Monday, October 9, 2017

Our Comfort Horror Movies

by Patrick Bromley and Alejandra Gonzalez
October is the time for watching as many horror movies as possible. These are the ones that Patrick and Alejandra find most comforting.

Patrick: Happy #ScaryMovieMonth! It couldn't have come soon enough, what with the garbage year that 2017 has been in pretty much every way imaginable. And because it's been such a terrible nine months (which reminds me of that movie where Hugh Grant is going to be a dad that I'm pretty sure is called Terrible Nine Months), I thought maybe we could start SMM by talking about our comfort horror movies.

To people who don't care for the genre, the phrase "comfort horror" may sound like an oxymoron; after all, what exactly is comforting about axe-wielding murderers and monsters and human centipedes? But as horror lovers, these are the movies to which we turn when the world kicks our asses, right? Isn't that part of why we get excited when the weather starts to cool and the leaves turn colors (well, they turn here in Chicago...I don't know what the fuck happens down by you) and the calendar turns over from September to October? Because there's something comforting about wrapping ourselves in horror for an entire month? We watch these movies all year round, but for 31 days out of the year, the rest of the world meets us halfway and decorates their stores and houses. They sell us costumes and monster cereal. The TV networks show the scary shit we love. Horror is what's comfortable for us.
It's in the spirit of all things October that I'll name my first comfort horror movie: Halloween 4. I'm on record as naming this my favorite of the franchise (I love the first four films, really), not just because Dwight H. Little you my boy but also because it really, really nails the feeling I'm talking about. It's a fall sweater of a movie. It has characters that I like and that I care about, and while it clearly owes everything to John Carpenter's original film, I find it to be "warmer" overall. It's one of the first movies I reach for every year when the weather begins to turn, to the point that I rarely make it to October before watching it at least once.

What's first for you?

Alejandra: It might literally be above 90 degrees in Miami year round, so I find that my comfort horror movies typically throw me into that very specific Halloween environment that otherwise feels incomplete in a city where it's always summer. This may come as very little surprise to anyone, but Trick 'r Treat is ALWAYS one of the first movies I reach for during spooky season. And I get it, I'm constantly talking about it, but how could I not? I understand what you mean by "warm," because this movie is a perfect example of that. It feels as if there's a glowing Jack-o-lantern or an arrangement of brilliant string lights in almost every shot. The fact that it's (sort of?) an anthology makes it feel like a storybook filled with twisted fairy-tales and it reminds me so much of how I came to love Halloween as a kid to begin with. It's just so whimsical to me, and I hope it makes people who don't typically love horror understand the magic that comes with Halloween for us, if even for only an hour and a half. And also, Anna Paquin.
Patrick: Shhhh. You had me at Paquin. Even in wolf form, I have a crush on Paquin. What I'm saying is that for a wolf, she's a real fox.

Trick 'r Treat is a great pick! If you want to feel like it's October, that's the movie to turn to. I'm not sure any movie has captured Halloween better. Plus, it offers so many different kinds of horror elements -- monsters, killer kids, other kinds of monsters, other kinds of killer kids -- that it's kind of a one-stop shop for horror fans. It's a really fun one. Do you have a favorite of the stories? I want to say that Paquin always wins -- always -- but if I'm being honest with myself, it's the story with the kids on the bus. Holy shit is that one dark and nasty and also often makes me genuinely cry (the flashbacks). Shit. Now you got me all emotional.

Alejandra: Do you know how I am? Talking about feelings only makes things cheesier and subsequently better in all regards.

Patrick: My next pick might be kind of an odd one, but I keep coming back to it for many of the same reasons I keep coming back to Halloween 4. It's George A. Romero's The Dark Half. It's not my favorite Romero movie -- I'm not even sure it's in my top 5 Romero movies (it's probably in my top 5 Romero movies) -- but it has such great New England fall atmosphere that I just want to live in it. Romero captures the way that Stephen King often talks about how Maine feels. It's another movie that I like more every time I see it, to the point that I went from thinking it was "just ok" when I saw it opening night to it now being a movie I revisit every single October. I like the story, I like the performances, I love Romero's direction. More than anything, I love the way it makes me feel. And that's what these picks are about, right? RIGHT?

Alejandra: I've actually never seen The Dark Half (shame on me), but you sold it to me. I find that Romero is a MASTER at capturing certain atmospheres. All his movies kind of feel like fall to me, even if the time of year may be unspecified. That could just be the fact that I watch them primarily in October talking, though.
Speaking of the way things make you feel, my next comfort movie doesn't necessarily comfort me because it reminds me of spooky season, but because it reminds me of why I love horror to begin with. I fucking love Evil Dead 2, Patrick, and I think it has everything to do with Ash Williams. The man never seems to catch a break, but perseverance and his determination to survive is what saves him and the people around him. If that's not comforting, then I don't know what is. I mean, I guess that's the case with most horror movies, trying to get out alive and everything. But something about Evil Dead 2 is different. Perhaps it's that it makes a joke out of the shitty situation Ash is in, which is how I handle my own problems. Or maybe it's that it reminds me that no matter how bad things get, at least I'm not being hunted by the (un?)dead. Either way, if Ash can get through it, so can I. Right? RIGHT? Please tell me now I didn't ruin this.

