AT HOME WITH LIGHTS OUT

With Lights Out now on home video we wanted to remind you to not turn the lights out on this one.

I love a good scary movie and personal reasons take my love for them to a whole other level. The emotional response to the suspenseful music, that moment of terror right before you know something bad is going to happen, the gasp and jump as a result of a clip well-done… I love everything about them. Give me some whiskey and popcorn and I’m in heaven.

Unfortunately, most scary movies miss the bar and tank, but this… this is not one of those tankers.

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    I don’t think you can set the mood for an awesome fright flick any better than by using a large, dark warehouse filled with oddly postured mannequins covered with foggy tarps. If the dummies aren’t creepy enough for you, try the first ten lines being centered around a FaceTime convo with daddy and son about how weird mommy is being because she’s been “talking to herself” and hasn’t been taking her “vitamins”.

    Then creeps in the shadow girl from the spine-tingling trailer that disappears when you turn the lights on and reappears when the lights are out. Can I just say the movements this thing makes are just so eerie it’s haunting. Nothing moves like that. The glitchy, quick, and jerking movements are like a combination of the girl from The Ring and a demon. This is like a recreation to the beginning of my worst nightmare. No thanks.

    WARNING: Be prepared to jump early on into the movie.

    I won’t lie, it scared the crap out of me even though I was waiting for it. That scene brought a word out of me that I try not to use all that often and then had me laughing at myself because “it’s just a movie”, right? Negative.

    I don’t want to give away too much about Lights Out since it’s fairly new, even for home video. So, here’s the 40k foot view.

    Big sissy, Rebecca, has commitment issues derived from absent daddy syndrome. She soars in to rescue little brother, Martin from their mother’s nighttime friend, Diana. (Shameless shout out to the person who decided to toss an A7X ‘Hail to the King’ poster on the wall in Rebecca’s apartment. Kudos, my rocker friend, I see you!)

    Rebecca does some digging and finds out mommy’s creepy buddy that lives in the dark was evil incarnate when she was alive. Then everything takes a turn for the worst. Oh by the way, not only is the shadow friend known for her homicidal violent behavior, but she hates and manipulates light. Obviously.

    The safety and well-being of this poor little boy who just lost his father, is currently dealing with child protective services, and a mother who’s manic depressive state prohibits her from functioning normally, tears at your heart strings. Then you’re right back at a high when the black light fun takes a turn down Mutilated Mannequin Lane (trademarked) littered with ghostly graffiti all over the basement walls. All that coupled with being hunted by the unseen. Just think about the forever damaging imprint of psychological trauma that would leave.

    The electric company would absolutely love me because I’d never turn the lights off again.

    Lights Out is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. The awkwardness of the characters’ behavior makes you like them more and more through the progression of the movie which is full of suspense, twists and turns.

    There were a couple cheesy parts that could’ve been left out and although the boyfriend, Brad was hot, he could’ve stepped up his acting game a little or been recast. Those are my only “eh” reactions.

    If you haven’t seen this yet, I suggest you hit up a Redbox and rent it. Totally worth the $1, and honestly, I’d have loved to see this in the theater on a big screen with the surround sound. I would’ve jumped more, for sure. But isn’t that true about most movies? I loved it and am convinced whoever made it is friends with the devil.

    And now I have to go to bed and try to forget about what I’ve just witnessed… with the lights on of course.

    31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN | THE EXORCIST

    You can read about demonic possession. You can listen to stories about it. Or you can watch it happen as a growling beast asserts itself, amongst other things, into the body of a child in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.

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    Father Karras is in the subway and a bum says to him, “Father, could you help an old altar boy? I’m Cat’lick.” Later in the film during the exorcism we hear the demon, Pazuzu say those same words in the same voice. This scene is the one that scares me the most in The Exorcist. A movie so full of moments that truly horrify.

    This is the demons way of confirming that evil is all around us, even when we don’t think it is. That’s never left me. Whether it’s true or not I’m not sure, but it’s still effective.

    The images during the final exorcism scene with the priests chanting “The power of Christ compels you!” over her body as it levitates above the bed are forever stained in our imaginations and our pop culture subconsciousness. This is an absolute classic not only in horror, but in film as a whole.

     

    The power of pop culture compels you to see what else made our must-see picks on our 31 Days of Halloween list here.

    31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN | SCREAM

    Some of the best horror movies released in the last two decades owe a debt to Scream.

    Scream’s commentaries on the rules of the horror genre is given a more satirical analysis in Cabin in the Woods while It Follows takes a more nuanced look at how sex in horror is a mark of death. Yet Scream makes this connection two decades prior, even if it’s delivered by, of all people, Jamie Kennedy. Just a year after Scream’s production, German-arthouse giant Michael Haneke plays with similar fourth-wall breaking tricks and audience expectations in his film Funny Games.

    As dated as Scream is, and it is very much a product of the 90’s, it’s had a lasting impact on the film genre and an entire generation raised by the smartasses on MTV.

    It opens with perhaps its best scene: a high-school student Casey (Drew Barrymore) is at home about to watch a scary movie when the phone rings. A nefarious voice asks her questions about Halloween and Friday the 13th before murdering her boyfriend and then herself in a grisly fashion.

    This is essentially the premise of the entire movie: teenagers who’ve watched too many scary movies are murdered while commenting on how they’re living in a scary movie. “What are the rules?!” Name drops abound to classic and less-than-classic horror films of the 70’s and 80’s, which makes sense because Scream is directed by the late Master of Horror, Wes Craven, who’d already made stone-cold classics like The Hills Have Eyes and Nightmare on Elm Street.

    Following the set-piece of the first scene, the movie introduces Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), its version of the plucky, virginal female protagonist. Campbell is the secret weapon of the film, delivering some of the ridiculous lines screenwriter Kevin Williamson has given her with a natural 90’s tone just before Buffy Speak would become a thing.

    Sydney’s backstory is already it’s own scary movie: her mother was murdered the year prior, and she testified against the supposed killer. This typical bit of self-mythology is another worn trope in horror movies, but is done so on purpose to add to the meta commentary of the whole thing while tying it back to the movies killer at the end of the film.

    The rest of the cast is a cornucopia of 90s actors: Rose McGowan is Sydney’s sarcastic blond-bombshell best friend; Skeet Ulrich is Sydney’s unsettling 80’s Johnny Depp-lookalike boyfriend; Matthew Lillard is the class clown; Jamie Kennedy is their horror-movie obsessed friend; Courtney Cox is a tabloid journalist trying to cover the murder spree. Finally, David Arquette is the town’s deputy sheriff trying to keep the peace, playing a dopey and infantilized remix on the grizzled lawman trope.

    The movie unfolds like a “whodunit?” murder mystery.

    Each character loves to talk about who’s the killer using their knowledge of horror movies and 90’s culture to support their theories. This self-awareness climaxes with a big rant by Randy on the “rules” of surviving a horror film intercut with a sex scene and a murder scene, while Prom Night plays on TV behind him. Oddly, out of all the horror movies Scream takes from, it’s Prom Night that is the most explicitly referenced and most similar, as the movie continues to play in the background during the final confrontation between Sydney and the killer. Once the killer is dead, everyone for Sydney of course goes back to normal, just like in all horror franchises.

    Yeah, just kidding.

    Shit goes bad again for Sydney in Scream 2, a pretty-good follow-up that has some more clever jokes and commentary on horror and sequels specifically. Then shit keeps going bad in Scream 3, which is when the franchise disappears up it’s own ass and becomes the same silly mashup of cliches it once made fun of.

    Even though Scream as a franchise cratered just like others before it, its first film came out at the right time to inject new ideas that would germinate into even better films a few years later. It certainly will be remembered as a horror classic that did something new and that’s why it’s on our must-see list of the 31 Days of Halloween.

    5 THINGS GUARANTEED TO SCARE ME IN A HORROR MOVIE

    We all have certain triggers that make us close our ears and cover our eyes when watching horror films. But what are the things that instantly put you at unease and chill you to the core?

    Here are mine.

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    1 | Title Cards (Dates & Time)

    Title cards? Yes. Most famously and consistently used in the Paranormal Activity movies, the title cards really put me on edge. Why? Because it’s letting you know this is just the beginning and it can only get worse from here.

    Often, the title cards won’t officially start until the 14 minute mark in movies. This is a typical point in most screenplays that takes place on the 14th page (or 14th minute of a movie) that sets forth the actions and motives for the rest of the story. The point of no return. When Micah starts recording him and Katie sleeping at night for example.

    The title cards used in The Shining are the most successful in what they set out to do. In The Shining we have title cards that will list the day, or the time, but nothing else. Unlike the Paranormal Activity example above there is no specific date. This reinforces that the passage of days in isolation of a huge hotel is pointless. It’s impossible to tell what day it is at any given moment because it all blends together. There’s a scene prefaced by the title card “Tuesday” that is followed by one reading “Monday.” The most jarring is the title card that simply and boldly says “1 Month Later.”

     

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    2 | Only 2 Starring Roles

    Have you ever gone on a vacation with someone? Just one person? And did your survival instincts ever kick in as you asked yourself, “Can I survive a zombie outbreak with this person? Or will they get me killed? Can I really rely on them?” When there’s only two main protagonists in a movie it means that they have to rely on one another. That’s kind of what it’s supposed to be like in real life too. And just like in real life the other person is often let down with whom they put their trust in. This is amplified in horror movies because when your significant other lets you down, you then have to face the ghosts, zombies, dolls, cannibals, etc. on your own.

