Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How to Build Your Own Asylum Doing What You Love

Frank Forte at San Diego Comicon
Frank Forte is the publisher at Asylum Press, and as such has released over 25 titles, some of which he has written and drawn himself or in collaboration. He's a frequent guest editor of Heavy Metal Magazine, which is a dream job for any comics geek who came of age in the 80s.

He has also worked in animation for the Emmy Award winning Bob's Burgers, the Oscar Nominated Despicable Me 2, a host of Lego films, including Lego Star Wars, as well as the comic and pop culture projects Marvel Heroes 4D, and Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi. He co-created The Cletus and Floyd Show with Gene McGuckin, and Sickcom with Robert S. Rhine, which found infamy at Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival Of Animation. He's also a gallery exhibiting artist, and voracious blogger.

In other words, Frank Forte is one of the good guys.

Matt Kennedy and his guest Frank Forte reveal how to launch your own company, and talk self-publishing, changing careers, and how to pay the bills while doing something you love on Episode 9 of Pod Sequentialism. It's not all about the benjamins, but it's good to know what to expect in the competitive comic book market. Tune in and find out!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Ubiquitous Boombox

Back in Episode 6 of the Pod Sequentialism podcast, in discussing how graffiti was so closely associated with Hip Hop culture, Mason and Matt mentioned the Boombox as another pivotal catalyst in the birth of Hip Hop. They also mentioned the that Matt would be curating a boombox exhibition at La Luz de Jesus Gallery. That show, titled Boombox Creators, displays 30 classic boomboxes and a lot of ephemera connected to the boombox and Hip Hop in general.

The fine folks at Hi-Fructose Magazine gave some wonderful coverage to what started as a little boombox vanity project, and the new goal is to get this show into the Brooklyn Museum. Miles Lightwood and Matt Kennedy spent about two years putting this show together, and with some help from Brian Fox and Trevor Baade pulled it off swimmingly. The Boombox Creators Exhibition is the first to focus on the boombox as a fine art object. The idea was to present the notion that the boomboxes themselves are perfect without painting on them or otherwise altering them from the commercially marketed home electronics device that they were originally intended to be. Included are classics like the JVC M-90 and the Sharp HK9000 (which is the only boombox in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution), and a lot of other amazing pieces of machinery. Also included are original, production designs by Richard Culbertson for boomboxes that never went into production.

Throughout the exhibition are info cards dedicated to the designers behind the boomboxes on display and for sale.

The exhibit runs through the holidays, and closes on January 3rd–when there will be a closing party with breakdancers and a bunch of the boomboxes will be tuned to an FM transmitter that will broadcast the mix tape produced specifically for the show (and limited to 100 copies). It's highly recommended that you check out the amazing collection of factory sealed cassette tapes, LPs and photography from the boombox era by Bobby Grossman, Ed Colver, and Lyle Owerko alongside new art pieces by The Panik Collective, Sean Steppanof, and Josh Gardner.

See the installation photos, and come visit the show in person at La Luz de Jesus Gallery, 4633 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90027.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Getting Steampunk'd with Ave Rose

Ave Rose is a singer, a performer, a publisher, a writer, a designer and an exhibiting fine artist. With collaborators Trieops Treyfid, Cig Neutron, and Rannie Rodil she put together the Aliens in L.A. book and performance project, and via Ink Pen Mutations Press she is a self-publishing mogul specializing in illustrated counter-culture story-telling. As the one-to-beat on GSNTV's Steampunk'd, she became the posterchild of the post-gothic industrial set.

This makes her a pretty great interview by anyone's standard.

This week on Pod Sequentialism, Ave Rose and Matt Kennedy discuss the many hats artists must wear (both literally and figuratively), and what it was like to be the star of a Reality TV Series.

Monday, November 30, 2015

How Do You Get More Girls to Play D&D? You Let Them.

Satine Phoenix's New Praetorians
My guest this week on Pod Sequentialism is Satine Phoenix, a comic book illustrating gamer-girl who was dubbed the "Queen of D&D" by Time Magazine. She initially found fame in the adult film industry but soon after  went mainstream via her web series I Hit It With My Axe and her weekly gaming series DnDMelt.

I've known Satine for quite a few years and seeing her transition from a fan of comics into a published professional has been very personally gratifying, but it's also a great template for other young people to follow in the quest for identity and professional success.

This is one of my favorite episodes so far because there is a wonderful uplifting message about the comics and gaming community as it currently exists. The real mindblower here was in hearing from a woman's point of view that girls have always been interested in gaming, but the boys in their lives weren't very welcoming to the idea.

