Monday, September 29, 2014

Eric LaRocca's Top 10 Horror Films - Part 1

[Editor's Note: Eric LaRocca is a playwright and writer, whose short play Parasite was one of the 2014 Best of Fresh Blood festival. His fiction has been published in The Horror Zine, Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and several anthologies. This is his first post for La Petite Blog.]

At a very young age I respected and admired the art form of the horror genre. Perhaps I responded so intimately to horror considering the fact that the genre is widely criticized and rebuked by most mainstream audiences and at a very young age I too felt very disenfranchised and unequal to my peers. Perhaps I responded to the genre because horror is an art form that has struggled desperately to be taken seriously and I too felt very ineffectual and disrespected in my youth. Regardless, since childhood I have done all I can to study the genre and educate myself by watching and reading the masterworks and miscarriages of this widely lesser appreciated genre.

This list is certainly not conventional. Perhaps you’re entirely unfamiliar with some of these films. Some of you might even be saying, “Where’s Rosemary’s Baby? Where’s The Exorcist? What about Psycho?” I am by no means suggesting that the following list of cinematic works are the most flawless representations of the genre and deserve to trump all other lists of horror films. These films merely resonated with me on a personal level and are still greatly influential on my path as a young writer and enthusiast of the art form. These are films to which I look for inspiration. My hope is that you will read the list, check out some of the films, and develop and share your own opinions.

10. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Directed by Adrian Lyne - Written by Bruce Joel Rubin - Starring Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello

Coming in at number 10 on my list is what I consider to be the greatest psychological horror film of all time – Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. Lyne’s surreal and frightening exploration into the depths of a troubled human mind concentrates on a veteran of the Vietnam War, Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), who is mourning the loss of his child while relentlessly being tormented by unusual flashbacks and nightmarishly grotesque hallucinations. Struggling to preserve his sanity, he struggles to decipher the truth and reality of his past and present while contending with his dreams and concept of death.

While the film excels with regard to cinematography and stellar performances by the cast, the film is particularly exceptional at disorientating the viewer so that we, the audience, experience and respond to the very same confusion Jacob experiences with every nightmarish vision. Many who have viewed the film already might agree that the film is the cinematic equivalent of a “bad trip.”

Perhaps one of the most unsettling scenes comes in the second act of the film when Jacob and his lover (Elizabeth Pena) attend a gathering and he endures another monstrous hallucination. This time, however, the vision is far more intimate than the last...

Opinions are certain to be divided when it comes to reflecting upon and analyzing this film. Some consider it a work of genius and true testament to the sub-genre of psychological horror while others dismiss it as disappointing and absurd. Regardless, I consider the film a visceral and somber excursion into the realm of psychological horror with profoundly engaging characters. The film’s intelligence is principally exemplified in its aptitude to effectively shift between moments of astounding eeriness and overwhelming despair.

9. À l'intérieur (Inside) (2007)
Written & Directed by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury - Starring Alysson Paradis, Béatrice Dalle

In recent years, French directors have revamped the methods in which the present effective horror to the masses by removing the subtle creepiness of classic masterpieces such as Les Diaboliques (The Devils) (1955) or Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face) (1960) and replacing the predictable delicateness of French horror with torrents of arterial spray. A new sub-genre in the field of horror has since been developed by the French aptly entitled, “New French Extremity.” These films, though not all exclusively restricted to the horror genre, are a new and far more audacious wave of film-making that show explicit violence/carnage and graphic depictions of sexuality. Understandably, most of these films cause controversy upon their release and are subsequently censored greatly. Bustillo and Maury’s À l'intérieur (Inside) is, without a doubt, a prime example of the horrifying lengths to which “New French Extremity” can go.

The premise of À l'intérieur is fairly straightforward. A young pregnant woman is stalked in her house by a mysterious female assailant who wants her unborn child. While the idea is simple, the film is an engaging and frightening 82 minute jaunt into unadulterated terror. Tapping into our inherent fear of any personal haven being desecrated by an outside and seemingly unstoppable force, the film is a captivating spin on the tired home-invasion sub-genre. The film especially taps into deeply ingrained fears in the female psyche regarding attachment to, and permanent separation from, newborns.

