[Editorial] Outlast 2’s Vague and Frustrating Story is Actually its Hidden Strength

Outlast 2 was created to make you feel like a rat in a maze, without any knowledge of what’s on the outside. When stripped of context like this, it’s genuinely difficult to discern if that statement is meant as praise or as criticism, because either option is entirely plausible.   

On the one hand, an overbearing sense of disorientation is integral to great survival-horror, as the genre thrives upon disempowering its players. Yet at the same time, vowing to make your audience feel like a bewildered rodent is hardly the most enticing pitch in the world. Nor does it really scream ‘“Fun’’, which is ostensibly the core appeal of any video-game.

The ‘’Rat in a Maze’’ quote is intriguing for precisely this reason, because it did not come from a journalist or a reviewer. Instead, it can be attributed to Outlast 2’s very own PR team. That’s right, Red Barrel Studio intentionally likened their product to an inhumane science-experiment and then tried to use that off-putting comparison as a legitimate selling point!

They really pushed the idea too, insisting at every juncture that the game was going to be a distressing ordeal for everyone concerned. Among other things, their marketing promised that we’d experience: dizzying confusion; crippling isolation; and even a sudden onset of incontinence! Golly! Where do we sign up?

Normally you’d have to take these promotional gambits with a pinch of salt. But in this case there’s no hyperbole to account for. Outlast 2 will absolutely make you feel like a rat-in-a-maze, what with its unfathomable lore, perplexing storytelling and confounding ending. Make no mistake, however, this lack of clarity is not a failing on the game’s part. On the contrary, it was a very conscious decision and a genius one to boot.

As with classics like Silent Hill 2 or Bloodborne, the fact that the player can never be 100% sure of what is going on here really adds to the immersion, putting you directly in the shoes of your clueless protagonist. For a quick summary, Outlast 2 pits you against Temple Gate, a zealous community that is ruled with an iron fist by one Sullivan Knoth. A former radio preacher, this devout Christian allegedly intercepted the voice of God over his broadcasting equipment and was inspired to produce a deranged trilogy-capper for the bible.

His resultant gospel is weirdly fixated on reproductive organs, ejaculate and anything else that is remotely associated with fornication. Oh, and it also endorses infanticide and genital mutilation as a means of curbing sin. So you know, typical light reading!

Suffice it to say, Knoth is a tad unhinged and has somehow convinced his flock that he is the ‘’New Ezekiel’’, a divine prophet capable of derailing Armageddon and slaying the Antichrist. To accomplish this, he intends to rape all his female parishioners (irrespective of their age), in the hope that he will inseminate one of them with the Archfiend’s progeny and then kill it whilst it’s still a defenseless newborn.

Exacerbating things even further, you soon begin to wonder if maybe he’s onto something with all this end-of-the-world business. After all, you too are being plagued with the same haunting visions as everyone else, witnessing hordes of locusts, demons and other apocalyptic omens.

Believe it or not, that synopsis is heavily simplified and omits some of the more cryptic aspects of the plot – like the jarring reality shifts, the splinter faction of devil-worshiping ‘’Heretics’’ and the part about your wife’s Immaculate Conception. Still, the fact that this story is so hard to condense speaks volumes about the commendable ambition that the developers channeled into this one. They could have easily settled for something more straightforward and conventional, but thankfully chose to aim a little higher and crafted an intricate narrative that is suitably enigmatic and challenging.

On that note, Outlast 2 frequently demands that the audience read-between-the-lines and puzzle things out for themselves. It’s reminiscent of the Dark Souls approach to storytelling,  wherein clunky exposition dumps and intrusive cut-scenes are jettisoned in favor of more subtle methods. For example, several key details here are relegated to collectible documents, some of which are integral to your overall understanding of events and character motivations.

With that in mind, if you don’t take the time to rigorously scour every corner of the game world and investigate levels properly, then you’ll be denied vital pieces of information. In fact, if you neglect to read one very specific letter, then you’ll miss a major plot twist that completely alters your interpretation of the ending. So much can be gleaned from this particular document (including explanations for plot-holes, closure for lingering questions and clarification about whether there’s a supernatural element at play) that it’s basically the most important MacGuffin in the entire game.

To conceal such massive implications within an optional extra is an unbelievably ballsy move. But it makes perfect sense, because without delving into spoiler territory (it’s a joy to uncover all of this stuff for yourself) the twist only works if the characters themselves remain completely ignorant of it. You see, Outlast 2 is all about what happens when people try to impose meaning onto that which they cannot comprehend.

In order to fully articulate this theme, the game deliberately thrusts you into a baffling situation, making you question what you’re seeing. Therefore, an obvious explanation cannot be delivered without undermining the whole point of the story. Moreover, the choice to hide answers within collectibles allows Red Barrel to discreetly supply intel to more vigilant players, whilst still preserving the sense of mystery for everyone else.

Alas, whilst this secret depth was certainly rewarding for those who did cotton on to it, the intricacies slipped past most gamers, who accordingly lambasted Outlast 2 for not having enough substance and for failing to provide a satisfying conclusion. It’s a shame that the game’s reputation has been forever damaged by this hasty judgment because it really does deserve more recognition for its daring creative choices.

Specifically, it ought to be praised for its bold decision to withhold narrative exposition from the player, unless they go looking for it. Then again, that’s the risk the team took when they decided to make their story so ambiguous all for the sake of immersion.

It may have been too subtle for its own but it cannot be denied that Outlast 2 succeeded in what it initially set out to achieve. Over the course of its obtuse campaign, you really do come to identify with the protagonist. Indeed, you are truly a ‘rat in a maze’.

85 Years Later, ‘The Invisible Man’ Remains One of Universal’s Most Impressive Monster Movies

After the success of Dracula and even bigger success of Frankenstein, Universal Pictures settled in to making monster features, and the Universal Classic Monsters as we know it took off. Producer Carl Laemle Jr. followed the hits up with Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Old Dark House, The Mummy, and Secret of the Blue Room. It was the theatrical release of The Invisible Man on November 13, 1933, however, that would unleash one of the best and most influential Universal Monsters of them all. Based on H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel of the same name, The Invisible Man has a standout villain and an endearing blend of humor and horror that’s withstood the test of time, even 85 years later.

The breakout star of the film was Claude Rains as Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist eventually driven mad by his own experiments with injections of a drug that renders him invisible. It’s an astonishing accomplishment, considering Rains’ face is only on screen for a brief half minute at the end of the film; his performance is almost entirely relegated to his voice. It was his first American film role, but Rains wasn’t the studio’s first choice. Laemle Jr. wanted Boris Karloff in the lead, but Karloff walked after Laemle Jr. tried to undercut the actor’s contractual pay. Director James Whale (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein) was then tasked with hiring the studio’s next choice; Cyril Gardner. Whale really wanted Rains for the role, though, and used Gardner’s planned trip back to Britain as a means of getting his way.

Despite no real experience and rumors of a bad screen test, Rains proved Whale’s hunch correct on his choice of lead. Rains spends most of the film heard and not seen, not in the traditional sense, but the actor still had to contend with tough physical demands. At least for him. The amazing special effects that rendered the character “invisible” was clever camera work. Any part of the character’s exposed skin that was to be invisible was covered in thick black velvet. This was shot against a black backdrop, which would essentially make the black velvet disappear into it, and this shot was overlaid with the normal set to give the illusion of invisibility.

For trickier scenes, like the one in which the Invisible Man looks at his reflection in a mirror, this meant 4 different shots would be combined. Velvet is a heavy, thick material that would be hot for any actor to be covered in, and Rains also happened to be claustrophobic. It added a level of difficulty to an already difficult character to portray.

On the surface, the Invisible Man doesn’t quite seem as fantastical as his monster counterparts. Compared to the blood-sucking Dracula, poor Frankenstein’s monster, the cursed Wolf Man, or even the imposing mummy Imhotep, Dr. Jack Griffin is just a man who successfully pulled off the act of disappearing. Except, Dr. Jack Griffin is the most monstrous of them all. He’s corrupted by the power of being invisible, gleefully killing anyone at whim and taking whatever he wants. Whereas most Universal Classic Monsters find empathetic humanity within their monsters, the Invisible Man proves there’s no monster scarier than man. Or at least a corrupt, amoral man.

Griffin starts out entertaining enough; watching him toy with his victims while maniacally giggling is humorous. But the longer he remains invisible, the more he loses his grip on his sanity. Whale has a knack for balancing the horror with the humor, though, bringing levity when needed. Most of which comes in the form of Una O’Connor’s Jenny Hall, the innkeeper’s wife who has a talent for hysterics. Rains may have been the breakout star, but O’Connor is a scene-stealer as the comedic relief.

Wells famously took issue with the fact that his character was turned into a lunatic, but Whale countered that only a lunatic would want to make themselves invisible. From a cinematic perspective, Whale’s instincts were spot on. The descent into madness from the corruption of power made for a captivating story whose themes still resonate today. The Invisible Man is perhaps the most terrifying monster of all the Universal Classic Monsters. The special effects, performances, and blend of humor with horror still inspires pop culture today, 85 years after initial release.

[It Came From the ‘80s] Horror Classic ‘The Howling’ Transformed the Werewolf Sub-genre

With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades laterGrotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.

1981 brought the theatrical release of not just one, but three horror movies centered around werewolves. Two of which set a new standard for special effects and werewolf transformation sequences; John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and Joe Dante’s The Howling. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, albeit with vast changes and a lot more humor added in, The Howling follows television newswoman Karen White (Dee Wallace) as she’s sent to a mountain resort after being targeted by a serial killer. The residents of the resort aren’t what they appear to be.

Originally, special makeup effects artist Rick Baker was to handle the makeup effects on The Howling, but he was pulled away by Landis, with whom he had previously worked with on Schlock. The job was then given to Baker’s protégé, Rob Bottin, only 21 at the time. Bottin was given creative freedom for the effects. Prior to this point, a lot major werewolf films employed lap dissolves to convey their transformation sequences. The actor would have to sit for hours on end, motionless, as scenes of the makeup transition was shot frame by frame, though this process did speed up a bit over the decades. Bottin wanted to create a transformation sequence from man to beast that was pure special effect wizardry without the reliance of camera tricks.

The film’s major transformation scene featured serial killing creeper Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) turn into a monstrous anthropomorphic wolf right before Karen’s eyes. It’s a lengthy scene involving complex mechanisms, bladder effects, and an extensive makeup application that would see Picardo stuck in the makeup chair for upwards of ten hours. That he was such a decent sport about the makeup process meant that Picardo would be a favorite of Bottin’s in future projects, like Legend.

The Howling was made on a pretty low budget, though, and not all of the effects could receive the same level of detail and attention as Eddie Quist’s impressive transformation. Other tactics were used to create werewolf effects, too. Visual effects artist David Allen (Dolls, Willow, Freaked) was tapped to create stop-motion animation sequences, namely for the climactic scene that sees the barn full of werewolves trapped inside as it’s burned. But Dante realized that the lighting was way different than the rest of the film, and it didn’t quite mesh. All of Allen’s stop-motion work was cut from the final film, save for one brief transitional moment as Karen flees the resort.

Visual effects artist Peter Kuran (Robocop, Nightbreed) handled the animated sequences, both the main title animation and the werewolf transformation of Bill and Marsha mid-coital, further rounding out the wide array of effects used to stretch out the low budget and create one of horror’s most memorable werewolf features. Brilliant state of the art transformation sequences, puppetry, actors in werewolf suits, and various animation styles all came together to amplify Dante’s blend of humor and horror. It was a lengthy process, and included trial and error, but the final cut resulted in a film that still elicits debate on which 1981 werewolf feature is top dog. Both forever altered the werewolf sub-genre for the better.

The Anxiety of Attachment: Parental Horror in Video Games

Story Spoilers for The Last of Us and God of War ahead.

The Last of Us, released way back in 2013, is one of the most successful survival-horror games of all time. However, the way in which it deals with horror isn’t quite like other zombie-apocalypse titles. While it may be true that Naughty Dog’s game features its fair share of jump-scares, the most effective way in which the horror works is to do with the relationship between Ellie and Joel. In the same way, 2018’s God of War, while not being a horror game in terms of genre, manages to do the same thing in relation to Kratos and Atreus.

The Last of Us sets up family horror from the get-go. From Sarah’s death at the start, to Joel attempting to refrain from getting involved with Ellie, the suspense in the game builds in direct proportion to the development of Joel as a paternal figure. This is initially paralleled with the horror setting, but it gradually becomes the main source of horror. Sure, the Bloaters might make you jump, and there are parts that genuinely gave me goosebumps, but the main source of fear lies in fearing for Ellie.

Joel’s contextual background hardens him to the extent that he is unwilling to play a paternal role ever again after having lost his daughter to a cruel twist of fate when the infection went airborne. He’d rather endure the pain of being alone in the world than risk the pain associated with losing someone else. However, as his relationship with Ellie develops, the anxiety of attachment sets in. This draws out Joel’s repressed paternal instincts, which are vicariously experienced by the player controlling him.

The suspense created by tying their relationship to a world of horror and uncertainty culminates in Ellie’s abduction by David, who is the leader of a group of cannibalistic survivors. While Ellie manages to eventually incapacitate David, the ensuing cutscene is utterly tragic. Joel finds her, hunched over David’s dead body, stabbing it over and over again. Despite Ellie escaping his evil clutches, the trauma she feels is felt by the player in the way that a parent feels for their child. After having seen what Ellie had to endure, Joel becomes more protective than ever – something that’s proven by the events that unfold as The Last of Us spirals towards its end.

In God of War, although Atreus is rarely in immediate danger, his ambiguous sickness that manifests itself sporadically throughout the game eventually takes full hold of his faculties. In order to save him, the player must venture to the depth of Helheim, or the underworld. Although there is no time limit, the suspense created in Freya’s hut as she attempts to heal him sends the player hurtling through the Bifrost to Helheim. Helheim itself is perhaps the area that is most semblant of horror in God of War, but it’s the reason as to why Kratos is there that makes it even more terrifying. In order to save his son, he must travel to the world of the dead; a task that makes no promise of a return journey.  

Atreus is healed, but in the same way that Joel becomes more and more protective over Ellie as The Last of Us progresses, so too does the relationship between Kratos and Atreus grow as the game’s trajectory unfolds. The first installment of a trilogy, God of War never truly puts Atreus’ life at risk aside from this one moment; however, the murals in Jotunheim warn Kratos of a future filled with despair for father and son alike. Even the parts of the story that haven’t been written yet are imbued with the fear of the unknown derived from the relationship between Kratos and his son.

The horror in these games is therefore much more emotionally-charged than an archetypal zombie story. For instance, Richard Matheson’s infamous novel, I Am Legend, may feature some incredibly heavy scenes like the death of Robert’s dog. This is tragic, but nothing truly compares to experiencing the pain of Ellie, who you have grown to care for as a part of your family. Nothing truly compares to playing as Kratos as he journeys through the depths of Helheim, desperate to save his dying son. You fear for Ellie as if she is your daughter, Atreus as if he is your son; Joel and Ellie, Kratos and Atreus. The parental roles in these two games are intrinsically tied to their depiction of horror.

Where 2018’s God of War Could Have Been Set. 

While these games may intentionally present the very plausible idea that the link between parent and child is fragile and is susceptible to being severed, they also draw attention to the fact that strength can be drawn from known vulnerability. It is because the link is so fragile that Joel and Kratos are so desperate to protect it in the first place, as they are the only barrier between an enemy and that very link. Bloaters and Valkyries may prove to be formidable foes, but they’ll crumble to ashes when faced with the wrath of a parent protecting their child.

