[To get you into the spooky spirit, the Daily Dead team is spotlighting double features that we think would be fun to watch this Halloween season. Check here for more double feature recommendations and other Halloween 2017 coverage.]
As horror lovers, we tend to spend most of October drowning ourselves in our favorite movies (even more than the rest of the year), revisiting those titles that remind us of the season or which have become an annual tradition. Never is this more true than on Halloween night, when so many of us have our go-to titles without which the holiday wouldn’t be complete: “It’s not Halloween unless I watch The Exorcist,” or “It’s not Halloween unless I watch the remake of The Fog!” Some of you are weird.
I get it. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about what I watch every Halloween, but I always make it a point to watch something. And while I know many of you will turn to the original Halloween or Trick ’r Treat or even Night of the Demons, I want to offer an alternative double feature for you this year. These aren’t movies set on Halloween or which try to capture the spirit of our favorite month of the year. These are movies that address a much bigger question: why do we love horror movies? What is it that draws us to monsters and murderers and nightmares and gore? Because Halloween isn’t about getting candy or playing pranks. It’s about self-reflection.
I might be doing Halloween wrong, you guys.
The first movie in this “Why Horror?” double bill is writer/director Adam Green’s 2014 film Digging Up the Marrow, a narrative/mockumentary hybrid that casts Green as himself making a documentary about a retired private detective named William Dekker (Ray Wise, completely crushing it as he always does), who claims he can prove the existence of real monsters. It can be a tough movie to wrap your head around: it’s been called found footage, but it’s not. It’s not a documentary, either, even though Green plays himself as the writer/director of all of his real movies and the owner of ArieScope, his production company. In fact, everyone in the movie who isn’t Ray Wise plays themselves, which makes it seem like Green is trying to fake out his audience Blair Witch-style. But it’s a fiction through and through, one with a lot of humor, some great scares, and some really cool monster designs (by Alex Pardee, from whose artwork the film was originally borne). If there’s a really underrated film in Adam Green’s oeuvre, it’s Spiral. But if there are two really underrated films in Green’s oeuvre, Digging Up the Marrow is definitely one of them.
So why am I picking it to watch on Halloween night? Because it’s about the monster fan in all of us. It’s about why we’re obsessed with horror and what it is we’re chasing every time we put on a horror movie or set foot in a haunted house or don our scariest Sexy Janitor costume. We want to believe. Adam Green is all of us, and his love of horror and his excitement over the possibility of seeing a real, live monster is why he makes the movies he makes, just as it’s why we love the movies we love.
Consider this: there are a handful of really terrific jump scares in the movie. These are pretty much a staple of the horror genre. And they can be fun! But in traditional horror movies (or haunted houses or wherever you get your jump scares), we’re meant to be afraid of whatever is going to jump out at us. Adam Green inverts that trope in Marrow by making sure we want to see the thing. We’re not hiding from the scare; we, like the on-screen Green, are actively pursuing it because we welcome the sight of the monster. It’s a metaphor for how we watch horror movies versus how non-horror fans watch them. Green gets it, and that’s what makes Digging Up the Marrow special.
After the talkier, more measured pacing of Marrow, we’re going to blow the doors off with 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods, directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon. No movie in the last 40 years has had more to say about what it is to be a horror fan—it’s both a savage critique and a glorious celebration of the genre. By now you hopefully know the story, but if you don’t please read no further; this is a movie best enjoyed knowing as little as possible. Just know that it’s about a group of college students (among them Fran Kranz and a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) who travel to the titular cabin in the titular woods and discover that not everything is exactly as it seems to be.
A feature-length deconstruction of horror movies, The Cabin in the Woods breaks down everything from gratuitous nudity to stock characters making poor decisions to our desire to see innocent people suffer on film. These things happen in horror films, Goddard and Whedon suggest, because we, the audience, need them to happen. We have come not just to expect the sameness, but to demand it. We are the (mostly) unseen Elders referenced throughout the movie—the ones who insist on checking all of the boxes in order to be satisfied with our viewing experience. The makers of The Cabin in the Woods are critical of a certain sameness in the genre, but they never say we are wrong to love horror movies. We should just want something more.
And something more they give us, which is why The Cabin in the Woods is part of this “Why Horror?” double feature and the perfect movie to close out Halloween night. The final act of the movie doesn’t just give us something we want from a horror movie: it gives us everything we could ever possibly want from a horror movie. Goddard unleashes Hell in the form of an army of monsters who wreak havoc on an entire building—everything from werewolves and zombies to Cenobites and snakes to killer unicorns and, yes, even a merman. The Cabin in the Woods goes from being a really good, really clever horror movie to being one of the best horror movies of the 2000s with a sequence that celebrates everything we love about the genre. Yes, the film says that horror can stand to be fixed. But it also says that horror can be glorious and fun and wonderful and that it serves a very specific function in our lives: by watching these things play out before us, these movies keep the literal demons at bay.
With all their self-reflexive introspection about the nature of horror fandom, I have probably made both Digging Up the Marrow and The Cabin in the Woods sound like homework. They’re not. They’re both a blast, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t want to use our brains at the same time that we gorge on Skittles and Baby Ruths and horror movies on this, the most magical night of the year. Halloween is a great time to celebrate the genre. These movies do that. They celebrate horror, they celebrate everything we love about horror, and they even celebrate us as horror fans. That’s all I can ask for this Halloween.
Well, that and a couple of full-size Snickers. Happy Halloween!
In case you missed it, check here to read our other special features that celebrate the Halloween season!