This episode is broadcast without commercial interruption and it's one I think a lot of people can learn from.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Comic Book Roots of Street Art

Engraving of Kilroy on the
WWII Memorial in Washington DC.
In Episode #06 of Pod Sequentialism with Matt Kennedy, the subject is the connection between graffiti art and comic books. Once again, our producer and engineer, Mason Booker, joins Matt in the discussion which draws an historical line back to World War II in an effort to present the changing role of street art. Seen much more as vandalism for most of the twentieth century than as decorative, public art, this episode explores how the modern perception and even basic definition of "graffiti" has changed.

Was Kilroy from
One of the most recognizable examples of modern graffiti is the figure of Kilroy, a bald man with an extended nose and hands the grip the top of a ledge with the inscription, "Kilroy was here" next to it. It became a symbol for the U.S. armed forces during World War Two, as versions of the figure appeared virtually everywhere American soldiers traversed. The origin is disputed, but in the years following the war, news services ran a story about a soldier from Everett, MA who had scrawled the slogan on a bulletin board at a Florida airbase, which inspired other soldiers to do the same all over Europe during the course of their deployment against the Axis powers. Similar figures had been drawn by British and Australian soldiers in World War One, but the proliferation of Kilroy by American servicemen in the 1940s really captured the public imagination as photographs appeared in newspapers, magazines and news reels from the era.

As Matt mentions in this week's podcast, the Allies were by no means the only ones using publicly exhibited slogans. Project Werwolf (German for "werewolf") was a Nazi resistance force that operated behind enemy lines as Allied forces swept through Bavaria. Steven Soderberg's 1991 film Kafka recreates some of that graffiti, and in a very strange case of life imitating art, criminal neo-nazi groups in the Netherlands have since co-opted the name in a modern, racist campaign against migrants. There is a long association of graffiti with hate crime that predates the modern era, and just in case it wasn't evident enough in the podcast: these are NOT the good guys.

This book inspired generations
While some historians point out that mankind has been drawing on walls for millennia, the widespread act of vandalizing public spaces with aerosol acrylic paint is most widely associated with the New York City subway system of the 1970s. Railway cars in and out of Providence, RI are among the earliest photographed examples of outsider art to utilize spray cans, and quickly spread to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and even up into Canada in Montreal and Toronto before reaching other cities like Detroit and Chicago. Railway cars (especially freight and cargo wagons) frequently swapped tracks rather than occupy a single line, reaching more destinations and making them the primary target of graffiti artists until more brazen individuals realized that passenger cars in major cities allowed them a showcase in their own neighborhoods, elevating their street cred and local fame.

That switch from political to social messaging is where comic book art had its biggest influence on the emerging art form. Comic books in the 1970s were consumed by almost all youth regardless of social or ethnic background, so spray-painted versions of Marvel superheroes were frequently included in the unsolicited murals of acrylic vandals in NYC and elsewhere. The bold lines and graphic impact of comic book art was the perfect muse, and much easier to mimic than the oil paintings in museums, and the preponderance of cartooning in modern street art is a testament to the lasting value of sequential art as an influence.

We covered a lot of ground in only 42 minutes, so here's a list of other things worth researching deeper that we merely touched upon:

Olek, the Polish Yarn Bomber.
LA based street artists, Retna, Risk, and Nathan Ota (aka Cooz).
Aaron Rose's documentary Beautiful Losers (mistakenly referred to as Beautiful Dreamers).
Tony Sliver's seminal documentary on graffiti, Style Wars.
Martha Cooper & Henry Chalfant's 1984 book Subway Art.
Norman Mailer's 1974 book Faith of Graffiti.
The Art in the Streets Exhibition at LACMA.
Art schools as diploma mills.
SCI-Arc, the Southern California Institute of Architecture.

Listen Now!

If you've read this and want to know more, please tune-in, subscribe, or download to Pod Sequentialism with Matt Kennedy.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Are Comic Books Fine Art?

Two Tony Abruzzo drawings that became Roy Lichtenstein's
In Episode#05 of Pod Sequentialism with Matt Kennedy, we look at the connection between Pop Art and Comics.

Pop Art masterpieces by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein routinely sell for tens of millions of dollars, but the artists who inspired those appropriations often died in obscurity if not poverty. In-house producer engineer Mason Booker joins Matt in a discussion about what elevates comics to fine art.

We want to draw special attention to the work of one man whose tireless crusade to get comic artists credited for the art that Roy Lichtenstein adapted and left unattributed. That man's name is David Barsalou, and he runs the website Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein. The list we gave on air barely scratches the surface of the number of artists whose work was copied and not credited. Definitely check out Barsalou's site.

