2010-11-03 : Horror Flick Pies

I watched 31 horror flicks during October! I've made a bunch of pie charts about them for my report. Here's my favorite, as a preview:

More, with some explanations, in the comments!

1. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

Let's start with some basics.

The List
1. Altered
2. The Other Side
3. Netherbeast Incorporated
4. Left In Darkness
5. Carriers
6. The Damned Thing
7. Lake Mungo
8. Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door
9. Jack Ketchum's The Lost
10. The Last Winter
11. Borderland
12. Paranormal Activity
13. An American Werewolf in London
14. Dreams of Cthulhu: Rough Magik Initiative
15. Mulberry Street
16. The Wilderness
17. The Screwfly Solution
18. The Passengers
19. Splice ("Me go too far! Me am play gods!")
20. Monsters
21. Wolfman
22. The Hills Run Red
23. Ginger Snaps
24. The Tomb
25. Frozen
26. Spectre
27. The Mist
28. The Thaw
29. Pick Me Up
30. Isolation
31. The halloween episode of Community

Yes if I'd seen the movie before, no if this was my first viewing.

For percentages, I'm counting movies, not bodies. For instance, in Altered, aliens kill a handful of people, while in The Mist they kill hundreds or thousands and in The Screwfly Solution they kill pretty much everyone.

Also, when a movie features more than one agent of demise, I'm going with the major one. For instance, cultists kill a couple of people in The Mist, but the movie counts for the aliens anyway.

Violent: Blood and gore, murder, bones sticking out, shooting, stabbing. Example: Pick Me Up.
Sick: Disease. Barfing, fevers, rashes, not supernatural or grotesque. Example: Carriers.
Sadistic: Violence plus glee, drawn out and deliberate. Example: Borderland.
Jeezy: Christianity. Example: Left in Darkness.
Haunting: Subtle, not over-the-top, inhumanity. Example: Spectre.
Grotesque: Monsters, aliens, mutants, bug parasites, rat zombies, werewolves. Example: Mulberry Street.
Everyday: Working in an office, going on a date, doing normal things in normal circumstances. Example: Netherbeast Incorporated.


2. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

So far, so normal. I didn't watch many vampire movies - only 1 - and I watched proportionately many slasher flicks. Just how it fell out this time.

The preponderance of violence and grotesquerie in the movies' imagery is no shock. The 2 jeezy flicks surprised me, though. They were, like, really overtly but not interestingly Christian, where it was all about who would get to go to heaven. Would the main character? Would her grandfather?


3. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

These next are rankings. Green is good (in my opinion as your humble reporter), yellow is the border, red is bad.

Unsettling: The movie stays scary - or gets scarier - on reflection, after it's over. Example: Lake Mungo.
Tense: The movie is scary, suspenseful and dreadful. It builds fear. Example: The Damned Thing.
Jumpy: The music tells you that a thing is about to jump out, and then it does! Boo! Example: The Thaw.
Grinding: The movie would be scary if it had more variety in its pacing or action. It's tense, but fear doesn't build, it just grinds on. Example: Altered
Funny: The movie's not scary, but it's not meant to be. In blue because it gets a pass. Example: The halloween episode of Community.
Actiony: The movie isn't scary. People exchange blows, run and jump, go into danger with brave exclamations and guns. Whatever. Example: The Other Side.
Safe: The movie doesn't really threaten the people it's supposed to threaten, so it feels safe. Example: Monsters.
Boring: The movie flubs its pacing, or expects something to be scary that isn't, or backs off instead of stepping up. Example: Frozen.

Transcendent: The movie is fresh, lively and self-possessed. Example: Ginger Snaps.
Subversive: The movie subverts the cliches of the genre. Example: The halloween episode of Community.
Genre: The movie is of its type, but not always just regurgitory. It has SOMETHING interesting in it. Example: The Thaw.
Trite: The movie is just made of tropes, offering nothing interesting or new. Example: Paranormal Activity.
Ugly: The movie brings nasty cliches from outside of the genre in. Example: The Tomb.