À l'intérieur is a ferocious and unrelenting assault on the eyes with countless portrayals of graphic mutilation and torture. It is possibly one of the most disturbing and unsettling films you will ever see and is not to be missed if you enjoy your films wet with copious amounts of redness.

8. Suspiria (1977)
Directed by Dario Argento - Written by Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi - Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Alida Valli

Italian director Dario Argento is quite possibly one of the last remaining classic masters of horror who has significantly contributed to the contemporary growth and evolution of the genre. While the Rome-born director is often classified among most film enthusiasts as “the Italian Alfred Hitchcock,” I’ve never understood the comparison as Hitchcock pieces are the most meticulously calculated story-lines, whereas Argento’s catalog of work emphasize sound and artistic vision as opposed to the development of coherent plot and character. Nonetheless, as a work of cinematic art, Suspiria is an awe-inspiring feat in film-making with a cornucopia of surreal and grotesque imagery that is not easily forgotten.
The plot follows a young American ballet student (Jessica Harper) who has recently transferred to a prestigious German ballet academy and soon discovers that the school is directed by a coven of witches. Horror author Ramsey Campbell has said that Suspiria could easily be described as, “the first punk horror movie.” In fact, many have agreed that Suspiria is comparable to a Walt Disney fairy-tale. This comparison stands to reason as several film historians have asserted that Argento modeled his original screenplay after Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Although Argento went on to primarily direct giallo thrillers (TheCard Player, Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome), he maintained a visual aesthetic in Suspiria that has not since yet been matched in horror cinema. While creating some of the most inventive and outlandish death scenes in cinematic history, Argento accentuated lavish and garish colors that enhanced the quality of the visuals and rendered every scene surreal in its nature. Today, Suspiria remains a cult classic and is primarily popular among those who prefer the more alternative and avant-garde type of cinema. Regardless, the film is a masterpiece of sight and sound and features one of the greatest and most unique scores ever written for film by progressive rock band, Goblin.

7. Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) (1994)
Directed by Michele Soavi - Written by Giovanni Romoli - Starring Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi

One of Argento’s most promising and talented protégés was a young Italian director by the name of Michele Soavi. The young Soavi was an assistant director on several of Argento’s pictures, such as Tenebrae, Phenomena, and Demons. It wasn’t long before Soavi stepped out from behind Argento’s shadow and helmed production of his directorial debut, a highly underrated slasher entitled Stage Fright. Soavi’s crowning achievement, however, would come in 1994 with the release of the comedy-horror film, Dellamorte Dellamore (commonly referred to as simply Cemetery Man).

"I'd give my life to be dead."
Based on the 1991 novel by Tiziano Sclavi (author of Dylan Dog), Dellamorte Dellamore is indisputably the most atypical zombie film ever made. In total honesty, zombies have never generated a great deal of interest in me. I can certainly understand why shows like The Walking Dead and films such as Dawn of the Dead garner public attention and critical acclaim; I simply have never been interested in the tropes of the quintessential zombie film. Regardless, Dellamorte Dellamore is the ultimate exception.

The film follows the plight of a disgruntled and lonely cemetery caretaker (Rupert Everett) who desperately searches for love while defending a small Italian town from an infantry of zombies. Although the plot may sound uninspired and disappointing, the film is anything but. Soavi’s masterpiece artfully combines elements horror with hilarious comedy, all the while offering the audience a catalog of exciting and engaging characters and visionary cinematography.

The film’s intelligence is not merely limited to its host of surreal and symbolic cinematography. The piece’s true intellect is observed in its articulation of several very relatable human issues, such as the actuality of being alive and connecting and interacting with others. The film touches on these issues even while maintain an often difficult balance between horror and comedy. Perhaps I responded so intimately to the piece compared to other zombie offerings simply because Dellamorte Dellamore is chiefly about “the living” as opposed to “the dead” and artfully analyzes the human experience and difficulty of connecting with our living brethren.

6. Videodrome (1983)
Written & Directed by David Cronenberg - Starring James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits

“Long live the new flesh.”

