The Paper Cuts 2015 Holiday Gift Guide
I’ve made no secret about using this column to bridge the gap between the sometimes-at-odds and sometimes-overlapping horror fiction and horror film fandoms.
But if there’s one thing that unifies all varieties of horror obsessives, it’s our love of crass consumerism and physical media.
In that spirit, I thought I’d make this month’s installment of Paper Cuts a kind of public service. You can email this article to family and loved ones, make the subject heading “I found this interesting” and BOOM! you’ve got some sweet gifts coming to you this holiday season.
Or—if you don’t have any friends or loved ones—you can just buy all this crap now and ride out the rest of your lonely December in style.
To further amuse myself, I’ve taken the season’s big Blu-Ray and DVD releases and paired them with a thematically-appropriate book (in one or two cases the books are a few years old, but the discs are all this year’s crop). Even if whoever you’re buying for is not a “reader” (or visa-versa, a reader who’s not a film collector), take a chance on the accompanying book/movie.
They’ll still enjoy anything on this list more than a necktie.
One of my favorite movies of the year was also one of the most criminally underseen thanks to a “blink and you missed it” limited theatrical release and VOD.
Go in fresh because the trailer both gives away a lot of gags and makes the movie look way more Scream/Cabin In The Woods-y than it actually is. You’re going to have a great time. The Final Girls boasts a strong cast featuring virtually everyone from that one show you like (about five different “that one shows”) and some genuine heart. Don’t let the PG-13 rating drive you away if you’re one of those “R-rating or the highway!” people. We get it: you’re a real horror fan. You need blood and boobs!
This is one of those flicks that will end up being the toast of horror-nerd Facebook when/if it hits Netflix streaming. If you get the disc, you’ll not only be ahead of the curve: you’ll be treated to one of the most feature-stacked new releases in recent memory (a bunch of making-of materials, interviews, and like three different commentaries).
Pairs well with: The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones. If you thought The Final Girls got meta, the levels of meta in Jones’s book will kick your teeth in. But the book’s not a pandering reference-fest, it’s smart as hell without ever letting its brains get in the way of itself. Jones is one of horror’s greatest minds and if you’ve never read him before I would point to this as a great place to start.
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
This movie kicked off last year’s Exhumed Horrorthon and during the title card I remember thinking: “I loved this movie as a kid, but I’m really worried it’s not going to hold up right now.”
Ernest Dickerson’s mid-90s violent monster mash not only holds up: it has appreciated in value over the last 20 years.
In many ways it’s a last gasp for a certain kind of filmmaking. There’s no CGI in sight, everything’s either practical or old-school optical effects. The cast is a who’s who of great character actors (Dick Miller, William Sadler, CCH Pounder), anchored by Jada Pinkett as maybe the most fist-pumpingly non-traditional final girl I can name and Billy Zane as an insanely loveable villain.
Most importantly: the tone is pitch-perfect. The film’s exaggerated, borderline cartoony (like the show it’s spun off from), but never winking, never ironic.
Dickerson went on to do one more horror movie (2001’s Snoop Dogg vehicle Bones, which I remember enjoying but am not going to go to bat for with the fervor with which I’ll defend Demon Knight) and nowadays he’s a successful TV director (one of The Walking Dead’s most prolific shooters), but Demon Knight makes me imagine an alternate universe where he kept directing horror features and we had a larger Dickerson canon on which to reflect.
Scream Factory has been doing a great job giving films like this the deluxe treatment and they’ve done it again with their recently released Demon Knight disc.
Also out in time for the holidays (and while we’re talking about directors with neglected legacies): Scream Factory has just released The Larry Fessenden Collection. Haven’t received my copy yet, but I feel confident enough saying you should sneak under the tree.
Pairs well with: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Like an ice water bath, send your gift recipient from maybe the least-serious demonic possession story ever told to maybe the classiest one. Tremblay’s twisty, ambiguity-filled tale of an exorcism-turned-reality show is being widely heralded as one of the best books of the year and I completely agree.
Eaten Alive (1977)
Tobe Hooper’s gonzo rural-horror meets animals-attack follow-up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is not the best movie on this list, but it is one of the most interesting. And Arrow Video’s newly released Blu/DVD seems to realize that fact. Utilizing a collection of new and previously-released features, this release offers a snapshot of not only a certain time in a director’s (admittedly rocky) career, but of a period of filmmaking itself.