Patrick: I love Evil Dead 2, because I love horror movies and I have eyes. I wouldn't say that it's a comfort movie for me (it doesn't have to be; it's on YOUR list) except for the ways it taps into my nostalgia. Like a lot of fans of the genre who came of age a whole adult person before you were born, Evil Dead 2 was a very formative movie in developing my love of horror because it's a movie that showed me that the genre could be many things. I will always love it for that. It's incredibly funny and inventive and entertaining, but the filmmaking is so manic and the stylization so intense -- both things that make it a true classic -- that I can rarely relax while watching it. Again, that's the mark of a good horror movie, just not one that I find comfort in. But the world is a rainbow. The world. Is. A. Rainbow.
I mean, it's probably pretty obvious because I'm nothing if not completely fucking predictable, but my next pick is Beyond the Gates. It pushes enough of my nostalgia buttons with some of the aesthetic (not all; this is not just some '80s imitator) and overall vibe, but the real reason I find such comfort in it is because, as I've said, it's a rare horror movie that's actually about coming together and healing instead of tearing everything down and reminding us that things are the worst and we're all going to die, some of us sooner than later. I get that's the function of horror -- it helps us confront and hopefully exorcise some of those anxieties -- but I love that Beyond the Gates because I feel good about the world by the end instead of bad. And I hardly ever feel good about the world anymore.

Alejandra: I knew when you said this was one of your favorites of the year that we would be pals, even though pretty much everyone who has the pleasure of watching it falls in love with it. I think I loved Beyond the Gates for the very same reasons you did. I knew from the get go that it would be one of what I call my "fuzzy blanket" movies, but I could never put my finger on exactly why, but you're right. It's a generally hopeful story when it's over. I can't think of many horror movies that instill that feeling in me besides Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe that just means I'm a bad horror fan.

I've ended friendships over my next pick, which will come as no surprise to you or anyone who knows me. Still, there is almost no movie on this earth that comforts me the way The Lost Boys does. I saw it three fucking times the week of its 30th birthday! I think the notion of being young forever and living life (is that still applicable for vampires?) as one eternal party is something I find admirable as someone who rarely lets herself have that much fun. Also, the damn near perfect soundtrack and obnoxious amounts of neon and leather makes me nostalgic for a time I wasn't even around to live through. Isn't it weird how sometimes that happens? And how is longing for the past so comforting? I don't know, but I do know that The Lost Boys takes me to a life (death?) without a care in the world, dancing on the pier after feeding on innocents. It's what I wish I was doing right now, so I guess being able to live vicariously through the movie is comforting to me. I meant the feeding on innocents part, too.
Patrick: I'm fascinated that you love The Lost Boys as much as you do, because it tells me that the movie still works outside of its nostalgic appeal. When I revisit it and still enjoy it, I suspect it has everything to do with the memory of watching it a hundred times on my VHS that I taped off of HBO (you did not understand most of the words in that sentence, I know). But I guess that shit holds up! And are you mad if the idea of eternal life sounds terrible to me? I'm barely holding on to the few years I have left to live. If you were to tell me that you were adding dozens, if not hundreds, of years onto that sentence? I'd be staking myself through the heart faster than you could say "death by stereo."

Alejandra: Well, that's the thing about The Lost Boys, Patrick. If life really was a party the way they "live" it, then I don't think I would mind being alive forever at all. Especially if my friends all looked like THAT and had a particular preference for Chinese food.

Patrick: Maggots, Ale. You're eating maggots. How do they taste?
You know what I find more comforting than most things? Canada. I've got a bad case of Canuck envy, which might help explain why my next pick is the 1983 mess Curtains. Shot by two different directors over the course of three years, Curtains is basically two movies that have been patched together into one weird, often incoherent but dreamy and cool slasher set at a mansion in the dead of winter. I'm a sucker for horror movies set in the cold, and the seasonal atmosphere in this one gives way to the best scene -- the one set on an ice skating pond. That's the sequence for which the movie is most famous, but if I'm being honest with myself I have to admit that I love the whole thing. Like all of my picks so far, it's a movie I like living in. Curtains makes that especially easy with its total disregard for logic; instead of getting bogged down with narrative, I can just let it put me in a trance. Do you have any movies like that? Even ones that might not be on your list?

