Tag Archives: Frightfest 2015

Frightfest 2015

We all watch movies with our earphones on in our office but you can always tell when someone is watching a scary movie. We yelp, we jump, we scream, we swear. Sometimes the “scary movie” is one of the trailers before the movie starts or even just an episode of Homeland. Yes, Jay and I work in an office of scaredy cats, ourselves included. I once startled the room by crying out in terror during an episode of Twin Peaks.

So, welcome to our horror fest, one designed specifically for the squeamish. I can’t guarantee that our selections won’t startle you, revolt you, or terrify you. But that’s what Halloween is about, isn’t it? Venturing into the unknown and confronting the spooky, the twisted, and the horrifying in a fun and safe place. And if you’re working in our office, remember that there’ll always be one or two other trained counsellors standing by if it gets to be too much for you. Oh, and also help yourself to some spooky cereal as you watch.

The Frightfest 2015 selections are as follows…

The Babadook– The more you deny him, the stronger he gets.

Beetlejuice– Beware Jeffrey Jones, the creepiest character featured at the Festival.

The Blair Witch Project– Everyone knows by now that it’s not real, right?

The Corpse Bride– I give them an eternity.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead–  The anti-Semitic Zombie Movie!!

Double Feature: The Shining with Room 237– If Jack Nicholson isn’t crazy enough for you, check out the fans of the Shining.

Frankenweenie– Not as pornographic as it sounds.

Halloween– How does Jamie Lee Curtis still have a voice?

Housebound– The only thing worse than being stuck in a haunted house is being there with your mother.

A Nightmare on Elm Street– See Johnny Depp before Tim Burton turned him into a cartoon character.

ParaNorman– How parents just don’t understand.

Scream– The movie that convinced us all that we need Caller ID.

What We Do in the Shadows– Vampires are people too.

Zombeavers– Exactly what it sounds like.


Frightfest 2015: Halloween (1978)

Co-writers John Carpenter and Debra Hill couldn’t believe that there had never been a horror film simply titled “Halloween”. Taking advantage of everyone else’s missed opportunity, they produced a film set almost entirely on Halloween night that captures all the thrills and chills that we’ve come to expect from our favourite halloweens.


When he was six years old, Michael Myers stabbed his big sister to death. Dr. Sam loomis (Donald Pleasence) tried to treat him but saw nothing but limitless evil in his eyes. fifteen years later, Myers has escaped from his institution and is headed back to the quiet street where it all began.

As Laurie, Jamie Lee Curtis earned the title Scream Queen and has never really been dethroned since. Working with director John Carpenter, she strikes a delicate balance between being scared shitless and being a fighter. Myers is still scary today, sporting a mask which was in reality nothing more than a Shatner mask with white spray paint and wielding a really big knife. the concept is simple enough to be ageless.

Halloween has some good scares but there is no blood so it’s perfect for those who love a good spooky story about a serial killer on the loose but can’t stand the gore that is so typical of these kinds of movies today.

Frightfest 2015: The Babadook

Amelia (Essie Davis) has never had the chance to grieve the death of her husband 7 years ago. Because her beloved Oscar died in a car carsh while Amelia was in labor, processing her trauma had to take a back seat to raising a newborn all by herself. Now about to turn 7, Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is having some trouble fitting in, unable to shake the feeling that his mom will one day leave him and develops an obsession with protecting him and his mother from monsters.

Oh, and there’s a monster in his closet.


What starts with a creepy children’s book that mysteriously appears on his shelf, (“If it’s in a word. Or if it’s in a look. You can’t get rid of… The Babadook”), escalates into a full-blown assault on Amelia’s psyche. The more The Babadook gets under her skin, the more dangerous Amelia becomes to her terrified son.

babadook 2

The Babadook, the feature debut from director Jennifer Kent, is a supernatural thriller in the tradition of The Shining. Kent’s film, however, separates itself from Kubrick’s classic in two important ways. First, the dynamic between mother and son and the themes of trauma and loss are more psychologically astute here, with character arcs that would still be satisfying even without the horror element. Second, with Amelia, Davis- as she herself has pointed out- has to play both Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson to Samuel and she plays them both perfectly. Her descent into madness is is captivating and played with a restraint that- as much as we all love Jack- has never been his strong suit.