Stagey and sleazy, Eaten Alive feels much less like the immortal TCM than it does a kind of weird collaboration between Tennessee Williams and Herschell Gordon Lewis. You should probably know a little bit about the taste of the person you’re planning on buying this for before pulling the trigger.
Pairs well with: Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet by Adam Howe. A collection of three novellas, I find Howe’s book frustrating on multiple levels: all of those levels rooted in jealousy. He nails southern Americana better than almost anyone (Joe Lansdale excepted) and the guy’s not even American! Paired with Eaten Alive because the final novella in the collection, Gator Bait, is based on the same real-life incident as Hooper’s film.
What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)
The second Arrow Video release on this list (and the second thing I’m recommending that I don’t actually own yet, as it comes out December 15th), I haven’t seen What Have You Done to Solange? since its first DVD release (which was early-days for the format and even earlier in my giallo education). I’m looking forward to revisiting it in HD.
Directed by frequent Sergio Leone director of photography Massimo Dallamano, with a score by Ennio Morricone, What Have You Done to Solange? is one of the giallo-ist gialli to ever slip on a pair of leather gloves.
Arrow’s been doing these fantastic editions (seriously, their releases are Criterion competition) for a number of years in Britain, but have only recently have been operating in the US. You probably couldn’t go wrong with any of their titles if you’ve got a serious genre fan on your list.
Pairs well with: Giallo Fantastique edited by Ross E. Lockhart. Okay. Real talk time: I’ve got a story in this anthology from Lockhart. But you can skip my entry. No self-promo here. Nothing would pair better with some Argento, Fulci, Dallamano, or Martino than some of these stories. An all-star lineup, there are a few shorts here that would justify the cover price on their own (Anya Martin and Garrett Cook’s installments come to mind). It also looks nice on a shelf.
If Eaten Alive was the “not for everyone” entry on this list, then Demonoid is basically the “not for anyone” entry. A must for trash connoisseurs, Demonoid will mystify the normals. Demonoid is a midnight movie that crushes up lesser midnight movies and snorts the remains.
This disc was released by Vinegar Syndrome, a label that’s not as exhaustive with their features as Arrow, but they make up for it with the audacious weirdness of the films they preserve (which is to say: they’re doing The Lord’s work).
What’s Demonoid about? A demonic severed hand. There’s more (cultists, Pazuzu-like statuary) but do I need to go into further detail? For weirdos. Or murderous severed hand subgenre completionists (The Hand, And Now the Screaming Starts, and many more…seriously).
Pairs well with: Superghost by Scott Cole. Not as niche as Demonoid, but still plenty strange. Superghost is about a mad scientist who goes around collecting the phantom limbs of amputees. Once he’s got those phantom limbs? He builds a giant ghost monster with them. Of course. If you’re a horror fan who’s not familiar with the world of Bizarro fiction, Cole’s book would be a good gateway drug to the genre.
Goodnight Mommy (2015)
A film that seems to have divided many of my friends, I absolutely LOVED Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Goodnight Mommy.
You probably heard of the Austrian movie earlier this year when the trailer went viral as “the scariest trailer of all timez!!!”, but if you’ve avoided that (super misleading) trailer thus far: don’t watch it. Just buy/rent/gift the movie and prepare thyself. If there’s a more upbeat movie for the season, I can’t think of it.
If you need more convincing, I did a longer write-up of this a few weeks ago over on my own site.
Not that it pairs exactly, but while you’re letting the credits roll on Goodnight Mommy, why not indulge in some more soul-crushing paranoia? Stacy Schiff’s The Witches is the Pulitzer recipient’s exhaustive history/explication of the Salem witch trials. It’s not a light read (or an easy one, footnotes galore), but it’s fascinating.
There you go, all the season’s hot toys for the creepy grown-up kid in your life. Saint Nicholas got nothin’ on me!
Now get out of here…
Adam Cesare is a New Yorker who lives in Philadelphia. He studied English and film at Boston University. His books include Mercy House, Video Night, The Summer Job, and Tribesmen. He has an oft-neglected website and tweets as @Adam_Cesare.