11 Memorable Facts About Hereditary

Milly Shapiro in Hereditary (2018).
Milly Shapiro in Hereditary (2018).
A24

Hereditary premiered in 2018, forever ruining treehouses, miniature art, and cluck-ing sounds for everyone who saw it. Part occult horror and part domestic drama, the movie follows a family grappling with the traumatic death of its youngest member and the dark traditions that haunt its bloodline. The movie has been praised as an impressive debut from writer/director Ari Aster and a highlight of the new golden age of horror.

While many viewers likely wish they could scrub Hereditary from their minds, others may be curious to learn more about it, such as what inspired it, how the cast was convinced to sign on, and what the director really thinks of that scene. If you belong to the latter camp, read on for facts about the film.

1. Ari Aster’s disturbing shorts got the studio’s attention.

Hereditary was most fans’ introduction to Ari Aster, but it wasn’t his first work of cinema. Prior to his feature film debut, he had directed some noteworthy shorts. The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, Aster’s graduate thesis at the American Film Institute Conservatory, is the most prolific—and strangest—of the bunch: It tells the story of a father being sexually abused by his son. Despite the disturbing subject matter, the 30-minute short was an official selection at both the New York and Slamdance Film Festivals.

His short film Munchausen also infuses family dynamics with horror elements, with the plot following a mother who poisons her son to stop him from leaving for college. Both films caught the attention of the indie studio A24 and convinced executives that Aster could write and direct a twisted family drama.

2. Hereditary was inspired by another unsettling movie.

Aster’s vision for Hereditary was inspired by a few horror staples including Carrie (1976) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). But there was another, more obscure source he drew from when crafting his movie. For those who are unfamiliar with Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, the 1989 film starring Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon, it centers on a woman having an affair with a man at her abusive husband’s restaurant. Like Hereditary, it’s more than the straightforward drama it appears to be on the surface. The unrated film is noteworthy for a host of controversial elements including explicit sex, defecation, and cannibalism. As a guest on the CineFix Directors Series, Aster said that he snuck the movie out of his local video store around age 12 after learning that it had upset his stoic father. “I regretted watching it for many years,” Aster said.

3. Toni Collette was hesitant to take the lead role.

Toni Collette stars in Hereditary (2018).A24

Toni Collette’s performance as Annie is rightly lauded as a highlight of Hereditary, as well as a highlight of her acting career. But the role almost went to someone else—not because that’s what the director wanted, but because Collette was hesitant to sign on. She doesn’t consider herself a horror fan, and at the time she was approached with the script, she was only interested in doing lighter films. “I reallllllly wasn’t looking to do anything this heavy,” Collette told The Daily Beast. But after reading the script and realizing it wasn’t a typical horror flick, she couldn’t resist saying yes.

4. Ari Aster avoided calling Hereditary a horror movie.

Any movie that has as much satanism, decapitation, and creepy kid content as Hereditary does automatically falls into the horror genre. But when he was initially pitching the film, Aster was hesitant to use the label. "The film is a horror film, it's unabashedly one, but as I was pitching it, I was describing it as a family tragedy that curdles into a nightmare," Aster told NPR. "I wanted the film to function first as a vivid family drama before I even bothered attending to the horror elements.”

Aster's plan worked: The movie relies on classic horror tropes, but by bringing in elements from other genres, Aster convinced studios—and critics—to take it more seriously.

5. Sets helped create a dollhouse aesthetic.

From the opening scene, the director makes it clear that he wants you to view the characters like figurines in a dollhouse. But Annie’s career as a miniaturist isn’t the only way Aster conveys this information. To achieve a “dollhouse” aesthetic, all the house scenes were shot on a set on a soundstage. That way, the crew could remove ceilings and walls and film the actors from farther away than they would have been able to shooting in an actual house. The unique perspective is meant to evoke the feeling of looking at a scene in a diorama.

6. Alex Wolff offered to break his own nose.

Alex Wolff not only shot Peter’s creepy desk scene without a stunt double, but he was willing to slam his face into a real, solid desk. “I said to Ari when that scene was coming up, ‘I will do it on a real desk, just tell me,’” Wolff told The Wrap. “And he said, ‘I love you and thank you but that is definitely not allowed, definitely an illegal thing to do so we’re not going to do that …’ break my own face.” To make the situation safer, the production team brought it in a cushioned prop desk, but according to Wolff, it was still hard enough to hurt. And he was really bleeding in that scene, but not from his nose: He had injured his knee after banging it against the desk.

