Posts Tagged ‘Horror Movies


Lunatics and Laughter Day 9: Arachnophobia (1990)

Director: Frank Marshall

Writers: Don Jakoby, Al Williams & Wesley Strick

Cast: Jeff Daniels, Harley Jane Kozak, John Goodman, Julian Sands, Stuart Pankin, Brian McNamara, Mark L. Taylor, Henry Jones, Peter Jason, James Handy, Roy Brocksmith, Kathy Kinney

Plot: Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands) takes photographer Jerry Manley (Mark L. Taylor) with him on a hunt through the Amazon rainforest, hoping to discover new species of insects and arachnids. Manley has been ill, and fights a fever as they march through Venezuela. The search bears fruit – the team discovers a large, highly aggressive spider Atherton has never seen before. When the still-sick Manley goes to bed, a male “General” spider that stowed away in his pack bites him, killing him in seconds. When his body is found, his death is attributed to the fever and he is sent back to the United States, with the spider that bit him hiding inside.

Manley’s body is returned to his family in Canaima, where town mortician Irv Kendall (Roy Brocksmith) opens the box and finds him shriveled up, drained of fluid, and in a state that’s not at all conducive to an open casket. The spider sneaks outside, gets snared by a bird and is carried to the barn of a house where Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) and his family are moving in, Ross replacing the retiring town doctor Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones). Ross even starts a wine cellar in the basement. When his son discovers a house spider, the arachnophobic Ross has his wife Molly (Harley Jane Kozak) take it to the barn, unaware of the enormous Venezuelan spider hiding in the hay. That night the spiders meet, and mate.

Ross is shocked the next day when Dr. Metcalf tells him he’s decided not to retire after all, crushing Ross, who was supposed to inherit his patients and establish a practice. As he leaves Metcalf’s office he encounters Sheriff Lloyd Parsons (Stuart Pankin) writing him a ticket. He’s rescued by Margaret Hollins (Mary Carver), a retired schoolteacher who dislikes Metcalf and is glad to have the option of another doctor. She’s pleased to be Ross’s first patient. Unfortunately, she’s also his only patient.

Mary turns out to be perfectly healthy, and she tries to cheer him by offering to throw a “Welcome to Canaima” party. While he’s at the office, Molly goes to photograph the barn and discovers a gargantuan spider web in the rafters. She misses the huge egg sac that soon looses a new generation of spiders. Over the next few days they spread out, one of them sneaking into Margaret’s house and killing her.

Ross gets more bad news the next day when he finds the wood in his cellar is weak and rotten. It gets worse when he goes to Margaret’s and finds her body. Although most of the town believes Metcalf’s diagnosis of a heart attack, Ross insists on an autopsy, but the Sheriff blocks him. The spiders strike again soon afterwards, killing a high school football player. Metcalf is next, bitten on the toe and dying as his wife sees the spider.

Convinced the deaths are spider-related, Ross calls the closest expert he can find, Atherton, who is skeptical until he realizes Ross is calling from the late Jerry Manley’s hometown. Atherton sends his assistant, Chris Collins (Brian McNamara) to help with the investigation, and joins himself when bites are found on all three victims. Chris manages to capture a live specimen in Margaret’s house for study. Meanwhile town exterminator Delbert McClintock (John Goodman) discovers the spiders are immune to his toxins – if not a heavy boot.

Atherton examines the captured spider and determines it’s the hybrid of the Venezuelan spider and a house spider. It has a short lifespan, but the General male no doubt has a queen hiding somewhere that will have the ability to create a new generation capable of reproduction. If they can’t destroy it before her nest hatches, Canaima will fall, then the next town, then the next. Phil, Chris and Delbert map out the attacks and realize the nest is on Ross’s property. Atherton, meanwhile, finds Molly’s photograph of the web and comes to the same conclusion. He arrives first, and is bitten and dead by the time the others arrive. Delbert finds Atherton’s body and pulls out his own “special” blend of toxins to fight the creatures.

