Why You Should Watch: Suspiria (1977)

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From IMDb: An American newcomer to a prestigious German ballet academy comes to realize that the school is a front for something sinister amid a series of grisly murders.

I don’t know whether to encourage you to watch this alone or with friends, but I do absolutely encourage anyone interested in horror films to see it. Watch it when you are ready to get a little weird. Argento is a key director in horror, and this film captures a lot of what makes him great while also slapping on a layer of supernatural machinations that gives it a wide range of appeal no matter what subgenre of horror interests you.

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This could be you trying to understand why I suggested this movie!

I used to find a lot of horror films by browsing the horror sections in video stores. I remember browsing the VHS tapes, and seeing this exact one:

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I was instantly intrigued by the tagline “the only thing more terrifying than the last 10 minutes of this film at the first 90!” I had never heard of this movie or Dario Argento at that point.

I watched Suspiria for the first time on a sunny afternoon by myself. It was mostly weird and somewhat amusing, but I liked it. I wasn’t really scared of it save for a couple of unnerving scenes.

Then I got to those last 10 minutes.

Hell is behind that door! You’re going to meet death now… the LIVING DEAD!

Suspiria

When that door opens I jumped up, paused the movie, and walked outside to remind myself there was a world beyond that badly dubbed nightmare world of witches and the occult Argento had masterfully created. Needless to say I believe that tagline delivers.

I absolutely love Suspiria, and it would easily be in my top ten horror movies of all time. I love Suspiria so much my wedding flowers were blue irises in order to pay homage to Suspiria. Once my wife and I got free shots for me recognizing the bartender’s Suspiria shirt so if nothing else knowing this movie may score you free alcohol. It’s combination of giallo and supernatural elements set to a riveting score full of synth and whispered gibberish is powerfully distinct and hypnotizing. Although it will probably make you chuckle, there is a moment for EVERYONE, no matter what disturbs you, somewhere in this movie:

  • One of the most wild, violent death sequences you will ever see opens the film
  • There is a jump scare that still gets me
  • There is a moment when the overwhelming soundtrack fades to nothing just so you can focus on the sound of a killer inching closer and closer to unlocking the door between them and their next victim – while the victim tries desperately to get themselves up to a window to escape
  • The unnerving, wheezing breath of the headmistress just behind a curtain where the protagonists are. It is a chilling moment even though we aren’t really sure why it is so creepy at the time
  • Maggots. Enough said hopefully.

Three facts that I like to tell people when they are first going to watch this movie:

  • There is no undubbed version. The actors were all told just to speak their native languages whether that was English, Italian, or German so what you hear is truly what you get. I’m sure some would argue the sometimes terrible dubbing adds to the dreamlike sensation, but it will probably just make you a laugh a bit. Which is good because this movie has some seriously unnerving parts (TCM)
  • As originally scripted, Suspiria was to be populated with girls somewhere between 8 to 12 years old, but the studio (including Dario’s father) was like “no f*cking way are you putting little girls in this movie.” So Dario changed the ages but NOT the dialogue, resulting in bizarrely childlike encounters between grown women (TCM). But also just keep in mind when you watch this he planned to cast it with preteen girls.
  • There’s a scene where a character is attacked by a bat and you can definitely see the string holding it up at some points. I just need others to appreciate that as well.

Definitely check this movie out, and let me know what you think if you do!

A note about Suspiria (2018):

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I was very excited to get a remake of this movie. Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is described as a “cover” of the original movie, and the description fits. It is a photo negative of the original in many ways: it is drained of color, actually includes intricate dance scenes, and drops the dreamlike fairy tale for a bleak story grounded in historical events including notably a divided Berlin. It adds a rich narrative to the story, and I feel the original could benefit from that. In a way, I wish elements of both could be cut together. I think it is fascinating to watch them side by side to see such a different take on the same premise, but if choosing between the two there is absolutely no question you should watch the original.

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Why You Should Watch: Last Shift

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A woman with a lot to prove starts her first shift as a police officer. Her only job for the night is to wait for the HAZMAT team to come in and clear the old police station she has been tasked with watching.

