|Killer, Masked||Killer, Religious||Killer, Serious||Ladder Grab||Last Man|
|Military Option||Mirror Door||Mirror Tricks||Murder, Classical||Necronomicon|
|Ouija Boards||Reality Genre||Resurrection, Cheesy||Reveal, Turn-Around||Scientist, Mad|
|Slasher Genre||Storyteller, Convenient||Tunnel Systems||Twins, Evil||Vampire Hookers|
|White Lady||Wished Wrong||Zombies, Brain Eating||Zombies, Nazi||Zombies, Shambling|
The Ladder Grab
Just when the protagonist is nearly out of harm's way, climbing a ladder to freedom, the killer manages to extend his arm and grab an ankle. So avoid ladders in horror movies. Especially ladders in sewers. First Use No clue, as yet. Ladders have been around quite a while, so this may take some time. I am pretty sure there is a ladder grab in the mine in My Bloody Valentine (1981), but I need to confirm. Adaptations The ladder ankle grab was used successfully in the ponderously named Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) during the nearly exciting climax in the sewers. A kid nearly escapes in the successful remake of The Blob (1988), also in a sewer. Ladders near water don't fare much better - as shown in Alien Resurrection (1997) where 50% of the grabbed people are able to keep moving up the ladder. Another wet ladder causes problems in Deep Blue Sea (1999), but not for long because sharks are heavy. An ankle grab on a very old ladder amps the tension near the finale of The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013), even though we never see Connecticut in this movie.
The Last Man on Earth
The post-apocalyptic genre usually involves boring movies filmed for pennies in some desert in California, but Last Man on Earth movies are generally more interesting and less lame. And they usually allow the audience to roll along with the hero though unbridled shopping scenes before the horror ride begins. Last shopper on earth, I guess. Lionel Schriver asserts in the article Population in Literature, (2003) that "Most doomsday novels feature war or disease... with the fears of the bomb receding, and AIDS in ascendancy, plague novels have become more in vogue." First Use In 1805, Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville published Le Dernier Homme (literally 'The Last Man') and established the themes of a decimated planet, a last man (whose name, Omegare, leads us literally to The Omega Man), and nasty subterranean cannibal humanoids (centuries before C.H.U.D.). Rather than agreeing to father a new race of these cannibal creatures, Omegare chooses to die. Adaptations In 1822, Mary Shelley, possibly inspired by de Grainville, composed her own apocalyptic The Last Man, which introduces a worldwide plague in Volume 2, and ends in the year 2100 with the last man, Lionel, facing an uncertain future. Reportedly panned by contemporary critics, this work was 'virtually unknown' until the 1960s. The first direct adaptation of this work appears to be the film Mary Shelley's The Last Man (2008), an indie film that manages to work some of the obligatory desert footage into the adaptation.
Imitation continued throughout the 19th century. An unauthorized adaptation of de Grainville's work took the form of a poem by Auguste-Francois Creuze de Lesser, The Last Man, Poem Inspired by Grainville in 1832, expanding several elements of the story. The character of Omegar(e) was employed in a more philosophical poem The Uneteide or The Messiah Woman, written by Paulin Gagne in 1858. The very next year, Gagne's wife Elise Gagne produced Omegar, or The Last Man (1859) in yet another poetic treatment.
I am Legend, by Richard Matheson, published in 1954, revived the genre for 20th century consumption. Regarded as a classic, this well known science fiction work runs between vampire horror and philosophy as it follows the last man on earth, following world war and plague. Most film adaptations are inspired by Matheson's book. Early adaptations include The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price and The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston; both are good (but streamlined) adaptations of the Matheson story. Matheson's book has also been cited as a key influence by George Romero for Night of the Living Dead films.
Homega Man provided parody in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror VII (1996). The first sequences of 28 Days Later (2003) brilliantly embody this genre before jumping into an urban zombie apocalypse. In the void of original ideas, Will Smith starred in a flawed blockbuster adaptation of I am Legend in 2007. Rock on, Fresh Prince. Cashing in on this remake was low budget I am Omega (2007) starring the Chairman from the American version of Iron Chef, Mark Decastos, probably direct to DVD.
Although it doesn't actually get down to one last man, Stephen King's epic novel The Stand (1978) captures most of the key elements, while building on the horrors and philosophical implications of a decimated planet. He re-released it in 1990 with updated cultural references, and it was adapted (fairly successfully) into a television miniseries in 1994. Credited by King as part of the inspiration for The Stand is Earth Abides, written in 1949 by George R. Stewart. This novel includes the post-apocalyptical aspects of earth with reduced humanity, and is an important entry into this genre. Also slightly outside the horror genre is The Road (2009) from the mind of Cormac McCarthy.
Please don't confuse with The Last Man on Earth (1924), a comedy regarding the last man on earth among plentiful women. Sheesh.
Call Out the Military
If the horror is more than you can handle, calling in the military shows just how awful things are. In the old days, military response tended to be saved to clean up the biggest of monsters, often echoing the reassurance of American military dominance. Since Romero, an armed military response provides the breakwater for waves of zombies or other 'broadly based' forces of horror, underscoring our growing fear of nonspecific threats like terrorism, biological plagues, or ecological catastrophes. More recently, the military is part of the problem, or possibly the cause. These films may even provide an escapist mechanism for processing the daily newsfeed of wars overseas. First Use In the waning days of British imperialism, invasion fears may have inspired H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (1898), which includes the invading aliens quickly overpowering the military, although the use of artillery continues for much of the story. In the end, an earthly bacteria saves the day, ironically echoing the motif of an biological attack that we fear today. Adaptations When Orson Welles adapted H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds for radio in 1938, invoking the military to trigger the helpless panic experienced by much of the listening audience. The two most memorable remakes of War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005) also rely on highlighting the futility of direct military response to the hostile invaders. While originally a device to emphasize the overwhelming power of the creature(s), this motif now resonates as a reminder that military response of force is not always appropriate or useful.
Beginning with the nuclear age, the military began responding to big-monster threats. After a plutonium bomb turns a regular guy into The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), it takes the military to corner him. Clint Eastwood had his brief debut as a lab worker helping the army to fight the Creature from the Black Lagoon in the sequel The Revenge of the Creature (1955). In Japan, Godzilla (1954) scattered armies like little green army men over decades of sequels and remakes.
As our we grew comfortable with the nuclear age, our fears could no longer be represented by single megamonsters, and the military became responsible for protecting us from broader threats. Contemporary film images of the military against unstoppable evils parallels our daily newsfeed of military events unfolding in real-time overseas. Eroded military systems in the face of unstoppable zombie epidemics are major themes in both Day of the Dead (1985, and the limp 2008 remake) and 28 Days Later (2002), and even (at a smaller scale) against breathtaking werewolves in Dog Soldiers (2002). The military, helpless themselves, opted for the nuclear response in Return of the Living Dead (1985), which wasn't the best idea judging from its two sequels - although Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993) has the military looking to exploit the zombies. Transposing the same fears on an earlier war, Deathwatch (2002) flips the motif to reveal an unspeakable evil amid the trenches of World War I France. Although they caused the trans-dimensional problems, it is ultimately the military that signals some relief at the end of The Mist (2007).
