#2: It's Almost Halloween... Are You Still Watching? 👻
In the Mood's horror recs: Revisiting Scream, We're Going To Eat You, Suspiria, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, and more. 😈
Comic by Aidan Jeans, an illustrator based in Toronto.
The Scream franchise’s iconic Ghostface mask has an improbable origin. It was found by a producer while scouting an abandoned house for the shoot, randomly hanging from a post. Wes Craven loved it because it reminded him of Munch’s painting, The Scream, but also because it looked cheap, like something anyone could buy in a party store. The mask actually was made by a party supply company called “Fun World,” and was originally identified as “The Peanut-Eyed Ghost.” I never thought of peanuts looking at the black sockets of the mask, bent so markedly in an expression of terror that they bulge out the sides. But now that I think about it... I do see peanuts.
I wish I could have seen peanuts at 7 years old, when I watched the trailer for Scream 2 and was struck, terrified, by the potency of that face. I slept badly for weeks, shadows in my room configuring into gaping maws and tattered robes. The face was an intrusive image that carried a mind-blowing thought: some people kill for fun.
The cheap white mask is frozen in an expression of extreme despair, quite like Munch’s figure who is petrified by some horror out of frame. Munch imagined the painting after seeing the sky change suddenly from yellow to red, a reminder of the horrible power and indifference of nature. Maybe the mask’s primal, unrelenting anguish also reminds us of the bottomless cruelties of the natural world, and of man’s nature.
This is funny considering how unnatural the costume is. The robe is visibly polyester, the mask cheap plastic, it’s so out of a bag that we see the bag in one scene from the first film. And the figure underneath doesn’t seem primal or powerful; his physicality is cartoonish, almost clown-like. In terms of choreography, Scream is more vaudeville than horror; when the killer pops out of closets or appears in doorways, it feels theatrical. This isn’t the stoic, inexorable approach of Jason or Michael, but the prankish manoeuvres of a teenager. And, in some ways, this made him scarier to me as a little girl. He reminded me of the intimidating teenagers at my school who would probably mock me for being afraid of the Scream 2 trailer. If you tussled with Ghostface you might get killed or you might survive, but you’re always going to be mocked.
Scream’s killer isn’t just a mask but also a voice, taunting, sardonic, and aggressive in a shock-jock way. We rarely hear and see the killer at the same time, as if they were separate entities. Of course, there’s a good reason, the killer can’t really use the voice modifier while chasing you with a knife. But it also highlights the dislocation of the killer from the kill, which has always been inherent in Scream. Ghostface is a killer catch-all, almost anyone could be under the mask for any reason: revenge, attention, peer pressure—and it seems, every time, for fun. The actual killers in the film (Billy Loomis, Billy’s Mom, Noel from Felicity) are only behind the mask in the scene where it gets taken off, revealing their identity. The voice on the phone was performed by voice actor Roger L. Jackson, and most of the time the killer under the costume was the stuntman, Dane Farwell.
But regardless of who’s under there, to me, Ghostface was always a specific kind of guy. I imagined that under the robe were Bluenotes bootcut jeans, the cuff fraying at the back because they’re too long, and maybe one of those long-sleeve-under-short-sleeve shirts. My brother owned a Ghostface costume, yours probably did too. Maybe it terrified you to see Ghostfaces everywhere at Halloween, to see how powerfully suggestive an image can be, even stripped of its scary context and forgotten under a pile of dirty laundry.
The mask became a millennial icon, a provocation that levelled fear with disaffection and irony. It’s no surprise armed robbers use the mask, more surprising was the man who accepted his lottery winnings in the mask, in the hope of preserving anonymity. I loved Scary Movie (the original working title for Scream), probably because it diffused the effect of the killer as his face crinkled into a stoned smile, his tongue lolling out the era-defining, and definitively annoying, wassuppp.
One way I soothed my anxiety over the mask as a kid was to pretend I had worked on the film. I imagined I was there when they called cut and the killer took off his mask and went to get a snack at the craft table. It’s maybe why I have such a soft spot for Scream 3, which is set around the Hollywood shoot for Stab 3, the Scream franchise within the film’s world. Watching the killer crash through Sidney’s fake house, knocking over walls that are plywood thin, coming through doorways with no doors, under spooky night lighting that could turn to daytime with the flip of a switch, was probably therapeutic.
The third one is already the least scary, with fewer kills and less blood. Slated for release in the year of Columbine, producers may have been hesitant to revel in too much bloody mayhem. The first films’ desensitized, pop-culture-obsessed teen killers were a goad to the pearl-clutching adults worried about their own desensitized, pop-culture-obsessed teens. But the jokey theatricality of Ghostface made it impossible to forget that you’re watching a movie. It’s not real life, just a fun world.
Gabrielle Marceau is a writer and editor-in-chief of In the Mood Magazine.
Horror Movie Astrology
In Cinemastrology, Sara Sutterlin explains the 12 astrological houses through film. Here are some of her horror picks and what their placement in the charts says about you:
1st House: ruled by Mars, is home to our physical bodies and the masks we wear (our ascendants). This is the lens through which we view the world. The embodiment. We find our disposition and our strength of will.
Films such as The Mask (1994), The Skin I Live In (2011), or Eyes Without A Face (1960) depict the ascendant’s power to control perception, as well as the journeys we take to become ourselves and our concepts of ourselves.
4th House: ruled by the Moon, we retrace our roots and traditions, we acknowledge what is hereditary, we address what was internalized. We go home. The generational lives here.
Films like Secrets and Lies (1996) or How to Make an American Quilt (1995) come to mind. Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018) also exists in the 4th house world; where intergenerational trauma tangles behind closed doors. Or, uh, where your dead grandma decapitates herself with a saw.
11th House: co-ruled by Saturn and Uranus, is where we become aware of the greater good and our place within the collective. We realize that our personal ambitions are shared, the size of their impact and that they serve more than ourselves. There’s an ‘assembling the team’ energy here.
[It Follows’] pool scene, in particular, is full of these misguided but passionate efforts. In an attempt to destroy the demon, they pack up the electronics from their respective homes, hoping to lure the monster into the pool, trapping and hopefully electrocuting it. This messy, complicated, teenage definition of friendship is ultimately a reflection of the power in collaboration and collective courage.
12th House: is harder to define. It is the urge for dissolution, the need for solitude to reflect: it is where we go when we go inward. Ruled by Neptune, there’s an elusiveness to it that escapes the conscious world. Astrologer Robert Sasportas describes it with a Ken Wilber quote, comparing it to a ‘divine homesickness.’ There’s a desire to return to something more boundless.
John Hancock’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) follows Jessica, newly released from a psychiatric hospital, as she moves out to the country with some friends and attempts to start fresh. It best exemplifies the isolation that can keep us in our heads. A beautiful, deeply empathetic film that explores the nagging paranoia and lingering uncertainty of the mind.
I’d be remiss not to bring up Cronenberg and suggest both Scanners (1981) and The Dead Zone (1983), where psychicness and blank spaces, the things we cannot see, are the missing puzzle piece.
Sara Sutterlin is the author of three books and editor in chief of LESTE and DOOF Magazine. She is pursuing a certification in psychological astrology. You can find her on IG or Letterboxd.
Sometimes when I was young and would find stray strands of my hair on the floor, I’d flinch with disgust. A part of me, apart. I’d react the same to dust, knowing it was made up of dead skin.
I often forget my skin is alive. Sometimes I scratch it in my sleep and it cracks and bleeds and I wake up and twist my neck like a swan to look back at myself in the mirror and inspect the damage. And then my skin heals and scars and fades all by itself, without me telling it to, because it is alive; I am alive.
Sometimes I fold my body in half to look at the hair on my shins and it looks alien. Sometimes I pluck it or wax it or shave it so I can be happy for a little bit as a skinned little thing. And then the hair grows back in shards.
If you had to choose, would you prefer to jump or crawl out of your skin? Sometimes nothing is scarier than a live body, dripping and hairy.
—Sennah Yee is the author of How Do I Look? and My Day With Gong Gong.
The Scary of Sixty-First (2021)
Red Scare fans be like (adds Los Angeles Apparel tennis skirt to shopping cart): I’m so close to figuring out the truth about the pedophilic billionaire class, I know it.
After plugging in my European Film Market login details, graciously provided to me by a Parisian film exec with whom I occasionally cam for cash, I eagerly refreshed the Berlinale webpage in anticipation of the premiere of The Scary of Sixty-First. Despite being a world premiere, an occasion traditionally associated with excitement and glamour, Dasha Nekrasova’s demonic, amphetamine-fueled directorial debut was actually well suited to the depraved COVID release landscape, fitting in nicely with the now abject familiarity of my laptop (and growing Vyvanse dependency).
Engaging with the dialectics of apophenia, Scary captures the obsessive, pattern-seeking logic of the web and personifies it in two young women desperate to uncover the “truth” about Jeffrey Epstein and his elite cabal of pedophiles. If this dynamic sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard, for better or for worse, an episode or two of Red Scare; the popular podcast (co-hosted by Anna Khachiyan and Nekrasova herself) situated within an emergent class of pseudo-political pundits somewhat embarrassingly known as the “dirtbag left.” Strikingly similar tonally (Anna K makes an appearance, along with both R and F slurs), Scary reproduces the intoxicating, boundary-pushing affect of Red Scare, swapping the ambient intimacy of the parasocial for the histrionic unease of the paranormal.
Though reactive, the conspiratorial mode depicted in Scary is not entirely illogical. Paranoid as they are, the characters find both intentionality and purposeful humanism within the otherwise absurd, irrational, and meaningless world of late-capitalism. As finance-backed violence and networked power produce equal parts angst and anesthesia, world-building in this schizophrenic, conspiratorial mode seems not entirely unreasonable, and in some cases (as evidenced in the growing landscape of podcasting) functions as an antidote to the atomization of neoliberal individualism (until, of course, it meets its logical conclusion in ISIS merch). While the Red Scare sign-off is infamously “see you in hell,” Scary makes it abundantly clear we’re already there.
—Nicole Richardson is a sporadic writer and full-time film scholar living in Toronto with her cats Melfi and Carmella.
Feeling Manic? Ethan Vestby recommends We're Going to Eat You (1980)
Coming from Director and Producer Tsui Hark, who made a name for himself as world cinema mogul, stylistic innovator, and political dissident; Hong Kong cannibal flick We’re Going to Eat You represents its author’s chaotic mix of sensibilities in an even more wild movie. And while it may not be one of his most revered titles, as a film that can aggressively cycle through Bond parody, kung-fu extravaganza, and grand guignol horror, it’s bound to strike a nerve (be it excitement or extreme annoyance).
Out the same year as legendary video nasty Cannibal Holocaust, We’re Going to Eat You may not match that film in terms of pure revolting audacity, but certainly runs laps around when it comes to craft and energy. Being a title from Hong Kong cinema’s heyday, when genres familiar to popular cinema worldwide were cranked up to delirious heights, the film can really only be summarized as a procession of movement, blood, and guttural noises. As scored to re-used bits of Goblin’s Suspiria score (and we’re talking the most atonal, hectic parts), it’ll be guaranteed to feed into any mania you’re feeling. Admittedly, if you’re looking to calm yourself down, you may be barking up the wrong tree.