Tag Archives: Guillermo del Toro

The Monster Maven’s Guide to Recent Horror Trailers: The Good, the Bad, and THE VVITCH

Last night, the moon over the highway was heavy, huge and orange. Autumn approaches, and with the changing of the seasons comes a flux of horror film trailers. Some are chilling and exciting, and others are already demonstrating weak points.

The Visit, September 11

Say what you want about M. Night Shyamalan’s continued downward spiral (are we just saying that his early movies were a fluke at this point?), but The Happening was absolutely hilarious. I’m not sure Shyamalan had any idea how funny Marky Mark’s line delivery was going to be, but I personally enjoyed every minute of the movie, although its appeal was unintentional. I think The Visit, though obviously full of cliches, has the potential to be a really fun night at the movies. (Admittedly, a creepy old woman scratching a wall is like a copy of a copy of a copy now, with the most recent iteration being The Taking of Deborah Logan).

Goodnight Mommy, September 11

Are the boys evil? Is the mom evil? Are they all crazy? Why don’t the boys react at all when their bandaged mother turns around from…idly scratching the wall (why is this image everywhere)? I love when a horror trailer poses enough questions to be interesting without looking pointless. I’m sort of at a loss for words with this one, because there’s no way it could be bad. Even if it ends up not making sense, the cinematography alone gives me chills.

Cooties, September 18

I’m cheating a bit here because I’ve already seen Cooties. It’s…a rental. As an addition to the horror-comedy genre, it does pretty well, but something goes awry with the screenplay in the third act, and it sloppily falls apart on itself. Worth it just to watch Rainn Wilson, whom I’m still rooting for (I think I’m the only person alive who actually watched all of Backstrom)? Yeah, possibly.

Before I Wake, September 25

I have questions. Why does this trailer make the movie feel more like a boring fairy tale than a horror movie, which it’s being billed as? Where has Kate Bosworth been since she made my favorite movie when I was fourteen, Blue Crush? What’s with the creepy adoption stories; why is that a trope? Why do we get 1:30 into the trailer before exposition calls out what we already realized in the first scene? Also, this movie’s really going to enter the sleeping-is-scary realm although we already have Nightmare on Elm Street? And finally, why didn’t they get Guillermo del Toro to direct the daylights out of this?

Knock, Knock October 9

Oh god, they’re going to tack this movie’s promotional work onto the Ashley Madison hack, aren’t they? My only other thought here is “chocolate with sprinkles” is the most engaging and memorable part of this trailer. Staying far away from this one.

The Final Girls, October 9

I already posted a mini-review of this trailer on Twitter, and the film’s screenwriter was not at all happy about it:

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I stand by my opinion, though. Taissa looks incredibly charming, and I’m liking the aesthetic as far as colors (Wet Hot American Summer vibes) but the satirical angle on this looks a little…stale. What horror fanatic has been waiting to see slow motion lampooned as a trope of the genre? Didn’t we just fawn over Cabin in the Woods (and rightfully so)? The cast in this one will probably elevate it into being entertaining, but so far I’m not too optimistic.

Crimson Peak, October 16

Please excuse me for being far less critical of Crimson Peak than the other trailer on this list, because I truly DGAF. It’s the almighty del Toro back in action, shaping a vampire story with fists full of lush red silk, and he’s draping it over the crackling, creepy sexual tension that buzzes between Mia Wasikowska (who has natural ghost-face), and Tom Hiddleston. I am so, so here for an old fashioned ghostly Hiddleston-horror vehicle, post-Only Lovers Left Alive. I want to drown in the costuming alone.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, October 23

The gimmicks! Love ’em! I don’t care if this is a cheap Poltergeist imitation full of jump scares. You had me at interacting with a twenty-year old video tape in real time. You also had me at fabulous uncle-stache:

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Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, October 23

My brother is a Boy Scout, and the organization has always struck me as vaguely creepy, so I’m intrigued by the set-up here. You can already tell that this needs much funnier writing, and more memorable leads. If these scout-boys were jeering at each other a la Superbad, I’d be hooked, but they’re not. They’re barely saying anything other than describing what we’re already seeing. This probably should have been campier, especially if the plot involves boy scouts vs zombie cats. Commit, dudes. Commit to the tone by hiring joke writers, or don’t bother.

Victor Frankenstein, November 25

First of all, I love how Daniel Radcliffe’s career is unfolding into unnerving territory. I see you, Harry Potter, you want to creep us all out, now that you’re free of the wizard franchise. Although The Woman in Black bored me, Horns was pretty good, and Radcliffe has a nice ability to lock into a sinister undertone. His under-eye bags alone are very otherworldly looking, and they’re in full effect here. He’s apparently playing Igor, which is…cool.

Spotting Andrew Scott (an absolutely masterful Moriarty on BBC’s Sherlock), in this trailer has me curious, although the dark-pop version of The Doors’ “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” is more than a little cheesy. As long as the film really hones in on the exceptional body horror in the Frankenstein story, I’ll be a fan.