Mirror Door Medicine Cabinet
Sure, the tension always increases when someone is in a bathroom - usually alone, often disrobed, typically vulnerable. They may even get something from the medicine cabinet - but when they swing that little mirrored door closed, we see the killer right in the bathroom with them! This device only works in movies, and is among the most reliable shock moves that a director can throw. Unfortunately, it has been done to death, and is officially very predictable. First Use First used for a gentle symbolic connection, Alfred Hitchcock places the killer and the victim, Norman Bates and Marion Crane, together briefly in a window-reflected view in Psycho (1960). Not the jump-shock that has become ubiquitous, yet there it is. Reflections were an important motif in the film, often as a device of foreshadowing. Adaptations Ghost stories are especially good at using this motif to provide fleeting glimpses of phantoms. Freddy comes back through the bathroom mirror (and the faucet handles) in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). I believe the ghost of Pascow makes his first appearance in the bathroom mirror in Pet Semetary (1989), and that weird nurses are glimpsed in mirrors in the remake of House on Haunted Hill (1999), but I need to verify these. In the remake of The Mummy (1999), the camera shifts away from the vanity mirror, then shifts back to reveal a knife-wielding henchman to kick off the boat attack action sequence. The campy Sometimes They Come Back... Again (1996) has a "now you see him, now you don't" moment with blinking lights in a public bathroom mirror. Seen once again in What Lies Beneath (2000), and the Japanese classic Ju-on (2002) has a cat-voiced ghost kid showing up everywhere, including the old mirror door from time to time. Rob Zombie throws it at Danielle Harris about 1:10 into his Halloween II (2009), but we knew she was in trouble as soon as the deputy showed up.
Sometimes the medicine cabinet door itself is the problem. House (1986) showed a medicine cabinet that opened into a dark and dangerous ghost world. About 16 minutes into The Unborn (2009), a medicine cabinet door sometimes has medicine behind it, and sometimes has an ugly freak-kid behind it. You don't get to pick when, though.
Mirrors are used throughout Stanley Kubric's The Shining (1980), but again, not for the shock effect as much as a symbol of dual nature (see below).
The Mirror's Not A Mirror
Looking into a mirror usually delivers a reflection. However, in horror films, this expected outcome is often turned to create uncanny results. These may include a lack of reflection (for vampires), an out-of-sync reflection, or even a non-mirrorish surface (behaves like water, or forms arms to grab someone). Such unsettling results are intended to make the viewer more uncomfortable. At least, more uncomfortable than just looking in a mirror. First Use So far, the earliest film use I have come across is in comedy - the Marx Brothers Duck Soup (1933), which pioneered the 'out of sync' mirror gag with comedic results. Harpo Marx recreated this gag in a 1955 episode of I Love Lucy (also not horror).
It should be noted that turning mirrors towards the wall was a common European practice in a house where a death had occurred. Standing water was also spilled out, in an effort to prevent the spirit of the departed from becoming trapped in the reflective surface. So that's kind of spooky. Add to that the belief that vampires cast no reflection, and the 'seven years bad luck' from breaking a mirror, and you have a large folkloric precedent for mirrors being spooky. And need I mention the ritual of 'Mary Worth' (or 'Bloody Mary,' depending on where you live), who can be invoked from a mirror to scratch your eyes out at a slumber party?
Adaptations A fine 'vampires cast no reflection' scene is featured at a ball in Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Some of the best mirror gags ever take place in Poltergeist III (1988), which opted for pure optical effects (including mirror tricks) instead of any post-processing. Writing on the reverse-side of a mirror delivers a plea for help in Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988). The 'out of sync' bit is taken to new levels in Army of Darkness (1992), where the evil reflection of Ash is broken, with the mirror, into an army of mini-Ashes.
The ever reliable Freddy Krueger pushes his way out of a bathroom mirror in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). A large mirror is used as long-distance gateway in Van Helsing (2004). The theme of 'Mary Worth/Bloody Mary' is adapted in Bloody Mary as a maniacal mirror-hopping spirit. Bloody Mary returned as the central theme of the 2005 season finale of South Park, with Biggie Smalls filling in for Mary.
Avoid the mishmashed crapfest The Unborn (2009), where mirrors are bad and need to be broken at all costs. The Broken (2008) is a better mirror movie, but it isn't just about breaking them. Beware of mirrors full of demons in the gritty indie film Finale (2009). Along those lines, there are a lot of attempted scares in mirrors in A Haunting In Connecticut (2009), but they come too frequently to be effective. The adequate remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) had to finish with the same sort of 'gotcha' surprise as the original, but in this version it involves a somewhat imaginative mirror grab, but the surprise was lacking.
An unusual adaptation is seen in Hello Mary Lou, Prom Night II (1987), where a blackboard (rather than a mirror) reaches out and pulls the girl into a swirling vortex of chalk letters and such.
While not so tricky, but used as an effective visual device, some movies rely heavily on the motif of mirrors to represent duality or an alternate viewpoint - these include Kubrick's The Shining (1980) and Mario Bava's Savalas-filled Lisa and the Devil (1974). One interesting thing about The Shining is how Kubric uses reflected views of his characters (probably to represent the dual aspects of their personality), but also how he uses 'imperfect reflections' - the twin girls who don't quite match, and the caretaker Grady, who is sometimes named Delbert and sometimes (in the washroom) named something else, and the woman in the bathtub who is two entirely different things at the same time. Not to ignore young horror fans, R. L. Stine's The Haunting Hour did an entire episode entitled 'Scary Mary' (2011) that involved a take on the old 'Mary Worth' story, turning everything mirror-like into an opportunity to scare.
Classically Themed Murders
What happens when a scriptwriter has actually read a book or two? You get ambitious murderers, who separate themselves from the slashing herds by meticulous and elaborate planning or complicated murder set-pieces. These antagonists closely resemble the 'super villains' (who, in contrast, are usually unable to kill the dashing protagonist precisely because of the overly elaborate death traps). First Use Vincent Price in the wonderful The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) seems to have presaged the 'wildly complex classically based murder series' motif for horror/suspense films. To exact his revenge upon the doctors who failed to save his wife, Dr. Phibes (Price at a quirky extreme) models his murders on the nine biblical plagues of Egypt. Sounds easy, but you try killing someone with locusts.
Although there is an apparent ancient plan driving the murders in H. G. Lewis' Blood Feast (1963), it is hard to call it 'classically themed' - creepy Egyptian Fuad Ramses murders young women to steal a leg, a brain, etc. in preparation for the 'Feast of Isis,' although it kind of looks like a crab boil.
Adaptations The Phibes sequel (Dr. Phibes Rises Again, 1972) attempts to recapture this theme, but the elaborate killings lack a unifying theme, and seem to be aimed at whoever is handy. David Fincher's stunningly bleak Se7en (1995) takes this motif to a new level, working through the seven deadly sins with masterful preparation and victim manipulation. Also of note is an episode of the TV series CSI:NY (aired originally October 11, 2006) where people are murdered according to Grecian mythological themes (hydra slaying, 100 eyes of Panoptes, etc). Pretty good for TV, actually. The independent film Feed (2005) about a madman who gradually feeds his girlfriends to death also deserves mentioning, although it merely targets gluttony. More of a thriller than horror, Steig Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005) introduces a string of brutal murders based on biblical punishments, reminding us what a rich source of horrors religion can be.
The seven deadly sins appear again as demons in the Supernatural episode The Magnificent Seven from 2007, proving that you cannot keep a good template down. The inspired television series American Horror Story - Hotel (2015) rolled out a series of murders based on the Ten Commandments, all ironically tied to the specific sin.
