It’s the most wonderful time of the year, in theory, if you like horror culture. The annual parade of “Best x horror films of the last five years/decade/21st century” lists are flooding your facebook news feed, that music website you like is bound to have yielded at least one mix of classic Halloween party tunes or horror soundtracks (yours truly has combined these two perennial clickbait categories into something for another website which I’ll post about shortly), local cinemas start busting out classic and new horror films.
Amidst all this, Dublin based journalist Sean McTiernan has turned his attention like many of his media peers to the field as part of his excellent podcast series “The Wonder Of It All” in the form of a month long series subtitled “Hundreds of Dead Bodies”, whereby in daily 20 minute bursts he examines a different film. A simple idea you might think, but McTiernan has not only compiled a fairly compelling list of films so far, but his spin on them and analysis of them is fascinating. Full disclosure – Sean is someone I like a great deal in real life, and yours truly may pop up on the podcast at a later point – but I can assure you personal bias is not a factor here.
See, what “Hundreds of Dead Bodies” deals with rather than simply “horror films”, is the portrayal of horror in film. This isn’t simply a discussion of masked demons with chainsaws slashing up prostitutes, or how various Italian directors adapted Romero’s early work and and police procedurals into swarms of lost VHS bargain bin fodder. McTiernan is looking at the portrayal of horror as an existential force outside of the genre tropes, and often outside of what is normally classified as horror, and this widened scope has allowed him to produce a run of shows that is as insightful as it is engaging. Stepping out of the preconceived notions allows him to discuss a number of films that are genuinely horrifying in a way your average low budget slasher never could be.
At the time of writing we’re a little over half way through the series so I’ll keep this brief as really, you need to stop reading this and listen to this eminently consumable series. Last week, in one of the highlights, McTiernan branched into a small season-within-a-season (of which there are a couple) dealing with the portrayal of mental illness. Using nightmarish Adult Swim short “Unedited Footage of a Bear” as a jump off point, this run of episodes was something of a revelation. In addition to unearthing a number of films that you will absolutely want to see after hearing them discussed, this is some of the most frank discussion of the depiction of depression/mental illness and the very real living hell it can be I think I’ve ever heard. The “Other Side of Underneath” episode in particular is an absolutely engrossing listen. The fact he briefly branches off into a quick story about having to turn off Sonic Youth’s “Evol” because it was creeping him out is something I’m also relieved to hear is a thing another person has done at some point.
The selection of films is impeccable, straying far from the obvious at times, and while I expect if you’re a film buff generally regardless of genre this series will be of massive interest to you it isn’t compulsory to have swallowed a bunch of film theory literature to understand things by any means. Sean is an entertaining host and has a real knack for discussing themes and context in some of these films in a way that makes it all feel quite informal. The choices so far have ranged from a Spanish shocker about a college’s secret snuff film history through to a BBC adaptation of a Harold Pinter play. Of the 17 films featured so far, I’d seen approximately 3 of them before the series kicked off, and I’m currently trying to catch up on them.
I’ll stop here because, as I say, I want you to go and listen to this right now. It’s 20 minutes of an extremely affable and intelligent dude offering up some fine recommendations and fascinating observations on a bunch of movies that show that horror can be dealt with in celluloid form in a far more challenging way than many would have you believe. Get on it.