Tag Archives: horror

2020 Spooky Film Recommendations — Part I

As I’ve said before, if you crave 500 jump scares per film, you will be disappointed by my recommendations. For more context on this, check out Chris Stuckmann’s YouTube video, The Problem with Horror Movies Today.

This year we begin with CLASSIC HORROR, and I arbitrarily decided this would include films from the 70s and earlier. Let me tell you, one of the fantastic things about watching films of this vintage was the total (and to me blessed) absence of computer-generated imagery. Directors and cinematographers had to be clever in suggesting a horror they did not have the means to show. All the more creepy!
(All synopses from imdb.com)

Enthusiastically Recommended!


The Wicker Man (1973) — Rated R
A puritan Police Sergeant arrives in a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl who the locals claim never existed.
I’ve had a crush on the late, great Edward Woodward ever since the TV series The Equalizer, but I’d never seen this movie until a month ago. The story starts as a rather ordinary noir-ish police procedural, turns trippy, and then really gets down to the business of horror, all in a very “early 70s” manner that I found rather charming.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 87


The Omen (1976) — Rated R
Mysterious deaths surround an American ambassador. Could the child that he is raising actually be the Antichrist? The Devil’s own son?
I have a vague memory of catching a bit of this as a child when my parents were watching. Back then I probably lasted about two minutes before I ran screaming. It’s a much better story and film than I expected. The female characters are either evil or useless, but aside from that it’s a darn good watch–well-paced with some very shocking scenes.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 62


Carrie (1976) — Rated R
Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother, unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom.
Despite the strong dose of male gaze in the opening sequence (a shower scene, which arguably is an integral part of the plot), I found this a compelling film. The strong performances from Betty Buckley, Sissy Spacek, and others (you’ll find many familiar faces) give this twisted tale a heartbreaking authenticity. It also features the WEIRDEST “cute boy” hairdo I’ve ever seen.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 85


Rosemary’s Baby (1968) — Rated R
A young couple trying for a baby move into a fancy apartment surrounded by peculiar neighbors.
This film starts quietly and meanders toward a horrific finale, requiring a certain investment of time and patience. I thought I knew what was going on, then I questioned everything, and then the finale pretty much blew my mind. There’s a great 2018 Vanity Fair essay by Laura Jacobs that fans of the film should read: The Devil Inside: Watching Rosemary’s Baby in the Age of #MeToo.
Watch the excellent fan-made Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 96


The Exorcist (1973) — Rated R
When a 12-year-old girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her.
I have avoided this movie all my life…until this past Sunday. 45 minutes into it, I told my husband I had to walk away. I COULD NOT WATCH IT AT NIGHT. Reader, we DID return to it the next afternoon. We finished the movie, and it was brilliantly harrowing. For me, the most disturbing parts weren’t necessarily the paranormal bits. I mean, the hospital scenes! Poor Father Karras, carrying the burden of his guilt and grief, hit me the hardest. I really loved this film, but it’s no picnic.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 81

Finished, not sure I recommend
The Haunting of Julia (1977)
After her daughter’s death, wealthy American homemaker Julia Lofting moves to London to restart her life. All seems well until she is haunted by the ghosts of other children while mourning for her own.
This premise appealed to me, and I do think waifish, vulnerable Mia Farrow is quite good in the role. The film meanders quite a bit, however, and I’m not sure the conclusion is earned. (Or maybe I was just being a lazy viewer?) You can watch on Prime or Youtube.

Watched at least 20 minutes and lost interest
Amityville Horror (1979) — obviously this is a horror classic, but I just didn’t care about the characters. James Brolin, in particular, seemed to be sleepwalking through his performance.
Halloween (1978) — I love Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, but this did not grab me. (Feel free to convince me to try again!)

Stay tuned for more spooky film recommendations. I’d love to know your thoughts about these films, and feel free to share your favorite horror movies from the 60s and 70s in the comments!

Spooky Reads 2020 and a GIVEAWAY

Hey! Don’t forget to check out the GIVEAWAY at the end of this post.

When the Covid lockdown began, I craved comfort books. (See my recommendations here.) Lately, however, that old familiar yearning for Gothic horror has me in its grip. What a gluttony of horror fiction I’ve been enjoying! And I have this blog post to thank: ALL THE HORROR BOOKS WE’RE EXCITED ABOUT IN 2020 from Tornightfire.com.

I have offered spooky film recommendations for several years now. This year I’m adding recs for new (and newish) spooky novels. (Descriptions in bold are from the publisher.)