While it is early, the 1967 episode of Batman entitled 'The Zodiac Crimes' features the Joker and Penguin teaming up on a string of crimes based on the zodiac - but they obviously don't kill anyone.
A Book Called Necronomicon
When you need a demonic invasion to jump start a sagging horror film, just whip out an ancient book of lost incantations to get the party started. It doesn't have to be called Necronomicon specifically, but the legion will get the idea. First Use The Necronomicon, ('Book of Dead Names') is expressly the creation of H.P. Lovecraft. Reportedly written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred (Lovecraft's childhood alter-ego), it's tangled verses include procedures for spanning the abyss that separates us from the 'Old Ones' and the dimensions of horror that surrounds us unseen. According to Lovecraft, only five copies have survived to modern times - one in the rare book collection at Miskatonic University. I have even seen wild speculation that some actual connections to A. Crowley exist. Several efforts have been made to 'recreate' this lost tome.
Often overlooked as a possible influence leading towards the Necronomicon is Robert Chamber's 'The King in Yellow, written in 1895. This set of stories are linked by a book (of the same name) which causes the reader to become insane.
Another inspiration that would clearly be known to Lovecraft is the unwholesome 'Green Book' featured in Arthur Machen's The White People (written in the 1890s, but first published in 1904). Originally the diary of a young girl, the book records her descent into ancient rituals. Many of the phrases created by Machen (such as 'Aklo') were used from time to time by Lovecraft, and the Green Book may have inspired Wilbur Whateley's diary in The Dunwith Horror.
Adaptations An early appropriation of Lovecraft's book is Equinox (1971), which runs like a claymation-heavy Evil Dead, but without the scariness. This film is also noteworthy because it is the film debut of Frank Bonner (Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati). They don't actually call the book 'Necronomicon,' but it is utterly similar. Sam Raimi's trilogy The Evil Dead (1982) (often cited as a remake of Equinox), Evil Dead II (1987) (often cited as a remake of The Evil Dead), and Army of Darkness (1993) certainly lead the pack on this motif, and they set the bar high. The Necronomicon (1993) is the only titular production, but is as poor a Lovecraft adaptation as you will find. Don't forget the equally forgettable Necronomicon (1994) (alternately titled "H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon, Book of the Dead" on DVD) which proves again that Lovecraft is generally unadaptable to film. The Slaughter (2006) included the flesh-bound book without naming it, but references to Soggoth clinch its identity. The short horror film Of Darkness (2006) pivots about a group of teens that find (and read) an unnamed spooky, decayed book of ancient incantations. A very familiar medieval book is used to unleash a zombie plague in the Japanese multi-genre film Big T1ts Zombie (2010). South Park used the book to invoke an oddly compliant Cthulhu in the 2010 (Season 14, episode 12) "Mysterion Rises" episode.
In the nearby category of evil books, please see The Devil's Diary (2007), featuring a book that makes anything written in it come to pass. Also reminds me of the question-answering journal in the third Harry Potter film (which later turned out to be quite evil after all). No connection is expected to The Devil's Dictionary (1911)by Ambrose Bierce.
Spooky OuiJa Boards
It's hard to remember a time when a OuiJa board in a horror movie was not an automatic trigger for ghostly or demonic hijinx. Pesky spirits begin spelling out their names before the plantir is even warm. Often, the use of a Ouija board in a movie signals the waypoint where tone changes in a horror movie, and the scares start flowing. First Use The first use of an actual OuiJa board that I am aware of goes to William Castle's original 13 Ghosts (1960), where it reveals spooky messages without much user participation. I have heard that The Uninvited (1944) includes an improvised 'talking board' made from a Scrabble set and a wine glass, which certainly counts. Adaptations Trendsetting demon-themed films Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (both the 1971 novel and the 1973 film) put this device firmly on the horror map, often with chilling effect (just ask Captain Howdy). In 1972, anthology-house Amicus delivered Tales From the Crypt, with Peter Cushing conferring with a board. I have seen a reference to an Australian film called Alison's Birthday (1979) where a Ouija causes all sorts of ancient-evil based problems. Tepid sequel Amityville 3-D (1983) and The Devil's Gift (1984) went there, too. Misuse of Ouija kick starts an evil Djin in Long Time Dead (2002). There is also a profoundly mundane Ouija scene in a low-budget release called Drive Thru (2007), which boasts a cameo by the creator of Supersize Me (2004), which was kind of the film's high point. But I digress. Oddly, Séance (2006) includes shots of a Ouija board in the title sequence, but I don't recall one being used in this tale of three college girls who live in a haunted dorm room. The indie-horror hit Paranormal Activity (2007) also raises the burning question about why it is a bad idea to use a Ouija board in a house inhabited by a demon (it seems obvious to me, anyway). Another board appears in the sequel Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), but it does not have any direct effect on the haunting. A Ouija combined with a ritual are all that one requires to jumpstart Exorcismus (2010), a timid posession film from Spain. While not a formal Ouija, a water glass moves across a newspaper, magnifying letters to spell 'Sarah' in the somewhat effective Silent House (2011). Teens start dropping after a board says "hi friend" in Ouija (2014).
Eventually, the Ouija would become the central plot element, as in Witchboard (1986), not to mention Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway (1993), and the little-anticipated Witchboard 3: The Possession (1995). Although I have not seen it, there is an Asian horror film named Witchboard that I remember seeing in a listing in 2007. The perils of an interrupted Ouija ritual are realized in Ouija (2007), but considering the title, that should have been no surprise. Maybe Ouija boards should be fireproof. Ultimately, someone thought to make a movie actually titled Ouija (2014), as though the subject had never really been explored.
A possible spin-off of this motif is the 'evil games' category, which potentially begins with Jumanji (1995), but has influenced such films as Open Graves (2009), which deals with a game made from a witch's blood, tears, and skin.
The Reality-Based Horror Genre
Shaky cameras, grainy black and white footage, sometimes mixed in with crisp digital footage. It's just raw enough to convince you that you are watching a documentary or newsreel account of a horrible tragedy from a fly-on-the-wall vantage point. Before this, we had to be content with sitting though a professionally made motion picture, I guess. First Use Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980) really seems to have started it all. This mondo classic has stayed just underground enough to be missed by the mainstream world. It even originated the 'lost footage discovered' motif that was used so effectively near Burkitsville, MD by the Blair Witch bunch. Adaptations Another early reality-based horror experience was an HBO Tales from the Crypt episode Television Terror (1990) starring Morton Downey, Jr. The episode involved a very Downey-like talkshow host taking a film crew into a haunted house to spend the night, televised on live TV. The most memorable sequences are video-quality, somewhat shaky handheld camera sequences. This was one of the better Tales from the Crypt episodes. Certainly most notable is the landmark Blair Witch Project (1999), which, in turn seems to have borrowed heavily from The Last Broadcast (1998). Some credit should also go to MTV's reality based innovations, including the harrowing but short-lived series MTV's Fear (2000 - 2002).
