Halloween is a Scream!

For Halloween, and to celebrate hitting 2000 downloads, we’re looking at Scream Queens in our new podcast. And I’m not talking about the Ryan Murphy show. I’m talking about the staple of horror movies dating back as far as Fay Wray in the 30s. Whether it’s a big-boobed beauty running for her life or a tough no-nonsense cop on the trail of a serial killer, we horror fans – queer or not – dig the chicks coming out on top despite the odds.

Our picks of of the pack are Fay Wray, Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton and Vera Farmiga. Listen here, and thank you for helping us get to 2000 downloads in under a year. For a niche market that’s pretty damn good!

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What Should You Be Watching This Halloween?

The curtains are drawn. The Jack-o-Lantern’s lit. The razor-blades are hidden in the miniature Mars bars sat next to the front door, should some precocious brat come knocking dressed in a bin bag and a road cone claiming to look like a witch. Yes, it’s Halloween night! Or it will be shortly. So what will you be watching?

The choice of horror films to watch is more overwhelming than ever. Will you be cosying up with a classic or giving something new a whirl? Well don’t decide yet. Let us Screaming Queenz guide you through our essential picks to watch from behind the sofa…

TRICK ‘R TREAT

(chosen by Stephen Moore)

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John Carpenter’s classic 1978 slasher might be Halloween in name, but Trick ‘r  Treat (2007) has Halloween’s mischievously enchanting blood spilling from its very veins. The film received an enthusiastic response at festivals as early as 2007 before being met with a series of delays that culminated in finally receiving a home release in 2009. A delay such as this would usually result in a fate worse than that of the slutty girl in a slasher, but instead allowed this film to become a cult phenomenon.

The film is portmanteau in style, telling four interweaving tales that cover everything from ghostly revenge stories, vampyric series killers to seductive werewolves. Like with most films of this style some stories are less effective than others. That being said even the weakest werewolf segment makes up for its lack of bite with lashings of witty dialogue and besides who doesn’t want to watch a brassiere-popping, skin-peeling transformation sequence set to Marylin Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams. The film is at times very creepy whether it’s time to carve the pumpkin or the tale of a haunted school bus but it never loses its sense of fun. A particular favorite scene of mine involves children who unwittingly knock on a house where their teachers are have a very raunchy alcohol fueled party. I’m fuming i never got an invite too.

And the best; I must confess, I have saved for the last. For the ruler of this Halloween land… Is an adorably creepy burlap sack wearing pumpkin headed psychopath named Sam. Sam who is naturally armed with razor blades hidden in candy ensures that all the rules of Halloween are being followed with deadly consequences. But you can’t help but fall in love with the pesky little tyke who is just trying to defend the traditions of my favorite holiday. So don’t go blowing out pumpkins before midnight or  you might get a visit from the cutest killer in the horror game.

LIFEFORCE

(chosen by Jonathan Butler)

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Released in 1985, the first collaboration between Tobe Hooper and Cannon,  the other two films being Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and the Invaders From Mars remake. From a script by Dan O’Bannon of Alien fame, based on a novel from Colin Wilson rather unimaginatively titled “The Space Vampires”

A rather nonsensical plot involving the discovery of a giant space ship hiding within the tail of  Halley’s Comet. Upon further investigation, the crew of the Space Shuttle Churchill board the ship and discover humanoid bodies in suspended animation, one of which is a naked Mathilda May!

Upon returning to Earth the Female Alien (May) promptly wakes up from her stasis and, being a space vampire, begins to absorb the “Lifeforce” from everybody she can find, leading to some creepy practical effects for these sucking victims.

Things take a drastic turn and most of London end up being turned into Zombies! I won’t spoil too much of the film as if you’ve never seen it I would recommend giving it a look, it’s currently on UK Netflix and Arrow Films have a great Blu-Ray version out.

Lifeforce is a bonkers piece of 80’s camp sci-fi horror, perfect for some Halloween viewing.

THE HAUNTING

(Chosen by Martin Fenerty)

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This a story that will haunt and disturb even the most hardened horror fan with its blurred lines of the supernatural and psychological disturbance.

Based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House, it tells the tale of Dr John Markway and the groups of individuals he recruits to stay in a supposed haunted house to help with his investigation into the reported supernatural activity that takes place there.

Hill House is an old sprawling mass with corridors that seem to move and are designed to disorientate and give a feel of a house that is almost alive. The relationships between the characters and how they influenced the events in the house and their reactions to them take centre stage and includes a subtle reference the lesbian identity of one of the characters.

DRACULA (1958 version)

(Chosen by Jon Larkin)

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Hammer’s full-blooded, vibrant Dracula is, for me, the essential telling of the classic tale. Condensed into 90 minutes and working to its budget, the streamlined version manages to scare you and thrill you more than the bloated longer, bigger budget attempts ever could.

Dracula is quintessential Hammer with its nostalgic studio sets, heaving bosoms, swirling mist and teeth-shaking score by James Bernard. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a Halloween night post-pub, curled up on the couch with the leftovers from that visit to the Chinese…

Starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in their most iconic roles, Dracula is the perfect Halloween flick to sink your teeth into.

