A chill is in the air, the leaves are changing, and the spirits of the vengeful proletariat wander the land. It’s Halloween time—also known as Spooky Season. Once again, staff members at The Real News join Art for the End Times host Lyta Gold for another special episode on our favorite horror flicks. From vintage classics to revisionist takes on the colonial psychology of the horror genre, Maximillian Alvarez, Mel Buer, and Julianne Simitz get Halloween started in the tradition of The Real News.
Post-Production: Dwayne Gladden
Lyta Gold: Hello and welcome to Art for the End Times. As always, I’m your host, Lyta Gold. It is spooky season. I love spooky season. I am an October bitch, seriously. I love everything about this time of year. I love skeletons. I love candy. I love horror movies and, okay, this is important. I used to not love horror movies because I’m a really big coward and I would get really scared by monsters on my screen and I’d have nightmares, for real, even as a very grown adult.
But in the last couple years, I don’t know what’s happened. The world outside gets scarier, and I have more of an appetite for being terrified. I still get really scared, but I seek it out, which I absolutely didn’t used to do. I used to just sort of cower and hide my face. But in the spirit of spooky season, I have brought on some of my bravest and coolest pals from The Real News to hold my hand and cover my eyes as we talk about scary movies. So without further ado, first up we have the newest full-time member of The Real News Network. She’s an associate editor, labor genius, my good buddy, it’s Mel Beur.
Mel Beur: Hello.
Lyta Gold: Your name is really easy to do, like, “Boo-ur”. I see you’ve done that on Twitter, but that’s slightly too easy for the Halloween spirit.
Mel Beur: Oh, it’s lovely, isn’t it?
Lyta Gold: Yeah. Yeah. I think of The Simpsons guys. They always had to come up with more elaborate ones every year for… You got it too easy one. Anyway, next up we have the director of development.
Julianne Simitz: Ghoul, Ghoul-ianne Simintz.
Lyta Gold: Ah, there we go. That’s good. That’s good. That’s what I wanted.
Julianne Siminitz: That’s pretty terrible, but…
Lyta Gold: That was good.
Julianne Siminitz: Thanks, thanks. I feel good about it.
Lyta Gold: All right. Last but not least, and really has to step it up here because we’ve got a kind of an arc going, we have the editor-in-chief of The Real News Network. It’s Max Alvarez, giving me a little [inaudible] little something, little joke, little pun? Nothing?
Maximillian Alvarez: Maximilian Ahhh-lvarez?
Lyta Gold: Oh, there you go. That’s pretty good. That’s pretty good. I like it. I like it.
Well, I’m so glad you guys all came to join me and join in my extremely silly… When you’re in a horror movie, you’ve got to have your squad and everybody’s got to get killed off in order. Actually, maybe before we start we should figure out who’s the final girl, because I know it’s not me. I’m not final girl material.
Mel Beur: It’s not me either. No, I don’t think so.
Julianne Siminitz: Oh, I was going to say it’s definitely not me.
Lyta Gold: Max, are you the final girl?
Maximillian Alvarez: I am the only Brown one here so we know I’m dying first.
Julianne Siminitz: I don’t know. I think this is a pretty even matchup here. We could all go at once.
Lyta Gold: And that would be a nice change. Sometimes the girl does die then, even the final girl.
Julianne Siminitz: Well, has either one of us smoked a joint or had sex?
Lyta Gold: Yes. Yes. We need to be punished for your…
Julianne Siminitz: That I know, and so…
Maximillian Alvarez: All right, so then everyone here is disqualified, right?
Julianne Siminitz: Basically.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right, so none of us are making it through.
Julianne Siminitz: No problem. We’re not making it out alive, you guys.
Lyta Gold: So it does beg kind of an interesting question. Why do we like these movies where often everybody dies, everybody but one person, maybe? What’s good about this that brings us coming back for more?
Mel Beur: Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’m quite the coward when it comes to watching horror films still. My partner, God bless him, has been trying to get me into more horror films this spooky season, but I’m usually the type to read something that scares the crap out of me. I don’t know. I think we just like to be scared. I think it’s an often weird and unfamiliar feeling when you willingly walk into that kind of thing. So it can be fun.
Julianne Siminitz: Yeah, I think there’s a thin line between fear and excitement or joy, and so it’s just another way to feel stimulation. I just want to feel something light up. [inaudible]
Lyta Gold: No, that is exactly how I feel. It’s funny because, for whatever reason, people have been recommending lately these movies or these books that are about divorce and like, oh, this is this beautifully made film and it’s so good and it’s very touching and it’s about this relationship that just falls apart. And I’m like, I would rather die. I would rather see a hundred people get murdered than sit through… Because I want to feel something, and that’s going to make me feel something but not in a fun way. There’s something fun about watching people die. And it’s pretty sick shit that we find it fun, but it is fun. It is way more fun to be like, is this couple going to get murdered while they make out? Than like, are they going to make it? They’re not going to make it.
Julianne Siminitz: Well, listen. It’s just really hard to enjoy anything while you’re woke, but I think [inaudible] especially hard. There’s just so many things in the typical horror movie to unpack that would offend, I think, most left sensibilities, right? There’s a lot of things, but I’m trying not to let that ruin it for me. You know what I mean?
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, I think it hooks into how I was thinking of answering the question. Because I think that one of the things that’s so deliciously and disarmingly attractive about horror is that it does kind of cut through the crust of everything. I mean, that’s one of the points of watching these movies is that the gore, the terror, the fear, the death, it feels like the great equalizer. And so you get to see rich people get merked. You get to see the asshole, red meat eating, truck driving guy get merked. You also see the dweeby college kid get merked, so everyone runs up against this hard, terrifying thing that no one is especially safe from.
And then I think going even deeper than that, because I think we talked about this on the last spooky season episode we did with Lyta and I too, like everyone here, am just obsessed with horror. My entire family is. We grew up watching endless horror movies and stuff like that. My mom and brother are obsessed with Stephen King, R.L. Stein, all that good stuff.
And I feel like, just speaking for myself, there was God, there was the church and Catholicism and all that stuff, but apart from that, horror was the one realm that felt closest to magic. It felt like the thing outside my window that I couldn’t explain when everything else could be explained to me. There was some sort of primordial sense of dread and unease and unknowingness about what could be lurking in the shadows. What sort of spirits could emerge and just totally fuck with your sense of reality. So I feel like there was still some sort of magical element to horror that I had that didn’t translate to other genres.
Julianne Siminitz: Yeah. For me, I think it’s the oxytocin.
Lyta Gold: It gives you the good vibes, the good…
Julianne Siminitz: You get addicted to that.
Lyta Gold: Yeah. The good feelings?
Julianne Siminitz: Well, yeah. There’s that, and also in my case, for comedy, comedy and horror, I think thin line, also.
Lyta Gold: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julianne Siminitz: Because they both come from surprise, they both come from revelation, right? And so I feel like the rhythm of horror, I’m into that piece of it, too.
Lyta Gold: Yeah. There’s something very soothing about the pacing of a horror movie, and then they’re often paced very differently. But there’s something about where you kind of know that things are coming, that it’s kind of relaxing because it’s just waiting for the next thing to happen and the next thing to happen. And a lot of the time, a horror movie falls apart at the point of revelation. It’s usually like the two-thirds or three-quarters mark when the revelation happens and you’re like, it is not worth the setup that we got, but I’m already here. I’ve already watched this much.
Julianne Siminitz: Well, give me an example of that because I…
Lyta Gold: [inaudible] Yes.
Julianne Siminitz: Yeah, like some horror movies, they don’t deliver, like you’re saying.
Lyta Gold: Yes. I –
Julianne Siminitz: And is that… I’m trying to narrow it down.
Lyta Gold: Well, so this is a bit of a hot take because I know a lot of people love this movie, but I think Hereditary, which I think has an amazing start, falls… It’s for slightly different reasons, because it does a weird thing where it kind of shifts characters. It’s really about the mom and then it becomes about her son. And at that point where it shifts you can be like, oh, it’s making a point about misogyny and women are raising themselves.
You can find a reason for why it works, but it doesn’t really work. And it’s where you start to figure out there’s like a cult, there’s this underlying stuff, and you’re starting to get the explanation of what’s really going on. And it was so frightening and atmospheric before and all these bad things were happening, and I think it just… Unfortunately, because I think in many ways it’s a great movie up until that point, it kind of dwindled for me.
Julianne Siminitz: Yeah. I was doing some research, because I come prepared for these assignments, and they actually said – This is from maybe the Harvard Business Review – They said individual differences in empathy are associated with the enjoyment of horror.
Lyta Gold: Oh, are we psychopaths?
Mel Beur: I guess we’re psychopaths. That’s all.
Lyta Gold: Yeah, this is bad. Yeah. You know what’s –
Maximillian Alvarez: We’ll talk about that tomorrow, Julianne.
Julianne Siminitz: All right.