There are only two horror films I’ve seen as an adult which thoroughly scared me throughout and lingered afterwards. This is one of them.

I watched this movie alone in the living room of my old apartment with every light off. My old apartment had an open layout with a large, mirrored closet on the the far left side of the room which was next to the kitchen. I was watching the movie on the far right side of the room. I remember getting literal chills, and I kept thinking I heard noises coming the kitchen. I paused the film at least three times to catch my breath and walk around. At one point I even went into the bedroom where my wife was working just to calm down and tell her how much the movie was freaking me out.

Why did this scare me so much versus all the other films I’ve seen? The best way I can describe it is this movie has such insanely creepy moments – moments that remind me of the creepiest urban legends or internet creepypastas I’ve ever read. It’s combination of skin-crawling creepiness, jump scares, and disturbing makeup and behavior is simply unparalleled in my opinion. There are some nice nods to A Nightmare on Elm Street and it will definitely remind you of Session 9. The story line also features a creepy cult and supernatural elements including the king of hell Paimon. That’s right – this movie revolves around the same demon featured in the breakout hit Hereditary. There are some creepy moments you will start to call as they are happening, but when your suspicions are confirmed it feels even more unsettling – other films I’ve seen never quite go for the uncanny moments as often as this one does.

If you often bemoan poor life decisions characters make in horror films, you should give this one a chance. The movie takes great lengths to remind you about the main character’s motivations for sticking it through, so her decision to stay doesn’t feel outlandish given the circumstances.

I highly recommend this movie. Watch it alone, pay attention, and let it surprise you. The movie poster looks like it is such a schlock movie but it is far from it. This is a scary movie that is seriously trying to scare the shit out of you, and for me it wholeheartedly succeeded.


Why You Should Watch: The Final Girls

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Not to be confused with Final Girl (also 2015)

From IMDb: A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.

A movie with that description sounds terrible, or at least like something that could never nail its multiple tones, but Final Girls is a triumph of a horror comedy tinged with drama film. It is pure fun mixed with a heartfelt story. This is the only horror film that has made me laugh and cry in nearly equal turns.

For the laughs, the humor is very well done. The film snagged a very talented cast (you’ll recognize faces from Arrested Development, Pitch Perfect, The Vampire Diaries, and American Horror Story). and just lets them do their thing. The results are amazing for such an overlooked film – both the stereotypical 80s characters and the real people who find themselves caught in the within the 80s slasher film are entertaining. The movie takes the inevitably problematic 80s characters, and finds ways to elevate the humor past being crude for the sake of being crude. Here’s an example when Kurt keeps trying to prompt Chris to objectify women with him:

Kurt: What are you, a fag?

Chris Briggs: My dads are gay, so shut the hell up.

Kurt: Yeah, right! Gay guys can’t have kids! They’re too busy going to discos and having sex with each other… it’s actually a pretty cool lifestyle…

This film also made me cry with it’s touching depiction of a daughter’s love for her deceased mother. You will never hear the song “Bette Davis Eyes” the same way again after watching this movie. I’m still astounded by how well this film balances the humor and sadness, and still leaves you feeling exhilarated by the end.

I love going on the IMDb trivia page after watching a movie I enjoyed, and the page for this movie has a ton of great tidbits. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The script was originally optioned by New Line Cinema, but the studio wanted to eliminate all of the deep character moments and the mother-daughter plot. Eventually, it wound up being produced by Sony, a studio which liked the emotional core but decided to tone down the slasher movie aspect to attain a PG-13 rating. It sucks that this is PG-13 (it also makes some of the deaths a tad confusing), but it would be nothing without the deep character moments. I have this to say to The House that Freddy Built:
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  • The film was conceived and co-written by Joshua John Miller as a way of dealing with the death of his dad, Jason Miller, who had starred as Father Karras in The Exorcist (1973). This really explains the emotional resonance of the film.
  • The revelation that Gertie slept with an autistic guy was scripted in a very mean-spirited way and Alia Shawkat had a real problem with it, so she decided to come up with her own dialogue. The writers and director have all praised her instincts in regards to the scene. For a moment in this scene, I braced myself to be let down, and I’m so glad the actress changed the dialogue. It’s a tiny moment that gives you an example of how to reach when someone punches down with a comment you don’t agree with.
  • The writers named the characters in Camp Bloodbath Nancy and Tina as an homage to A Nightmare on Elm Street.

