What Happened to Sharon West?

“Death is really weird for a lot of people because people say, ‘We will never forget’  or you know, ’Will never be forgotten’ but… people forget. When you really love someone deeply, I don’t think you forget and I think if you love somebody you talk about them.” -Justin Robinson

The heart-felt quote above is from the gut-wrenching documentary, “My Brother Jordan.” It was suggested to me as a means to help me move on through my grief and I immediately thought about Sharon West. Wait, let me back up for a second. Our True Crime community on Reddit is currently exploding with the solving of I don’t know how many cold cases now due to advancements in DNA. It seems like every other day a cold case is being solved and there’s an outpouring of communities desperately seeking information on those who are missing and mysterious deaths. Sharon West has been on my mind for a few months now. Justin Robinson’s had me in tears, most of you know why I am grieving, and then I remembered Sharon has a sister. Luckily, I was able to get into contact with her sister, Kaylynn West, who is absolutely delighted that someone out there still hasn’t forgotten.

“We still have no real idea what happened.” -Kaylynn West 2021

Sharon West was a vivacious 14-year-old girl who went missing after a party on July 30th, 2011. She had a beautiful, warm smile and wide-eyed expression. Free-spirited Sharon would often dye her hair vibrant colors with facial piercings and tattoos. The troubled teenager often climbed out of her father’s home windows with the shower running. She also snuck out of her grandfather’s nursing home bathroom. This is not uncommon among troubled teens who are just looking for love and it’s all too familiar. Sharon and her sister Kaylynn had an unstable upbringing. Her father worked as a short-haul trucker and her mother was struggling to find work. Sharon and her sister were left home alone regularly.

On one occasion in 2010, aged 13, she got into a fight with her mother and stormed off before a 29-year-old man picked her up, offering her Vicodin and alcohol. Sharon’s boyfriend, Austin Meaux, tracked her down to a motel in Winnie, Texas a few days later. She would spend the next three days at the Fannin Behavioral Center in Beaumont, Tx, a place that regularly fumbles through hundreds and hundreds of cases they simply do not have the resources or skills to manage. The overflow at this facility for adults and adolescence in unsettling and the outpatient services for addicts is even worse. Not much has changed since 2010. The Beaumont Enterprise reported that the man responsible for this endeavor was awaiting trial but I am waiting on feedback to confirm if he was ever held responsible. 


“Even though my life is fucked up, most of the time I just smile and pretend everything is okay.”  -Sharon West

A therapist visited with her on a couple of occasions, after her release, until ‘Sharon’ felt she no longer needed to seek treatment. Within the span of a year Sharon flipped flopped between three different homes. Her father said the 14-year-old “Smoked and drank a little, and did other things you don’t need to know about.” On another occasion he accused her of using her money from tutoring to buy alcohol and cigarettes. (She got all A’s and B’s in school and tutored younger children, for a short time.) After catching her smoking marijuana in his garage, Lynn couldn’t take anymore. Sharon and Kaylynn expressed their desires to move back in with their mother so they both moved to Jasper until Sharon pleaded with her mother and was allowed to move in with her boyfriend, Austin, and his family over the Summer of 2011.

Sharon’s stay with her boyfriend was only meant to be a temporary stay. Sandra intended to pick her daughter up the last Sunday of July but would not make it down till that Tuesday, due to complications finding a ride. This worked out for Sharon because she wanted to attend the party that Friday evening. This would be Sharon’s final party. Few details have come to light about the party. The friends and family have been pretty hush hush about the event. Her boyfriend told the authorities that he went to bed at 2a.m. and Sharon wasn’t ready to turn in for the night so she walked to a nearby soccer field, a popular hang out spot for the kids. At 5:20am she texted a friend with her whereabouts and she sent another text to a friend approximately 40 minutes later before her cellphone died. 

“Do you know where Sharon is?” This is the text message Austin sent Sandra the following day. A bewildered Sandra asks, “Isn’t she with you?” Sandra and Lynn West both began calling and texting Sharon but she was not responding. Everyone who knew Sharon flocked to her Facebook page for answers where a slew of rumors and mud-slinging ran for pages and pages. Friends of hers provided theories as to what may have happened. The comments seemed never ending. I chimed in with, “Where are Austin’s parents and why are they keeping silent?” Something wasn’t right. Most of the kids commenting had their personal profiles draped in alcohol and drug use but questions about this so-called party fell on deaf ears. It was time for Sharon’s family to get some answers.