Since Blair Witch (and its sequel in 2000), half-baked knockoffs like The St. Francisville Experiment (2000) can be found - and usually avoided. 2008 brought us Cloverfield with another single point-of-view camcorder, complete with effective shaky camera reality footage. Abrams sought to take the genre further than The Blair Witch Project (1999) by limiting himself to a single camera, with 'natural' edits created by gaps in filming, rather than cutting between the two camera approach used with Blair Witch. An interesting approach is used in The Last Horror Movie (2003), which is presented as a run-of-the-mill horror video that a real serial killer has taped over, documenting his own habits - they had to do this before DVDs took over, I guess. 2006 brought an acute self-aware reality approach to Behind The Mask, in which a film crew follows an ascending 'legendary killer.' Shaky, single point of view camerawork added immediacy to Outbreak (2008) as well. Don't overlook the low-indie, annoyingly screamy (but effective) Five Across the Eyes (2006), which takes a shot at a realism by placing the grainy, shaky handheld camera in a van as the only point of view for the entire film as five girls are terrorized in Tennessee. The Spanish film Rec (2007) was remade as Quarantine in 2008, following a reporter and her cameraman through a building locked in with a maddening sickness (although the original was more supernatural in flavor). The handheld camera fun continued in Rec 2 (2009), and although a sequel is planned for Quarrantine, it will not be a remake of this sequel. Within the genre is the 'fake documentary,' executed well in the methodical and atmospheric Australian ghost tale Lake Mungo (2008). The well crafted (but awkwardly ending) The Last Exorcism (2010) is an effective, character driven fake-documentary that holds up very well until the end.
George Romero's Diary of the Dead (2007) uses the camcorder approach as well, and the film suffers primarily because it does not feel like a Romero zombie movie. Come see shaky camcorders again in the Peter Jackson-produced alien metaphor District 9 (2009). Betting that home viewers of paranormal TV reality shows are conditioned to seeing nothing happen in night-vision, the ultra-low budget (reportedly $15K) single-camera indie sensation Paranormal Activity (2007) (generally released to theaters in 2009) set the world abuzz as the most frightening film in years. Its sequels Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) and Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) found new oblique ways to spook audiences worldwide. A collection of mysterious recovered lunar footage from 1973 drives the scares of Apollo 18 (2011), allowing viewers to parse through the films of a moon mission that reportedly never took place. Capturing much of the Burkitsville feeling overseas is the well received thriller from Norway TrollHunter (2010), which is already rumored to be in development for remake. Mixing found footage and flashbacks successfully is The Tunnel Movie (2011) where something evil lurks in the tunnels beneath Australia. Early 2012 brings indie 'honestly, this is all true' exorcism film The Devil Inside to tepid reviews. A single camera, occasionally changing hands captures Crowsnest (2012). For a film presented as being filmed in the 1940s, Frankenstein's Army (2013) even matches the faded blues and saturated reds of color images from that time period - in addition to providing some of the most inventive mosters recently seen.
Cheesy Resurrection for a Sequel
This is a sad testament to the idea vacuum in scriptwriting today. Why create a new idea when there is money to be made from peddling the stuff that worked last time? When such an artistic crutch itself becomes cliché... well, I don't have a cliché to describe it. First Use Following the success of 1931's Frankenstein, Universal went for a sequel, and actually managed to get some mileage out of unused plot elements from the novel. However, for Bride of Frankenstein (1935), they had to resurrect the creature that presumably died in the windmill fire at the climax of the first movie. This resurrection is not as cheesy as finding the creature frozen in ice (as would happen later in 1939's Son of Frankenstein, which may qualify as the first truly cheesy resurrection, making it noteworthy here. Adaptations The next shamefully cheesy resurrection is the link between the first two Brazilian Coffin Joe films At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964) and This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967). Coffin Joe dies badly (eyes popped out, etc) at the end of the first film, yet the second begins with a re-run of the death sequence with a "He is alive!" shot thrown in. A montage of medical recuperation gets Coffin Joe as good as new so he can go back to terrorizing his town. He even got his eye back in.
Other adaptations? Wow. Don't get me started. Imagine the 1980's without this feeble device for wringing a few extra bucks from a decent movie. From junkyard dogs urinating fire onto Freddy Krueger's grave (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in 1988), to underwater electrical shocks for Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan from 1989), we have learned to look aside as this cheap device is used to launch any long running sequel entry. With enough money, you can always raise the dead. Bud is revived for CHUD II: Bud the CHUD (1989) by the kid from Saved by the Bell dropping a blow-dryer into the bathtub with Bud. Also of noteworthy cheese is the 'dig up Jason and accidental lightening strike' sequence at the beginning of Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986), which features an appearance by Ron Palillo from Welcome Back Kotter, like that is going to help. I dare not fully enumerate this sorry legion here, but hopefully this 'easy out' for writers faded with the 1980s.
The Turn-Around-Reveal Finale
Nothing cranks up the tension in a film's climax like a slow approach to a mysterious character, only to have that character suddenly turn and - EEK! - reveal a shocking surprise via the turn-around reveal. First Use Despite being a very visual shocker, the fatally frightening turn-around was used in literature by Poe in Masque of the Red Death (1842), in which the protagonist drops dead after the mysterious masked figure turns and reveals himself:...Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry — and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero.
Although the audience gets a brief preview of his unmasked face, The Phantom of the Opera (1925) makes the ultimate dramatic turn-around reveal to Christine when she interrupts him at his organ. It is difficult for her feelings to remain unchanged after this climactic moment.
Adaptations Groundbreaking horror classic Psycho (1960) used this device during the climax of the film as we meet Norman's mother. Extra points to Hitchcock for getting that swinging light bulb going, too. The influential Carnival of Souls (1962) had the grinning carny wight do a slow turnaround in an office chair near the climax of the film. Don't Look Now, (1973) is a lesser known European-feeling horror film dealing with a father (Donald Sutherland) trying to overcome his obsession with his late daughter. The finale occurs when he finally thinks he has found her, in her red mackintosh raincoat. This cut has it all - the approaching camera, hooded figure facing the wall, and a final 'turn-around' that reveals the horrible truth - a saggy midget!
Other early adaptations include The Sentinel (1977), which rode the Rosemary's Baby satanic conspiracy wave, and possibly Dario Argento's Phenomena (1985). Also used near the climax of Child's Play 2 (1990), where a woman at a sewing machine is turned to reveal that her throat has been cut. Most notably the very well known conclusion of The Blair Witch Project (1999), which has become one of the most parodied horror moments ever, even though it stops just before the actual turn-around. Also used without flair in the French Bloody Mallory (2002) about five minutes into the film, which was about all I could stand to watch. A classic 'turn around' takes place while the two girls are looking for a ringing cell phone deep within The Ruins (2008). What were they thinking? The turn-around is predictably used to introduce the undead in the AMC adaptation of The Walking Dead (2010), which is otherwise excellent. Zombie turn-arounds are the easiest to spot, since 'that little blonde girl' never turns around right away, no matter how directly you shout at her.
They laughed at me at the academy! Well who's laughing now? Often the metaphor for don't mess with the forces of nature or God, the Mad Scientist is the cautionary symbol for people who go too far with a good thing. First Use Before films, consider H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau, written in 1896 and resonating with the public's newfound fascination with science and human degeneration. Doctor Moreau is a brilliant nutball when initially encountered, which establishes him as the first mad scientist.
Other scientists become mad as a result of their work. Certainly Mary Shelley's original novel Frankenstein (1831) came earlier - however, Shelley's mad doctor only truly becomes mad in his obsessive quest to destroy his creature. Robert Louis Stevenson gave us the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a novella in 1886, proving that test subjects are always a good idea. Wells scored again with The Invisible Man (1897) with another scientist driven mad because he lacked test subjects. I suppose it makes for better drama.
A very early film treatment is Maniac (1934), in which Dr. Meirschultz, fairly unstable scientist, is attempting to reanimate the dead, assisted by (of course) a vaudeville impersonator. This sounds more like source material for Weekend at Bernie's (1989).
