Best Horror Story: Rats in the Walls

I’m going to take a departure from movie reviews and do something a little different.

Films and TV shows rely on visual and audio to frighten. Either something looks creepy or out of place and unsettles the viewer or an unusual or a loud noise is used to startle the audience.

The written word however is more malleable. It has to rely on mood, tone, and the use of description or dialogue to let the reader’s imagination frighten itself. It’s because of this that written works can often be far more scary than anything you can watch or listen to.

One that in particular got to me is H. P. Lovecraft’s Rats in the Walls.

I will try not to give it away which will be difficult because I will have to try to say why it is scary without saying what happens. The brief story set up is as follows:

Narrator/protagonist Delapore leaves his home in Massachusetts (a place his family settled after being run out of their ancestral home) but returns to his family estate, Exham Priory, in England where the locals are unhappy of his return. During his stay in the old house he hears a sound like rats scurrying through the walls and his cat responds to them as well. He has dreams throughout the story featuring strange demon-like beings overseeing fleshy humanoid creatures, and these dreams become more clear as the story progresses. After following the sound of the rats to a stony cellar Delapore and a group of adventurers explore the dank caverns beneath the priory and find the horrors within.

What is truly unsettling is the tone and the flashes of imagery used to uncover the history of the Delapore family. The story starts slowly, in the deliberate pace used by Lovecraft in all his writing. Unlike the more famous Call of Cthulhu or the more in-your-face Herbert West Reanimator this story doesn’t even sound like a horror story in the beginning. He establishes the character of Delapore. We learn of his family, his son, and his reasons for returning “home.” The tension builds as he spends more time in his family estate. As you plunge into the cavern and more and more is found out the darkness takes hold and the story is told in primal flashes and in maddening staccatos. I think of this story like Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique where a slow, sometimes curious pace leads up to a conclusion that rips you into vertigo as discordant strains make your hairs stand on end.

I truly think it’s the best horror story I’ve ever read, better than anything earlier or anything more modern. It’s imagery that will stay with you after you’ve read it. Lovecraft told you what was there…but your own mind gave it life to haunt the darkest places in your thoughts for years to come.

Best Horror Sequel: Halloween 2

The best horror sequel stumped me: Friday the 13th part 2 or Halloween 2? Jason or Michael? Ginny or Laurie? Both are classic sequels to classic slasher movies. Most everyone recognizes the hockey mask or white William Shatner mask. I have seen both an equal amount of times and enjoy watching both every year. So, what’s a girl to pick?

In the end, Halloween 2 wins in my book. It was a week-long thought process that led to the decision, and in order to tell you lovely readers why, I must discuss both movies. If Halloween 2 is the best, Friday the 13th part 2 is runner-up. Here’s why:

Opening credits – From the very beginning music, the camera spans deep into the blank, black pumpkins eyes – dark holes if you will – which symbolizes Micheal’s character. Evil, dark, hollow. What I didn’t realize was that this foreshadows the point of view throughout the movie as the audience sees the killings more through Micheal’s’ eyes than in the first one. From the start, you already know things are going to be a little different.

The time frame – Halloween 2 takes off from the exact moment the first one ends. There’s no waiting, no anniversary, nothing to trigger it. The first one might as well have ended with, “To be Continued…” This is pretty cool because not many, if any, good horror movie sequels take place the same day/night, continuing the story. This adds a different element because as you think it can’t possibly be worse for Laurie, it gets much worse and a whole new cast of characters will become victims as the manhunt continues. The setting is also different. Halloween 2 takes place in the hospital where Laurie is taken, whereas Friday 2 is set at a camp again. The setting almost makes it feel like a different movie and not a sequel based on the setting change alone.

Micheal’s development – In the sequel, he pops up and stalks his victims more. It seems like a game to him, and he becomes a better killer. In Friday the 13th, Mrs. Voorhees is the killer, and Jason appears in the sequel to avenge his mother, which does take the story to the next level. However, he seems to already know how to kill, whereas Michael develops the game of killing. He becomes a predator instead of just a slasher.

