As Halloween approaches, hide under your covers and watch, read or listen to these horror stories that take you from the dark of the woods to a Manhattan cult.
A ghost, a shaman and a demon walk into the woods. They come out with a cinematic masterpiece. Writer and director Na Hong-jin’s “The Wailing” begins with a mishmash of classic horror tropes, as police officer Jong-goo attempts to save his daughter from an evil spirit terrorizing his town. Jong-goo becomes increasingly fixated on an unnamed Japanese stranger, who he believes to be the reason for these troubles.
Despite all the hallmarks of a classic horror movie — a young girl possessed by a demon, an isolated town in the middle of the woods and reanimated corpses — “The Wailing” depends not on jumpscares and cheap thrills, but rather on scenic landscape shots that belie a plot pushing your paranoia to its brink for 140 minutes, then rapidly dismantling it in the last 16. In an interview with ScreenAnarchy, Director Na likened Jong-goo’s terror to hiding in a castle:
“Strangers invade yet he doesn't know if they are allies or enemies. This was the kind of threat that I wanted to express. It's like a hidden threat deep inside. I felt that this would be more terrifying than a dynamic threat — something dwelling inside and not visible.”
Italian director and co-writer Dalia Argento marked the first part of The Three Mothers trilogy with his 1977 film “Suspiria.” The inspiration of the recent 2018 remake from Gianluca Guadagnino tracks the descent of ballet student Suzy Bannion, as she navigates through a prestigious German dance school. As a series of grisly murders follow one after the other — one of which was edited so heavily for U.S. audiences that it was almost cut completely — Bannion realizes that the academy is actually a front for something far more supernatural.
Argento cements his directing style in bright red, a color that permeates each scene with his signature visual flair. Set design is also a huge part of its appeal — for instance, he places all the doorknobs on the set at the same height as the actresses’ heads to make them appear as if they were children.
Unlike The Wailing, Suspiria doesn’t bring about its horror with a building paranoia. Instead, it throws you immediately into a world so bizarre and frightening, it can only be described as a masterpiece.
r/nosleep Search and Rescue:
If you’re less of a film fanatic but still want to lie awake at night in fear of the monster in the woods, I recommend scrolling through r/nosleep for u/searchandrescuewoods’s eight-part series, first posted in 2015 and titled “I'm a Search and Rescue Officer for the US Forest Service, I have some stories to tell.”
The Reddit post series starts with a few eerie, but unrelated stories — freak accidents, bear-men with blank faces and staircases in the middle of the wilderness rising to the sky. As the series progresses to its finale, these seemingly disconnected stories reveal disturbing patterns full of opportunities to theorize about in the comment section.
The true appeal of the series lies in how it keeps one foot in reality and one foot in fiction. Despite the fictional account, the story takes inspiration from real-life stairs in the woods found everywhere from Soriano nel Cimino to New Hampshire. If there’s one thing that you take away from it, make it this:
“Don't touch them. Don't look at them. Don't go up them.”
TW: SA (in film and below)
This 1968 film is the mother — pun very much intended — of modern horror films such as “The Babadook,” “Mother!” and “Hereditary.” Based on Ira Levin’s novel of the same name, “Rosemary’s Baby” follows the titular Manhattan housewife as her pregnancy leaves her increasingly isolated and paranoid.
Despite being over 50 years old, the film’s themes still resonate with modern audiences, especially in the context of the #MeToo movement. Buzzfeed’s Alison Willmore describes the film as “a keen understanding of gender dynamics and how regularly women are undermined, disbelieved, and made to question their own realities.”
At the same time, it’s difficult to avoid the elephant in the room. Despite being widely acclaimed as a feminist film, director Roman Polanski is far from a feminist, having spent most of the past 40 years in Europe after forcing himself on a teenage girl and unsurprisingly denouncing the #MeToo movement as “collective hysteria.” In a film so personal with a director so opposed to its themes, it’s hard to grapple with the uncomfortable truth. At the end of the day, it’s up to the individual viewer to contend with what Willmore calls “what you know eclips[ing] what you watch.”