Pod Sequentialism is researched but unrehearsed, so every once in a while, something gets past us in the quick flow of conversation and makes it on air without us correcting it on air, so below are some points of clarification and elaboration:

Jack Kirby lived in Thousand Oaks, not nearby Northridge (though the bus Matt took to visit Jack back in the early 90s was ultimately destined for Northridge).

Todd McFarlane's work at the time of this recording does indeed hold the record for the highest price paid at auction for the original art to a single, published, American comic book page. It was the cover to 1990's Amazing Spider-man #328, featuring Spidey lifting the Hulk. It sold for $657,250 (not six hundred million). It was a slip of the tongue, not an incorrect belief, and we apologize. It's also worth noting that McFarlane's cover art to Spider-Man #1 (also from 1990) sold for $358,500 though it had been expected to be the big winner at that June 2012 auction.

The world record for original sequential art of any kind is held by the cover to the book Tintin in America, by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, from 1932. It sold at auction in Paris, earlier that same month for $1.6 million. Unlike the United States, comic art has never been looked down upon in Europe, and adventure comics like Tintin have enjoyed greater popularity there than superheroes. This particular artwork broke its own previous sale record of $973,000 set in 2008.

The designer who makes the winged Addidas, whose designs for Moschino resulted in a lawsuit with a graffiti artist was Jeremy Scott. The artist suing him is Rime, alleging copyright infringement, trademark violations under the Lanham Act, and unfair competition, and appropriation of name and likeness under California law. The dress worn by Katy Perry at the Met Gala is alleged to include elements of Rime's 2012 Detroit mural Vandal Eyes. Claims Rime, "Nothing is more antithetical to the outsider ‘street cred’ that is essential to graffiti artists than association with European chic, luxury and glamour – of which Moschino is the epitome.”

Maya Hayuk is the designer who has filed a $750,000 lawsuit against Starbucks for copyright penalties and unspecified cash damages, alleging that the designs on Starbucks' new mini Frappuccino cups closely resemble the colorful geometric artwork of her pieces Hands Across the Universe, The Universe, The Universe II, Sexy Gazebo, and Kites #1. In the lawsuit, Hayuk claims that Starbucks' ad agency, 72andsunny, reached out to her in October 2014 expressing interest in her work, which she turned down and Starbucks, "brazenly created artwork that is substantially similar."

If you're reading this and it doesn't make sense, you really should listen to the podcast:

Listen on iTunes

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

First Sanctioned Sale of Classic Neal Adams Art

Access auction here: http://comics.ha.com/
Neal Adams is without a doubt one of the most important artists in the history of sequential art. He took the illustrated realism of Frank Frazetta and carried it forward into superhero titles, as one of the most prolific artists of the post Jack Kirby era. His runs on Deadman, Batman and Green Lantern were game changers in the comics medium, and his work on X-Men and Avengers helped change the line look at the biggest publishers in the 1960s and 70s. Adams' success impacted the line look at DC and Marvel, where journeyman artists Jim Aparo, Gerry Conway, and Howard Chaykin were asked to match this style, which incited a demand for more pencilers with a grasp for technical realism, helping to pave the way for artists like John Byrne and George Perez. Adams gave early work to the artists known as the Crusty Bunkers (Pat Broderick, Bob McLeod, Bob Wiacek, Joe Rubinstien, Carl Potts, and Terry Austin) via his Continuity Graphics Associates–a full service production house and publisher. Neal quite famously gave some harsh but needed critique to a young Frank Miller, who would kick off the Modern Age in much the same way that Adams, himself, had launched the Bronze Age.

Most importantly, Neal has advocated on behalf of creators rights since the early 1970s. He led the fight to get original art returned to the artists, and led the lobbying efforts to get Siegel and Shuster financial remuneration from DC for creating Superman. In 1987, both he and Jack Kirby were returned a large portion of the art they had created at Marvel, but the pages he illustrated for DC had long ago been discarded, sold or stolen. His assertion that his unreturned artwork is stolen artwork was controversial for a long time–especially at comic book conventions where there were dealers in possession of that artwork for sale, sometimes priced for hundreds of thousands of dollars. As such he has never authenticated that work.

Now we take it for granted that the art remains the property of the artist, but for decades publishers kept and sometimes threw away the original art pages, which is why Golden Age art is so extremely rare, much of it having been recycled in paper drives for the war effort. It was a conversation with Neal Adams in my formative years (and with Jack Kirby a few years later) that helped establish for me the importance of creator's rights.