Alejandra: And of course I do. Did you forget that I would die for Phenomena? I don't think I'd ever want to live in it, though. Even thinking about bugs makes me itchy. Still, it often doesn't care about logic but it hypnotizes me every single time anyway. I feel the exact way about most things by Argento. Honestly, I was trying to stay away from him for this because I didn't want to be predictable. I talk about him at least once a day. But you know what? I'd be lying if I said Phenomena wasn't a movie that provided me with insane amounts of comfort. I get that most horror movies require a certain suspension of disbelief, but Phenomena is SO far removed from logic and reality that it takes me out of my own shitty one completely. Jesus, I sound like a one-girl pity party BUT IT'S TRUE. I knew I could lose myself in this movie as soon as I saw the waterfall window scene at the very beginning. I also love how although bizarre shit is going on constantly, Argento chooses a cool color-scheme of blues and grays for this one as opposed to his famous reds and pinks. It's soothing as hell, even in contrast with swarming insects. Also, for some reason looking at Jennifer Connelly makes me believe in angels.
Patrick: Oh, that waterfall. Good call. I would include a lot of Italian horror in this "comfort" category, again because of how it feels instead of how it plays out. Plus I just love the way so many of them sound, the same way I love the way movies from the 1930s sound. Part of it is the scores, which are always awesome. Part of it is the overdone foley work -- the way that footsteps going down a hallway become SUPER loud and sound nothing like the way footsteps sound in real life. It all puts me into a trance and there's something comforting about all of it. And while I don't know that I could pick just one Argento that I find more comforting than the others, you make a good case for Phenomena. I feel like watching it right now. Or being murdered by a monkey. WHY CHOOSE?

Also, yes to Jennifer Connelly. She's too young in Phenomena to me to be physically attracted to (even if I recognize she is very beautiful), but there's a window of time in the 1990s where there has never been a prettier person. Except Erika.
I can't believe I only have one more pick. This has gone by too quickly. I'm not ready to be done! My last choice should really by ANY of the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations Roger Corman made with Vincent Price in the 1960s, but that's kind of a cheat. I'll just name Tales of Terror, the anthology in which VP appears in each of the three segments. Not only does it have the usual gorgeous production design and widescreen photography and the slight hiss on the soundtrack that is like crack to me, but it also has the middle chapter in which VP and Peter Lorre have a wine tasting competition with one another that's one of my favorite things ever. I love that the first and third story play the material all gothic and straight, but the comedic middle chapter is the one that makes me love Tales of Terror more than most other anthologies. Again, though, I could put on any of these movies any time and immediately feel like it's October.

Last pick! Make a good one! No pressure.
Alejandra: I also can't believe this is the last pick. The pressure is most certainly on. Do I want to go with something impressive and spooky? Do I want to go with something cheesy that makes my October-loving heart swell? I'm not sure I'm going with the right thing here, or if it even really counts, but I do know it does NOT feel like a completed October unless I watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I'm sorry for those of you who I've underwhelmed here. I know it's cliche. But what's more comforting than a musical about queer aliens starring Tim Curry? The answer is a musical about queer aliens starring Tim Curry that I only let myself watch once a year in October. Because of that, I've conditioned myself to anticipate October even more because I know it means watching one of my favorite movies. It puts me in a good headspace for the same reasons Phenomena does. It's just so bizarrely ridiculous  and there's something comforting about knowing that SO many people accept and love it despite that. It's about embracing yourself for what you really are, be it a sexually liberated alien from outer space or a man from Chicago and a girl from Miami who simply love the month of October unconditionally and look forward to it every year.


  1. Horror comfort films... hmmm.

    Mario Bava always seems to get me in an October mood. Among his films, I would have to choose BLACK SABBATH and HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON for their comfort level. While narratively deeply flawed, HATCHET... contains some of Bava's most beautiful and chilling sequences.

    The original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD must be included here. Considering the number of times I have watched it, NIGHT is not a film I can revisit often now. I try to space out viewings by two or three years.

    RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is one my all-time favorite horror films, and as such can bring me into a Halloween mood.

    My nostalgia pick is FRIDAY THE 13TH. In the '80s, this film was always shown on television sometime in October.

  2. Fun article!
    My go to comfort horror films are Ouija: Origin of Evil. I know it's new & the first one sucked but it's really, really good. Check it out if you haven't.
    The Descent. The women in this film are so good. Love it.
    Poltergeist. I watch this movie every year & it's great. If you are new to horror movies & liked Insidious watch Poltergeist.
    My go to annually Halloween movie is Treat 'r Treat. I'm glad you gave some love to it. I always find something new I love during each viewing.

  3. I think for me, it would have to be Sleepy Hollow. My friend's mom rented it for us because we were too young to get R-rates movies ourselves. We also got Jeepers Creepers, which we were not into. Sleepy Hollow was the palate cleanser, and it made us happy to watch it, so it continues to make me happy.

    1. Also, hooray for Rocky Horror Picture Show!!!

    2. I can see what you mean about Sleepy Hollow!

  4. Monkey Shines is your favorite Romero movie, right Patrick? Or at least your favorite titled Romero movie? 😉

  5. I agree with you Patrick about the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. I would cheat with that one too! The Witches and Tremors would also be in mine :)