The final girl – Both final girls are epic, however Laurie deserves a deeper admiration because she is a teenager. We often forget that Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is 17 years old because she looks much older. Ginny (Amy Steel) is in college and studying Psychology, so she has the upper hand on Jason. She knows behaviors and how to manipulate Jason, even if only for a short time. Laurie struggles more and has no idea why things are happening. You see her broken, tired, and weak, yet she has the energy to survive and fight back. She’s already beat him once but has to continue to fight him. She is a stronger final girl.

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If you haven’t watched this yet, I recommend you pop some popcorn and watch all four to compare and enjoy. Both are fantastic sequels, so you can’t go wrong!

Best Horror Sequel: Aliens

The film industry is built on sequels. In fact nearly the entire entertainment industry is built on sequels, reboots, and remakes. Of course the general perception is sequels, especially horror movie sequels, are worse than the original films and are usually just a cash-in to milk a franchise’s fans for more money. While I can see a point to this some sequels rise above that label and either build upon the first film’s successes or even improve it. When thinking of the best horror sequel one film always stands out to me…Aliens.

Yes it IS Horror: Before everyone goes on a rant that Jim Cameron’s follow-up to Alien isn’t a horror movie I provide personal evidence. I saw Alien and Aliens on the same night at about the age of 12. Alien I found interesting but slow and suspenseful. The creature looked great in quick, shadowy flashes and the scenes built suspense rather than fear. I was never afraid of the xenomorph, but I was afraid for the characters. That means it was a great movie, since I felt for the characters, but it didn’t scare me. Aliens however did scare me. One scene in particular had me checking under the bed and in the bathroom cabinets. The intense facehugger stalking scene where two of the little beasties are set loose on Ripley (of course played to perfection by Sigourney Weaver) and Newt (whose character’s dialogue still works its way into my every day speech). The tense nature of that scene, the fear and unknown presented by the monster and its location was relatable. Who has ever tried to smash a spider and missed? Then had the critter scurry out of site and stayed up all night watching for it to re-appear? That’s how I felt watching that scene. That’s why I checked all the nooks and crannies before bed that night. And in that one scene alone it proves its horror cred.

New Kinds of Victims: But it also transcends it. In most horror movies the protagonists are unwitting and helpless. Maybe they have a trick up their sleeves like in You’re Next that no one expected, but for the most part they are over their heads and faced with horrors they never anticipated and have to scramble to survive being picked off one by one. That’s not the case here. The protagonists are Colonial Marines, described in one scene as “tough hombres” and de-briefed by Ripley, who faced the alien creature before. They aren’t helpless, they are well-trained, tough, violent, and in the opening scenes of their landing show their precision and meddle. When the creatures turn up they’re simply lost at sea. It works even better than it did against the helpless crew of the Nostromo as we know these marines have handled problems like this before and are still terrified and overwhelmed by the xenomorphs. It works psychologically because you think if these people can’t stop xenomorphs what can? You identify with Ripley and Newt (and to some extent the colonists), regular non-marines who seemingly have no hope to survive. The aliens are wily, powerful, fearless, and the “Warrior” design is far more menacing than that of the original alien. The tone is sci-fi, action, and horror all rolled into one. The first film I can recall containing all those elements, and it’s this movie, rather than its predecessor, that spawned an entire new genre of horror-action-sci fi.

Lasting Impact: Finally it has serious, SERIOUS longevity in the culture. It is one of the most stolen concepts in modern media (Contra, Tyranids, Dead Space…etc…). Not only that but it battles with Scarface as one of the most quotable movies I’ve ever seen. “Game over man,” “Sweethearts,” “five-by-five,” all these quotes spawned from Aliens and even if they didn’t originate with the film you quote them from the film. If you don’t say “Game over, man; Game over” like Hudson you’re doing it wrong.

While trying to think of the “best horror sequel” I was torn. It came down between Aliens and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Dream Warriors certainly changed the landscape of the Nightmare movies, but Aliens changed the nature of sci-fi horror. It was tense, scary, bloody, action-packed, and even had a final girl. It surpassed the original to become a movie classic and infiltrated modern culture to create new genres and new kinds of horror experiences.

So to me Aliens is by far is the best horror sequel.  Take it away Hudson: