NIGHTMARE NATE: An Interview with Nathan Thomas Milliner

DRC - NATEInterviewee Nathan Thomas Milliner (above right). / Milliner’s artwork for Scream Factory titles Halloween II, Halloween III, The Burning, The Howling (bottom left). / Artwork for Volumes of Blood (above left). / Image rights belong to respective owners and not DRC.

Nathan Thomas Milliner is giving back to the world that so inspired him as a child. As a writer, director, and artist, Milliner’s work can now be seen around the world. Though Nate is most known for his recurring work with Shout!/Scream Factory — in designing newly-commissioned artwork for DVD/Blu-ray releases –, his work in the independent horror scene is also picking up massive momentum. Milliner’s debut directorial feature, A Wish for the Dead, was shot in 2011, and is finally being released this year. Along with the debut, Milliner is also behind the critically-acclaimed short fan film The Confession of Fred Krueger, as well as segments in Volumes of Blood and its upcoming sequel, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories.
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Milliner’s original artwork for the Halloween 4 cast reunion at HorrorHound Weekend Cincinnati 2010. Find more of his brilliant work here.
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In between his busy work load, Milliner had the time to chat with DRC writer Tyler Keeton on the importance of the horror genre, the genre fandom, and the future/current state of horror cinema. Check out the interview below!
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DRCAs someone so well-versed in the realm of horror, what is the importance of the genre, to you? What initially drew you to the genre?
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MILLINERThe importance of the horror genre is essentially to make the audience apprehensive before they walk into that theater to sit down.  Keep them nervous and uncomfortable–scare them a lot, if you can–make sure they laugh a few times and, ultimately, walk out feeling they just had a very fun time.  That was what drew me to the genre.  It was fear at first, and then that undeniable sense of fun you get in watching.
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DRCYour artwork is breathtaking. Your originality shines through with each creation. As you have served on commission for Scream Factory’s releases of Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Funhouse, Terror Train, Deadly Blessing, The Burning, and The Howling, what has been your proudest artistic accomplishment to date? What release was the most challenging, in terms of wanting to please the horror fandom?
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MILLINERI’m not sure what my proudest artistic accomplishment has been, as I have been very fortunate to have several.  I would say maybe a tie between the cover to the Never Sleep Again: The Making of a Nightmare on Elm Street coffee table book, the blu-ray cover of Halloween II (my first), or one of my films.  Either Encyclopedia Satanica or The Confession of Fred Krueger.  Each cover is a challenge, although some come easier than others.  But the responsibility to the fans is in every job.  I have to show my respect not only to the film, but to those who love it.  I need to understand the film and understand why those fans are so obsessed.
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DRCAlong with your original artwork, you are also a writer, director, actor, and producer. Tell us a little about the 2009 film Girl Number Three. Was it difficult transferring  pieces from your own graphic novel into someone else’s hands for a screenplay and feature film?
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MILLINERI had written Girl Number Three to be a short film for me to one day direct.  So yeah, it was hard turning it over to another artist to direct.  Luckily, I was asked to write the screenplay — although the director had some requested changes.  It was tough, but he said to me one day, “You have to let me make it.”  So, from that day on, I did my very best to keep out of his way.  Let him take the reigns. It is important that the director has that freedom and single vision.  I think Herschel felt more pressure to please me than I had letting him take it.
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DRC2015’s Volumes of Blood was met with acclaim from fans nationwide. As an attached director, what was it like collaborating with other filmmakers to form a cohesive genre film? Tell us about your own individual contributions.
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MILLINEROn the original Volumes of Blood, I was asked to direct a segment.  I was sent three scripts and the only one I cared for was “The Encyclopedia Satanica, which had been written by a guy named Todd Martin.  While I liked the story, I felt the script needed a major overhaul.  It had potential, but really needed changes and additions or subtractions.  They allowed me to basically rewrite it to fit my vision.  Again, very important that it be the director’s vision.  I did art direction, storyboards and cast the lead actress.  The rest of the cast was assigned.  I had a great time–despite the lack of time–making the film and worked with some of the most talented and hard working people around.  The same crew and half my cast reunited very soon to make Confession of Fred Krueger.  On the sequel, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories–I am writing two segments, acting in one and directing one I wrote, titled, “Fear, For Sinners Here, which I am currently editing.  My first time as the editor.  Once again, I cast, storyboarded and did art direction on the film.
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DRCAs you directed a short fan film, The Confession of Fred Krueger, it is obvious you have strong devotion and respect for Wes Craven’s original masterpiece. It is very important to note your own fan film was met with acclaim, as many hailed it to be more than a mere “fan film,” and worthy of its own merit and credibility. This had to be exciting for you.
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MILLINERI had wanted to make that film since I was twelve.  It was rewarding in itself just to make it.  Having the fans react so positively and accept it and call it more than just a fan film, or “the best fan film,” and all of those wonderful things, was very nice to see.  I knew many fans would reject it, but the response was definitely more on the positive side.  It was my love letter to Wes.  Sadly, he passed two weeks before it premiered.  But that film is my thank you to him.
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DRCYou recently completed your own feature film, A Wish for the Dead. How has the film translated with the horror fandom, and did you meet your own expectations for the film? It is an extremely admirable feat to touch on so many areas of the entertainment industry and extended independent film community.
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MILLINERWell, the info going around on A Wish for the Dead is false.  It isn’t my new film.  I shot Wish in 2011.  It is just now getting released. But it has been done a very long time.  It was my first time directing, and I was very green.  I was not really prepared to direct that film, and while it is a decent film, it was a very collaborative effort between myself and the director of Girl Number Three.  Making a feature is a tough thing to pull off.  I am excited for those who worked on it to be able to see and share it, but I was a little worried about it being called my new film — as it was made 5 years ago, and I have made three other films since it and have learned and grown so much since.  It is a good film — for a first film, I would say.
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DRCYou have support from so many fans worldwide. How has it been for your wife, Brenda, and daughter, Lily? Are they also fans of the genre? It has to be a creative and inspiring household.
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MILLINERMy wife loves horror.  My daughter is curious.  She is artistic and has grown up on sets and at horror conventions.  Brenda and Lily get recognized and called out to by strangers at cons.  I am sure it can be as surreal for them as it is for me.  The horror community has been good to me.  I love these people.
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DRCWhat and who are some of your own favorite films or filmmakers? Every film lover has his or her own inspirations and idols.
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MILLINERMy top five films are Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs, Dazed and Confused, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Favorite filmmakers are Tarantino, Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, The Coen Brothers and really too many to name.  I have had a lot of inspirations and idols.
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DRCIf someone were to ask you how to get started in the writing or film industry, what would be your piece of advice?
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MILLINERDo it every day.  Learn something every day. Work hard, never stop — despite rejection or self-doubt.  Don’t be in a hurry to get success or respect, and enjoy any and all opportunities and successes no matter how small.
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DRCOriginality is key when it comes to creative genius. As so many modern horror films recycle old tropes and cliches, how do you approach your own work?
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MILLINERWe are all essentially recycling the same stories over and over.  It comes down to how you tell it, your vision, your style, your personal voice, and your execution.  I always try to make left turns.  Hemingway said great writing is leading the reader down the same path they know and then when they know where they are going, go the other way.  Paraphrasing, but it has always worked for me.
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DRCWhat is the importance of the horror fandom, to you?
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MILLINERFans need to lighten up and remember that this genre is about having fun.  I fear the community has turned on itself a lot.  Cannibalizing itself.  The elitist and so-called “true fans” are making the genre a sour place to hang out.  Remember what it was like renting that crappy b-movie with your friends over pizza and soda and just having a blast with a scary movie?
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DRCLastly, let’s say you are cast in a reality series documenting your own life and work. What would your tagline be?
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MILLINERWake up every day and make something.
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Be sure to follow Milliner’s brilliant work on his website, as well as IMDB, Facebook, and Twitter.