The Love Witch:
TW: attempted SA (in film)
The horror comedy “The Love Witch” is a visual tribute to 1960s technicolor film, saturated with a color palette complimenting actress Samantha Robinson’s candy-colored makeup and a classic Hollywood set shot on 35mm film. It’s a work of love from director Anna Biller, who spent seven-and-a-half years composing the soundtrack and building its elaborate costumes and sets by hand.
Despite its complex design, the question the film asks is simple: “Why does the genuine love of a woman scare you so much?” The answer is explored through self-proclaimed “love witch” Elaine, deluded with an obsessive love-sickness, as she uses her supernatural powers to seduce men and lead them to disastrous ends.
Aided by its sharp wit and meticulous design, “The Love Witch” is ultimately about female objectification through the female gaze — and the disparities between what it looks like through gendered lenses. As Biller puts it, the film is at its core “the sense that you take the woman, the objectified sex symbol, and you ask what’s inside her mind.”
CW: implied SA (in film)
“Jennifer’s Body” proves that there are just a few things consistent with being a bad friend. Stealing toys. Pouring lemonade on her bed. Eating her boyfriend.
When cheerleading it-girl Jennifer Check is kidnapped and offered as a sacrificial victim by a local band, she transforms into a man-eating succubus — think the stunning but unhinged Megan Fox with an equally unhinged jaw. As Jennifer’s kill list grows longer, it’s up to her childhood best friend Needy Lesnicki to stop her.
Despite a disappointing debut in 2009, the film has recently developed a cult following for its campy humor and insights into female relationships and the feminine gaze. Jennifer’s Body was marketed as “Twilight for boys” — complete with a special emphasis on the kiss scene between Needy and Jennifer in trailers. However, the film shows Jennifer through Needy’s eyes, not those of the men leering at her — and it is through Needy that we viewers find empathy for the monster Jennifer is forced to become. Vox’s Constance Grady puts it best in her exploration of the film’s appeal throughout the years:
“So nine years after she arrived and was rejected, Jennifer is back. She lives again.”
Uzumaki (and other works by Junji Ito):
One of horror manga artist Junji Ito’s most noted works, “Uzumaki” begins with the mundane and spirals into madness. In the three-volume series, a small town is haunted by the shape of a spiral, which begins to manifest itself onto people’s bodies as everything from their eyes to cochleas contort to the hypnotic shape.
Ito is famous for using simple concepts and fears, then elevating them to terrifying heights and Lovecraftian body horror. Putting aside “Uzumaki,” he’s also authored “Tomie,” a personal favorite of mine following an immortal monster in the form of a girl, and Junji Ito’s Horror Comic Collection, with charmingly-named stories such as “The Hanging Balloons,” “Honored Ancestors” and “The Long Dream” that betray a disturbing amount of body horror.
The Caretaker: Everywhere at the End of Time:
If you have six hours to spare and the desire to experience your mind’s slow but inevitable decay, this is the album for you. The series of six albums by James Kirby follows the six symptomatic stages of Alzheimer’s disease — while “Stage 1” begins with poetically titled ballads with just the faintest background static, “Stage 5” distorts any melody playing into an unrecognizable drone akin to the music building up to a jumpscare. “Stage 6” is the most experimental, starting with a near-continuous organ note that cuts away to a clear, angelic chorus, before ending with a minute of silence.
The terror of the album lies in how consistent it is — the only sudden changes come at the last minutes of the final album, symbolizing the rapid final minutes of one’s life. The subtle changes in the static and music only become noticeable once you realize the extent that it has shifted from the melodies of the beginning — what Luka Vukos describes as “what we ourselves have managed to notice, not purely what the music has shown us.”
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Audrey Wang is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 119th volume.