31 Days of Horror: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3
Well, I cheated. I didn't watch every one of these movies in the month of October. Since I've started this tradition there has always been unfinished business that leaks over into the month of November. The final count for horror movies I've watched this season is 22 - not bad. It's not 31, but I'm working up to it.
There are a few choice selections in this final batch of leftovers, so please don't judge them on their timeliness. Sometimes the leftovers are the best part.
Trick 'r Treat (2007)
|Director: Michael Dougherty|
The Setup: An anthology format intertwines five different storylines, all taking place on the night of Halloween. Not everyone makes it out alive.
A true holiday movie! I had never seen this minor cult classic so I decided to watch it on the night of Halloween. Very few movies have approached the holiday with the directness of Trick 'r Treat, a movie rather mysteriously buried by Warner Bros before eventually being released straight to DVD in October 2009. All of its intersecting storylines, told as non-chronological vignettes, take place on Halloween and draw from various themes and tropes of horror. It is undeniably silly in a lot of ways, but therein lies the charm: the humor and campiness are not accidental, and they find a happy balance with the blood and horror. If Home Alone and A Christmas Story get replayed every Christmas, then I would justify giving Trick 'r Treat the same treatment on Halloween.
Availability: Digital Rental on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and YouTube
The Nightmare (2015)
|Director: Rodney Ascher|
The Setup: A documentary uses first-hand accounts of sleep paralysis to give vivid and frightening recreations of the strange phenomenon.
For admittedly personal reasons, this movie managed to disturb me in a way that no other movie did this year. I realize not everyone will have this reaction: The Nightmare seems to inspire a range of responses, from boredom to disappointment to an actual sense of fear and anxiety. The criticisms for Rodney Ascher's documentary are not without merit: some of the reenactments are cheesy, and the film doesn't do enough to talk to experts or approach the subject from a scientific standpoint. While most people who experience sleep paralysis don't also suffer the hellish hallucinations that these stories recount, the mere possibility of spending your nights this way is deeply unsettling. I have experienced sleep paralysis once in my life, and it didn't come with any visual or auditory hallucinations. But the nagging thought, however illogical, that I may "catch" sleep paralysis from my exposure to this movie (an idea the movie actually supports through one testimony) made this uniquely unnerving.
Availability: Streaming Netflix, Digital Rental on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and YouTube
|Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky|
The Setup: A bright young medical student earns a spot at a prestigious medical school, where she discovers an old and nefarious cult.
Anatomy is a thankfully forgotten horror mystery that stumbled its way into box office success in Germany when it was released in 2000. It is a tonally confused mess that switches haphazardly from dark comedy to occult thriller to teenage slasher. There is not a likable character in the film except for the lead heroine, played by Franka Potente. All of the men are boorish pigs and her best friend is a vapid slut. It is not bloody enough to be shocking, smart enough to be suspenseful, or funny enough to be charming. Sometimes I watch movies so you don't have to. Bitte!
Availability: Purchase on Amazon
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
|Director: John McNaughton|
The Setup: A sociopathic ex-convict roams the streets of Chicago, coldly murdering at will.
If the setup for the movie sounds simple, it's because it is. There is a remarkably straightforward quality to John McNaughton's violent character study, both visually and narratively. Michael Rooker plays the titular killer in his feature film debut, a role that has probably served to shoehorn him into villainous roles for most of his career. He is chillingly soft-spoken and forceful as Henry, a role he reportedly inhabited for the duration of the shoot, both on and off set. Rooker says of Henry that he can always bring that character back "in a second," and that in a way he's "never said goodbye to Henry." Before you cross the street next time you see Michael Rooker, understand that he said it in regard to Henry's idiosyncrasies and soft-spokenness, and that it reflects poignantly on the nature of method acting. The starkness of style, disquieting scenes of violence and general lack of silver lining makes it believable that this is one of the movies that caused the MPAA to create the NC-17 rating.
Availability: Streaming Shudder, Purchase on Amazon
The Hallow (2015)
|Director: Corin Hardy|
The Setup: A couple and their infant boy move from London to rural Ireland for the husband's job. Dire warnings from the locals about a threat in the woods soon turn out to be more than mere superstition.
An important part of The Hallow's plot is directly inspired by cordyceps, a parasitic fungi documented in BBC's Planet Earth series - a truly unsettling genus that puts most horror and sci-fi movies to shame. And on a broader level, there is an environmental message here, although the depth or complexity of the point being made is up for debate. I want to talk more about the conflicted environmental implications of the plot, but this isn't the proper format. The film is rather beautiful, shot on location in Ireland and taking its inspiration from both contemporary "creature features" as well as Irish folklore. Director Corin Hardy says he wanted to place body horror and practical effects in the context of a dark fairy tale setting, and in that sense he was successful. The Hallow may not run very deep (or unpredictably) but its atmosphere, acting and effects make it worth a look.
Availability: Digital Rental on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and Google Play
|Director: Pascal Laugier|
The Setup: A young woman brought into a crime of vengeance by her deeply troubled best friend discovers a sinister society, and a whole new world of pain.
If you read Part 1 of this blog series you know that I mistakenly watched the American remake of this film before seeing this original version, an oversight I regret considering the dark and surprising turns the plot takes. I won't spend much of my energy comparing the two, except to say the remake (while grim and violent in its own right) is fairly toothless compared to Pascal Laugier's ode to pain and suffering. I sat through some harrowing and distasteful cinema this season (I'm looking at you, A Serbian Film), but Martyrs may have been the hardest to watch for sheer endurance of violence and human pain. What I feel I must also mention is that I found it worth my time. It drew me into its horrible world and kept me there even through a sharp change of direction and an ending both bleak and audacious. A film well conceived, shot and acted for those with nerves of steel and stomachs of iron.
Availability: Digital Rental on Amazon, YouTube and Google Play
- Jonathan Ross