Is the The Witch “Real Horror?”

The Witch: There's screaming, but is it "real horror?"

It’s still early, but I’ll wager The Witch will be the scariest movie I see this year. Not because the makers filled it with jump scares, gore or even creepy black-haired girl ghosts. The Witch is frightening because it’s relentlessly downbeat and oozes a sense of dark menace from virtually the opening frame.

But more importantly, perhaps, The Witch works as a horror film because the audience understands that the movie is unfolding outside of the conventions of fright flicks that preceded it. Anything could happen.

And that fear of the unknown may be our deepest fear.

That’s why it bugs me to see some horror fans bashing The Witch for not being “real horror” — primarily, it seems, because the makers dared to tread into the territory of art-house cinema. It’s a knee-jerk response that, while thankfully not universal among horror fans, is sadly all too common. I’ve heard it invoked again and again by horror gatekeepers when they see movies like Black Swan, It Follows, Spring and Under the Skin.

Any time a scary movie comes off the festival circuit heaped with critical praise and a handful of awards, detractors line up to denounce it as lacking chills, being too artsy-fartsy or failing to deliver on its hype. Those condemnations are only amplified in the echo chamber of social media.

But for the horror genre to remain vital, it can’t retread the same old tropes. To break free of them, filmmakers need to push boundaries, often charting a course into artier territory. How many more times do you really want to sit through a story of a family that suffered a recent loss and moves into a haunted house? How many more needless remakes of horror classics? How many found-footage retreads?

As a music fan, I find the “it’s not real horror” argument a lot like the rockabilly aficionado who insists only music that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1958 is worth listening to. Or the jazz enthusiast who claims the more avant garde end of the genre can’t be called “jazz” because Satchmo wouldn’t recognize it as such. While one can respect the purity of their arguments, neither makes much of a case for the genre moving forward.

So, you can bet I’ll be watching the The Witch again, just like I did It FollowsSpring, Black Swan and Under the Skin. And I’ll remain eager to see the next offbeat indie that rolls of the festival circuit with positive reviews. I know it may be an… ahem… scary notion to some, but for genres to thrive, they must grow, evolve and move in uncharted directions.


Cocktail hour: Spring Boulevardier

This week's cocktail draws its inspiration from the recent film Spring.

The less you know about the recent film Spring before watching it, the better.

The 2015 low-budget thriller presents us with dark and appealing story mashup — part love story, part horror, part science fiction – about the ultimate unattainable woman. It starts out as a well-crafted romance between a traveling American and the mysterious Italian beauty he encounters on the Adriatic. Soon after, it whisks us into alleys of mystery as old and foreboding as those in the medieval town where the pair meet.

The American, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), heads to Italy after problems mount at home and quickly finds himself smitten by Louise (Nadia Hilker), whose charms aren’t just physical. She’s brilliant and worldly — and has a habit of disappearing on him, which only adds to her allure. Louise also places a lot of odd rules on their relationship. The crisply written, often funny, dialogue keeps us interested, even if romance isn’t the reason we’re watching. It makes the relationship seem real and resonant.

How could this end badly? The main characters in Spring come together in a seaside town in Italy.

Co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (whose only other film was the super low-budget horror tale Resolution) help build the suspense with stretches of eerie silence and beautifully framed shots of predatory insects and decay in the ancient seaside town. The effect is dreamlike, and it makes us increasingly certain Evan’s dream of romance will end up  a nightmare.

In other words, see it with a date.

And while you’re watching, why not sip on the cocktail it inspired, the Spring Boulevardier? The Boulevardier is a classic cocktail that serves up a perfect romance between distinctly American and distinctly Italian ingredients. It fuses the bold complexity of bourbon with the enigmatic bitterness of Campari.

In this version, I add a couple dashes of orange bitters to help the orange flavor really pop, as it’s a nice foil to the Campari’s bitterness.


1 oz. bourbon
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Italian vermouth
2-3 dashes of orange bitters


Add the ingredients into a cocktail shaker half full of ice and stir until frost accumulates on the outside of the shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass full of ice and garnish with an slice of orange peel.