Gory, Bizarre, Cheesy Horror Movies and Their Book Matches Pt. 1
I love horror movies.
I also love horror books.
It’s October, and you’re on LitReactor, so I’m guessing you feel the same way.
Combining a love of horror movies and horror books seems easy, right? I mean, look at a good movie, find the book it was based on, pow.
But I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to see if there were books suited to movies that were a little harder to match. I mean, how do you take stuff like, well, The Stuff, a horror movie about deadly yogurt that dissolves a dude’s head, and turn it into a book recommendation?
Texas Chainsaw is less scary because it’s gory and jumpy, more because of the creeping fear of a fucked-up family. Header goes the same way. Sure, it’s got some of the most disgusting gore and sexualized violence you’ll ever encounter (I’m NOT kidding on this one. Be warned. Don’t come crying to me if you actually end up reading Header), but, as Edward Lee himself says, the driving factor in Header's creation was a fear of country folk, which is also an essential element of Texas Chainsaw.
Night of the Comet is a B-Movie that works because it’s 100% committed to its premise. It’s so drenched in the 80’s you can hardly stand it. Some will tell you it’s a loving send-up of classic horror movies, but I’m not convinced. Likewise, My Best Friend’s Exorcism starts out seeming like an Exorcist parody, but it turns into its own thing pretty quickly. It has some of the same exploitation elements as Night of the Comet, and they share a certain charm.
Michael McDowell should be famous as hell. McDowell wrote books that, had a few things been changed around, would be total literary classics. He nailed the dark side of southern hospitality in The Elementals, and he was dead-on when it came to the Beetlejuice screenplay and its depiction of wealthy city dwellers fleeing to the country. McDowell wrote for Tales From the Dark Side, Tales From The Crypt, and he had a hand in The Nightmare Before Christmas. The good news is that a lot of McDowell’s stuff has been re-released in the last few years. If you like the weird, (rotting) fleshed-out world of Beetlejuice, get into The Elementals.
Harrow County plays with a lot of old-timey stuff, takes us through the past, and will probably be enjoyed by anyone who liked The VVitch, aka everyone but me. Sorry, ya’ll, but this is a total snobs versus slobs, critics (91% on RT) versus popcorn-chompers (56%) situation. Critics will say us slobs didn’t get it, that we don’t appreciate the slow burn, and that our brains were too primitive to understand the dialogue. To which I say, “Shut up, nerd.” Anyway, that said, I understand a lot of you enjoyed The VVitch, so get up on Harrow County. It’s got some old-timey scary stuff going on, and it’s a comic, so you can say that it elevates “low” culture the way everyone was telling us The VVitch “elevated” horror flicks.
Movie: Whatever the Hell Joe Bob Briggs (or Elvira, or Vampira, or Zacherley, or Svengoolie) Was Showing
Book: 'All-Night Terror' by Adam Cesare and Matt Serafini
There was a whole collection of regional, late night TV horror hosts, but Joe Bob was my guy. He came up with one of my favorite movie critiques, “too much plot getting in the way of the story.” If you’re a filmmaker, get that shit emblazoned on a wooden plank and hang it above the door so you see it every day before you leave the house. In All-Night Terror we’ve got a TV station that’s taken over by a late night host, and that host demands the station show non-stop horror movies. You get these short, scary stories, and you get the connective tissue of the horror that’s happening in the studio.
By the by, if any stations are out there looking for trashy, late-night horror hosts with a gimmick, give me a call and I'll explain to you "Pete's Petrifying Video Store of Peril."
You want something you can watch with your kids that won’t make you wish a steamroller had slowly crushed you into a lifeless sheet earlier in the day? Goosebumps. Look, it's not a fine film. But if nothing else you'll have a good time watching Jack Black and counting off the monsters you remember from the books. Likewise, for a kid's book that adults can get into, go with Half-Minute Horrors. Margaret Atwood, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Michael Connelly, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Lethem, Joyce Carol Oates—just a few of the unexpected names that kicked in a story for this one. It’s not 5-star entertainment, but have a couple fun size Twix bars and a couple fun size (40 oz) beers and you’ll eat this one right up.
Don’t worry, It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown isn’t nearly the biggest stretch in this column when it comes to the definition of “horror.” If you were getting all set to comment down below, hang on. American Movie is still coming.
