My wife and I have been watching horror movies in honor of Halloween month. Our first batch included Sleepaway Camp (1983), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Shivers (1975) and The Strangers (2008). For the most part, all of them — as most horror tends to be — were gory and macabre meditations on our collective anxieties about who we are as a people, where we hope to get to, and how said anxieties will likely interfere with those hopes and our security while also destroying everyone around us. Fun!
Sleepaway Camp and Shivers are about our relationships with sexuality, expression and identity. The Strangers, ultimately, is about insecurity on the surface, but probably also intimacy underneath. Halloween III, while highly entertaining (often for the wrong reasons), supposedly touches on fears of corporatization, but it is hard to see as more than an unintentionally hilarious movie about a scheming Irish Warlock and his Stone Henge fueled scheme to pull off a genocidal practical joke.
In an episode of the podcast How Did This Get Made that was focused focused on the movie, comedian and co-host Jason Mantzoukas described Sleepaway Camp as “next level insane” and “bonkers,” which are wholly apt descriptors for both that movie and the David Cronenberg-directed Shivers.
I can’t go too far into describing Sleepaway Camp without giving too much away, but what sometimes feels like a horribly predictable and stereotypically badly acted slasher film builds up to what is arguably one of the best pay-offs in movie history. While the sexual politics of the movie are totally confused and absolutely ridiculous and they should not be read into literally, they make for a wonderful climax. If you don’t yet know what happens and you have not yet seen it, go in blind and enjoy watching it all unfold.
Speaking of sexual politics, Shivers, David Cronenberg’s directorial debut, is ultimately about a parasite that looks like Freddy Krueger’s penis. When it forces itself into a person, the host becomes a sex-crazed maniac. Even when resisting the urge to take the film literally, it feels prophetic as it comments on both the emergence of increasingly aggressive sexually transmitted diseases and what self-imposed isolation in the name of comfort can do to people. The opening scene and the climax are beautiful bookends to a smart, though often silly movie. A trigger warning is in order, as the outbreak portrayed in the movie essentially turns everybody into rapists.
(The aforementioned episode of How Did This Get Made, by the way, is not only an incredible episode of that series, with all of its likely futile attempts to better understand the logic of the slasher film, but probably one of the best podcast episodes of any season ever recorded.)
The Strangers is decent and fairly well acted and you will find it scary as Hell if you have any fears about being alone. That said, and I did not anticipate turning my commentary about this movie into a suggestion of another until just now, I watched You’re Next (2011) last night, and it offers a similar conceit — seemingly good people are trapped in a house because murderous weirdos are trying to kill them — but it is very darkly funny and full of solid twists.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch — better known as “that one that doesn’t have Michael Myers in it for some reason” — is absolutely ridiculous and worth checking out. Aside from offering a few practical effects, which are surprisingly gory, the film spends a lot of time with a doctor who decides to investigate a mysterious mask factory he comes to suspect is up to no good. It is totally unconvincing and definitely not scary, but, even though the payoff borders on outlandishly stupid, it is a lot of fun to see it all unfold. This is another one I decided to give a chance after listening to the episode of How Did This Get Made dedicated to it. If for no other reason, Halloween III (and Sleepaway Camp, for that matter) is worth watching so that you can listen and laugh along to that podcast.
Go get ’em, champs. For Portland-based residents, I am pretty sure all of these are available at Videoport.