Dozens of volunteers and authorities combed the field with helicopters, four wheelers, dogs, and horses. The family hired a private investigator, Chuck Foreman, who strongly believed Sharon did not run away. Personal belongings and her cellphone would have been in her possession and that’s questionable, given her history, but Sharon’s mother insisted that it was out of character for her and that she would have contacted her. Sandra West created a Facebook page with the following message, “Sharon has been missing since July 30, 2011. She literally just vanished. There are so many stories, rumors, and scenarios about her disappearance. None of that matters. The only thing that matters is finding her. She has a family and friends that love and miss her terribly.” I had argued that these things most definitely did matter. This was an unpopular opinion. “Yea, it bothered me, but I couldn’t stop her.” Facebook posts covering Sharon’s whereabouts revealed that the girl had been hanging with a questionable crowd. Her own page provided an insight into her daily regiments with a cigarette, alcohol and drugs joining the photograph. Most of those photos have since been deleted along with her Facebook page. 

*Photo courtesy of Beaumont Enterprise, Sandra West and family friend.*

It’s not that Sharon and her mother had a strained relationship. She was still very affectionate with her mother and I want to point out that this is NOT a smear campaign for Sharon’s family, nor Sharon. These details are vital. I use to sneak out of my parent’s house and party with friends when I was 14 as well and this could have easily been me. No judgement here.

It’s worth noting that the authorities refused to issue an Amber Alert. Private investigator Chuck Foreman pressured the police, “It’s not right. She has been missing weeks now and we have nothing. If the authorities had taken this more seriously from the start they might have found something.” Her family’s worst nightmares came true. This was not a another runaway case. Sharon’s scattered remains were discovered by a rancher in Hamshire-Fannet on October 28th, 2011 with her skull resting in an empty canal. Sandra confirmed that the glasses and pajama shorts found belonged to Sharon. Forensic analysis have been unsuccessful in determining a cause of death. Heat and moisture debased what could have been important evidence. Her toxicology report has never been made public but after conversing with Sharon’s sister she did confirm that the 14-year-old had been on bath salts at that evening.

*Photo courtesy of Beaumont Enterprise*

I asked Kaylynn about the drug use and if the police had investigated everyone at that party. Her information was limited. Kaylynn wasn’t at the party but feels everyone involved needs to be interrogated. She still questions why Austin and his family members have not been charged. Could Sharon have overdosed? Could she have fallen? Why was the area immediately bulldozed? There are so many unanswered questions. “The investigation was incredibly un-in-depth,” Kaylynn continued. Deputy Rod Carroll, a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said the case still sits on a shelf, open. I think it’s time to pull Sharon off of the shelf because her family has not forgotten.

Austin James Meaux

What do we know about Austin? Friends and loved ones still believe he knows exactly happened to Sharon. “Everyone in Fannet with half a brain knows he killed her! If there was ever a case that needs to be reopened, Sharon’s is one of them. Justice has not been served!” This was seven years ago. October 7, 2013. This was one of the comments on a public service announcement for an arrest warrant in 2013.

“The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is requesting the assistance of residents of West Jefferson County in locating a Wanted Fugitive. The Warrant Division is attempting to locate Austin James Meaux, age 19. Mr. Meaux is wanted on a Theft Class A warrant that was issued on September 30, 2013.

Austin James Meaux is described as follows:

Height: 5’8

Weight: 158 lbs.

Hair: Brown

Eyes: Blue

Mr. Meaux is wanted for the warrant and questioning in other crimes. He is believed to be hiding in the Hamshire – Fannett and Winnie area.” Austin was eventually taken into custody but his current whereabouts remain largely unknown.

Sharon West’s memory lives on. I’d like to thank Kaylynn West for letting me write about this but consider this an introduction. I am still interviewing family members and friends of hers. Her old school mates have reached out to me with compliments of her brisk personality. Some saying she was quite funny and easy to be around. A tree was planted in Sharon’s memory at Hamshire-Fannet High School. I’d like to know if that tree still stands. We get too many hurricanes in this area.