These go together in my mind because they make for fantastic Halloween traditions. You watch The Great Pumpkin not because it’s the best Halloween movie ever made, but because it’s a tradition, and traditions are meant to help us get into the groove of the season. If you haven’t read Dark Harvest, you should, and if I had to pick a book to read every October, it’d be this one. It’s got some slasher elements, classic ghost story stuff, and even just a smidge of a Hunger-Games-y thing going on. You’ll love it.
American Movie isn’t a horror movie, but it’s all about horror movies. Or, that’s what the box would tell you. The truth is, it’s about passion. A filmmaker and his buddy will do absolutely anything to get their horror movie, Coven, committed to film. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters has that same level of passion, and it's also horror-adjacent. The detailed, incredible drawings will pull you through the entire book.
Whenever I come across someone who likes the “so good it’s bad” type of thing, I recommend Charles Hinton. He’s the Neil Breen, the Tommy Wiseau of books. And he wrote a book called The Bad Breath Vampire. Let’s just put it this way. The book opens with a Van Helsing type entering a bar. When the drinkers ask the dude’s name, he says, “Dr. Stupid.” He’s a vampire hunter, and he hears that a new vampire is in town, and this vampire's trapping people by disguising himself as a turd, flying into the toilet, and then when someone comes to flush him, BAM, he attacks.
At this point I’m assuming you know whether or not this one’s for you, so I'll stop.
Martin is an unsung George Romero classic. It’s said that Martin is one of Romero’s personal favorites, and it’s the first team-up between Romero and horror staple Tom Savini. Martin is as much a character study as it is horror. It’s hard to tell whether the titular Martin really is a vampire or not. He's convinced he's hundreds of years old, but the rest of the world isn't buying it. The Drowning Girl also gives us an unreliable narrator in an unusual situation. Blending horror and fantasy, we get something very strange, and something that wouldn't work in less capable hands. Which is why these two go together. They're stories that probably shouldn't work, but because their creators are just so damn talented, the results speak for themselves.
Oh, Frankenhooker. You hold a place in our hearts. Whether it's that wacky face or the talking VHS box, we always knew you were something special. What makes these two alike (other than the obvious) is that you can sit down with both, have low expectations, and find yourself surprisingly entertained and invested. Sure, Frankenhooker has exploding hookers, and Bigboobenstein has a talking hernia, but through these wildly curving paths we end up with something...pretty damn enjoyable. I hesitate to call these deep entertainment, but if you're the type of person who's willing to give them a shot, I think you'll find there's more here than you might have expected.
Horror comedy is something that’s been done so many times, and done well about...three times? Maybe three? Shaun of the Dead is the agreed-upon movie exception, and Jack Sparks should be right there next to it. Jack, like Shaun, is a jerk, but not the kind of jerk like a jock in an 80’s movie. Jack is the believable, enjoyable kind, the kind that you recognize right away as someone in your life.
In both of these we all know the premise, almost nobody has actually plowed through the whole of either, and both are a little up their own ass. Norton Critical Edition indeed...
Pieces is an exploitation horror movie that goes for it. Violent as hell, more than a little depraved. It's also super dumb, featuring totally unnecessary martial arts nonsense. Survivor goes for it too. Gore, violence, sex. If there are boxes to check when making something transgressive as hell, Survivor checks all of them in blood and then opens another wound to draw some new, unheard-of, bloodier boxes.
Both are a slow burn. Both have a mixture of the horror elements and the mundane. Both require a little patience, for sure. I think that's why these both have mixed reviews. They're an oddity in the world of horror in that they both work with a different sort of fear than the typical gorefest or jumpscare.
Why are we here? What the hell? Hey, wait a second, why did that dude’s face just get melted off? If you like an experience that throws you straight into the action, and if you’re a journey over destination type when it comes to your horror, Cube is a movie you’ll like, and Crimson Labyrinth is absolutely one to check out. Survival horror. Low on character high on action. Plus, they have their moments that are just plain weird.
Grabbers is constantly compared to Shaun of the Dead. It's got some humor, it takes place mostly in a bar. This Symbiotic Fascination is compared to IT, probably due in no small part to a scene where a victim is crammed into a drainpipe. While both are compared unfavorably, both have their merits and things about them that are better than the comparisons. Both deserve a shot at being their own thing.
Thus concludes part 1. Stay tuned for part 2: Chopping Mall, Near Dark, Suspiria, and more buckets of blood. If you've got a better match for any of the movies above, sound off below!
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