Lyta Gold: This is starting an HR kind of movie where you’ve got to take a psychopath test now.
Maximillian Alvarez: We’ll bring that up at the annual review.
Julianne Siminitz: Well, it’s interesting. They do say that there are differences in gender and stuff like that. Women may enjoy a horror movie more when it offers a happy ending, like the evil thing is destroyed, versus they say that men enjoy watching horror movies when it’s just loaded with scary, intense, terrifying stuff. So I don’t know. Do we think there are differences in how we’re consuming this stuff, maybe?
Lyta Gold: It’s interesting, actually, because –
Mel Beur: Personal preference.
Lyta Gold: Okay, yeah. Go ahead.
Mel Beur: Oh, I was going to say personal preference, I don’t know that it really can fall along gender lines in the way that these data collectors would love to neatly package that. In my personal preference, I can’t do overtly violent horror films, but if you give me a quiet thriller, ooh, fave. I don’t even have to have a resolution for that kind of thing, because happy endings aren’t always happy in the sense that like… I’m not necessarily looking for the killer is killed himself or someone manages to survive.
The resolution could be something as interesting and ambiguous as, oh, I don’t know, whatever cliffhanger you can think of to pop off a sequel and a franchise is fascinating to me. But I come from literary study of horror and gothic stories, and I’m a huge fan of writers like Bram Stoker. So those types of stories are the quiet, moving, very creepy stories that ramp up the tension in a very skillful, masterful way and I appreciate that. I like that. Can’t do gore, though. Don’t ask me to do gore. I don’t like that. I think that’s a little excessive. I think you can scare the shit out of someone without throwing blood in their face, but that’s just me.
Julianne Siminitz: Yeah, sometimes the blood and gore actually make it less scary for me. I would appreciate the insinuation of something horrible rather than the actual visualization of something horrible.
Mel Beur: Often, yeah, with even monsters, showing less of the monster can be way more effective. That’s often another place where horror movies fall apart when you finally see the demon or whatever and it’s just…
Julianne Siminitz: 100%, yup.
Mel Beur: Yeah, and it’s kind of CGI and you’re like, I know that’s not real. I’m not really scared.
Julianne Siminitz: No.
Lyta Gold: Oh, I was just going to say, it’s almost like the threat of the thing existing or just the knowledge that it could exist without having that confirmation is freakier than the confirmation itself.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. And well, let’s see. I don’t want to blow my wad here, because this is one of my answers to one of Lyta’s prompts, so I will just cosign that.
Lyta Gold: You can blow your wad, you’ll just be killed, because you get punished.
Julianne Siminitz: Yeah.
Maximillian Alvarez: But I think that that’s an important point though. Because, as we’ve all said, there are many shades to this, and many ways to view or receive horror. Because we had, like I said, a whole lot of scary content in the Alvarez household, from stories my folks would tell, to scary books, to scary movies. But within that, there was a wide variation, a lot of gore, a lot of monster horror like Tremors and Aliens that we really, really loved. But yeah, I would say that for me – And I’ll circle back to this in the final prompt for the episode – I think that I get the most scared – There are other horror movies that I may enjoy watching more, but I get the most viscerally afraid in that genre of horror film where you actually don’t really see the monster and it’s more implied, it’s more built up like a campfire story.
Lyta Gold: Yeah. Yeah, your brain can do a lot of work filling in those gaps and can make something. I often feel this way about, not just horrible things, but often things like violence in general. Sometimes things are just worse. Or things like rape scenes, they’re often more horrifying the less you see and the more that is implied, because you’re left to imagine these terrible things. And that keeps things from being exploitative, too, because it’s happening in your brain and you’re compelled by it.
But to get to the prompts, because I know we’re all rearing at the bit, I gave our lovely contestants today three prompts. And so let’s start with the first one. So the first one is, I said best horror movie or best horror story. And I don’t necessarily mean… like you can take this as the best made, maybe even if you don’t personally like it, or you can say your favorite. I’m going to allow any direction. I know Julianne’s going to do something real crazy that wasn’t what I had in mind, but it’s fun so yeah, yeah. Take it away guys. Best, most fun, most favorite, most Julienne?
Julianne Siminitz: Well, you know mine.
Maximillian Alvarez: Julianne’s like, let me tell you about STDs, kids.
Julianne Siminitz: Absolutely not. Actually, I’m going to go with a very conventional response here, Lyta, which is related to what we were just talking about, and that is Halloween, the original from 1978.
Maximillian Alvarez: Nice.
Lyta Gold: Yes.
Maximillian Alvarez: And Halloween II, you really… Well, especially in Halloween I, you never really see Michael Myers, you know what I mean? It’s more of this Rorschach blot that you can project your fears onto. So you see Michael, but he’s never really revealed to us. And so I think Halloween, Halloween I and Halloween II, for me, they sum up and really were the start sort of what horror movies, what we think of today, like all the tropes spun off from that movie.
Lyta Gold: Yeah, I think that’s fair. How do you feel about the rest of the Halloween franchise? It’s such a funny franchise, because it’s not at all the Marvel universe where things are all in a line. It’s like one is a sequel of one but not the other. It’s just like complete bananas. It’s great. It’s very fun.
Julianne Siminitz: Season of the Witch is really just a lesson in what not to do to a franchise. They’re like, what’s a checklist of bad choices we could make with this [inaudible] franchise? Do all of those things. Take out the protagonist, change everything that made it successful, and we’ll call it Halloween III: Season of The Witch. It was a mess.
Maximillian Alvarez: I mean, I haven’t watched it in like 20 years – Jesus, I’m old – 20 years, but do you guys remember in the early 2000s? Wasn’t LL Cool J in a Halloween movie?
Lyta Gold: Yes.
Maximillian Alvarez: Was that H2O?
Lyta Gold: Yes.
Maximillian Alvarez: I feel like –
Lyta Gold: And Josh Hartnett, I think, right?
Maximillian Alvarez: Wasn’t that good? I feel like I remember that being good.
Mel Beur: Justin Long, I thought.
Julianne Siminitz: You remember incorrectly, and also Busta Rhymes was also in that movie.
Maximillian Alvarez: Oh my God, Busta was in that.
Julianne Siminitz: And it was not good, but at the time I feel like I thought it was, so it could be a mixed bag. I don’t know. I can’t really [inaudible]
Maximillian Alvarez: I really also thought Deep Blue Sea was a good movie at the time, so maybe I just had bad taste as a teenager.
Julianne Siminitz: [crosstalk] Yeah.
Lyta Gold: Deep Blue Sea is very fun. That’s good shit if you like sharks – And my best friend loves sharks, so I’ve seen all of the shark movies with her – That is a fun shark attack movie if that’s what you’re after. But you have, to your parameters, these are not great moments in cinema.
Maximillian Alvarez: It’s a fun, shark-filled romp.
Lyta Gold: It’s a shark-filled romp and people get eaten. It’s fun.
Julianne Siminitz: Well, some people consider Jaws horror and that’s a shark-filled romp but I don’t really consider Jaws horror. I don’t know. What about you guys? I wouldn’t think Jaws is horror.
Mel Beur: Well, I feel like my friend and heartwarming comrade and colleague Ash Darrow from Horror Vanguard would have something to say about Jaws being horror. It scared the shit out of me, so that fits neatly into my definition of what horror is. I have a deep and abiding, horrific, nearly irrational fear of the open ocean as a result, so I think it did its job. So there’s that.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. It’s tough, because Jaws, for that very reason – And shout out to Ash and John of the Horror Vanguard podcast. If you guys like this spooky season episode, you should go check out their show because they do spooky season all year round – But yeah, I think for that same reason, there’s something… Maybe Jaws itself isn’t a horror movie, but it taps into this primordial sense of dread that I think we all have when it comes to the deep ocean.
There’s something, probably, inherent to being a land-walking, bipedal mammal, floating in what you can only perceive as a bottomless black environment that you are not native to and to have these massive teeth studded things just milling around beneath you, there’s something just… It’s hard to think of something more dread-inducing than that. And, of course, that’s what led so many people to be fucking terrified of the ocean and sharks, even undeservedly so, for so many years after Jaws.
Lyta Gold: That’s funny, actually, because now I’m understanding a lot of things. My best friend doesn’t really like Jaws that much. She loves the sharks. She’s rooting for the sharks. And I don’t think she finds shark movies horrifying, I think she finds them awesome when humans get eaten by sharks. So of course Jaws doesn’t work for her, because it’s not a real good sharks winning the day kind of movie. So yeah, it’s funny how fears can be very different for different people.
Mel Beur: Well, and it calls to mind, Max, and we talk about shark films, I also root for the shark –
Julianne Simitz: Yeah. Go shark.
Mel Beur: …In terms of, we are trespassers in their ecosystem, in their habitat. Of course, get your leg chopped off by 10 foot talons coming out of a shark. Talons, teeth.
Lyta Gold: They’re like talons.