CARRY ON SCREAMING

(Chosen by Martin Fenerty)

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Filmed and released in 1966, Carry on Screaming stars many of the regular cast in their familiar roles. Kenneth Williams as mad scientist Dr Orlando Watt, Jim Dale as the love struck Albert Potter, Charles Hawtrey as Dan Dann the toilet man and Joyce Sims as a sharp tongued wife of Harry H Corbett’s Police Detective Bung.

An outrageous parody of the Hammer Horror films it contains enough double entendres and Edwardian spookiness to satisfy horror and Carry On fans, and also stars the wonderful Fenella Fielding in full gothic vamp mode.

An amalgam of the House of Wax and Frankenstein, it’s a romp that won’t disappoint.

THE STRANGERS

(Chosen by Stephen Moore)

My first choice taught you to always answer the door to people in masks but whilst that might save you from Sam, there’s another burlap sack headed man and his  two porcelain doll friends who might make death by candy sound like the much sweeter option. This is that perfect curl up in the dark on the sofa with some snacks film. So if you’re feeling brave I suggest you do just that this Halloween, but maybe leave the sweets outside so you can avoid the ominous chime of your doorbell.

The story of The Strangers (2008) is admittedly lacklustre. Our protagonists James and Kristen return to a secluded family home at 3am from a wedding party that resulted in a rejected marriage proposal….. AWKWARD. It’s not long after that a mysterious girl who’s face is obscured in the dark rings the doorbell asking in a timid voice for “Tamara” before departing with the creepy suggestion that she will “see them later.” From here on in there is no real plot development but what it lacks in a fleshed-out story it more than makes up with in suspense. Jump scares are present but the most effective moments involve “the strangers” lurking in the background of shots, unknown to the estranged couple. It’s a testament to the power of true tension and a fantastic score in a horror film, as the fear and dread is palatable. If you’re not on the edge of your seat you must already be hiding behind the pillow. The film’s influence can be seen in other home invasion films like “The Purge” and it’s characters are present and locked in the vault of Joss whedon’s amazing “Cabin in the woods”

Ultimately it’s the films main flaw of senselessness that is also what makes it so damn creepy. The Film opens with the ever frightful line “What you are about to see is inspired by true events. According to the FBI, there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year.” And whilst its actual origin is the loosest stretch of true events I’ve ever heard, the line shown below still sends a shiver down my spine…

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THE GHOST BREAKERS

(Chosen by Jon Larkin)

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Light-hearted fare but deceptively creepy. A horror comedy from 1940 finds Bob Hope as radio DJ Larry Lawrence being chased by disgruntled mobsters. Fleeing their bullets he stows away with society gal Mary Carter, played by the glamorous Paulette Goddard, as she sets off to Cuba where she has inherited a haunted castle.

They dodge murder attempts on the cruise ship but it’s their arrival in Cuba that gets the horror wheels in motion. Voodoo curses, some terrible racial stereotypes and slapstick humour ensue, but Mary’s arrival at the castle and her run-in with the local zombie mark a turn for the truly creepy. Gothic chills aplenty and some genuine laughs make this nostalgic, safe Halloween viewing.

And if you can’t get enough then stick on Cat and the Canary, an even creepier haunted house comedy from the year before, also starring Hope and Goddard.

SLEEPY HOLLOW

(Chosen by Jonathan Butler)

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A more “traditional” Halloween film maybe and probably the last Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration I can say I really like, although Sweeney Todd isn’t that bad. A creepy Gothic tale with a look and feel inspired by Hammer Films and Roger Corman’s classic low-budget horror films. Burton’s signature Expressionistic/Gothic style works to great effect.

Depp does a great job as Police Constable Ichabod Crane, dispatched to the Westchester County of New York to investigate a series of grisly decapitation murders.

It is then upto Crane with the help of Christina Ricci’s Katrina Van Tassel to solve the mystery  of Sleepy Hollow and stop the Headless Horseman from killing again.

One of the strongest points for me is the cast assembled for this film, Tim Burton gathers a superb set of actors for this take on Washington Irving’s classic horror tale. When your supporting cast boasts the likes of Christopher Walken, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson and the late greats Richard Griffiths and Christopher Lee, you know it’s going to be pretty special.

So there you have it. Do you like our picks? Give us your feedback in the comments section below. Or tweet me at @jonnylarkin. Happy Halloween.

We’ll see you at midnight… but you won’t see us…

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Singing Queenz: The Horror Musical

A horror musical is an unusual beast in the cinematic world. It’s like the weird hippy aunt at the family party who people don’t really understand. The two genres couldn’t be further apart. One is filled with overly cheery singing  orphans, jazzy dance breaks and fabulous ruby red slippers. The other is more concerned with creating new orphans, neck breaks and copious amounts of ruby red blood. But its this very dichotomy that makes the horror musical so enthralling. There’s a strange subverted pleasure you get from watching people singing a happy working song, whilst slicing the throat of innocent men in a barber shop.