We Are the Weirdos, Mister

Before I introduce the girls, here’s a brief overview of what this shoot is about. We were unprepared, losing light, and the fake blood concoction was not working in my favor. You’ve seen how bright the blood comes out in my photoshoots. This one time it was just not working out for me. We almost got arrested that night. I’m going to think long and hard before I decide to shoot with two small girls in a rural area again. The cops probably thought that we were Satanists, hooker, or on drugs. None of those true but I can tell you that those overzealous douche bags did let us go. We were sitting there for several minutes trying to explain who we were and what we were doing out there. As if all the equipment wasn’t enough.

Gina Garcia

An excerpt from her artist page, “Gina Mari Garcia creates mixed media pieces using found objects, paper manipulation, and various paints. She is a self-taught abstract artist and resident at The Art Studio, Inc.” If you follow her page you can stay up to date on all of her exibits. Gina and I have worked together before at the studio with our Moulin Rouge show that was a hit! Gina works tireless for this studio and I try to follow her around taking pictures of her creations. She turned my favorite pair of paints in a work of art. Some of the themes I used for her photos were abstract paints with paper manipulation. She wore this Midsommar like outfit and on the outside it may look like it doesn’t quite fit but it does. I wanted to go with a grungy, vampress look in some of the photos as well. So there’s a lot going on in her photos. She’s an excellent screamer.

Teddi Garcia

No relation to Gina Garcia, Teddi is an old friend of mine that I have been dying to take photographs of because she is so gorgeous. These will NOT be the last photos that I take of her. She knows she’s more than just a little misunderstood. She has trouble acting normal when she’s nervous. I make her nervous so I have never known her to be normal. 🙂 She doesn’t have a page for her art, per say, but you can catch her getting banned on Facebook left and right. For Teddi I wanted to have a more grundy appeal than Gina’s because it fits her personality and look. Lots of film wraps, papers, and scratches were used in this process and it took me forever because I have very little experience using film wrap. A heavy influence was Garbage’s Stupid Girl music video. Shirley Manson, SCHWING!

And then there’s my gorgeous ass!

Mandy

*THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS*

This is the variety of creative energy that only emerges when an artist has outright control of his/her vision. Here, that artist is Panos Cosmatos, roping us in for another staggering, psychedelic treat six years after his first film Beyond the Black Rainbow. Both films deal heavily with grief. Mandy is dedicated to Icelandic composure Jóhann Jóhannsson who died in 2018 before the film’s release but the real inspiration behind both films draws from the tragic death of Cosmatos’ parents. Since its release Cosmatos has opened up about the trauma he felt after losing his parents and how far he has come to letting go of those overwhelming feelings of remorse. “I was sitting in my living room, and suddenly I saw myself 10 years in the future, still sitting in that living room, not ever having done anything with my life.” He got himself together and moved to Vancouver which is where he started production on Rainbow, aiding him through his feelings of regret and guilt and he began to develop the storyboard for Mandy which would ultimately help him through his anger and step aside from blackout drinking binges with his friends as a coping mechanism. (I can relate.)

Mandy is unlike anything else you will ever see. It’s a kaleidoscopic, transformative hallucinogen all in itself with a hippie cult, demon biker gangs, loads of cocaine, fantasy acid fuckery and arguably some of the best battle scenes caught on film. The pacing at the first 45 minutes of the film drags a little simply to provide the audience with its central characters, Mandy and Red. The universe revolves around the love these two characters share. In 1983, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) has settled into a quaint life in the middle of nowhere with his soulmate, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), a strangely seductive but quiet artist. A Charles Manson inspired cult, Children of the New Dawn, kidnaps her when their leader, Jeremiah (Linus Roache), becomes obsessed. Not only does Mandy turn down Jeremiah’s advances she laughs in his face and at his pseudo-intellectual music, humiliating him. Mandy rejects him in the most spectacularly daring fashion. Sand stands before her, vulnerable and naked, with an outlandish sales pitch. “You know, I’ve been blessed to know the comfort of many women. But there are few that have had your radiance. You’re a special one, Mandy. I, too, am a special one. ” Mandy maniacally laughs his proposal down and he doesn’t know what else to do but scream, “Shut up!” He screams at his followers to look away. His screaming turns to crying and Mandy cannot stop laughing.