It is the known horror of losing a child that empowers these protagonists; a tragic fate, really, because in a world of terror, they must never forget to be afraid, lest they drop their guard and lose the one thing that they truly care about. In order to remain strong, they must enter states of perpetual horror, at all times knowing the darkness that envelopes them, threatening to steal their loved ones away from right under their noses. Parental horror is a U-shaped double-edged sword of horror and reality; in order to make sure that neither blade is pointed toward their child, a parent must ensure that they are at all times enduring the pain of both. It is this alone that allows them to be strong.

Toni Collette: The Matriarch of Modern Horror

The first, and last, time actress Toni Collette was nominated for an Academy Award, it was for her portrayal of single mother Lynn Sear in M. Night Shyamalan’s horror film The Sixth Sense. She’s earned and won numerous awards accolades, deservedly so, but it was horror that garnered her an Oscar-nomination. With awards season in full swing, now it’s another horror film that’s bringing Oscar buzz for the actress; Hereditary.

As mother Annie Graham, Collette delivers a powerhouse performance that earned massive acclaim upon release. Collette chooses her genre roles carefully, but when she does, it’s always a profound expression of the terrifying facets of motherhood.  The Academy would be crazy not to nominate Collette for her uncanny ability to tear apart the scenery the way Ari Aster needed for his feature debut, but at the very least it solidifies her as a fixture of modern horror.

Her first foray into genre fare, The Sixth Sense, found her exploring the exhaustive trials of raising a child alone. A working-class mother in Philadelphia, Lynn Sear struggles to be there for her son emotionally while she’s off ensuring she can support him financially. But boy does she try. Collette imbues Lynn with a layered performance as the mother desperately trying to protect her son, but at a loss as to how. She deftly conveys the ferocity of a mother’s love while bearing the weight of the pressures of filling the role of both father and mother, all the while her socially isolated son is battling demons she can’t see or understand. It all builds into the film’s most emotionally charged scene, in which mother and son tearfully find common ground and understanding as Cole finally opens up about his ghosts. The moment Collette, hands to her heart, breathlessly asks, “Do I make her proud?” is the moment that clinched her Oscar-nomination.

In 2006, Collette would switch gears for the psychological thriller The Night Listener. Based on the novel inspired by the Anthony Godby Johnson suspected hoax, Collette plays the adoptive mother, Donna, of an ailing boy that strikes up a relationship with a radio show host. The further that relationship is explored, the more it seems as though the boy and Donna may be one and the same. This exploration of motherhood is very, very different, and Collette again approaches it with the nuance that she does so well. Donna is both relatable and vulnerable, but with an underling layer of crazy that Collette would harness again later.

Five years after would bring the remake of beloved ‘80s horror comedy Fright Night, one that was received well by critics largely due to the performances. The horror comedy allowed Collette to take a much more lighthearted approach to single-motherhood as Jane Brewster, mom to teen son Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin). A supporting role meant solely to raise the emotional stakes for the hero, Collette can’t help but make her character feel fully realized even when she only appears in a handful of scenes. Her flirtation with new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a wry wink that teens aren’t the only one with raging hormones. It’s matched by her fighting maternal instinct when Jerry reveals his true nature, too.

Collette was given much more to work with in 2015’s Krampus, in a central role that let her have fun with campy humor. As Sarah Engel, Collette delved into what it would mean to be an A-type control freak during a hectic holiday season with family disfunction reaching a boiling point. Of course, there’s also Krampus, evil elves, and dark holiday minions to contend with, and the humor of it all appealed to Collette. It was in Krampus that she really got to stretch out her comedic chops, further demonstrating what a chameleon she can be.

Even being familiar with Collette’s work, especially in horror, none of it really prepares for what she brings to Hereditary. Even if its horror ultimately doesn’t work for you, it’s hard not to feel Annie’s grief on a visceral level. It’s not just grief, either, but pure terror, dread, love, desperation, and every emotion in between. Collette plays a mother so very against the concept of what motherhood should or is expected to be. In a cast of tremendous performances, that Collette’s is a standout is no small feat. She reels you in, makes you invest in her character’s story, and then chills you to the bone. An irony, considering horror terrifies the actress.

Lynn Sear, Donna, Jane Brewster, Sarah Engel, and Annie Graham may be all connected by motherhood, but they’re each such widely different characters that could have only been brought to life by a skilled actress like Collette. She explores the complexities of being a mother and the catharsis that horror can bring in a nuanced way that few actors possess. Horror is often ignored by the Academy, but she’s made it difficult to overlook Hereditary. It’s fitting, considering how it will bring her full circle to her role in The Sixth Sense. More than just a scream queen, she’s become the matriarch of modern horror.

Hail Satan! Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Is A Devilishly Dark Delight

Wicked Horror is the author of Hail Satan! Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Is A Devilishly Dark Delight. Wicked Horror is the internet’s only horror fan site for free original horror movies, news, review & more.

