The Monster Maven’s Guide to Recent Horror Trailers: The Good, the Bad, and THE VVITCH

Last night, the moon over the highway was heavy, huge and orange. Autumn approaches, and with the changing of the seasons comes a flux of horror film trailers. Some are chilling and exciting, and others are already demonstrating weak points.

The Visit, September 11

Say what you want about M. Night Shyamalan’s continued downward spiral (are we just saying that his early movies were a fluke at this point?), but The Happening was absolutely hilarious. I’m not sure Shyamalan had any idea how funny Marky Mark’s line delivery was going to be, but I personally enjoyed every minute of the movie, although its appeal was unintentional. I think The Visit, though obviously full of cliches, has the potential to be a really fun night at the movies. (Admittedly, a creepy old woman scratching a wall is like a copy of a copy of a copy now, with the most recent iteration being The Taking of Deborah Logan).

Goodnight Mommy, September 11

Are the boys evil? Is the mom evil? Are they all crazy? Why don’t the boys react at all when their bandaged mother turns around from…idly scratching the wall (why is this image everywhere)? I love when a horror trailer poses enough questions to be interesting without looking pointless. I’m sort of at a loss for words with this one, because there’s no way it could be bad. Even if it ends up not making sense, the cinematography alone gives me chills.

Cooties, September 18

I’m cheating a bit here because I’ve already seen Cooties. It’s…a rental. As an addition to the horror-comedy genre, it does pretty well, but something goes awry with the screenplay in the third act, and it sloppily falls apart on itself. Worth it just to watch Rainn Wilson, whom I’m still rooting for (I think I’m the only person alive who actually watched all of Backstrom)? Yeah, possibly.

Before I Wake, September 25

I have questions. Why does this trailer make the movie feel more like a boring fairy tale than a horror movie, which it’s being billed as? Where has Kate Bosworth been since she made my favorite movie when I was fourteen, Blue Crush? What’s with the creepy adoption stories; why is that a trope? Why do we get 1:30 into the trailer before exposition calls out what we already realized in the first scene? Also, this movie’s really going to enter the sleeping-is-scary realm although we already have Nightmare on Elm Street? And finally, why didn’t they get Guillermo del Toro to direct the daylights out of this?

Knock, Knock October 9

Oh god, they’re going to tack this movie’s promotional work onto the Ashley Madison hack, aren’t they? My only other thought here is “chocolate with sprinkles” is the most engaging and memorable part of this trailer. Staying far away from this one.

The Final Girls, October 9

I already posted a mini-review of this trailer on Twitter, and the film’s screenwriter was not at all happy about it:

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I stand by my opinion, though. Taissa looks incredibly charming, and I’m liking the aesthetic as far as colors (Wet Hot American Summer vibes) but the satirical angle on this looks a little…stale. What horror fanatic has been waiting to see slow motion lampooned as a trope of the genre? Didn’t we just fawn over Cabin in the Woods (and rightfully so)? The cast in this one will probably elevate it into being entertaining, but so far I’m not too optimistic.

Crimson Peak, October 16

Please excuse me for being far less critical of Crimson Peak than the other trailer on this list, because I truly DGAF. It’s the almighty del Toro back in action, shaping a vampire story with fists full of lush red silk, and he’s draping it over the crackling, creepy sexual tension that buzzes between Mia Wasikowska (who has natural ghost-face), and Tom Hiddleston. I am so, so here for an old fashioned ghostly Hiddleston-horror vehicle, post-Only Lovers Left Alive. I want to drown in the costuming alone.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, October 23

The gimmicks! Love ’em! I don’t care if this is a cheap Poltergeist imitation full of jump scares. You had me at interacting with a twenty-year old video tape in real time. You also had me at fabulous uncle-stache:

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Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, October 23

My brother is a Boy Scout, and the organization has always struck me as vaguely creepy, so I’m intrigued by the set-up here. You can already tell that this needs much funnier writing, and more memorable leads. If these scout-boys were jeering at each other a la Superbad, I’d be hooked, but they’re not. They’re barely saying anything other than describing what we’re already seeing. This probably should have been campier, especially if the plot involves boy scouts vs zombie cats. Commit, dudes. Commit to the tone by hiring joke writers, or don’t bother.

Victor Frankenstein, November 25

First of all, I love how Daniel Radcliffe’s career is unfolding into unnerving territory. I see you, Harry Potter, you want to creep us all out, now that you’re free of the wizard franchise. Although The Woman in Black bored me, Horns was pretty good, and Radcliffe has a nice ability to lock into a sinister undertone. His under-eye bags alone are very otherworldly looking, and they’re in full effect here. He’s apparently playing Igor, which is…cool.