“The male ego is a terrifying, terrifying thing, you know? If it’s shattered, it becomes even more dangerous.” – Panos Cosmatos

The director has expressed his expertise in great detail on numerous occasions regarding this scene. His own experiences and observations of the aggressive male getting turned down by a woman at a bar or online is transferred onto film in the most complimentary fashion and on behalf of women everywhere I’d like to thank Cosmatos. It’s probably one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen in a while.

Cosmatos continues, “That was one of the earliest scenes that I wanted to do. I just find there’s nothing funnier and more scary than a delusional man who thinks they’re the center of the universe, and in fact they’re not. They’re nothing but dangerous in that way, and I just wanted Mandy to laugh in the face of that. Because she’s the center of this film, I wanted her to be the one to essentially destroy him. He would die physically later, but I think he died right there.”

In retaliation, Jeremiah has his gang of homicidal nut burgers set her ablaze in front of a restrained Red. He’s forced to watch the love of his life burn until there’s merely nothing but ash to trickle through his fingers. It’s safe to say that Red did not take this well. We absorb the rest of the film witnessing what Cage does best; Ridiculously screaming and crying with pure raw emotion. There’s a scene where he is guzzling a bottle of Vodka and shrieking from the pain as he pours the liquor over his wounds in his God damn tidy whities with 70’s style bathroom decor in the background. This was another moment for Cosmatos to provide us with an insight on what it was like for him. “I always wanted to have a scene that felt like that lost decade of mine and evokes me drinking with my friends in a desperate attempt to black out my consciousness.”

Cage is the only actor who could pull this scene off. He’s an Academy Award winning actor for a reason and he gave the performance of a lifetime in Mandy. He had such great chemistry with Andrea Riseborough that lasted until that final shot with Red and Mandy smiling at each other. Even the most tender moments between Red and Mandy felt real. There’s a lot to be said about the history of Red and Mandy that’s left up to the viewers. We never get a full explanation as to where Mandy got that scar on her face and it’s very subtle but upon a second and third and forth watch I gathered that something traumatic happened to her as she opens up about her family’s past. She had mentioned that her father would force her and the neighborhood kids to kill baby starlings. From these we can assume Mandy has had a hard life. But we learn more about her personality from her fashion choices, Motley Crue and Black Sabbath tees. Mandy appears to be an introvert but in a flashback we see her at a packed bar, crying, and Red is looking back at her. I assume that’s when the two first met and he becomes her knight in shining armor. Red is another story. It’s just a theory but many viewers suspect he is a recovering alcoholic and possibly a veteran which would explain the scene with his friend holding onto his weapons.

WIENER!

Before he embarks on his mission of revenge he collects a crossbow in safe keeping with his friend Caruthers (Bill Duke) who explains the origin of the Black Skulls. Rumor has it that they were drug dealers until the scientist cooking up their LSD gave them an infected batch, driving them mad. From there, Red and his crossbow make a detour where he’s hammering boiling hot metal into a gigantic scythe (COOL!) that was inspired by metal band Celtic Frost’s logo. Red goes after the bikers and is promptly captured. He finds himself in the gang’s lair sampling a jar of the bad batch. He spirals through intense visions before battling these cenobite-like creatures, snorts their cocaine, and escapes into the night. There’s more than enough action with a chainsaw fight that Cosmatos described as “a straight up living hell to shoot.”

“It didn’t make any sense. They were bikers and gnarly psychos and…crazy evil.” 

Aside from Cage, there are powerful performances here from Richard Brake (Rob Zombie’s 31)  as the Chemist responsible for creating the Black Skulls. Linus Roache delivered an exceptionally terrifying performance as Jeremiah Sand. I am not familiar with the actor’s line of work but he appears to have spent the majority of his career as a stage actor and he took a break from acting for 18 months in India for spiritual meditation. There are distinct similarities between Jeremiah Sand and real-life cult leader Charles Manson. Manson was also a failed musician who took it very personal when he was humiliated for his musicianship. Both referred to their victim’s as pigs and psychedelic drugs played a major role in their violent routines and sexual endeavors.

The visual effects team succeeded in setting the tone for the film. Flame bars were used for numerous firelight effects with bulbs to accent the firelight’s gleam of the casts’ faces. Most of the film is saturated in an ailing blood-red filter. Long and wide lenses were used to frame each shot with the moving shots relying on wide-angle focal lengths and the long lenses used for close-ups. There’s heavy use of multiple reds, corals, and tobacco for the lens filters. I’d like to spend an hour combing through these effects but I am trying to keep it short.