Follow Me to Ground (Simon & Schuster, 2020)
A haunted, surreal debut novel about an otherworldly young woman, her father, and her lover that culminates in a shocking moment of betrayal—one that upends our understanding of power, predation, and agency.
This quick read has the feel of a Southern Gothic, and it is so unique and enthralling. I devoured it in an afternoon.


You Let Me In (Tor, 2020)
A stunning tale from debut author Camilla Bruce, combining the sinister domestic atmosphere of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects with the otherworldly thrills of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.*
I have never read a spooky fairy story like this one. I could NOT put it down.


In the Night Wood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018)
In this contemporary fantasy, the grieving biographer of a Victorian fantasist finds himself slipping inexorably into the supernatural world that consumed his subject.
This is not a new release, but it kept popping up during my research. The cover and pitch are tantalizing, yes? It may be my favorite read of the bunch.


Mexican Gothic (Del Rey Books/Penguin Random House, 2020)
From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico. “It’s Lovecraft meets the Brontës in Latin America, and after a slow-burn start Mexican Gothic gets seriously weird” (The Guardian).
This is a very buzzy book, and now I know why! The story features familiar elements, but I’ve never read anything quite like it. If you crave stories about creepy Gothic houses and their even creepier inhabitants, you MUST read it.

Also consider:


Home Before Dark (Penguin Random House, 2020)
In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?
This will seem like familiar territory (particularly to fans of The Haunting of Hill House Netflix series), but the story is nonetheless absorbing and entertaining. Great setting, fast pace.


Out of Body (Tor, 2020)
A small-town librarian witnesses a murder at his local deli, and what had been routine sleep paralysis begins to transform into something far more disturbing.
I am fascinated by the notion of astral projection, and this story took the concept to a new level. What starts as a quiet and unassuming story turns darker and weirder. Another quick read.

Other spooky reading recommendations on my blog:
The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
Geeked on Gothic

AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

COMING SOON…

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Featured image credit: Photo 144820404 © Dreamstime.com

March Tea and a Book: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

After a long drought, I finally found a book that captivated me, kept me glued to the pages until the end, and only took two days to read because I could hardly bear to put it down.

Goodreads synopsis:
In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago.

My thoughts
I am always drawn to “moving to the country/living off the land” sorts of stories because they are inherently full of conflict–internal and external–even without ghosts. In the case of this book, I loved the notion of building a haunted house, for that’s what Helen ends up doing as she incorporates historical artifacts and materials into her home design. (The fact that the home site lies near a rather mystical and creepy bog makes it all the better.)

The cast of characters is rather large, but each individual is distinct and, in most cases, seamlessly woven into the story. I really appreciated that the characters’ behavior–be it thoughtful, reckless, or downright avoidant–pushed the plot forward, and though there were surprises, everything made sense in the end. Some horror stories show characters driving themselves insane and wrecking all their relationships in pursuit of “the truth,” bringing catharsis through spectacularly messy implosion. That can be interesting, of course, but I appreciated how the characters in this story learned from mistakes, clued in to nuances, and generally tried to be their best selves once they knew what was at stake.

Now for tea:
To pair with spooky books, I prefer simple, cozy snacks. I baked easy, delicious Irish White Scones from a mix by Odlums, “Ireland’s favorite home baking brand.” Do check the link–they have such a wide variety of scrumptious mixes. I happened to find this mix at World Market, and I do hope Odlums will make more of their products available in the U.S. For tea I chose Paris Breakfast from Mariage Freres, containing “notes of honey, malted-chocolate, vanilla, buttered brioche, and candied tangerine.” I added a splash of milk and just a bit of Turbinado sugar.

I ate my scone with fresh berries but they’d also be perfect with fruit jam and butter or clotted cream. The scones were very light and fluffy, not too sweet, with a nice crunch to the crust. Best of all, they were SO EASY to make.

A final mystery:
Readers, 2020 has been a struggle for me so far, as it’s proven well nigh impossible for me to finish a book. I started several promising stories, but with each one I lost interest by the halfway point.

The hardcover of The Invited released at the end of April, 2019, and I have no idea how it ended up in my possession. I never ordered it. I didn’t put it on any wishlist. I never sought it out at a bookstore, as far as I can remember. It simply wasn’t on my radar. One day, however, I looked up and saw it on my shelf. SPOOKY.

If one of my pals out there sent it to me, or was with me when I bought it, would you let me know? If no one responds, I’ll just have to assume that the universe took it upon itself to end my reading drought by delivering the right book at the right time. 🙂

Friends, what do YOU do when stuck in a reading rut?