Ross and Chris go to the house to try to get his family out. The living room is suddenly filled with thousands of deadly spiders. Everyone but Ross escapes, and he falls through the rotten floor into the cellar, where he finds the egg sac. He starts to douse the sac with wine so he can burn it, but is attacked by the original General male. He manages to burn it just as the sac starts to hatch, but it isn’t dead. Grabbing his nail gun, he fires the torched male into the egg sac, killing it and destroying the rest of them in one strike. In the end, the Jennings return to San Francisco, glad to be back in a world where events are totally under their own control… until the earthquake starts.

Thoughts: Although not remembered as well as many of the other films on this list, Arachnophobia holds a special place in my heart – it’s the first horror/comedy I remember actually seeing in theaters. (Yes, even my beloved Ghostbusters was a video find for me. I may even have seen the cartoon first before I ever saw the movie, I honestly don’t remember.) And no matter how much technology may improve the home theater experience over the years – higher resolution, more DPI (whatever that is) streaming video that also makes popcorn in a variety of flavors, whatever – there will always be an irreproducible charm in going to a theater, sitting in a darkened room with others, and absorbing a fun movie in a community experience. This was such a movie for me.

Arachnophobia falls into the more “serious,” Type-A category of horror/comedy. In fact, the first act of the film, while we’re in Venezuela, has little comedy at all, giving us a prologue that very easily could have led into a straight (albeit somewhat cheesy and overdone) traditional horror film. The comedy comes in once we get back to Canaima, and even then it’s very dry at first. Ross, depressed at only having one patient, hopes that she’ll turn out to be “ravaged by disease,” then moments later (on screen, at least) coolly denies that very wish when she turns out to be in perfect health. For much of the film, the comedy we get is well below the threshold that flips the switch and makes it a legitimate horror/comedy and not simply a lite PG-13 horror film. When that switch finally is flipped, it’s due almost entirely to the injection of the John Goodman character.

Delbert is the one wacky character in the midst of a group that doesn’t really have time to be funny. Once the real situation becomes clear, Daniels and company have to deal with thousands of very fast murderers about the size of a quarter… that’s about as serious a situation as we’ve yet seen in this horror/comedy project, and they don’t really play it for laughs. Delbert is our comic relief, an exaggerated character that borders on the cartoonish. Goodman is a fantastic actor, a wonderful comedian (with dramatic chops that are frequently overlooked), but Delbert actually takes things almost too far a few times. Part of it may simply be familiarity with John Goodman – he’s well-known enough now that it’s hard to see him play the part without just getting a very strong sense of him putting on the character. But at the same time, he’s really an odd man out in this movie. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, that’s his role after all, but there are moments where he goes far enough to jolt you out of the scene.

By contrast, Jeff Daniels works well as the sort of small-town everyman (although the Ross Jennings character is, technically, a San Francisco transplant). He does, however, latch on to several stereotypes. If you’re going to do a movie where the monster is a spider, you almost have to make your hero an arachnophobe, and Frank Marshall actually takes him to the ridiculously young age of two to establish the initial childhood trauma. That scene, where he describes a spider assaulting him in the crib, is one of the funnier moments in the earlier part of the movie, in fact. He still keeps his dryness with him, even after the spiders attack. (In the climax, as he tries to pelt the male with wine bottles, he stops himself from using a particularly good vintage). But nothing he does would be funny enough to classify the movie as a comedy, in and of itself, without Goodman tipping the scales.

