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Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

Hoodoo, Horror, and The Skeleton Key

The Skeleton Key Movie Poster

A tragically underrated Southern Gothic style horror movie, The Skeleton Key (2005) has been given a bum reputation; a movie that is often overlooked movie within the horror genre, it’s actually worth watching at least once. Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) is a confident, yet sweet-natured hospice nurse living in New Orleans who grows frustrated with the general lack of compassion and care that her patients receive from the home at which she works. This frustration leads her to find a new opportunity wherein she becomes a live-in nurse for Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), an elderly man whose health has rapidly declined directly following a stroke. The wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands) seems reluctant to have Caroline there, insisting that she isn’t the right fit for the job.

After a discussion with the family estate lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), Violet finally agrees that since no one else will take the job, she’ll just have to settle for Caroline. After moving in, it becomes evident that there are disturbing things going on within this neglected mansion in the Bayou. Caroline only becomes aware of these peculiarities after the mute, wheelchair-bound Ben is found trying to escape the house during a storm. She begins to explore the house and comes across strange artifacts in the attic, where she was told Ben had been when he had the stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Suspicions further rise after she learns of the house’s mysterious past from Violet—that it originally belonged to a family that had lynched two African American servants that had a hoodoo room in the attic where Ben supposedly had his stroke.

Violet tells Caroline that the house still belongs to them, insinuating that their ghosts punished her husband for going into their sacred space, but that she refuses to let anything happen to herself. Caroline seems to never fully trust what Violet has to say and decides to investigate further by going to an authentic hoodoo shop to see what it’s really all about and find out if it’s possible for someone to recover after they believe that they’ve been cursed. Her distrust of Violet leads her to perform her own secret hoodoo ritual to try to reverse the state that Ben is in—which results in Ben regaining some ability to speak, immediately asking Caroline to help him get away from Violet.

Caroline walking down the hallway in The Skeleton Key
The Skeleton Key (2005)

It becomes increasingly clear to Caroline that Violet has been performing hoodoo on Ben and her growing belief that hoodoo is real causes her to try to rescue Ben from Violet’s evil clutches. When she’s unable to flee with Ben, she’s caught by Luke and it’s revealed that he has been Violet’s accomplice all along. The culmination of the movie comes when Caroline is somehow able to call 9-1-1, then her friend, where she proclaims that the hoodoo is, “all real,” before the line is cut. She inadvertently traps herself inside of a magic circle where it’s made clear that Violet is actually the female servant Mama Cecile and shortly thereafter, she turns on the recording of the Conjure of Sacrifice, which effectively switches their bodies.

It turns out that Papa Justify had previously been inhabiting Ben’s body and had taken over Luke’s body and after switching bodies with Caroline, Mama Cecile force-feeds Caroline (now in Violet’s body) a potion which induces the paralytic state that Ben had been in. The whole thing had been a trick to get Caroline to believe in the power of hoodoo—because after all, you must believe in hoodoo for it to work on you. Once emergency services arrive in the morning it’s also revealed that Violet had left the house to Caroline so that Mama Cecile and Papa Justify could remain in the home and continue their body-swapping plot as long as they desired.

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Indie Horror Creation Indie horror film makers Scary Movies and Series

Horror Comedy “The Central Authority” Gets Creative and Releases During Lockdown

Using groundbreaking techniques, the first socially distanced feature film was shot entirely during the pandemic
The Central Authority Horror Movie Poster
The Central Authority, the horror-comedy  brainchild of Kristin West and Dana Olita, has been a brave undertaking in these hazardous times. “We knew this was a huge endeavor going in,” said West, who co-directed with Armin Nasseri. “We were forced to use the technology  available, which meant doing some unusual things.” Those “unusual things” included dusting off some archaic film techniques and using brand new processes. “We gave ourselves permission to fail,” says West, “but things worked out fine in the end.”

Those processes including having actors from all over the world come together on the screen. Actress Anna Elena Pepe, who plays Dr Zhivaga, a quarantine sex therapist, says it was an experience for her like no other, “I was in London, and my scene partner (Lachelle Allen) was in Los Angeles. ‘It was fantastic.'”

“The actors were the key,” according to Olita, “We basically let them pick and choose characters and wrote around their choices.” West agrees, “We gave our actors a tremendous amount of freedom, there was a lot of improvisation. Everyone gave great performances and the chemistry the actors have with one and other is magical.”

