Guest blogger L. Rob Hubbard reviews local Halloween books and horror flicks

It’s The Witching Season! What goes with Halloween along with trick or treating and dressing up in costume – horror films! But instead of listing the usual favorites that you probably already know about, we’ll take a look at titles that have the distinction of having been made locally in the Topeka/KC area.

But first, as an introduction, a look at a new book on horror films…

NIGHTMARE MOVIES carries the subtitle “Horror On Screen Since the 1960’s” and author Kim Newman (Anno Dracula series) certainly makes an effort to cover that much ground. The third incarnation of this book – the previous two publications only went up to the mid 1980’s – is actually two books in one volume, with Newman updating and annotating the previous release which covers most of the trends and nuances of horror films – from the classic characters of ghost, vampire, zombie, werewolf and Frankenstein’s Monster and their evolution/variations to the beginnings and explosion of the slasher film; foreign horror (emphasis on the Italian giallo and zombie gut-crunchers); post-modern horror and auteurs like Dario Argento, Larry Cohen, David Cronenberg and Brian DePalma.

The second book picks up from the late ’80’s to present day, with updated looks at the evolution of classic horror characters (the resurgence of vampires and zombies); slasher films transforming into serial killer films; ‘franchise’ horror and remakes; “torture porn”; foreign horror (Japan and Spain taking the lead) and auteurs David Lynch, Guillermo DelToro, Larry Fessenden and David Lynch this time around.

At over 600 pages, including bibliographies and index, it’s a pretty comprehensive look at the modern horror film, though there are some omissions here and there – no one person can see EVERYTHING, after all. Newman strikes a nice balance between the scholarly approach and horror fan appreciation; whether or not you may agree or disagree with his opinions, his analysis is top notch.

Now, some suggestions for Halloween viewing that were made locally. Full disclosure – I was a part of the production crew on some of the films mentioned.

HEARTLAND HORRORS VOL. 1, is a collection of short films by local filmmakers Patrick Rea and Kendall Sinn (who have also collaborated on the upcoming feature NAILBITER) that premiered on the website The Horror Channel a few years ago. Like most collections/anthologies, it’s a varied collection of stories, serious and comic, yet there’s not a true dud in the bunch.

Patrick Rea continues to make shorts, but most filmmakers eventually decide to take the plunge into longer forms. THE EMPTY ACRE is Rea’s ‘no-budget’ debut feature, which has a young couple, caught in the midst of mysterious forces decimating a small town. The horror in this movie isn’t the bloody/gory/thrill-a-minute kind, so if you’re looking for blood to be strewn around, you’ll be disappointed – but fans of low-key, slow burning dread that steadily accumulates will find much to like.

If you’re a fan of more traditional horror-fare – the vengeance-oriented, ‘bad behavior punished’ type of morality play, then check out KC filmmaker Ty Jones’ debut feature LAST BREATH. A couple struggling with marital problems find themselves trapped in a warehouse by some Dark Figure who continually torments them, for crimes unknown to them. Who this Figure is and his connection to them is the crux of the mystery. LAST BREATH has been likened to, “SAW, with a moral uplift”, and that pretty much hits the nail on the head, so to speak; fans of movies like SAW, HARD CANDY and of twist endings will also enjoy this.

Horror sometimes has a close relationship with sci-fi – ALIEN, just to take an obvious example. Lawrence filmmakers Alec Joler and Ethan Shaftel straddle the line of sci-fi and horror with their debut feature SUSPENSION. It starts out as a drama, with a husband losing his wife and son in an accident – the sci-fi element is that shortly after the incident, he discovers that he has the ability to stop time, which he begins using to deal with his grief. The horror element surfaces when he begins to obsess and stalk a young woman using the ability. SUSPENSION makes good use of several Topeka locations, some startling low-key effects and good performances from the lead characters.

Finally, THE ONLY GOOD INDIAN, directed by Kevin Willmott, might at first glance appear to be misplaced on this list, since it can be found in the Western section – but horror can be found in unusual places and sometimes isn’t labeled ‘horror’. In the case of INDIAN, one can consider the story of a young Native American boy at the turn of the century (1900) who’s abducted from his home and taken to an Indian school to be ‘civilized’ to be a Native American horror tale. The film does utilize some subtle horror tropes – the tale of DRACULA is used as a metaphorical counterpoint, and as the story is from the viewpoint of the abducted boy ‘Charlie’, one could see some parallels to another tale of children in adversity, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

Happy Halloween!