Although Cronenberg’s 1983 Videodrome is commonly classified as a science-fiction film, many film scholars would agree that the piece is a critical work in the development of the “body horror” subgenre. For those who aren’t familiar with the subgenre, “body horror” commonly deals with and explores the decay and degeneration of the human body. These works primarily deal with, but are not limited to, disease, decay, parasitism, self-mutilation, transformation, etc. Such notable films exploring this seemingly unconventional subgenre include Alien, Cabin Fever, and The Thing. For those of you who came to The Best of Fresh Blood 2014 – my piece, Parasite, was a piece heavily influenced by the ideas and tropes commonly associated with “body horror.” Cronenberg, however, is the undisputed master of body horror. His catalog of films includes fascinating explorations into the realm of the human body and its inherent fragility with regard to disease, infection, and decay.
Videodrome is possibly his most captivating and sensational work in the body horror sub-genre.

"I am the Video Word made Flesh."
Cronenberg's screenplay follows the president of a small television station (a young James Woods) who discovers a broadcast signal displaying non-stop graphic depictions of mutilation, torture, and sex. As he gradually uncovers the origin of this undiscovered signal, he slowly descends into a hallucinatory realm where he struggles to decipher grotesque fantasy from reality.

Videodrome is by no means a conventional film and will, therefore, indeed not appeal to most. Those anticipating a film with a tight, concise, coherent narrative and immediately likable characters will undoubtedly be disappointed. Those, however, with more eccentric film tastes who appreciate films with a point of view that emphasize certain social issues through ostentatious symbolism will be exhilarated. In short, Videodrome is a piece that emphasizes the horrifying effects of relentless media consumption and the hazards associated with ever-expanding technology. In fact, the film rings truer today than perhaps it did when it was released in 1983. It is a daring, audacious and explosive journey into dark territory and also features some of the most inventive and captivating special effects in film history designed by acclaimed special effects artist, Rick Baker (famous for his work on An American Werewolf in London). Videodrome has a distinct philosophy and therefore, like the signal broadcast in the piece, is dangerous in nature.

Honorable Mention: In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Directed by John Carpenter - Written by Michael De Luca - Starring Sam Neil, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow

Have you read Sutter Cane? If not, consider yourself fortunate. John Carpenter's final installment in his Apocalypse trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is a frightening homage to Lovecraft as he guides the viewer into another dimension of indefinable terror.

Check back soon for Part 2 where I discuss my Top 5! In the meantime, you can also check out Kellie's Favorite 15 Horror Films, or Chelsea's Top 10 Scariest Women in Film! Or, feel free to leave me some comments and let me know what you think of the films I mentioned.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Current Volunteer Opportunities

Want to get more involved at LPM? Right now, we need volunteers to: 
  • Scout locations for upcoming events, shows, and parties. 
  • Help us write and shoot a series of short videos encouraging people to donate and help fund live horror. 
  • Sell program ads to local businesses, or arrange for trades - we'll give them a program ad in exchange for free rehearsal space, program printing, etc. 
  • Design merchandise for our SpreadShirt store, and create stickers and other swag we can sell or give to donors. 
  • Create flyers and postcards for upcoming events. 
  • Solicit donations that can be used as donor incentives and gifts from horror-themed businesses and service providers (i.e. "Donate $25 to La Petite Morgue and receive a Zombie Mafia CD"). 
  • Design a new template/layout for our website/blog,tumblr, etc. 
  • Blog about horror - most importantly, live horror - and help us build our blog's readership. 
  • Preview and review upcoming horror events in local and online media. 
  • Represent La Petite Morgue at horror conventions and other events. 
If any of this appeals to you, please write to: - send a short note telling us about your relevant skills and what kind of project you would like to take on.

Most of these projects can be done from the comfort of your own home or office, and they don't take a big time commitment. If you are a student, we are willing to fill out the necessary paperwork so you can earn school credit. We are also willing to write you a glowing letter of recommendation if that would be useful. (If that wouldn't be useful, we will buy you a pizza and some beer, which we're pretty sure is useful to everyone.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Horror is HARD...

There are universal challenges faced by those who produce live entertainment, especially those who do so in New York City. The rising cost of performance space. The financial commitment involved in facilitating a rehearsal process. Audiences with ever-shrinking disposable income and a myriad of alternate entertainment options. The psychological exhaustion of encouraging communication and mediating disputes in an art form defined by the necessity of collaboration.

