Looking for a great horror movie for Halloween? UBC Film Prof. Ernest Mathijs has a new app that highlights the best (and scariest) in cult cinema
For film buffs, scary movies are the best part of Halloween. UBC Film prof Ernest Mathijs has developed an app that explores the world of cult cinema, which includes horror movies that may have been overlooked by mainstream audiences.
100 Cult Films: BFI Guides, a digital companion to Mathijs and Xavier Mendik’s 2011 reference book of the same name, is an interactive inventory of axe-wielding slashers, bloodthirsty cannibals, paranormal terrors and things that go bump in the night. The app, which has been a bestseller on the iTunes store since its release in September, features an interview with Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) and an introduction by Joe Dante (Piranha, Gremlins).
Mathijs has also written a new book entitled John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps, which traces the inception, production and reception of the cult Canadian horror movie and its two sequels.
How do horror movies allow us to indulge our deep-seated fascination for the morbid?
There’s a concept called transgression – the violation of moral codes – that cult and horror films engage with quite frequently.
I would say what these films offer is not necessarily transgression. They don’t change you fundamentally. They don’t turn you into a serial killer. But they offer you a safe transgression, a satisfaction of your own curiosity that is part of your quest for your personal identity. ‘Who am I? What would I be capable of? What could I imagine doing if I needed to?’
Cult and horror films help you along the way. They don’t just entertain those ideas, they also warn you. A lot of cult films are considered amoral, and some are downright offensive and repulsive. So they also remind you that you as a viewer have your own limits and boundaries and that you should impose them when necessary.
The films featured in 100 Cult Films range from little-known indie productions to giant movie franchises such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. What are the characteristics of a cult film?
There are two competing views, and a lot of the study of cult films is trying to figure out which of the opposing views holds dominance at any one point.
One definition is that it has to be a film with a very lively fan celebration, of a self-perceived marginal kind. So even within the mass audience that you have for Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, there are small pockets of fandom that see themselves as marginal to the mainstream celebration of these films. They see themselves as championing those films for reasons different than why most people champion them. And you’ll also find them in independent small films because by
definition that celebration is of a marginal kind since the films are located at the periphery of film culture.
The competing view is that cult films offer some sort of comment on normality in culture and film culture. They do that by emphasizing, ambiguously, the conventions we hold for granted.
One of the films in your app is Ginger Snaps, about which you’ve also written a new book entitled John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps. What makes Ginger Snaps a unique horror film?
It’s a Canadian one, to begin with. It’s often mistaken as an American film, and that’s usually a compliment. On one hand, it’s a traditional monster movie. It’s about a werewolf who turns others into werewolves. So it fits a tested template.
But Ginger Snaps turns a traditionally a masculine and patriarchic formula upside down by putting a feminist viewpoint on it. You have two smart, clever sisters in high school who are on the periphery of popular society – that’s always a constant in cult films–and one of them becomes infected and turns into a werewolf. But they turn that power against the forces that have marginalized them. It becomes a feminist critique of the insecurities that girls go through as they move from childhood to womanhood. The key metaphor the whole story is wrapped around is menstruation equals monstrosity. As these girls become women and start menstruating, they also become werewolves and become monstrous to normality.
Below is Mathijs’s list of top scary cult movies for Halloween:
- The House on Sorority Row (1983)
- Paranormal Activity (2007)
- Cat People (1942)
- Race with the Devil (1975)
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
- The Exorcist (1973)
- Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004)
- Halloween (1978)
- The Ordeal (Le Calvaire) (2005)
- Nosferatu (1922)
- Dark Water (both 2002 and 2005 versions)
Ernest Mathijs is a professor in UBC’s Dept. of Theatre and Film and head of UBC’s Centre for Cinema Studies. His research specialties include movie audiences, the reception of alternative cinema, cult cinema, and film and stage performance. He is the author of 100 Cult Films (with Xavier Mendik), Cult Cinema (with Jamie Sexton), and The Cinema of David Cronenberg: from Baron of Blood to Cultural Hero.