The Babadook will get under your skin. Filmmaker William Friedkinhas apparently stated that he has never seen a movie more terrifying. And he directed the Exorcist, so…

Frightfest 2015 Double Feature: The Shining and Room 237

Die-hard fans of Stephen King’s harrowing 1977 novel of the same name will likely disagree but, to many, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining delivers two of the most frightening hours in the history of American horror.

the shining

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), an out-of-work writer who is desperately in need of a job, drags his meek wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and eight year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to the historic and secluded Overlook hotel where Jack is to act as caretaker for the long lonely winter. The hotel manager warns Jack that some caretakers in the past have experienced some cabin fever as a result of the isolation, resulting in (at least) one murder-suicide. Jack (Torrance), with that famous Jack (Nicholson) grin, assures the manager that this will never happen to him but we as the audience already aren’t so sure. We’ve already learnt from Wendy that Jack has a bit of a temper and once dislocated Danny’s shoulder in an accident that “could have happened to anybody”. What’s worse, Danny has a special ability to see both the past atrocities of the hotel’s history and all all the horrors to come but, despite his frequent chants of “Redrum”, no one will listen.

the shining 2

King famously hated Kubrick’s adaptation of his cherished novel. Kubrick took what was useful from the book and scrapped the rest, in favour of a more surreal, ambiguous, and visceral version of the story. As a fan of the novel, It’s a chilling, exceptionally well-made horror film that so many have embraced over the years and can easily be enjoyed as such. The Shining is most unsettling, however, for those who are willing to dig a little deeper and continue to reflect on the film’s mysteries as it continues it’s work on you.

Which brings me to Room 237, a 2012 documentary by Rodney Ascher about people who have room 237never been able to stop delving into the mysteries and symbolism of The Shining. Six participants share their elaborate theories through voice-over almost entirely over footage of the film. The choice of brands in the pantry, posters on the wall, faces in the clouds, missing chairs, impossible windows, and hidden erections are all under intense scrutiny.

The theories of Room 237 run the gamut from thought-provoking to just plain silly. Some examples you’ll wonder how you yourself could have missed while other are almost painful to see as people who are clearly obsessed seem to be grasping so desparately at straws. So many who were involved in the making of The Shining have insisted that there are no answers to be found in Room 237 but, one way or another, it is sure to change the way you experience Kubrick’s classic.

Frightfest 2015: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

What if your nightmares weren’t “only a dream”?


The late Wes Craven touched on something primal here with his horror classic that spawned way too many shitty sequels. Three high school students on Elm Street discover that they have been dreaming about the same nightmarish figure with severe burns on his face and knives for fingers. And that laugh. Oh my God, that laugh.

a nightmare on elm street

It seems that the now infamous Freddy Krueger was once just a regular child murderer. Now that he’s dead, he can only get to you in the world of your dreams. I’ve had nightmares before that would make me fight sleep just to avoid getting back to that place. Here, to fight for sleep is to fight for your life. Craven’s mythology surrounding the world of the dream isn’t nearly as elaborate as, say, Inception’s but he’s come up with an interesting idea here that he has a lot of fun with.

nightmare on elm steet 3

For a modern audience, the most fun part is watching Johnny Depp’s first movie looking as baby-faced as you’ve ever seen him at 20 years-old. He plays the typical teen boyfriend in a high school movie, apparently not yet having decided that he would play every part as a weirdo. Having never acted before, Depp was so nervous about every scene that he would bring an actor friend of his (who I think may have been Jackie Earle Haley, who would later play Freddy in the 2010 remake) to run lines with because he was so afraid of getting it wrong.

As humble beginnings go, Depp’s wasn’t so bad. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a Halloween guilty pleasure of the best kind.

Frightfest 2015: Scream

scream 3With its three progressively implausible sequels and the always idiotic Scary movie franchise which it inspired, I find it easy to forget that Ghostface’s journey began with a modest and self-contained horror comedy back in 1996. It was the only movie in the Scream franchise to manage to be genuinely scary while it sumultaneously pays homage to and pokes fun at the conventions of the slasher genre.


Casey (Drew Barrymore) is home alone making some popcorn and getting ready to watch some scary movie when she gets a phone call from a mysterious stranger. The phone call begins as a wrong number but soon becomes a flirtatious discussion of horror movies. Before long, though, the conversation turns to threats (“What do you want?” Casey screams. “To see what your insides look like,” he replies) and Casey may need to rely on her knowledge of horror movies to survive the night.

If you need me to tell you what Scream is about, to tell you any more would spoil the fun. Yes, people die in this movie and when they die they bleed. A lot. But there’s so much fun to be had here. Watch it for the kids of Woodsboro High, who are having way too much fun knowing that there’s a killer on the loose. Or for the bumbling Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) who is always being publicly undermined by his kidsister (Rose McGowan) while he’s on the case.

And, if you find yourself double-checking your locks at night after watching it, just be thankful for all the Rules for Suriviving a Horror Movie That You’ve Just Learnt.

Frightfest 2015: The Blair Witch Project

In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary.