NIGHTMARE GLAM: An Interview with Tuesday Knight

DRC - TUESDAY INTERVIEWInterviewee Tuesday Knight, alongside Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) [above left] in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master – 1988. / DRC writer Tyler Keeton (above right). / Image rights belong to respective owners and not DRC.


Tuesday Knight is a powerful artist – in all senses of the word. Knight is known as an actress in one of the most influential horror franchises of all time. She portrayed character Kristen Parker, the final girl of the previous film, in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Knight followed in the footsteps of actress Patricia Arquette, who also played Parker in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. The horror fandom may remember Knight for her legendary performance, but there are layers upon layers of incredible talent surrounding her. Knight is also a fashion designer, crafting incredible pieces for Madonna, Cher, Paris Hilton, and more. Along with her experience in the world of fashion, Knight has also had a successful career as a musical artist. Her most popular single, “Nightmare,” was featured in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (listen above). Knight released an 18-track album, Faith, in 2012, and is currently the lead singer of Rapture: The Blondie Tribute band.
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Over the years, Knight’s extensive acting career has continued to grow, featuring performances in major films and television series. She has appeared in 33 films, and 8 television series. Knight’s career has spanned several genres, not just horror. She has even been cast to star as herself in two films (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and the 2010 major blockbuster Sex and the City 2). With that many credits, it is undeniable to say the actress has achieved a milestone in the entertainment industry.
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In a brand new interview with DRC writer Tyler Keeton, Ms. Knight discusses the meaning and importance of horror as a genre, her own experiences working with the legendary Wes Craven, and the difference in the modern entertainment industry as compared to the golden age of slasher cinema. It is an absolute honor to have Ms. Knight featured as a guest on Dripping Red Cinephile, and we look forward to working with her again in the future, as her career continues to dominate popular culture. Read the exclusive interview (below).
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DRCFebruary has been deemed Women in Horror Month. As an important icon in the horror industry, what exactly does the word “horror” mean to you? What establishes and sets apart the genre from others?
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KNIGHT:  I had no idea that February has been deemed as Women in Horror Month! I think that is great!  (Laughs) Do people really think I am an important icon in the horror industry?  I really never felt like I was much a part of it, other than doing Elm Street 4. Most of my career has been drama and comedy.  But if people are saying I am an icon in this genre…then, I just have to say I am honored and grateful.  The word “horror” means fear to me; the utter most terrifying moment in someone’s life, or in a situation. What sets the horror genre apart from others? Many things.  There is usually a hero, and not all films have heroes.  It [horror] is usually not driven in that direction. Or everyone just doesn’t win. But 80’s horror has a particular ingredient in the mixture, and that is CAMP.  New horror films don’t have this. It’s always fun to watch something that is a classic, and then to watch the formula in the new horror.  So different.
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DRCWomen in the horror genre often get overlooked in modern entries. You are a part of the timeless Nightmare legacy. What was it like, immersing yourself into the fandom of the franchise, and portraying such a legendary character? Kristen Parker is one of the most memorable roles in the entire franchise. How did you go about establishing your own originality and devotion to the role, after filling in for Patricia Arquette?
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(Knight [above right] with Freddy himself, Robert Englund, in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.)
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KNIGHT: In a way, Kristen was two people — much like Heather Langenkamp’s character.  Patricia and I did two different things. The way it was written in the script for Nightmare 3, Kristen was more of a victim.  She knew nothing of Freddy and what he was about — only that he was terrifying, and that he was using her to kill the kids of Elm Street. So, she was a little green to the situation, I felt. When I came on to do part 4, I was told to emulate Patricia as much as I could. So I went home and watched the film, so I could get a feel.  But, as I read the script, I said to myself that this young woman was no victim — at least not in the same way… I thought I was going to bring some attitude and more strength, and that she was on to Freddy and she would do anything…include sacrifice herself for her friends, which ultimately lead to her demise. Looking back and getting lots of fan mail, I would say I must have done a decent job at doing the role.  There are always going to be fans of Patricia’s, and there are going to be people who liked my version better.  I’d say they were both good.
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DRC: Do you have any memories from set of New Nightmare? What was it like working with the masterful Wes Craven? It must have been quite the triumph being in the presence of a genre legend.
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KNIGHT:  Do I ever have memories!  I remember the night before I was to shoot the funeral scene, where Heather’s husband had been killed.  We had the big earthquake here in Los Angeles… and that had been a trend in Wes’s film. It was the scariest thing I had been through, and I just remember grabbing my dogs and running across the street to my Mother’s house.  When we got to set and we had to emulate the fact there was an earthquake, we just felt like Wes made a deal with the Devil and he was going to make people really feel this movie and show that Freddy was coming back. Working with Wes was just a wonderful and valuable experience.  He is a true genius to the genre and he will always be the man who made us like our Nightmares a little bit better. (Smiles) I will never forget the phone call from him asking me to be in the film… I was just so taken back by it.  He made me feel that I had made something of myself, since he had seen a couple of my films and really liked them (Mistress & Calendar Girl), and he loved what I did with the role of Kristen in Dream Master.  He told me I portrayed her like she was meant to be in the original script of Dream Warriors.
