Updated: Oct 17, 2021
My 2021 Scary Movie presentation rundown includes projects that fit a Nevada locals and/or current issue spin since we now better understand the fears engendered by contageous agents like Covid-19 plus bites from vampires, werewolves, and zombies:
*Stephen King’s Desperation. Stopping in the nearly empty town Ruth, Nevada, King wondered what happened to everyone. He invented an answer and renamed his fictional town “Desperation.” The television mini-series follows the book with its share of creepy events in a spooky setting.
* The Stand 1994 & 2020. Absorbing characters and situations stand out in adaptations of the novel King says most fans rate as their favorite of his. Network television standards of the 1990s reduced the story’s gore and sex and some cultural insensitivities seem more noticeable 30 years later, but the original screen interpretation holds up with good acting and a dynamic opening to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The remake adds diversity and more intense “eeewww” moments, but also features a revised end that undermines a sense of completion. Both versions filmed in Las Vegas (the draw for all the survivors leaning toward the Dark Side). The 2020 version spent less time in Sin City but benefitted from the empty streets found during early stages of Covid-19 quarantine. The 1994 version features atmospheric shots of Fremont Street just before it turned into the “Experience” with a ceiling and light show.
*Misery where Stephen King wrote about Colorado, but filmmakers chose northern Nevada for a story about a psycho nurse given to slasher behavior. Director Rob Reiner—who put King’s work to good use in Stand By Me—focuses on atmosphere rather than gore. The fine cast stars (then) little-known Kathy Bates in an Oscar winning performance. Locations included Genoa and a set built on Clear Creek Road by Carson City.
*Army of the Dead shows a future Las Vegas full of zombies including an Elvis impersonator, with emphasis on gore and action more than horror. Following Stephen King’s theory, all the bad guys (zombies) end up in Nevada’s sin city. Maintaining the Nevada connection, screenwriter-director Zack Snyder feels zombies originated at Area 51.
*Night Stalker startled network television viewers by seemingly dealing with a serial killer, then switching to a vampire story. Las Vegas makes an ideal setting for vampires in current society since they can dress Bela Lugosi style, display their fangs, and not stand out as anything unusual in a city full of Elvis impersonators. Though dated with blaring 1970s style music, the original television movie remains fun to watch with a Las Vegas absent of giant megaresorts.
*The Godmonster of Indian Flats about a giant sheep terrorizing Virginia City near Reno qualifies as a monster movie but proves scary only because it’s frightening to realize what kind of ridiculous ideas can actually transform into movies.
In real life, Nevada specializes in ghosts at haunted locations like Tonopah and Virginia City, but cinematically, the best phantoms filmed elsewhere:
*The Shining, The 1980 version usually makes it on lists of all-time scary movies even though the guy who wrote the novel—Stephen King—famously dislikes this interpretation despite its striking cinematography and blood-soaked imagery. Director Stanley Kubrick used the novel as a springboard, exercising directorial control with lots of studio filming and a bit of location work at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge. King prefers his own television remake from Director Mick Garris that stuck more closely to the book and filmed in the location that inspired the story, Colorado’s Stanley Hotel by Rocky Mountain National Park. I side with King in disliking the way Kubrick presents the character Jack as so whacko to start with that his disintegration into madness loses impact. King’s version follows the book more closely but lacks Kubrick’s visual splendor.
*The Haunting of Hill House, from 2018 takes on the full name of Shirley Jackson’s piece, which also turned into an excellent and atmospheric project in 1963 with a shortened title. Hill House Director Mike Flanagan solidified himself as a horror master with 2021’s Midnight Mass, and his appreciation for the classics in his Haunting projects proves compelling and unsettling.
*The Sixth Sense provides that classic line, “I see dead people.” More intriguing than scary, M. Night Shyamalan’s first film bears Twilight Zone traits. One of the rare horror films to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it remains a personal best for the director.
*Poltergeist with great credits behind the scenes. Tobe Hooper provided more gross-out scares when he created The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—leading to a theory that producer Steven Spielberg actually helmed Poltergeist. The movie feels more family sensitive than Hooper’s other works but includes its share of creepy moments and good reasons not to build your house on top of a cemetery. It also offers a classic phrase to raise hairs on the neck: “They’re here.”
For contagion, avoid being bitten by:
*Dracula from 1931 reflects limitations of its era but still contains eerie scenes and classic lines, like one about drinking wine.
I also appreciate non-Victorian era twists on vampires:
*Near Dark showcasing director Kathryn Bigelow’s strong visual sense before winning the Oscar for The Hurt Locker.
* Let the Right One In from Sweden eerily updates vampire issues better than its American remake.
*True Blood spent seven seasons on HBO dealing with vampires, shapeshifters and pretty much any other type of supernatural creature you can imagine, mixing scares, humor, and sex.
*What We Do in the Shadows both movie and television series show the comic complications faced by modern-day vampires, including one played by Taika Waititi, who later directed JoJo Rabbit and won an Oscar for its screenplay.
*The Wolfman with the junior Lon Chaney sets the movie rules for lycanthropy—the official name for werewolves. Its special effects stunned audiences in 1941 and fog-laden sets remain spooky. However, it suffers from its era’s sensibilities and special effects. For instance, no one in 1941 wanted to see a naked Lon Chaney running around, even though most of us know furry wolves need no clothes. Worse yet, Chaney starts his transformation in a pair of suit pants and undershirt, but next time we see him, he wears a dark long sleeve shirt and casual pants, cinched with a belt. Considering the awkwardness of wolf paws, it took a lot of coordination to get that belt on! Though a remake seemed in order, the update with Benicio del Toro missed the emotional connection that the original managed.
*The Howling shows werewolves fitting into constructs of everyday life in a clever story that deals with cults and media coverage.
*An American Werewolf in London adds touches of humor, like playing the Credence Clearwater classic “Bad Moon Rising.” It also sheds clothes--the unwitting werewolf transforms and wakes up naked in a zoo.
*Penny Dreadful features a handsome wolf plus includes several classic literary monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, and Dorian Gray, all explored during its three-season run full of blood, sex, and unsettling visuals.
*Night of the Living Dead shocked mainstream audiences when it set the Zombie Apocalypse groundwork with lumbering creatures who munch on people.
*Dawn of the Dead reflects the bigger budget director George Romero raised after his first hit, with splashier splatter and a screenplay that considers social issues in between all the mayhem.
*Shaun of the Dead provides all the basics of the Zombie Apocalypse genre and adds laughs to the mix.
*28 Days Later corrects the point many complain about in the Zombie Apocalypse genre by making its undead high-speed sprinters who attack too fast for normal people to outrun.
*Train to Busan from Korea offers a surprisingly touching ending.