    In addition to the trust you put into someone, there’s also the fact that there isn’t anyone else that can comfort you. There’s no strength in numbers. There’s no random funny comic relief guy that’s collateral damage. The limited cast isolates you much like the title cards above do. You’re forced to take on more responsibility for the horrors around you because nobody else can. You literally have to face your fears or face certain death. Examples of movies like this are Honeymoon (pictured above and on Netflix), Paranormal Activity, and Willow Creek.

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    3 | Home Invasion

    I’m sensing that isolation is a thing I’m not a fan of. Being alone, or with a small group of people in a “safe place” and having that taken away from you is horrifying. If your home is invaded it shreds you of any and all protection. All you have is yourself to rely on yet again.

    In the image above we see a scene near the end of The Strangers, one of the most effective and chilling home invasion movies I’ve ever seen. What’s truly terrifying about the movie is the motive of the invaders… which is that there is no motive. “Because you were home.” That never fails to give me chills.

    Home invasion movies always start out where you get a nice sense of the surroundings and how quaint this place is. Even if it is in the middle of the woods like these people love to live. When you have something like hope taken away from you on your own turf it invades more than just your home. It’s an assault in every way. The Last House on the Left, Hush, and You’re Next are other home invasion movies that all have a rather wide array of tone within such a specific sub-genre.

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    4 | Cannibalism

    I hate it. At Halloween Horror Nights there were hundreds of horrifying sites for our eyes to feast upon and our hearts to skip two or three beats to, but nothing got to me more than seeing a looming Leatherface grab someone screaming for help and take them away to be butchered. Cannibalism pierces everything that I think makes sense to humans and that’s why it’s horrifying. It should be common to not eat people as a human thing. Like, we don’t need to explain why. Eat some plants or kill a rat or something. Killing AND eating another human being is fundamentally wrong. There’s no reason to do that unless you’re in a plane crash and there’s no water or plants and even then most people would die before they succumbed to cannibalism.

    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes it further by having the Sawyer family celebrate their cannibalism. They decorate their house with human bones and relish the lifestyle. Then there’s Cannibal Holocaust… a film I will never see. There’s some things you just know won’t sit well with you and I know my limits. As a film lover I still will not force myself to endure that one.

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    5 | No Hope

    I discussed a scene in House of 1000 Corpses that was devoid of hope and was designed expertly to toy with the viewer. When you take away hope what else is left? Nothing. If we don’t have hope then it’s all pointless. It’s why Star Wars having Episode IV titled A New Hope carries so much weight.

    The most extreme example that I can think of where there is no hope (for escape, survival, redemption, happiness) is Funny Games, a movie that was remade shot for shot by its original director. I don’t enjoy Funny Games, but that’s because it achieves what it strives to do and that’s to toy with audience expectations. It gives you hope and then takes it away.

    There’s a scene where the home invaders (again, there is a common theme here with me) are holding the family captive in their living room and they slip up. A family member grabs the shotgun that was pointed at them and turns it on the invader blowing his guts out and throwing his body against the wall. The audience cheers in triumph! And then, the film pauses and literally rewinds to before that moment as the captor breaks the fourth wall and let’s us know that’s not possible. There’s no way the family is getting out of this alive no matter what. There’s no hope.

     

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    Honorable Mention | Effin’ Dolls

    Because fuck dolls.

     

    You’ve seen what unsettles me. I obviously have issues with isolation and being invaded in my home and trusting others. So this has been a good therapy session. What are the things that are guaranteed to scare you the most in movies? The triggers that immediately put you on edge? Let us know.

    31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN | HELLRAISER

    As any masochist may inform you, sometimes pleasure and pain are one in the same.

    Such is the idea behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, a psycho-sexual descent into human depravity.

    A man named Frank meets a merchant in a foreign country. “What’s your pleasure?” the merchant asks. He gives Frank a gold puzzle box. Once he solves the puzzle box, Frank disappears.

    Months later, his brother Peter and Peter’s wife, Julia, move into his old family home, the one Frank disappeared from. His daughter Kirsty is in college and comes to visit. An accident while moving causes some of Peter’s blood to spill on the floor in the house, and then something is freed.

    This opening act is full of tension, but not the same kind usually found in a blood and gore horror film. Each frame oozes with sexual tension, the kind a leering man at the end of a bar gives off after he’s bought you a drink. In Hellraiser, sex is subtextually presented as a capital-S ‘Sin’, one that invites the forces of darkness and poisons your soul with greed.

    After the accident, Frank frees himself from the prison the puzzle box sent him, and coerces Julia into helping restore him fully to life. She becomes a siren, leading foolish men to their doom.

    And then the Cenobites show up, and things get interesting.

    The first feature written and directed by horror and fantasy author Clive Barker, Hellraiser, from a film-making standpoint is interesting but not the pinnacle of the genre. The score by Christopher Young sets the mood well and crescendos powerfully whenever Pinhead and the Cenobites appear on screen. The gore and torture scenes are edited for maximum effectiveness, with body modification being a particular fetish of the movie.

    Hellraiser is some messed up shit, but it’s some good messed up shit.