Director Frank Marshall is much better known for his straight comedies, but he does a decent job here conveying the horror. There are plenty of small touches that add to the horror – slow pans across spider webs and small shadows that twitch and creep … they’re all wonderful moments that will chill you nicely if you’ve got a fear of spiders already. For all the hairy legs and downright chilling movement that a spider brings with it, though, the really scary thing about this movie isn’t what the monster looks like. Most horror films rely on showing you something grotesque or mutating something mundane into an object of terror. Not so much in Arachnophobia. The hybrid spiders, for all the terror they create, don’t look that different from a traditional spider. The fear comes from the fact that these tiny killers – unlike the likes of Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers – could literally be anywhere. How often do you look under your blankets before you get into bed or peek in your shoes before you put them on? Marshall even manages to work in a twist on the old “wiggling doorknob” routine so prevalent in horror movies – in this version, it’s the swarm of spiders actually pushing through and rattling the knob in the process.

There’s a bit towards the end, while Daniels tries to battle the hiding spider in his cellar, where he’s looking around frantically for a monster that is utterly invisible. It brings to mind every time you’ve ever walked into a spiderweb and started flailing madly, looking like a lunatic to anybody who happens to see you. That’s a really funny moment, when it happens to someone else. But that moment encapsulates the whole movie. In the world Marshall creates, every miniscule nook and cranny of every room could be hiding grim death for anyone unlucky enough to encounter it at the wrong time. If you’re not scared of spiders, that thought could be enough to drive the fear into you.

Don’t forget, Lunatics and Laughter is the second Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

And while the 20 films for the first phase of Lunatics and Laughter have been selected, I’m still taking suggestions for next year’s expanded eBook edition. I’m especially looking for good horror/comedies from before 1980, so if you’ve got any ideas, please share them in the comments section.


Reel to Reel 2: Lunatics and Laughter Begins Tomorrow!

The time is almost here, friends. Like I did last year, I’ve assembled a slate of movies, I’ve begun watching them, and I’ve been composing my thoughts about significant films in a single field. But where last year I looked at pure horror films, this year I’m spending the rest of the month with horror’s goofy cousin, the horror/comedy.

I’ve loved the horror/comedy far longer than I loved straight horror movies. While I was a bit too nervous, as a child, to dig into the really dark stuff, I was eager to see the adventures of the Ghostbusters, the Teen Wolf movies, or virtually any movie or cartoon show that utilized any variation of the Universal Monsters. By my formative years in the 1980s, the more classic icons of horror had already lost much of their bite (excuse the pun) and had become icons of a “safe” scare. Dracula, the Wolfman, the Frankenstein monster were all creatures that children new instinctively were supposed to be scary, but instead of being actually frightened, we flocked to them as fun creatures. Whether Dracula was chasing Abbott and Costello or the Wolfman was being chased by Scooby Doo, part of us secretly was rooting for these beasts that gave chills to our parents and grandparents.

As I posited in the introduction to the first Reel to Reel project (then under its original title, Story Structure), I think most human fear is connected to the unknown or the unfamiliar. When movie audiences first saw the Universal monsters, back in those formative days of cinema, they were something brand-new, unearthly, and frightening. But after 80 years of people wearing masks sculpted like Boris Karloff, there’s no longer anything unfamiliar about the classic monsters. The horror icons of the 80s have begun to suffer from a similar problem — who’s left in western civilization that doesn’t recognize Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees? Familiarity has cost these creatures their ability to make us fear them.

When this happens, there are basically two approaches you can take. You can try to strip that familiarity away and make them fresh again (done mostly successfully by Rob Zombie in his Halloween remake, far less so in its sequel), which is brilliant if it works well. The other approach is to embrace that familiarity and turn the monster into a jester. This is surprisingly easy to do – both horror and comedy are predicated on a buildup and release of tension. The biggest change is that the storytellers must now release that tension with a punchline rather than a slashed throat.

So from now until Halloween, we’re going to take a look at one movie a day (hopefully, assuming nothing happens that makes me fall behind) that uses these classic elements of the scary movie and, instead, makes us laugh. Come back tomorrow for Day One of Reel to Reel: Lunatics and Laughter, in which we meet up with one of the greatest American icons of comedy, Bob Hope, as he deals with the darkness in the 1940 classic The Ghost Breakers.

