Listen as the Jersey Ghouls and guest star Nate take on the Tall Man, his henchmen, and ballistics.
Tonight Jacki, Marissa, and special guest Joe Costal will duke it out to decide whether or not The Shining deserves all of the hype it gets.
And yes, the gloves are off!
In this episode we celebrate the holidays as we talk about 1974's Black Christmas.
The Uncanny and Christmas: Why Holiday Horror Works So Well
by Marissa Pona
While some bask in the warmth of this happy, holiday time of year, horror fans are busy enjoying some of the best frights the genre has to offer. And, fortunately, horror never takes a holiday. In fact, no holiday is more successful at conjuring the purest and most jarring sense of actual terror than Christmas.
There is a widely accepted theory in psychology that legitimate horror lies not in the unfamiliar, but in a distortion of the familiar. This distortion is most commonly referred to as the uncanny. The uncanny is defined as anything strangely frightening that creates a lingering sense of dread. According to this theory, popularized by Freud but confirmed by modern psychology, humans cannot achieve actual terror without evoking a sense of the uncanny, and this comes only from distorting things our brains have already processed. For example, if a film presents something we know to be safe and nonthreatening- like a snowman or a stuffed teddy bear- and turns it against us, only then can we feel pure and deep psychological terror.
The best modern example of the uncanny is the paradox of robotic humans. Anytime a robot or computer starts to look or act too human, we feel a certain danger and unease in its presence. We call this the uncanny valley. Why does this happen? Because the robot will blur the lines between something known and mostly safe(a human) and something completely foreign (robots). Once the uncanny is evoked, it doesn’t go away.
Most modern horror films fail to utilize this theory. Movies such as Don’t Breathe and Hush, some of 2016’s more popular entries, thrive on jump scares, guts and gore, and scenes of torture. While enjoyable and worthy of review, these types of films certainly have their place. Nonetheless, the scares are almost always easily shaken off once the credits roll. Only the sense of the uncanny leaves us truly terror-stricken.
It is with this in mind that we dive into holiday horror. Boasting varying yet effective deconstructions of every memory, symbol, and idea positively associated with Christmas, these movies turn what we know firmly against us. Christmas horrors corrupt our childhood memories. They do this on a subconscious level, using our own safety and knowledge of the world against us, and leaving us, in some cases, forever changed. These corruptions occur in one of two ways. First, Christmas horror films will distort the safety and happiness associated with modern Santa Claus to invoke the uncanny. After all, no image is more sacred in our collective psyche than Santa Claus.
His popularity is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the seasonal horror arsenal.
With a white beard, big belly, and jovial ho, ho, ho, Santa himself represent rewards for good behavior. He showers us with gifts, drinks milk and cookies (or a sausage sandwich if you come from an Italian New Jersey family), and spreads good will towards men. Modern Santa originated with The Night Before Christmas, the family classic written in 1822 by Clement Clark Moore. And, sorry urban legend fans, he is not a direct result of brilliant marketing by the Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell, or even the Coca Cola Corporation. Rather, he is a perfect hybrid of Christian imagery associated with St. Nicholas and good storytelling. There is no one origin source for his depictions.
When suddenly, this jolly, old elf becomes something altogether different, we process it on a subconscious level, and invoke the uncanny. Classic Christmas horror slasher pics, especially those from the late 1980’s, turned Santa into something evil, gory, and cruel. Examples include Billy Chapman from Silent Night, Deadly Night. This deranged person watches a man in a Santa suit brutally rape and murder his family. As an adult, he understandably suffers from Clausophobia, or fear of Santa. When he’s forced to don the suit for his company Christmas celebration, he goes on a killing spree. Dressed as Santa, he repeats, “Naughty” as he kills everyone around him, including some sadistic nuns and innocent love interests. Using deer antlers, christmas lights, and, of course, his signature axe, Billy Claus terrorizes those around him on Christmas Eve. This works because it takes what we know and love and turns it against us.
In Tales From the Crypt the Cryptkeeper dressed in a distorted mask, and told a story of a psychotic asylum escapee who dresses as Santa and kills anyone in his path. Even mild distortions of Santa’s image can conjure discomfort. Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas makes many cringe.
And it doesn’t stop with St. Nick.
The use of demonic toys, killer gingerbread men, and creepy elves serve the same purpose. These choices twist childhood comforts, leaving us at our most vulnerable. Suddenly we no longer identify these items as pure or safe. That is a level of horror most traditional horror films fail to achieve. This dread can forever alter our internal sense of safe and dangerous. Just ask the scores of Gen Xers who were forever scarred by these types of Christmas films.