Readers of a certain age will fondly remember Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. The frequently hilarious, often very sweet series was the must-watch TV show of our childhood and early teen years (full disclosure: I bought the box-set last year and binged the entire thing over about eight weekends. And I’m 30). The idea of Netflix soft rebooting it with a darker twist sent many spiraling. What would a new Sabrina for the Instagram age even look like? As it turns out, the streaming behemoth wasn’t bluffing. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, starring The Blackcoat Daughter‘s Kiernan Shipka as the titular teen witch, is darker, bloodier, and more frightening than the kitsch nineties/early 2000s sitcom could ever have imagined (yes, even with the terrifying Drell). The color palette is darker, too; loaded with deep blues, reds, and blacks, the only splash of brightness courtesy of Sabrina’s corn-yellow (and super on-trend) bob.

Unlike Melissa Joan Hart’s relentlessly goody-goody incarnation, this take on the beloved Archie comics character is no saint. In fact, she’s quite the opposite, staring down her dark baptism (during which young Sabrina will pledge her soul to Satan) as the series kicks off. Over ten tight, gripping episodes, we watch as Sabrina gradually messes everything in her life up, particularly her relationships with boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch, fresh off his revelatory performance as Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer) and aunts Hilda and Zelda (Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto respectively).

Remember that moment in the original show, when Sabrina lost her powers and her Quizmaster deadpanned that she felt terrible because she was a normal teenager again? That’s kind of what Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is like, only with better hair. She’s closer to a regular teenage girl; precocious, ambitious, smart, and more than a little selfish. She gets angry and she fights back. She has a voice, and she isn’t afraid to use it (“My name is Sabrina Spellman and I will NOT sign it away” — chills).

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a more modern incarnation, even if the world she inhabits, similar to fellow Archie show Riverdale, seems to exist in a kind of timeless limbo (the fleeting glimpse of a smartphone is genuinely shocking). And yet, by making her more human, more relatable, new Sabrina is also wildly more likeable than her previous incarnation — thanks in no small part to Shipka’s spirited performance in the lead role. Unafraid to get down and dirty for Satanic rituals, or while fleeing through the woodland in just a slip, her Sabrina is the furthest thing from a delicate flower.

To that end she, and the show itself, are also proudly (and loudly) feminist AF. Aside from starting a women’s support group in school (the acronym for which, amazingly, is WICCA — sign me right up), Sabrina defends her trans BFF Susie (played by non-binary actor Lachlan Watson) against homophobic bullies and consistently tries to find common ground with the resident mean girls at the magic academy she attends, led by the terrifying Prudence (she’s fabulous but she’s EVIL).

Also See: Ten Life Lessons We Learned from The Craft

Tati Gabrielle’s skilled performance as the Weird Girls leader is already being heralded as one of the best parts of the show, not least because she’s a black woman facing off against a diminutive white chick who, crucially, isn’t written as a one-note villain. Chilling Adventures doesn’t demonize Prudence, in much the same way it doesn’t lionize Sabrina. Rather, the two characters are given equal opportunity to grow, and to elicit sympathy which, as sad as it sounds, is still incredibly refreshing to see in a mainstream show.

The performances across the board are great, from Shipka to Gabrielle, Lynch, Watson, and, of course, Davis and Otto as the scene-stealing aunts. Davis ostensibly has the easier job as comic foil Hilda, but as the series progresses it becomes clear that the underlying issues with her elder sister are more worrisome than they first appear. Davis, as skilled at comedy as she is at emoting with her big, sad eyes, plays well off Otto’s cold, even borderline cruel Zelda.

Women were instrumental in getting Sabrina, the Teenage Witch made, from its direction to its writing to its overall production. Nowadays, it’s considered one of the most female-focused and feminist TV shows of all time (again, sad). Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes that mantle and runs with it, ensuring its female characters are front and center once again — maybe even more so. It’s worth noting, too, that Axelle Carolyn, the mastermind behind the brilliant Tales of Halloween anthology as well as Soulmate, is a writer on the show, her presence keenly felt.

This isn’t some lip-service-paying, wannabe woke exercise in pleasing the masses either. Diversity is effortlessly and unflinchingly a part of the show’s DNA, from Susie’s bullied student to Sabrina’s hilariously deadpan gay cousin, and reluctant housemate, Ambrose. These elements aren’t signposted, or even thoroughly discussed (at least in the case of Ambrose), within the confines of the show. They exist and they feel normal simply because they should.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is imbued with an arch, jet-black sense of humor that has led many to (hilariously) criticize it for how the show portrays satanism and witchcraft as though it’s a fundamentalist religion. We watch Sabrina, her aunts, and the other members of their coven huddled in a dilapidated church listening to their leader’s sermon, uttering responses that put “unholy”  where usually a “holy” would be. There are also various rallying cries of “Hail Satan!” etc.

Anybody who grew up Catholic will recognize these scenarios from a million bored Sundays sat in church. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ruthlessly skewers these conventions by making them dark, satanic, and evil. The earnestness of all this ceremony, the pomp and circumstance with which these rituals are conducted, just makes the whole thing so much funnier. To add to the hilarity, the Satanic Temple is suing Netflix for stealing their Baphomet statue (note: the Satanic Temple is not the Church of Satan) to use in the show.

