Monday, November 13, 2017

31 Days of Horror 2017: Top 10

October 2017 was another glorious month of non-stop blood, death and devils in the annual tradition of 31 Days of Horror, jam-packing as many horror movies into the month as possible. This year I have parsed down the list into a rock solid Top 10, most of which are readily available for streaming or at least renting. As uninspiring as Netflix's movie catalog has seemed recently, they have a surprising number of really effective horror movies in the catalog currently. So as autumn winds down into winter, here are some movies for cold days and long nights.

1. Green Room (2016)


This economical horror thriller from director Jeremy Saulnier is best seen without watching the trailer. Knowing little or nothing about the story contributes to its overall effect, which is quite unnerving. It was filmed in and around Portland, OR and it is #1 on this list because there is no bullshit filler here. No contrived heroics, narrative fluff or clunky arcs - just a violent, confidently directed, well-acted story about a punk show gone horribly wrong. Available on Amazon Prime. 

2. Raw (2016) 

I've seen Raw described as an "emotionally driven coming-of-age story," which is a bit funny considering how this movie goes down. That doesn't mean it's not an apt description, but you've probably never experienced a bildungsroman that will make you squirm like this one. This is a strangely sexy, well-paced and ultimately grisly horror movie by French director Julia Ducournau. Best viewed while eating a juicy steak. Available on Netflix.

3. Train to Busan (2016)

Train to Busan is Korean director Sang-ho Yeon's first live-action movie, and I would make the argument that it is an instant classic of the zombie genre. The story centers on a self-absorbed father and his young daughter, on the train from Seoul to Busan as the country experiences the bloody onset of a zombie outbreak. The premise may sound simple, but this movie shines because of its execution, practical gore, and the emotional heart of the movie which lies in the relationship between father and daughter. Available on Netflix.

4. The Wailing (2016)

Image result for the wailing movie

One of the more strange and ambitious movies on this list, The Wailing runs for 156 minutes and combines themes of Korean and Nepalese folk religions, Catholicism, true crim and the occult. Don't be deterred by the 2.5+ hour length - while it is a long movie, it isn't a slow one. It is a quickly paced film in which seemingly every scene presents a new crime or crazy new plot point, and the tone (for the first half at least) switches deftly from humor to dread and back again. Nobody is laughing in the last third of the film however, which really challenges the viewer with its violence, sudden plot turns and heavy symbolism. Available on Netflix.

5. Don't Breathe (2016)

Similar to Green Room, Don't Breathe is another efficient thriller which works best without watching the trailer. There are a couple dark surprises in this tense Michigan-set crime story which was made for $10 million. Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez previously directed 2013's hyper-violent Evil Dead remake, but this movie tones down the gore in exchange for more realistic suspense and a more thoughtfully crafted plot. A truly well-executed horror film which will cleverly subvert your initial expectations. Available on STARZ.

6. The Canal (2014)

Filmed in Dublin by Irish filmmaker Ivan Kavanagh, The Canal pulls from numerous inspirations to make a deliberately paced mystery which is part crime thriller, part ghost story and part occult horror - all under an umbrella of pervasive psychological terror. While it begins with a seemingly mundane story of marital discord, the horrific supernatural elements are revealed gradually and in waves, with an emphasis on our unreliable perceptions of reality. Like all movies on this list, best watched in the dark with the volume turned up. Available on Netflix.

7. Under the Shadow (2016)

Set in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, Under the Shadow revolves around the life of a mother and daughter in Tehran during the tumultuous Iran-Iraq conflict. It is a film which is by definition a political and cultural study even as it operates as a supernatural horror, the darker aspects of which reveal themselves slowly throughout the second half of the movie. It has been compared to The Babadook for its thoughtful script and sparing effects which illustrate themes of motherhood, childhood fears, and emotional and cultural symbolism. An impressive debut from Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari. Available on Netflix. 

8. A Dark Song (2016)

Another movie on this list filmed entirely in Dublin, Ireland, shot mostly in a 20-day span in a large country house that forms the base of operations for the two primary characters. This is a deliberately slow-paced film which revels in the details and traumas of its occult ritual, the effects of which come on slowly and menacingly. Its stately pacing and attention to detail are amplified greatly by a tremendous score by Ray Harman. Its climax finally opens up to the violence and horror one might expect, but for this film especially it's not so much about the destination as it is the journey. Available on Netflix. 

9. The Last House on the Left (1972)


This 1972 cult classic belongs on this list because of its cultural impact and importance to American horror, but don't mistake this as an outright recommendation. There are few people I would actually recommend this to, considering its overt theme of violent sadism and numerous acts of sexual violence and mutilation. It is the debut film of Hall of Fame horror director Wes Craven, and was actually a modest box office hit despite (or perhaps because of?) being heavily censored and outright banned in some countries. It is an impressive and perverse classic of extreme violence, shot in a mere 21 days by a rookie director, but its audience is limited by its extreme subject matter. Available for rental on FandangoNOW.

10. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)  

Another debut feature, this one from Brooklyn-based director Nicolas Pesce, who was honored with the Official Selection of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival for the film. This black and white arthouse horror has been called Hitchcockian, albeit with a quiet and disturbing infusion of gore. This story of isolation and loneliness in the remote countryside finds an extra layer of repulsion in the way it tells the story of its heroine - slow pacing, careful editing and a reliance on long, static shots imparts a placid and matter-of-fact tone to its violent and disturbing subject matter. Available on Netflix. 

- Jonathan Ross

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