And don’t forget, Reel to Reel: Mutants, Monsters and Madmen is now available as an eBook! You can pick it up for just $2.99! (for your Kindle or Kindle app) (for every other eBook reader)


Mutants, Monsters and Madmen-NOW AVAILABLE!

Last year, you guys may remember that I spent the entire month of October watching and talking about assorted scary movies, chronologically tracing the evolution of horror films from the 1920s up until the present day. I really enjoyed that little project and I think a lot of you did too. And now, as Halloween approaches again, I’m ready to launch the next stage of that project, my new eBook Reel to Reel: Mutants, Monsters and Madmen.

This eBook collects the 35 essays I wrote last year, plus five brand-new ones written just for this collection. Over the course of this book, I look at how the things that scare us have grown and evolved over the last century, dishing on some of the greatest, most influential and most memorable scary movies ever made. This eBook, available now for a mere $2.99, is hopefully going to be the first in a series, in which I’ll tackle different cinematic topics the same way.

If you read the essays last year, check this one out and enjoy the new ones. If you haven’t read any of them, dive in now for the first time. And tell all of your horror movie-loving friends about it as well! After all, the reason I decided to write this book in the first place is because I wanted to read a book like this one, but I just couldn’t find one. The market is out there, friends. Help us find each other.

(And lest I forget, thanks to Heather Petit Keller for the cover design!)

You can get the book now in the following online stores: (for your Kindle or Kindle app) (for every other eBook reader)

And in case you’re wondering, the movies covered in this book include:

*The Golem (1920)
*Nosferatu (1922)
*The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
*Dracula (1931)
*Frankenstein (1931)
*The Mummy (1932)
*Freaks (1932)
*Cat People (1942)
*The Fly (1958)
*Peeping Tom (1960)
*Psycho (1960)
*Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Terror (1962-New in this edition!)
*Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
*The Haunting (1963)
*The Birds (1963-New in this edition!)
*Wait Until Dark (1967)
*Night of the Living Dead (1968)
*Last House on the Left (1972)
*The Exorcist (1973)
*The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
*Jaws (1975)
*Carrie (1976)
*Suspiria (1977)
*Halloween (1978)
*Alien (1979)
*The Shining (1980)
*Friday the 13th (1980)
*The Evil Dead (1981)
*Poltergeist (1982)
*The Thing (1982)
*A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
*Return of the Living Dead (1985)
*Hellraiser (1987-New to this edition!)
*Child’s Play (1988-New to this edition!)
*Misery (1990)
*Scream (1996)
*Ringu (1998)
*The Blair Witch Project (1999)
*Saw (2004)
*The Cabin in the Woods (2012-New to this edition!)


Story Structure: Horror-An Epilogue

Happy All Saint’s Day, guys. Halloween is over, the pumpkin on your front porch is starting to get soft, the kids are lying on the couch with their fairy wands bent and the dust of a thousand pixie sticks on their cheeks. But that doesn’t mean horror is going away.

If there’s one thing that should be clear after sitting down to watch a 90-year cross-section of horror movies, it’s that horror is eternal. Those things we fear change, yes, and evolve over time, the same way the human race changes, but as long as we are capable of nightmares, there will still be things that make us afraid. And as long as we have those fears to prey on, storytellers are going to take advantage of that. And horror aficionados wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday, I asked the question of where horror is going to go in the future, and I apologize if you’ve been sitting around for 24 hours frantically clicking “refresh” on your web browser to hear the answer, because the truth is that I don’t know. When horror changes, it seems to happen all at once – the monsters of the 30s and 40s, the aliens of the 50s and 60s, the slashers of the 70s and 80s. Today, most horror films are divided between the “vengeful spirit” camp (drawing on such sources as The Ring and The Blair Witch Project) and the “torture porn” camp (courtesy of Saw and Hostel), with a few other divergences to give us remakes of or sequels to long-standing franchises. But when Myrick and Sanchez were making Blair Witch, they never could have predicted it would change the way horror movies are made. Nobody can predict such things, not even me. 2011 hasn’t been a banner year for horror, with the only films that have really succeeded so far being the third Paranormal Activity and the newest PG-13 ghost story, Insidious. Looking ahead at 2012 releases, there’s not much that looks like it’s going to crack into the mainstream. I could be wrong, of course – I hope I’m wrong, but most of the films I’m looking at on the “coming attractions” pages look like simple variations on a theme.