7. The Hereditary trailer scared a lot of kids.

Even before Hereditary hit theaters, the film was terrifying audience members—unintentionally. In spring of 2018, an Australian movie theater accidentally screened the trailer before a showing of the family film Peter Rabbit. The theater was packed with at least 40 children, and they were understandably upset. The cinema gave out free movie passes as an apology.

8. That scene is Ari Aster’s favorite.

If you remember any part of Hereditary, it’s likely the gut-wrenching car accident scene that sets the horrifying events of the second half in motion. Aster is well aware of how effective it is. “That’s probably my favorite sequence in the film,” he told Vanity Fair, “everything that’s happening around those 15 minutes.” It’s probably the best sequence in the film, but favorite maybe isn’t the term we’d use.

9. that scene was almost more gruesome.

The same production design team that created the miniatures for Hereditary were also responsible for some of the gorier props used in the film. In an interview with The Verge, model and makeup effects designer Steve Newburn said that Hereditary’s most unsettling moment could have been much worse. In reference to Charlie’s decapitation, he said, “It’s toned down significantly [...] We had built entire puppets that the heads came off of, and squished, and blood went in every direction. It was all shot. It was pretty brutal to watch.” Fortunately for squeamish viewers, Aster decided to go with a “less is more” approach in the final cut.

10. Hereditary was partly inspired by Ari Aster’s real life.

Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro in Hereditary (2018).

A24

When writing and directing the most personal moments in Hereditary, Aster drew from his own life experience. He told the Indo-Asian News Service that he and his family endured a series of traumatic events over the course of a few years, with circumstances becoming so grim that he dubbed it a “curse.”

"I'd never want to baldly dramatize any of the suffering that I or my family had gone through, so by taking the idea of a family being cursed and then literalizing that, I was able to put a lot of those feelings through a horror movie filter, where the canvas demands a high level of catharsis,” Aster said. What exactly those events were the filmmaker hasn’t revealed, but it’s safe to assume the satanic possession portions of the movie were fabricated.

11. The cult’s symbol is hidden throughout the movie.

Observant viewers will notice many references to the film’s ending sprinkled throughout Hereditary. One of these is the symbol of the cult that terrorizes the family. Annie’s mother can be seen wearing it as a necklace at her funeral, but it also shows up in unexpected places, like on the telephone pole that decapitates Charlie.

11 of Our Favorite Horror Books

Penguin/Image Comics/Amazon
Penguin/Image Comics/Amazon

We’re firmly in that time of year when the air is colder, the nights are longer, and the books in our to-read pile are getting scarier. Cracking open a horror book in your comfiest chair is one of the best ways to embrace the Halloween season, and at Mental Floss, we’ve got plenty of suggestions for your next title. From genre classics that should be on everyone’s list to a few offbeat entries—including a must-read comic starring a spectacularly creepy ice cream man—here are our favorite horror books you should pick up.

1. The Penguin Book of Exorcisms // Joseph P. Laycock; $16-17

Penguin/Amazon

What better way to embrace spooky season than with this collection, which features real-life accounts of exorcisms from around the globe? When you're done, crack open The Penguin Book of Witches and The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, which will also send shivers up your spine. —Erin McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

2. The Witches // Stacy Schiff; $15-$17

Back Bay Books/Amazon

Few things are scarier than actual history, as Stacy Schiff's painstakingly researched and beautifully written account of the Salem Witch Trials—which began in 1692 and ended less than a year later, with 25 people dead—shows. —E.M.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

3. The Haunting of Hill House // Shirley Jackson; $9-$15

Penguin/Amazon

Often described as one of the scariest books ever, Shirley Jackson's tale of four paranormal investigators who set up shop in a haunted house will fill you with creeping dread, making it the most perfect of reads for this time of year. At around 200 pages, it's a quick read—and when you're done, you can fire up one of the novel's TV and film adaptations to keep the creepiness going. —E.M.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