Mel Beur: But I think Max calls to mind a really good point here, is that when we think about the deep open ocean, the promise, the potential of something being there that we can’t see even though we know it’s there, is kind of a lot of the reason why I like the thrillers that I like, where you don’t see this in your face gore. It’s this concept of our mind fills in all the scary possibilities that it could be,
and that’s terrifying.
Maximillian Alvarez: Right, well –
Mel Beur: What’s bumping around in the dark?
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and it’s for that reason that I feel like there were even times as a kid, because growing up in Southern California every apartment complex has a pool. And so if you were hanging out with your buddies and it’s past 10:00 when most of the pool gates close, and the little rent-a-cop will come around and lock the gate and turn off the lights, so you and your buddies wait until 10:15 and then you hop the fence and you jump in the pool. And I still remember there being a time in junior high where we were having fun, we were in this apartment complex pool and I was swimming in the deep end, and suddenly I just got this fear all the way down to the marrow of my bones because I couldn’t see the bottom of the pool. And it’s like something in the back of my brain unlocked that same type of fear. And I had this totally irrational sense that I was like, oh shit, a shark is about to come out and eat me.
Julianne Simitz: Pool shark.
Mel Beur: It’s that instinctual sort of feeling. Whatever instincts we have as human beings kicks in at that point, because we spent most of our evolutionary history sitting in the dark or surrounding a fire. We didn’t really get the beauty of living in this hell world of all light all the time. So the moments that we come up against this void of darkness is when the imagination really just hits you. And then it really becomes sort of a fight or flight situation because you can’t really break yourself from this feeling of threat when you can’t see what you’re supposed to be looking for.
Maximillian Alvarez: Ooh, get the spooky vibes.
Mel Beur: Maybe that’s a good segue to talk about my favorite, or what I think is great horror. I am a huge fan of horror novels in terms of historical ones. My master’s degree is in Victorian literature. I spent a lot of time reading interesting gothic narratives, particularly like vampire and monster narratives, because Bram Stoker was a huge nerd for that kind of shit.
I think, in many ways, Dracula is one of the better horror novels that exists. Not only because, I mean this could also be my answer for our next question, but I think that there’s some interesting things that get introduced within the type of novel that it is. It’s an epistolary novel, so you read it through journal entries and letters and receipts and the found footage of the Victorian era, if you will. I think that promise, that potential of something lurking outside of these pages, outside of the purview of the people who are recording these actions as they’re happening is what makes it so creepy, and I like that a lot.
I think it plays on these fears that you have as you read this, especially with supernatural type things. And not even getting into the sort of political analysis of what Dracula is from a political and post-colonial perspective. It’s fascinating to me.
Same thing with Stephen King’s Night Shift, the collection of short stories that eventually became most of his longer novels and movies, also good. This relentless, terrifying book. Highly recommend for those of your listeners who haven’t really been exposed to Stephen King beyond the typical blockbuster pop culture moments and don’t want to read through an entire Stephen King novel. Night Shift is one of the only books that I’ve read in my life that literally had me up awake at night. Terrifying, terrifying book. So those are my thoughts. I like the legacy of literature, and particularly horror literature, of that era. I think that we, especially early horror films, owe an enormous debt to the monsters that came out of the doom and gloom, the smog of Victorian England.
Julianne Simitz: The doom and gloom and hanging out with Lord Byron, which just…
Mel Beur: Right?
Julianne Simitz: Another reason to write monsters.
Maximillian Alvarez: The doom and gloom and syphilis is just like… Mel really picked a –
Julianne Simitz: The Holy Trinity.
Maximillian Alvarez: The big three. Mel had the coolest time period of literature to study. In another life I would go that route because I feel like the same sort of geekiness I feel hearing Mel talk about that would carry me through at least through a master’s. Whereas, like an idiot, I chose Russian literature, and that’s scary.
Julianne Simitz: All of a sudden I feel left field for studying religious studies and political science.
Mel Beur: Max, the funny thing is, I wish I had chosen Russian literature. So you want to switch? I’ll take your doctorate. I’ll take all of your accolades, and then you can take mine.
Maximillian Alvarez: You know what? That’s fair.
Julianne Simitz: Hold up, hold up.
Mel Beur: Seriously though, I find Bram Stoker the person to be so annoying, but I found his work to be particularly interesting, both from a political perspective – And this will get into the later topics that we talk about – But also just from dude liked monsters and spooky things and vilifying women, and generally writing these stories that really preyed upon anxieties of the general populous in the UK at the time, in Britain at the time. And really played up the anxieties of the political moments that were happening at the time and creating these narratives that are enduring and terrifying. Dracula is one of those.
I can nerd out about this for hours, but the sort of critical and cultural commentary that comes out of studying a book like Dracula is probably one of the reasons why I ended up in the master’s degree field that I ended up in. I was exposed to this book as an undergraduate and found it to be particularly impactful on my understanding of horror as a genre, of gothic studies as a genre, of the political moment in which we live currently. All that. Fascinating. Okay, I’m off my soapbox. I’ll let someone else talk.
Lyta Gold: I do want to back up to one quick thing. Max, are you telling me that Russian literature wasn’t gloomy enough? Wasn’t monstrous enough?
Maximillian Alvarez: Oh, no. It was one of those things. It had gloom for days, baby.
Lyta Gold: Can you tell me those brothers K aren’t monsters in their way?
Maximillian Alvarez: Well there are some really great usages of the supernatural in Russian literature. But it’s rarely ever scary in the way that Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley is. I think the one that takes the cake is Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. There’s just so much supernatural –
Julianne Simitz: Margaritas?
Maximillian Alvarez: Yes, Julianne.
Julianne Simitz: Sorry, guys.
Lyta Gold: You could mash that up with wasting away in Margaritaville. I don’t know how you would do it, but someone’s got to.
Maximillian Alvarez: I love this. Yeah, it’s just an updated Master and Margarita, Master and Margs, and Julianne’s just there in Moscow, just hanging out with Behemoth, the five foot tall cat who’s from hell.
There’s so much supernatural stuff going on in that book, and there’s even some in Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Pushkin and so on and so forth. And Gogol, maybe Gogol, I guess what people call his Ukrainian period, before he moved to St. Petersburg and was writing kind of a more different type of story when he got there. There was a lot of Ukrainian folklore that Gogol would play on in his short stories.
Some of them were quite creepy, including this famous story he wrote called V, which is based on a folktale about a witch that would basically possess men in the night and ride them across the countryside. That was probably the closest it got to scary. I think that the Victorian literature that Mel’s talking about, I’ve always found taps into a different kind of horror. I don’t know, maybe that’s because I’m an English speaker.
Mel Beur: Or because the British are more horrifying in terms of what they were doing to the world.
Julianne Simitz: Certainly the British Empire was, for sure. Yeah.
Mel Beur: Yeah.
Julianne Simitz: And the Victorian literature is the political and popular responses to really outsized international empire problems, really. And especially Dracula. Dracula plays into those anxieties of the fall of empire in the 1890s, which is being felt extremely economically and through popular culture, through culture in general, is being felt and causing these extreme moments of anxiety.
There’s a whole genre of literature in the later half of the 19th century called invasion literature that plays upon these fears. Britain at large has always been this impregnable fortress of empire building. And as the empires, the borders of empire are slowly but surely being sucked back into Britain itself, you no longer have the conquest that dominated the world for 300, 400 years.
Really, you start to see how these anxieties play out. And Dracula is an invasion narrative about a diseased man coming from the Baltic area, you know what I mean? Which is playing upon the same sort of anxieties of, now that we are not as strong, we will see our shores breached. There’s all sorts of crazy books. I mean even War of the Worlds plays on those anxieties in the same way.
Mel Beur: What about Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Is that colonization or no?
Julianne Simitz: You know, that I’ve never seen.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well it’s funny because that that’s actually my answer to one of the prompts and really, when you look at it –
Mel Beur: Now I blew your load. I’m sorry.
Maximillian Alvarez: No, no, no [laughs].
We’ll get to this when we get to that term, but I mean, in most respects, it’s a Red Scare parable. But yeah, I feel like maybe when we talked about this a little bit in last year’s spooky season panel that we did when we were announcing the beginning of Lyta’s amazing show Art for the End Times, which was a lot of fun. If folks haven’t listened to that, definitely go back and check that out. Because I think it holds up if you want more spooky season content, we’ve got another great episode from last year that we can link to in the show notes for this, yada yada yada.
But yeah, I feel like we talked a little bit about that sort of reverse colonialism fear embodied in Dracula. Like you said, Mel, this old world Balkanism infecting the British empire and all that stuff. And this sort of leads into – And I don’t want to talk too much to this, I’ll do my answer really quick – To the first prompt, but it leads into what was going to be my honorable mention. And side note. I feel like based on what Mel was saying, Bram Stoker is, I feel like I always thought of him, the comic book guy from Simpsons, but walking around London.