Adaptations Thomas Edison's adaptation of Frankenstein (1910) features Doctor Frankenstein going through the academy and then creating his monster - although he didn't quite strike me as 'mad.' This short film had been lost for several generations, only resurfacing to widespread viewers around 2000, as a copy was located in a private collection in the 1970s.
The 1925 silent film The Monster, starring Lon Chaney, is the first bona-fide film appearance of a power hungry mad scientist controlling a gaggle of mindless minions to do his bidding.
Other contributors to this genre include H.P. Lovecraft's short story Herbert West - Reanimator (1922) and the spooky melodrama Dr. Cyclops (1940). See also all of the Frankenstein (1931) movies and their endless spin-offs (including the spatter-rific Frankenhooker (1990) and Tim Burton's Frankenweenie (1984). Older movies, like Attack of the Puppet People (1958) used the mad scientist as a metaphor for the fears of the nuclear age, and science apparently out of control.
Not a medical doctor, but the Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968) appears to have some medical training, but he would rather create green-blooded zombies. Vincent Price turns up as a mad scientist with a warped noble morality in Scream and Scream Again (1970). The behavioral sciences are well represented by Dr. Fisher (and Bub) in Romero's Day of the Dead (1985). Please don't forget the easily forgotten Deadly Friend (1986), where a whiz kid reanimates his girlfriend with a computer chip. Horror icon Jeffrey Combs frequently brings gusto to his portrayals of mad scientists in his roles in Reanimator (1985), Bride of Reanimator (1991), and the made-for-TV Beyond Reanimator (2003), as well as his backstory role in the House on Haunted Hill (1999) remake and its 2006 sequel Return to House on Haunted Hill. In fact, most of Combs' characters seem to have the first name 'doctor.' Reminding us that nobody does 'mad doctors' better than the Germans, Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) features Dieter Laser's grim intensity as a surgeon who wishes to join three people together along their gastric system. Hopefully Human Centipede (Full Sequence) (2010) can live up to the first installment. This motif is so well known that it is more often parodied than used these days, especially in children's cartoons.
Killers are always more impressive if you don't know what they look like. This probably derives from the fact that they tend to look like everyone else. Since early film, a mysterious or macabre mask heightened the horrors by keeping the villain lurking just beyond view, the longer the better. First Use In literature, the menacing masked figure confounded Prospero in Poe's Masque of the Red Death (1842), perhaps with less of a mask than originally presumed. Yet he was asked to remove it.
Lon Chaney's use of two masks in The Phantom of the Opera established this motif in 1925. The don't look at me mask is used for most of the movie, and the Masque of the Red Death makes an overwhelming color-tinted impact at the masked ball. It is hard to find a more glorious gothic image of horror.
Adaptations Michael Meyers maintained his menace throughout the Halloween (1978) series (and its remake by mostly keeping his 'Captain Kirk' mask on. According to a 2010 interview, the production designer was told to find the plainest mask possible (it was nearly Emmett Kelley) - they removed the sideburns, enlarged the eyes and spray-painted the Kirk mask a 'fishbelly white.'
Leatherface took it to a new fleshy level in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), inspired by the nocturnal activities of Wisconsin's Ed Gein. Jason Voorhees employed a constantly evolving hockey goalie mask throughout the Friday the Thirteenth (1980) franchise, finally becoming a chrome parody in Jason X (2001). Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) brings the theme up front, although the mask is not as haunting as most. Art imitated life as masks abound in The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976). Many traditionalists complained that Michael Meyers' mask in Rob Zombie's Halloween-remake-sequel H2 (2009) is too ripped up and abused, which underscores how the mask itself has become as important as the villain. One of the prettiest may be seen in The Hills Run Red (2009), which features a combination of a baby-doll mask with a human lower jaw. Feel free to skip Preservation (2014), where three teens on bikes wear bulky paper mache masks while terrorizing some campers.
The self-appointed hand of a vengeful god is among the most annoying nut-job killers. It often comes across as trite, but when played well, it creates a troubling obsessive purpose. A well-timed biblical rant just seems to make a murder more... intended, it seems. Nothing creates interest like the conflicted intersection of virtue and evil. First Use Night of the Hunter (1955) establishes the genre, with Robert Mitchum's legendary portrayal of Harry Powell, wandering preacher man and opportunistic nut-job. This is where fingertop tattoos of "love" and "hate" come from. Adaptations Comic strip Modesty Blaise (1963) and the subsequent novel (1965), both by Peter O'Donnell, are reported to have a tract-quoting assassin. This, in turn, reportedly inspired Quentin Tarantino in developing his character of Jules in Pulp Fiction (1994), which features a lot of "And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger" smiting talk before he kills (although this is in fact a fabricated passage).
Piper Laurie is filled with the spirit as she tries to kill her daughter in Brian DePalma's Carrie (1976). Although he never kills anyone, the crazy preacher in the first remake of The Blob (1988) certainly has an unhealthy agenda. Also noteworthy are the supporting cast of The Omen (1976) on both sides - priests and satanists both intent on killing somebody. Stephen King brings a werewolf-priest alongside Gary Busey weirdness in Silver Bullet (1985), based on his earlier novella Cycle of the Werewolf published in 1983. Admittedly outside the horror genre is the albino assassin priest Silas in Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, published in 2003, film released in 2006. Botched (2007) includes a pair of weirdos that generally follow a fanatic but spiritual path. Although more a thriller than a horror film, check out Frailty (2001) to follow a father's religious zeal as it degrades into murderous madness. Stephen King uses a zealot to stir things up in The Mist (2007), invoking the end of days to explain a trans-dimensional bugpocalypse. Bringing the 'religious killer' to a new level is Job (2011), where a Christ-like killer (stigmata, thorns and all) takes his revenge upon a group of priests and nuns who share a buried secret of a past sin. More recently, timid Father Gabriel becomes a verse-dropping killer in The Walking Dead episode Not Tomorrow Yet (season 6 episode 12 - 2016).
Just as zealous, although misdirected, are the faithful children of Stephen King's Children of the Corn (1977) and its film incarnations in 1984 and 2009.
On a spinoff track, nuns can be pretty iconic and oppressive, making them easy fodder for horror movies. Examples of this include The Convent (2000) (where an abandoned convent obviously leads to demonic possession), and the Finnish film Suor Omicidi ('Killer Nun,' 1983). See also Desecration (1990), and The Halfway House (2004), the latter of which was supposedly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, although I doubt he would be pleased. I believe that the Mexican film Alucarda, la hija de las Tinieblas (1978) was re-released as Sisterhood of Satan, and was reportedly based on a short story by Sheridan La Fanu. Lucio Fulci hit the board with Demonia (1990) with five pretty scary demon-sisters, too. The Nun (2005) features a very nice 'evil ghost nun' with well-balanced effects. And for exploitation, don't forget the Flavia films, or repressed nuns in The Devils (1971) with Oliver Reed.
