Not Quite Horror: A Christmas Carol

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

A Christmas Carol (Various)

The Monster: Ebenezer Scrooge and all the evils inside of him. The cranky bastard endures visits from three spirits. They take him from his past, through his present, and into his future. With each visit, Scrooge faces the rottenness in his own soul.


The Horror:
Few people grow as cold and callous as Ebenezer Scrooge, but even he cannot withstand repeated exposure to his failed humanity. The spirits tear him apart systematically, like an autopsy. They cut into him with images of his youthful innocence and first love, re-sensitize him to the human suffering all around him, and strip the last of his soul away by confronting him with his own death. Hellraiser’s Cenobites would be proud.

The Shared Fate: A Christmas Carol is as firmly entrenched in holiday culture as candy canes. More than this, the story (in book, play, film, or homage) is horrific as anything more traditionally associated with this genre.

Like Scrooges, horror fans explore the upsetting parts of their reality. The horror genre serves as spirits of Christmas past, present, and future. It also underlines the failures within humanity.

Genre fans can also experience the same joy Scrooge does when he wakes on Christmas morning and reconnects with humanity. Could Scrooge have experienced so much communal happiness without walking with horrors for a night? Perhaps Christmas is best experienced with a scare the night before.

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

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Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

The Monster: Meaninglessness. The characters of the animated special drift from one holiday activity to another without connecting to anything truly meaningful. Charlie Brown’s frustration grows. He challenges his classmates to feel more deeply by presenting them with a scrawny tree, but they cannot see the holiday spirit within.

The Horror: Heroic Linus Van Pelt seems to be only one of Charlie Brown’s friends to recognize their holiday pageantry has lost connection to the cultural traditions of the season. Without his recitation of Bible verse, the entire holiday – and, by extension, the entire holiday special – would have been nothing more than distracting amusement.

The Shared Fate: Charles Schulz worried about meaninglessness, too. Without his voice, who will speak up?

Christmas is not the only victim of meaninglessness. Who will speak for the dead when Halloween’s mouth is stuffed full of candy and distracted by naked flesh? Who will remember American history when the Fourth of July is drunk and distracted by ‘splosions?

No tradition is perfect, but history grounds reality with something more substantive than flashing lights and a regular routine. Charlie and Linus rallied to keep their lives real, but seem too silent now.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)

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Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

The Monster: Clark Griswold. It would be difficult to find a more loveable and well-meaning monster in the history of film, but his monstrosity stands for itself. Clark (Chevy Chase) refuses to compromise on his fantasies of idyllic family holiday time. Spoiled by doting parents and encouraged by an overly forgiving wife (Beverly D’angelo), he will stop at nothing to recreate his own childhood, even if he ruins Christmas for his own children in the process.

The Horror: By the time the Griswold family Christmas is ruined, Clark has nearly killed his family in a car accident, killed himself decorating, and killed his neighbors with reckless behavior. Clark is unable to recreate his childhood fantasy of a perfect Christmas, in large part due to Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) also refusing to give up on his childhood. Ignoring the children in the house, Clark puts on his Santa outfit and grabs a chainsaw . . .

The Shared Fate: Adults are all survivors of childhood, but some adults never really get past it. Clark is so committed to recreating his childhood joys he orders Cousin Eddie to kidnap his boss. He thinks he does so in jest.

Who will be holding you hostage this holiday season?

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Frosty the Snowman” (1969)

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Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Frosty the Snowman (1969)

The Monster: Professor Hinkle. His hat brings snowman Frosty to life. Frosty is a simple, trusty soul who would be banished into the void without this hat, but the lousy magician insists upon having it back because the hat is his property. Hinkle never seems to grasp morality beyond the concept of private property, and is only sent packing when Santa threatens to stop bringing him more material possessions to obsess about.