This month, a milestone of comic art sales is happening: Neal Adams is validating the sale of one of his most iconic covers:

"The Green Lantern Green Arrow #76 cover (and subsequent series of books) changed the direction of comics when it was first published. That first cover set the tone of that change and is easily recognized by everyone in our industry around the world.
Now with that same cover at this auction, I would like to announce a New and Historical game-changer for collectors, historians and fans alike. Please let me be very clear. Whatever the origin and history of this cover has been since I first drew it, I'm here now announcing that, at the completion of this auction and during the auction I, Neal Adams, its creator and artist,...100% approve of this auction, the sale and subsequent ownership of this cover.
That since the proprietor of the cover has agreed to equitably share the income of the auction with me and my family I hereby validate sale and ownership of this piece and I will, in fact, supply a Certificate of Authenticity to the highest bidder of the auction, and the ownership of this cover will never be questioned by me. This sharing of profit with the creator, of the sale of artwork produced back in those days when ownership has ever been in question, will in this case and may in all cases go far in bringing underground artwork into the light of a fair and open marketplace.
To all of you who participate in this auction, I wish you well. The highest bidder of this auction will own a cover that changed an industry.... For the Better!
Best regards and good will to everyone,

Neal Adams"
I sincerely hope that other owners of classic comic art take this example and duplicate it.

In the last few years we have seen judgments in favor of the return of paintings, sculpture and textiles to the estates of Jewish families whose collections were confiscated by the Nazis in WWII. In many cases, those artworks are in museums, but a major private collection in Austria was recently seized and is being cataloged for return as well. This would seem to set the precedent for the return of artwork kept by publishers, or stolen by office clerks at those publishing houses and therefore never returned to artists who illustrated them.

On the other hand, the only resale statute in the Unites States, which required a 5% royalty be paid to an artist for any sale of their artwork in excess of $1,000 if sold for more than the original purchase price, has expired. And it was only on the books in California.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.

As I write this, the current auction price on the original artwork for the Green Lantern Green Arrow #76 cover is already above $250,000. but you've got until Saturday to outbid them.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sexism & Diversity in Comics

Building on the theme from last week, the topic for Pod Sequentialism #04 is Sexism and Diversity. Has the lack of diversity in comics been the cause of dwindling circulation of monthly comics? It certainly seems to be the case when compared to the sales of young adult novel, which are inherently more inclusive. Considering current ethnic demographics, Why are so many superheroes still so white–and so male?
Click here for the podcast pemalink.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

For Mature Audiences?

Usually when we post the podcast every week at one minute past midnight on Saturday Night / Sunday Morning, the feed hits iTunes within an hour of going live on the Pod Sequentialism page at Meltcomics.com. This weeks show didn't. At first, I thought it was a technical glitch but after several attempts by my engineer, Mason Booker, to reach someone at iTunes we realized that the title of this week's episode (The Straight Story on Gay Superheroes) may have flagged it as content "for mature audiences."

If you've listened to my podcast you know that we handle all topics in a non-juvenile fashion, which by definition could be said to have been handled maturely, but being labeled "for mature audiences" means it's much more difficult for non-subscribers to access and download. It's the equivalent of an R-Rating, which hugely limits the audience for the show.

I'm very careful not to use profanity on air, and I select my guests with that in mind. This week, I had no guest, so it was all me and I didn't use any words that you can't hear on daytime TV or in a PG-Rated movie. In other words, mere discussion of the treatment of LGBT concerns in the comics medium was, itself, enough to flag the episode for suppression-of-sorts by iTunes as though it were a show laced with profanity or hate speech–when in fact it was quite the opposite.

It appears that iTunes views the word "Gay" as an obscenity.

I have no intention of breaking any rules that govern the category division at iTunes. I just find it ridiculous that in the same year the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in favor of marriage equality, it is possible that something like this would be an issue. Especially at a company like Apple, which is one of the few Fortune 500 companies with an openly gay CEO. We are obviously working hard to resolve this. In the meantime, if you subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, you can view a listing for episode#003, and you can click to download it. If you are not a subscriber, the third episode doesn't even appear on the Pod Sequentialism description page in iTunes.

I'm hoping that this problem is not systemic, and that it is the result of a hastily made decision by a lower ranking employee at Apple. We'll know more soon, and if the info reveals a bigger issue at stake we'll need your help in spreading the word to Buzzfeed, Reddit, The Huffington Post, other news aggregate sites, and GLAAD.

Whether you agree with my point of view or not, I implore you to subscribe to the podcast and download episode #03 as an act against censorship. If you do support greater diversity in comics then it is imperative that you subscribe and download this episode to send the message that equality and the support of civil rights is a just and popular cause.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Straight Story on Gay Superheroes

Pod Sequentialism Episode #03:  The Straight Story on Gay Superheroes.