But if folks want to check out something that’s really, really great, and it’s only six minutes long, and I can’t remember if I mentioned this in last year’s episode, but The New York Times actually illustrated an official report from an imperial provisor of the Austrian Empire in 1725, where he wrote this report about how the townspeople were terrified of a man in the town who had died. And all the townspeople were saying they were seeing him at night and he was choking people. And so they dug him up and they discover he was a vampire, but I won’t give everything away.
But they illustrate this in such a great way in this short, which is called First Bite. So if you just type in New York Times First Bite, you’ll find it. But it’s really worth watching. So that was my honorable mention answer to this prompt. But going with the illustration theme, I think I have to give a shout out to my favorite piece of horror in the sense that it stuck with me for so long and had such an impact on me and my brothers, and then later my sister when we were kids, is the awesome trilogy, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Julianne Simitz: Yes.
Maximillian Alvarez: More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Yes. And Scary Stories Three.
Julianne Simitz: I will never forget. Those drawings have stuck with me.
Lyta Gold: The spider coming out of the… Yeah, no, everything.
Julianne Simitz: The skulls and the trees, the illustrations really sold that book. But yeah, hella scary. Agreed.
Maximillian Alvarez: So that’s it for me. I mean that’s what everyone remembers. The stories are great, and the stories are collected by Alvin Schwartz, but the drawings are by Stephen Gammell.
Mel Beur: Shout out to Stephen. He scared the shit out of me when –
Maximillian Alvarez: He scared the shit out of our entire generation, I feel. I think it was in 2012, because so many parents had complained, they actually re-released these books with bullshit, toned down illustrations. Oh yeah. It’s a real travesty. So yeah, to hell with those books. But definitely, if you guys haven’t, go check out the originals, because there’s something just so unnerving and uncanny, and something that just, especially as a kid. It’s funny looking at these illustrations now, it’s like, well I guess I can see why parents complain, because these are pretty fucking terrifying.
Julianne Simitz: It’s supposed to be. You don’t have to be so protected and so sheltered that we can’t experience fear.
Lyta Gold: Oh my God, really. No, this is a soapbox issue for me. My little nieces and nephews, they get a little bit scared watching part of a movie, and my sister turns it off. Don’t turn it off. Let them have nightmares. It’s normal.
Julianne Simitz: Okay.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, I mean, I’m with you, again. Yeah.
Lyta Gold: We turned out fine. We’re all fine.
Julianne Simitz: I don’t have children. Spoiler alert, I’m not fucking anyone up over here. I don’t…
Maximillian Alvarez: The woke agenda won’t let us have these terrifying illustrations anymore.
Julianne Simitz: Exactly.
Maximillian Alvarez: But believe you me, they are terrifying. And I mean, I just wanted to pick one. And again, folks can find the illustrations online if you haven’t seen them. The stories are great, too. But the one that stuck with me is Harold, which is the story of a scarecrow that comes to life. And the drawing of it is so creepy.
It almost looks like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre version of a scarecrow. And then the story itself is the scarecrow comes to life, starts grunting in the middle of the night, and the two guys, who are sheep herders, are up in this cabin and there’s no one around. And they get spooked out. So they decide to say, fuck this, we’re leaving. But then they forget something in the cabin and one of them has to go back and –
Julianne Simitz: Classic mistake.
Maximillian Alvarez: Classic mistake. And so they got to draw straws. One of them goes back and then the other guy’s waiting, he doesn’t come back. So then he just looks over the ridge and he sees this scarecrow on the roof laying out a bloody skin to dry on the roof. And as a kid that gave me so many nightmares. But you’re right, Lyta, It’s like I wouldn’t trade that in. I think that it had, again, that magical, terrifying staying power.
Lyta Gold: It’s good for children to experience strong emotions. Not every strong emotion is a trauma. It’s something that’s happening in horror movies, and we can get to it, is that everything is very trauma focused. And with this idea that trauma is the absolute worst, a bad experience is the worst thing that can happen to you. And that every negative thing is a bad experience. And that is not the case. There’s all kinds of books like that. This is jumping holidays slightly, but there’s Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with this being non-Jew.
Maximillian Alvarez: No, but that is our new band name.
Julianne Simitz: Sounds like a great band name. I’m in.
Lyta Gold: It’s a fucking great book. And there is a page with the king of the goblins, and it is scary fucking shit. This is just a cute kids’ book. And there’s this scary, scary page in it.
Julianne Simitz: Jews know what’s up, man. They’re like, scare our kids. They don’t know what’s up. It’s okay. There’s a lesson in this. [inaudible]
Lyta Gold: There were some pretty scary people who were around. It’s in shadow. You never really see it. I guess this is my pick. I didn’t realize Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins is my pick, but it’s my pick. Yeah. You don’t really ever see the king of the goblins very close. And it is terrifying, but it’s memorable. And I think about it all the time. And I don’t think I’m traumatized by the King of the Goblins. I go back to it. It’s fun to read that to my nieces and nephews and then for them to be terrified and not want to look at the page. And make them look at the page. Because they should be scared. It’s scary.
Julianne Simitz: The other type of horror that really fucks me up is when it’s like, it could happen, and it feels like real enough that you could imagine it happening. For example, The Shining, I feel like that could happen. As someone who has recently moved in with their family during the pandemic.
Lyta Gold: It’s a very relatable scenario.
Julianne Simitz: During two winters, about to head into her third, I fucking relate, Jack.
Maximillian Alvarez: But I love how that went from Julianne being like, yeah, The Shining could happen to you. And I’m thinking, Oh man, a ghost bartender could appear, or a blood-filled elevator. And Julianne’s like, no, I could see killing my parents.
Julianne Simitz: No, I like where your head’s at. That scene and The Shining will always stick with me. The blood elevator scene.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah.
Julianne Simitz: There’s something so powerful and memorable about it. I’ll never lose it. So I think it’s moments like that in horror that, whether I remember all the specific stories in Story Scaries to Tell in the Dark or the plot of fucking Halloween VII. The stuff that sticks with you, sticks with you. And that’s why I love horror. It’s so individual for everyone, the thing that scares you most. That’s why it’s so fun. People can find what they want in it.
Lyta Gold: So moving on from the personal, what’s good for us, and then Mel touched on this a bit, the next prompt is going to be political horror because as Mel was saying, a lot of this stuff doesn’t just touch on personal fears, it touches on these social anxieties and fears of the other. Victorian literature does this all the time, these buried acknowledgements of what the society is really up to but can’t admit to, which I find kind of interesting. I mean obviously Mel’s going to say Dracula Mel. You can say Dracula again. You can say Dracula a hundred.
Mel Beur: Oh, I actually, I was
Lyta Gold: thinking of a different Bram Stoker.
No, do it. Let’s hear it.
Julianne Simitz: I was going to say it’s going to be the David Simon of this episode.
Lyta Gold: It must be a David Simon in every episode.
Mel Beur: It’s funny, because the reason I’m thinking about this now is because last night, I’ve been going through this spooky season horror list with my partner. This is our way of bridging the distance in our long distance relationship. And we watched Dracula 1992 last night – Horrible film. Horrible film. The adaptation pissed me off – But anyways, so I got on a Bram Stoker kick talking to my partner about it the other night, last night. And there is a book, it’s one of the last books that Bram Stoker wrote. It’s called Lady of the Shroud. And it’s this very interesting sort of political drama, horror, with horror elements that I found to be…
I was so fascinated by the book I presented at four different conferences on it when I was in grad school. And it’s this story about this British aristocrat who takes up residence in his kooky, now dead uncle’s castle in this Balkan state that doesn’t actually exist, and finds himself embroiled in this wild mystery where this young woman all shrouded in white keeps appearing to him in his castle.
And she’s made out to be this legendary princess who was killed, and you learn all these things about her. Turns out that she’s sort of Snow Whited kind of thing where she’s kind of asleep and only can wake up at a certain time, and the spell is lifted or what have you. And he ends up leading this revolution in this Balkan state for independence.
And there’s this wild story. There’s these weird sci-fi elements to it. It’s got pretty much everything. And, apparently, the scholarship is that Bram Stoker was fascinated by the independence movement in Montenegro at the time. And so he created this space and this Balkan state to build out this shucking off of colonialism and empire in an effort for self-determination and creating this new nation state, eventually leading to the united Balkan states that was the political reality, I think, at the time. Underappreciated political spooky book, highly recommend. Some problematic things in it, but Bram Stoker himself is a problematic man, so take that with a grain of salt, but I think it’s great. I think it’s a great book. It’s one of the last books he wrote before he died. It’s like 1907. Fascinating stuff. True breakup of empire kind of thing.
Julianne Simitz: I just had to google him. I mean, I remember Bram Stoker’s Dracula, obviously, but I just googled, and five fun facts about him. The number one is that he fought with Oscar Wilde over a woman.
Mel Beur: Wait, what? How did he manage that?
Julianne Simitz: I don’t know. Let me do more research now.