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Featured image credit: File ID 126446344 | © Dabisik | Dreamstime.com

A Horror Interlude for February

This past week I visited Dallas for the Highland Park Literary Festival. The festival volunteers always put on a great event, and the highlight for me was spending time with the HPHS students who signed up for my presentation, “How to Build a Horror Hero” (a companion to last year’s “Building the Perfect Monster”). As you might imagine, I had a splendid time talking horror with these enthusiasts and eagerly scribbled down their recommendations.

They did not steer me wrong! Here are the three films I watched:


HOSTILE (2017)
Juliette, a lone survivor of an apocalyptic era, fights to survive against hunger, thirst, a broken leg and strange, disturbing creatures that only come out at nighttime.
When a student recommended this one, I’m afraid I confused it with Hostel, which I never want to see. Eventually, however, it got through my thick skull that she was describing something completely different, and I’m just flabbergasted that this film hasn’t shown up on my radar until now. If you like horror with character development, tension, and alternating timelines, give this one a chance.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing


THE THING (1982)
A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims.

Why did I wait so long to watch this horror classic? It’s a clever sci-fi variation on the “And Then There were None” sort of mystery, and the old-school special effects (rather than CGI) make it all the more horrific. Kurt Russell is fabulous.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing


CREEP (2004)**
Trapped in a London subway station, a woman who’s being pursued by a potential attacker heads into the unknown labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city’s streets.
This one will resonate for those who have spent a lot of time in Tube stations, particularly late at night. Franke Potenta (a favorite of mine since Run Lola Run) is appealing as a “party girl” who ends up locked in the subway station overnight. Guess what? She’s not alone down there.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing

**NOTE: there is a more recent horror film titled Creep with Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice, and it is well-reviewed, but I couldn’t make it to the end because I love Duplass and couldn’t bear him being so annoyingly evil.

Highland Park High School students–thank you for the great discussions and recommendations! Feel free to comment with more. 🙂

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Featured Image credit 89675574 © Tharin Sinlapachai – Dreamstime.com

Part III: Ghost-free SPOOKY Films

Today I conclude my 2019 spooky film recs with some Ghost-free viewing options!

All film synopses are from imdb.com.


Cold Skin (2017) — Unrated
In 1914, a young man arrives at a remote island near the Antarctic Circle to take the post of weather observer only to find himself trapped in a watchtower besieged by deadly creatures which live in hiding on the island. If there’s a historical film that is spooky AND co-stars Ray Stevenson, I’m going to watch it. David Oakes is great as the newly stationed weather attendant who soon learns that he and the eccentric lighthouse keeper (Stevenson) aren’t the only sentient creatures in the neighborhood. Physical and ethical clashes ensue. The pace is a little pokey at times, but it’s a gorgeous film.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / No Metascore


Us (2019) — Rated R
A family’s serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.
I love Jordan Peele and am a fan of Get Out, but for some reason I resisted watching this film for a time. It is quite good, but it’s also the sort of film one wants to discuss afterwards and my usual film-watching buddies were unavailable. I love how Peele adds humor to the horror, and Lupita Nyong’o is a standout in a very strong cast.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 81 (tied with REVENGE for highest metascore of my 2019 recs)


Revenge (2017) — Rated R
Never take your mistress on an annual guys’ getaway, especially one devoted to hunting – a violent lesson for three wealthy married men. This one consistently shows up at or near the top of “best horror films,” but I avoided it for a couple of years because of the content. I’m glad I finally watched. It’s not fun, but it’s deeply satisfying. It DOES NOT eroticize violence against women. In fact, according to one reviewer, it “gouges the male gaze out of our eyeballs.” Keep in mind there is a high level of gore in this film.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 81


Midsommar (2019) — Rated R
A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. This film is LONG and WEIRD. Like Hereditary it deals with the consequences of unrelenting grief and depression, but with an entirely different outcome. (So different that you almost forget about the grief–but maybe that’s the point?) I do think Ari Aster drags out the film with those long ritualistic sequences, but unlike some reviewers, I feel mostly satisfied with the ending. It made a certain sort of sense to me as a deliberate contrast to Hereditary‘s conclusion.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 72


Upgrade (2018) — Rated R
Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem. This is my favorite horror film of this year’s offerings. I would call Upgrade a “Tech Noir” in the vein of Blade Runner and other “near future” scifi horror. It stars Logan Marshall-Green (whom I loved in The Invitation) as a vengeful widower and Simon Maiden as the voice of Stem. Oh, how darkly fun this film is! I won’t say more — just watch it.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 67

That’s all from me for 2019–Hope you find something fun to watch. Do let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations. Happy Horror Viewing!