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DRCAside from horror, what does acting itself mean to you? What advice would you give to aspiring actors or actresses, attempting to break into the industry? Is there anything you would tell your younger self if you could do it all over again?
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KNIGHTI wouldn’t tell myself to do anything different. I have had such a great and wonderful career in film and music.  I couldn’t be happier. Acting means the world to me. It’s my true love. What advice would I give to people getting into the industry? Well, it has changed a lot since I started.  It used to be about star quality, and you could tell if the camera loved you. Now, it’s about gathering a bunch of children and molding them into products of marketing routine and putting them on camera and, when they are done, they spit them out. It’s so different. You would just have to have the thickest skin…and you can’t give up.  You can’t feel defeated, because once you do, you will start to hate what you loved so much. And when you do have success, you have to treat it like a business.  Tell yourself, “Alright, I am getting up and going to work just like everyone else.” If you have a moment where you think you own the industry and you don’t work for it, it’s over. (Smiles) Let’s just say the industry can be a “NIGHTMARE”.
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DRCSome may not know about your music career. Are you passionate about the other side of the entertainment industry?
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(Cover art for Knight’s 2012 studio album, Faith.)
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KNIGHTThere are many sides of the entertainment industry.  I have been so lucky to have had success in just about every aspect that I have tried. Music was great, that is how it all started.  I got to work with such great people, like Quiet Riot, Aerosmith, Billy Idol, and record 5 records of my own, not to mention many songs for film and television — that people might not even know is me. Then, when I got into acting, that really became my main focus, and that was all I wanted to do.  I was very blessed to have done what I have and to have worked with who I have worked with. Then,  as I was working on my series 2000 Malibu Road, I was making toe rings and anklets, and I was just doing it for fun. My dear friend and co-star Drew Barrymore told me that I really needed to do something with my designs, so that is when I started my first jewelry company. So I have been around, and I love every aspect of being creative.  I just love making art.
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DRCIn such an extensive filmography, what has been your most favorite experience or role? Is there anyone you would love to work with in present day?
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(Knight [above left] alongside co-star Drew Barrymore [above right] in 2000 Malibu Road.)
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KNIGHTI think my favorite role ever was playing Joy on 2000 Malibu Road.  She was everything I wasn’t, and I got to wear this brown wig and a fat suit every day, and those are the roles that actors really love. (Laughs) What a cast on that show.  The director of the series was Joel Schumacher, who is a master at making beautiful films.  And working with Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Beals, Brian Bloom, Scott Bryce and Lisa Hartman was just so much fun.  We became a small family. I also got to know and work with now director Guy Furland, who was Joel’s assistant then. I was then hired on two films outside of the series that he directed, which were The Babysitter and Telling Lies in America. As for who I would love to work with today that I haven’t…I guess would be Charlie Hunnum.
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DRCHorror fans are some of the most loving and charismatic individuals you’ll ever come across. As many would so love to know, what are some of your own favorite horror films?
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KNIGHTI love horror. It is my favorite genre of film.  And they range from decades.  Who doesn’t love The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery?  And I love films like Dolls, Gravedancers, Carrie, Dolly Dearest, Dead Silence, and so many more.
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DRCTell us a little about your jewelry line. Some big names in the industry have worn your pieces.
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KNIGHTThe fashion world is something I like to punctuate my acting and singing career with.  It is just something a little different. I have designed for Madonna, Cher, Britney Spears, Xtina, Drew Barrymore, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, and just so many others. It’s a lot of fun, and I plan on doing it again real soon.
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DRC: Lastly, every actor or actress has his or her own “this is it” moment. What was yours? When did you know you wanted to devote your life to the entertainment industry?
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KNIGHTI have been writing music since I was 11.  And my father was a very famous song writer. I used to sing and dance for Frank Sinatra, Rick Nelson and Dean Martin, when they came over to the house.  So, I kind of always knew what path my life was going to take.  (Smiles) I guess it was more of a natural environment.
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Tuesday Knight continues to wow, after thrilling audiences in so many facets for years. Be sure to follow Knight’s powerful surge of femininity on Twitter and IMDB.

I DON’T DO REALITY: An Interview with Gabrielle Stone

Gabrielle interviewInterviewee Gabrielle Stone (above right) in Harrison Smith’s Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard – 2015. / DRC writer Tyler Keeton (above left).  / Image rights belong to respective owners and not DRC.