Also See: Why Ginger Snaps is an Essential Feminist Horror Movie

Considering just how bright and light the previous Sabrina TV show was, it’s extra impressive that this take is as dark as it is. There’s murder, deception, bullying, hazing rituals, you name it — all presented with a sheen of brilliant, practical gore and expertly crafted SFX. One particular demon, who terrorizes the extended family in their sleep, is straight out of the Buffy playbook, but Chilling Adventures also bears comparison to the hugely underrated Todd and the Book of Pure Evil in its depiction of Satanism and the madness of worshiping the devil (though actual Satanists technically worship only themselves, forsaking all gods, but that’s a minor quibble).

Similar to sister show Riverdale, which it references in passing, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is shot through with that hazy, dark, baby Twin Peaks sheen that makes it seem simultaneously old-timey and super modern. The cinematography is often quite lovely, while the jaunty score wisely side-steps the super popular death-wave strains in favor of something altogether more traditional, and more foreboding.

The two shows might share a creator in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, but Chilling Adventures of Sabrina feels more grown up, and yet defiantly sexed-down, in comparison to the wild antics of Archie and his crew. In fact, this show doesn’t even have an Archie (no, it’s not Harvey, so wash your damn mouth out if you’ve been throwing that disgraceful accusation around). It’s worlds away from its contemporary, even if Sabrina’s buddies do grate just a little bit, because it’s not trying to show us shirtless hunks playing guitar or teens hatching nefarious schemes.

Sabrina has great, reliable friends, but her relationship with Harvey is the sweet core of a hilariously sour show. Lynch’s Harvey is dopey, but he’s no fool. It’s clear how much he cares about and respects Sabrina (a moment when she has to undress in front of him is sensitively handled), and it’s impossible not to root for these two crazy kids to work things out as things rapidly get more difficult for them. As sad as it sounds, it’s refreshing to see a sweet, respectful, and healthy romantic relationship play out in one of these shows without the addition of sex games or massive public fall-outs.

Chilling Adventures‘ horror credentials are bonafide too, with references to everything from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Hocus Pocus cleverly threaded into the narrative so that nerds like us can pick up on them without the norms’ enjoyment being ruined. In fact, the only real issue with this lovely, deliciously dark little show, is that it being dropped on Netflix all at once means we can’t look forward to it every week like Riverdale, savoring every insane moment.

On the other hand, we can binge it over and over again while Archie and his buds are on yet another break, so give thanks to the dark lord for that.

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Etiquette! At the Theater (A Brief Guide to Not Being THAT GUY)


There’s nothing better than a horror movie in the theater. The surround sound, the giant screen and comfy chairs. The movie is building up to a scare and the whole theater can feel it. The tension is mounting, the killer is ready to make his move when- “Sorry, excuse me, excuse me, just gonna squeeze […]

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[Butcher Block] Mondo Shockumentary ‘Faces of Death’ Turns 40

Butcher Block is a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them. Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.

Growing up in the age of VHS and video stores it was a rite of passage for the hardcore to not only get ahold of Faces of Death, but be brave enough to watch it. By the mid-80s, the mondo shockumentary was the stuff of urban legend. A collection of deaths both human and animal hosted by Dr. Francis B. Gross, Faces of Death felt like something truly taboo. That it boasted to have been banned in more than 40 countries only further propelled this collection of violence and gruesome death into forbidden fruit territory. Initially released on November 10, 1978, it didn’t take long for Faces of Death to earn notoriety. Forty years later, this shockumentary doesn’t hold up to the reputation it once had, but its merits as an influential gamechanger is undeniable.

Faces of Death wasn’t the first mondo film, a name for exploitation documentary films that emphasized taboo subjects and often featured brutal animal deaths, and the first, Mondo Cane, served as inspiration. Writer/director John Alan Schwartz (he uses the pseudonym Conan LeCilaire) wanted to push the envelope further, though, and wanted to feature humans getting killed. He set about collecting as much actual footage of human death as he could find, most of which he purchased from news organizations. But what he cobbled together wasn’t enough to fill a feature length film. So, he decided to supplement the grotesque footage with staged death scenes.

The beheading, the electrocution, the alligator attack, and even the monkey brain scene that may or may not have inspired the dinner scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom all were shot in a month. The makeup effects were handled by special makeup effects artist Allan A. Apone, uncredited at the time. It’s these staged deaths that show their age the most; the effects don’t hold up as well and relegates the film as of its time. The monkey brain scene? Apone used cauliflower with food coloring and gelatin. Though the makeup effects may show its age, Apone has had an extensive, illustrious career with films like Suicide Squad and Captain America: Civil War under his belt since his early days working on the first two Faces of Death films.

After a hugely successful theatrical run in Japan, Faces of Death found its biggest success on VHS in America. The cover box may have stated it was banned in 46 countries, but the truth was that it was banned in only a handful. Not least of which was the UK, as it earned a spot on the prosecuted Video Nasties list. Shot and compiled on a budget of around $450,000, Faces of Death wound up earning $35 million in its home video frenzy. That profit meant that Faces of Death would continue on with seven additional sequels, though some were just “best of” reels of earlier films.

At least 40% of Faces of Death is staged, and the filmmaking techniques have become much more obvious in an internet-based age where death and violence is far more commonplace. We’re now much more desensitized to violence. But in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, there was nothing like it. Faces of Death paved the way for shocking horror to come, and traumatized youth from the comfort of their own homes.