A year later their footage was found.

blair witch 2

So begins one of the most puzzling horror hits of the 90s. So effective was its marketing campaign that it had many convinced that they were watching a documentary even after the closing credits. Actress Heather Donahue later revealed that her mother received condolensce cards from frends who honestly believed that her daughter was genuinely missing and presumed dead. The Blair Witch craze was so strange and so devisive that it managed to earn an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature Film and a Razzie nomination for Worst Feature Film.

With over 15 years of hindsight, it’s all too easy to take The Blair Witch for granted. Within months of its release, the impact of some scenes had been diluted by way too many Blair Witch spoofs. The film’s unexpected success went on to inspire so many imitators that Sean recently called for an end to the “found footage genre”. To be 17 though, as I was, when the movie first hit theaters was a truly terrifying experience that took me days to recover from. Watching it today, its barely lost even a bit of its initial impact.

blair witch

For those who haven’t seen it, The Blair Witch Project follows three student filmmakers who spend a weekend in the woods to make a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch, who supposedly haunts the area. The poor kids soon find themselves hopelessly lost in the woods and stalked and psychologically tormented by unseen forces (presumably the Witch). Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez rely entirely on the hand-held “documentary” footage to capture the horror.

In fact, Myrick and Sánchez really did rely on their trio of actors to be their camera operators. Spending eight days in the woods alone, the actors improvised almost all of their dialogue and rarely knew what the unseen crew would throw at them next. The unorthodox approach pays off. The three lead perofrmances were convincing enough to fool so many audiences into thinking they were watching a real doc, after all. The Blair Witch may not be real the the tears and fear often are. It would even be compeelling just as a story of three students lost in the woods. Of course, it’s their tormenter who makes The Blair Witch Project a horror classic. Unseen by the audience, we have only the reactions of the tormented and our own worst nightmares to rely on. The Blair Witch is whoever you want her to be, whoever you are most afraid that she is. The film works every bit as well as your own imagination does.


Norman is a seemingly normal 11-year-old boy living in small town ParaNorman_1Massachusetts, isolated from his parents and peers because of one small detail: he sees and talks to the dead. No one believes him of course, except for a deranged uncle (John Goodman) who saddles him with a hefty spiritual responsibility to appease a witch who’s been haunting the town for decades.

Prevented by doing so by the same bullies who torment him by day, the witch raises zombies from the dead to chase the townspeople, who fight back viciously.

This movie turns out to be a parable about fearing what is different, and about not judging others. This lesson has to be harshly delivered, because nothing ever comes easily in the movies, and is all the more powerful when the message is delivered from the kids to the adults. But in its heart, it’s still a ghost story, a horror suitable for children, and it benefits a lot from its New Englankidd roots.

ParaNorman is stop-motion from the same animation team who brought us Coraline, capitalizing on the pioneering techniques from that film, and reaching new heights with full-colour 3D printing. It also happens to be the first mainstream animated film to feature a gay character, and was the first-ever PG-rated movie nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

I have an enduring love for stop-motion because the building of real puppets and sets, and using actual cameras to film them gives the modeling_mitchanimation a detailed glossiness that I never get enough of. In one scene, I noticed that the sunlight was almost making Norman’s ears translucent, they glowed with the light behind them, and I was struck by how real it looked.

I also love smart scripts, and this one’s endlessly quotable. It’s a family movie, but you don’t have to be a kid, or have kids, to enjoy it. The visual jokes and wit add another layer of appreciation onto what’s already a solid movie with not a small amount of magic to it.

The filming, however, can be quite technical. First the animators record videos of themselves giving the performances, in order to puppetuse as reference. The directors give them notes on these tapes. The animators then animate a “rehearsal”, which is a very rough version of the scene shot with only half the frames. The directors then look at the rehearsal and give notes before the scene is shot for real. Animators usually turn in 5-8 seconds per week, depending on how many characters are in their scene. That’s gruelling work! To create the ghost effects, they did twice the work, filming each frame once with the ghost puppet and once without, layering them on top of each other to give it an ethereal look.

ParaNorman used 178 puppets in total, and over 31,000 individual face parts were printed for the production. Thanks to the face replacement technology created by the 3D Color Printer, Norman has over 8,800 faces with a range of individual pieces of brows and mouths allowing him to have approximately 1.5 million possible facial expressions. That’s already a huge leap over their work on Coraline, and the Laika studio has taken it even further with their more recent work, The Boxtrolls. Sean, Matt and I saw several of these sets and puppets when we visited Universal studparaheadsios this summer. I love seeing all the craftsmanship that goes into these movies!

I definitely like the spirit of ParaNorman. It has respect for its young audience – but I have the feeling it might also be a gateway drug of sorts to lots more horror down the road.