Gravely Serious Serial Killers
Once the slasher genre had made human killers a running gag of over-the-top repetition, something was needed to make killers scary again. No irony, superhuman abilities or silliness. This genre runs in sharp counterpoint to every slasher film of the 1980s, the self-referential killer fluff of the 1990s, and even the over-the-top grindhouse killers of the 1970s. These films are more naturalistic, which brings an immediacy to the threat and a new level of brutality to the actions depicted. First Use Back when it was more about art (German expressionism at that!) than profit, Fritz Lang produced M (1931), an early talkie that launched Peter Lorrie into stardom. It involves the manhunt for a child murderer, and the only witness is a blind man. Peter Lorrie is superb in this role, creating a character that is both chilling and very human. Adaptations Hitchcock found the horror of this balanced theme with Frenzy (1972), following the downward spiral of a necktie killer. Most brutal in this field is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, released in 1986, but filmed a few years earlier - it faced a serious blockade with ratings and the MPAA - which underscores how effective this genre of movie can be. Coincidentally, this film was the breakout role for Michael Rooker, just as M had been for Peter Lorrie. It turns out that Mr. Rooker is anything but intense and scary in person. Henry had a crappy sequel in 1998 (ingeniously titled Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2). The alarming Murder Set Pieces (2004) continues the tradition, with a German accent (seems to help). Just as grim is the vengeful killer in Red White & Blue (2010), who is willing to accept collateral damage while he finds his missing friend.
Every Slasher Genre Film Ever Made
After horror audiences became too sophisticated to be frightened by mere monsters, the trend swung towards more human horror and lots of gore - underscoring the fact that anyone around you might be a psychopath. The psycho one-ups continued until we were awash in the super-duper uber-slashers of the late 1980s. You know the ones. First Use In 1963, low-budget director Herschel Gordon Lewis abandoned girlie films to create a thriller called Blood Feast. In that one sweep, he created the gore genre and the slasher motif in a crazy Egyptian character named Fuad Ramses. I spoke to Mr. Lewis in 2009, and he claimed he was just "in it for the fun of making movies at the slightest excuse." Thank goodness. Adaptations The 1974 Canadian film Black Christmas was the first movie with a budget to develop the slasher motif, introducing just about EVERY device used in the slasher-gets-the-teenager movies of the 1980s. Simply astonishing.
Well, only every horror movie made in the 80's with a spooky guy and a bunch of teenagers. Most notable is Carptenter's Halloween (1978) and its sequels (except part 3). The over-the-top craft of splatter-effect artist Tom Savini can be credited with turning Friday the 13th (1980) (and its first 3 sequels) into box office sensations. Once blood was turned to money, countless imitators followed. Wes Craven's Scream series attempted to deconstruct the genre, and did so with a sense of irony that resonated with audiences.
Sometimes, horror is simple. Other times, it can become too complicated for good writing to work. On these occasions, lazy scriptwriters will employ the nuclear option - suddenly bring in an old man to tell the audience what has been going on, then exit. Strictly speaking, this cheap device is not the exclusive property of horror movies, although they seem to use this crutch more often than most.
I would also like to keep this distinct from formal storytellers (like the Cryptkeeper) who link segments in an anthology-style horror film.
First Use In one sense, the earliest instance I have seen is at the beginning of Bride of Frankenstein (1935), where Lord Byron essentially recaps the entire plot of Frankenstein (including visual flashbacks) to Percy and Mary Shelley (Elsa Lancaster). It seems clumsy, but was probably essential in setting up this sequel for those who had not seen the original movie. Still, this convenient storyteller related the backstory, rather than the more common 'wrap-up speech.'
When theater audiences survived the unprecedented shocks, twists and thrills of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho (1960), it was assumed that many would be too shaken and confused to processes everything they had seen. The film concludes with a convenient storyteller, the psychologist (Simon Oakland from The Night Stalker films and TV series), who clearly explains everything that Norman Bates has done in the movie. I guess Hitchcock was OK with Norman being a psycho, but he didn't want audiences thinking that he was a common trannie.
Generally, this explanation scene is based on the conclusion of Robert Bloch's novel Psycho, written a year earlier, although the information is revealed by characters Sam and Lila, rather than a convenient storytelling psychologist.
Adaptations We see the cop 'explain everything at the end' in Blood Feast (1963) - when it is presented at the end of a film, we can presume it is for the benefit of slower audience members.
A fairly early entry is the mad scientist played by Vincent Price in Scream and Scream Again (1970), who takes the time to describe his 'synthetic master race' plans to another doctor, but the insertion is not as disrupting and obvious as this motif usually is. One of the best is the sudden appearance of a psychic at a police station in Jeepers Creepers (2001). Without much prompting, she explains the entire 'every 23 years' backstory of the Creeper, fills in the details, and even sings the 'theme song.' Santa Slay (2005) included a kindly Nordic grandfather who happens to have a book explaining why Santa is suddenly a brutal murderer, just in time to keep the audience from getting confused in this campy lark. Touristas (2006) is more than half finished before an irate organ harvester launches into a long explanation about why they abduct American tourists. Dead Snow (2009) shamelessly uses this device, as a mysterious old man comes to the characters, tells a tale of past atrocities and unresolved evil, and then gets killed right on schedule. Peeling old plaster off of the walls reveals protection spells and all of the background information needed to allow one character to over-explain everything in the adequate remake of Night of the Demons (2009). Maybe low budget films like this feel the need to explain things - as does Easter Bunny, Kill Kill (2010), where an end-of-movie wrap-up of events is given. A computer connection allows an expert to conveniently explain an unknown cult in Sinister (2012), after which the pattern of evil events become more understood.
Perhaps the best example is the tacked-on introduction to John Carpenter's The Fog (1980). John Houseman plays an old sea captain telling a group of children the dark history of Spivey Point by a beach bonfire. This scene avoids the bad writing cliché in two ways - firstly, it is a fine, well acted scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Secondly, this introduction was actually 'tacked on' before the credits after Carpenter found that the final edit of the film didn't run long enough. In this case, it is a good use of the convenient storyteller, who never appears in the film again.
Nothing says 'you have been a weirdo for a long time' like revealing a massive underground tunnel system beneath your evil lair. Extra points for lighting systems that include shaky, swinging light fixtures. They are always vast, twisty-confusing, and remarkably dry - without any drainage systems in sight. Honestly, who digs these things? First Use Although he did not dig them himself, the first extensive tunnel habitation goes to The Phantom of the Opera (1909) by Gaston Leroux. Erik the phantom makes extensive use of little known tunnels beneath the Paris opera, enabling him to seemingly be everywhere, and take on the aspect of the mysterious 'Angel of Music.' Originally a part of the construction of the opera house, Erik has set himself up quite nicely down there. Adaptations London's own tunnel systems were used by the creepy English CHUDs in Raw Meat (1973), featuring Donald Pleasance. Wilford Brimley kept busy digging a subterranean spacecraft garage in John Carpenter's remake of The Thing (1982). Also seen in Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986), with Dennis Hopper having no trouble navigating. Also seen in the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) with weird slatted side-lighting that makes me wonder who installs sidewall fluorescent lighting systems for underground tunnels. Used well in the remake of House of Wax (2005) and Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses (2003), with a neat underground lab at one end.
Along with the Phantom in making use of 'found tunnels' is Creep (2004), who has a fine time living and feeding in the London subway system. There are about a dozen films by this title, but this one was reportedly released as Creep - Il chirugo in Italy.
Let's face it - twins are creepy enough on their own, but when they are long neglected and criminally insane, all you need to add is a few aimless teens to have a movie. Extra points for an absurdly deformed twin, while the other one seems fine. It often becomes a very handy plot device for misdirection, followed by a surprise ending. First Use Ancient Zoroastrian tradition described duality in terms of Ormuzd and Ahriman, two twins of which one was evil, it eternal conflict. Other folkloric traditions, including doppelgangers, underscore how universal this theme is.