Actress Gabrielle Stone was destined for a life in creative energy and force from the start. As the beautiful daughter of esteemed horror icons Dee Wallace (E.T.CujoThe Howling, Rob Zombie’s Halloween) and Christopher Stone (CujoThe HowlingLove Me Deadly), it was only a matter of time before the young starlet embarked on her own path to success. Stone’s most recent feature, Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard (Harrison Smith, 2015), was a modernized entry into the zombie sub-genre of horror, and featured her acting alongside her mother. The film was met with acclaim from fans and critics alike, arguing it offered a fresh take on survivalist and feminist cinema. Check out the trailer (above).
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Independent horror cinema has seen quite the evolution in the past few years, with several entries leaning towards a throwback to classic plot lines and monstrous entities. As February 2016 has been deemed the 7th Annual “Women in Horror Month,” it was important to DRC writer Tyler Keeton to interview a powerful female — not specifically bound by the confines of the genre, but all corners of the entertainment industry — who has her groundwork laid out and knows exactly where she plans on going. Ms. Stone has also recently acted in Cut! (David Rountree, 2014),and Speak No Evil (Roze, 2013), the latter of which featured her in a chilling lead role.
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While Stone has strong roots in horror, she does not want to be known as a strict genre worker. In a new chat with DRC, the lovely actress speaks out on acting as a powerful force and artistry, shares her experiences growing up with acclaimed actors for parents, and spills some of her upcoming projects. Check out the interview (below)!
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DRCWhy is acting so important to you? How does it feel seeing your work on screen?
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STONE
I love acting for so many reasons. I love creating art that makes people feel different emotions. And it’s helped me heal and get through some difficult hardships of my own. Some roles have really been like…therapy for me. When you can use what you love to make other people feel, there’s no better job in the world.
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(Gabrielle [right] alongside mother Dee Wallace [left] {image does not belong to DRC})
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DRCIn a world so riddled by and obsessed with popular culture, what was it like growing up with internationally successful actors for parents? Were you allowed to see their films as a child?
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STONEI saw all their “appropriate” stuff as a child. It baffles me when I hear kids were seeing Jaws and A Nightmare on Elm Street when they were five. I think I saw Scream when I was thirteen or fourteen…and didn’t sleep for a month. So I definitely watched E.T., the new Lassie series they did, her series Together We Stand…but Cujo, The Howling…those all came later. I think I saw The Frighteners when I was a little younger, because I was on set for all of it. So I did see that in theaters when it came out. But once I saw Cujo, I started to love the genre, and as I grew up, definitely fell in love with scary movies. 
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(Stone in Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard.)
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DRCYou are quickly building a legitimate and credible portfolio of acting credits. Director Harrison Smith is full of quirky, fresh takes on classic horror cinema. What was it like working with him on Zombie Killers? Are there any wild stories from set?
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STONEI love Harrison. He’s a great director, who has become a great friend. Zombie Killers was an absolute blast. He’s super easy to work with, and really lets you have fun and trust your instincts. Stories from set? Most (stories), I would probably get a ton of people in trouble if I told! (Laughs) I do remember absolutely freezing my ass off during the scene with Mischa (Barton) and I. It was 7am…in a bra…and refrigerated blood. I was like violently shaking and shivering. Harrison kept saying, “Don’t worry…you just look really scared!” 
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DRCSpeak No Evil was one of your first feature-length acting credits. How did you land the role? How did that film influence your current stance on staying in the industry? 
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STONEIt wasn’t my first feature, but my first starring role in a feature. The casting director, Helen McCready, recommended me to (director) Roze. That film was such a blessing. I absolutely loved the whole cast and crew, and Roze and I are good friends now and have worked together twice since. It was a huge learning experience to see that I could handle a film that I was in, in every scene. I’m really proud of it. (Smiles)
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DRCAs a powerful female on the rise in the world of horror, what is your reasoning behind horror being so important, as an art form? Who are some of your biggest female influences in the genre? Is there any particular actress you’d love to work with?
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STONEI don’t really view myself as a female on the rise in the horror genre. I get offered a lot of horror roles that I turn down if the material isn’t strong. It has to be the right horror for me to want to do it. I don’t want to get stuck in any specific genre as an actress, because I love many genres. The horror fans, though, are insanely awesome, and I love being able to be a part of the horror world. It’s so cliché, but once I saw Cujo, I knew I wanted to be an actress. I think my mom’s performance in that film is mind blowing. There’s a ton of people I want to work with…the list grows daily. (Smiles)
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(Stone’s mother, Dee Wallace, in The Howling.)
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DRC2016 is full of new releases. Are there any films you are most looking forward to seeing?
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STONEI’m definitely looking forward to seeing a lot of the festival films that were at Sundance this year. Outlaws and Angels. I’ve worked with the director, JT Mollner, on three shorts, so I’m excited to see his first feature. I’m such a huge movie fan.
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DRC: Are there any other projects you’re working on this year?
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STONEI’m currently raising the last funds to direct my first short titled, “Stay.” Super excited to jump behind the camera, although I’ll also be acting in it. I just finished two films. Dance Night Obsession, with Sabrina Bryan and Antonio Sabatto Jr., should be out sometime this year. Also a drama/fantasy, Ava’s Impossible Things, that I am beyond excited to see. There’s also a ton in the works that I can’t talk about yet. I’m so excited for what this year is looking like so far! 
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DRC(Laughs) The time has come. Every reality star has his or her own shallow tagline on the series’ opening credits. What would your tagline be, as a fearless lady in the business of film?
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STONE: (Grins) “I don’t f****** do reality.”
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Gabrielle Stone is truly a young force to be reckoned with. Follow her current and future projects on Twitter and IMDB, and look forward to seeing her face on the big screen time and time again.

 

 

LURKING IN THE SHADOWS: The Return to SUBSTANCE in Horror Cinema

DRC writer Tyler Keeton voices support for the current state of horror cinema, in this never-before-published essay. His argument examines two of the most substantial recent genre offerings — Jennifer Kent‘s The Babadook & The Soska Sisters‘ American Mary — and offers hope for a return to merit and credibility within the realm of horror. Read on below.

☣ Any screen-cap images used within the body of the essay belong to their respective owners and not DRC.

