It is Fun to be Scared! Five Horror Movies that Entertain More than They Frighten

It’s October again (or close enough) so get ready for a whole month of horror-themed content. I begin by easing into it. Not everyone likes being scared after all. As a fan of horror, I cannot tell you how many times my suggestion to watch a horror movie has been voted do by “Is it scary? I don’t like being scared!”

Well… of course all the absolute best “pure” horror movies are scary. They wouldn’t be good if they weren’t. Yet I feel that there is a sub-genre to horror that is rarely talked about. Those films that give the chills but also excite us as audiences. After all, it was films like the original Dawn of the Dead that got people asking: “So what would you do in a zombie apocalypse?

So if you’re looking to get into the Halloween spirit but still wish to sleep fairly soundly at night, I have some ideas for you. Keep in mind, art is subjective – so if you frighten easily: fair warning.

The Visit

Holy crap, M. Night Shyamalan finally made a good movie again. WHAT A TWIST?!

Seriously, for those that haven’t heard, M. Night’s newest sends two kids to meet their long-lost grandparents. Shot in “found footage” style, The Visit treats its audiences to a mix of jolts and laughs. Sounds like a hard combo to pull off because it is.

Deanna Dunagan deserves a lot of credit for conveying a performance that warm, funny, and at times downright horrifying.
Deanna Dunagan deserves a lot of credit for conveying a performance that warm, funny, and at times downright horrifying.

What makes The Visit more impressive is that, while balancing these two difficult moods, the film remains fairly grounded and subdued. The films highlighted after this one make no such effort and often reach wacky, near cartoon levels of physical humor. M. Night is able to perfectly capture that level of awkward, tension-relieving laughter that comes when the film’s characters (and audience) realize that the situation is just going from bad to worse.

For those out there getting sick of “found footage” and all its overdone trappings, The Visit has you covered as well; with many scenes intentionally poking fun at the more commonplace jump scares.

Is it creepy: yeah (especially if old people weird you out), but it’s also a lot of fun! Also, there’s very little gore – although it does get kind of gross in certain spots.

Cabin in the Woods

For a long time, the late great Wes Craven‘s Scream was at the top film for meta-horror movie experiences. It still is… but Cabin in the Woods blows it out of the water as a deconstruction of the slasher horror genre. Where Scream merely pointed out where conventions lay, Cabin in the Woods works its entire premise around it.

The film is, you guessed it, about a group of young, attractive college kids renting a cabin in the woods. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that there is a little bit more going on. Soon the kids are up against a family of murderous zombies and things are getting increasingly dangerous and bizarre.

Look no further than the poster to see what kind of tone the movie operates at.
Look no further than the poster to see what kind of tone the movie operates at.

This is a perfect film for anyone who has ever watched a teen horror film and wondered: “Why is everyone acting like a complete idiot? Why would they do that?”

It’s gory for sure, but there’s a lot of comedy interwoven into the horror formula. All the actors perform like they had a blast making this film. Surprisingly (or not) this movie was written by none other than Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and his friend Drew Goddard and serves as their letter to the horror genre.

Gremlins

Wow, Minions has sure grossed a lot of money recently huh? I wonder where the creators ever got that idea for little, semi-evil, funny monsters that run around causing mischief and spouting gibberish?

Oh yeah, these hyper assh*les.

When Gremlins was first conceived, it was intended to be a much darker, more serious horror film. The gremlins weren’t going to be as funny and were going to kill a lot more people. Luckily, none other than Steven Spielberg came along and was like nah, let’s lighten it up. The result is arguably the most fun creature invasion movie of all time.