The Central Authority, takes place in a dystopian future, where entertainment is king. There is no content, so the government (“The Central Authority”) creates a streaming channel where “performers” can submit their material, in order to obtain items in short supply.  The film takes place over one day of programming.

In addition to West, Olita and Nasseri, The Central Authority uses an ensemble cast of working actors, Tick Tock stars, comics and podcast hosts: Lachelle Allen, Brandy Bryant, April Monique Burrill,  Jimmyo Burrill, Lily Burrill, Candice Callins, Charles Chudabala, Rodney Damon Collins, Michael Coulombe, Lauren Deleon, Vanessa Esparanza, Jonathan Freeman-Anderson, Sara Gaston, Katie Gordon, Nate Gordon, Joe Grisaffi, Josh Hutchinson, Betsy Johnson, Allison Michelle, Rory Ogden, Marco Antonio Parra, Anna Elena Pepe, Jake Red, Genoveva Rossi, Nailya Sharakova, Narlyia Sterling, Todd Stroik, and Cristina Vargas. Nasseri said he was “proud to work with such a strong group of diverse actors.” Inclusion has been a recurring theme in Nasseri’s films, with award-winning shorts The Carting Call, and Seeking Valentina, already under his belt, Nasseri felt like this was the perfect vehicle for him as a director, editor and actor.

The Central Authority is written by Dana Olita and Kristin West, directed by Armin Nasseri and Kristin West, and produced by Matt Chassin, Armin Nasseri, Dana Olita, Narlyia Sterling, Kristin West and Quarantini Productions.

For more information go to https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12265464/

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Indie Horror Creation Lifestyle Scary Movies and Series

Horror Trends From Gore to the Supernatural

It’s been well over a hundred years since the first horror movie was created—since it’s fair to say that the three-minute short film, Le Manoir du Diable (1896) counts as the first horror film ever created. Known in English both as The Haunted Castle as well as The House of the Devil, which you can actually watch here. While considered tame by today’s standards of the horror genre, it launched a multimedia genre that has gotten increasingly popular over the last one hundred twenty-four years. The sheer number of horror movies made per year continues to grow steadily, but since 2001 it has been an ever-accelerating trend—sources cite that by the year 2000 an approximated two-hundred horror films had been produced, then by 2016 the number had jumped to well over a thousand films in the genre.

This says nothing of the vastly different topics that this genre actually covers, which essentially has a taste of every kind of interest paired with the one thing that brings horror lovers together—the fear factor!

Popularity Within Horror—What Draws the Audience In?

It used to be that gory, disturbing, and slasher flicks brought the crowds in, at least that’s what the data has said since 1996. Interestingly enough, ever since 1999 this particular subgenre of horror has dramatically declined, coinciding with the introduction of stellar horror movies that fall within other genres, especially the paranormal and supernatural subgenre.

Gore, Disturbing, and Slasher Films

Static image on television screen
Photography by Jisun Han

For those of you unclear about what thematic elements cause a horror movie to be classified as either a gore, disturbing, or slasher film, I’ll clear that up here. Gory and disturbing movies tend to focus on portraying violence, blood, and guts in the most graphic way possible—the general emphasis is the shock factor. Violence tends to incite the fight or flight instinct that lays within each and every one of us, which in turn causes a huge release of adrenaline as well as mood-altering hormones. It’s safe to say that real-world events had some impact on whether or not a person might want to go see a horror movie that depicted obscene amounts of violence, as the early 2000s displayed a steep decline of this violent subgenre of horror. There have been exceptions to this rule, of course, the Saw movie franchise and the rebooted Hellraiser franchise enjoyed success, but 2008 marked the rapid drop in popularity. To compare fifty percent of the horror movies produced in 1999 were categorized into the gore, disturbing, and slasher film genre, whereas it now makes up less than fifteen percent of horror films being made. That being said, it’s been suggested that much like senses of fashion, certain trends are cyclically popular and that the gore, disturbing, and slasher subgenre should be expected to make a comeback sometime in the future.