This special hour-long, in-depth analysis of LGBT representation in mainstream comics grew out of an old column I wrote for Forces of Geek, in which I observed that considering the populations of DC's Metropolis and Gotham, or Marvel's New York and Los Angeles, it may be easier to believe a man can fly than to believe he has no gay friends or relatives. The response I got was astoundingly negative back in 2009, and I read on air some of the hateful letters that column elicited. 

In the years since passed, the track record has gotten better, but it's still nowhere near what it should be if the representation of current culture is to be considered indicative of the times.

Click here for the latest podcast.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

13* Less Obvious Horror Films for Halloween

It’s always difficult to put together lists of the best horror films. Truth be told, there’s a finite amount of really excellent horror movies, and the same films tend to make everybody’s list–so much so that writers will intentionally omit obvious classics in favor of lesser, more obscure films.

Films from the 1920s and 30s are taken for granted, so FrankensteinThe Bride of FrankensteinDracula, and certain silent greats like NosferatuThe Phantom of the Opera, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are already assumed to have been seen, so historians might fill out a top ten exclusively with Val Lewton productions of the 1940s (particularly, but not limited to, those directed by Jacques Tourneur): I Walked With a ZombieCat PeopleThe Body Snatcher, and Isle of the Dead.

It’s been said that modern music magazines almost never reference anybody before The Beatles except for maybe Elvis, and modern film clickbait would have you believe that horror films didn’t really get scary until the 1960s and hit their peak in the 80s. Which is why Peeping Tom (1959) is routinely left off these lists in favor of the film it inspired Alfred Hitchcock to make a year later. It all but goes without saying that no dirty dozen list of modern horror films is complete without the oft-cited PsychoRosemary’s BabyNight of the Living DeadThe ExorcistThe Texas Chainsaw MassacreThe Omen, Suspiria, HalloweenAlienThe ShiningA Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Silence of the Lambs.

And so it is likely that anyone who would seek out a list like this has already seen these movies.

Then there was the boom of horror films in the 90s by filmmakers who grew up watching a new slasher film almost every week in the 80s. Some of their films followed the Friday the 13th formula as an ironic, post-modern cliché (as best utilized in Scream), and like their predecessors were built around gory prosthetics instead of actual scares. The obvious hilarity of witnessing multiple, creative, teen homicides at the hands (and hooks) of deformed maniacs in the 80s bred the comedy-horror hybrid, which yielded some real gems (like Fright NightReturn of the Living DeadEvil Dead 2Re-animator, and Night of the Creeps). But the lack of genuine scares makes it hard for the purist in me to really consider them true horror movies.

While the genre had clearly been revitalized, the formula that gave us cerebral procedural thrillers like Se7en and Saw had turned to the “torture porn” extremism of Hostel and Martyrs by the mid-to-late-oughts. The success of The Blair Witch Project (which functioned so much better as a clandestine videotape traded by bootleggers prior to its theatrical release) would eventually launch the “found footage” horrors of Paranormal Activity, which became a veritable cottage industry. As a subgenre, the ghost hunting POV films have had a better track record than most in terms of delivering real scares, with the Spanish film [Rec] being a particular and spectacular highlight, but none would have the success of the PG-13 rated The Sixth Sense, which had become one of the top ten all-time box-office champs by the end of its release.

So in an effort to expose people who love movies as much as I do to some overlooked gems, I’ve put together this list of horror films that I think deserve to be held in as high esteem as any of the aforementioned classics. I like atmosphere, and all of these have that in spades. Most unjaded viewers will find something frightening about my selections because they tend to have a pervasive sense of dread. I’ll also go out on a limb and say that these all feature award-worthy performances.  I’m not going to rank them because each is in many ways the best film of its particular sub-genre. If you are a die-hard horror fan, you likely already have seen most (if not all) of these. This is not a list of the most disturbing films, and I’ve not given any consideration to gore. If you’re looking for that, you can refer to a different list. This is a list of titles that I consider to be well-made horror films according to the following criteria: each is well shot, well written, well acted, and either delivers a good scare or completely creeps me out. Here’s a list of thirteen films in chronological order (and one bonus selection):

BLACK SABBATH (1963) – As much as I love the popcorn fangs of The Lost Boys and the southern-fried blood suckers of Near Dark, those movies just aren’t scary. But the Russian vampires of the Wurdalak episode in this Mario Bava anthology are fully, fucking frightening. How influential is this movie? Bava’s use of color reflection inspired Dario Argento’s Suspira and Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu. Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot and Roman Polanski’s The Tenant both borrow scenes from it. Babadook features a character actually watching it on television, and the three-story plot structure in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction was a direct tribute to Black Sabbath. AIP made a lot of fun and campy, gothic horror movies, but Bava’s films are genuinely nightmarish. Many critics prefer the director’s previous film, Black Sunday, and that film is also stunning (due in large part to Barbara Steele), but this film is much more likely to scare the bejesus out of you.