A lost Hitchcock film, rediscovered in 2011 features the twin motif - The White Shadow (1923) features Betty Compson as good/evil twins Nancy and Georgina Brent. It isn't strictly horror, but it is Hitchcock.
Also early in film is the immortal Karloff in The Black Room (1935), where he plays the evil Gregor, who murders his kind brother Anton to take control of the estate.
Adaptations Twins of Evil (1971) brings twin girls to a vampire and an evil witch-finder in this Hammer entry - which one of them is evil? The ghostly twin girls in The Shining (1980) are an important entry, and set the bar high for creepiness. Maybe it's because they're English. It has been argued that Kubric deliberately made them non-identical to underscore the unsettling pairing. The motif also shows up with separated Siamese twins, as in Basket Case (1982), The Simpson's Tree House of Horror VII (1989) where Bart suddenly has a twin brother named Hugo. Cartman similarly found out that he was the evil twin in the 1998 Halloween episode of South Park.
Jeremy Irons brought out a memorable performance as brilliant, creepy (and English) twins in Dead Ringers (1988), based on an equally odd true story. The remake of House of Wax (2005) also featured dysfunctional twins (with monstrous deformities!). Crispin Glover is crazy enough, but appearing as twins in Simon Says (2006) brings him to new entertaining heights - especially with his creepy, affected accent. Mailing in is the straight-to-DVD craptacular Choose Your Own Death: The Babysitter (2009) which is still looking for a twist ending.
The motif has also been used in mystery-type thrillers (like The Invisible Ghost (1941) with Bela Lugosi or The Dark Mirror (1946) with Olivia de Havviland), but that is just outside the horror genre.
There has always been an element of sexuality with the modern interpretation of vampires, thanks largely to suave Bela Lugosi. However, it took a while to run that sexuality up the flagpole as a plot element. Vampire brothels make sense in that a constant supply of victims is assured, and they probably didn't tell their mothers where they were going. First Use So far, it looks like John Carradine in Vampire Hookers (1978), which bragged 'They're a close encounter of a different kind!' Reportedly much sucking of blood and stuff is included, although I have not seen the film. But hey, it's John Carradine. Come on. Adaptations Sheridan Le Fanu's Camilla (1872) was certainly subtextually sensual, but kept well clear of unseemly acts of 'cash for love.' The brides in Stoker's Dracula (1897) were certainly a bit randy, but they weren't in it for the money. I am still not sure if Grace Jones in Vamp (1986) qualifies, since she is somewhat wanton (like Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger (1983)), but certainly not a street-walker. Most notably are the roughly contemporary Bordello of Blood (1996) and the epic From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) along with its sequels - somehow, that was just the banner year for vampire brothels. Avoid My Vampire Lover (2002), which is more soft-exploitation than anything worthwhile.
More recently is the low budget A Feast of Flesh (2008). I spoke to the some of the actresses (2/2008) in this film, who assured me that these are not vampire hookers, but courtesans. Sure, whatever.
The White Lady
A melancholy female ghost, dressed all in white, has been a common theme of the supernatural. Movies didn't take long to adopt this element, whether as a traditional hitch-hiking ghost, or something more malevolent. First Use Historically speaking, the White Lady was first reported in Berliner Schloss in 1625, with subsequent sightings up until 1888. This castle was home of many of the kings of Prussia, and the popular theories identifying the White Lady include the guilt-ridden child-murdering countess Kunigunda of OrlamÃ¼nde, a melancholy Bohemian widow named Bertha of Rosenberg, and the mournful Hungarian princess Kunigunda of Slavonia.
Written in 1859, Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White is an epistolary novel, presented in the form of letters, articles and other documents (Dracula is an epistolary novel). Although more melodrama mystery than horror, it captures the enigmatic melancholy characteristic of White Ladies. Wilkie Collins is also interesting, since he was Charles Dicken's protégé, and is featured as the protagonist of the somewhat spooky novel Drood (2009) by Dan Simmons.
Adaptations The Collins mystery novel was adapted as a silent film The Woman in White in 1912. The earliest horror film use may be (broadly speaking) the high-contrast brides in Dracula (1931), although these were vampires rather than ghosts. Most notable is Katherine Helman in the atmospheric (almost Bradbury-esque) Lady in White (1988), wringing out equal portions of mystery, despair and nostalgia. Lame treatment of the related 'vanishing hitchhiker' comes from spellbinding crapfest Resurrection Mary (2007), but this film deserves to be missed. A possible case for out-of-genre use comes with Willow (1988). Indie band The Decemberists invoked the White Lady as a young girl with Leslie Anne Levine (2002), a haunting ballad of a girl who died in a ditch shortly after giving birth. Cable series Paranormal State covered the case of a Lady in White in 2009, dealing with a hundred-year old North Carolina legend.
Wishing the Wrong Wish
Nothing good is free - so if some Djini offers you three wishes, expect horrible, unforeseen and often ironic consequences to anything great that you wish for. Or expect a joke about three guys that find a lamp on the beach. Or expect one smarty to wish for infinite wishes - someone always tries. First Use W. W. Jacobs was riding the fledgling horror genre when he published The Monkey's Paw in 1902, setting the stage for granting wishes that come with an enormous price. Adaptations Jacob's story itself has been adapted numerous times, including The Monkey's Paw in 1933, a TV episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1991) featuring "The Tale of the Twisted Claw," and even the Ripping Yarns series from the UK. Even the Simpsons went right back to Jacobs for The Monkey's Paw in their Halloween Treehouse of Horror II (1991) (the paw comes with a frogurt).
The wish-granting genie becomes "The Man in the Bottle" in a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone. The 1972 anthology film Tales from the Crypt featured a similar segment called "Wish You Were Here." The Jacobs motif of a deceased loved one returning home and terrifying the kids was adapted in Deathdream (1974), but the wishing is less emphasized. The theme is used skillfully for witch-wishers in The Craft (1996).
If I even have to say Wishmaster (1997) or any of its three sequels, the Djin will certainly come for you. More recently is the adaptation Kagbeni (2008), all the way from (and set in) Nepal. Of similar theme is The Devil's Diary (2007), which features a book that 'grants' the writer anything written. And please don't bring up Freaky Friday (1976).
Some horror motifs are so well established that we can't imagine that they haven't always been there. Zombies eat brains - it's obvious, right? However, even if you only go back to Romero's first zombies, it becomes clear that the undead are often flesh-eating, but have not always been on the more restricted diet of brains. First Use Ravenous ghouls have been a part of folklore over the long-term, but are not zombies. Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead (1985) put brain-eating zombies on the map. I have yet to uncover anything that describes how this specific treatment came to pass, but it quickly became a key part of the genre. This film is helpful enough to have a (partial) zombie explain that eating brains eases the pain of being dead. Thank you very much.
The short story In the Vault by H. P. Lovecraft (1925) includes possibly the earliest reference to a zombie biting someone (albeit on the ankle). Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) is the first on-screen zombie chowdown, although they seem willing to eat just about any part at all.
Adaptations From books to films, brain-eating is out there. Return of the Living Dead Part 2 (1987) returned to the theme (along with two more sequels), but lacks the bite of the original. A Halloween zombie episode of The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XIII, 2002) made ironic use of the gag (Homer was safe). South Park featured brain eating zombies (including Kenny) in its first Halloween episode in 1997. Mel Brooks' son Max includes much brain-eating material in his Zombie Survival Guide (2003) (if you haven't read it, do so). If you don't read, expect to see Brooks' World War Z adapted in film in 2012.