Audiences have a remarkable fascination with gory violence and disgusting scenes, and scientists who have studied the depths of human recall, when surrounding horrific events have discovered—not surprisingly—that participants in this study had detailed recall of the scene itself, but the overwhelming nature of the event causes a “temporary blindness,” in our memory of what happened just before and just after the event. This is why gory movies are so jam-packed full of violence—they want the movie to be memorable, even if they aren’t the best movies ever. As an example, films like Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Green Inferno (2013) are talked about more frequently than any other horror film simply because of the abhorrent events that take place within the film. These films often surpass box office hits like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) when it comes to how memorable they are because these movies are violent and gory just for the sake of being violent and gory.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) continues to be talked about today because it was legitimately believed to be a snuff film and the director even got brought up on murder charges until he produced the actors that were believed to have been killed during filming—that’s not all though, it featured live animal torture and is now one of the main reasons why films are required to divulge that “no animals were harmed in the making of this movie,” in a testament to animal cruelty laws that are now in effect. Films like this were made for shock value and although they remain in the memory of those who have dared to watch them, they leave the audience feeling somehow dirty. Suffice it to say, watching a movie like this once is often overkill if you like horror for more than just shock value.

Bridget Rubenking and Annie Lang argue that even though disgust makes us feel bad, it has evolved to a functional response of attention capture—as a form of entertainment, filmmakers can’t lose with the factor of disgust on their side. It keeps audiences engrossed and engaged, hoping that somehow the story gets better. From the 482 participants that were studied in Germany and the United States, they reached a conclusion that gory scenes function to reinforce our hope that good will inevitably triumph over evil.

Paranormal and Supernatural Films

While it’s clear that not all paranormal and supernatural films can be classified as horror movies, which can be easily explained by referencing A Ghost Story (2017)—a movie where the featured version of ghosts is literally a guy wearing a sheet with eye-holes cut out, over his head and walking around in a kind of vacant melodrama. A Ghost Story (2017) isn’t meant to be a scary movie, it’s meant to be a depressing drama and honestly kind of failed at that too. The horror franchise marks paranormal and supernatural movies as having content that, “deal[s] with phenomena which defy scientific explanation such as ghosts, demons, psychics, the dead and other such spooky experiences.” These days, paranormal and supernatural take the proverbial cake, as they become increasingly popular in production and now take up the largest share of the box office. It’s thought that this trend is due to the mysterious nature of this subgenre of horror—people like to be kept guessing what is going to happen next. A huge benefit to the volume of production for paranormal and supernatural films versus monster films and violent flicks is that they have a low cost to produce—with ghosts and other paranormal phenomena it’s what is left unseen that makes the movie more compelling. With a low cost in production means that more ideas are able to be brought to fruition on-screen without the burden of raising funds or seeking sponsors. The major uptick in viewership of paranormal horror came with the beginning of the Paranormal Activity franchise, which hundreds of films being added into the genre.

Low budget costs for creating a movie means that creating a captivating film becomes more attainable for people that aren’t already known in the film industry. So, these paranormal and supernatural films are brought to us from a wider collective of filmmakers who have fresh and exciting ideas, original takes on existing content, or a new idea entirely—then they help thrill-seekers who have an affinity for horror find their adrenaline rush.

What this means for the Horror Genre

Violence and Monster-centric movies aren’t going to die out anytime soon, don’t worry—we’re still going to have plenty of new slashers and monsters coming (we’re personally excited about Antlers (2020) coming out this April. So while the popularity of these movies may have decreased to the point of minimal production, it seems like the ones that do make it end up generally being well worth the watch. Take Films like I Am Legend (2007) and World War Z (2013) as examples, both were large budget movies (over $150 million dollars each) and unqualified successes within the monster subgenre. Then again, despite the average horror audience’s proclivity to enjoy things that scare or disturb them, they inevitably want to see a positive ending—instead of being left with an ending that raises questions or leaves the audience wishing for some emotional closure. This can be seen in how I Am Legend (2007) was released with two different endings, one in which the main protagonist sacrifices himself and the one that was ultimately used for the final cut—where the main protagonist finds a way to fix the problem.

Why We Keep Watching

Horror films are entertaining—anyone who enjoys watching them would wholeheartedly agree—according to Søren Birkvad, a film scholar at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences—they are a way we keep the boredom away. Those who are prone to boredom more often than not, score higher than others in a trait dubbed, “sensation seeking.” These people are then more likely to have an increased affinity for horror films.