Freddy’s Funhouse: Digging into Robert Englund’s Unmade Treatment for ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 3’

Freddy mania didn’t take off until the late ‘80s. It was in that period between Dream Warriors and The Dream Master that he broke through into the mainstream and cemented his place as a major cinematic icon. But the horror fans, those people not nearly connected with one another in the ‘80s as they are today, the ones who would rent every horror film they could get their hands on, who collected tapes and T-shirts and posters—in other words, Fangoria readers—they loved it. The magazine had championed Wes Craven from its debut, and while they were a little skeptical in their initial set report on A Nightmare on Elm Street, they celebrated the freshness it brought to a slasher formula that the magazine was never shy about calling stale and tired. The magazine played a massive role in promoting the burgeoning series, championing Elm Street—and Freddy as a character, in particular—by the time the first sequel was in development.

The original film spread by word of mouth. By 1985, many had caught up with the first movie. People knew what A Nightmare on Elm Street was, even if Freddy hadn’t become a massive icon yet. So, for some, those Fangoria fans especially, the two year wait between Freddy’s Revenge and Dream Warriors was excruciating. Fangoria, to their credit, smartly played to that and kept Freddy content running in the interim. One of the best examples of that coverage, easily, was an interview by Carr D’Angelo in The Bloody Best of Fangoria #6 with Robert Englund in the downtime between Nightmare 2 and Nightmare 3, just before the third movie was finally gearing up to enter production, in which he broke down his own rejected treatment for the sequel.

Englund’s treatment had been written before Wes Craven came aboard to write his wild first draft with Bruce Wagner, which over the course of many rewrites evolved into the fan-favorite Dream Warriors we all know and love. While Craven’s original script is a totally different beast from the movie we got, it’s still telling—for the most part—the same basic story.

That is definitely not the case with Robert Englund’s treatment for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Freddy’s Funhouse.

While it’s been reported a couple of times (he mentioned it in an interview last year that he had written it at one point) all that he really said about it at that time was that it had been planned to revolve around Tina’s sister. This Fango interview seems to be the only time Englund actually went into detail about what his treatment entailed.

Titled Freddy’s Funhouse, Englund’s third movie would have indeed revolved around Tina’s sister, but that would only have been the jumping off point for a much more ambitious and inventive story. According to Englund, the treatment began with the sister “being away at school and having horrible dreams about the specific carnage that happened to her sister. It bothers her so much that she decides to find out the truth about this whole thing.”

Naturally, her traumatic dreams bring her home to Springwood and to Elm Street, where the movie would have apparently taken on the more traditional look and feel of an Elm Street flick. Like the second movie, Nancy’s house would still be a key component and is—in fact—the genesis for the title. “The title of my script was Freddy’s Funhouse,Englund noted in the interview, “because Freddy has booby-trapped the Nightmare house’s dreamscape. It’s like Freddy’s own demented art direction mindset of the house’s interior—like a carnival’s funhouse, madhouse or spookhouse, but with all the debris and detritus of the prior movies lying around.”

With that in mind, though it’s not booby-trapped, it’s worth noting that Dream Warriors did wind up heavily featuring a nightmare version of the house from the first two films.

Englund, who has always been a fan of the idea of a prequel going back to explore Krueger’s days as the Springwood Slasher, naturally included some of that into his treatment as well. “The film would open with her going through all the microfilm at the local library, and the newspaper clippings pertaining to both Nightmare on Elm Street and Nightmare on Elm Street 2, as well as some local news station footage of Freddy on the City Hall steps with his lawyers after he got off from the very first case. So you would see me playing Freddy as this disgusting janitorial Lee Harvey Oswald-type. I liked that sense of summation. Maybe we’ll still do something like that.”

Englund wanted his story to reflect the unnerving phenomena that had sparked the inspiration for Nightmare on Elm Street as a whole. Thinking back on the series, it’s actually incredible that no one has ever actually done that in any of the later sequels, or even tie-in novels or comics. Although, on the other hand, it introduces another disturbing element to the series to start making actual references to real-life instances of sleep-related deaths.

The actor also noted in the interview that he just wanted to go bananas with the third act. “The story was OK but I didn’t have an ending. I got it right up to the ending, but I didn’t know where it would go, so I opted for a David Cronenberg type of ending. I think that’s one of the things that hurt me, although the producers really loved one of my ideas. I had the characters coming out of the dreams, waking each other up and writing down everything they had seen so that when they went back into the dreamscape, they could hide weapons to use against Freddy.”

That is actually a great idea, the notion of using a dream journal as a way of fighting back against Freddy. Even now, the concept of a dream journal is sort of the last dream-related thing that the franchise has yet to find a way to exploit. Englund noted that the producers loved this aspect in particular, saying that they said, “’Ooh, we love it,’ so they’ll probably borrow that idea.”

The idea did not make it into Dream Warriors, nor any of the later Elm Street films. However, an incredibly similar concept does come into play in a major way in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which was indeed produced by one of the Nightmare producers, Michael S. Murphey. So it’s still entirely possible that Englund could have been right about that.

Ultimately, it sounds like the producers weren’t sold on Englund’s idea for Freddy’s Funhouse in general, though it’s hard to say exactly what kept it from being made. On an obvious level, it does sound like it probably would have been expensive, so if there’s anything that kept it from happening, it’s likely that. Even at the time of the interview, Englund had absolutely no hard feelings about the producers passing on the story because, as he said, “Wes Craven coming back to write it sure makes me happy.”