Additional, filmmakers, especially in recent years, have exploited the macabre roots of holiday lore.The second way that horror films evoke true terror is through the exploration of the macabre, pagan roots of most holiday lore. Long before Christian ideology, Pagan traditions also celebrated this time of year with the judgement of young children. The idea of naughty and nice lists is one of the oldest tropes in Christmas folklore. Historically, however, Santa’s got a seriously dark past. Most traditions of a ‘giver elf’ predate St. Nicholas by thousands of years. The original Santa can be traced all the way back to the third century. In its earliest forms, Christmas occurred during the first week of December. It was also a total crapshoot for children. Sure, they could be visited by an elf bringing toys to reward their good behavior. But, more frequently, Christmas elicited fear of consequence for naughty behavior. For most of history, Santa went hand in hand with malevolent spirits or elves.
These dangerous sidekicks were once as prevalent as the big man himself. But, they had very different agendas. Some of the include:
Austria’s goat-like shadow of Santa who often enslaved or whipped naughty children. Sometimes, if they were specially evil, he would send them straight to hell. Krampus judged children not just on behavior, but on the understanding and faith in the true meaning of the holiday, which kept cheeky little ones in check.
Germans warded off Knecht Ruprecht, who tested children on their ability to pray, and either punished or rewarded them accordingly.
Holland and Germany’s enjoyed this crotchety old man. A ghost of his former self, this dirty, fur clad ghost whipped naughty children. He wandered the world on Christmas Eve judging good and evil. On the plus side he rewarded good kids with candies.
Another European advent, Frau was a witch-like creature who showed up during the 12 days of Christmas. While good children were rewarded, bad children could anticipate having their internal organs removed by Frau, and replaced with trash.
These dark origin stories make for perfect fodder for distortion of our familiar symbols and ideas regarding the holidays. This explains why films such as Krampus, A Christmas Horror Story, Sint, and Rare Exports have received a lot of attention in the past few years. These films exploit these historical legends to create the uncanny effect. One look at these little helpers and you’ll never want to celebrate the season again.
And that’s how Christmas horror works. Films will mine the fields of ancient lore and traditions and nefariously distort everything our subconscious knows to be safe. So the next time you snuggle up to a Christmas horror flick, understand that your subconscious is working against you. This could be the film that destroys your childhood, making you forever uneasy when you pass that mall Santa. This, for horror fans, is the true magic of Christmas.
This holiday season, I have a New Year’s Resolution. It’s time I put on my big girl pants. To open my mind, and, frankly, stop being a pretentious turd.
I’ll admit it, I’m one of those people: The book was better. I hate remakes. Hollywood is out of ideas. I can’t stand that actor so I’m not even going to bother seeing that movie. Why did they cast that actor, that is not how I imagined them in my head when I was reading the book; why can’t Hollywood read my mind!
Taking on the task of co-founding Jersey Ghouls with Marissa made me realize that it’s time to stop being so narrow minded and try watching the hundreds of movies that I’ve ignored for one silly reason or another. Maybe they are good, maybe they are not. But, it’s time to stop judging a movie before I’ve even see it. And if I don’t like it, I’ll at least have a leg to stand on when I talk about it. Afterall, that’s what a good blogger does.
With a new outlook on movies and an open mind, I’m going to do something I never thought I would do. I’m going to watch the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. No. NO. Nope. Can’t do it. I have to draw a line somewhere. That’s just not right. The Elm St. franchise is my favorite; Freddy Kruger is my favorite horror villain. I can’t. You can’t make me. I just can’t imagine watching someone other than Robert Englund playing Freddy. It hurts my soul too much. Am I being a little too dramatic? Of course I am. It’s going to take baby steps! OK, baby steps.
I know, I’ll watch the remake of The Evil Dead! It’s backed by the original creators. And going into it, I’ve heard that it will not have the camp of the sequels but will be a straight forward horror movie. OK, cool. I like horror movies. I’m going to watch it. No really, I am. Tomorrow. And when I do watch it, I’m not going to be a judgy Jacki. I’m not going in with preconceived notions or a negative attitude. I promise. I’ll follow up with a review soon!
So now it’s your turn… the new year is fast approaching. What’s your horror resolution?