Spotting Andrew Scott (an absolutely masterful Moriarty on BBC’s Sherlock), in this trailer has me curious, although the dark-pop version of The Doors’ “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” is more than a little cheesy. As long as the film really hones in on the exceptional body horror in the Frankenstein story, I’ll be a fan.


Although these three films were released earlier this year at select festivals and indie theaters, I haven’t gotten a chance to see them yet. I’ve got my Fandango alert set to Boston, though, and I’ll be the first in line if they open in my li’l city. Alternately, I’ll also keep searching for them on my Roku. What’s disappointing is that the following films, in my opinion, have the most exciting horror trailers I’ve seen recently, and I haven’t even been able to see the movies:

We Are Still Here, January 2015 (limited release)

Old-school late-70s vibe, a la It Follows? CHECK. Creepy ol’ frozen wasteland setting, a la Fargo? CHECK! Horror movie protagonists of a non-traditional age? DOUBLE CHECK! Whatever the hell is going on between 1:22 and 1:24? CH-CH-CHECK! This one comes from the folks who made Starry Eyes, so you better believe I’m ready.

The VVitch, January 2015 (Sundance)

Alright, everybody, pack it up! There’s no sense in making a horror film for the rest of the year, because this trailer is so stunningly superior to all the rest that it’s almost laughable. I swear to G-d I dreamt this movie up for myself. The baa-baa sounds, the fact that it’s set in New England, the use of Game of Thrones actors, whatever’s going on with that goat transforming in the field, and on top of everything else, an actually scary witch movie?? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Get out of my way so I can see this thing.

NINA FOREVER, March 2015

What I found most intriguing about NINA FOREVER is the fact that it’s billed as a horror-comedy-romance. My favorite horror-romance is, of course, The Fly, so this has big shoes to fill. This one also strikes close to home for me, because the last guy I dated had an obsessive, dead ex-girlfriend who wouldn’t leave us alone.

Gore as an Emotional Device

This is going to be FILLED with spoilers.

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The late Oberyn Martell represented righteous anger, rebellion and justice in a story marked by oppression and fear.

Although I consider myself a big fan of horror movies, I can’t stomach the senseless use of gory images. I don’t find blood-spattering funny, and I don’t enjoy watching death scenes that are meant to feel vindictive or cathartic. In filmmaking, using gore as a narrative device is a dangerous choice. Depending on the context, a gory scene (especially a death scene) can appeal to either the best or the worst nature in an audience. When it fails, a movie can end up in anonymous oblivion, joining the ranks of forgettable gore-porn and torture-porn films. When it succeeds, though…those are the scenes that stay with you. I’m always impressed with (and harrowed by) the choice to not only kill off a like-able character, but to absolutely mangle them in their last moments. What motivates scenes like this?

Let’s start with Oberyn Martell.

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I watched this episode with my roommates, and we all reacted EXACTLY the way Oberyn’s wife (lover?) did.

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FSK Fridays: Hannah Hanson Kinney

This is the first iteration of my new weekly series, Female Serial Killers Fridays! I’m doing this for a few reasons: because I want a regular posting schedule, because targeted research excites me, and because I believe not covering the stories of female serial killers is detrimental to society. If we don’t attempt to fully realize human nature (and woman-nature), especially the monstrous bits, we won’t ever be able to understand ourselves.

I’m starting with Hannah Hanson Kinney, because she found her victims while living in Boston (where I live now!), and because in my initial research, she popped up in a Bryn Mawr College study on women, sin, crime and guilt. (That’s where I got my Bachelors degree!) Also, Ms. Kinney does not currently have a Wikipedia page, so I will attempt to find enough sources to create one for her.

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This is not a photo of Hannah, but instead of a nameless Boston woman from the time Hannah was her age (mid-1800s). There are no available photos of Hannah herself.

Hannah Hanson Kinney was born Hannah Hanson in Lisbon, Maine around 1805. In 1842, Kinney’s first husband, Ward Witham, published a book entitled “The Life of Ms. Kinney for Twenty Years.” Kinney met Witham when she was seventeen years old, and they were married in 1822. Witham mentions what he calls his wife’s “first misconduct” during the first few months of their marriage, when she was accused of stealing “some articles,” which Witham calls “trifling indeed”. On the accusations his ex-wife faced, having poisoned the two men she married after Witham, he says only “that Ms. Kinney was guilty of administering poison to Mr. Freeman or to Mr. Kinney, the public have as good opportunity of judging as myself.” He confirms that Kinney was tried “for her life” and ultimately acquitted of both charges.

So what exactly did Hannah do?