Arresting: The movie has something surprising, insightful and challenging to say. Example: The Screwfly Solution.
Self-aware: The movie knows it's a horror movie, and has a surprising, insightful, or funny take on the genre or on its position in the genre. Example: Wolfman.
Thoughtful Enough: It doesn't take your breath away, but at least it's self-possessed and nonstupid. Example: Borderland.
Almost: A few of these flicks could have been really good, if only they'd had some self-awareness, followthrough, just a little more brain. Example: Altered.
If Only: The movie is dumb. Dumb dumb dumb. Example: Paranormal Activity.
Will make you stupider: The movie's not only dumb, it's a brain-deadening eye-roller. Example: Left in Darkness.


4. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

I'm pretty easily scared.

I think that what I want to get at with the latter 2 charts is for those of you who aren't fans of horror. Horror fans already know this: the genre isn't automatically stupid. It's like science fiction, there are lots of dumb tropes, sure, but in your typical science fiction move, somebody thought about something. Horror's the same way.

"Thoughtful enough" IS typical for the genre.


5. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

Here's my favorite chart! I think this is pretty interesting. Each of these flicks has its horrific element. Why? What does it do?

Instrument of clarity: The horrific element lays bare the matter underneath, exposes the underlying situation for our examination. Example: Mulberry Street.
Exaggeration to the Point: The horrific element is a glorious, outrageous, grotesque enlargement of some feature of the matter underneath. Example: Ginger Snaps.
Startling Juxtaposition: The horrific element contrasts with other elements of the situation. Example: The Hills Run Red.
Thrills: The horrific element is what brings tension and excitement to the situation. Example: Wolfman.
Moral Disgust: The horrific element embodies moral judgment upon the characters or circumstances in the situation. Example: Isolation.
Sooo Deep: The horrific element is supposed to blow your mind, man, but since the underlying situation isn't interesting the horrific element is just so much noise. Example: The Passengers.
Sick Glee: The horrific elements fulfill violent fantasies (even if it's underneath a veneer of moral disgust). Example: Jack Ketchum's The Lost.

It really struck me that movies' horrific elements exist in particular different places within and around situation. This seems like fantastically fruitful game design territory. I want to say more about it, but I can't figure out how - any thoughts, anybody?


6. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

Compassionate: The movie cares about its characters, feels for them, and treats them with depth and grace. Example: Lake Mungo.
Critical: The movie has a sharp, incisive, well-founded, critical take on its subject matter. Example: Pick Me Up.
Topical: The movie has something to say about something, generally, so that's fine. Example: The Wilderness.
Thrilly: The movie doesn't have much to say about much, but whatever, that's not the point. Example: An American Werewolf in London.
Contemplative: The movie raises a topic but doesn't, after all, have much to say about it. Example: Monsters.
Preachy: The movie has something to say about something, but it's hamfisted and simplistic. Example: The Last Winter.
Stupid: The movie regurgitates that same stupid thing. Example: Splice ("Me go too far! Me am play gods!").
Vicious: The movie hates and despises its characters and wants to punish and belittle them. Example: Jack Ketchum's The Lost.

Deep: The women in the movie have pasts, inner lives, individuality, humanity. Example: Mulberry Street.
Quirky: The women in the movie probably have pasts and inner lives and stuff, all signs point to yes, but the movie doesn't develop them deeply. Example: Isolation.
Diverse: There are several women in the movie and they all have individuality and character. Example: Carriers.
Strong: The women in the movie are tough, competent, capable, and intense. Example: The Screwfly Solution.
Stock: The women in the movie are recognizable stock types. Example: The Last Winter.
Shrill: The women in the movie mostly fret, bicker, nag and scream. Example: Frozen.
Evil: The women in the movie are all wicked stepmothers and seductive stepdaughters. Example: Splice ("Me go too far! Me am play gods!").
None to speak of: What women? Example: Dreams of Cthulhu: Rough Magik Initiative.
Cliched: Wicked stepmothers and seductive stepdaughters, yes, but also virginal daughters in danger, self-sacrificing mothers, wise grandmothers, nagging girlfriends, put-upon supportive wives, ever-faithful fiances. Example: The Other Side.