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Horror films are undeniably a staple of the American (and arguably universal) cinematic identity. Not only does horror cinema provide entertainment and exciting thrills, but also draws in a massive amount of annual revenue at the box office. This being said, the genre is also greatly discredited. Shelley Stamp Lindsey explains that the genre contains “perverse social relations that breed monstrosity” (280). Conversely, 2014 was a wildly successful year for horror cinema, as it showcased the release of director Jennifer Kent’s independent endeavor, The Babadook. Kent’s film brought attention to a return to the classic era of horror-centered Hollywood, as it contains a deeper commentary on the family structure and maternal identity. The film was made for $2 million and made over $4.9 million in profit. Kent’s name has transcended since the initial release of The Babadook, as she calls attention to the forgotten merit of horror filmmakers in relation to cinematic-societal standing. This examination forces discussion of the efforts of horror filmmakers, especially females (focusing on Kent, as well as Jen and Sylvia Soska), to bring horror cinema to a place of substance and credibility that it so deserves. The academic identity, astounding narrative, and gender roles found in The Babadook (2014) and American Mary (2012) give the genre, in the case of these two films, credibility in relation to film criticism. To begin searching for a regeneration of defining horror cinema, however, one must first address the true identity of what type of individual constitutes a horror fan. Maybe it is the estranged brother or sister that has lost all connection with the family, or perhaps the oddball sitting in the back of an English 200 course, headphones blasting. One might assume a horror fan to be the wacked-out uncle that comes around once or twice a year and hugs everyone for a little too long. Despite popular opinion, the answer is most likely found within the individual diving into this essay. Esteemed writer and professor of literature Carol Clover argues in her critically acclaimed film studies book, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, that the horror audience is much broader than one would expect or assume. This audience branches out to both genders – boys, girls, men, and women – of all ages. She explains that horror “theater screenings usually hold a specific division of an audience: male-female couples of various ages, young men, frequently in groups but also solo, solo “rogue males” (older men of ominous appearance and/or reactions); and adolescent girls in groups” (6) that never seem to stop talking. But she also points out that perhaps the largest audience of horror cinema is the average male or female, sitting at home…alone. Horror cinema does not follow suit to implicated limitations placed upon young men and women as to who can or how to watch and understand its works. It is its own entity of celestial misunderstanding. In response to this inability to effectively communicate the power of horror, modern filmmakers, such as Kent and the Soska sisters, are expanding the realm of the cinematic experience for not only horror fans, but also those with little to no interest in the genre. Their works extend beyond the limitations of a “genre film” and cross over into critical analysis territory. No matter what happens to the characters of either film, life must go on, and everyone must face the reality that existence is sometimes grim. One can choose to accept this and tackle the concept of mortality with a toothy grin, or choose to drown in a society of working for an unseen political entity.

Horror cinema (at large) has quite a bit to say about the dynamics of a traditional family structure. While lasting marriage is still commonplace in modern America, divorce rates have been riding the waves of governmental granting and moral understanding for years, and do not seem to be making a departure anytime soon. Single-parenting is also a high-risk concept for all involved; the child suffers the loss of a balanced familial upbringing and understanding, and the single parent suffers the loss of a partner with which to share memories, advice, and emotional (as well as carnal) satisfaction. In his Films in Review article entitled, “Deadly is the Female,” Michael Brashinsky explains that “horror films are to an observer of culture what frogs are to the medical student: dissecting them displays the anatomy of the culture behind them better than with any other genre. Every smart horror film is rooted in the dread of something larger than its screen image” (1). The Babadook, which quite literally brings a grim children’s book to reality, focuses on the relationship of Amelia and Samuel, a mother and son that are both falling apart after the death of their husband and father. The film moves past the initial objective of chilling the audience with its frightening monster, and instead serves as a direct commentary on single parenting and the unhealthy levels of control that mothers might instill within themselves if not careful. Kent was recently quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “I feel like a lot of the people who make horror actually don’t understand its depth and its power. Unbeknownst to themselves, they’re looking down on the genre. I also think a lot of horror is made cynically, and by that I mean that it’s made to make money” (2). While this is true in some cases, Kent set out to do the exact opposite. Her purpose, as also explained by Kent herself, was to “redefine horror” as the extraordinary terror that lies in everyday life – and depict it within an artistic, credible manner.

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The Babadook centers on a menacing children’s pop-up storybook that comes to life. Chapter-books and children’s stories are so often associated with childhood innocence, development, and installation of friendships. In her essay for Metro journal, writer Briony Kidd discusses the meaning of such a creature in modern horror: “The Babadook represents the dreaded unknown, the Other. But at the same time, there’s something very familiar about him, evoking the sense of a communal childhood memory or a half-remembered nightmare” (8). While the origin of Amelia’s deeply-rooted resistance to affection is never fully explained one way or the other (within the confines of on-screen visuals), viewers do know that her current state of depression and longing has to do with the death of her husband and her feeling of guilt in relation to not being able to raise Samuel in the same way his classmates are being shaped and molded. A viewer of the film likely assumes that Amelia’s guilt is a resurfacing of childhood trauma, in which her own parents either fought over how to raise and teach her, or even abandoned hope of Amelia herself having a normal, healthy life. Kent’s choice of direct ambiguity in relation to maternal guilt is nearly a direct reflection on the underdeveloped scientific studies on separation anxiety between new mothers and their babies. While some mothers feel guilty for leaving their children unattended for the most insignificant sliver of time, others become irate at the thought of this new being entering their lives and taking over their own daily tasks and responsibilities. One might make the argument that Amelia sees her own childhood within the pages of “Mister Babadook,” the children’s story she reads to Samuel in the film. The sense of community associated with scary texts and familiar ghost stories as rites of passage is quite a strong force on its own. Perhaps Amelia reminisces on the lack of companionship she herself faced as a child, and seeks out the replacement of a childhood friend in her own son, Samuel. Together, the two bring the story to life. While not a clean-cut answer to the occasion of the film’s narrative, Kent was clear in not limiting her story to one single interpretation. Amelia and Samuel could be undergoing a literal haunting, or one conjured up in the recesses of creative imagination.

