The Winter People
By Jennifer McMahon
Grief and isolation and popular recurring themes in horror fiction, for good reason: they bring out the dark sides in human nature. Time and time again, we see what people are capable of doing in the name of grief – and when no prying eyes are watching them. The Winter People takes these themes, with a dose of maternal love, and fosters them into a haunting tale of loss and desperation.
The Winter People follows three concurrent stories: that of Sara Shea, and her life with her husband and daughter in the early 1900s, mostly seen through Sara’s journal entries. These moments are interspliced with the point of view of Ruthie, a young woman who feels directionless in life, until she discovers that her mother has gone missing one morning, and finds Sara’s old journal among her things. There is also Katherine, who is grappling with the loss of both her son and her husband, and wants to resolve the mystery of her husband’s death once and for all.
Director: Robert Eggers
The Witch has been receiving vast amounts of praise leading up to its release, and so it’s difficult to imagine that the film could possibly live up to its reputation. Even Stephen King, considered one of the premiere crafters of horror in our time stated that the film terrified him. It’s a tough act to follow up on. One thing I did know going into this film, however, was this: the less you know when you go to see the film, the better your experience will be. So I did just that, hoping that my expectations would be met.
I didn’t know what to think when going in; I didn’t consider that my expectations would be exceeded entirely.
The Witch deals with a Puritanical family living in the 1600s; they lead a relatively simple life, though one that is isolated due to their expulsion fro their community for differences in worship. While the family struggles, they hope to make ends meet with their crops, and eventually prosper, even in their solitary life. All of this seems to be undone with the sudden disappearance of their infant child, setting off a chain of fear and paranoia that seeks to destroy everything in its path.
Director: Sion Sono
On a quiet spring day, a large group of school girls approach the edge of the platform in a train station. These girls, 54 of them to be exact, then grasp hands before throwing themselves in front of the oncoming train. This is how we are introduced to the world Suicide Club presents, and make no mistake: it only gets darker from there.
When the name Sion Sono is mentioned, there is one film that immediately springs to most people’s minds. While he has directed a number of chilling and intriguing horror tales, Suicide Club is by far the one he seems to be the most well-known for. Suicide Club has been hailed as a classic of Japanese horror in the years since its release, and it’s hard to argue against the reasoning for this – it’s visceral, violent, but not without a haunting philosophy at its core.
Suicide Club begins with the aforementioned mass suicide, but this is just one event of many. Many other instances of suicide happen at around the same time, and the coinciding tragedies cause a panic of people presuming there is a mass suicide pact. Three detectives begin to investigate the case, tying together the acts of suicide with one very disconcerting detail: a briefcase that seems to be left behind at multiple scenes, each one containing a roll of human skin. Together, they begin to dig further into the origin of the skin, and the club itself, finding themselves getting pulled into a much darker and more murky case than they could imagine.
Director: Eric England
Many zombie stories begin with a similar premise: our protagonist somehow finds him or herself either in the middle of a zombie-ravaged town, or one that has already been destroyed by them. We’re dropped off in the middle of the commotion, with little understanding of how it progressed into the full-on nightmare we’re seeing in front of us. It’s more exciting this way, certainly, the immediate peril our main character is in often fuels the momentum for the rest of the film.
Contracted takes a very different approach to a zombie film. One that not only examines the beginning of the infection, but follows one of the characters that will ultimately spread it as she succumbs to its effects. It’s a unique and interesting look at the genre, but one that doesn’t always hit the mark exactly the way it could.
Our main character, Samantha, goes out to a party one night, her mind rife with personal issues that are weighing on her. After the party, however, her problems only get worse as she begins to find herself becoming increasingly sick – with an illness she can’t quite identify. As the symptoms begin to escalate out of her control, she struggles to piece together what is happening, and the events that brought her there to begin with.
She Walks In Shadows
Edited by: Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles
The dearth of female characters in Lovecraft’s fictional world is not a secret to anyone who has extensively read his writing. The women he did include in his works are more notable for being so few in number than necessarily for their contribution to the larger scheme of the world. So the idea of taking this void, and filling it with nightmarish and strange tales of the women who undoubtedly would have occupied these stories, was an attractive concept for me. I had been let down by books I’d greatly anticipated before, but I purchased a copy of this book as soon as it became available and hoped for the best.
She Walks in Shadows is a book that seeks to actively fill the void in the Lovecraft meta, not just of women, but of diversity in almost any regard. It is foremost, however, an anthology of fictional works written by women, and featuring women in the lead roles so often given to the male characters by default.
Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Stories about outsiders and loners are popular, often because there’s something deep down that we can relate to in the characters represented. In horror, it often plays into our fears of rejection and social ostracization. In some cases, we also are allowed to feel their anger vicariously through them, and even cheer them on as they finally give in to their madness; Carrie White is one of the most famous examples of this.
Excision is a film that presents a typical loner narrative, but with an uncomfortable closeness to the madness that it is depicting – one that an audience might fear relating too deeply with in the end.
Pauline is a senior in high school, with few friends, poor grades, and a strained relationship with both of her parents. What she does have are aspirations to one day become a surgeon, and a loving connection to her seriously ill younger sister. As the story follows Pauline, she continues to alienate people, pushing her towards taking even more extreme actions to reach out for the help and acceptance she craves – but people are unaware just how far she is willing to go to gain their approval.
Director: Pang Brothers
There have been a lot of horror films that take place around the life of a writer; perhaps this is to contrast the idea of what is happening in an imaginative mind versus what is actually happening in the real world, and how thin that line can become under duress. Sometimes, this is used to great effect, and manages to blend fantasy and reality with terrifying consequences; other times, it feels like a cheap writing trick.
Re-Cycle takes this well-used concept and does something unexpected with it, and considering the amount of recycled ideas in movies recently, this is a compliment in and of itself.
The film is about Ting-Yin, a horror writer who is attempting to write a new book and struggling with coming up with ideas. As she’s inventing a story, and subsequently rejecting a lot of her in-progress writing, strange things begin happening to her. Things that she had described in her novel begin to become frighteningly real, and a faceless apparition begins appearing to her. Before she knows it, she has left the world she knows to be real behind, and embarks into a terrifying new dimension.
Director: Bruce McDonald
I’ll be the first one to admit it: I’m getting a little tired of zombie stories. There was a point in time where I was following The Walking Dead, watching the new films that came out, and even writing in the genre a bit. Eventually, I reached maximum capacity on them and lost interest almost entirely. Unless something truly feels unique in a zombie story, they tend to leave me a bit cold (cue rim shot); rebranding themselves as “infection” films isn’t really enough, and there haven’t been all that many that have gained my attention in recent years.
Pontypool, a film based on a novel by Tony Burgess, did something I was not expecting: it managed to rejuvinate my interest in the genre, and expand my idea of what an infection story could strive to be.
Pontypool is the story of a small Ontario town and the local radio station that broadcasts from there. Grant Mazzy is a radio personality for the station, and seems disenchanted with the dull humdrum of small town life and clashes with the producer of his show, Sydney, due to her apparent dislike of his crass radio personality. On his way to work, he sees a woman out in the middle of a blizzard who seems disturbed and in distress; when he attempts to stop and help her, all she can do is repeat his words and flee, leaving Grant unnerved. However, when Grant reaches the studio, things start to take an even darker turn.
Director: Michael Dougherty
It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time to warm up the fireplace, pour yourself a glass of eggnog, and stay in during the cold weather, enjoying some of your favorite holiday movies. Usually these holiday classics are more heartwarming fare, filled with hope and belief, with life affirming messages. Recently, comedies have started going the more cynical route, with more dysfunctional characters and relationships highlighted. Christmas horror films, however, have still been seemingly sparse.
Krampus, a film that is seeking an audience with both the cynical holiday crowd, as well as fans of the now-cult-favorite Christmas demon, is an attempt to give you a little bit of everything – with mixed results.
Krampus is the story of a family that is pushing its way through the general holiday dysfunctions to try their best and have a pleasant Christmas. Tom and Sarah are trying to keep things together while their children, Max and Beth, have their own concerns. Despite all of this, Max has a profound love and respect for the holiday, which he shares with his grandmother. Things are complicated when Sarah’s sister arrives with her family, and tensions rise. Angered by the actions of his family, Max defies his belief in Saint Nicholas and makes a wish – one he will soon come to regret.
Director: John Fawcett
For many years, the moon has been associated with femininity – this isn’t so strange, there are similar cycles shared between the two. As long as they’ve been personified, moon has always been the female counterpart to the masculine sun. Yet somehow, this concept didn’t fully transfer over to the story of the werewolf, which has, largely, been portrayed as a primarily male narrative. There could be quite a few reasons for this; werewolves are often portrayed as a human struggling with more “primal” instincts, the fight between the ego and the id. This is often seen as a masculine story, with they underlying theme that men are beasts at heart. The idea of women having these same primal desires is often dismissed, and so female werewolf stories have been historically less prominent.
Ginger Snaps not only frames the werewolf narrative around the life of a young woman, it takes the logical step of connecting her traumatic transformation to the traumatic experience of puberty.