In 1835, Hannah married her cousin, Reverend Enoch W. Freeman, and a year after they were married (to the day!), Freeman died suddenly. The same year, Freeman’s father, and Hannah’s father in law, died suddenly. Following this, Hannah moved back to Boston and married George Kinney. George Kinney died in 1840, reportedly dying “in agony” after drinking a cup of herbal tea. Arsenic was found in his stomach contents during an autopsy.

When Hannah was tried for the murder of George T. Kinney in 1840, her defense attorney argued a complete lack of motive. (Her trial’s entire record is available here.) As we know from The Washington Post’s study on female serial killers, women generally tend to kill for financial gain or social status. George Kinney had lost control of his hosiery business years before his death, and in Hannah Hanson Kinney’s murder trial, it was mentioned on record that Hannah Kinney had been supporting her husband and their three children financially since G. Kinney’s business had fallen apart. The courts ultimately sided with the two possible narratives offered by Hannah’s defense attorney: that George had poisoned himself, humiliated by his failure as a businessman, or that he had been given the arsenic by a misguided doctor.

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Boston in 1880

Hilariously, a servant in the Kinney household found a piece of paper in the kitchen with the word “poison” written on it in Hannah’s handwriting, as if she had simply written “kill George” on a to-do list and left it lying on a counter. Another funny detail: several times during the trial, different attorneys brought up the possibility that the “dirty water” in Boston had actually killed George.

Hannah’s defense attorney said in his closing statement, “if that woman is a murderer, she is a moral monster such as the world never saw!” Whether or not Hannah was a human monster was never fully determined, but public opinion following her trial reached a consensus that she had killed three men, two of them being her husbands, and that she had simply gotten away with it because she was a woman, and therefore less believable as ruthless or coldblooded.

Hannah’s published memoirs are available here, through Bryn Mawr College’s archives. The book’s preface reads, “it would seem that my nature requires rest, tranquility of mind, the comforts of a fireside in a beloved sister’s family (for indeed I have no home of my own).”

Female Serial Killers: Building a Profile

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In describing a new profile of the archetypal female serial killer published by Penn State, Sarah Kaplan writes for the The Washington Post, “[She’s a] young, middle-class woman, a married Christian of average intelligence and upbringing. She works as a nurse, or nanny, or Sunday School teacher — anything that involves being around people more helpless than herself.” These women, in order to qualify for the study, must have killed at least three people with a “cooling off period” of a week or more following each murder.

The Penn State profile reports that female serial killers tend to fit the description above, but the truth is that our sample size of data on female murderers is very small. The Penn State researchers, in compiling “every recorded instance of a female serial killer” were only able to derive their conclusions using the actions of 64 women who lived (and killed) between 1821 and 2008. That’s 64 women, around the world, in 187 years!

The Penn State report says 40% of the women had been diagnosed with and/or treated for mental illness of some kind, and the most popular motive for their killing sprees was financial gain. Poison was the most popular method used by the killers (which the reports calls FSKs). Most shockingly, in ALL cases, the FSK had at least one target who was a child, an elderly person, or an otherwise incapacitated or weakened individual. Most women killed people they knew, a pattern which defies the behavior of male serial killers, who tend to kill strangers.

The lives of male serial killers are often marked by social isolation. Based on the limited data available to us, we can conclude reasonably that most female serial killers are caretakers and ingrained members of their surrounding communities. While our society celebrates the male “lone wolf,” encouraging him to avoid the “ball and chain” of partnership and remain a bachelor as long as possible, we also honor the martyred woman: the devoted wife, church member, mother, teacher or social worker. It seems both social profiles of gendered success do not negate the serial killer profile.

A 1995 study conducted by affiliates of the NYPD found that the motives of male murders tend to involve humiliation, manipulation, or sexual stimulation. Female murderers tend to be motivated by financial gain or power. One of the researchers was quoted making the generalization, “men kill for sex, and women kill for resources.”

Are we less likely to define female murderers as “monsters,” then? What makes a human killer into a societal “monster,” if not the very act of murdering another person? Does this mean we are less fascinated by, terrified by, and less challenged by murderers who seem to have a good, or reasonable, motive for killing?


The Washington Post article does pause to describe Aileen Carol Wuornos, perhaps the most famous female serial killer in American history. During her trial for the murderer of six men, Wuornos said, “I robbed them, and I killed them as cold as ice, and I would do it again, and I know I would kill another person because I’ve hated humans for a long time.” Wuornos herself defines herself as not-human, or at least quasi-human in saying this, which is actually a common theme in the legal confessions of serial killers, who often set themselves apart from society. Most serial killers are aware that their behavior is not considered “normal,” which recalls the following quote from John Gardner’s Grendel, in which the titular character realizes he is not human but something else entirely:

“My sudden awareness of my foolishness made me calm. I looked up through the treetops, ludicrously hopeful. I think I was half prepared, in my dark, demented state, to see God, bearded and grey as geometry, scowling down at me, shaking his bloodless finger. ‘Why can’t I have someone to talk to?’ I said. The stars said nothing, but I pretended to ignore the rudeness.”