In this episode we get wasted and talk about our viewing of the fan recommended Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
4 Horror Films to Beat the Holiday Blues
Merry Holidays, Ghouls. Halloween is over. For the rest of the world, this means turning off the horror movies, putting away the spooky decorations, and embracing the warmth of the season. For the Jersey Ghouls, however, it’s a bitter-sweet occasion. Sure, we have an excuse to binge Thanksgiving- and Christmas-themed horror. But when the rest of the world goes bright, the world of horror goes back to being a somewhat dark and lonely place. When surrounded by festivities and good will, the isolation associated with loving horror can feel that much more magnified. In honor of our annual bout of post-Halloween, seasonally-charged sadness, we sought out some new horror offerings. The first three films are newer offerings, while the last is an older, relatively obscure offering from the French extremity sub-genre. So, when the holly and jolly have gotten to be too much, check out the picks below; these films will definitely help you put the ho-ho-horror back into your holidays!
1. Neon Demon
If you are like us, and you don’t like to spend money on your horror, then start out with Neon Demon, new to Amazon Prime on November 1st. This is not your typical horror film. It’s more of a thriller, with a touch of horror. Audiences seem to either love it or hate it. We would try to give a plot summary but, frankly, it’s too complicated. Basically the film revolves around our world’s obsession with beauty. Elle Fanning certainly gives a strong performance, and it plays with themes that are relevant. So give it a shot, and then be sure to hit us up on twitter or Facebook and give us your thoughts (https://www.facebook.com/JerseyGhouls/) .
2. Don’t Breathe
Originally released in theaters this summer, this film gained a lot of attention for its brutality and interesting premise. This Hailing from Fede Alvarez, the director of the Evil Dead remake (which I’m sure JG will be tackling soon), it’s the story of three kids in Detroit who decide to rob a blind man. The tables quickly turn, and the teens find themselves battling to survive.
Jane Levy continues to solidify her horror queen status, and the film touches on some interesting existential issues. It's also chock full of fun kills and some serious gore. It’s finally coming to Amazon and iTunes on November 8th, with a DVD release on November 30th.
Ahhh… Rob Zombie. Love him or hate him, he definitely brings a great deal to the genre table. He’s not afraid to showcase lower class heroes, put his female stars on display, and give us intense levels of realistic horror. 31 introduces the audience to a group of traveling carnival workers on Halloween night. They are kidnapped and find themselves facing a crowd of bourgeois, powder-faced aristocrats led by Malcolm McDowell. They inform the lowly carnies that they are playing a game of survival against five clowns. The clowns have names such as Psycho Head, Sex Head, and Schizo Head. The rich people take pleasure in the chaos and destruction, sipping on wine and laughing arrogantly throughout the film. The only prize is survival.
As always, Zombie doesn’t do subtle. Thematically, his suggestion that we are all players in the game of the elite seems more relevant now than ever. His clowns are unaware pawns of the elite, exploited for their vices and deficits. And the “fighters” don’t stand much of a chance at all. They are beat before they begin, with every odd stacked against them. Not his best, but far from his worst, this movie will give you the gore, grit, and strangely profound monologues you have come to expect from Zombie.
We here at the Jersey Ghouls aren’t afraid of a little gore and horror. However, we feel it’s necessary to place a caveat on this recommendation. This film puts the extreme in French extremity. If you are unfamiliar with this relatively new sub-genre, you would be well served to check it out. To simplify, French extremity horror lives in the idea of decadence. However, that decadence, be it in the form of violence, sexuality, or psychosis, always has severe consequences for everyone involved. If you can get stomach the excesses, these films will always leave you questioning our humanity and existence. This one literally left us in a state of existential crisis.
And decadent it is. It makes Haute Tension look like a walk through the park. There are many instances of shocking acts of torture, child abuse, and violence. However, this is far from another American styled torture-porn horror film. The ramifications of the violence, as well as the social and cultural implications associated with it, are explored masterfully and in great depth. This somehow makes it meaningful. Brutal, but meaningful.
We don’t want to give away the many finer twists and nuances of the plot, so we will keep it brief. A young woman seeks revenge on those who wronged her as a child, and she spirals into a web of madness and torture, both psychologically and physically. This is a film that will stay with you long after you’ve viewed it. Just be sure to watch the 2008 original with subtitles, as the remake is terrible.
So trim the tree, bust out the holiday movies and music, eat that extra dessert, and, try to survive, or even enjoy, time with loved ones. But remember… the next time your air-conditioner goes on the fritz, or your washing machine blows up, or your video recorder conks out, before you call the repairman, turn on all the lights. Check all the closets and cupboards. Look under all the beds.
'Cause you never can tell. There just might be a….
Elf on the Shelf.
Seriously those things are creepy af.
In this episode we cover John Carpenter's Halloween, preview our next episode, and introduce our first contest.
Welcome to our first Podcast. Today we are introducing ourselves and talking about who we are, and why we love horror. We are also going to discuss Jersey Ghouls and what you can look forward to in the future. Enjoy, and thanks for the support!