This movie is pure heavy metal and even though Red loses the only thing he ever cared about the audience is left with a satisfactory ending. A smile shared between Red and Mandy after a fitting end to Sand’s

The Torture and Death of Sylvia Likens

There are so many cases we hear about everyday where children are tortured and murdered. In 1965, this wasn’t so common. They did have their fair share of child murders but the suspect was usually a crazed lunatic or your basic criminal who had problems with his momma. It usually didn’t last for days either. This poor girl’s murder and torture were described by the prosecutor in the trial as the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana. Warning, the photos below are Sylvia’s body and they’re pretty graphic.

Gertrude Baniszewski’s idea of punishment was severe physical abuse resulting in a young girl’s death. She didn’t seem to punish any of her children this way. Only Sylvia and Jenny Likens, who were staying with Gertrude while their parents were away. Perhaps what’s so disturbing about this case is the fact that it was not only Gertrude carrying out the abuse but her children and other children in the neighborhood as well. This abuse went on for months and none of these children told their own parents about what was going on. It was entertainment to some and to others, they just thought they were punishing her. The pictures below are of John, Paula, their father cuddling them after Paula’s life sentence, Gertrude crying and saying goodbye to John, and Stephanie talking to a reporter. 

Numerous adults came into that house and saw the bruises on Sylvia’s face but none of them went out of their way to make sure she was okay. Sylvia and Jenny had several opportunities to tell adults what was going on and they never did. Maybe they were so scared, they thought they would get a beating for telling. Jenny did say later on that she thought it would only make things worse. It’s a shame. Think about how different things would have been if they would have told some one. Sylvia could be alive. It’s important to teach our children the difference between right and wrong and if they’re ever in children there are people who will help them. They need to be taught that it’s not right to treat others in such a manner. Obviously, none of these children involved were taught a damn thing from either of their parents.

Where were Sylvia’s parents? Her parents traveled with carnivals selling food. This is why they left their two girls into Gertrude’s care. Lester Likens only had an eighth grade education level. Makes you wonder. The marriage was unstable and they moved around several times. Sylvia often babysat and did a lot of ironing. It’s funny because these are the same jobs Gertrude often did. Much isn’t known about Betty Likens. She was arrested for shoplifting. There isn’t much to like about Lester and Betty from the looks of it. A mutual friend introduced Lester to Gertrude and she volunteered to look after the girls for twenty dollars a week. Gertrude already had seven children to look after. Paula, John, Stephanie, Marie, Shirley, James, and Dennis. So why would she volunteer to now take care of two more children for a whopping twenty dollars a week? Jenny was insecure and had a limp from childhood polio. Sylvia was more confident and even though she was a very pretty girl, she never opened her mouth because she was missing a front tooth.

From the start, Paula (who was 17 at the time) and Sylvia did not get along. Gertrude kicked Sylvia in the vagina and accused her of being pregnant. Paula was enraged by this because she was actually pregnant so she knocked her down. Medical examiners proved that Sylvia was not and could never have been pregnant. Sylvia was a virgin minus the coke bottle incident. But that was the least of Sylvia’s worries. One day, the money order from the Likens didn’t show and Gertrude punished the girls for it. According to Jenny’s testimony, Gertrude “took us upstairs and she slapped me and said, ‘Well I took care of you little bitches for nothing.” The money order arrived the next day. It was a day too late. Gertrude began using a paddle on Sylvia and Jenny for minor offenses like exchanging coke bottles for change at the store. She suspected Sylvia of stealing and burned her fingers with matches. Paula often helped to discipline the girls due to her mother’s illness that often made her weak. Gertrude was also underweight. The kids from the neighborhood started to come around a lot more and participated. Not by force. By their own free will. The kids would practice their judo on Sylvia and hurled her around the house. They began kicking and beating her and put their cigarettes out in her skin. Eventually, Gertrude forced Sylvia to undress and insert a coke bottle into her vagina. I have always been so floored by this. Imagine the humiliation. Imagine the pain. She was also forced into a scalding hot bath so she could be cleansed of her sins. If she wet her mattress, she was beaten and burned. Gertrude decided she wasn’t fit to live with her children. Bed wetting is common when you’re terrified of getting the shit kicked out of you every day. I cannot even fathom the torture that this poor soul had to endure.

Sylvia was no longer allowed to leave the house and she was thrown down into the cellar and locked in. They gave her crackers and refused to let her use the bathroom. This is when the worst of the torture began. She was forced to eat her own urine and feces when she was allowed to go to the bathroom. Gertrude took a large needle and carved the words, “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” into Sylvia’s stomach. A neighborhood boy even helped. Gertrude figured she was going to die so she made Sylvia write a note and they planned to dump her body in the woods. Sylvia did die but they didn’t dump her body. The cause of death was brain swelling, internal hemorrhaging of the brain and shock induced by her skin damage. She also suffered from malnutrition as well. Below are pictures of the basement and the mattress Sylvia slept on until she wet herself in her sleep.

On October 26, 1965, Indianapolis officials found Sylvia’s body laying on a mattress  dead. Gertrude told the police that Sylvia had been attacked by a gang of boys and she had a note written in Sylvia’s handwriting that confirmed this complete lie. The police could tell it was all a rouse. Her body was malnourished and covered in sores, burns, and bruises. Gertrude was out of her mind if she thought she was getting away with this. Of course she was out of her mind for her severe punishment as well.

When it came time for the trial, Gertrude denied any wrongdoing or part in the torture and death of Sylvia Likens. She claimed that her children must have been involved. She then entered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury found Gertrude guilty of first degree murder. Paula Baniszewski was found guilty of second degree murder. Two neighborhood boys and John Baniszewski were convicted of manslaughter. Gertrude and Paula were sentenced to life at the Indiana Women’s prison in Indianapolis. The boys were sentenced to two to twenty one year terms at the Indiana State Reformatory. In 1971, the supreme court granted Gertrude and Paula a new trial because of ‘prejudicial atmosphere.’ Gertrude was convicted of first degree murder once again. Paula pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and severed only two years in prison. This is so disturbing to me. How can they free this girl???? You do the crime, you should do the time and this wasn’t just any ordinary crime. They tortured that poor innocent child. The boys were released on parole for good behavior in 1968. They only served two years of their sentences. It’s smart to let these young murderers out. They should have been taught a lesson. John became a minister in Texas and counseled children of divorced parents. Well that’s nice, someone who tortured and was involved in an innocent girls horrific death now counsels children. As for the two neighborhood boys, one died of cancer at the age of 21 (ha) and the other was in and out of trouble with the law until his death and heart attack in 2007. 

Gertrude was released on parole in 1985. She changed her name to Nadine Van Fossan and moved to Iowa. She died five years later due to lung cancer. In my opinion, she should have died in prison but at least she got hers. Paula married and moved to a farm in Iowa. Lester and Betty Likens divorced. Betty remarried and died in 1998 at the age of 71. Jenny Likens Wade died in 2004 at the age of 54. Thanks to Star Files for updating information on where they are now. I had always wondered what happened to these people, except for Gertrude. I had heard that she eventually died of cancer. Below are several photos of her during the trial, release on parole, and five years before she died.

I pray that crimes like this do not happen anymore but unfortunately, times are even worse than they were in 1965 and we never know what to expect. If you want to see  a film based on the torture and death or Sylvia Likens, you can see The Girl Next Door or An American Crime. I personally prefer An American Crime because it follows the story closer and has great performances by Ellen Page, Catherine Keener, James Franco, and Scout Taylor-Compton. The Girl Next Door is more like fictional work with incidents that didn’t even happen. 

Rest in piece Sylvia Likens, you will never be forgotten. Below is a picture of the house being demolished in 2009 and an older Jenny Likens at a memorial for Sylvia. I cannot believe this house was still present until 2009. 

An Introduction to Classic Horror

From silent to contemporary to experimental retrograde, it’s impractical to refute how beautiful black and white film and photography stands with its dreamlike atmosphere and tone. This is glamour cinematography. Take all the gradations of gray in between the beiges, silver, and charcoal and mask those rich images with hair-raising background music and you’re presented with a truly haunting and suspenseful piece that will keep you at the edge of your seats. This is why Hitchcock is one of the truly great masters of horror. The writing is also consistent throughout his films and filmmakers alike. Attention spans have since depleted and we are left with cheap jump scares and reduced originality.