Nuanced & Convincing: The relationships in the movie are complex, realistic, and well-observed. Example: Ginger Snaps.
Broadly Drawn, Positive: The relationships in the movie are stock, not especially insightful, but overall good: people who care about each other, care about each other. Example: Isolation.
Broadly Drawn, Negative: The relationships in the movie are stock, and furthermore bad: people who are supposed to care about each other instead bicker, fight, lie and resent. Example: Frozen.
Idealized: The relationships in the movie are stock, plus static. Relationships never transcend their types. Example: The Mist.
Trite & crappy: ...And furthermore, the relationships' types are all the worst ones. Example: The Tomb.


7. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

And finally...



8. On 2010-11-03, Eppy said:

I'm a fan of many pies, but these might be some of my favorites.


9. On 2010-11-03, Bret said:


I wish I could do something this brilliant with my 31 in 31. I guess I could just steal all your material and make my own pie charts.

And boy, you sure didn't like Splice and Frozen. I thought Frozen's horror/tension didn't come from the wolves (who were really just overkill) but at the extreme things they had to contemplate and do to survive.

Like, that first guy to go - what he did had me whiteknuckled.


10. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

Oh! I should say which ones I liked.

Must See: Lake Mungo, Mulberry Street, the halloween episode of Community.
Skip with Prejudice: Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, Left in Darkness, Paranormal Activity.
Don't say I didn't warn you: Splice ("Me go too far! Me am play gods!"), The Mist, The Screwfly Solution.

The "don't say I didn't warn you" ones are flicks I like, but also hate (the first two) or look narrowly at (the third).

The other categories, eh, you know how it is when you try to recommend movies. I just can't get past it when a guy doesn't go into shock (Frozen), but when a genetically-manipulated cow can infect humans with genetic manipulation syndrome (Isolation), that's okay with me. Don't ask me why.

If anybody wants to know how I listed a particular movie on the list, ask away!


11. On 2010-11-03, Robert Bohl said:

Vincent, I wonder whether some of these bad things (like a vicious mindset toward the characters) might be good in context with other things. Like Teeth is in some ways a good movie despite (and in some respects because of) hating its characters.


12. On 2010-11-03, Julia said:

When were these movies produced? No need for a pie chart unless you really want to, but I'm curious about the differences by era.


13. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

Rob: Yes! Absolutely.

I'd list Teeth as critical, for instance.


14. On 2010-11-03, Julia said:

When were these movies produced? No need for a pie chart unless you really want to, but I'm curious about the differences by era.


15. On 2010-11-03, Vincent said:

Julia: Practically all of them are less than 5 years old. An American Werewolf in London is from 1981, then Ginger Snaps is from 2000, and the rest are from 2006 or later.


16. On 2010-11-03, Jim D said:

I'm not much for horror movies, but for some reason I found myself interested in The Mist.  That is, until the completely bullshit tacked-on ending that basically smacks you in the face and says, "The best way to persevere in any crisis is to be a complete imbecile, or to not try."  It kills me inside (read:  makes me want to murder myself in the face repeatedly) that Stephen King liked that ending better than the novel's ambiguous flicker of hope.


17. On 2010-11-03, RobJustice said:

I was starting to think I was the only person who didn't like Paranormal Activity.

I like The Mist but I also pretend the movie ended about five minutes earlier and was shot entirely in black and white...

I honestly thought Carriers was the most trite, boring horror movie I'd seen in a long time. I just couldn't manage to give a DAMN about anyone (outside the Father-Daughter combo)

I laughed when I saw the halloween episode of Community... then I remember how much it actually played like a horror movie.

Was the Wolfman the new one or the original?


18. On 2010-11-03, GB Steve said:

I'm tempted to ask how many of these movies feature a pie but rather than that, have you learned something useful from this?


19. On 2010-11-04, Jesse Burneko said:


Assuming your color scheme of green better than red holds for all your charts I find it interesting that you rate Thrills higher than Moral Disgust.

Can you elaborate on that?