When horror changes again, it’s going to be for the same reason it has always changed in the past. Someone will think of an angle or a monster or a way to exploit a nearly-universal fear that nobody has tried before, and people will be both horrified and thrilled by it, and a thousand and one filmmakers will try to imitate the same thing. It’s the cycle, it’s how it goes. And then, years after it has gone out of vogue, someone else will try it again and bring it back again. Slashers and teen horror felt a resurgence after Scream, vampires came back after Twilight, and zombies seem to rise from the dead again with regularity every five to ten years.

If I had a wishlist, it would be that future filmmakers make smart horror. This could take several different forms, of course – a taught mystery like Saw will always be welcome, regardless of any other trappings. On the other hand, the extremely clever 2007 film Trick ‘r Treat took four pretty standard horror tropes and wove them together in a brilliant celebration of Halloween monster movies, and don’t be surprised at all if I decide to include it in the expanded Story Structure: Horror book (more on that in a minute).

In the end, I’m like everyone else. I want to be scared and I want to be entertained, I don’t want to be pandered to and I don’t want to be insulted. The great films will shake themselves out and the weak ones will be forgotten. And every time you close your eyes at night, horror will look for a way to go on.

That said, let me talk a little bit about the future, not of horror movies, but of my little Story Structure project. Last spring, I was perusing the Amazon Kindle store, looking not for horror novels (those are aplenty) but for nonfiction books that talked about horror movies. I don’t remember why, exactly, I was in the mood for such a thing, but I was, and the pickings were slim. Stephen King has his nonfiction dissection of horror, Danse Macabre, but I’ve already read that one… plus it’s 30 years old. A lot has happened since then. There were other books about different horror types – zombies are still popular, for example – and plenty of books that tried to offer a humorous send-up of crappy horror, but while I do enjoy that sort of thing that wasn’t what I wanted. Nobody, it seemed, had turned out a decent book talking about what horror is and how it grows and changes.

Then it occurred to me… wait a minute. I’m a writer. And a geek. I write about stuff like this as a matter of course. And chances are if I want to read this kind of book there’s somebody else out there that wants the same thing. And if I can’t find it, neither can they. And that means there is a niche to be filled.

So with the help of Erin and a few others, I complied the list of films I would view and write about for the sake of this project, turning out one article per film. And I was starting in May, I had the whole summer in front of me! Surely I could knock out 35 films by Halloween! (And I did, but as is so often the case, circumstances conspired against me and it turned out to be a much closer race than I thought. I didn’t write the article on the final film, Saw, until October 29, while on the table next to my laptop sat the costume I was going to wear to that night’s Halloween party.)

And one at a time, I wrote the 35 articles that are going to make up what will be, in effect, my first nonfiction book. I’m going to revise these articles a bit, add 15 more movies to bring the total to an even 50, and then in 2012 I’m going to offer it up for the Amazon Kindle and all other eBook readers for a mere $1.99. And what’s more, this is only the first Story Structure project. I realized early on that horror is by no means the only genre that grows over time, and I started making more and more lists: science fiction, fantasy, comedy, sports movies, war movies, crime dramas, Christmas movies… I have more than enough lists to make this an annual event for the next several years. And I certainly enjoyed doing this enough to make that effort. Next year will probably be a direct follow up to this year’s project, as I am very anxious to shift gears from talking about straight horror to one of the greatest storytelling hybrids that exists: the horror/comedy. Those of you who lamented the absence of movies like Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein on this list, it’s not because I forgot them. It’s because they get a whole project all to themselves.