THE NORLISS TAPES (1973) – This made-for-TV movie from Dan Curtis, (the man behind Dark Shadows) is basically The X Files, but twenty years earlier. A skeptical occult investigator (Roy Thinnes, the titular David Norliss) embarks on a case for Angie Dickinson that reveals reanimated corpses, vampires, and demon worship. This pilot never went to series, but the set-up allowed for each episode to explore a new subject as one of the missing Norliss’ investigation tapes is played back, revealing clues to his ultimate whereabouts. It may have been deemed too similar to Curtis’ earlier The Night Stalker, but this lacked all of the goofy humor and schlocky acting of its predecessor–resulting in one of the scariest things ever broadcast on network television, which includes Bad Ronald, Trilogy of Terror, and Salem’s Lot. Like those other 70s programs, this is intense. The muted color palette predates (by 35 years) the gloomy look of the American Ring remake, and the whole production seems high-value for the time. I have an indelible memory of the vampire/animated corpse mixing blood into clay to sculpt a statue of the demon Sargoth, which comes to life. It froze me in fear as a child, and having seen it a few years ago, I was happy to see that this wasn’t a case of nostalgic recollection. Dickinson and Thinnes are excellent, the William F. Nolan script is damned good, and the film holds up 40 years later.

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) – Richard Matheson’s take on the similarly titled Shirley Jackson novel must have laid a lot of the groundwork for Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. The music isn’t quite Bartok or Penderecki, but there are shrill violins and short staccato riffs that perfectly complement the scariest mansion I’ve set eyes upon. Roddy McDowall plays the sole survivor of a previous expedition called back to assist Clive Revell, Gayle Hunnicutt and young psychic Pamela Franklin. The results are (of course) disastrous, and the same creeping sense of dread that infects Black Sabbath permeates every square inch of Hell House. This is the haunted house movie against which all others must be compared: the ghost gold standard, if you will. It’s the bridge between the gothic horror of Hammer and AIP and the modern scares of the Carpenter and Cronenberg films that were to come. It was completely overshadowed by the also excellent Don’t Look Now, released earlier that year, probably due to Nicholas Roeg’s virtuoso direction. Hell House director John Hough chose a more straightforward approach to better service the mood of his film, and while there’s no need to pick one over the other, I confess that I find The Legend of Hell House better suited to repeat viewings.

THE FUNHOUSE (1981) – Tobe Hooper is best known as the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and slightly lesser known for directing the Steven Spielberg produced Poltergeist, which is a probably the best PG rated horror film of all time. In between the two, he directed The Funhouse. Hooper opens with a shot-for-shot tribute to his friend John Carpenter’s Halloween (complete with Carpenteresque theme music) which is quickly revealed as a bratty brother-on-sister prank. Though clearly presented as a high school student (and the singular character of virtue by slasher film standards), Tobe chooses to show her completely nude in the shower, setting the tone that nothing is likely to cater to expectation. At its core, Funhouse has a standard high-concept premise: teens hide inside the funhouse and inadvertently witness a murder then try to escape, but most don’t. Masterful performances by Kevin Conaway as (literally) all of the carnival barkers, and two-time Oscar nominee Sylvia Miles as Madame Zena, the fortune teller, elevate this from the usual murder mill, and there are enough red herrings for an Italian Gialli. It is the uneasy innocence that Elizabeth Berridge (from Amadeus) brings to the lead role of Amy that excels even that of Jaime Lee Curtis in the aforementioned Halloween. She is the only actual teen in the film, and while the other actors capture the essence of rebellious youth, she maintains an awkwardness that surely clicked with girls her age in the audience, who likely went to the movie with the same curious intent that drew Amy and her friends to the funhouse. And while some are less innocent then others, you don’t really want any of these kids to come to any harm. Even the movie’s central monster is deserving of our pity. We see the young man in the Frankenstein mask twice mistreated before he is revealed as severely deformed (via iconic Rick Baker creature fx). The parallels between he and the original movie monster whose face he wears are not accidental, and the carnival is itself a character in the film. John Beal’s score is on par with the best of Jerry Goldsmith and suits the travelling amusement show well. While it’s easy to recognize The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as Tobe’s masterpiece, The Funhouse has long been my favorite of his films. It is a dichotomous success of slick and dirty that owes just a bit more to Edgar G. Ulmer than to Sean Cunningham. It was the last of the director’s films to retain the sleazy, impolite underbelly of his early independent films–albeit with a shiny, Hollywood polish. That he managed to walk that division without falling on either side is an achievement unto itself.