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Continuing its argument on the topic of single-parenting, The Babadook depicts its young protagonist, Samuel, stepping up to serve as the other half of the parental unit. At several points throughout the film, young Samuel attempts to save and stop the degradation of his mother’s sanity by tending to his own needs, as well as the needs of his mother. He keeps reminding Amelia of the importance of her sleep, which, in turn, results in Amelia switching into defense mode (heightened by the film’s dark genre, of course) and lashing out at him. Pat Gill writes for the Journal of Film & Video that “the young people” in horror films “are smart, protect the weak, tend to the wounded, go back into known peril to help their friends, and risk their lives to save the group. In short, they are parental” (5). The issue in The Babadook is more complex than a simple misunderstanding of parental roles, however. Carefully wrapped in the delicacy of a brilliant marketing campaign, Kent’s film encompasses the fears of any single parent (or mother, specifically). The Babadook explores the feelings of inadequacy a single parent may have about his or her child having the necessary elements of an upbringing to be deemed acceptable in the modern world and become a functioning member of society. When Samuel and Amelia experience trauma, it is nothing more than a broad hypothetical situation. Childhood trauma is something that is universal and essentially indefinable. “Trauma,” according to the American Psychological Association, is defined as “a direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity” (463). Perhaps Kent was even going as far as to apply the concept of “trauma” to any negative situation, let alone her specific tale of childhood woe.

The emotional appeal of a film like The Babadook is by and large an essential aspect of narrative storytelling in horror cinema. While serving and functioning as a “horror” film, the film relishes in the traditional tropes of cinematic drama and offers up some refreshing modernist approaches to single-parent life. Scott Woodcock writes that “the appeal of horror may be partially grounded in coping with underlying desires or anxieties for which violent fiction somehow serves as a kind of therapy” (9). The goal of cinema, from its meager beginnings, is to provide an escape to the average spectator or audience. For a brief moment, or an average span of two to three hours, viewers are able to leave their own lives at the theater door and submerge themselves into a completely new world. However, one must not forget the reason why viewers connect to a film in the first place. Storytelling is the most advanced coding system for communication, and adding visuals to a story only provides the listener (or in this case, the spectator) with even more incentive to invest his or her time and concentration. Woodcock also adds that, “viewers find it fascinating how they can become so emotionally affected by horrific imagery” (8). One can argue that viewers are not necessarily affected by the imagery itself, but the idea of placing oneself into the world of the story and calling the shots as to what to do and how to escape or solve the issue at hand. Action/adventure, dramatic, and even comedic cinema have all reigned supreme for years in regards to emotional investment, but filmmakers like Kent are providing horror fans with the hope of redirecting critical attention to the underbelly of horror narrative.

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Equally as important, the 2012 film American Mary, directed by twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, revolves around a failed med student trying to reclaim her life and rise above her deep pool of student loan debt. She begins performing underground body modification operations on the black market to provide a steady income, and, in turn, establishes a name for herself in the black market medical community. Her clients – arguably the most important anti-heroes in recent horror releases – are the outcasts, the freaks. These “outcasts” are the ones society has labelled as “too different.” The film sets out to show the audience that everyone is different – and though we may not understand why they do what they do, it is important to accept each other as individual human beings. The life force that connects us is not merely defined by a surgical snip here and there, but internally, we all appear the same. The filmmakers, Jen and Sylvia Soska, were interviewed by NPR in October of 2012, and explained: “If someone gets breast implants or gets a face-lift, you can say it’s for themselves, and it’s for their self-esteem, but it’s also building into what society accepts as a form of beauty. They’re not doing it just because it’s something they purely enjoy. They’re doing it because they’re fitting into what everyone wants you to look like.” American Mary had a limited theatrical run. The two sisters argue that it is long past due to redefine horror as a credible source of narrative storytelling. And it appears, from critical acclaim across the board – including praise from literary Filmmaker magazine and individual film critics alike – that the sisters are doing just that: turning horror into an exploration of the depravity of society as a whole. Horror is a genre that anyone and everyone can examine, soak in, and enjoy for themselves.

The protagonist of American Mary serves as a femme fatale figure, or even somewhat of a succubus, in that (after a traumatic sexual assault) she uses her physical appearance and presence as a means of elevating herself to the next level of her financial gain and revenge towards her rapist. Professor Mark Jancovich, writing for the European Journal of American Culture, discusses the possible function of a femme fatale character. He explains that “while the femme fatale is often supposed to speak to male fantasies and fears, this figure operates as a nostalgia for something that never existed,” (145) meaning that the “femme fatale” resulted from a lack of feminine independency on the silver screen. As one might know, during World War II, women were forced to take on the roles that were traditionally associated with the work of their male counterparts (factory jobs, assembling positions, etc.). This ultimately opened doors to modern feminism and raising awareness and appreciation of the female power. When the soldiers returned home to meet their busybody housewives, many were afraid of the newly-claimed voice their spouses were so proud to share. Thus, the femme fatale character was inspired: a female, full of power and prowess, which was capable of killing a man with the slightest of ease. While a femme fatale is often used as an antagonist, the Soska sisters do the exact opposite in American Mary. Mary’s physical embodiment of youth and sexual desire leads to a near cult-like following from her medical clients. Her clients look up to her, and one might even go as far as to say that the clients envy her, as they all want to be accepted and treated with attentive respect. Mary has the look, confidence, and admiration (even fear) from others that anyone might want to acquire as a young man or woman – all, essentially, without much force or work. The Soskas’ depiction of a young woman as a promising (and prominent) medical figure also directs viewers’ attention, unashamedly, to the fact that women are working just as hard as men to take over the medical scene. American Mary highlights the efforts of intelligent young females all over the globe, especially in America, to voice their intelligence and, in turn, prove the legitimacy of their studies.

