'Tis the season for scary movies, and if you count any horror films among the things that you geek out about, there's a good chance that screenings have become an annual tradition around this time of year.
I've never been a hard-core horror fan. My preferences trend toward the more fantastic side of the genre – the less believable the better, in most cases – which generally leaves a wide range of projects off my radar. Still, I love a good supernatural freak-out as much as anyone else, and the same goes for anything worth watching that involves zombies, aliens or slobbering, toothy monsters.
In some ways, my preference for horror movies shares a lot in common with my taste in superhero stories: less grim and gritty, more garish and geeky. Given all of that, it seemed appropriate to devote a column or two to some of my favorite “geeky” horror movies.
Whether by subject matter, source material, cast or characters, these 10 films (and two honorable mentions) occupy a special place in my heart that lies somewhere in the overlap between my fandom and my fear center, and have become regular viewing in the lead-up to Halloween. Here we bring you the first five, with the rest to come next week.
In the Mouth of Madness
The third film in John Carpenter's “Apocalypse Trilogy” (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness), In the Mouth of Madness draws heavily from H.P. Lovecraft's mythology of Cthulhu and the Old Ones – which automatically puts it high on the list of geek-friendly horror. In the film, Jurassic Park star Sam Neill plays insurance investigator John Trent, who's tasked with looking into the disappearance of a popular, Stephen King-like horror novelist. Trent's investigation takes a weird turn, though, as he discovers that the people and places from the author's books exist in the real world – along with many of the terrifying creatures described in the stories. The line between fiction and reality blurs as Trent unwittingly becomes a pawn in an apocalyptic scheme to make a new hell on Earth.
Between all of the overt Lovecraftian imagery and the film's surreal, self-aware exploration of horror storytelling that makes the audience an active part of what's unfolding on the screen, there's a lot of nerdy things to love about In the Mouth of Madness. I initially checked out the movie because of Carpenter's name on the cover, but the film quickly became one of my favorite scary movies to introduce to Cthulhu-loving friends.
There's this filmmaker named Peter Jackson who directed a bunch of films based on a British professor's stories about elves and trolls and a magic ring. Maybe you've heard of him?
Way before he became a god of geekery for his role in bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings saga to the big screen, Jackson made a crazy, gloriously bloody movie titled Braindead – better known as Dead Alive in the U.S. – in which a quiet, introverted young man named Lionel (Timothy Balme) is forced to contend with an army of zombies that have taken over his home and threaten the life of his true love. Along the way, he encounters a karate-kicking, zombie-fighting priest, a demonic baby birthed from a gruesome tryst between zombies, and a creature with animated intestines that wants to shove Lionel back into its necrotic womb. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Widely regarded as one of the bloodiest films ever made, one particularly memorable scene involving a horde of zombies and a cleverly wielded lawnmower required more than five gallons of fake blood to be sprayed, poured, and otherwise dumped into the scene per second.
Not for the squeamish, Dead Alive not only helped to make Jackson a geek-favorite filmmaker early on in his career, but it informed some pretty well-known projects down the road, including 2004's Shaun of the Dead and the Left 4 Dead video game, among others.
In what just might be the greatest team-up of all time, Living Dead auteur George Romero directed this 1982 anthology film written by Stephen King that pays homage to the classic E.C. Comics horror anthologies of the past. Not only does the film feature an all-star cast (Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Adrienne Barbeau and Hal Holbrook, among other familiar faces, all appear in the film), but the stories are framed within a book-ending tale that stars a young Joe Hill (Stephen King's son and the author of the Locke & Key comic book series and several other award-winning books). King himself stars in one of the stories, making this pretty much the perfect blend of comic book and horror storytelling on the big screen.
Before he was the director of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn wrote and directed this 2006 horror-comedy that starred a few actors now considered some of Hollywood's most sought-after VIGs (Very Important Geeks). Chief among them is the film's star Nathan Fillion, who will always be Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds to me. (I don't care how successful Castle is. Nothing trumps Firefly. Nothing.)
In the film, Captain Mal must save a small South Carolina town from a horde of sluglike alien creatures who turn their victims into zombies controlled by a vicious hive-mind entity. As if that weren't enough, The Walking Dead actor Michael Rooker also has a big role in Slither – which adds to the film's cred and might explain why Rooker was brought in for Guardians of the Galaxy, too.
Okay, so Fillion doesn't actually play his Firefly character in Slither, but he does play a local sheriff who acts a lot like Captain Mal, so the film is a favorite of mine around Halloween time.
The Monster Squad
A staple of any geekling's cinema experience in the late '80s, The Monster Squad was a film made for all of us who spent countless hours debating the minute details of the daily lives of monsters (and superheroes) in that magic time before the teenage years set in. The only film that dares to ask (and answer) the question, “Does Wolfman have nards?” The Monster Squad was one of the very few films to feature a cast of characters that were more like you and me and everyone else watching the movie than the usual dumb teenagers or adults who should know better. The heroes of The Monster Squad knew Dracula's weaknesses and how to stop the Mummy because they read about them in comics. What's more nerd empowering than that?
Honestly, I really can't say enough good things about The Monster Squad, which has remained a staple of my Halloween screenings for more than a few decades now. And the best part about it? That “Wolfman has nards!” bit cracks me up every single time I watch it.
Come back next week for five more geeky horror films I love, and make sure to offer up your own favorites in the comment section, as well as your thoughts on the films I've mentioned so far.
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and is still not quite sure how he ended up writing (and talking) about comics, video games, and movies for a living. His personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org, and you can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.
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