The Horror: Hinkle chases Frosty and his friend Karen into the dark of the woods. When Frosty brings Karen into a greenhouse to keep her from dying of exposure, Hinkle locks both inside. Frosty melts to the ground because he chose saving his life, and the life of a little girl, over returning a hat to an unstable man. This slow, deliberate murder could come from an animated Saw or Hostel film.

The Shared Fate: Frosty teaches children and adults that sweet, innocent things can be destroyed because it pleases the selfish desires of one monstrous human being. What does it offer as a solution? Santa Claus saves the day and promises Frosty can return each Christmas because he is made of Christmas snow?

There is no comfort in this for any child looking past the singing and dancing. The innocents taken away are not made out of Christmas snow, after all.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Observe and Report” (2009)

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Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Observe and Report (2009)

The Monster: Ronnie (Seth Rogen) threatens everyone he comes into contact with simply by trying to be the best man he can be. Ronnie handles security for a mall plagued by both a series of thefts and a man who exposes himself to mall employees.

Ronnie does the best with what life has given him. He suffers from mental illness and has to support his dysfunctional mother instead of benefiting from her care. Co-workers and police officers prefer to insult Ronnie, until his rage grows. Even his greatest visions of heroism are filled with death and despair.

The Horror: Without proper support, Ronnie’s only options for dealing with adversity are violence and even more violence. He flattens a group of teenagers who deface his mall, then finds himself in a battle against an entire group of police officers with no way out but getting severely beaten.

The Shared Fate: Everyone gets angry, but with the right environment people identify better solutions for their problems. Ronnie is a monster because his environment failed him, and his life could have been exponentially better. Observe and Report is a comedy only because it is easier to laugh at Ronnie’s pain than it is to cry because the world is filled with Ronnies.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “A Talking Cat?!?” (2013)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

A Talking Cat?!?

The Monster: David DeCoteau. The director of this film had accomplices when he engaged in making this upsetting film, but he is credited for the direction, the cinematography, and half of the producing duties. DeCoteau came from the Corman school of making films quickly and cheaply, as one viewing of A Talking Cat !?! confirms.

The Horror: Every element of A Talking Cat!?! is somehow unreal and inhuman. The title itself would seem more comfortable on an elementary English assignment than on a film featuring the voice of Eric Roberts. The mansion of male lead Phil (Johnny Whitaker) is decorated by furniture made out of half a car and what appears to be a tree trunk in high heels. A neighbor’s entire future depends on getting her daughter to make cheese puffs correctly. The only thing Phil’s son is more scared of than talking to girls is taking a dip in the pool. All of these elements seem more bizarre than the talking cat itself, even if its mouth moves with worse animation that a flipbook drawn on a stack of papers.

The Shared Fate: DeCoteau’s low-budget attempt at creating family comedy somehow ends up being a project worthy of Andy Warhol. Think about A Talking Cat!?! for too long and cracks appear in every feel-good family flick you find. Aren’t all of the sets in these films trying too hard to set the perfect mood, and aren’t all of the sons afflicted with a powerful fear they must overcome? Isn’t every character trying to perfect their own cheese puffs to save their own lives, even if they call their “cheese puffs” something different?

A Talking Cat!?! A brilliant and terrifying mockery of the absurd nature of family films.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Reservoir Dogs” (1992)

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Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The Monster: Mr. Blonde, aka Vic Vega. Heist organizers Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot (Chris Penn) trust Vic Vega (Michael Madsen) without question. He recently endured a prison sentence rather than rat them out. Vega flashes a loveable smirk and wrestles with “Nice Guy” Eddie, but something inside him makes him more malicious than the average bank robber. He behaves violently and erratically during the robbery, and then things get worse.

The Horror: Left alone with a capture cop, time to kill, and seemingly no one around, Mr. Blonde decides its torture time. He produces a straight razor and dances about in front of the cop, then he settles in to saw off the man’s ear. He douses the man with gasoline, but he is shot by a dying Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) before he can start the man on fire.

