Ten Horror Movies that Influenced Lex Thomas

Oh yeah, Lex and Thomas definitely visited the Figment booth at ALA!

Writing partners, Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies, who together write under the name Lex Thomas (get it?) got their start writing screenplays together. So it’s no surprise that in crafting their first novel, Quarantine: The Loners (which is out today!), the two looked to the silver screen for inspiration. The novel, the first in a trilogy, tells the creepy, campy tale of McKinley High, a formerly typical high school, put under quarantine when all the students become infected with a virus that makes them deadly to adults. We’re psyched that Lex and Thomas, who are currently working on the sequel to Quarantine and its movie adaptation (can’t wait!) shared a list of their favorite freaky films that helped them write the book.

Say Lex and Thomas…
When you take a meeting in Hollywood as a writing team, the first question you’re usually asked is: “Where did you two meet?” Our answer is boring: We met in a writing group. But then again, the question is boring too. What’s more important is why we became friends.

We love the same kinds of movies.

Our favorite movies do things that are unexpected, unfathomable, and irreversible. If it shocks us, it has a place in our hearts. No genre achieves this more consistently than horror. These are stories where reality is torn apart and heroes are helpless against evil. Main characters die and monsters live to kill again. That’s just plain fun.

To celebrate the release of Quarantine: The Loners, our first novel, we’ve compiled a list of ten horror films that blew our minds.

LEX’S PICKS
Director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell go together like peanut butter and chocolate. It’s just too perfect to believe. The Thing is the third of their five collaborations, and amid the outlandishness of the others, this one is the most restrained. Set at a remote research station in the Antarctic (you had me at snow), the very first scene starts a mystery that offers its characters and the audience no relief for its entire running time. The power of paranoia in this movie is unnerving. We ache to know: “Who can you trust?” The overall effect is claustrophobic, and the creature effects are stomach-churning. After watching it the first time, I remember not being able to shake the urge to vomit for days.

Speaking of wanting to vomit, enter David Cronenberg, the genius behind Dead Ringers, Eastern Promises, and the new Cosmopolis with Robert Pattinson. Cronenberg’s built a career on exploring twisted sexuality and the horror of body mutation, and The Brood is no exception. Roger Ebert’s review of the film asked “Are there really people who want to see reprehensible trash like this?” My answer is “Hell. Yes.” Mutant, albino kids in matching snowsuits go on murderous rampages, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Just wait until the finale! Drawing from the “write-what-you-know” school of thought, Cronenberg wrote this while fighting for custody of his daughter, and this story is rooted in a father’s primal fight to keep his child safe. It’s a good rule to remember. No matter how crazy your story gets, be sure that your main character’s drive is understandable.

Okay, I saw this movie in high school, and it scared the crap out of me. The plot revolves around an urban legend about a killer with a hook shoved into his stump of a hand. It’s said that if you call out his name five times while looking in the mirror, he will come to you. And kill you. And anyone nearby. And probably your neighbors too. Maybe even your whole block. This guy is scary. Needless to say, to this day, I still don’t have the courage to say his name five times, even though I know it’s just a story. Therein lies the relatable, meta-horror of this movie. Based on a short story by Clive Barker, I’ll never stop being in awe of the torture Barker puts his innocent heroine through. It just goes from bad to worse to oh god, no…

AKA Zombi, AKA Zombi 2, AKA Island of The Living Dead, AKA Zombie Island… and the list goes on because it’s quintessential Italian horror. The story is nonsense. The characters are just zombie fodder. The hero is a twerp. But like all Italian horror, this movie revels in the abstract and aims to satisfy on a purely visual level. The premise is zombies, and so it delivers on some of the best zombie imagery of all time. For that, I’ll always dig this movie, and it’s something to remember when crafting individual scenes. Ask yourself: “How can I turn this so-so moment into something no one has ever imagined before?” Zombie goes big, posing at least one question that hadn’t been asked up to that point: “What happens when a zombie meets a shark?”

It’s a western. And it’s a cannibal movie. Well, it’s actually more of a vampire tale. Also, it’s really funny. It’s sort of like Dances With Wolves meets Dracula. Okay, you’re confused. I get it. But it’s almost impossible to put this movie in a box. The problem with genre blending is that the balance of tone has to be perfect to pull it off. I admire how well this movie works, with a strong storyline, which takes a main character, whose fatal flaw is cowardice, and puts him through the ringer, forcing him to make greater and greater moral choices all the way to the final image. Ravenous also succeeds thanks to a great director, actors that know how to maximize the material (when will Guy Pearce get his due?), and a score that I still play (even while writing Quarantine). Also, there’s snow. I love snowy story settings for horror.

