer the ghost stories of M.R. James—these are stories that you really can’t read by yourself at night. And going even earlier, Japan has the creepiest ghost stories and legends; many of the more famous ones have been translated by Lafcadio Hearn and collected in the book Kwaidan: Japanese Ghost Stories.
Japanese horror films
Among the Japanese horror films, my personal favorite is Kairo (2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa), with its hypnotic pace and creeping dread. There’s also Audition (1999, Takashi Miike), which is more of a thriller, but contains unbearable scenes of torture.
I don’t play a lot of horror video games, but I prefer those that capitalize more on mood and atmosphere rather than in-your-face gore and scares. So you can keep your Silent Hills and your Resident Evils—Slenderman was the one I couldn’t bring myself to finish.