Mailbag: Horror Edition
October is a scary movie lover's dream. So we got three of our horror-loving writers together – and one who isn't quite so high on the chills and thrills – to answer some burning questions.
1. What’s the most underrated horror franchise?
Carson Cook: Look, they’re obviously not all winners, but the Paranormal Activity movies perfectly represent the joy of seeing horror movies with an audience – whether you want your theatre to be shrieking at a jump scare, yelling at the characters to be less idiotic, or laughing uproariously at how ridiculous it all is, Paranormal Activity has you covered.
Ben Nadeau: The most underrated goes to Saw and the Final Destination franchises, respectfully. I absolutely grew up on these as a budding teenage horror fan, so I’m obviously a bit biased – and yet! Serial killers and aliens are scary, but what about when your enemy is Final Destination’s fate? How mysterious and unbeatable is that! In fact, they’ve made it very clear that it is nearly impossible to beat fate and that just makes the entries even stronger in a sit-and-back-and-relax-blood-fest.
As for Saw, is it all gore and shock value until another convoluted twist? Hell yeah! Is that exactly what I want? Hell yeah again! I applaud movies that embrace gore above all else. Zach and I once went to see Jigsaw at the same time when it came out – the only difference was that of 440 miles. I was in Boston, Zach was in D.C., but we needed to see this movie ASAP and then discuss it immediately – no other horror franchise has ever done that for me.
Give me a Saw-adjacent movie every year until I die – I’ll personally make sure it makes the budget back and more.
Sara D’Amico: I think they’re all overrated.
Zach D’Amico: I can almost guarantee Ben will also say this, but Saw is an undeniable classic of the fucked up psychological thriller sub-genre, and it gave us James Wan and Leigh Whannell. You’re welcome, DCEU fans. The rest of the entries aren’t as high in cinematic quality, but they make up for it in pure gore-fun.
2. And the most overrated?
CC: It seems as though popular consensus is that the “Big 3” horror franchises are Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th. It’s strange to think of those as a trio, because the first Halloween is great, the first Nightmare is very good, and the first Friday is garbage that benefits from a fun ending shot.
BN: Sadly, and I know my movie credentials are being shredded as we speak, most overrated goes to every single Alfred Hitchcock film. I fully understand what they did for horror – and cinema in general – but I just struggle to watch them. I know, I’m a loser – but then again, I grew up on Jeepers Creepers and Cube, so what can you really expect out of me?
SD: I notoriously do not like horror films, so I would say they’re all overrated. But I guess if I had to pick one it would be the Saw franchise. It’s just a bunch of fucked-up torture methods with an undue amount of blood and limbs and death. No thanks.
ZD: Both The Strangers and The Strangers: Prey at Night are bad. Sadistic home invasion is far more terrifying if you remove the masks (Funny Games), and ironic synth-pop needle drops stopped being good after Shaun of the Dead.
3. Which horror movie villain would make for the best first date? The best marriage?
CC: With Hannibal Lecter you’re at least going to get some stimulating conversation, which is more than can be said for a lot of first dates – though I’d definitely recommend doing drinks only, no dinner. Marriage is a trickier proposition, but Gary Oldman’s (Bram Stoker’s) Dracula definitely seems like a family man at heart.
BN: The best first date probably belongs to Michael Myers because we know he’s a good listener – he’ll never interrupt! Marriage, however, is a bit more interesting, but Norman Bates? He’s pretty hot in Psycho and we know he’s a momma’s boy at heart.
SD: Billy Loomis (Scream) would be a great first date. He’s a 90’s heartthrob. So he’d probably take you out to a nice dinner and then you’d make out in his car on an overlook and he’d be so sweet about getting you home past curfew that your parents wouldn’t even care. Btw, this is your first EVER date. Not just any first date.
The best villain to marry would have to be Norman Bates. You’re getting two for the price of one. And also a hotel.
ZD: Michael Myers is an extremely good listener and clearly wouldn’t interrupt me, which I appreciate.
4. If six of the most legendary Final Girls™ were together in a Slasher film, which one would be the final-est girl? Laurie Strode (Halloween), Ellen Ripley (Alien), Sidney Prescott (Scream), Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Sally Hardesty (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and Erin Harson (You’re Next).
CC: I mean, is this even a contest? Ripley wins this going away – sure, chainsaws and knife hands are bad, but none of the other girls had to deal with an unstoppable killing machine that bleeds acid, punches you with a mini-mouth, and lays eggs in your stomach.
