Poltergeist II: The Other Side -- The Braces Monster

Late one night, having fallen asleep on my Auntie's bed, I was awakened by the loud sound of thunder. My Mom was upstairs with her boyfriend of the day, her sister, the man her sister cheated on my Godfather with (who would eventually become my Uncle), and some kind of brown liquor served in a crystal handled glass. To my relief, the extreme weather noises were only coming from the tv.

   It was 1987 and I was 4, which meant that I had to climb the stairs from the basement bedroom, to cry about the scary darkness, ask for a cup of water, and repeatedly have to go pee. That was my job. But when I got to the top, before I could interrupt, the movie caught my eye. I was entranced by the whimsical Jerry Goldsmith score and the strong family vibe it gave off with the cute lovable kids. I just stood quietly behind the couch and watched it. 

    The only other horror film I had seen up until this point was Evil Dead 2. And even at age 3, I was bored and annoyed at its sophomoric humor. So I had never really seen a horror movie. But I was proud of myself for being able to handle it. I didn't have to cover my eyes. Never screamed once. And even managed to sneak away unnoticed just before the very laughable final scene. I lied in bed thinking about what I just saw and how awesome it was. It wasn't scary at all. Monsters were just as awesome as I had built them up to be in my mind. Maybe I could even be their friends? I drifted off.

  My unconscious had a very different plan for me. You know the part in the movie where the little boy is cleaning his braces, and then mystically those braces animate? You know, they take over and cover his body and then baracade him to the ceiling only revealing terrified tiny child eyes? Well that metal/human blob was a monster in my nightmare. And then the monster survived my nightmare and moved into both my bedroom closet and under my bed. It would slither across my room creating a kind of oozy metallic scratching, that I'm pretty sure began my nightly teeth grinding. One night I was sure this thing was on top of my body, but screaming for my Mom miraculously made it retreat. 

   I can't watch this movie without feeling palpable nostalgia. I can even remember those first dreams. It is the foundation for my love of horror and for being scared. And every once in a while, The Braces Monster will come back and haunt one of my dreams. Only now I'm not afraid. I just want to be his friend.

- Jess



 When we say "difficult" we goddamn mean it (unless you know it, then it's easy). Well, if you thought the last round was tricky, your mood's probably not gonna improve much.

We're doing all scary movies again, and we'll tell you right now (though who the hell reads these intros?) that they can't all be Hocus Pocus and Halloween. You're all big girls now, so it's time to tear off your size 14s and apply some lotion, because while it's a nerve-wracking nightmare out there, you know your way around.

The world is still a fine place, and worth fighting for.





What is Horror? (Baby, don't hurt me)

A list of all-time favorite Horror Movies? Eh, that's pretty lame. I mean, c'mon, you already know what they are, so let's not waste everyone's time. We thought about "favorite vampires," "favorite zombies," shit like that - still felt derivative and dull. So now, there's this: our favorite Horror Movie from each year for the past 50 years. It forced us to make tough choices as well as scrutinize the dry spells. In the end, hopefully, we can take a step back and determine the deadliest decade. (We don't know what that will accomplish, but it will be fun.)

But way more than that, it turned out to be an agonizing reappraisal of the "Horror" label. This project provided us with a rich dialogue pertaining to exactly what is and isn't Horror; we were able to agree that David Lynch, certain Stephen King, and Silence of the Lambs are, in fact, not Horror with a capital "H." And while these particular aforementioned areas of Cinema have always been debatable, we've drawn a line in the sand, Dude, and we're prepared to let the debate seep in through our stupid cheap weather stripping and defend these choices. That's not to say we didn't agree to disagree in some other necks of woods, but again, opinions are abound in this challenge, and in this day & age, they're worth getting violent over. So let's!