Creepy House in Camera Image
Photography by Caleb Minear

Horror films help us explain away the evil and darkness in the world—they enable us to essentially get to the root cause of why evil exists in the world. Whether or not it’s the true cause of evil doesn’t really matter in this scenario, because the fictional explanations give the audience closure for their curiosity. If people want true reasons why people do awful things to one another, they generally have a fascination with movies or television series that revolve around serial killers, who have been psychologically studied and often diagnosed with a mental disorder—psychopathy, sociopathy, the worst of the worst helped define evil within forensic psychiatry.

In modern culture, it’s a rarity to discuss evil as a true force of nature—what drove the conversation before was the dominant religious influence within western culture. The beliefs of religious extremists, it’s simply not common for people to believe in a demonic force within the world; in popular culture, especially within books and movies, evil is easily conveyed within the horror genre. More and more noticeably we’ve seen the gore and monster subgenre move from the fantasy realm to the science fiction realm, where instead of relying upon the explanations from the church, we’ve begun to explore the hubris of man. Unexplainable forces that were responsible for vampires and zombies turned into explainable scientific procedures gone wrong—in the form of viruses, or cures, they generally allude to man trying to play the role of God.

The final reason why people frequently seek out the thrills that horror movies provide is what Birkvad calls the anthropological and therapeutic utility of horror film. Birkvad insists that horror movies help us to cope with our own anxiety by stimulating us through a “familiar framework,” which is essentially our safety net. The audience need never overwhelm itself with how they would feel if these film sequences were really happening in front of them, as they can easily disconnect from the action—cover your eyes, cover your ears, make a joke to ease the tension, or indulge in comfort foods.

In psychology, we call this activation of a feeling “emotional regulation.” By watching horror films one can have a sense of control over both the situation, or the viewing experience, and over the feeling of fear. Watching a scary film may possibly also function as a distraction from other feelings.

Svein Åge Kjøs Johnsen

Freud’s attempts to provide a reason to how we perceive things that are considered strange or unusual—he insists that entertaining the idea of the existence of ghosts can create undue excitement, so when we experience things that we cannot explain it incites the adrenaline response. Then again, considering Freud’s work on behavioral psychology he also insists that we never fully overcome the triggers of stress and anxiety from our childhood. Fear of the dark, excessive solitude and eerie silences are things that some adults just can’t shake the trepidation of. Come to think of it, have you ever had an unbearably awkward silence with someone you’ve just met—it stands to reason that the feeling of anxiety most people get from those awkward silences stems from the same source.

So, what are your thoughts on why we as horror lovers have moved away from the gore and violence and begun to embrace paranormal and supernatural themes within the horror genre?

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Featured Horror Books Scary Movies and Series

Horror vs Thriller an Age Old Battle

Calling all film buffs, we’re about to play a game – Jigsaw style. There are many ways to differentiate horror vs. thriller films, and have no fear (pun intended)… we’re going to explain them all shortly. That being said, there is something important to note about thrillers. You’ve probably lived one. The time you forgot your project at school, tried to figure out the mystery of your favorite show, or just played a very stressful football game. These real world scenarios all build up undeniable tension and create a climactic moment that you’ll never forget… which is what thrillers are all about. Now, are you ready to talk about the gore, ghosts, and gross aspects of horror? Let’s discuss these differences in the horror vs. thriller debate.

Horror vs Thriller: What to Know

Horror

Don’t be fooled by Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” music video with dancing zombies, these creatures would most likely belong to the horror genre. Why? Because the horror genre is all about scaring you. A horror movie creates a terrifying atmosphere that produces feelings of dread, terror, and tension about the inevitable doom coming your way – at the hands of a serial killer, witch, ghost, or occasional mix of the three (Bathsheba from The Conjuring, anyone?). That brings us to our next point about the difference between horror and thriller movies… the latter falls into a few “unofficial” genres: killers, paranormal, psychological horror and monsters.

The Conjuring Horror Movie Poster
The Conjuring Horror movie poster

Horror franchises like Friday the 13th and The Conjuring have all the jump scares, dead people, gore and paranormal elements you need to become frightened out of your mind, and they’re inspired by classic supernatural horror films like 1931’s Dracula and Frankenstein. While these films were made decades apart, all of them encompass the key elements of the horror genre to present the audience with an evil antagonist – and present the protagonist’s journey to escape it. Sometimes successfully, and sometimes not. The “tldr” of this lengthy paragraph about the two genres? The premise of horror movies is to do just that… horrify the audience. In fact, the word “horror” originates from the Latin word “horrere,” – to tremble or shudder, just like you’ve done in every horror film in the Saw franchise since 2004.