This film creeped me out as a kid, but since then I have come to view it as one of the most fun horror films I have. It can ever count as a Christmas movie (as much as Die Hard) since it takes place around that holiday. Is there gore? Yeah, but only if you count putting a gremlin in a blender. And oh that theme song:

Evil Dead II/ Army of Darkness

I’m kind of cheating here but they are both films in the same Evil Dead series. While the first and fourth (or remake if you will) films are straight horror, the second and third are something else entirely. Watching Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness is like watching live action cartoons… that are adult-oriented. I mean, just watch this:

Yeah, it’s ridiculous. The first three films can be viewed as Ash (the protagonist)’s descent into madness, as he is thrown into a world of demons and other horrors that defy reason. Don’t watch if you can’t stand dismemberment, but otherwise you may never laugh harder at a horror film. Here’s hoping the upcoming Ash vs. Evil Dead can deliver the same level of zany quality.

Trick ‘R Treat

When Krampus comes out: see it. Take your friends, maybe have a drink or two first, and prepare to have a good time. Why do I say that? Because Krampus is directed by Michael Dougherty, the mastermind behind Trick ‘R Treat

Trick ‘R Treat may be the definitive Halloween film, since it is all about Halloween! The film is an anthology collection of stories centered around the holiday. The importance of checking your candy: check. The importance of decorating a pumpkin: check. The importance of having a great costume: it’s all there. Every rule of Halloween must be followed, and those that break them suffer dire consequences.

Those who break the rules get a visit from Sam, who is none too pleased.
Those who break the rules get a visit from Sam, who is none too pleased.

There is nothing more to be said than this film IS Halloween. It’s essential viewing. Not too gory, not too scary, it’s just right. Darn shame it never earned a theatrical release, but there’s hope for the sequel!

There you are, six films to sink your fangs into. In my opinion, they won’t terrify so much as entertain, making them excellent choices for those trying to get into horror this Halloween.

Simple Yet Brilliant: Poker Night 2

Every now and then a company has an idea. An idea so brilliant yet so simple that everyone wonders: how did no one else think of that? Whether it is a correct to a common annoyance or simply streamlining current technologies into greater convenience: sometimes ideas just work. Today I’ll be talking about one such idea. Poker Night 2 from Telltale Games. Yes, a poker game. Don’t switch websites, let me explain.

Who out there is a fan of sports video games? Okay next question: are you actually that good at sports? For myself, I was a huge fan of Madden long before I ever played football (and when I did, I was nowhere near as talented as those pixels). Point being: you don’t have to be a professional athlete to enjoy sports games. Indeed that is a huge part of their charm. Does it help to know the game: yes. That’s it though, and even then it’s just a rule set. Gamers figure those out all the time.

“But Colin, poker is not a sport.”

No it’s not. For all the competitiveness and talent required, poker is a game that anyone can play with a deck of cards. So why am I hocking a poker video game at you? True anyone can play regular poker but Poker Night 2 is a high-stakes poker simulator. I don’t know about you but I don’t have $20,000 of real money to throw down every time I play. Even if I did, I’m such an addict that I’m glad the dollars in Poker Night 2 aren’t real. Oh, did I mention you play against fantastical characters from your favorite shows, movies and video games?

The cast of Telltale's Poker Night 2
The cast of Telltale’s Poker Night 2.

That’s right. In this game you’ll match poker skills against Brock Sampson (the Venture Bros.), Claptrap (Borderlands), Ashley Williams (Army of Darkness) and Sam (Sam and Max: Freelance Police). Oh and GLaDOS (Portal) is the dealer. Try playing against these people in real life. Rest assured, everyone besides Ash speaks with their correct voice. I should mention that, despite lack of Bruce Campbell (seriously what else did he have to do?), Danny Webber does an excellent impression and most of the time I couldn’t tell.

Anyway, this is a brilliant idea. Who can honestly say they’ve never fantasized about being friends with a fictitious character (Dinobot from Beast Wars and I are besties, if only in my head). While you might not be friends in this game, you’re still playing poker with some awesome people. Is it all make believe: of course. Thank god for that because I’ve gone through $500,000 dollars against these assholes so far.

Every character is brought to life with their exact personality from the original source.
Every character is brought to life with their exact personality from the original source.