Game adaptations include the card game Give Me the Brain (1996) and related board-game The Great Brain Robbery (2000).
Once everyone became used to seeing zombies shambling around and eating people, something was needed to make them even more horrible.I know... everyone hates nazis! Let's make them nazi zombies! Cool! Socialism for the undead. First Use Surprisingly, this motif goes back to 1943's Revenge of the Zombies, produced at a time when most nazis were still among the living. It deals with an evil scientist in the Louisiana swamps, breeding an army of zombies for the Third Reich. Pretty topical, actually, since Hitler was into the occult, and would have backed such a plan. And was alive when this film was made. Adaptations Also early was Shock Waves (1977) starring Peter Cushing as a former commandant putting together a new zombie regiment on a deserted island. John Carradine also stars, which makes this a fairly respectable film, despite the plot similarities to Revenge of the Zombies (above). Untervasser nazi zombies were used well in Zombie Lake (aka Le Lac des Morts Vivants)(1981). Avoid the underwhelming (porn star) Jamie Gillis detective extravaganza Night of the Zombies (1981) This movie actually used the Z-Word several times, to my horror. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this motif is the appearance of zombie Hitler himself in the often-overlooked Hard Rock Zombies (1985). Nazi zombies become a plot element in Full Moon's Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991) since there was already a lot of WWII in the Puppet Master mythos.
Among the newest is DÃ¸d snÃ¸ (dubbed for U.S. release as Dead Snow) (2009) that emphasizes bleakness by putting its zombies in a barren winter, working from the lingering resentment of Nazi occupation during World War II. These zombies are plentiful, well dressed, and led by an impressive Colonel Herzog, a possible reference to director Verner Herzong. Everybody moan "Gehiiiiiirn." The Third Reich was also busy setting the stage for Blood Creek (2009). With the release of Rob Zombie's The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009), we now have animated gangs of Nazi zombies on motorcycles. The Devil's Rock (2011) briefly features an apparent zombie raised by a Nazi demon, but this is pushing it - more on track is War of the Dead (2011). Also keep an eye out for The 4th Reich (2013), which sounds to be on-target. If you consider biomechanically augmented corpses reanimated by the Third Reich to qualify as 'Nazi zombies,' then check out Frankenstein's Army (2013), and inventive and well made film featuring some of the best creature design I have seen in years.
In September 2009, weblog Boing Boing discussed the availability of "Zombie shooting-range targets," some of which are "in inexplicable Nazi uniforms. Good practice, I suppose, for the upcoming Nazi zombie uprising." Gaming, never too far behind, has produced the impressive "Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army" (2013), which is everything it sounds like it would be. I am told that this is based on an earlier Nazi zombie game.
The motif also figures heavily in the legendary Castle Wolfenstein computer game series. Mein lieben!
If the motif is extended to militarily-minded zombies, you may also choose to include the angry Confederate dead of The Supernaturals (1986). Perhaps best stated by the Breaking Bad (2011) discussion in season 4, as to why Nazi zombies are superior to regular zombies: "Because they hate Americans." Hm.
Zombie Hordes Shambling
Shuffle footed, vaguely human armadas of death - a zombie horde is part of the very lexicon of any living dead film. The apparent slowdown even seems to affect other undead (vampires, etc) when grouped in big enough numbers. Slow monsters make life easy for cinematographers, I guess. First Use Carnival of Souls (1962) is often cited as the film that inspired George Romero's visual approach to Night of the Living Dead (1968) (although he freely admitted to 'ripping off' Matheson in a 2007 interview) and the rest of his five-part trilogy. Although the image is used sparingly in this film, it establishes a chilling precedent. Carnival of Souls is considered a classic (see the expansive treatment by the Criterion Collection), and somewhat creepily (mostly the clown) remade by George Romero in 1998, but the remake is no match for the original.
If you are not quite picky about the quality of the zombies, you may want to go back to White Zombie (1932) with Bela Lugosi.
Also of interest in zombie hordes is this passage, from the Epic of Gilgamesh, the top-selling Sumerian epic of 2100BC, Ishtar threatens:"I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts.
I shall bring up the dead to devour the living,
The hosts of dead will outnumber the living."
...and that definitely sounds like the most ancient reference to zombie hordes to me.
Adaptations Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), Savini's remake (1990) and Romero's entire Living Dead series lead the vanguard. Also used in quite a few Italian zombie films (Lucio Fulci, et al). I also have to wonder about the Spanish Blind Dead series of films (from 1971 to 1975), since the shambling is of such high quality. Also of note is the 'Shambling Man' (Allan Trautman, more commonly known as 'Tarman') in 1985's Return of the Living Dead. He simply creates the cream of shambling zombie performances. Slither (2006) uses the shambling motif with hordes of alien-hosting meatbags to good effect - long shots of shamblers wandering fields at night that pay direct homage to Romero. 2007's Planet Terror invoked the shambling hordes again, and explored interesting new methods of exploding them. George Romero even comments (indirectly) on the subject in Diary of the Dead (2008), where one character muses "You see? Dead things don't move fast." Slow zombies are proven again to be more frightening in the adaptation of The Walking Dead (2010), since... well... they are obliged to walk.
For those of you in the back of the theater who couldn't help snickering at how easy it must be to elude the standard shambling zombies (see above), I now say, sit down and shut up. It used to be that if you had a car, you were as good as safe. Now, helicopters are the last resort (until the flying dead make their appearance, that is). First Use Although 28 Days Later (2002) really put them on the map, the wonderful Return of the Living Dead (1985) features brief shots of zombies running towards cops and paramedics. In an article at slate.msn.com entitled "Dead Run" (Josh Levin, 3/24/2004), Tim Hulsey is credited with a questionable assertion that "the obsolescence of the slow zombie signals the decline of 'mobocratic' culture in favor of a modern taste for individualism." Shrug.
Some purists may argue that 28 Days Later did not include 'zombies' in the strictest sense; generally, they seem to qualify.
Adaptations Although they inspired Romero's zombies, the spooky creatures in Carnival of Souls (1962) do break into a run after the main character towards the end of the movie; but strictly speaking, these are not zombies. The next athletic zombies I can think of are the aerobicizing dead in the fairly miserable Return of the Living Dead Part 2 (1988). After that, the utterly pitiful House of the Dead (2003) (please avoid this smoking turd of an Uwe Boll film) and the tasty remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) - very very well done, with some very dramatic long shots. There were some fast creatures in Resident Evil (2002). Maybe.... For balance, George Romero put some stock back into slower, shambling zombies with Land of the Dead, his 2005 cap to a 4-part zombie trilogy. The speed pack returned in 2007's 28 Weeks Later but time trials have not been conducted. Not only do the zombies run in Dance of the Dead (2007), but they actually explode from their graves and hit the ground running - a very nice (and startling) visual innovation, perhaps inspired by Hong Kong horror films. Import Dead Snow features incredibly fast zombies, which is even more impressive because they are running across deep Norwegian snow. See also the Left 4 Dead videogame series (2008, 2009), where zombies sprinting towards you is strangely effective. The undead also sprint frequently in the entertaining Zombieland (2009), but seem to shamble when left to themselves. French zombies are also pretty fast, but focus more on their cuisine in The Horde (2009). Fast zombies return in the distracted miniseries Dead Set (2010), but it just didn't work for me.
Return to Part 1 of First Frights...