The Ten Cultural Craters Left by Horror Films that Impress Me the Most
L. Andrew Cooper
(with all my biases)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919/1920):
The visual design of this movie propped up German Expressionism across the arts and, when major artists fled to America, provided fuel for film noir and other offshoots. It’s not just a great horror film; it’s one of the greatest films of all time. Besides, even people who hate it but know film history would have to admit that few films have been more influential.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935):
The sequel has more quotable lines, better scenery, additional characters for the canon (the Bride IS Hollywood canon!), and an unforgettable ending. More important, it’s better than the original, and it established the golden franchise that made horror franchises the backbone of the genre until present day.
Eyes without a Face (1960):
Maybe you haven’t seen this French classic, but its director, Georges Franju, was a major voice in French cinema. In the decades that followed, the art world listened. This movie is beautiful, and other films and writings have reflected on its depiction of medical horrors and animal experimentation at length. It’s a cornerstone of modern horror.
Peeping Tom (1960):
So controversial it ended Michael Powell’s career as a mainstream director, this movie is now a classic of British cinema. The main character films women as he kills them—he does it with a spike attached to the camera. We see through the camera, of course: killer-cam. Way ahead of its time in some respects, it’s still old-fashioned in having a sympathetic monster.
Peeping Tom is actually much closer to what we know as slasher movies, but Psycho was and is way more popular around the world. As far as cultural craters go, though, the thing about this movie is the smell. It changed people’s bathing habits. I was about eight years old when I saw it, and even though I knew what was coming, afterward, I was still a little nervous about getting in the shower. I think if you don’t identify with Janet Leigh in that situation, you’re the psycho.
The Exorcist (1973):
An unbelieving single mother and her daughter enlist the help of priests to battle Satan in an exceptionally well-made movie that helped bring America back to the Church. Oh, and the movie was cursed, too, so it displaces Rosemary’s Baby and Poltergeist.
I was born barely after but still count as having had vacations (and tourist dollars) affected by this movie. Movies cause fear of sharks eating tourists… and spawn a school of imitation films. Tourists avoid beaches. Economies tank. Great Whites are over-hunted. The crater deepens.
Friday the 13th (1980):
This movie is hard to explain. Often dismissed as a knock-off of Halloween, a better film, it’s also related to the earlier Italian giallo tradition, especially Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971). Something started around 1960 (see three movies, above), grew up in the 70s, took hold in this movie, and got a hockey mask in part three. Now we’ve got a dozen movies, and Jason rules an era. Strangely, he was barely even in the first film.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991):
The people who let is sweep the Oscars wouldn’t call it a horror movie, and now its super-horrific TV spin-off might or might not get another season and cover the same ground as the movie. Inspired by the same Ed Gein as Psycho and Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the story of Clarice Starling, Buffalo Bill, and Hannibal the Cannibal will live in our livers with fava beans forever.
Ringu (1998): I like the American remake (2002) about as much as I like the original. By then I was pretty desperate for a good horror movie, because Scream’s brief revival of slasher tropes had worn itself out. Behold! International technoparanoia. A distinctly Japanese storyline involving volcanic eruptions and water demons, psychic powers and technology run amok, might have saved American horror.
Snaking through history–from the early-1900s cannibal axe-murderer of “Blood and Feathers,” to the monster hunting on the 1943 Pacific front in “Year of the Wolf,” through the files of J. Edgar Hoover for an “Interview with ‘Oscar,'” and into “The Broom Closet Where Everything Dies” for a finale in the year 2050–Peritoneum winds up your guts to assault your brain. Hallucinatory experiences redefine nightmare in “Patrick’s Luck” and “The Eternal Recurrence of Suburban Abortion.” Strange visions of colors and insects spill through the basements of hospitals and houses, especially the basement that provides the title for “TR4B,” which causes visitors to suffer from “Door Poison.” Settings, characters, and details recur not only in these tales but throughout Peritoneum, connecting all its stories in oblique but organic ways. Freud, borrowing from Virgil, promised to unlock dreams not by bending higher powers but by moving infernal regions. Welcome to a vivisection. Come dream with the insides.
Leaping at Thorns arranges eighteen of L. Andrew Cooper’s experimental short horror stories into a triptych of themes–complicity, entrapment, and conspiracy–elements that run throughout the collection. The stories span from the emotionally-centered to the unthinkably horrific; from psychosexual grossness to absurd violence; from dark extremes to brain-and-tongue twister. These standalone stories add important details to the fictional world and grand scheme of Dr. Allen Fincher, who also lurks in the background of Cooper’s novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines.
About the author:
L. Andrew Cooper scribbles horror: novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as anthologies of experimental shorts Leaping at Thorns (2014 /2016) and Peritoneum (2016). He also co-edited the anthology Imagination Reimagined (2014). His book Dario Argento (2012) examines the maestro’s movies from the 70s to the present. Cooper’s other works on horror include his non-fiction study Gothic Realities (2010), a co-edited textbook, Monsters (2012), and recent essays that discuss 2012’s Cabin in the Woods (2014) and 2010’s A Serbian Film (2015). His B.A. is from Harvard, Ph.D. from Princeton. Louisville locals might recognize him from his year-long stint as WDRB-TV’s “movie guy.”