Michael Suglio is a part-time faculty member at Cleveland State University’s School of Film & Media Arts. He is the creator and director of the Short. Sweet. Film Fest. and has produced and directed several music videos and both short and feature films.
Clevelanders know autumn is upon us when we see crisp, red leaves and smell pumpkin spice lattes at our local coffee destination. But movie lovers know it’s fall when we hear blood-curdling screams from a horror film at our local theater.
But what makes a good horror flick? Lighting? Sounds? Hidden monsters? It’s all of those factors, driven by the use of the uncanny, which is anything strange or mysterious, yet unsettling.
As children, we have seen countless clowns at circuses or on commercials selling us greasy burgers with a side of toys made in Taiwan. But to many, myself included, they are off-putting. A grownup with weird makeup trying to make kids smile is just plain odd, hence the fear of Pennywise in the film It.
It is the second cinematic rendition of Stephen King’s offbeat, coming-of-age story, following the three-hour 1990 ABC miniseries featuring Rocky Horror Picture Show star Tim Curry as the infamous Pennywise the dancing clown. The film is set in the small town of Derry, where not much happens, except for some sort of catastrophe every 27 years. When children begin to go missing, a ragtag group of kids known as the “losers” decide to pursue this mystery. The farther they go, the more they’re all haunted by their biggest fears and an uncanny clown named Pennywise, who is brilliantly portrayed by Bill Skarsgard.
The film is everything you could ask for in a horror film. Plenty of dark lit rooms, loud and abrupt noises, scary monsters, and a villain who isn’t shown frequently until halfway through the movie. Though we’re used to all these horror tropes, It succeeds in creating a great film by not muddling it down with bad acting or dialogue, and no unnecessary sex scenes, which plagued the ‘80s horror genre or gruesome torture-filled horror films of the early 2000s.
A few weeks prior to It, a prequel to a prequel hit cinemas. Annabelle: Creation is the prequel to the 2014 film, Annabelle, which explores the history of the infamous doll named Annabelle from the 2013 film The Conjuring. Prequels tend to be terrible, but Annabelle: Creation is an excellent addition to Producer/Director James Wan’s Conjuring cinematic universe, showing us how the doll first became a haunted, satanic possession. Even though Annabelle: Creation may not be remembered as the best horror film of 2017, it certainly is one of the best horror films of the past few years, favoring actual scares and utilizing that sense of the uncanny like It.
Life-size baby dolls are rather creepy to begin with. They’re like small, fake little children that are being taken care of by actual children. This leads us to another uncanny horror film trope: children. Clowns, dolls, and children are known to be kind, fun, and just plain good. If they are haunted or evil, we’re terrified and unsettled by them.
Little Evil, which stars Adam Scott and Evangeline Lilly and premiered on Netflix Sept. 1, is well aware of this trope. Filmed entirely in the greater Cleveland area and including some Cleveland actors, this film is a satire on the 1976 and 2006 films The Omen. Scott’s character, Gary, marries Lilly’s character, Samantha, and tries to be a good stepdad to her son Lucas, played by the talented Owen Atlas.
This star-studded cast learns through a few mishaps that Lucas is the son of Satan and they must save his soul from being sacrificed. Little Evil is filled with a few good scares, but if you are looking for a lighter horror film that is intentionally funny and not campy, this film is for you. It’s a well-shot, written, and acted horror satire that is above and beyond most of the movies that have hit the theaters in 2017, rounding out a solid trio of scary films to come out before Halloween.