Indie and amateur producers face yet more challenges - first and foremost, the question of how to keep actors, directors, and technicians motivated when no one is being paid for their time and talent. How to find, borrow, make, or steal that which the company needs, but which the company cannot afford to buy. How to walk the line between imitating professional theatre and presenting yourself as the cheap and fun alternative to same.

The past two years have given me plenty of time to reflect on the challenges of producing, but I found myself motivated to share with you some observations about the challenges that are unique to the production of live horror in NYC. Here are some of the reasons I've noticed why being Executive Producer at La Petite Morgue is the hardest job I've ever loved:

The Special Effects...

Sure, lots of shows use special effects, but I would argue that special effects are uniquely crucial in the horror genre. Hitchcock said, "There is no horror in the bang - only in the anticipation of it." Creating suspense depends on the writing, directing, and acting, and if those elements aren't top-notch, all the fake blood and squibs money can buy won't make a play scary. But, I would argue that what Aristotle referred to as spectacle is more important in this genre than any other. The dramatic climax of a play needs to be satisfying for the audience. If the dramatic climax of a play is a violent murder, then the audience is likely going to want to see that murder - usually with as much detail and realism as possible. The Greeks may have been fans of off-stage violence and gore, but most modern audiences feel they need to see it to believe it. 

Universally acknowledged masterpiece? Yes. But some kid in the 4th row
is rolling his eyes because he thinks that blood looks like Kool-Aid.
Pretend you're directing a play. And that play ends with a brutal stabbing. You want your actor holding a knife that looks sharp enough to cut through human flesh. But if you ask an actor to hold a knife that is actually sharp enough to cut through human flesh, you run the risk of it actually doing that. Directors and producers have a responsibility to ensure that their actors are 100% safe - while simultaneously making the audience believe that those same actors are in terrible danger. Stage combat is complicated enough in the average play, but in horror, we add a variety of weapons, sometimes even guns, into the mix. For example, this year's festival shows featured the following weapons: a knife, a box cutter, a letter opener, and a phone (bashed over someone's head to knock him unconscious). You'd be surprised how much time I personally spent trying to add just enough foam padding to the bottom of the phone so that Blayne didn't accidentally slip one night and give Ryan a concussion, but not so much that the audience would find themselves wondering, "Why does the bottom of that phone look like a giant marshmallow?"

Everyone in the audience knows, intellectually, that one actor is not actually slitting the throat of the other actor with a box cutter, in a room full of witnesses. They know it. And yet... when the stars align, and the effect works perfectly, they still see that happen. Intellectually, they know that what they are watching is not real. But seeing something happen has an effect on you, separate from the intellectual reaction your brain is aware of. And, if everyone has done their job properly, then with a little bit of blind luck, someone sitting in the audience can have a real, visceral, emotional reaction to something that they simultaneously know is make-believe.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

We Survived!

On behalf of LA PETITE MORGUE, I'd like to once again thank everyone who made this year's Best of Fresh Blood Festival possible:

  • The Board
  • The festival directors, who went above and beyond to bring these pieces to life with no budget to speak of, and hardly any production support 
  • The Sanguine Society 
  • The festival actors who always behaved like professionals (despite not being paid) - especially Vito Trigo, my fight choreographer, and Amanda White, my unofficial PA 
  • Everyone who donated to the fundraising campaign, and all our other donors 
  • The super-supportive festival playwrights (3/4 of whom were at EVERY performance!) 
  • All the actors who have performed at all the Fresh Blood events 
  • Our wonderful volunteer PSM, Claire Fishman 
  • Our volunteer SM, Joe Brofcak 
  • Our wonderful makeup and special effects designer, Margaret Donahue
  • All the lovely playwrights who have submitted their bloody awesome horror plays in the past two years 
  • Steve Barrett, for the awesome photography, and the desk! 
And finally, thank you to everyone who supported the festival by buying a ticket! Without an audience to terrify, it's not theatre, it's just a bunch of weirdos playing make-believe - so thank you for playing with us! 

The BOFB 2014 Photo Album is on facebook. If you want to see more photos, or if you have photos to share, just leave a comment, or e-mail them to:

If you didn't get a copy of the program, you can download a PDF program - and if you didn't have a chance to buy a sweet LPM T-shirt, you'll have another chance at our next event. Just give us a month or two to recover first. This live horror thing is exhausting.