I cannot suggest this movie enough. Other movies have certainly threaded similar ground such as 2005’s Camp Slaughter and even 2018’s enjoyable Blood Fest, but none pull off the impressive genre blend this film does.

Why You Should Watch: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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How none of these movies ever incorporated a character attempting to use a dream catcher is beyond me.

This movie is essential viewing for anyone interested in horror. I would encourage you to watch this alone with the volume turned up as loud as you can stomach. This movie is nauseatingly frightening in many portions, and that sensation is often lost because people go into this film not taking it seriously. There are so many little things to love about this film. The way it captures the dreamlike sensation of being exhausted. The touches of humor. The iconic soundtrack and eerie sound effects – nails screeching on steel; goats bleating; startling stinger noises. The creative backstory. But there are three particular aspects I want potential viewers to know about:

Inspired by a true story (!)

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A lot of careful thought went into maximizing the fright this film induces. Writer and Director Wes Craven was raised in a strict Baptist household, and drew inspiration for some of his films from true stories he read in newspapers. Usually the phrase “inspired by a true story” means a horror film was sort of inspired by Ed Gein or someone being spooked by something one time. In this case, the true story is actually pretty creepy. Craven had read stories about young, otherwise physically healthy refugees who would claim something was trying to kill them in their sleep. The young men would then refuse to sleep, and eventually die once they finally did fall back asleep. Read this to learn more.

The Villain

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Obviously Freddy is frightening in this film because we all ultimately need to sleep so you can’t outrun him. If you just know Freddy as a wisecracking joker, you will probably be surprised at how unnerving he is in this first film. Every little detail about him is meant to be disturbing. Freddy Krueger’s glove is meant to inspire a prehistoric fear of being clawed to death by an animal. His sweater colors were chosen to purposely to bother our eyes – something Wes Craven read in Scientific American. Most of all he went after children before being burned to death – something Michael Myers didn’t even do till 1988.

Our Hero

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When you watch this, pay careful attention to our protagonist Nancy Thompson. She is my absolute favorite final girl of all time, and it’s easy to lose sight of how special she is between the shocking scares and intrigue of the storyline. Nancy is the icon I use on this blog and my Twitter because I absolutely adore her. I gush more about her in this spoiler heavy post about underappreciated final girls. In this movie you get to watch her yell at Johnny Depp in his first feature film, and pull off a Home Alone boobytrapping montage 6 years before it was a thing. Her final confrontation with Freddy is one of the most inspiring and ingenious endings to a slasher film.

IF NOTHING ELSE WATCH: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

OKAY BUT SERIOUSLY YOU SHOULD ALSO AT LEAST WATCH: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

IF YOU CAN WATCH: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,  A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master; A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (unpopular opinion: I prefer this to 4 and think its handling of teen pregnancy and discussing abortion are handled extremely well); Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare (meta before Wes Craven’s later masterpiece Scream made it cool!)


IF YOU WANT TO LAUGH/GO FOR BROKE WATCH:  A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Just watch this and try to keep reminding yourself the creators insist they didn’t realize how queer this movie is. Also there’s an exploding parrot. This film nearly derailed the whole series); Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare; A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (Even more unpopular opinion: I know most would just expect a snarky comment about how bad this is and an insistence no one watch it. Don’t get me wrong – this film does a lot of stuff terribly wrong and makes a slick, cash grab mockery of the original. But there are visuals and moments that I really like in it (the opening scene with the alternating green and red lights in the diner, Quentin’s dream, the final disturbing twist). So just think about it. But 1 and 3 are pretty much universally revered and deserve your attention first.

BONUS! Treat yourself by watching the only Freddy vs. Jason that matters in my book.

Just kidding you should probably watch Freddy vs. Jason if you also want to laugh (and cringe!) and go for broke. That movie took over a decade to make, and all the different potential scripts are detailed in the excellent Slash of the Titans: The Road to Freddy vs. Jason by Dustin McNeill. Here is my review of the book including my favorite tidbits:

This book details 10 (!) different scripts written over the course a decade to bring together Freddy and Jason. It is well organized and provides interesting insights into how people approached the material. Many found the tonal differences in each series to be hard to overcome when trying to combine them into a shared universe. Here are some of my favorite tidbits:

  • Almost all the rejected scripts involved tying together the backstories of the 2 characters (usually by making Freddy a camp counselor at Camp Crystal Lake and typically the abuser/murderer of a 10-year-old Jason). 
  • Many of them involve a Freddy cult 
  • One script involved Jason being a real life serial killer on trial. This was written during the O.J. trial and the writers were trying to create a fictional “trial of the century.” 
  • One writer begrudgingly wrote a rejected version of the script as a favor and said “When you get to the point you are making something like Batman vs. Superman that’s a pretty clear sign both franchises have run out of steam.” – he went on to write Batman vs. Superman 
  • In almost all of them Jason is set up to varying degrees of sympathy as the “hero” and one to root for in the showdown. Jason is a murderer but he is also a victim – the most sympathetic read is he kills people who behave in the same way that caused his neglectful death. If he talked he would probably grumble “get off my lawn” while swinging his machete around. Freddy on the other hand clearly takes pleasure in killing people which makes it easier to make Jason the antihero. 
  • Jason won in most of the scripts (5 vs. 3) and I will argue to this day he won in the 2003 movie


Why You Should Watch: Session 9

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Being a horror film fan is addictive. You are constantly on the hunt for a new, unknown film that will make you feel something. And during that process you will watch a lot of garbage to find the good stuff. Enough garbage that your bar is already set low each time – making a great movie truly stand out. Especially one that isn’t well-known.

All of this is to say Session 9 is the kind of horror film that makes the hunt worth it. If you want to watch a smart, creepy horror film you absolutely owe it to yourself to track this film down. This movie can give you shivers on even the most humid day if you give it a chance.

Session 9 follows an asbestos abatement crew who take a project clearing out an abandoned mental asylum (it was even filmed at the allegedly haunted Danvers State Mental Hospital). One of the crew discovers recordings of the sessions conducted with a particularly disturbing and possibly demonic patient, and it begins to become clear something is terribly wrong with this situation.

This movie combines the unraveling, paranoid group of men from The Thing with a creepy and twisted ghost story while touching on Satanic ritual abuse stories from the 80s.

It was also the first horror film which showed me how crucial sound design is to create an atmosphere capable of giving you chills. The most brilliant moments in this movie combine a hypnotically disturbing recording of a mental patient’s sessions with montages of the setting and characters. The result is the feeling that an evil force is present at all times just based on the use of sound design alone.

I can’t think of any other horror film which so thoroughly misdirects you, yet still packs a completely satisfying ending which pulls all its pieces together. This is a horror film which excels where so many fail for the average viewer. This is a great watch if you want to see a horror film stick its landing. If you are put off by poor character decisions in other horror films, rest assured this movie takes great strides to help you understand the characters motivations for staying in the situation.

Does it include David Caruso giving this terrible line reading?

Yes it does. But make no mistake – the rest of this film is an effective story that will have you glued to the scene.

Why You Should Watch: The Blob (1988)

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If it had a mind, you could reason with it. If it had a face, you could look it in the eye. And if it had a body, you could shoot it.

The Blob (1988) Trailer

The Blob is a real gem of an 80s horror film. It’s a great example of a few different things: a blend of horror and science fiction; a remake that honors and builds upon its predecessor; a great display of practical effects. It’s silly, scary, gross, and thrilling. It really should not be missed but is an especially great watch if you want to see an exceptional horror film that is lesser known but worth the watch.