Mel Beur: He was also…
Julianne Simitz: I hadn’t thought about [inaudible 00:46:56].
Mel Beur: Yeah, he was also the manager of the Lyceum Theater, and he was very much a huge advocate for Irish Home Rule. He’s born in Ireland, born in Dublin. Went to Trinity College Dublin as a sprightly six-foot-six rugby player of a man. Did not have very good relationships with people, generally kind of a weird guy. Wrote some great stories.
Julianne Simitz: He’s a writer, of course.
Mel Beur: Yeah.
Julianne Simitz: As a writer, I can make that joke.
Mel Beur: I’m sure if any Irish scholars are listening to this, they’re probably screeching at me about my own thoughts about his books and who he was. But yeah, I found him… He’s an odious piece of shit, but his work is really good.
Lyta Gold: One of the things I love about academics is just how incredibly angry they get over… We always have to do caveats. I guess it was our last episode, we had Medieval [inaudible] and we have to be very careful about what they say, because people get mad. Academia is a horror show in itself. People are… The littlest things.
Maximillian Alvarez: That was honestly why I was so excited yet terrified for you to record that episode. I think we talked about this, because… I remember this not just from when I was in academia in grad school, but especially when I was an editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education in the opinion section, because the most vociferous, the vociferously worded op-eds that we got were invariably from Medievalists who just took such umbrage with the most minuscule thing in an article you could imagine. They were like, they used this term and it’s not quite accurate. I’m going to write 2000 words about how this specific professor is a piece of shit. It’s like, guys, calm down. What is in the water in the medieval departments?
Lyta Gold: They want to do dueling, but dueling is banned, but we got to bring back dueling, just for them.
Julianne Simitz: Good. Medieval think pieces.
Mel Beur: My one lukewarm take about particularly humanities academics is that we spend the majority of our careers trying to justify the existence of our research to administrators who would like to dangle checks in front of us, and then rip them away at the last minute, that it turns into extreme internal toxic shit slinging just for the sake of it, because… Whomst among us in the academy have not flung choice words over some minuscule notes? See, I don’t give a shit. You know what I mean? Let me put it, as someone who’s very close to finally taking a step out of academia, I cannot wait. Let them duke it out in their 200, 300 tweet long threads. Hopefully, they get the funding they’re looking for. I don’t know, man. They’re fun. It’s great. I love that episode, by the way. Really fantastic.
Lyta Gold: We had a lot of fun with that.
Maximillian Alvarez: I mean, Mel, if you don’t want to be associate editor here, if you want to stay over there, I mean, it’s up to you.
Mel Beur: No. You’re going to pry this job from my cold, dead hands. I’m so excited. I love teaching. That’s my one thing. I don’t talk a whole lot about my career as an academic or what I do in higher education simply because the current political climate, that’s not conducive. But I love teaching. I hate the politics, and any attempts to try and continue to unionize adjuncts have been met with extreme uphill battles. And so, I would like to see the academy and all of the administrative corporatist assholes who are turning universities into corporations crash and burn. Hopefully, we can build something beautiful from the ashes of that. That is the only thing that I will say about academia in a public forum. That’s it.
Julianne Simitz: Okay. All right. Snaps over here for you.
Maximillian Alvarez: Dilly dilly.
Lyta Gold: Not enough about academics, as I’m thinking about it. I was like, man, I want to go see some movies where academics get murdered, and I’m like… It’s like college students.
Julianne Simitz: There’s not many [inaudible].
Lyta Gold: Yeah, they’re college students. Yeah, we got to write it. [inaudible]
Mel Beur: Closest to a horror would probably be The Chair on Netflix, which is the worst show ever.
Maximillian Alvarez: It’s horrific in its rosy depiction of what academia actually looks like.
Okay, we’re doing political horror. Mel’s gone, so we still need me, Julianne, and Lyta to go. I can go.
Julianne Simitz: This is exactly how he runs a staff meeting, by the way. I felt a flashback to our last…
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, giving the listeners what they want, me hastily running through a haphazardly constructed agenda.
Julianne Simitz: Horrible.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. For my political horror, it’s already been said, but I came back to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If folks haven’t watched the movie in a long time, I would actually highly recommend that you do, because it’s just a great horror film. It’s really well made. Even for “the time”, I remember being scared out of my wits as a kid with these 19… What was it, early ’70s? Was it made in the ’60s? ’56 was the original. And then the one with Donald Sutherland was ’78, so that’s the one that I’m thinking of. The ’78 version just scared the living shit out of me. Even now, when I see the… There’s no CGI, really. It’s all latex and stuff.
Julianne Simitz: It cost only $416,000 to make.
Maximillian Alvarez: Wow. That’s insane, man.
Julianne Simitz: It made $3 million in the box office, which was a big deal back then.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s really good. The pacing is great. You get this kind of… That’s something that you mentioned earlier, Lyta, that I would just say. One of my soap boxes when it comes to horror films is I get so frustrated with how bad modern horror films are at pacing.
Lyta Gold: Pacing is a lost fucking art in everything right now, and it’s making me goddamn insane.
Maximillian Alvarez: Jesus. No, it’s horrible, because it’s just like… It takes all the sentiment. It takes all the sexiness out of sexy situations. It takes all the fear out of horrific and terrifying situations. It’s just…
Julianne Simitz: What’s your issue with pacing? What’s the issue? It’s too slow? It’s too fast? The reveal is too quick?
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. There’s no foreplay. It’s just all straight into the bed. Thus, you don’t care about the characters who get merked because you haven’t had time to really attach to them.
Julianne Simitz: You know what? This is a problem, because it’s all about those first 10 pages of script. Those first 10 pages have to do a million fucking things. In a horror, that has to scare you and surprise you and stand out from the pack of a million other horror scripts. It’s like, how do you do that in the first 10 pages? You can’t spend that real estate making us care about characters, unfortunately. I mean, that’s just like… That’s the conundrum of the writer, right? [inaudible]
You can’t really set up caring about these people in the world because they’re like, we want action in the first 10 pages and we’re not going to give you time to build the world or the people, the characters. It’s like this tough… Not that I’m defending the shit horror that’s out there, because there is a lot of shit horror out there, but I do think that’s one of the problems, is that there’s so much pressure to get the game going in 10 pages that you lose some of that character development.
Lyta Gold: I didn’t realize that’s been happening in scripts, but it makes so much sense, and it’s been happening all over the place in publishing, especially in genre fiction. They really, really… A lot of genre fiction often has very strong openings. And then basically nobody really cares what happens after that. Yeah. Strong, action-y, exciting, set the premise, blah, blah. It’s all marketing. They’re only worried about marketing the book, not about it being any good.
Julianne Simitz: Exactly.
Lyta Gold: Same shit.
Julianne Simitz: Same shit.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. I mean, it’s a trap where no one can really win. I don’t know how, as a writer, you really… You can’t really write your way out of that. Maybe you get lucky once or twice, but there’s really no way to carry the genre forward when you’re trapped.
Julianne Simitz: You earn your way out of it. You earn your way out of it. Like Quentin Tarantino – And we’re not talking about horror anymore – But Quentin Tarantino can do whatever the fuck he wants because it’s Quentin Tarantino. And so, Stephen King can do whatever the fuck Stephen King wants, because he’s Stephen King. It’s like you have to somehow play the game, and then be willing to disrupt it in order to make something that feels fresh. I think that’s a challenge for artists right now, because it is about the marketing and it is about what can you do in 10 pages that we can sell this to this production company and sell it to this actor and sell it to this… It’s the business part that causes the art to suffer.
Maximillian Alvarez: I feel like the last “great” example of that – Also, by the way, an example of someone who should not be given free reign to do what they wanted is M. Night Shyamalan. Everyone was like, yeah, let M. Night do whatever he wants. I was like, no, no, no. Someone reign this guy in, because this stuff sucks. And then, I don’t know how…
Julianne Simitz: [inaudible] old people on a beach. That’s where we are with his movies. What the fuck?
Maximillian Alvarez: They suck. Anyway, I won’t go down that road.
Julianne Simitz: Yeah, it’s really…
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah.
Julianne Simitz: After “I see dead people”, it’s really gone downhill.
Maximillian Alvarez: It does. I still really like Signs. I think that… Again, you’re talking about pacing. I think it has good pacing. It’s a little hackneyed in the way that it tries to tie every bow, but I still think it’s a creepy movie. But after that, it goes downhill for me.
But anyway, I’ll wrap up and say that Invasion of the Body Snatchers, particularly the ’78 version, that’s the one that I grew up on and loved. The pacing is great. You end up not only getting more invested in these characters, but you get familiar enough with their world and their interactions so that you as a viewer can start to feel the terror of noticing that something is off. Because if you don’t know them well enough, you’re not going to really be able to tell if this character is acting a little differently or if a warmth between two characters is suddenly gone.
I think that that is what is so powerful about that movie, and so primordial. Yeah, it is, on its face, a very blatant anti-communist red baiting allegory for how people get sucked into this nefarious ideology and suddenly they’re unrecognizable. That was obviously the great fear during the Cold War, this outside infiltration that makes us not us anymore, fundamentally un-American, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I think that there’s something, even absent that content, there’s something about the form in this movie that I still find so terrifying, and did even as a kid. I remember having nightmares watching this. I didn’t know anything about the communist message. I just felt so terrified at the thought that I, as young Max, who knew who I was, who was in possession of myself, that suddenly I would lose that. That was probably my first existential crisis.
I would be like, who would I be if that was the case? You then start to realize how fragile your sense of self really is and how terrifying the prospect of losing that is. That stayed with me for the rest of my life. My mom’s side of the family, there is a history of dementia. My mom doesn’t have dementia, but this is something we would talk about, because it’s something that we both fear greatly. It taps into that same sense. Suddenly, the people that you have known aren’t themselves anymore.
There’s something so existentially terrifying about losing that. I think about those moments when a character knows that these body snatchers are closing in on them, and the panicked squeal of their souls to not lose themselves, to not succumb to this, to not be overcome by this evil force. And then suddenly, it’s just all gone. There’s something about that moment of impending loss of one’s self… That, I think, is the thing that still gives me nightmares. It’s one of the things that’s terrified me about long COVID. It’s just one of these fears that constantly preys on my mind. I think Invasion of the Body Snatchers captures it perfectly.
Lyta Gold: That’s one of the reasons I think that the movie, The Thing, doesn’t work that well for me, because it’s a similar premise, but you don’t get to know the characters very well. And so, it’s all concept – And people really love it and it does look cool – But you don’t get to know the people. It is not as viscerally terrible when they start to all become aliens.
Julianne Simitz: There was definitely more of a slow burn mentality in horror in the ’60s and ’70s. You had some time to establish characters and their world and stuff. Unfortunately, I just don’t think… I think modern horror suffers from the expectation that somebody has to be murder raped in the first five minutes. I think that there’s not enough time setting up, like you said.
Also, think about classics like Rosemary’s Baby. Those all took some time like, let’s get to know these crazy people that live in this apartment building and how could you tell if they were strange?, giving us just a little bit at a time. I do think that modern horror suffers from that a bit.
Lyta Gold: Julianne, besides the politics of making horror movies, what’s your horror [inaudible]?
Julianne Simitz: I’m going to have to say… Actually, this just came to me while we were talking. I was going to say something else, but now I’m going to say Poltergeist.
Lyta Gold: Yeah, that’s a great one.
Julianne Simitz: That’s a good one. It has to do with developers, evil developers, and building on an Indigenous burial ground and all of that. I’m going to go ahead and say Poltergeist.
Lyta Gold: Yeah. Speaking of one with iconic imagery, too. Yeah, that is a great movie.
Julianne Simitz: Yeah, that did scare the out of me. I mean, first of all, the lady who’s no longer with us, RIP, but she was like [inaudible], the short lady in Poltergeist, and then the little blonde girl and the TV. I was always worried about getting sucked into the TV as a kid. I’m old enough to remember when it would go salt and pepper, or whatever you call it, the ants or… I don’t know, what do you call them when the TV is…
Mel Beur: Static?
Julianne Simitz: Yeah. Thank you. Static, Mel. Thank you. That’s the word that normal people use.
Lyta Gold: The ants. I like the ants.
Maximillian Alvarez: Salt and pepper, that’s adorable.
Lyta Gold: I really like that.
Julianne Simitz: But anyway, I’m old enough to remember that. And so, when the little girl’s television would go from the national anthem to static, that would scare me.
Lyta Gold: From the national anthem to the ants.
Maximillian Alvarez: To the ants.
Lyta Gold: The ants!
Maximillian Alvarez: I mean, for me, it was that tree. It was the thought of getting eaten by a tree, because there was one outside my window kind of like that. And so, on those creepy foggy nights, which you don’t get many of in Southern California, but when they happen and you got that eerie shadow of the tree creeping across your wall.
Julianne Simitz: [inaudible] are blowing in.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah.
Julianne Simitz: I can feel it. Yeah, I can feel it.
Maximillian Alvarez: What about you, Lyta? Political horror.
Lyta Gold: It’s very hard for me to pick just one, but I figured out there’s a theme in horror that I like a lot, which is just the horror of being a woman. A lot of horror movies have female protagonists, probably more than any other genre except maybe romantic comedies. When you think about it, and I’ve noticed this when I go to watch movies in the theater and I see previews, if it’s a horror movie, it usually has a female protagonist. It’s not always, but usually. If it’s any other kind of movie, it doesn’t, as a general rule.
It’s kind of our genre, which is interesting. But yeah, there’s just a whole bunch of movies that are just about being a woman. I just watched Cat People, which is this movie from the 1940s. I think it was remade at some point in the ’70s, but I haven’t seen the remake. The ’40s movie is great. It’s gorgeous. It’s weird. It’s about a woman who thinks that she’s… She’s from some Balkan State, I think. And then, she’s got this fear that she’s going to turn into a cat.
Julianne Simitz: [inaudible]
Lyta Gold: Yeah. The Balkans, that’s where the scary people come from.
Julianne Simitz: Really representing tonight.
Lyta Gold: Yeah, I think it’s the Balkans, anyway. I did just see it. I should know this. Yeah, I think she’s Serbian. Anyway, she has this fear of that she’s going to turn into a cat and it has to do with jealousy and like… The way that women have to be contained, socially contained. She’s worried that she’s going to explode and eat everyone around her. It’s great. It’s just this gorgeous, gorgeous movie. And then, there’s tons of movies that take this. The Babadook takes this, which is… The Babadook is a very scary movie [inaudible].
Julianne Simitz: I have not seen that.
Lyta Gold: It might be the straight up scariest one I’ve seen.
Julianne Simitz: Really? Okay, I’m going to watch that tonight. Last night, I ended up devoting… I ended up devoting last night, in preparation to this, to watching the new Hellraiser.
Lyta Gold: Is it good, the new one?
Julianne Simitz: You know what? A billionaire dies, spoiler alert. That’s a happy ending, you guys. Happy ending in my book.
Lyta Gold: Yeah, the Babadook is about the horror of being a mother. I mean, it’s about other things, too.
Julianne Simitz: Yeah, that sounds horrible.
Lyta Gold: It’s really… Yeah, this woman, her husband died.
Julianne Simitz: I mean, for me.
Lyta Gold: Yeah. Yeah, it is very horrible, because I don’t have kids either because children are horrible. She’s got a horrible son that she’s raising on her own, and she’s exhausted and he sucks, and there’s a demon. It’s great fun. It’s so fucking scary though. That’s one where you actually see the monster, but it’s legit too scary.
Julianne Simitz: I’m in. I’m sold.
Lyta Gold: And then, one other that I recommend is Dark Water, which is 2004 maybe. It’s Jennifer Connelly. I feel like I’ve talked about it on this podcast before, because I’m obsessed with it. It’s extremely fucking real. It’s one of these very real ones. Another single mom who’s having trouble with parenting her kid, although her kid is much cooler than the Babadook kid. And then she moves to this crappy apartment on Roosevelt Island where there’s mold in the ceiling and her landlord and her super are fighting and they’re not taking care of it. There’s a creepy laundry room. It’s not the scariest movie ever, but because the things in it are such real things that happen…
Julianne Simitz: Yeah. I was like, that sounds like an apartment I lived in in DC.
Lyta Gold: Exactly. And then, it’s all the horror of being stuck in this place and having all this stuff going on in your life and you can’t fix these things, and you’re just trapped and helpless. It’s extremely fucking scary.
Julianne Simitz: I mean, I think we’d be remiss if we did not at least mention Get Out.
Lyta Gold: Yeah. God, yeah. [inaudible]
Julianne Simitz: …Horror moment, I think it may be a played out answer at this point, but I do feel like we would be wrong to not mention how…
Lyta Gold: We would be canceled for not mentioning it. Correct. For good reason.
Julianne Simitz: And for good reason.
Maximillian Alvarez: On that front, I guess, just to close the loop, because I think we all saw where you were going, Julianne, with Poltergeist, but there is something very deeply American in that plot. In many ways, it’s the apotheosis of the, this terrible stuff is happening because we’re on stolen land. Because we’re on an Indian burial ground kind of thing. That trope, I think… There’s a really great book called… Colin Dickey, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places. It’s worth a read. It’s not a very scary book. I wanted it to be scary, but it’s a really good book. It talks about that.
It tries to dig into the underlying sense of guilt and historical injury that undergird a lot of our horror stories and fantasies in this country. Obviously, there’s this perpetual fear… There’s a perpetual guilt that America is a fucking colonial country that is predicated upon the rape, murder, and genocide of an entire Indigenous population, and we just all try to forget that as much as we can. But horror seems to be the genre where that repressed sense of guilt, that repressed fear that it could all get stolen as quickly as we stole the world away from others, that always comes up. So I would highly recommend that book. But that’s underlying all of both of those.
Julianne Simitz: I love that. Yeah. Yeah, that’s good. I love that horror for white people is just being treated the same way we’ve treated everybody else. Cool, oh. Oh, noted.
Lyta Gold: Too real.
Julianne Simitz: Too real.
Lyta Gold: Yeah.
Julianne Simitz: That’s my brand, you guys. This is too real.
Lyta Gold: Too real. I could see you handing out a business card that says your name and “Too real” and nothing else.
Julianne Simitz: Yeah. Yeah. The next card. Thank you.
Lyta Gold: Oh man. Well, as much fun as we’re having, we should move on to the more obscure ones. So the final topic is a really more obscure thing. I’m sure somebody listening to this is going to be like, that’s not obscure, I know it.”t If you do know it, you’re very special, and we really appreciate you and really appreciate how knowledgeable you are, so you can …
Julianne Simitz: You’re very special.
Lyta Gold: You’re very special.
Julianne Simitz: [inaudible]. Go home.
Lyta Gold: But yeah, so something maybe that’s a little off the beaten path. Maybe something that doesn’t play on these tropes or is something that is more of an indie film or not a well known book that you think that people should really know about.
Mel Beur: Okay. There is a movie, it’s 1962. It’s called Peeping Tom. I don’t know if you are aware of this, if you watch 1960s horror movies.
Lyta Gold: Yeah.
Mel Beur: Just recently watched it as part of spooky season. The movie follows a sort of a loner. His job is as a focus puller, which is an assistant to the cameraman. God, my partner’s going to kill me. He works in film. He’s going to be listening to this later like, Mel, what the fuck? He’s a focus puller, so he works with the camera operators for film and TV. This guy… The whole movie you’re trying to figure out what is going on in terms of like, folks are getting killed on camera. Okay? So you’re watching this – I hope hopefully we don’t have to worry too much about spoilers here, but….
Lyta Gold: It did come out in 1962, so if you don’t want spoilers…
Mel Beur: If no one’s watching it, I am just trying to be… I don’t know.
Maximillian Alvarez: You don’t have to be too conscientious about something that came out almost a century ago.
Mel Beur: …Careful about, of people who would screech about spoilers.
Lyta Gold: 1962 was not a century ago. You’re stressing me out.
Mel Beur: Yeah, that… Hold on, Max. No, so you’re watching, the opening scene of this movie is you are watching a sex worker get murdered. It’s this first person view. You’re watching it as if someone had put on a GoPro.
Julianne Simitz: Good.
Mel Beur: It is freaky. The story follows this man who ultimately is determined that he has this compulsion for voyeurism due to extreme childhood trauma and things that happened to him when he was a kid at the hands of his father. He starts this cycle in motion of wanting to finish what he calls a documentary, and so he’s killing these women and he’s taking video of it.
The secondary plot here is that he meets a young woman in the house that he owns, who is like a tenant, and he falls in love with her. It’s this really sad secondary plot of… It’s the sort of trope where if they had met earlier, maybe he wouldn’t become a serial killer kind of thing that you feel is really tired at this point. This movie made it feel fresh and just a terribly tragic ending to this story.
It’s a brilliant film. The main character’s job as a focus puller, usually he’s just invisible. So he’s grappling with the space of wanting to A, be in front of or the operator of this camera, someone who is trying to figure out ways to get over and indulge in this extreme compulsion to voyeurism – He’s a peeping Tom – And also fading into the background. I don’t know, it’s a fantastic film. It is tragic. It is terrifying. It’s ripe for analysis, if you’re one of those folks. I had a lot of fun watching it and discussing it with my partner. That’s my underappreciated horror is that. It’s 1962, is Peeping Tom. Passing the mic on to someone else.
Lyta Gold: That sounds crazy stuff.
Julianne Simitz: I love it. I have not heard of that, but I’m totally going to check it out. I love old horror.
Mel Beur: It’s insane. I’m beginning to really like ’60s horror specifically because we’ve been watching a bunch of it. There’s something really unique about ’60s horror that you guys have touched on in the last 20 minutes or so. Pacing is different. The ways in which the writing reveals things or leaves things obscure feels different. A lot of the tropes that we feel are really tired now, that are actually now tropes in horror writing, feel extremely fresh in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
I think a lot of that has to do with the transition from radio to more horror films and horror television, because we have the sort of illustrious golden era of radio horror in the ’50s and early ’60s. That same sort of velvety writing really translates well to screen, particularly in an era that I think maybe post Hays Code, we get a little bit of a relaxation after the ’40s and ’50s in terms of what is allowed to be seen on screen. We see these censors pulling back a little bit. I’m getting to the shallow end of my own film history here, but it seems to me like, in that era, you get this gorgeous sort of set of really incredible thrillers and psychological dramas and all these types of things that are just, chef’s kiss. Really, really lovely. Anyways, I hope you watch it. I think it’s great. I think it’s a fascinating movie.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah, brother.
Mel Beur: And it’s real. It’s real. It’s not supernatural. It’s how we can imagine and look at someone experiencing extreme trauma for his entire life, where he has spent his entire life being filmed by his father, and what that does to his psyche and how he tries to grapple and cope with what that’s turned him into is a fascinating examination. Anyways, I’ll talk about this forever so –
Lyta Gold: Oh, it’s available for free on Tubi. A free service. All right, I might watch that tonight.
Julianne Simitz: Yeah, Tubi’s great, actually. Free plug for Tubi. You get all sorts of great, old, weird stuff on there. [inaudible] do you remember that show, Alienation, from the ’90s?
Lyta Gold: Ah, yeah.
Julianne Simitz: Big fan.
Maximillian Alvarez: Is that on Tubi?
Julianne Simitz: Dude, I have rewatched that series so, so much. It is very political – Actually, we should talk about that on this show sometime. That show is hella political and it talks about immigration and class and all sorts of things. But anyway, also available on Tubi.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, we should have a ’90s episode.
Lyta Gold: Yeah. Oh, that’s such a fun idea.
Mel Beur: That would be so fun.
Lyta Gold: We’ll have to wear flannel. No one will see it because this is audio, but we’ll all be wearing flannel.
Maximillian Alvarez: People can hear it when you’re wearing flannel. You adopt a certain tone. It’s a vibe.
Julianne Simitz: It’s a vibe.
Maximillian Alvarez: Okay, I can go in the… So this is our final term, unappreciated or underappreciated Horror. So yeah, I kind of mentioned mine at the top. Both of mine, so they’re kind of early aughts movies. They’re by no means the best horror movies that have ever been made. I want to be very clear that I’m not saying that. I’m saying that there’s something about these two movies that I find… It speaks to, like I said before, the thing that most scares me in horror storytelling. I wish that more movies took this approach, because it’s a very campfire scary story approach.
The first one is The Mothman Prophecies in 2002. It’s got Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton. Will Patton’s a great character actor and he’s also really good in horror movies. He’s also in both the movies that I’m citing here. The first one is The Mothman Prophecies, and the second one is a movie that I went and saw with my dad who loves aliens and we love talking together about aliens. Whenever I’m home, we watch Ancient Aliens. One of the first books that he ever read in English when he came to the United States was Chariots of the Gods. He just got really into it, thought it was really fascinating. So it’s been one of those things that we always talk about.
But in 2009, there was this movie called The Fourth Kind that came out that I thought was just… again, it’s not the best movie in the world, but I love both of these movies because the pacing is so good and takes its time, and because they don’t insist on just beating you over the head with CGI monsters. The story in both movies builds slowly. The characters take shape over the course of the movie, enough so that you get invested in them, enough that you can, again, get familiar enough with the world that is presented to you in these movies that you can start to feel when something’s off. You can start to feel the weirdness creep up as those little moments pile up in each movie.
The Mothman Prophecies, obviously, is based on the kind of legend of the mothman, this cryptid figure that is reported to show up and be observed by cultures before instances of mass death. So there are these stories that people around Vesuvius saw the Mothman before the volcano blew. That kind of stuff. It’s playing on that tale, but again, the thing that made it scary for me is that Richard Gere, the main character, gets… I won’t go through the narrative, but he gets sucked into this nexus of weirdness that’s going on in a small town, I think it’s in Pennsylvania or Ohio.
Julianne Simitz: Of course.
Maximillian Alvarez: What’s that?
Julianne Simitz: Oh, I said of course.
Lyta Gold: I know. That’s where scary things happen.
Maximillian Alvarez: That’s where scary things happen. It’s just, again, you don’t really see the Mothman, but what you do see is these townspeople who are like good, God-fearing, churchgoing people that everyone knows, who are almost afraid to tell you what they saw because they’re worried that you’re going to judge them, and then they show you a drawing of what they saw. Then you see the drawing and it’s just like, well, fuck, I can imagine that would be horrifying to see that outside my window. Or you hear secondhand of a guy hearing a creepy voice come out of the sink. Again, it’s just that kind of –
Lyta Gold: I don’t like that. Nothing with plumbing. Oof.