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American Mary directors Jen and Sylvia Soska are, ironically, Canadian born and raised. This makes the title of the film all the more interesting, in determining why such an explicit emphasis is placed on clarifying its setting. One would obviously assume a certain critique of American culture is being made. Andre Loiselle, in a Brno Studies in English article entitled, “Canadian Horror, American Bodies,” discusses comments that the Soska sisters made themselves. In the article, he quotes them as saying, “it’s such a bizarre American thing that you can be rich and powerful and you can have everything but you have the ability to manipulate the way you look. It’s a bizarre value system…it can’t not be American Mary” (133). Any filmmaker knows that he or she must be careful when analyzing and critiquing certain cultural values and habits, but the Soska sisters appear to be opening doors for future filmmakers to rid themselves of fear and hiding behind governmental approval or societal understanding. Loiselle also states that the film “undoubtedly functions as a feminist critique of patriarchy and its relentless distortions of the female body” (133). Setting the film in America and including the nationality of Mary herself in the title of the film directly links the Soska sisters’ push for the value of the powerful female mind with the idea that one does not necessarily need to be from a particular region of the world to raise awareness on its lacking fundamentals of intelligent advancement. The film itself includes several close-ups on American currency, perhaps indicating that the country is too focused on its own financial margin to recognize and acknowledge the disintegration of its national pride. Many individuals, as seen in Mary’s clients, are shifting away from the traditional concept of America being founded upon physical and cultural differences and variety, and rather focusing on the physical transformation one must undergo to be valued as “pretty” or “attractive” in a post-modern melting pot of supermodels and zingy fashion blogs.

Films like American Mary arguably question the sanity and realistic expectations of individuals in a modern world full of pressures from outlets in every facet of entertainment-influenced living standards. Professor Jody Keisner writes in Women’s Studies that “horror movies have become postmodern, in part, because of their questioning of reality; they push viewers to consider their own notions of what is real. Horror films are a simulation of a reality, or fall under simulacra—a creation of a reality that never existed” (416). In the case of Jen and Sylvia Soska, the debate at hand is a simple one: the life of Mary may not even be considered reality. The operations conducted by Mary serve as a means for her clientele to get from point A to point B (point A being the deep trench of self-consciousness and point B being the glory-land of self-gratification and satisfaction). The reality, as one undoubtedly picks up on over the runtime of the film, is that point B is never truly reached. The pressing horror of the film lies within its lurking subtext: Mary is playing God, and by doing so, is assisting dreams of an alternate reality that can never be attained. After all, Mary is simply another human being seeking out acceptance from her peers, and acting out when that acceptance is not realized. The idea of “the Stranger” also comes into play within the narrative world of body modification, in the sense that boundaries are being set between the living world and the living dead (“dead” in the loss of one’s original identity). “The Stranger” is defined by Georg Simmel as “a member which lives and participates and yet remains distant from other ‘native’ members of the group” (4). The Stranger invites a challenging to the concept of the aesthetic or political norm, which directly enters into Soska territory. By Mary crowning herself as queen of the underdog and misrepresented, she directly associates and crowns herself with the title of the Stranger, rather than her clientele.

Sexual encounters in American Mary are few, but pack a major punch. After Mary is raped by her esteemed medical professor and mentor, she turns her rage into action and enacts brutal physical revenge. After dismembering his legs and hanging him from a meat hook, she observes her prey, offering a reverse male-gaze. As the female body is often observed in horror films in a sexual or objectified manner, the Soska sisters show Mary admiring her own aesthetic creation. In doing so, the sisters prove the point that females do indeed have just as much power as their male counterparts.

Conversely, The Babadook also depicts female sexuality in a different light. Amelia is shown masturbating, alone in bed, almost reaching climax, when Samuel comes into the room and breaks her concentration – bringing her back to the suppressed reality of being a mother. Although Samuel is merely a child, he still has the power to deprive her of her sexual power and desire. She then, later in the film, takes back control of her own life in threatening Samuel with a butcher knife. The knife symbolizes Samuel’s own phallic member, thus proving that she has the power to give it right back to him.

The Babadook and American Mary critically and carefully analyze real problems that are typically experienced, at one point or another, by everyday beings in the “real world.” Matt Becker writes that “horror films can be understood as ‘politically ambivalent’” with “an overall sense of hopelessness that can be interpreted in the pioneering elements—conflicted characters, people against people themes, and realistic ultraviolence” (58). The concept of political ambivalence can be explained as a coexistence of conflicting emotions toward a specific person, object, or concept. In the case of the political realm, one must assume that ambivalence means opposing certain standards, but acknowledging (and accepting) that each political law or bill must have a set purpose. In relation to the Soskas’ feminist narrative, it is obvious that the sisters disagree with America’s huge emphasis on aesthetic perfection. However, the medical clinics and plastic surgery centers around the country are here in complete compliance with legal documentation and allowance. As long as something is legal, it is free to build upon itself and spread its wings. Mary’s business brings her a steady and reliable income, thus creating revenue and helping the economy at large. Conversely, Kent’s film offers up a different commentary of sorts: single parents are immediately singled out due to the legal process, involving finances and (sometimes) governmental assistance. While the spotlight being placed on single mothers or fathers that are “in need of help” can be embarrassing or uncomfortable, one must accept that there are legally-approved and placed outlets spanning the country to offer assistance, financial stability, and emotional support to these individuals. Kent’s character of Amelia serves as a direct representation of one in need of all three. Both films, by and large, directly support this idea of “political ambivalence.” The cinematic worlds seen in both narratives are ultimately hopeless.

The business of turning political strife into monetary profit will always be in style. While neither Kent nor the Soska sisters profess to bring their artistic visions to life for financial gain, statistics prove that horror is one of the most profitable, marketable genres in film history. In 2014 alone, mainstream horror cinema grossed well over a collective $254 million (researched by Nash Information Services, LLC [NIS]), making it among the top ten genres to top the box office. Professor and film scholar Brigid Cherry, in her esteemed Routledge film study on Horror, explains the promise of a long, developed existence of the horror genre: there will always be a circulation of the “horror film in response to social anxieties about violence, family breakdown, the war on terror, climate change, and so forth” (19). She ensures that as long as there are social or political issues at large, the horror genre will continue to work its way onto the big screen and into the homes of viewers craving an escape from fears of the changing (and sometimes regressing) world around them. Horror cinema, as its own credible force, is an intricately crafted system of codes. No film, let alone horror, is made simply to be made. Whether or not the filmmaker or critic is conscious of the motivation or occasion through which a film is inspired, any piece of media or entertainment (television, film, or even works of writing) is a direct product of the society in which the creator dwells. A well-made horror film is essentially just as credible as any film that is nominated for an Academy Award or promoted through Criterion as “something you have to see before you die.” Upon deeply analyzing the genre and its cleverly hidden commentaries, a certain formulaic fact is formed: horror is returning from the grave…as the genre that will never die. The Babadook and American Mary have only cracked the door into a Narnia of possibilities.