Although these three films were released earlier this year at select festivals and indie theaters, I haven’t gotten a chance to see them yet. I’ve got my Fandango alert set to Boston, though, and I’ll be the first in line if they open in my li’l city. Alternately, I’ll also keep searching for them on my Roku. What’s disappointing is that the following films, in my opinion, have the most exciting horror trailers I’ve seen recently, and I haven’t even been able to see the movies:

We Are Still Here, January 2015 (limited release)

Old-school late-70s vibe, a la It Follows? CHECK. Creepy ol’ frozen wasteland setting, a la Fargo? CHECK! Horror movie protagonists of a non-traditional age? DOUBLE CHECK! Whatever the hell is going on between 1:22 and 1:24? CH-CH-CHECK! This one comes from the folks who made Starry Eyes, so you better believe I’m ready.

The VVitch, January 2015 (Sundance)

Alright, everybody, pack it up! There’s no sense in making a horror film for the rest of the year, because this trailer is so stunningly superior to all the rest that it’s almost laughable. I swear to G-d I dreamt this movie up for myself. The baa-baa sounds, the fact that it’s set in New England, the use of Game of Thrones actors, whatever’s going on with that goat transforming in the field, and on top of everything else, an actually scary witch movie?? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Get out of my way so I can see this thing.

NINA FOREVER, March 2015

What I found most intriguing about NINA FOREVER is the fact that it’s billed as a horror-comedy-romance. My favorite horror-romance is, of course, The Fly, so this has big shoes to fill. This one also strikes close to home for me, because the last guy I dated had an obsessive, dead ex-girlfriend who wouldn’t leave us alone.

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Lady-Directed Horror Films

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Ida Lupino, a classic film-era ingenue, directed one of my favorite tense thriller films, “The Hitch-hiker” in 1953. Though it wasn’t her directorial debut, her work in the genre resonates into contemporary horror film-making. While some of the most exciting horror projects directed by women have utilizied issues of femininity and feeling powerless and oppressed as fearful elements, Lupino’s “The Hitch-hiker” is a crime thriller orbiting around the decisions and interactions of men. Richard Koszarski wrote in Oxford University Press, “[Lupino’s] films [as a director] display the obsessions and consistencies of a true auteur. What is most interesting about her films are not her stories of unwed motherhood or the tribulation of career women, but the way in which she uses male actors: particularly in “The Bigamist” and “The Hitchhiker”, Lupino was able to reduce the male to the same sort of dangerous, irrational force that women represented in most male-directed examples of Hollywood film noir.”

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New and Exciting Work in Horror in 2014

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This past week I saw both Deliver Us From Evil and Snowpiercer in theaters, and the obvious differences between the films had me thinking about horror’s genre parameters. Of course, Deliver Us From Evil is just another panel-written, formulaic movie churned out by studios who have whittled American “horror” films down to a handful of repetitive images. You’ve got your slightly-flawed but ultimately noble white male hero, your creepy kid’s room full of demonic toys (there’s literally a scene with a jack in the box, and I was the only one laughing in disgust), and your drawn-out exorcism scene. I almost expected the demon to say “we are legion,” but instead he said some other comically-vague demonic-sounding name.

So what’s so exciting about Snowpiercer as an evolutionary step for horror? Well, for starters, it’s not technically billed as horror. Instead, it’s sold to cinephiles as Bong Joon-Ho’s first English language thriller, and it’s sold to mainstream US audiences as an experimental dystopian action thriller. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? Why can’t we just call Snowpiercer what it is? It’s beautiful and emotionally resonant, yes, but it’s also definitively and staggeringly horrific. I’d argue that “thriller” has become a stand-in genre tag for horror films that are actually good.

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Monster Design: Fine Artists, Cartoonists and Illustrators

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One of my earliest memories is rifling through my collection of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” a now infamous series of books for kids. I owned the original printings with illustrations by Stephen Gammell. For a full look at the disappointing re-printing, using illustrations by the dude whose art was used in the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books, click here.

ZhrkTYvGammell’s original drawings were an exercise in suspense as much as they were depictions of unique monsters. The question of form is present in almost every one – what is this thing? Is it dangerous? As a child, I had no idea, but I enjoyed the sensation of staring at something and trying to figure it out. That’s an effect only a still shot, or illustration, of a monster can do.

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Fresh Blood: Vampires Don’t Have to Suck

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It always hurts my horror-loving heart when people scoff at vampire movies. There’s so much dynamism in vampires to tease out in fiction, from the biological cause of the affliction to the queering of their sexuality and whatever they desire post-transformation.

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Monstrosity in Movement

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Monsters crawl, slither and lurch…

…right?

What about monsters that slink, monsters that scuttle and monsters that creep? Can you tell a monstrous human from a normal human, based solely on the way they move through space?

Let’s expand what we define as “monstrous” to images that are incongruous with their surroundings, visually halting, or out-of-sync. If a character is a monster through movement, they carry themselves in a hybrid of ways that’s unusual to their community. Take Floki from the History Channel’s Irish-Canadian produced drama “Vikings”:

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Floki is a visual spectacle when compared to the rest of the characters on “Vikings”: he moves with fluidity, using both masculine and feminine visual cues, and he fights and communicates with a different rhythm than the men (and women) around him.