Julianne Simitz: Nothing with plumbing, nothing with Catholicism, nothing with children. [inaudible] children’s drawings.
Maximillian Alvarez: The TV version of It fucked up the plumbing thing for me.
Lyta Gold: Yeah.
Maximillian Alvarez: That freaked the hell out of me. So anyway, so real quick, that storytelling element is why, even though The Mothman Prophecies is not an incredible movie, I think it tells the story very well in a way that scares me in the same way that a good campfire story does. I think that The Fourth Kind does as well but it shows you a little more and it’s a little creepier because it’s about aliens.
But yeah, I would say to anyone watching, if you want to get into spooky season, check those movies out and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I mean, they don’t show you the monster straight on. They show you creepy things happening to people. They show how scared people are that these things are happening to them. People tell you secondhand in a way that you trust what happens to them.
I think this all brings us back to what I said in the beginning, that there’s something about the horror genre that I’ve always found so attractive. Because even as I’ve gotten more education, as we’ve all gotten older and more worldly, there’s so much of us that we have that sort of rational adult way of looking at the world. And yet, there’s still moments when, like Mel was saying, I’ll be taking out the garbage and I’ll hear something and I will suddenly just be a frightened little kid again because I feel something behind me and I don’t know what it is. If anything can tap into that, I think that’s most exciting about horror.
Lyta Gold: It really is a monster this time.
Maximillian Alvarez: Exactly.
Julianne Simitz: I feel you. That scared me.
Lyta Gold: I should do voiceovers for scary movies
Julianne Simitz: You should, I like that.
Maximillian Alvarez: This has already come up on another episode, but ASMR for the End Times needs to happen.
Julianne Simitz: [inaudible].
Lyta Gold: Oh man, you’re starting me up.
Julianne Simitz: Your fire burning, sound of crackling, just dumpster stuff. Okay, clearly I’m fading. My example of underappreciated horror. I had two, I’m going to cheat. One – And for real you guys, I know that this is a high brow crowd, but there’s a movie, and I don’t think you’ve seen it, but I really want you to check it out. It is called Zombeavers.
Lyta Gold: Okay, Zombie Beavers?
Maximillian Alvarez: Already outstanding.
Julianne Simitz: A portmanteau of zombie and beavers, Zombeavers. I need you all to watch it and look it up. It is basically… It’s almost satire of B horror, you know? It just embodies and blows up all of the things about B horror movies, all the tropes and all the silly ridiculousness of it, and packages it in a fun 2014 film… And “film” is generous.
Lyta Gold: Also on Tubi.
Julianne Simitz: Also on Tubi.
Lyta Gold: Yes.
Julianne Simitz: Guys, check it out. It is a lot of fun, especially if you like horror comedy. It’s just so over the top, so silly, so absurd.
My other piece of horror – And it’s not really a horror, it’s more just like spooky season adjacent – Was what I was playing as you were entering the green room. The tune from Tim Curry, Tim Curry singing in “The Worst Witch”. Do you guys remember that hit?
Lyta Gold: I don’t think so.
Julianne Simitz: There’s a whole crazy video. It makes you feel like you’ve just taken mushrooms or acid or something and have escaped into this 1986 music video with Tim Curry.
Lyta Gold: No, I did not know this, but I need to know this immediately.
Julianne Simitz: Oh my God. He does a whole performance in front of a green screen where he is talking about Halloween.
Lyta Gold: These are all the things I like!
Julianne Simitz: I demand that you splice a clip of it into this if we don’t violate any copyright laws…
Lyta Gold: [inaudible].
Julianne Simitz: …But it is amazing and it gets me into the mood for spooky season every time, so I just wanted to share that with you guys.
Lyta Gold: Oh my God, I can’t believe I don’t know about this. This is like…
Julianne Simitz: He rhymes wolverine and tambourine, I think, in the same music video.
Lyta Gold: Beautiful.
Julianne Simitz: And it’s glorious, it’s beautiful, and I want you all to enjoy it. Happy Halloween.
Lyta Gold: Oh my God. Well, I will close this out on a very spooky rec. I wasn’t going to do this one actually, I was thinking of something else. But Max, you… This isn’t a recommendation for every… I mean it is for everybody who’s listening, but this is really a recommendation for Max, because you said you were very scared by things about dementia and of the metaphors for that.
There’s this movie, came out very recently, I think it’s 2020, called Relic. It’s an Australian movie by a woman director. It’s this very small, contained movie about three generations of women who are all living in the house because the grandmother’s clearly developing some kind of issues.
Again, it’s not the best movie ever, but there is something of, like the way that the house itself is a metaphor for her body that’s falling apart. The house, at one point it gets confusing, like there’s more rooms and they don’t know where they are. They get stuck in the back. It’s like, it’s a metaphor for her body, it’s a metaphor for her mind. It’s really, really fucked up. It has a really cool ending, a really interesting ending that’s very different than most horror movies. So Max should see it and report back.
Julianne Simitz: [inaudible].
Lyta Gold: Yeah. Again, it’s very creepy.
Maximillian Alvarez: Wait, is that the one where they kind of like, they go through the walls and they’re like in a…
Lyta Gold: Yes.
Maximillian Alvarez: That movie fucked me up.
Lyta Gold: Oh, you already saw it! Aw, a little disappointed, but I did know it’d fuck you up. It’s scary until that point, but once the house stops making sense, there’s something really weird psychically that happens. Especially because everything has really been in that house. There’s very few scenes that are outside of the house.
Mel Beur: I like that.
Lyta Gold: Ugh. It’s, ugh! It’s good.
Mel Beur: Sounds creepy.
Lyta Gold: Yeah.
Julianne Simitz: Sounds creepy. Agreed. Approved.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. Totally co-sign that recommendation. That movie creeped the hell out of me. Also, Channel Zero, a series, just an honorable mention. A series, I think it premiered on SYFY. Very good recent horror sci-fi thing. So if folks, again, are looking for good spooky stuff, we’ve given y’all tons of recs to get you through the season.
Lyta Gold: Feel free to, if you’re listening and then you enjoyed this episode and you watch all the stuff we talk about, you can tweet at us and we’ll tell you more. Because there’s like a ton more, There’s so many more horror movies that are a delight that you should go, you guys should watch. So yeah, just feel free to ask. We’re around.
Mel Beur: Yes.
Julianne Simitz: And donate at therealnews.com.
Lyta Gold: Yes, yeah. Julianne, do the things, say the things that we’re supposed to say.
Julianne Simitz: That’s the thing. I did the thing. That’s the thing. I’m on air and off the clock, so. But thanks, thanks for donating, team.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, there’s nothing spookier than running out of funding. So all of you out there, please donate to The Real News. Go to therealnews.com/support. Become a monthly sustainer of our work so we can keep bringing you spooky conversations just like this.
Julianne Simitz: Fantastic, fangtastic. [inaudible].
Maximillian Alvarez: Ey! Ow!
Lyta Gold: Oh! It feels like this has to be like last round at the bar, like we got to cut ourselves, like…
Julianne Simitz: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think that was it.
Maximillian Alvarez: The last 10 minutes of the episode, just us going, ey! Oh!
Lyta Gold: What’s scarier than Italians, though?
Mel Beur: Oh no…
Lyta Gold: They’re fascist now so you can make a joke.
Mel Beur: You’ll piss off the wrong side of the internet.
Lyta Gold: Well yeah, they’re fascist now so you can make a joke. It’s okay. Well, fascist again, I should say, rather than that.
Julianne Simitz: Oh my God.
Lyta Gold: That’s some real horror.
Julianne Simitz: That’s scary. [inaudible]
Maximillian Alvarez: Love that for them. Love that for Italy.
Julianne Simitz: Yeah. Eugh.
Maximillian Alvarez: Ey!
Lyta Gold: Ey!
Julianne Simitz: Ey! Horror movies!
Maximillian Alvarez: Our closing [inaudible]
Julianne Simitz: [inaudible]. Yeah, please.
Lyta Gold: If you enjoyed this show and our anti-Italian content, you will enjoy the other Real News Network shows which are appropriate and not crazy and actually really… Not this, not this at all. They’re really good shows that are about serious and important topics. Prisons, policing, really important stuff. We’re the silly one, we’re fun, we’re…
Julianne Simitz: We’re awesome. This is awesome. Art and culture is super important.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, we absolutely, absolutely love Art for the End Times, and per something Julianne said, the great Taya Graham, co-host of the Police Accountability Report could not be here today, but she wanted us to know that her answer to all of the prompts was David Simon.
Julianne Simitz: True to form, Tay, true to form. You have to watch a past episode to get that inside joke, but it’s worth it.
Lyta Gold: I love that we’ve been on long enough to have inside jokes. This is great fun. All right. Again, thanks for listening and we will see you next time, people.