THE THING (1982) – John Carpenter’s remake of Howard Hawke’s The Thing From Another World is not only scarier than the original, it may be an even better allegory for the Cold War that was still in effect between the USA and USSR in the span of time between the two films. Rob Bottin’s FX work was groundbreaking for 1982, and it’s still terrifying. Carpenter’s minimalist, electronic score achieves a coldness that reflects both the mood and the Antarctic setting. Performances are strong and the premise believable–so much so that it’s been recycled about a dozen times since then. When spider legs sprout out of a severed head that then scuttles off screen, the characters in the foreground react exactly as you would: with stunned disbelief followed by frantic, defensive aggression. If you want to have a double feature of great fright flics that take place in the snow, you can follow The Thing with the somewhat cheerier 30 Days of Night.

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) – Audiences now probably know Michael Rooker for his frequent collaborations with director James Gunn, but before Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither, and even before his scene-stealing performance in Mississippi Burning, Rooker was Henry Lee Lucas in the absolute best serial killer movie ever made. The opening montage features a succession of post-crime-scene visuals accompanied by the audio footage of those crimes being committed earlier. These are in turn intercut with mundane, almost innocuous scenes of the killer using his day job to gain access to his victims’ houses. The lingering and panning camera angles that show the results of his rampage are primal and chilling–as is the lead performance. Rooker should have been Oscar nominated.

ANGEL HEART (1987) – Mostly remembered as the film that got Lisa Bonet fired from The Cosby Show (for what was at the time considered a graphic sex scene), this noir-horror hybrid from Alan Parker based on a Stoker Award Winning novel is moody like Se7en but more abstractly scary with the ominous presence of Vodou. The cinematography by Michael Seresin and score by Trevor Jones and Courtney Pine (channeling Robert Johnson and Al Bowlly) combine with Brian Morris’ production design to make the darkest corners of 1950s New Orleans ring true. Mickey Rourke was at the top of his game, and the support cast all overshadow Robert Deniro–which was not easy to do back in 1987. Most importantly, the supernatural dressing in this movie feels real. Vodou was big in ‘87 & ’88: The Believers certainly had bigger box office, but never felt as intimate or genuine; The Serpent and the Rainbow had authenticity, but the visceral moments of all-out terror were cheapened by spotty performances and poor FX in the final reel. Initial criticism has (over time) yielded to latter day praise, and now Angel Heart is widely considered to be the best Vodou movie since I Walked With a Zombie.

WHITE OF THE EYE (1987) – Donald Cammell was an experimental, filmmaking mystic who only got to complete four movies in a career that spanned thirty years. His first film, Performance (shot in 1968, released in 1970), was made in collaboration with Nicholas Roeg, and it’s a masterpiece in its own right. The only other film on the director’s resume that replicates that standard is 1987’s White of the Eye. Cathy Moriarty gives an Oscar caliber performance as the wife of a carpenter (David Keith) suspected in a murder investigation amid accusations by her former lover–who might have an axe of his own to grind. Rare for a horror film, it’s shot almost entirely in daylight with a sumptuous Mario Testino meets David Lynch look. Rarer still, Native American animism is central to the plot. Marlon Brando, who dropped out of a Cammell project (causing it to languish for years unmade), took out a two-page apology ad in Variety, praising White of the Eye as an American classic.

EXORCIST III: LEGION (1990) – It is impossible to compare any film to the original Exorcist, including and maybe especially a sequel. But this film, both written and directed by the original film’s author, William Peter Blatty, was conceived independently from the previous films’ mythos. The reaction to the Legion script was so positive that Blatty was asked to add elements that would tie it to the franchise. Instead, he completely incorporated both Father Karras and Det. Kinderman and made one of the scariest films of the 90s. Legion was dropped from the title, and it was released as Exorcist III. With actor Lee J. Cobb dead, Oscar winner George C. Scott took on the role of Kinderman, and Emmy winner Ed Flanders assumed the priestly robes of Father Dyer. Jason Miller reprised the role he made famous. I had the pleasure of meeting Scott on the set of 12 Angry Men and I recited a pivotal speech from the coda of the film, which prompted him to shake my hand with a grip that could have crippled me (as he expressed surprise that I didn’t hit him with a line from Dr. Strangelove or Patton). Pause here and think about how powerful a speech would have to be to inspire you to memorize it. The imagery that accompanies it is hellacious on par with a Bruegel painting, and that’s not even the biggest scare! Melting ice in a glass tumbler is brought to uncharted zeniths of terror in the hands of the very capable Blatty, who populates this film with some of the most macabre imagery this side of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which in the context of religion is somehow more spiritually disheartening.

JACOB’S LADDER (1990) – Adrian Lynne’s psychedelic mind-fuck of an anti-war movie utilized some of the most ground-breaking, nightmarish imagery in the modern, collective consciousness while establishing Tim Robbins as a serious leading man. A soldier returns home after the Vietnam War with more than the usual readjustment problems: he sees demons everywhere, giving him the impression that he is either losing his mind or fighting for his soul. The key to unraveling this mystery lies in his connections with the people around him: his fellow vets, his girlfriend, his ex-wife and son, and his chiropractor. Sounds fairly innocuous, right? It’s anything but. Like Angel Heart, this is a modern, period film from an award-winning director, featuring Oscar caliber performances from the entire cast and shot as perfectly as a coffee table book. Jacob’s Ladder is the more metaphysical of the two, and is in many ways the polar opposite. This is yang to Angel Heart’s yin. It is a terrifying journey that also manages to be uplifting, which is incredibly rare in a horror film. This film made the year’s best lists of almost every critic, but earned not a single nomination among the major competitive awards. That just goes to show what an amazing year 1990 was for horror films. This is everything that Tarsem Singh wished The Cell was: a masterpiece of substance, style and technique that remained coherent, consistent and gripping. In the case of Jacob’s Ladder, casting (and Bruce Joel Rubin’s incredible script) made the difference.

MISERY (1990) – I didn’t know when I started compiling this list that Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel would be on it. And then I realized that not only is Misery the ultimate writer/stalker movie, it is exponentially more frightening in the age of anonymous, internet fandom. It easily excels on the criteria that I’ve laid out. It’s a classic high-concept pitch: writer who gets in accident is saved by his biggest fan, but nobody knows he’s alive and she imprisons and tries to kill him. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her portrayal of deranged fan, Annie Wilkes, and James Caan staged a late-career comeback on the back of his performance as author Paul Sheldon. The script adapted by screenwriting legend William Goldman boils the novel down to its essence, and nobody who’s seen this film can hear the word “hobbling” without wincing. Most of this film takes place in a single bedroom, but Reiner keeps the tension as high as if it were shot in a car teetering off the side of a mountain. It’s not often that one can describe a viewing experience as both stressful and rewarding. And in the cannon of Stephen King adaptations, this is right up there with Shawshank Redemption, and miles above almost everything else (though I have a soft spot for Cujo, which really does take place almost entirely in a car). I love The Shining, but it is among the least faithful King adaptations.

THE DESCENT (2005) – A spelunking adventure goes horribly awry in one of the very few post-feminist horror films. In the most basic sense, director Neil Marshall has laid out the Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey and steered them through elements of Jeepers CreepersThe Hills Have EyesTexas Chainsaw Massacre, and Picnic At Hanging Rock without resorting to clichés. The essentially all-female-cast is not a sample set of stereotypes nor are they mere stand-ins for male scripted characters. The story is informed and enriched by multi-faceted performances that never ring false. The scope shifts from epic to claustrophobic but leaves room for interpretation. This film died at the box office but gained such a following on home media that a (lackluster) sequel was produced. Stick with the original. It’s fresh and it’s hardcore.

KILL LIST (2011) – This gem of an independent UK thriller completely changes genre half-way through the film. It starts out like a British Goodfellas, and then becomes Race With the Devil with a little bit of The KraysHostel and Wicker Man thrown in. The working class setting is immediately reminiscent of Alan Clarke or Ken Loach, and the actors seem like gifted unprofessionals to the point that you forget you’re watching a movie. Ben Wheatley directed the excellent and allegorical A Field In England, and Kill List is somehow less tethered to the norm. While a mash-up of gangster vérité and horror, it suffers no dilution on either side and delivers quite a wallop when motives are finally revealed.

*PVC-1 (2007) – Speaking of Cinema Vérité, PVC-1 is not a horror film, per sé (the same way that Jaws is not a horror film). It’s a thriller, but probably more easily classified as an 85-minute act of terrorism. Here’s the premise: During a home invasion, instead of killing the residents, the invaders strap a plastic pipe bomb to a woman’s head as a form of ransom. Did I mention that the entire film was shot in real time in a single take? When I screened this film as part of my Disturbing Movie Night series, this more than any other film caused panic. That series included Cannibal HolocaustIn My SkinIrreversibleMartyrsMen Behind the SunMermaid in a ManholeA Serbian FilmSingapore Sling, and many other very unpleasant films. The level of tension is high as you watch this poor woman seeking help, wondering if the bomb is going to go off or not. Not recommended for anyone suffering from any form of PTSD. Every louder-than-normal noise will cause you to flinch–and there are lots of them. I’ve heard films described as emotional rollercoasters, but this is like an emotional DMT trip.