20. On 2010-11-04, Vincent said:

RobJustice: The new one.

Steve: Yes! I did. The slide labeled "function of horror" is all about the cool thing I learned. I'm going to talk more about it soon.

In all the horror flicks I watched, I don't recall a single pie.

Jesse: Sure. Moral disgust = you take what you don't like, and you cast it as a horror. It's cheap and lazy. It's like, "genetic manipulation is morally disgusting! In my movie, genetic manipulation creates a monster!" or "I'm scared of sexy women! In my movie, the succubus sorceress takes away your free will!" or "global warming is terrible! In my movie, global warming wakes up the prehistoric parasite-bug terror!"

Horror for thrills = the horrific elements provide the movie's tension, they don't pronounce judgment. "In my movie, extradimensional monsters are killing everything. How will the guy keep his son safe?" It can be pretty contrived, but it isn't always, and either way it's not just a cheap way to make your audience hate and fear the thing you hate and fear.


21. On 2010-11-04, Jesse Burneko said:


Oh!  Okay, I see.  Thanks.  I thought you meant moral disgust like that queasy feeling you have when you write a good Dog's Town.  That's why I was confused.



22. On 2010-11-04, Jon Hastings said:

The Mist is flawed, but it's also admirably true to its vision.

Here's a little moment from the movie that kind of sums up everything I liked about it:

Our hero goes into the back room of the supermarket and sees, or rather, smells, that the generator is backing up and spewing fumes. He rushes over to turn it off - a good move - but, of course, that means the lights go out and he ends up bumping his head on an overhanging bar and tripping and stumbling over boxes on his way out. It's played as low key physical comedy and shows how despite our best intentions, the world gets in our way. He does the right thing, but that doesn't mean those boxes aren't there waiting to trip him up.

But "waiting" is the wrong word, because that implies they have some kind of motive and, of course, they don't, which gets right to the heart of what makes this a horror movie and not just a scary movie: the complete and total indifference of the physical and natural (or in this case, extra-natural) to human intentions.

That also seems to be the point of the extended battle in the supermarket between the trapped humans and the little flying dragons. The dragons break into the supermarket only because they're following their food source - those little bugs. For the most part, the seem to ignore the humans, except when they're in the way. And, as it turns out, the ways the humans come up with to fight the monsters - trying to hit them with flaming torches, shooting at them in a crowded store - are as dangerous as the monsters themselves.

I want to say that the fire "turns" on one of the humans and burns him, but, again, there's no intention here, just indifference. They try to harness the fire for their own purposes, but their mastery over the physical world falls tragically short.

For me, that's where the horror comes in and that's how the movie earns its stripes: not through fear of the monsters, per se, but through the fear of our inadequacy when faced with them and the fear that when faced with this kind of indifference you'll go crazy and/or lose all hope for the future.

These aren't necessarily original themes, but the movie dramatizes them with what I thought was a nearly staggering amount of emotional force, which is, in turn, grounded in very specifically-realized details. Though on a smaller scale, this made the movie feel a lot like one of Steven Spielberg's (esp. War of the Worlds). But it diverges from Spielberg in its pessimism and refusal to hedge its bets.

It fits nicely alongside 28 Weeks Later - another movie where the horror is again centered around human intention vs. natural indifference.

(The problem with the ending is a stage management one: it would work fine if, say, we had gotten the sense that more time had passed.  As it is, though, it feels unnecessarily rushed.)


23. On 2010-11-04, Jim D said:

Jon, thanks for ruining my entire point.

I mean that both mock-sarcastically ("now I just wasted my time ranting about nothing!") and seriously, as now the whole movie makes startlingly more sense.  The message isn't "be an imbecile and you'll succeed!" so much as "life's a bitch and then you die".  Now I get why King loved the ending so damn much, and it only took me two years to encounter an explanation as to why, and I can stop being so pissed off about it.


24. On 2010-11-04, Bret said:

I do think it's interesting that you thought the original story's ending was more hopeful than the movies. I read that story when I was young, like 10 or so maybe, and it kept me up at night and gave me nightmares. The idea of driving and driving and driving and everything is dark and dead and all you see are hunting creatures that will kill you if you leave the car and eventually you will have to leave the car. It's still one of the scariest stories I've ever read.