With Undying Love From One of Your Semi-Fearless Leaders,
Kellie Powell

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Meet Christopher Krovatin: Fighting the Good Fight Against Boredom

Tiperary Explores Horror Movie Tropes in an Original Context 

In just fifteen pages, Christopher Krovatin's play Tiperary touches on kink negotiation, suspension of disbelief, the fetishization of virginity, and sexualized violence against women in the horror genre. Artistic Director Chelsea Holland chose this play to direct for the Best of Fresh Blood festival, and the first performance is Thursday, July 17 at 7:00pm.

The play centers on Nick and Diana, a married couple, who are attempting to navigate the intersection of sex and violence as they role-play a slasher-movie fantasy scenario. And, just as some horror movies (or plays) can be inadvertently hilarious when things go wrong, Diana's sexual fantasy is continually interrupted by hilarious failures. It seems reality just can't compete with the idealized scene the couple is trying, at times desperately, to create. We interviewed playwright Christopher Krovatin to ask him about his inspiration for the play, his greatest fears, and the challenges of writing horror.

The scenario that Diana describes is fairly specific, but it also hints at some familiar horror movie genre tropes. Early slasher movies established the convention - now more of a cliché than a rule - that if someone has sex in a horror movie, they'll be dead by the credits. Only the virginal female (the "Final Girl") has any hope of escaping the killer. Diana's fantasy casts her as the virginal female, and her husband as a hungry-for-revenge murderer. The specific motive she gives the killer is actually rather similar to Mrs. Voorhees' motive in the original Friday the 13th. By exploring horror movie tropes and exploiting audience expectations, Christopher Krovatin has created a thoroughly original, thought-provoking, and frequently hysterical play.

See Tiperary by Christopher Krovatin for yourself - along with four other terrifying plays at The Best of Fresh Blood, July 17-19 at Stage Left Studio.

-- Claire Fishman

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Meet Devlin Giroux: Bucking the Trend

JESTER Explores the Ambiguity Between Reality and Imagination

My first introduction to Devlin Giroux's play Jester was in the audition room. Stephen Cedars, Jester's director, asked actors to perform an impromptu dance. He asked them to evoke fear indirectly - to be creepy and unsettling, rather than aggressive, towards the person they were tasked with "entertaining". That's where I came in. Stephen needed someone for the auditioners to scare, so as the reader, I sat across from each of them, while they attempted to terrify me with their portrayals of the Jester. And terrify they did! 

Later, when I read the full script, I further understood why the Jester is so eerie. Marie, the character whom the Jester haunts, may or may not actually be seeing the Jester. The ambiguity in Giroux's play between what is real and what is imagined adds to the overall uneasiness that the play provokes. This is especially evident in that Marie is being held in a mental health facility, and everyone there seems to believe she's hallucinating. 

Devlin Giroux lives in Michigan, so I couldn't interview him in person, but he was kind enough to answer some questions about his play, his fears, and the challenges of writing horror:

Distinguishing between reality and imagination is a concept that has often appeared in psychological horror films. One example that comes to mind is the 1968 classic, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. Throughout the film, Rosemary's paranoia grows as she fears that her child has been promised as a Satanic sacrifice. For viewers, a large part of what makes this film scary is that we don't know whether what Rosemary believes is the truth or a delusion. 

Uncertainty about reality continues to show up in more recent psychological horror films, touching on a wide array of topics. The Others (2001) features a woman who fears there are ghosts living in her house. In Flightplan (2005), a woman on an airplane is convinced her daughter was kidnapped, but everyone on the flight claims they never saw the child. Black Swan (2010) explores the gradual mental decline of a ballet dancer as she becomes increasingly paranoid and competitive.

Despite different portrayals of psychological horror, all of these films and Jester explore what happens when the truth isn't easily discernible. While zombies and vampires and ghosts are certainly scary in their own right, there's something particularly frightening about being unsure of what is real and what is not. This is especially scary when coupled with a disbelief on the part of others, like in Jester. Only Marie sees the Jester, and so she essentially has to confront her fear on her own, in the face of skepticism. In doing so, she also has to face herself, which might be the most frightening thing of all. 

--Claire Fishman