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As opposed to the other Vikings, who hulk and smolder, Floki tends to cling.

I don’t mean to say that characters who operate outside the gender binary are necessarily monstrous, although gender incongruity is certainly a factor in many monsters’ design. Monsters are visually uncanny, and they’re usually combinations of two or more things we don’t like to see combined as a mainstream audience: man and beast, man and machine, man and woman, etc. Problematic, yes. Popular too, though.

Floki has feminine qualities, yes, but more interestingly, his limbs move with different trajectories than those of his counterparts. He crouches and gallops and leaps.tumblr_mjl1jy14Vq1s5jeldo4_r1_250

His dark eyeliner enhances his uncanniness, of course, and the fact that he’s interested in sorcery makes him more intriguing. In arguably the best episode of the series, the Vikings are led by Ragnar to a peninsula inhabited by Catholic monks. While the other Vikings are vaguely confused by the monks’ reverence for gold objects and wooden crosses, Floki is the only one who concerns himself with the emotions of the monks and their followers. He floats around the church making ghastly faces, noting which monks step back and which hold their ground. Eventually, he drinks a goblet of holy water and pushes over a large crucifix, delighted, almost giggling at the outrage he causes.

While the other Vikings consistently meet anger with anger, Floki is the only one who seems to experience mirth at others’ pain.

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Floki demonstrates a few tropes of monstrous characters, including his defiance of gender norms through wearing make-up and moving in a delicate way, but his femininity can also be read as child-like. For better or worse, childish adults are often perceived as “strange” and possibly monstrous when they appear on screen.

 

 

 

 

 

Take as another example of monstrous movement the mystifying and addictive music video for Belgian singer Stromae’s “Papaoutai” (translation: Dad, where are you?)

Everyone knows how to make a child / but no one knows how to make a father

The incongruous, awkward-on-purpose choreography (is this pop and locking? I have no idea, that’s a cultural blindspot for me) highlights Stromae’s gut-punching lyrics: every dancer in the video is neither child nor adult, dressed identically in pairs but monstrously, strangely different from what we typically humans to look like. The men are just larger-set boys with no aged wisdom or change in mannerisms. It’s as if all the children in this strange town simply get larger without changing internally.

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The father figure in “Papaoutai” is the stuff of nightmares: technically present but unreachable, only the flat, unchangeable image of comfort without anything real inside. This, of course, is a large part of why zombies frighten us so deeply. They look human, but they’re not human. Their faces appear the same, but their internal workings are a mystery. Stromae sings about a son abandoned by his father, and in the video we experience satisfying terror when the protagonist finally gives up. His hollow father, unable to move like the living fathers in town (with their creature-like, spinning limbs and jolting eyes), has won.

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Try to listen to “Cats in the Cradle” while staring at this face…

As for examples in horror films, we’d be remiss to not examine the ol’ creepy crawl:

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What’s so bothersome about a human (or quasi-human) moving on all fours? Could it be that it represents evolutionary regression? Is the creature on screen undoing all of homo sapien’s hard work by reverting to a life on its hands and knees? The second part of this creepy crawl is the flip-over, of course. Reagan’s iconic crawl-down-the-stairs reaches maximum terror because her body is bent unnaturally backwards. Films that came later (and crappier), including Legion and The Unborn, had their monsters flipped over correctly with some creepy additions (longer limbs, gaping mouths, etc).

Although it’s more of a manipulation of the human form  that makes The Thing terrifying, (post on this coming later) there is still some monstrous movement at work in the first remake (note: why is first remake a phrase that exists?):

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Nope. Nope. Stay away from anything that uses its tongue to move.

Guillermo del Toro (forthcoming posts on the Godfather of monsters, trust me!) loves monstrous movements, and it’s one of the elements of his films that makes them so exciting. As an overview:

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An aquatic humanoid who uses jerking, robotic micro-movements.

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There’s a fleshy openness to this guy, like an exposed wound.

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The stillness-to-speed trope is popular and very effective.

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These girls end up being somewhat normal, but in this shot their limbs have been digitally lengthened, and they sway like anxious animals.

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I looked everywhere for a gif of the faun walking, but his minute finger movements and lovely, expressive ears are fascinating too.

Although del Toro is certainly talented in static formats (his sketched and painted monsters are chilling), his attention movement is just astounding. One of my favorites plays itself out in El Orfanato. A creature that initially presents itself as a child in a mask walks in a halting, infantile way from door to door. Something is obviously off with the “child’s” mask, and the viewer is already unsettled. At the end of the hallway, the “child” stops and sniffs the air, showing us in a single, minute move that it is not 100% child.

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Human children don’t sniff the air to track their prey, y’all…

In summation, typical human movements can be creepy, but they’re not necessarily monstrous. Humans who move like non-humans, or monsters who move too quickly, or aren’t bipedal, strike a low chord in our perception. Movement resonates with an audience when we feel uncomfortable, and it’s a useful tool in designing a monster.