The Paul List

1970 - Equinox

1971 - Vampyros Lesbos

1972 - Tombs of the Blind Dead

1973 - The Exorcist

1974 - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

1975 - Jaws

1976 - Carrie

1977 - Suspiria

1978 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers

1979 - Zombi 2

1980 - The Fog

1981 - An American Werewolf in London

1982 - The Thing

1983 - Twilight Zone: The Movie

1984 - Ghostbusters

1985 - A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

1986 - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

1987 - The Monster Squad

1988 - The Blob

1989 - Little Monsters

1990 - Gremlins 2: The New Batch

1991 - Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

1992 - Bram Stoker's Dracula

1993 - Jurassic Park

1994 - Wes Craven's New Nightmare

1995 - Tales From the Hood

1996 - From Dusk Till Dawn

1997 - Cube

1998 - Vampires

1999 - The Blair Witch Project

2000 - Ginger Snaps

2001 - Jeepers Creepers

2002 - Dog Soldiers

2003 - Freddy vs. Jason

2004 - Shaun of the Dead

2005 - The Devil's Rejects

2006 - Slither

2007 - Grindhouse

2008 - Lake Mungo

2009 - Halloween II

2010 - Paranormal Activity 2

2011 - The Innkeepers

2012 - The Lords of Salem

2013 - The Conjuring

2014 - It Follows

2015 - Bone Tomahawk

2016 - The Monster

2017 - It

2018 - Mandy

2019 - Us

2020 - Gretel & Hansel

The Babes List

1970 - The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

1971 - Vampyros Lesbos

1972 - Sisters

1973 - The Exorcist

1974 - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

1975 - Jaws

1976 - Carrie

1977 - Suspiria

1978 - Halloween

1979 - Alien

1980 - The Shining

1981 - An American Werewolf in London

1982 - Poltergeist

1983 - Videodrome

1984 - Gremlins

1985 - Demons

1986 - Aliens

1987 - The Lost Boys

1988 - Night of the Demons

1989 - Stepfather II

1990 - Arachnophobia

1991 - Dolly Dearest

1992 - Bram Stoker's Dracula

1993 - Needful Things

1994 - In the Mouth of Madness

1995 - Tales From the Hood

1996 - From Dusk Till Dawn

1997 - Cube

1998 - Ringu

1999 - The Blair Witch Project

2000 - Ginger Snaps

2001 - Session 9

2002 - Bubba Ho-Tep

2003 - Freddy vs. Jason

2004 - Shaun of the Dead

2005 - The Devil's Rejects

2006 - Final Destination 3

2007 - Grindhouse

2008 - Let the Right One In

2009 - Halloween II

2010 - Black Swan

2011 - The Innkeepers

2012 - The Lords of Salem

2013 - The Conjuring

2014 - It Follows

2015 - The Witch

2016 - Raw

2017 - It

2018 - Mandy

2019 - Midsommar

2020 - Possessor


TRADING CARDS :: Fright Flicks

Aw hell, you knew it would come to this eventually. There's a reason we feature Freddy's fried face on the banner logo of this series; Topps Fright Flicks from 1988 were the weirdest, dirtiest, grossest non-sports trading cards ever marketed to children 6 & under, and I consumed them like a hungry hungry hippo. 

Since its inception, the internet has been about 3 things: pornography, the pineapple-on-pizza debate, and Fright Flicks. It's hard to find a blog that has yet to publicly praise this absurd card collection that totally defined an era merely by existing. Because of this, I've hesitated discussing them; plagued with apprehension that I'd have nothing fresh or insightful to bring to this childhood rite of passage (and now 'memory lane' mainstay). But then it occurred to me: when the hell have I ever let that stop me before? Besides, if we're talkin' about major Heebie Jeebies, these cards were some of my first.

Before I ever got my hands on a Fangoria, these graphic, gratuitous, colorful cards were little windows into a decade of Horror Cinema that only intensified its mystique; it was like having the Horror aisle from the video store in my own home. The set consisted of 90 cards and the traditional 11 stickers, and they all depicted publicity stills from 14 timely Horror flicks - a list so eclectic and exclusive that I can't wrap my mind around whatever licensing deal they made. 

As everyone points out, each grizzly image is accompanied by weak humor and bad puns - like an extremely dull shade of Crypt Keeper comedy. We collectively assume that the thinking behind this was to destabilize the gruesomeness depicted within this typically juvenile institution, but to 5-year-old me, this attempted silliness had a paradoxical effect: making light of these horrible things created the same dark mood as Freddy's wisecracking. The fact that they were joking about these rotting faces and exposed guts made it that much more sadistic. But what it really came down to (and it was noticeable even then) was that the writer(s) of these captions was/were clearly not familiar with the films represented -- and that's funny. 