The Blob has been a personal favorite of mine since childhood so it’s hard for me to list some coherent, intriguing reasons as to why I believe you should watch it but I will try:

  • Watching this movie is thrilling. It starts with scenes of a mysteriously abandoned small town and after introducing you to its key characters it doesn’t relent in creating an exciting experience
  • Fantastic practical effects. This is the type of movie that makes you sad over the dominance of CGI
  • Includes one of my favorite jabs at another popular franchise – a movie within a movie scene making fun of the Friday the 13th franchise.
  • One of the few horror films to kill a child. This movie often has some cynical humor but it also isn’t afraid to go there to ramp up the suspense
  • An unforgettable garbage disposal scene
  • It honors its 1958 predecessor with characters coded to look like preps and greasers based on their clothes

You may be thinking the obvious: how scary can a giant blob that consumes people possibly be? But being killed by the blob is easily one of the most excruciating deaths a horror film character can befall. It is basically liquidizing your organs slowly over the course of hours. A popular horror film podcast did a death match bracket with horror film villains and the blob decimated everything else to become the winner.

The titular character also has some personality and intelligence about its mission. When not just rolling down the street like Katamari, the blob likes to stage jump scares and sneak up to people. Which makes no sense but is nonetheless delightful – especially when some of those people include a sleazy attempted date rapist.

For those interested in examining American History reflected through horror media it would be worthwhile to watch 50s and 80s Blobs back to back to note the significant departures in the origins of the blob. Like other horror films which get reimagined, this remake reflects the differences even a few decades make in social norms. Unlike the 50s film in which the antagonistic goop truly is an alien life form which accidental crashed to earth in a meteorite, the 80s version sees a much darker and more cynical origin for the blob which reflects a post-Watergate and Vietnam War America (while also managing to still be anti-Russian because we are still talking about the 1980s…). Ironically the 50s film inadvertently makes a statement that seems to ominously allude to the threat of climate change in the current decade:

Dave requests authorities send an Air Force heavy-lift cargo aircraft to transport the Blob to the Arctic, where it is later parachuted down to the ice and snow pack. Dave says that while the creature is not dead, at least it has been stopped. To this, Steve Andrews replies, “Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold”.

The film ends with the words “The End” which then morph into a question mark.

The Blob (1958)

The 80s version takes a different twist – its ending an ominous commentary on religious fanaticism.

Why You Should Watch: Paranormal Activity

An ingenious marketing campaign coupled with reinvigorating the found footage subgenre. These movies thrive for many reasons but one of them that doesn’t often get mentioned is how grounded in reality the characters and dialogue feel. The casual depictions of the characters early on makes the horror of the movies all the more tragic. We can so often detach from horror film characters (e.g. “they’re stupid”, “they are completely unlikable”), that we don’t feel a connection to the situation or what’s happening to them. It’s not that characters in these films are continuously charismatic either, instead they merely strike enough chords to people you know or conversations you’ve had to feel real. They are so witty and full of life initially that it is painful to watch them slowly become emotionally drained over the course of the films. That, coupled with the slow escalation of paranormal moments, are why these films are so brilliant.

The chronological order of these films is 3, 2, 1, 4, Ghost Dimension, and the prequels/sequels detail a rich backstory.

Scare Factor: 3/5 – these movies have some effective jump scares, and I’ve had the sensation of being creeped out by the ambient sounds of a new place. But I have never lived in a forever home and experienced those sounds so these movies aren’t as effective for me. The demon has been attached to a particular person their whole life so as long as you avoid someone with that issue you will be fine.


If nothing else Watch: Paranormal Activity 1

If you can watch: Paranormal Activity 2, 3, and The Marked Ones (the latter is focused on a Mexican-American teenagers in an apartment complex which is a notable distinqushment from the others which all focus on middle to upper class white families).

If you want to laugh/go for broke watch: Paranormal Activity 4 and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension