Tor.com content by

Michael Moreci

Five Religious-Themed Horror Movies That Are Scarier Than The Nun

This past weekend, The Nun scared up over $53 million at the domestic box office, and over $130 million worldwide; both numbers are record highs for the Conjuring universe, which has two more films in production (potentially three, depending on whether The Crooked Man gets off the ground or not). And while The Nun’s success is a product of the popularity of its parent franchise (a series of successful, well-made films will do that), there’s also something to be said about the movie itself; this is the first film in the Conjuring universe to explore religious horror, and there’s something wickedly appealing about that.

Whether you’re devout, atheist, or somewhere in between, there’s a twisted pleasure to be had in flirting with the dark side of religion—in imagining that, beneath the piousness and the virtue and all that, there’s this nasty darkness just waiting to get out. Sometimes it’s the devil, sometimes it’s the past sins of the faithful themselves, but horror has always had a fascinating, and oftentimes terrifying, relationship with religion and faith.

Here’s a look at five other horror films that, like the The Nun, explore the frightening possibilities at the border between the sacred and the unholy.

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Ready Player One is Vintage Spielberg with Real Heart and Soul

Every time I sit down and attempt to organize my thoughts so I can write about Ready Player One (the movie) I can’t decide how to approach it—do I talk about the movie alone, the movie and the book, or the movie, the book, and the chatter surrounding it? But the more I think about the relationship Ready Player One has with readers and multiple mediums, the more I realize how perfect these relationships reflect what the book is.

Ready Player One is more than just a story, it’s a conversation. It’s an examination of how we interact with the past, with the things we love, and with technology. As such, it’s difficult to discuss the movie in terms of what’s on the screen alone—though I will—because the texture of the Ready Player One experience is so robust. Part of the book’s magic was its ability to cover so much ground—familiar, nostalgic ground—and wrap it in a compelling story; and now the movie, under Steven Spielberg’s masterful guidance, has captured that exact same magic.

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Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is Smarter and More Insightful Than You’ve Been Told

Let me just say something right at the start, because it needs to be said: I love Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Normally, I wouldn’t have to thrust such a declarative statement at the top of my post; but, the thing is, what started as a simple review of the book leading up to the movie has turned into a defense, strangely. Because at this point in time, it’s impossible to talk about Ready Player One without acknowledging the chatter surrounding it. And there’s a lot of chatter.

Now, far be it for me to tell people what opinions they should and shouldn’t have. I certainly don’t want to argue someone down from their own conclusions. What I’m writing here is my take on the book—particularly why I enjoyed it so much, and why, to me, it’s an important book for our time. Is Ready Player One a nostalgia-fueled, reference-laden, nerdgasm of a story? Yup. To the nth degree. But it’s more than that—so much more than that—and once you strip away some of the more superficial elements, you find a story that speaks to a generation’s loneliness with great profundity and heart.

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Five Sci-Fi Books That Are More Relevant Now Than Ever

There’s an old saying that I’m certain you’ve heard before: “May you live in interesting times.”

The phrase is a translation of a Chinese curse, because peace, harmony, all those niceties make for a dull existence. War, unrest, injustice—now that makes for interesting times. It’s like Orson Wells said in his famous speech in Carol Reed’s classic film The Third Man:

In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

If that holds true, then boy oh boy are we living in interesting times.

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Moving Forward with The Last Jedi

There’s a saying, attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, that says “you cannot step in the same river twice.” It’s a quote I’ve been thinking about a lot about since watching (and re-watching, and re-watching) The Last Jedi.

A lot has been said about the latest Star Wars film and its relationship to the past. Some people are firmly of the mindset that The Last Jedi ruined what’s come before, in terms of key elements like our understanding of the Force to the treatment of Luke Skywalker. Others say that the film marks an important pivot for the franchise as it respectfully moves away from its long, detailed history and charts a new future. Still others contend that nostalgia is a dangerous thing, and the purpose of The Last Jedi was to gleefully destroy everything that’s come before it.