Many of our most iconic monochromatic monsters may not have aged well but a few that still hold up are Carnival of Souls, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Night of the Living Dead. This collection may be repetitive for horror fans like myself but these are the more essential and sophisticated materials.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI

This selection is known for its oblique and confined interiors, stylized trees and knife-like leaves. The viewers are given so many twists and turns and their perspective is distorted with climbing staircases, titled walls, and jagged geometric figures. The film follows a madman who hypnotizes a somnambulist to carry out his murders but there are no real visually striking images of death nor blood. The inspiration for the script is plucked right out of the experiences from writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz with the a military drug during WW1. There’s rich Nazi history involved with the film’s staff and crew. Conrad Veidt, Cesare, was notorious for his range in psychologically difficult roles. The Man Who Laughs is another notable performance. Major Strasser in Casablanca being my personal favorite. Werner Krass, Dr. Caligari, became a controversial figure due to his collaborations with Nazis. The damsel in distress, Lil Dagover, was Hitler’s favorite actress. She spent an awful lot of time at his dinner parties.

ONIBABA

Arguably one of the most haunting Japanese survival films that is considered a horror film by many but some will argue that it’s merely a vortex of lust, greed, and betrayal. A wife and mother are struggling in a swamp set somewhere in the middle of war in 14th century Japan. Desperate, they murder Samurais and sell their belongings to a merchant. Oh, there’s also a witch living across the swamp. The mother ultimately suspects her daughter-in-law of deceit, and for being a skanky little ho. She terrorizes the young woman with a mask stolen from her most recent victim. The masks is impossible for her to remove and let’s just say their fate is fitting. This is some of the most beautiful cinematography I have ever seen. Those images will penetrate and consume into the darkest uncharted confines of your imagination. It’s unique, well-written, and it’s complete with philosophical and spiritual ideas, respecting premodern Japan. Check out the Criterion Collection. Onibaba was initially refused a certificate in England by the BBFC in 1965, but resubmitted in 1968 where it was approved with an X classification with cuts.

BLACK SUNDAY

The ambience is eerie and gothic and the special effects are pretty gnarly for a black and white film. Black Sunday explores an unpleasant witch who is brutally, and I mean, fucking brutally, killed by a spiked mask that is battered into her face by a large hammer. The witch comes back from the grave with her servant and attempts to possess a beautiful descendant with a striking resemblance.  The seductive Barbara Steele was famous for her roles in gothic horror films and Mario Bava was a Master of Italian Horror, along with Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci. Bava was given very little to work with on this production but his grand style was all the plush needed with Steel’s mystical edge make this work. Word has it the actors were fitted for vampire fangs but they were never used.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE

A former child star (Bette Davis) and her sister (Joan Crawford) are forced into retirement after a crippling accident. Baby Jane has a lot of hatred for her sister Blanche because she was an actual movie star. Jane gets drunk and runs over Blanche with her car, giving her complete control of everything her sister does. This becomes progressively worse, and it’s, at times, exhausting to watch with a run time of two hours and fifteen minutes but these performances succeed in keeping a vigilant audience’s enthusiasm. Bette Davis is terrifying in this movie. She’s terrifying because she was that good. For me, there’s nothing more frightening than watching someone slowly unhinge. Her decaying child star persona morphed into this elderly, grotesque, raging lunatic drunkenly performing her old songs in her living room in her old outfits. Baby Jane is the real star here and Davis played the hell out of that character like all her previous roles but Crawford is also brilliant, right up until that final shot.

The wig Bette Davis wears throughout the film had been worn by Joan Crawford in previous MGM production. Neither of the actresses noticed because it had been re-groomed. During production, Bette Davis had a Coca-Cola machine installed on the set to anger Joan Crawford, whose late husband had been CEO of rival Pepsi-Cola and who herself was on the board of directors of that company. During the kicking scene, Bette Davis kicked Joan Crawford in the head, and the resulting wound required stitches. In retaliation, Crawford put weights in her pockets, causing a strain in Davis’ back. Director, Robert Aldrich, knew what he was doing. He knew that these women hated each other and were so competitive they would act out their aggression on screen, making it arguably two of the best performance in a horror film of all time. It’s cruel.

According to the book “Bette & Joan – The Divine Feud” by Shaun Considine, the two had a life long mutual hatred, and a jealous Joan Crawford actively campaigned against Bette Davis for winning Best Actress, and even told Anne Bancroft that if Anne won and was unable to accept the Award, Joan would be happy to accept it on her behalf.

NIGHT OF THE DEMON

Also known as Curse of the Demon. This is an interesting monster film about a doctor on his way to London to attend a paranormal event, conspiring to expose a cult leader. The doctor agrees to stay at the cult leaders estate still believing it’s all a fraud. Upon staying at this man’s estate strange events occur. This film was mentioned in the opening song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (“Science Fiction Double Feature”): “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, but passing them used lots of skill”. The demon appears at the end and it’s a little ridiculous but if you allow yourself to ignore the flawed effects it’s actually a well-made horror film. Directed by one of my favorites, Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie, The Leopard Man), did not want the demon shown at the end. He thought that it ruined the movie and refused to shoot the scene but the film’s producer, whom none of the cast and crew got along with, shot it himself. The Blu-Ray edition is filled with extra footage.

PSYCHO

Often mis-credited as the first slasher film, it’s notorious for those shrieking violins and the infamous shower scene. That scene is so popular in film culture, just about anyone is familiar with it. The film opens with Janet Leigh (Jamie-Lee Curtis’s mother) on the run after stealing from her employer. Leigh is killed within moments after we follow her path to the dilapidated hotel and we feel safe because she is the protagonist, or so we though. Hitchcock throws in side characters as a distraction and we’re entranced with Anthony Perkin’s charmingly sadistic Norman Bates. The dialogue Perkins was provided combined with his underestimated acting abilities nursed our belief that he was a tender and innocent man; tormented by his mother, who we never get a good glimpse of until the end. Hitchcock’s camera trickery and direction is flawless. This film stands as a blueprint for the slasher genre. Stay far away from the remake.

THE BAD SEED

A wide-range of the killer-kid horror sub-genre are easily accessible and well spoken for; Village of the Damned, Children of the Corn, The Brood, The Omen, Ringu, and Orphan are all decent selections but The Bad Seed remains the most shocking and chilling. The filmmakers didn’t have to rely on gore or practical effects to make this a shocking masterpiece. Audiences were never handed material with genetic evil until The Bad Seed. Patty McCormick delivers a heart-stopping performance, she was nominated for an Oscar, along with her character’s mother, played by the extraordinary Nancy Kelly. There are twists that you will never see coming and there are alternative endings along with the novel and the broadway hit. These alternate endings have the viewers asking questioning which method they would use had their own child committed these murders. It’s often a heavy debate topic in film classes around the globe.

Rhoda is a manipulative eight-year-old who has the grownups convinced that she’s a sweet, smother you in hugs and kisses little girl. She’s a straight-A student and can recite the Bible by heart but buried underneath all of that sweetness is a sadistic little monster who takes pleasure in killing animals, children, and anyone that gets into her way.

Dean Koontz’s Hideaway may have been inspired by this film. Koontz describes DNA and something missing in genetics. That’s what The Bad Seed provides. Rhoda is not a demon. She is not the ‘Daughter of Satan or any other ridiculous concept we have seen regurgitate on film. The Bad Seed explores the possibility that some of us are born bad. Natural born killers.

LES DIABOLIQUES

A wife and the husband’s mistress conspire to kill the devious head master but his body disappears and strange events take place driving the two women completely mad. The ending is grim and shocking with a twist you will never see coming. Les Diaboliques made it into Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments #49 slot. There is a remake starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani but it doesn’t compare to this masterpiece. The freaky thing about the film is that Véra Clouzot had a heart attack five years after the films release, somewhat mirroring her character who also had heart problems. When director Henri-Georges Clouzot bought the film rights to the original novel, he reportedly beat Alfred Hitchcock by only a matter of hours.

FREAKS

A malicious trapeze artist seduces and marries a dwarf for the sole intention of inheriting his money. She fucked with the wrong circus. The Siamese twins, legless boy, the pinhead girl, half woman/half man, bird girl, and the dude with no arms and no legs that can roll his own cigarettes take matters into their own hands. Her fate is one that would eventually be revised appropriately in American Horror Story’s Freak Show.

Director Tod Browning traveled with a circus and he used real performers in the film. His love for the carnival folk inspired him to put a spotlight on the genuine personalities and show just how ugly and corrupt the ‘normal’ people in our society really are. It was banned in several places and they made a few cuts, including the castration scene. This is a one of a kind, original horror masterpiece. Browning would never direct again.