But most of this stuff has been well documented, so let's get subjective. This whole set is a parade of repugnant nostalgia, but I've singled out 5 worthy specimens that come with some personal baggage that I need to unload. 

- Paul


Two things to mention here: one is that this card forces one to realize that An American Werewolf in London is actually pretty lite on werewolf imagery - which, while it was clearly a technique to disguise potential faults in the special effects, it's still entirely effective and I wouldn't have it any other way. The second thing worth mentioning is this: when I began collecting these cards, I'd only ever seen the film on TV, edited for TV. And the thing about the TV version is: this scene doesn't exist (and understandably so - it has no plot function, and there's no way to soften this sequence). So, imagine my puzzlement when I unwrapped this image depicting some sorta Gestapo Wolfman from a movie that, in my mind, didn't really support such a scenario. Needless to say, it confused me in a daunting way for several years. 


I've never been shy about admitting that I think the original Ghostbusters is scary - and I never believed it was any kinda residual shock or terror from watching it as a toddler; this isn't merely a case of kindertrauma. With the exceptions of Slimer and Stay-Puft, the arresting imagery from this movie effortlessly holds its own against a lotta these hard-R heavyweights. And once they all share this same crude paper stock, the Comedy/Horror boundaries get fuzzy, and we're left with a total protonic reversal.


Pumpkinhead received quite an honor being amongst this company, as it was the newest movie featured in the set. So new, in fact, that the images are credited to Vengeance: The Demon - the film's original title all the way up until right before its release. Heck, for all I know, this whole card series might've just been a vehicle to sell the movie.

To be fair, it was and still is one of the coolest looking creatures to ever appear on screen, but was sadly bogged down by its own movie (and franchise) that was too boring to support it. 


Boy, if there's a concept that both haunted and defined my youth, it's "TV Freddy." I'd not yet seen Dream Warriors when I was repeatedly confronted with this ghastly gag (the sequence is featured on 2 different cards and a sticker), so I was hardly aware that this defining moment actually marked the beginning of "Funny Freddy." But out of context, this gives off an entirely unsettling vibe: from the bleak ambience of the lighting and set design to Freddy's emotionless prosthetic head that doesn't even bother making eye contact with his victim -- per usual, the story in my head was scarier than what the movie had to offer. Bitch. 


I'd not seen Predator until I was nearly a teenager, but I was very much aware of the monster itself (I had no idea it was an alien). Between these cards and the prismatic vending machine sticker stuck to my bureau, I was left only to imagine who this character was and what its motivations were. And imagine I did: to me, he appeared to be someone in a position of evil power that you'd have to go and grovel to, like Jabba the Hutt or some kinda royalty. I certainly never made the connection that he was in the movie with the generic, stylized video cover of Arnold Schwarzenegger. And even as good as Predator turned out to be, my scenario was scarier. 


The Dark Side of '91

What were the things that scared you when you were 8 years old? If you're anywhere within my age range, you know the D.A.R.E. Program - a prevention initiative that not only warned us of the damage of dope, but also the dangers of strangers. As a kid, I was assured that a van would pull up alongside me and the driver would dangle some Suddenly S'mores in my face in exchange for some company. And they did such a good job of convincing me of this that I felt adequately prepared to the point that I was hoping it would happen, just so I could tell that perv where to stick that Nabisco treat. 

So as I lay trembling in my bed each night, it was not for fear of kidnapping or home invasion - that would've been excessively unrealistic. No, my biggest concern was still, after however many years, child murderer Fred Krueger. I didn't care that magazines and TV commercials were claiming that he was Dead - that never seemed to stop him before. The point is that 1991 wasn't about fear of the unknown, but rather a corruption of the world we're already familiar with; a threat to our comfort and safety. (And I'm not talking about the Gulf War.)

I'm not sure what prompted it, but 30 years ago there was an excessive outpouring of Thrillers - an admittedly broad genre with a name that can be used kinda loosely. There's usually some action, some sex, some horror - or at least suggestions thereof. But there's always suspense, and that was the biggest draw for me.