[The Last Jedi is engaged in an interesting conversation with the past…]

The Phantom Menace Also Defied Star Wars Expectations

Boy oh boy has The Last Jedi stirred up a hornet’s nest.

But, look: I’m not here to discuss that whole thing. Not at the moment, at least. Rather, let’s go back to the halcyon days of Star Was fandom, back to 1999 where there wasn’t all this debating over who was a “real” Star Wars fan or any talk about a single movie ruining the entire franchise.

Oh wait.

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Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Proves it’s Okay to Have Some Serious Fun

Many moons ago, when I was a young lad attending ye olde undergraduate university, I was filled with visions of writing big, rollicking sci-fi and fantasy stories. My heroes were Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Star Wars (yes, your hero can be a movie and not a person—just roll with it). I settled into my first creative writing class and was promptly told—in a syllabus about the size of a Robert Jordan novel, ironically—that I could take my ideas of writing genre fiction and go straight to hell. Serious Writers—yes, writers is intentionally capitalized in this context—didn’t dabble in space and elves and lightsabers, and if I turned in a story that even tickled my professor’s olfactory senses with a whiff of genre, it would go unread and, therefore, ungraded.

Suffice to say, that class was a fucking drag.

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Series: That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

Anakin Skywalker Was a Gray Jedi

“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Since Luke Skywalker dropped that bomb in the middle of the Star Wars universe in the first trailer for The Last Jedi, questions have been swirling:

Has Luke turned to the Dark Side?

Has he discovered something about the Jedi Order that will redefine what the term “Jedi” means?

Will Rey evolve past the binary Dark/Light Side and become the first (canonical) Gray Jedi?

GIVE US MORE PORGS.

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Gattaca is a Profound Sci-Fi Examination of the Human Soul

There’s a certain type of sci-fi story that we all know: visitors from beyond make contact with humans and teach us something important about who we are and where we’re heading. It’s in 2001, Arrival, and Independence Day—well, maybe not the last one so much, but you get the idea. One of the great things about Gattaca, Andrew Niccol’s 1997 masterpiece, is that it doesn’t need an outside other to deliver a powerful, moving message about humanity; instead of aliens, we get a meditative, deeply introspective examination of the human spirit that’s limited strictly to humans. The result, I’d argue, is one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made.

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How George Lucas’s Love of Cinema Changed Movies Forever

In 1975, a little movie about big trouble in a New England resort town came along and changed American cinema. That movie was Jaws, the Steven Spielberg-directed shark thriller that’s credited with inventing the summer blockbuster. Not only was Jaws a runaway box office success, but it was a bit of an anomaly in the fabric of 1970s American filmmaking. After all, from a certain point of view, the ‘70s can be understood as the American art house decade; in no other period did auteur-driven movies—such as The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The French Connection—find so much mainstream success. Jaws, though, gave audiences something totally different, and people came in droves to see it. And then, just two summers later, audiences’ desire for big budget, genre-drive movies was cemented when Star Wars took the entire world by storm.

But for all their similarities, Star Wars did something extraordinary that Jaws did not.

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10 Reasons Why Attack of the Clones Is Better Than You Remember

Well, well. Look at A New Hope hogging all the Star Wars attention this month. I suppose it’s a big deal that the landmark film is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but like Luke and Han bogarting all the glory from Chewie at the Yavin ceremony, something’s being forgotten. Because there’s another Star Wars anniversary that no one’s talking about:

The 15-year anniversary of the release of Attack of the Clones.