Speaking of Saw, the terrifying Jigsaw is just one of the many iconic monsters that you’ll recognize within the horror genre. There’s also Samara from The Ring, Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, Pennywise from IT and more frightening monsters that have haunted your dreams for decades. If the killing sprees and psychological torment weren’t enough to scare you, all you need to do is glance at one of these creatures. Each is made with a demented design to instill terror in all who look at them – and this first impression will be one of fear and discomfort, as opposed to the tension and suspense that typically occurs while watching thriller films. These monsters don’t just serve as a symbol of the horror genre as a whole, they’re also a key factor in understanding the horror and thriller differences. And speaking of which, let’s talk about the latter!

Thriller

Don’t think that thriller films aren’t just as scary as the horror genre, because they truly can be- just in a different way. You’ll still have occasional dead people and serial killers, but they aren’t there just to make you scream. As the name suggests, the goal of thriller films is to thrill you and bring the audience to the edge of the movie theater seat – building up tension and suspense throughout the movie while watching a mystery unravel in fascinating ways. There’s a good chance that thriller movies will leave you biting your nails and shaking your leg with nervousness as opposed to screaming and clutching your partner’s hand like a scary movie might, and this is one of the greatest differences between horror and thriller films. 

Split thriller or horror movie poster

Thriller films are a bit more mainstream than horror films, for lack of a better term. Don’t get us wrong, the horror world has reached cult status over the decades… but it typically attracts a specific type of crowd. Meanwhile, nearly everybody can enjoy a good psychological thriller like Gone Girl, Black Swan, or Split. In fact, two out of three of these films have been nominated for an Academy Award… a rare (if not unheard of) feat for a traditional horror film. When you think about these films from the thriller genre, they’re quite a bit different from the horror films we discussed earlier – with less killer clowns and gore and more mystery and suspense. The protagonist often deals with themes like identity, loss, death, existence and perception – and you’ll feel like you’re solving the mystery alongside them as you decipher hard-to-find clues within the plot of a thriller film. 

A great example would be Martin Scorcese’s 2010 psychological thriller film Shutter Island, in which Leonardo DiCaprio investigates the patients at an insane asylum as he discovers that he’s not as sane as he once believed. And then there’s the thriller television shows that bring horror elements like serial killers, blood, and death – such as Dexter and You. Many of us have that one friend who just is too much of a scaredy-cat for classic horror films (okay, maybe you are that friend)… and thrillers are often the ideal compromise for a scary and suspenseful good time. 

Differences Between Thriller and Horror

Dark figure horror or thriller

The differences between horror and thriller films aren’t always as black-and-white as we’ve explained above, as there are certain movies that have equal elements of both. Think The Quiet Place, Silence of the Lambs, and Get Out. And then there’s The Sixth Sense. It has dead people and paranormal elements, so it must be a horror movie, right? Wrong. The ghosts that Haley Joel Osment sees aren’t meant to be a source of fear, but rather a plot device to build tension and unveil one of M. Night Shymalan’s most famous twist endings. It may seem confusing, but there are a few ways to determine whether you’re watching a horror or a thriller film. 

You know the trope of the girl who goes down into the basement alone, despite the entire movie theater yelling at her not to, and gets murdered instantly by a masked monster? It’s a key example of the predictability in horror movies. We’re definitely not saying that you should predict the ending immediately, but scary flicks often come with a few tropes that you can recognize. Think empty cabins, picking up the phone with nobody there, and the first three friends getting murdered before the protagonist finally realizes that evil is at bay. Meanwhile, a thriller should be next to impossible to predict without an eagle eye, and three times rewatching the film. It’s just the way it is. 

Remember when Jessica Lange said “all monsters are human” to Evan Peters in American Horror Story: Asylum? It’s a common theme in both the horror and thriller genres, but especially the latter. Thrillers focus less on evil monsters and distorted figures to uncover the scary aspects of real life – such as losing your memory, getting kidnapped, or being tricked by humans that you thought were close to you. And since humans are so complex, it’s pretty rare that you’ll guess the plot twist of a thriller halfway through the film. Not the good ones, anyway. What’s your favorite thriller film that you initially thought was horror? Or vice versa? Tell us, as we want to know about your favorite tales of scares and suspense.