When I tallied my favorite movies from this particular year, I included four films that I feel fit the label -- heck, if I remember correctly, they carried a physical "Thriller" label on their box at the video store. FX2 could be a bit of a stretch - while it's sort of an Action/Comedy, there isn't a big enough serving of either, while there's plenty of goons with knives & uzis lurking around, a drive-by shooting, some double-crossings, and "simulated"(?) nudity. Despite the body count, it's pretty lighthearted -- unlike, say, Scorsese's Cape Fear. Speaking strictly in terms of excitement, anxiety, and brutality, I'd say this melodramatic remake is easily the most thrilling Thriller of the year. But what it makes up for in cold sweat and grotesque carnage, it lacks in any hint of subtlety, which is why The Silence of the Lambs is the movie to beat (and it can't be beat). People in the "Horror Community" (which is deserving of such an obnoxious title) love to assert that Lambs is, in fact, a Horror movie - if for no better reason than to have such a prestigious film under their tent. But to call it that would be to dismiss the notion of the "Thriller" brand entirely, as the movie practically defines it. And to reiterate: in a year packed with silimar fare, it still managed to be the clear champion (for the year, for all time). Meanwhile, for the crowds who couldn't dig paroled rapists and fugitive cannibals, there was Sleeping With the Enemy - even the very title personified this whole theme of compromised trust. Though even when I was 8 years old, I thought two things: that's an awfully provocative title (it's euphemistically Having Sex With the Bad Guy), and man does Julia Roberts look cute with a mustache. 

The concept of 'strong women' was not unique to 1991 -- heck, it's practically a symbol of the genre. Still though, so rarely are we blessed with certified Cinematic Heroes (of either sex); while not necessarily a Thriller, Thelma & Louise provided plenty of pop culture competition for Clarice Starling. But this year had so many deep cuts - maybe even some Movies You May Have Missed - that there's a whole mess of heroines and heroes alike that deserve a spot on the mantle. Goldie Hawn was no stranger to Drama - or even Action - but Deceived had her sleeping with her own enemy: everyone's favorite apathetic dad at the time, John Heard. It's a Mystery that unfolds in a painful way, with a climax that surprises and soothes so sweetly. Mortal Thoughts finds Demi Moore and Glenne Headly in a Thelma & Louise situation, but without the sass (and a less sympathetic Harvey Keitel). Sean Young can't seem to catch a break either, as she discovers that Matt Dillon is, predictably, not the man she thought he was (literally) in A Kiss Before Dying. In several instances, these movies were lite on violence and gore... until the end, and then nothing was held back. It's hard to say if it was my age at the time or if it was legitimately expert storytelling, but all these films typically had impactful resolutions. Conversely, Ricochet is wall-to-wall lunacy; it's so stressful and violent and dirty that it felt like a grindhouse movie before I knew what grindhouse was. If you need further incentive or a better description: it's from the director of Highlander and the screenwriter of Die Hard. There. 

Speaking of "dirty," if I had to nominate a major Erotic Thriller from '91, those damp panties would belong to Shattered. Easily one of the most ingenious Mysteries of the year, it's also drenched in sensual melodrama; the music and cinematography and the performances and even the story itself is just pure sweaty passion. The twist here is that Tom Berenger may not be the man he thinks he is - which, coincidentally, is also the plot of Timebomb; a sorta SciFi Actioner that's just weird and confusing enough to fall under the "Thriller" stamp. (Honestly, anything with Patsy Kensit is thrilling.) It's definitely one of the more far out entries on this list, but it's still rooted in that whole 'breach of trust' issue. Same can be said for Eve of Destruction: a cyborg-gone-rogue tale, except the cyborg looks exactly like scientist that created her (RenĂ©e Soutendijk), so it's able to fool her family into an inevitable hostage situation. Further down the line, past Science Fiction, is the Supernatural Thriller Body Parts (which, as you can imagine, has some Body Horror hallmarks). By today's standards, the premise feels kinda tired: organ transplant recipients receive limbs from a serial killer, so now they've also inherited his bloodlust. That allows for a bit of fun, but the real rollercoaster is the reality that Jeff Fahey and Brad Dourif have scenes in this movie together! That much filling in one pizza roll will burn the roof of your mouth.   