If you’re still reading this, know that I’m being facetious—at least partly. Because, no, Attack of the Clones isn’t equivalent to A New Hope. I’m not a crazy person. But I do love the prequel movies. I love them for the way they expanded the Star Wars universe, I love them for their ambition, and I love them for the tragic story they weaved. I’d even go so far to say that, in a world where tent-pole summer blockbusters couldn’t be more formulaic, the prequels are more deserving of praise than ever. It’ll be a long, long time before we see a big budget franchise display the kind of boldness George Lucas did in those three films. I mean, let’s face it: he could have just remixed the original trilogy. He could have taken his success and replicated it. But he didn’t. For better or for worse, Lucas gave us something different, something unique, and that alone will always be worthy of admiration in my opinion.

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Strange Days: A Flawed but Fascinating Look at Racism, Voyeurism, and the Future

I don’t know how Kathryn Bigelow is still making movies. Don’t get me wrong—I’m very, very glad she is, because she’s one of the best directors around. Up until 2008’s The Hurt Locker, Bigelow directed movie after movie that went unnoticed or unappreciated. While a box office success, Point Break doesn’t receive nearly enough credit for being one of the most stylish action movies to come out of the ’90s. Near Dark—my goodness, Near Dark is vampire movie paradise. The Weight of Water is fascinating.

And then there’s Strange Days, which is Bigelow at her best, delivering a sci-fi thriller/noir that’s prescient even now, in 2017. In 1995? To say it was ahead of its time would be like dropping a 1967 Chevelle into Victorian England and calling it advanced.

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The Fifth Element: Luc Besson’s Wild and Crazy Masterpiece

The more I think about The Fifth Element, the more I realize it’s a movie that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. It’s such a pastiche of different influences, from Blade Runner to Chris Foss to Akira to Star Wars to The Incal (so much so that Jodorowsky sued The Fifth Element writer/director Luc Besson for plagiarism). Yet never, to me, does The Fifth Element feel like a rip-off, or a second-rate version of something greater. Because while the movie wears its influences on its sleeve—with joyful exuberance, in fact—it also subverts every single one of them by refusing to take itself seriously. It’s like Besson took a sample of sci-fi’s greatest hits, put them all in a blender and hit frappe—while maniacally laughing the entire time.

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Starship Troopers: Paul Verhoeven’s Manic, Misunderstood Satire

My goodness, is Starship Troopers an under-appreciated movie. It’s also a strange movie, even by ’90s standards. It shares a space with Demolition Man, representing satirical sci-fi movies that, now, have more or less become a punchline. Demolition Man—while it’s admirable for what it was trying to do—suffers from poor execution. But Starship Troopers hits the exact mark it’s going for; it’s just largely misunderstood by audiences.

The thing is, if you watch Starship Troopers with a straight face, it doesn’t work all that well. It’s weirdly melodramatic, the performances aren’t all that good, and the antagonists are just giant bugs, amongst other things. It can be seen as “one-dimensional” or “immature,” as Roger Ebert, and other critics, have complained. But, as with all Paul Verhoeven movies, Starship Troopers is not meant to be watched with a straight face. Verhoeven makes movies with his tongue buried so deep in his cheek it almost comes through the other side, and that penchant for taking something very serious not seriously at all is one of the things that makes Starship Troopers so uniquely great.

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6 Books to Tide You Over Until Star Wars: Episode VIII

For most Star Wars fans, there’s one true thing that surrounds us, and binds us. Sure, we may squabble about which movie is the best and argue over who Snoke really is (it’s the angry resurrected ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn, obvs), but we all agree that there’s no such thing as too much Star Wars. But the fact is, only so much Star Wars exists. Granted, when all’s told between movies, TV shows, canon novels, non-canon novels, video games, board games, and comics, there’s a lot of content out there. But as the dust is settling on the box office juggernaut that is Rogue One, a grim reality is taking hold: there’s eleven long months that separate us from our next cinematic Star Wars fix. And if you’ve already read/watched/consumed everything there is to consume, you’re going to need to fill your time with…something.

Well, if you can’t have Star Wars, there’s always the next best thing: Stuff that’s like Star Wars! Here’s six novels that can help tide you over until Episode VIII drops in December.

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