25. On 2010-11-04, lcx said:

I wish you added some of the Japanese stuff to your watchlist - like Audition, Koji Suzuki's novel adaptations - Ring, Dark Water; Ichi The Killer, Tetsuo: the Iron Man, Tokyo Gore Police, Visitor Q and so on...

And one more thing - I can't understand why cliche is bad for horror? It's all about cliche in this genre - just look at the Hammer and Troma - cult classics.

As far as I am concerned, there is no representatives for 'porno slasher'/'torture-porn' genre on your list, except maybe "The Hills Run Red" (I didn't see this one yet). Where is all the gore, where are Frontieres, Saws, Guinea Pigs?


26. On 2010-11-05, Robert Bohl said:

That guinea pig movie WAS fucking terrifying.


27. On 2010-11-05, Bret said:

lcx - you can't watch every horror movie in a month.


28. On 2010-11-06, Larry said:

That's impressive. I suspect if I conducted the same research my numbers would come out different than yours, I think the way you've categorized things is really pretty effin excellent.


29. On 2010-11-06, SDLahr said:

Wow! Movie Reviews + Infographics = Sublime

I find it really helps that i've seen a few of these; so i can put the others in relation.


30. On 2010-11-08, Evan Torner said:

Quite interesting, Vincent - thanks (especially for the warning against Paranormal Activity)!

Your work suggests that today's (2006-2010) horror flick field is not so very different from, say, 1963. Back then, you had an exact cross-section between Hitchcock suspense mastery (The Birds), midnight gore-fests (Blood Feast), drive-in teenie schlock (The Slime People), and tongue-in-cheek Hammer films (The Kiss of the Vampire).

Horror comes in many flavors of ebola.


31. On 2010-11-08, Vincent said:

Evan: Before you decide, you should know that Final Girl Support Group endorses Paranormal Activity, and that, well, what they say about people who didn't like it - "I always figured that the backlash against the first film; complaints that it wasn't scary, were a great example of grandstanding by people who downloaded the film off the internet and watched it on their computer screen on a lazy Saturday afternoon" - that shoe kind of fits me.


32. On 2010-11-08, Marshall B said:

Tokyo Gore Police is absolutely brilliant. I really like what it says about gore movies and the gore movie culture, as well as the relationship between humans and violence in general.

(I'm really into things that make statements about other things that are the same kind of thing. Rob Zombie's version of Halloween does it too, and Suda51's video game No More Heroes does it REALLY well.)


33. On 2010-11-08, Paul Czege said:

Which film is the one where the agent of demise is "enlightenment"?


34. On 2010-11-09, Vincent said:

The Passengers. It had kind of a much-more-dumb Jacob's Ladder thing going.


35. On 2010-11-09, Roger said:

A question about method here—did you take specific notes as you were going along?  Or did you rely on your memory at the very end?  Were/are there any movies that seem barely memorable at all?


36. On 2010-11-10, Ben Lehman said:

So, I'm curious. What are the must-see movies? What is the use of horror in those movies?


37. On 2010-11-11, Vincent said:

Roger: I relied on my memory. Some, I had trouble remembering, yes.

Lake Mungo: instrument of clarity
Mulberry Street: instrument of clarity
The halloween episode of Community: startling juxtaposition


38. On 2010-11-11, Ben Lehman said:

So what instruments of clarity aren't on the must-see? Are any of them meh?


39. On 2010-11-11, Vincent said:

Let's see. the other two were Carriers, which I listed as "sure, see it," and The Screwfly Solution, which I listed as "don't say I didn't warn you."


40. On 2010-11-12, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

Your description of the Shock being horrible things instead of speculation is really interesting.


41. On 2010-11-12, Bret said:

They are remaking Lake Mungo! Already!


42. On 2010-11-12, Vincent said:

Oh for goodness sake.


43. On 2010-11-12, Bret said:

That's what I said but with a 'fuck' in there.


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