Telltale should be commended for their effort here. I should say right now that I am not an expert poker player but I have played games before in real life. While you play in a fantastical setting, the game does appear to be a fairly good and realistic poker simulator as well. Again I won’t say that it’s the best (I’m not a tournament player or anything so I don’t know) but it felt like I was playing poker – and that is an accomplishment.

Like every good idea, there is room to grow. I don’t know about anybody else but after a few hands, I was already picturing who I would want in the next game. Oh, I should also mention right now that, as of this moment, I have not played the first game, Poker Night at the Inventory, yet but it is a video game that has my interest.

Telltale's Poker Night at the Inventory, right to left: Max (Sam and Max: Freelance Police), Strong Bad (Homestar Runner), Heavy (Team Fortress 2) and Tycho (Penny Arcade).
Telltale’s Poker Night at the Inventory, right to left: Max (Sam and Max: Freelance Police), Strong Bad (Homestar Runner), Heavy (Team Fortress 2) and Tycho (Penny Arcade).

Maybe this only appeals to geeks, but I can’t wait to see what additional characters come into being in the later installments. I am also rooting for this series to be financially successful enough to warrant said future games (in case you hadn’t picked up on that). Here are just a few ideas for Telltale, if they are listening. I have included my top three for each category (note: feel free to skip the following paragraph, it is pure fanboy wishful thinking).

Movies: James Bond (obviously), Agent Phil Coulson (probably the easiest character to get from the Marvel Cinematic Universe),  and Indiana Jones (again, obviously). Television shows: Sterling Archer (as good as Brock Sampson was, this guy would be better), Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch’s likeness from Sherlock would be wonderful to take money from), and Bender (another obvious choice). Telltale games (so far each Poker Night has featured at least one character from Telltale): Guybrush Threepwood (the original Captain Jack Sparrow), Bigby Wolf (good way to promote their new Fables game), Gerry Harding (just to give the poor characters from Jurassic Park: the Video Game some redemption). Valve Corporation (each game has also featured at least one character from Valve): Anyone from the Left 4 Dead series… that’s easy. Video games: Jack (really anyone from the Mass Effect Trilogy crew would be awesome – except Jacob.), Andrew Ryan (cause Bioshock‘s intelligence needs to be taken down a peg), Duke Nukem (he needs to be redeemed as well). And last but not least – misc gaming world celebrities: Yahtzee (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation), Korey (http://spill.hollywood.com/), and the Angry Video Game Nerd (http://cinemassacre.com/).

People are already making such crazy dreams a reality - thanks to the wonder of modding.
People are already making such crazy dreams a reality – thanks to the wonder of modding.

There is a criteria for their selection. Part of the reason why Poker Night 2 works so well is that you believe every one of these characters would actually play poker. During development, Telltale had originally intended to put up someone other than Sam. The first plan was to include either Doc or Marty from Telltale’s Back to the Future video game. Really though – could you see Doc or Marty gambling and drinking? Ouch, right in the childhood. Their next plan was to use someone from their recently released The Walking Dead. God, how horrible would you have felt taking money from one of those poor bastards? The point is: Telltale has a plan for these games.

Wonderful gameplay mechanics include unlockables that can change the cards, chips and even whole backgrounds.
Wonderful gameplay mechanics include unlockables that can change the cards, chips and even whole backgrounds.

I only have one idea for improvement going forward. If there is a Poker Night 3, it would be nice to increase the table. Maybe six opponents instead of four? Or a pool of six and four are chosen every time that way conversations are less likely to repeat (it does happen fairly fast, although I’m still hearing new stuff after several hours). Other than that: more unlockables, more challenges and increase the poker simulator (if it even needs it – I don’t know).

This is a great idea. Bring together fantastical characters who we admire and enjoy and make us all poker buddies. Well played, Telltale, well played.

Available now on Xbox Live, Steam (for Windows users) and PSN. Go buy it, you won't regret the decision.
Available now on Xbox Live, Steam (for Windows users) and the PlayStation Network. Go buy it, you won’t regret the decision.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.