4. Horrorstör // Grady Hendrix; $13-$14

Quirk Books/Amazon

If you’ve ever panicked while traversing the mazelike layout of your local IKEA, Horrorstör will be all too relatable. In this book, Orsk, a Swedish furniture store in Cleveland, Ohio, is the scene of some very paranormal activity, which spurs a handful of employees to brave an overnight shift to find out the origins of these malevolent spirits. It’s the perfect read for anyone who’s ever thought their 9-to-5 was quite literally out to get them. —Jay Serafino, Special Projects Editor

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

5. Blood Meridian // Cormac McCarthy; $10-$16

Vintage/Amazon

Awash in gruesome imagery and some of the most disturbing acts of violence ever put on the page, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian isn’t a horror tale of the jump-scare variety. Instead, it achieves pure terror by examining man’s hateful, vengeful nature under the guise of a Western. —J.S.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

6. Ice Cream Man // W. Maxwell Prince, Martin Morazzo, Chris O'Halloran; $15-$17

Image Comics

The spirit of EC Comics and its lurid horror anthology titles lives on in Image’s Ice Cream Man. With his sharp white uniform and truck full of sweets, the titular ice cream peddler meddles in the lives of others, often with terrifying results. —Jake Rossen, Senior Staff Writer

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

7. The Ruins // Scott Smith; $14-$16

Vintage

Tourism takes a horrific turn in this unsettling potboiler about a group of American tourists who find that an ancient Mayan site isn’t too welcoming to visitors—and neither are the acidic vines that singe both skin and soul. —J.R.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

8. Cujo // Stephen King; $15-$17

Gallery Books/Amazon

Published in 1981, this New York Times bestseller is not for the animal lovers out there. It starts in the town of Castle Rock, Maine, which becomes terrorized by a once-friendly Saint Bernard. While this is all happening, the Trenton family moves into the seemingly idyllic town only to realize it isn't as lovely as it appears. Parents Vic and Donna are having marriage issues, and their son Tad can't sleep due to the terrors coming from his closet. Little do they know that the real monster is waiting for them outside. —Elaine Selna, Commerce Writer

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

9. Ring // Koji Suzuki; Prices vary

Vertical/Amazon

Before the Japanese horror movie and the American remake, Ring was a bestselling novel. Published in Japan in 1991, the book turned the VCR into an instrument of terror at the height of its popularity. There are major differences between the original story and its screen adaptations, but the basic plot should be familiar to any horror fan: After watching a cursed video tape, the main character has seven days to solve the tape's mystery and escape death. —Michele Debczak, Senior Staff Writer

Buy it: Amazon

10. Let the Right One In // John Ajvide Lindqvist; $14-$18

St. Martin's Griffin/Amazon

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 Swedish novel chronicles the friendship of a young boy named Oskar and his enigmatic new friend, Eli, who happens to be a very old vampire. Let the Right One In has all the trappings of a grade-A horror story—bloodlust, mystery, plot twists, etc.—set against a backdrop of real-world issues, from bullying to alcoholism. The protagonists may be children, but the adult themes of this novel gear it towards older readers. —Ellen Gutoskey, Staff Writer

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

11. Carrie // Stephen King; $7-$14

Anchor/Amazon

King's debut novel from 1974 still ranks among his best. It revolves around a teenage outcast named Carrie White who gets bullied at school and has to deal with an abusive mother at home. Any hope she has of fitting in is soon dashed as she begins developing strange telekinetic abilities. —E.S.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

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Boldly Celebrate the Holidays With This Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise Christmas Tree Topper

Hallmark, Amazon
Hallmark, Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

From Baby Yoda Christmas ornaments to TARDIS string lights, there are plenty of geeky holiday decorations you can use to celebrate the season. If you're a Star Trek fan, this U.S.S. Enterprise tree topper, complete with lights and sound effects, could be the perfect addition to your Christmas tree.

This 10-inch-tall ornament from Hallmark looks like it flew straight out of an episode of the classic sci-fi series. The ship stays lit up when you plug it in, and you can press a button on the topper's base or on the included remote control to watch it put on a dazzling light show display set to the Star Trek theme.

Hallmark, Amazon

Whether you have a real tree, an artificial tree, or a Chris Pine tree, the Star Trek topper will add a delightfully geeky layer to your decor. You can purchase it for this year's tree, or leave it in its keepsake box and give it to a fellow Trekkie.

The Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise tree topper is now available from Amazon for $150. Here are more gifts to give the space-lover in your life this holiday season.

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