In the world of Cinema, we can suspend our disbelief and succumb to actual tension over haunted arms and robot moms and secret identities, but nothing thrills like reality. And in real life, a major source of strife and savagery is the police. Bad cops. Dirty cops. But every once in a while, along comes One Good Cop who robs the local drug lord to support his dead partner's orphaned children. Only an OG Batman would walk that line. But that's really more of a Crime Drama - the real thrilling scenario is when all cops are bad. When the world is against you and the law is not on your side. No one to protect you, no one to trust. That is the world of Run, where Patrick Dempsey has landed himself in the darkest corner of The Twilight Zone through otherwise benign circumstances. I'm not sure of the last time I saw the movie (maybe '91!) but the whole tone and the premise felt timely and accurate; as sheltered as I was as a child, these movies were preparing me for an inevitable breakdown of the system - I didn't become entirely cynical (nor did I think Max Cady was gonna bite my cheek off), but I became acutely aware that certain disappointment was always around the corner. 

So what prompted this little spike in the spectrum of Suspense Cinema? In terms of box office, the biggest movie of the genre was Fatal Attraction in 1987 - four years earlier. The influence certainly didn't come from television: Doogie Howser and Major Dad didn't leave us with a lotta cliffhangers. It wasn't video games or comic books - that's today. Grisham, Clancy, and King (and Thomas Harris) were publishing their usual nail biters, but that was nothing outta the ordinary. Were we just tired of busting ghosts and dancing dirty? Was it more than coincidence that we kicked off a new decade with so much darkness? Baby boomers spent the 80s doing their best to reinstate the security and sanctity of the nuclear family (The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Family Ties) - maybe the most relatable conflict in fiction at that time was to burn a hole in these superficial "values." If you settle down and start a family, you might get stabbed. Thrillers carried on throughout the decade, predictably focusing on eroticism and serial killers. There was a spark of originality that year that was ignited purely by circumstance; 1991 made this mood happen. The stuff that followed was mostly bland and derivative, and couldn't capture the same tone because the time had passed. So now, we're left with these illustrated artifacts from this brief era, and while the genre changed and fluctuated over time as much as any other, we can still feel it tickling.

- Paul


Monday Meditations : 9/6/21

 I am completely terrified of death. They call this fear Thanatophobia. It is characterized by a person's anxiety and mind-consuming intrusive thoughts on the subject - to which I have plenty. I could be running through a meadow, in the mid summer sun, with the glint of the reflection of light bouncing off of the water in my eye, and I could still be pummeled with visions of my own demise. It's exhausting. And it's always been there, just more under the surface, hiding behind my Arachnophobia, Trypophobia, and Lilapsophobia.  

  For me, it's less so the "where we go" once we leave our meat suits. It's more the "how." And terror death seems like the absolute worst thing a person could ever have to undergo. And I sure as fuck hope it doesn't happen to me. Being berated by the news of the goddamn joke our world has become, mostly through own doing, only exacerbates things. Death stalks me at every turn. The chances that this fear will come to fruition is 100%. But when?

   But maybe it doesn't have to be so bleak and haunting. I look outside at the decay of nature as it withdraws itself from the earth. The colors to come will radiate a brilliance that no human can not be touched by. It will entrance us to play and change us back into the kids that we all really are. And suddenly, I'm distracted. I have a thousand scary movies with people getting their heads blown off, or being stabbed in the genitalia, even eaten alive by dogs. My own private therapy session, paired appropriately with accompanying weather. And for a little while, the world is orange and unscary. Death is   silly and festive. It's fun. Costumed, decorated, sweet to eat, and covering our ground in vibrant hues. I'll have this for a little while. 
 I'm distracted. 

- Babes

1. "Without You" by Harry Nilsson

2. "Free For All" by Ted Nugent

3. "Man We Was Lonely" by Paul McCartney

4. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel

5. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John

6. "To Love Somebody" by Janis Joplin

7. "Satellite of Love" by Lou Reed

8. "Where Do the Children Play?" by Cat Stevens

9. "Wild is the Wind" by David Bowie

10. "Take the Long Way Home"by Supertramp

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