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Now don’t get me wrong – the scares are few and far between! But you don’t watch a horror musical for the jump scares, as much as you don’t watch it for a happy ending where a boy gets his own chocolate factory for being slightly less bratty than the other kids his age. Its more about the macabre dark and twisted stories being told in a jarring unconventional manner. Sarah Michelle Geller describes it best in the fabulous musical  episode of Buffy, ‘Once more with feeling’.

“Well, I’m not exactly quaking in my stylish yet affordable boots, but there’s definitely something unnatural going on here. And that doesn’t usually lead to hugs and puppies.”

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Perhaps I’m biased on my overly enthusiastic view of the horror musical. Maybe there are not that many people in the world who are camp enough to enjoy a bunch of Motown styled nuns singing hymns whilst being queer enough to appreciate the glory of a gory eye gouge, but what can I say? These are a few of my favorite things.

I can trace my interest back to an early obsession with The Nightmare Before Christmas, a film I have traditionally watched in my new pajamas every Christmas Eve since I was 8. Like a lot of other non-conventional kids my age Tim Burton was my savior growing up and as he has created 3 musical horrors in his career its easy to see why I love them so. Plus I’m always inspired by those three DIVINE witches from Salem who were fond of a song or two.

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This subgenre might not appeal to the casual multiplex date night horror fans. Sweeney Todd found this out when many people walked out after some dire marketing forgot to mention it was a Stephen Sondheim musical. But then again who cares? It still won an Academy award and a few Golden Globes.

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Seasoned horror fans might also struggle with this genre feeling somewhat stranded at the drive in with their genre branded a fool. But although a musical horror tends to be filled with humor it’s not meant to attack the horror genre. It’s less of a whining Adele break-up song and more of a whining Adele love song. It’s a love letter to the genre and not just one particular subgenre of horror either. Everything is covered from slashers like 2014’s “Stage fright” to a sci-fi creature feature in the classic “Little Shop Of Horrors” (1986) and even body horror in the cult 2008 film “Repo! The Genetic Opera.”

Whilst I admit its never going to appeal to everyone, a certain sweet transvestite taught us in the 70s that there’s plenty in the horror musical genre for the LGBT community to sink their teeth into. This can either be seen in subtle or even accidental campness of a male lead singing about wanting to eat the lean British Royal Marine or the unashamedly sexual liberation of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” This genre know that when in doubt one should keep it happy, keep it snappy, Keep it Gay.

So whether you are fan of campy musicals, gritty horror  or maybe you’re just a sexually repressed Mormon I suggest you don’t turn it off, don’t only dream of somewhere that’s green and just give yourself over to the absolute pleasure of a horror musical.

We will be discussing these horror musicals in more detail in a future podcast so look out for that. I see you shiver with antici……….

SM

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Some people may find this controversial but I kinda prefer I Know What You Did Last Summer to Scream…

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OK calm down and let me explain…

Kevin Williamson owned horror in the late 90s. His name was attached to the scripts for Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, The Faculty, Halloween H20… it goes on. In 96 when Scream came along it did a clever thing. It tapped into the zeitgeist and let the audience laugh at horror, in particular slasher movies, in a way they’d only ever done behind the genre’s back. Now they could sit munching their popcorn whilst the characters onscreen spewed out smug, self-referential dialogue and boy did we lap it up.

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But go back and look at them now, when the fad for laughing at horror has passed, and you have a problem. The characters in Scream and many of its successors come across as cocky, pretentious know-it-alls who’s ‘meta’ arrogance is painfully dated. You see once you’re done patting yourself on the back for being so clever… you still need a good old fashioned horror story. And that’s what you get with I Know What You Did Last Summer.

So why do I prefer it? Well…

  • The Setting. Small American coastal town prone to fog, deserted streets, and the creak of trawlers bobbing about in the bay;

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  • The premise. Simple. To the point (horror). Four teens with a guilty secret – they ran someone over a year ago and now somebody is out for revenge;
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar. She’s the star draw for this film. The actual scream queen. Jennifer Love Hewitt is laughable as the heroine, Julie. I mean whoever told that girl she can play virginal needs their head examined. Dressing her like she’s Amish just makes her dull. She pales into the background. I realised that I can’t remember anything about the movie once Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character bows out. In an extended chase scene, Helen Shivers – a scream queen name if ever there was one – screams her little heart out but comes across as plucky and resilient as opposed to boring and weak. And she wears a tiara;

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  • Ryan Phillippe’s abs. And dog-tags. He looks like he’s auditioning for Active Duty. If only he had;

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  • The Fisherman. In the old tradition of slashers this dude never breaks a sweat and he ALWAYS catches you. Not like Ghostface, running around like a headless chicken, falling over every two minutes;

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  • The score. It’s not by Marco Beltrami. Win!

Of course it’s not a perfect movie either. There could be more gore. Helen’s cunty sister could have more screen time and a more extreme, deserved death. But as PG-13 Point Horror goes, I Know What You Did Last Summer ticks my horror boxes more than Scream and its increasingly annoying sequels.

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Most of all it doesn’t irritate me. And for that I’m grateful! Do you want to slice me up with a hook or do you agree? Let me know on twitter. Get me at @jonnylarkin !