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Works Cited:

Accomando, Beth. “‘Twisted Twin’ Sisters Hope To Re-Invent Horror.” NPR. NPR, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Becker, Matt. “A Point Of Little Hope: Hippie Horror Films And The Politics Of Ambivalence.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 57 (2006): 42-59. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

Brashinsky, Michael. “Deadly Is The Female.” Films in Review 47.1/2 (1996): 36. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Cherry, Brigid. Horror. London: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Clover, Carol J. “Introduction.” Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. London: BFI, 1992. 6-7. Print.

Gill, Pat. “The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, And The Family.” Journal Of Film & Video 54.4 (2002): 16-30. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Jancovich, Mark. “Female Monsters: Horror, The ‘Femme Fatale’ And World War II.” European Journal Of American Culture 27.2 (2008): 133-149. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.

KEISNER, JODY. “Do You Want To Watch? A Study Of The Visual Rhetoric Of The Postmodern Horror Film.” Women’s Studies 37.4 (2008): 411-427. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Kidd, Briony. “UMBILICAL FEARS. (Cover Story).” Metro 180 (2014): 6. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Lindsey, Shelley Stamp. “Horror, Femininity, and Car­rie’s Monstrous Puberty.” The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: U of Texas P, 1996. Print.

LOISELLE, ANDRÉ. “Canadian Horror, American Bodies: Corporeal Obsession And Cultural Projection In American Nightmare, American Psycho, And American Mary.” Brno Studies In English 39.2 (2013): 123-136. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

O’Sullivan, Michael. “‘Babadook’ Director Jennifer Kent Talks about Women Making Horror Movies.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.

Simmel, Georg and Kurt H. Wolff. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Nabu, 2011. Print.

Woodcock, Scott. “Horror Films and the Argument from Reactive Attitudes.” Ethical Theory & Moral Practice 16.2 (2013): 309-324. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

WINTER MARTYRDOM: THE FOREST, MARTYRS, AND THE PECULIAR CHILLY SEASON

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Poster artwork for The Forest belongs to Focus Features. © Focus Features / Poster artwork for Martyrs belongs to Anchor Bay Entertainment. © Anchor Bay Entertainment

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It’s no secret — the winter season is rough on the horror genre. With a typically short list of poorly promoted, mostly lower-budget titles, an avid fan is forced to pull the reins on his or her own eagerness and prepare for the worst. Perhaps the reason for the underperformance of these titles has nothing to do with the season — or budget — at all. It comes down to sheer originality. Is there something off-kilter or balance with genre filmmakers in the bleak final months of one year that sets the platform for an even bleaker first month of a new year? One has to imagine more talent lying within the teams responsible for the first horror offerings of a new year at the box office. Quite frankly, one must ask: Shouldn’t a “new year” start with new material that instantaneously ignites a bang?

The outcome for the beginning of 2016 is not one rooted in positivity. If anything, two of the biggest (now borderline infamous) titles of the new year — The Forest and Martyrs — have provided audiences with quite the opposite of originality. The two films slide past without a chance for remembrance.

To play devil’s advocate, I must admit The Forest is not a “bad” film. It’s incredibly well-paced, surprisingly taught with tension – thanks to great performances by Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney, and pretty well-written. Where does the problem lie, then? It all comes down to a miscommunication in marketing. While marketing doesn’t determine the quality or credibility of a film, it does create misguided expectations. In no way am I trying to defame or lessen the validity of Jason Zada‘s directional ability, or announce to my audience that this film is a bore. As a screenwriter, I often focus on the dialogue and pacing of a film. That being said, this film is not, and I repeat: not, a horror film. It is, at best, a tense drama. A thriller, of sorts. The Forest 

Conversely, Martyrs quite literally slices its way, immaculate blades glistening, into the horror genre. An American remake of Pascal Laugier‘s 2008 French masterpiece [of the same title], Kevin and Michael Goetz2016 reimagining of the film simply misses the mark. The marketing for this film, ironically, completely worked – in every way. It was hyped for over a full year on horror fan-sites and magazines, and the trailer paved the way for the film to be deliciously dark. The end result, however, is a sticky-sweet, cookie-cutter stepchild of Laugier’s brilliantly artistic entrance into the New French Extremity Movement. While the original 2008 film is brutally relentless, its violence comes with merit and can be respected as a true work of horrific originality. Laugier created a film with no apologies and left interpretation open to each and every audience member. The 2016 remake of the film, in short, has no reason to exist. I will gladly be the first to admit that not all remakes are bad or unfortunate (we’ll return to this concept at a later date), but some remakes simply feel like “fluffers” on an adult film set. The Goetz Brothers’ 2016 entry falls into the latter. The film is problematic in so many ways. From the beginning, we are given better-than-average performances by Bailey Noble and Troian Bellisario. This sets us up to believe the film has potential to be groundbreaking for American audiences unfamiliar with the terrifying original. We have two beautiful young actresses, both known for their roles on mainstream American television, about to slide into psychotic ecstasy — which almost never happens. This leads us to our next issue: the violence. As mentioned earlier, the violence in Laugier’s original film made sense. A shred of a human spirit fights back against her attackers and gets the revenge she so desperately deserves. We are given enough reason (without overly-didactic backstory) to believe, through Mylène Jampanoï‘s stellar performance, the girl’s reason to slaughter strangers (in terms of the knowledge of the audience). The same cannot be said for Bellisario’s character in the 2016 remake. The violence comes, this time, without merit. In conclusion, the film seems to be missing stamina in its onscreen visuals when it comes to bloodshed. The artful cinematography of the original film is what made it so shocking. The remake offers very little new material, aside from a cringe-worthy moment of cheap, underproduced CGI fire. Save this one for Redbox — or a drunken night of binging.