Tom responds to one of Lex’s picks. Is he scared silly?

THOMAS’ PICKS

Have you ever wondered what it would be like for the person you’re dating to slowly mutate, day-by-slimy-day, into a human-insect monstrosity? No, you haven’t? Well luckily for you, David Cronenberg’s The Fly has figured it all out for you. The Fly is an awesomely gross and sad love story that I’ve watched a bunch of times. What’s great is that it achieves a beautifully slow and horrific transformation of a lovable and well-intentioned scientist into an inhuman monster. You follow along with the journalist woman who is intrigued by the scientist, falls in love with him, and then has to watch him mutate while trying to hold on to the belief that his humanity can survive his vile transformation. I also like it cause his puke is acid and it melts off people’s fingers.

Poltergeist rules because it’s one of those great horror movies that grounds you in a loving family world, where everything is normal as can be for a while, before the horrific things start to happen. It makes the arrival of the ghosts and the way the ghosts warp the family’s reality into something so much scarier. The ghosts torment the family with man-eating trees, evil clown dolls, steaks that are still alive, and unseen spirits that steal vulnerable little girls and trap them in the netherworld.  This family has no choice but to stick it out, and battle the evil force that has their baby girl, even as it threatens to tear their world apart. This movie haunted the dreams of kids in the eighties. So turn off all the lights and turn the volume up. No pausing allowed.

HELLRAISER and HELLRAISER 2

Picture this. A lady makes out with a man who has no skin. He traces his fingertips down her cheeks, painting trails of blood behind them. He kisses her with passion, and it smears more blood on her face because he has no lips. That image right there is the litmus test as to whether or not you should watch the first two Hellraiser movies. It’s disturbing, I know. But if you can imagine yourself on the couch with your friends, watching that bloody, glistening make-out session, with your jaw on the floor, and can see yourself finding the whole thing entertaining, then rent away. If you just can’t imagine it, then steer clear. Hellraiser is a true nightmare, where solving a puzzle box opens a portal to a torture dimension, so, if you dare, open the puzzle box and watch Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. If you like it, then go right into the killer sequel, cause it gets even crazier. The two of them together are a one-two knockout punch of extreme horror.

NIGHTBREED (the theatrical cut)
I love Nightbreed. I love it. Now, let me just say, it’s not a perfect movie, but if you can accept its flaws, you get to go along for a demented story, where immediately your hero discovers that he may be a serial killer in his sleep, he hallucinates while walking through oncoming traffic, sees a guy kinda cut off his own face, and gets killed and travels to an ancient world of beasts and monsters that live below the local cemetery. And that’s only like the first twenty minutes. The story goes so fast that it only allows you little hints of the bizarre things and places that make up this giant underworld. The movie, directed by Clive Barker, was based on his novella Cabal, which he intended to continue into a trilogy of novellas. Only he never wrote the other two books, and there never was another Nightbreed movie, so this remains an awesome but frustrating tease of a vast, weird world that would have been explored in the sequels. In a way though, that’s good, because you get to let your imagination run wild with what horrors and mysteries the sequels might have contained.

If you haven’t seen Evil Dead 2, I’m excited for you. It is one of the beloved movies of my youth. The movie is so much fun, that you almost forget to get scared. It’s a tongue and cheek, funny, scary thrill ride, full of crazy camera work, and gloriously overblown acting. You can tell the director, Sam Raimi, and the star Bruce Campbell are making this movie for the pure fun of it. Evil Dead 2 is basically a bigger budget remake of the first Evil Dead, but the second time around they added heaps of comedy, and an overall fun tone to create a horror-comedy hybrid that is one of a kind. Our hero Ash, takes his girl for a romantic weekend in a cabin in the woods, only to get attacked by a malevolent force, the evil dead when the sun goes down. He is chased, attacked, driven to the point of madness, and in one amazing sequence, fights to death his own hand, after it becomes possessed. There’s chainsaws, and double barrel shotguns, and catch phrases, an undead dancer, and demonic taxidermy. If you love it, rejoice because years later the director and star teamed up again and continued the epic story of Ash in the sequel, Army of Darkness.

Lex watching one of Tom’s faves. That’s not laughter. That’s an uncomfortable psychological response to FEAR…

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