Horror 365, Movie(s) 83: Victim Zero

We here at Castle Blogferatu pride ourselves on giving credit where credit is due. A while ago, a blog I read had a discussion about identifying with characters in books and movies. I tried desperately to find my comments about that. No dice. And I can’t for the life of me remember what blog the conversation started on (I read lots of ’em). If it was you, and you’re reading this, let me know, so I can give you credit damn it!

Right. So my response to this discussion was that I often feel more like I want to be the character (and I’ll explore the implications of that another time). To be completely above board though, I have to admit that the character I would want to be hardly ever matches up with the character I actually would be.

Case in point, victims in horror movies. Many of us probably like to think we’re brave, tough, level-headed, resourceful, and quick-thinking. We’re Buffy. The Winchesters. Ripley. MacGyver (but with monsters and willing to kill people). If not, a lot of us would probably like to at least be as plucky as Tucker and Dale.

The truth is very different. I submit that vast numbers of us would qualify much more quickly as victims and not just any victims. Not even the first victim. A big ol’ heapin’ heppin’ of us may very well be Victim Zero.

What’s Victim Zero?

Like Patient Zero starting an epidemic, Victim Zero starts the process by which some monster or evil begins its attempted takeover of the world. That’s why Victim Zero isn’t the same as merely a first victim and why you don’t see Victim Zero in every horror movie.

I’ll give you an example. My co-conspirator and I were walking home from Café Stella, a coffee shop we frequent and that I’ve been known to practically live at. I saw something on the sidewalk. Specifically because I didn’t know what it was, I poked at it with my shoe. I’ve seen enough horror and science fiction to know better. I did it anyway.

Turns out it was just a black, plastic handle off of something. Sigh. So much for becoming Venom. But what if it was some unknown, fast-moving, alien bug thing that gets inside you, takes over your body, reproduces, and makes you seek out other victims so it can spread?

Hey, you never know. And that would have made me Victim Zero.

Here’s a typical scenario. Something from space crashes to Earth (usually a meteor). Some guy (always a guy) finds it. More often than not he pokes at it (usually with a stick). I read somewhere that when they find mammoth remains in tar pits or that may have fallen off cliffs or through ice, the overwhelming majority of them are adolescent males and hardly, if ever, adult females. That makes sense, and some things literally never change.

This is why the person poking and/or looking into the weird meteor/space pod thing is always a dude (I sheepishly refer you back to my previous personal anecdote). So much for Darwin. Anyway, once the badger is poked, as it were, any number of things is possible. For instance, if some parasitic, alien, slug-thing jumps out and takes the guy over, you end up with a Slurpie Movie, something like Slither or Night Of The Creeps.

Some things literally never change, and if you take away the crash landing, you end up with Alien (arguably the ultimate Slurpie Franchise).

This is by no means limited, however, to Slurpie Movies. Take away the parasitic alien slug-things, and you still end up with “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill” in Creepshow. And all of these scenes pay homage directly to the first person to ever pick up a stick and poke the gooey center of a meteor: the unnamed Old Man from The Blob (1988 remake included).

All of which brings me to 2017’s not great but still kinda fun Life. Daniel Espinosa’s take on the “poke it with a stick scene” is right there in the trailers. Again, some things literally never change.

Ironic since Life pretty much played out like The Blob meets Alien. Still, it was fun to see Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal get taken down by a giant space amoeba.

But that’s only one scenario. There are plenty of variations. Take the geniuses who break into the lab and free the chimps in 28 Days Later. One chimp attacks and infects one of these fuckwits, and we’re off to the races (literally since the infected are pretty damn quick). There’s also Hellraiser to consider. Taken on its own instead of a massive story arc, Victim Zero is Frank Cotton.

So what have we learned boys and girls? Exactly what my dear old dad used to tell me when we he was working in his gargage: “Leave shit alone.” Then again, as a kid, he got bitten by a rat when he went digging through a wood pile to find it. Hypocrite.

Horror 365, Movie(s) 82: Top 100 Movies That Aren’t Horror

I’m an unabashedly enthusiastic genre guy. Ain’t no apologies for that although it does give rise to its own strange crop of questions and assumptions. For instance, “How can you watch stuff like Hostel?” I dunno–how can anyone watch stuff like I’m Thinking Of Ending Things?

A very close friend of mine will on occasion say something like, “Hey, did you see…nevermind. You don’t watch good movies.” In his defense, he’s neither a cinema snob nor completely wrong. I do love a bad horror flick, and most “cinema” (in elitist, Scorsese terms) strikes me, more often than not, as pretentious, bloated, and self-indulgent. In my defense, “good” and “bad” are slippery terms. Of course I can see what’s good about Citizen Kane. I’ve seen it, and once was enough thanks. Bored the hell out of me, and that, I think, is bad.

Still, in the interest of showing that I’m not a narrow-minded genre exlcusivist, here’s my Top 100 Movies That Aren’t Horror. I’m excluding documentaries (which I love)–that’s a whole other post. Also these are not ranked. The very thought of ranking them was hellish. Instead, they are alphabetized for your dining and dancing pleasure.

    1. All About Eve
    2. All About My Mother
    3. Amadeus
    4. Animal House
    5. Anniversary, The
    6. Barfly
    7. Beautiful Mind, A
    8. Best In Show
    9. Big Chill, The
    10. Big Lebowski, The
    11. Billy Jack
    12. Blast Of Silence
    13. Blood Simple
    14. Breakfast At Tiffany’s
    15. Breakfast Club, The
    16. Bull Durham
    17. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
    18. Christmas Story, A
    19. Dark Knight, The
    20. Dead Ringer
    21. Death Of A Salesman (1985)
    22. Detour
    23. Dirty Harry
    24. Double Indemnity
    25. El Mariachi
    26. El Topo
    27. Enter The Dragon
    28. Excalibur
    29. Face In The Crowd, A
    30. Fargo
    31. Fast Times At Ridgemont High
    32. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
    33. Fistful Of Dollars, A
    34. Fritz The Cat
    35. Godfather, The
    36. Hair
    37. Hamlet (2009 David Tennant)
    38. High Plains Drifter
    39. Hobbit, The (1977 Rankin/Bass)
    40. Holy Mountain, The
    41. Home Alone
    42. Hoosiers
    43. Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
    44. Jason And The Argonauts
    45. Kiki’s Delivery Service
    46. Kill Bill Vol. 1
    47. Kiss Before Dying, A (1956)
    48. Kiss Me Deadly
    49. Kiss Of The Spider Woman
    50. Knightriders
    51. L.A. Confidential
    52. La Dolce Vita
    53. Leave Her To Heaven
    54. Lethal Weapon
    55. Little Women (2019)
    56. Locket, The
    57. Longest Yard, The (1974)
    58. Magnificent Seven, The (1960)
    59. Maltese Falcon, The
    60. Man Who Killed Don Quixote, The
    61. Matrix, The
    62. Midnight In Paris
    63. Mighty Wind, A
    64. Mildred Pierce
    65. Monty Python And The Holy Grail
    66. Mosquito Coast
    67. Murder My Sweet
    68. My Fair Lady
    69. Nightmare Alley
    70. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
    71. Outlaw Josey Wales, The
    72. Pale Rider
    73. Pride & Prejudice (2005)
    74. Princess Bride, The
    75. Pulp Fiction
    76. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
    77. Reservoir Dogs
    78. Richard III (1955)
    79. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
    80. Rounders
    81. Scent Of A Woman
    82. Sense And Sensibility (1995)
    83. Seven Samurai
    84. Silverado
    85. Six-String Samurai
    86. Smokey And The Bandit
    87. Snatch
    88. Sunset Boulevard
    89. Sword Of Doom, The
    90. Tombstone
    91. Touch Of Evil
    92. Trumbo
    93. Waiting For Godot
    94. Watchmen, The
    95. When Harry Met Sally
    96. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
    97. Wild At Heart
    98. Wilde
    99. Yellow Submarine
    100. Yojimbo

And there’s my list (which is, of course, subject to change at any moment). If you question my taste, logic, ore sanity for anything I included or didn’t, let me know in the comments!

Horror 365, Movie 81: The Watcher In The Woods

Disney and Buena Vista–not things one typically associates with horror, so yeah I was fully aware of the risks going in. But I’d been meaning to get to The Watcher In The Woods for a long time. Then I saw Lucy McPhee (super early spoilers comin’) mention it on Top 5 Horror Movies With Almost No Deaths. I really like Ms. McPhee and her aesthetics in terms of horror movies. I generally trust her recommendations, and she’s never let me down so…why not?

Plus there’s Bette Davis! How bad could it be?

Well, let’s start there with the fact that it’s certainly not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Really, not even close. Cuz again, Bette Davis. The best description I can give you is part Nancy Drew mystery, part feel-good cosmic horror. If you can imagine H.P. Lovecraft with a happy ending, you’re on the right track, plus the plot itself is actually pretty interesting.

A teenager, Karen Aylwood, disappears. Many years later Karen’s mother, Mrs. Aylwood (hey,  is that Bette Davis??) is in need of money, so she rents out her estate and lives in the cottage on the grounds (a cottage that’s nicer than any place I’ve ever lived but whatever). A family moves in with their two daughters, Jan and her younger sister Ellie. Jan looks very much like Karen which arouses Mrs. Aylwood’s curiosity.

The two girls are then haunted by the spirit of someone or something that wants their help with this ill-defined Karen situation. Lots of creepy little incidents start to befall the girls literally the minute they move in. Windows and mirrors crack, Ellie keeps hearing voices and going into paranormal trances, Jan nearly drowns. Good times.

For the most part the acting is decent, and the script is more or less okay. Jan gets a bit shrill here and there, but I’ve made it through worse. Also tricky casting Bette Davis in a character acting role. Cuz she’s Bette Goddamn Davis. Aside from her, the movie, “boasts” figure skater turned actress Lynn-Holly Johnson who would go on to The Spy Who Loved Me and something else I’ve seen her in but can’t for the life of me pin down (shit…this is gonna bug me all night). There’s also a very young Escape From Witch Mountain Kyle Richards and an incidental at best David McCallum (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., NCIS).

And yet, the movie still works on a number of levels. There’s a respectable amount of genuine tension in the race to save/find/help the missing Karen. Mrs. Aylwood is just creepy and secretive enough to keep you guessing. There’s a little bit of a ritualistic, culty, Lovecraftian cosmic weirdness vibe about what actually happened to Karen. Jan’s disappearance when the original ritual is repeated comes as a legit shock. The otherworldly special effects are a little lacking, but the practical effects of The Big Bad work surprisingly well. It’s somewhat Cthulhu-like, just minus, y’know, the despair and madness the goes along with the Elder Gods.

All in all, if you find yourself needing a wee break from death, gore, and dread, give this one a watch.

Oh, and Bette Davis.

Not. A single. One.
Available on YouTube
Wait wait I got it! Lynn-Holly Johnson was in the “Enemy Within” episode of MacGyver! You know, the one where he makes a defibrillator out of two candlesticks and a power cord from a lamp. Whew…I’ll be able to sleep tonight.