One of the most fascinating things about this treatment in general is the idea of Englund writing it before “Mainstream Freddy” took off. The Krueger of the first two movies is still very dark, very far from the comedic, easily digestible villain who would start appearing on MTV and have his own hotline around the time of Nightmare 4. The idea of Englund working with that early, sinister, shadowed Freddy on a creative level is kind of fascinating.

While Englund’s treatment boasts some great ideas, we can’t be too sad it never saw the light of day because we eventually got A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the most celebrated sequel of the franchise and probably one of the most beloved horror sequels of all time. Still, it’s impossible not to be excited at the prospect of an Elm Street sequel conceived by the man in the sweater himself. Even if it never happened, it’s fantastic to see Englund’s love (and ownership) of the character was established so early on, and so deeply that he wanted to try his hand at telling one of these stories himself.

Friends ‘Til the End: 30 Years of ‘Child’s Play’!

Of all the horror icons born of the ‘80s, it’s pint-sized killer doll Chucky that’s still thriving. Between a new TV series in the works by the original creators and an unaffiliated reboot looming, Chucky’s lust for blood remains as strong as it was 30 years ago, when Child’s Play stabbed its way into theaters on November 9, 1988. The low budget horror feature not only won the box office upon release, but launched an enduring franchise with an impressive talent for maintaining continuity, a rarity among horror franchises. It wasn’t just the iconic Chucky that made Child’s Play such a long-lasting hit, though, but the cast of talented actors, an innovative special effects and makeup team, and an incredible roster of creative talent.

Inspired by his father’s work in advertising during the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze, Don Mancini wrote the script for Child’s Play while in college at UCLA. Only it was titled Batteries Not Included and was much more psychological in its horror as it satirized how marketing affecting children.  Enter executive producer David Kirschner, who had just completed work on An American Tail for Steven Spielberg and was looking to break free from animation. After reading the book The Dollhouse Murders, he was seeking something with dolls specifically. Eventually, once Mancini’s script started to get passed around, word got out that Spielberg was already working on a film with that very title, so it was changed to Blood Buddy, and it finally found its way into Kirschner’s hands.

Blood Buddy drew a lot of inspiration from Magic, in which the doll wasn’t the actual killer but more representative of the twisted psychology of its owner. Even the large head of the doll was a nod to Fats. But there needed to be a way to become more emotionally invested in Karen and Andy Barclay’s story. This is where director Tom Holland (Fright Night) came in, making key changes that would alter the trajectory of Chucky’s story for the better. Between new screenwriter John Lafia and Holland, the killer doll transitioned from Buddy to Chucky, and became a literal killer doll thanks to voodoo. Holland also pushed up the reveal of Chucky, not keeping the action relegated to the third act.

Between the story changes and Kirschner’s drawing of the doll, based on Mancini’s detailed description in his original screenplay, the next step was to bring this doll to life. Kirschner enlisted special makeup effects artist Kevin Yagher (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) to create Chucky. Though the movie’s monster is only 2-feet tall, the creation of Chucky was an arduous task for the team. This was low budget, practical effect driven feature when animatronics was still at its infancy, causing Yagher and his team to really invent a lot of the effects as they went. If the complexities of the mechanisms involved wasn’t enough, Chucky’s appearance began to morph as the narrative progressed; he became more humanlike the longer he remained in the doll’s body.

Chucky wasn’t all animatronics and puppeteering, though the brilliant work from the makeup and effects team can’t be applauded enough, he was also brought to life by actors. Actor Ed Gale, who made his debut as Howard in Howard the Duck, delivered amazing work as Chucky’s stunt double that hasn’t gotten enough credit in the decades since the film’s release. Gale actually studied the movements of the animatronic and puppet iterations of Chucky, and emulated that in his performance for consistency. It also meant that an identical set scaled 30% larger had to be constructed to keep it proportionate.

Of course, the final component to Chucky is that of actor Brad Dourif. Holland pulled Dourif in after having worked with him on Fatal Beauty. Well, at least the opening scene that featured Chucky in his human form. After that, the doll was voiced by a female. But an abysmal test screening made clear that changes had to be made prior to release. Kirschner brought Mancini back into the fold for the editing process. 30 minutes of footage was cut to make for a much more streamlined story, but more importantly, Dourif was brought back to voice Chucky the entire way through. His voice makes Chucky.

Playing against the intense mania of Dourif’s performance was a fantastic, small cast of Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chris Sarandon, who all contributed to making Chucky believable while bringing the heart to the story. Chucky may have captured the fandom, but the pure innocence of young Andy Barclay makes for a perfect counterbalance.

Child’s Play wasn’t an easy film to make, but it was one where every facet of the filmmaking process was at their best. It’s difficult to make an inanimate object like a doll scary, but Child’s Play succeeded. Very few moments are as unnerving as the one in which Karen Barclay discovers Chucky’s batteries never left the packaging, therefore her son’s toy has been operating on its own. The strength of Chucky’s origin meant that the killer doll returned for 6 sequels, plus more on the way. It doesn’t even begin to cover what a pop culture phenomenon the horror icon has become in the decades since release. Here’s to 30 more years and new adventures with Chucky. We’re friends ‘til the end, remember?