But first, I gotta finish this one. And although I do still have the movies that I cut from the original long list to give me the abbreviated 35, I decided against just popping them back in to round out the 50. Some of my perceptions about horror have changed ever so slightly in the course of this project, as I found patterns and tropes that I wasn’t prepared for. I want to use the 15 empty slots to expand on those different ideas. That said, I have in no way decided definitively what 15 movies will round out Story Structure Volume One.

So I’m opening it up to you. Was there a movie you can’t believe I forgot? An entire subgenre of horror you feel I neglected? A legendary filmmaker who wasn’t represented? Here’s your chance to correct me. In the comments, tell me any movie you think I should keep in consideration when I beef this bad boy up to 50. I only have two criteria. First is that the film should be significant in the realm of horror. By this I mean…

  • It ushered in a new breed of horror (like Saw) or revitalized an old one (like Scream) or…
  • It introduces a new type of monster (like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead) or a horror icon (like Dracula or Freddy Krueger) or…
  • It be the first or seminal work of a major writer, director, or performer (like Stephen King’s Carrie or Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left) or…
  • It’s really freaking good.

Also – and this isn’t a hard and fast rule – I would really like suggestions from the 1940s and 1950s, because that’s one era I feel my first 35 films really neglected, mainly because I couldn’t really find many important horror films that didn’t belong more rightly in the realm of science fiction. If you’ve got a suggestion, I definitely want to hear it.

The other major criteria is one of availability. It has to be available on Netflix (either streaming or via disc – I wasn’t part of the mass exodus when they pissed off their customers a few months ago) or available for free, legal streaming online somewhere. If the only way I can see the movie is to download a bootleg subtitled copy from some Bulgarian bit torrent site, I’m really not interested.

Although the suggestions are wide open, these are the movies that are currently under consideration to fill out Story Structure Volume One: Horror.

  • White Zombie (1932)
  • Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
  • The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
  • The Blob (1958)
  • Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
  • The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)
  • The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
  • The Birds (1963)
  • The Raven (1963)
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  • The Omen (1976)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  • Sleepaway Camp (1983)
  • Child’s Play (1988)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Dead Alive (1992)
  • The Sixth Sense (1999)
  • Final Destination (2000)
  • 28 Days Later (2002)
  • Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Nothing is guaranteed a slot on the list yet, though. If you disagree with something here, tell me why. If there’s something you consider more deserving, tell me why. Convince me. I want you guys to enjoy this as much as I do. And keep watching to find out when the book will be available (because the added 15 articles won’t be showing up online)! You can keep an eye out here at Evertime Realms, or – even better – you can become a fan on my new Facebook page. There you’ll hear information about this and about everything else I’ve been working on.

One last thing, gang… the title. I’ve honestly never been that big a fan of Story Structure, I’ve gone with it for lack of a better idea. I need something that can stand as a banner title for any sort of movie or genre I choose to examine, with the specific genre revealed in the subtitle — Story Structure: Horror, for example, only with a bit more zing. If anyone has suggestions, I’m all ears.

In the meantime, friends, thanks so much for playing along! It was a great month, and I can’t wait until next year, for Story Structure (or whatever) Volume Two!


2 in 1 Showcase Episode 242: Haunted Happenings

A week before Halloween, Blake is all by himself. OOOOOGH! It’s honestly not as scary as it sounds. But in this brief episode, Blake hits you with some creepy coolness — a review of the season premiere of The Walking Dead, a resounding endorsement of FearNet’s upcoming Trick ‘R Treat Halloween marathon, and for a few chuckles, the new hardcover Horrifiyingly Mad collection. In the picks, he goes with Justice League #2! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 242: Haunted Happenings

May 2023

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