BN: Ellen Ripley, no question. No offense to these other wonderful Final Girls, but Ripley is the GOAT. Michael Myers and Leatherface are scary, horrifying beings – but nothing will ever out-do the one-on-one tango of Ripley v. Xenomorph Queen in space. Nothing. This goes for maybe every other movie ever – even outside the horror/sci-fi genre.
SD: Having only seen one of these movies, I would say Sidney Prescott would be the first to go. It seems like she survived the Scream horrors by pure dumb luck.
ZD: Laurie Strode is virtually un-killable, but Erin Harson would go rogue and start picking off her fellow Final Girls just to win. Gotta be EH.
5. What’s the best horror movie set near a holiday other than Halloween?
CC: Gremlins and Black Christmas are both strong Yuletide contenders, but the bright summery Fourth of July horror of Jaws takes the cake.
BN: Does Satanic-ritual-post-wedding count as a holiday? If so, Ready or Not. What about a birthday? If so, Happy Death Day. No? Fine, twist my arm and I’ll twist back: The Nightmare Before Christmas, final answer.
SD: I don’t know what “near a holiday” means but The Shining has to be around Christmas or New Years.
ZD: “Birthday” might not count as a holiday, but Happy Death Day is an elite horror movie and Jessica Rothe should be a megawatt star by now.
6. We’re about to get a Saw, Spiral, starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson. If you could reboot one horror franchise with any director and star, who would you pick?
CC: With The Invisible Man, Universal seems to have rebounded from the Dark Universe (RIP) and has some promising projects for their monsters in the pipeline, including Karyn Kusama’s Dracula and Leigh Whannell’s The Wolf Man, However, I think there’s a real opportunity here to bring the old Abbott and Costello Meet… format back to life, preferably in the form of a Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key reunion.
BN: As fun as it might be to recast The Shining with Bradley Cooper or Alien with Mackenzie Davis, most iconic horror franchises are just that – untouchable. So you’d have to reboot a late 90s or early 00s movie like Final Destination, so we’ll go with that. Gimme Eli Roth’s Final Destination with Jessica Rothe, John Boyega, Noah Schnaap, Laura Harrier, and Zendaya.
SD: I would obviously not be rebooting any horror franchises. But to play along I’d probably pick Jaws, directed by Guillermo del Toro, starring Oscar Isaac, John Krasinski, and John David Washington.
ZD: We’re getting another Scream installment, but instead we should reboot it with a new title (Stab, the title of the film within the film) and completely new cast, led by Jessica Rothe, helmed by Drew Goddard.
7. What’s the first horror movie you’ll let your future child watch, and at what age?
CC: In terms of intentionally showing my kid something, animation is always a good gateway, so probably something along the lines of Coraline. But the more likely scenario is that I’ll want to rewatch The Thing or Alien while they’re still awake and I’ll just convince myself that “it’s not that scary.”
BN: A tough one, but – if I am allowed to cheat again – we’ll start with Stranger Things, the most kid-friendly horror introduction possible, I’d say. Graduating to movies, you’ll have to be careful unless you want to permanently scar somebody like I was, which means nothing too gory or spooky. And, of course, because I am a good parent in this scenario, no horror movies with a sex scene, so that has to drop out like 60% of them. Furthermore, it needs as little jumpscares as possible, so my very official mind algorithm says: Shaun of the Dead or this year’s fantastic The Invisible Man reboot.
SD: Monster’s Inc. at age 3.
ZD: Psycho and I’ll show it to her the day of her first Halloween out with friends in which she doesn’t let her parents tag along. If you’re old enough to go out alone, you’re old enough for Norman.
8. Finally, and no pressure here: what’s the scariest moment from a horror movie in cinema history?
CC: While not a horror movie, strictly speaking, Zodiac features some of the most terrifying moments in recent cinema history, including this completely bloodless scene that’s a masterclass in tension.
Honorable mention to the birthday party moment in Signs, which left me unable to sleep for days as a kid.
BN: Sheesh, scariest moment in cinema history – am I even equipped to answer this one? Maybe not anymore but the ending of The Blair Witch Project absolutely spooked me as a child. Even now, however, the final lights out basement scene with Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs is downright terrifying still.
Honorable mention for Alien’s chestburster moment as possibly the most recognizably-scary moment in history – the necessary cherry on top of all horror discussion!
SD: I honestly don’t know. There are too many. Maybe the part in Saw where Gordon freaks out and cuts off his foot. I find that kind of desperation to be absolutely horrifying.
ZD: Dinner with Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.