For a more exhaustive list of female murderers which defines “serial killers” differently than Penn State, check out The Unknown History of Misandry. I’ll be using their database to inform my FSK Friday posts, which start next week. I’m excited to profile and describe a new female serial killer from history on a weekly basis! Let’s figure out what made them tick.

Don’t Call it a Comeback: The Resilience of Women in Horror

This post makes double sense, because I’m returning to my monster blog after a long hiatus!09-unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt-cult-bunker.w1440.h957.2x The Netflix original series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” premiered this week. I haven’t given it a try yet, because the trailer felt pretty manic to me, but the plot is intriguing. Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, of The Office and Blowjob Girl fame) plays a young woman who was kidnapped by cult members and held in a bunker for fifteen years. Although it’s obviously not a horror comedy, I really wish that it was.

Here’s the thing about damsels in distress: A study led by the Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that women who had suffered traumatic injuries were 14% less likely to die post-surgery than men with equivalent wounds. These women also experienced fewer complications after their operations.

A protagonist’s ability to absorb stimuli and respond in an interesting way is tantamount to any story, so it’s confusing that so many horror films star female characters who aren’t capable of doing much. I’ll venture to say that male audiences became accustomed to watching the female form in duress throughout the development of horror. Contemporary projects have allowed us to pile on the gore, spraying the blood of innocents all over female protagonists while giving them something interesting to do in response. To me, there’s nothing more interesting and iconic than the determined face of a woman who’s been driven to the brink, whether by monsters or a slasher-murderer or some kind of ghost or demon, her eyes still steely with rage. Let’s see some examples!

youre-next-sharni-vinson-2Thank you, universe, for giving us 2011’s You’re Next, a horror movie that succeeds mainly because the writers tweak a single element in the story: the central character, Erin, is a sweet, unassuming, polite and loving girlfriend dating a guy who is clearly a loser with self esteem issues, but she’s also the only character who leaps into action when the house she’s staying in is attacked by masked murderers. There is a reason for her brutality, which is afforded to us in the second half of the movie, and the explanation is acceptable, although I would have preferred a character who just rocks at killing her way out of a dangerous situation.

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Out Here: morality and conjecture in the contemporary space drama

A friend of mine once made a statement about space films on her Twitter account, and I’ve been mulling it around in my mind ever since. She said, “All I want is a space movie that doesn’t ask any larger questions,” which calls to mind all the outer space morality plays we’ve witnessed in the last couple decades.

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Elysium, or “Why Was Jodie Foster’s Bad Accent Necessary To Make Her a Villain?”, didn’t so much pose a larger question as it answered one question over and over, really loudly. Class warfare is really hard, everybody! Also everyone deserves access to healthcare!

I thought the most interesting part of Elysium was the enigmatic Wagner Moura’s tattooed, lame-legged character Spider, because his role in the VERY straight-forward morality play wasn’t as boring as the unapologetically cruel Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) or the unapologetically good-hearted Max (Matt Damon). Without characters like Spider gumming up the works with their conflicting, selfish objectives, a space drama like Elysium ends up so simplistically rendered that it acts as a disservice to its setting. I mean, it’s deep space for crying out loud! If ever there was room for a grey area, space is it!

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Birdman, Biutiful and depictions of madness

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I saw Birdman this week. Halfway through the movie, I thought, “Sad-dad guilt? Muted colors? Ghostly figures and secrets? Mental illness as the crux of a failed relationship? This feels a lot like Biutiful.” And then, of course, when the film ended, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s name floated onto the screen, and I felt both affirmed and also really, really pretentious.

I’m glad I hadn’t done any research beforehand, because Iñárritu’s films, in my very limited experience, are best taken in without preconceived notions. It’s most exciting to watch a film like Birdman or Biutiful while wondering at every step, “Is this guy going to be okay? How not-okay are we talking here? Murderer not okay? Suicide not okay?”

In both films, Iñárritu defines madness as a person’s inability to make sense of external stimuli, which results in hallucinations, nightmares, or some magical-realistic blend of the two. As both films progress, the otherworldly images experienced only by the protagonist begin to seep into film’s surrounding reality, and the line between real and imagined is blurred. Also in both films, the male protagonist’s daughter either inherits her father’s madness in the final moments of the film, or else comes to understand it in a simple, but jarring, way.

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