The Shared Fate: We, the viewers, understand Mr. Blonde is a monster because we see his crimes. When “Nice Guy” Eddie finds Mr. Blonde’s body (and a secret Mr. Orange has been hiding), he cannot believe his friend is cruel and sadistic. There will be no parade for Mr. Orange, unless funerals count.

Monsters have friends, and they hide their monstrosity from them. Unlike vampires, a crucifix and clove of garlic can’t convince people they have befriended a beast in human form. Mr. Orange does the right thing and dies misunderstood. Such things can happen to anyone.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Best in Show” (2000)

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Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

“Best in Show” (2000)

The Monsters: Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock). The perfectionist yuppies cannot accept their dog Beatrice for what she is. The movie begins with them fussing over her to a dog therapist. When Beatrice is in the Westminster Dog Show, they nearly murder each other to provide Beatrice with her Busy Bee, her favorite toy. When Beatrice is disqualified for bad behavior, the Swans abandon her to start over with a different dog.

The Horror: Beatrice, though adorable, cannot be more than a dog. She cannot save the marriage of her owners, and she cannot contain her canine playfulness during her judging. She cannot stand up to her owners and, when they realize her limitations, they abandon her.

The Shared Fate: American culture emphasizing individuality, but how easy is it to identify with poor Beatrice? We may pretend to be in charge of our lives, but we often find our very existence determined by underqualified perfectionists who project their own anxieties onto us. We are asked to do thing we are incapable of by coworkers, loved ones, and even strangers. And, like the Swans, these people somehow convince themselves they are stressing us out for our own benefit.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Barton Fink” (1991)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Barton Fink (1991)

In the month of October, I am celebrating the films of Not Quite Horror legends Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Monster: Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) begins the darkly comic Barton Fink as a bright spot in a hellish world. The titular Barton Fink (John Turturro) struggles to defeat his writer’s block and finish a screenplay, but his world becomes descends further into the inferno until he is literally surrounded by flames. And at that point, there is no bigger devil than Charlie Meadows.

Meadows represents the demonic anger behind the everyman. He holds onto a mask of normalcy until he can no longer grasp it, and then all that is left of the man is his fury.

The Horror: The ending of Barton Fink may be the greatest visual representation of the Coen Brothers’ nihilism. They burn everything around their protagonist and leave him face to face with the worst in humanity.

In typical Coen Brothers’ fashion, this moment is too awkward and unresolved to offer closure. Creating Charlie Meadows’ deadly world is nothing more than another spiteful laugh at living and dying.

The Shared Fate: Death is no more honorable in this film than it has been in the previous four films discussed this month. Charlie Meadows, in the beginning of the film, could be any strange, beaten man walking past you in the sidewalk. Charlie Meadows at the end of the film is an unleashed animal biting more than he barks.

For the Coen Brothers, we live beside Charlie Meadows, and we live because he lets us live.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Blood Simple” (1984)

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Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Blood Simple (1984)

In the month of October, I am celebrating the films of Not Quite Horror legends Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Monster: The Coen Brothers debut film is filled with monsters, but private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) is a killer who bites harder than he barks. Visser is hired to catch a cheating wife, and before long the secret lovers, the husband, and the private eye are all scheming to stay alive while eliminating anyone standing in their way.

Visser may be a killer, but he’s hard to hate. He’s likeable and philosophical until he acts. When he does strike, he does so like a Great White shark with its eyes rolled up in its head.

The Horror: Blood Simple’s sense of humor stands a few steps further up the gallows than the rest of the Coen Brothers’ films. The awkward goofiness of later films (for example, Raising Arizona) is replaced with a smirk before death. None of the actors in Blood Simple seem like they really believe they’ll escape with their lives, and yet they struggle on.

The Shared Fate: As their first feature, Blood Simple is the grit that polished the Coen Brothers’ future career style. Later films attempt to cut their nihilism with wacky humor, but this film does not skimp on darkness – from the lighting to the ending and everything else.

Blood Simple is a movie with a moral – you’re going to lose. And when you lose, it will be unpleasant. You won’t see it coming, either.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen