Piše: Sven Mikulec
It’s been a long time since we’ve last published a Top 13 piece, and since Halloween is fast approaching, there was no need for me to rack my brains over finding the next appropriate occasion for such an article. What lies before you is my personal list of thirteen horror suggestions for movie-lovers eager to spend Halloween the same way Carpenter would probably wanted us to – watching a quality horror movie. It should be noted right from the start, this isn’t any kind of an official list of the best representatives of the genre in question, just as these suggestions aren’t claimed to be the best that contemporary horror has to offer. My goal was, however, to come up with a list of thirteen horror movies which were likely to have passed you by under the radar due to the fact their air-time under the spotlight in the theatres was either shortlived or, in the majority of cases, extremely limited or even non-existent. Among these shy, timidly advertised, often surprisingly low budget flicks, I believe, every reader should be able to find something to their liking. Therefore, if this list brings you to at least one good movie you would otherwise be likely to overlook, I’d say my job here is done. After all, as they say in the true classic of the genre, Halloween:
It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.
Read on to find yours.
I’m not exactly sure what excited me more – the fact that, looking for appropriate movies for the Halloween list, I stumbled across this interesting film about a girl who senses there’s something sinister living in her elite private school she is forced to go to, or a short but, oh so gladly seen, small role of the legendary Bruce „Ash“ Campbell. The unusual nature of evil portrayed here, as well as decent writing and successful characterization of the protagonists, is what makes this film stand out among its peers, while the creepy mood manages to conceal a couple of instances of senseless, sloppy writing. Young Agnes Bruckner is excellent in the leading role of a teenage rebel determined to uncover the truth but The Woods‘ strogest attribute is the school staff – creepy, restrained, stuck-up, almost unearthly teachers which reminded me of the good old The Faculty. The movie functions as a decent choice for a quiet, preferably windy evening that November holds in store for us.
Just so you couldn’t say the list is comprised of only contemporary horror films, we’ll travel back in time to a history almost forgotten. It is the second half of the 19th century, location: Dakota, USA. After two families end up partly slaughtered, partly kidnapped, a group of local cowboys, among which there’s the fiancee of one of the kidnapped girls, set out to find the „good damn Indians“ they believe are responsible for the vicious brutalities. A braggy cowboy, strict priest-gunman, Afroamerican chef and the aforementioned fiancee head out to the prairie only to find an enemy far more cruel and dangerous that they ever hoped for. This intersting mix of western and horror should immediately be commendated for its fresh and pretty bold idea of combining two rarely joined genres. After a tranquil, slow-paced, atmosphere-pumping first half of the film, the insistance on the creepy, ominous mood is replaced by some fierce shootout scenes. A solid, entertaining movie you mustn’t expect too much from. After all, those of you who expect a masterpiece from a film featuring giant grasshoppery predators automatically lose the right to send me agitated e-mails for making such disappointing movie suggestions.
People who tell you they are true fans of Spanish cinematography or European horror in general, but aren’t familiar with the name of Jaume Balagueró, are lying either to you or to themselves. 43-year-old Spaniard who entered the movie business in the late nineties and since then managed to build a reputation in the world of horror with the little help of the brilliantly crafted zombie virus flick REC, once more succeeded in harvesting favourable reviews with his latest film, last year’s psychological horror-thriller called Sleep Tight. By leading us into the world of a mentally sick janitor who fixates his obsession on one of the apartment building’s female tenants, Balagueró gives us a creepy, psychologically exhausting portrayal of a tormenting cat-and-mouse game forced upon the young woman. More of a thriller than pure horror, Sleep Tight offers a considerable amount of horror, mostly springing from the janitor’s psychic illness and the disturbing actions it forces him to take. Spanish horror hasn’t failed to satisfy me yet.
A couple of months ago, a British ghost story quietly found its way to our local cinemas, with the pretty faces of Rebecca Hall (The Town, The Prestige) and Dominic West (The Wire) staring at us from the billboards. As a kind of an overshadowed little brother of a, in terms of marketing, much more powerful The Woman in Black, this self-conscious little gem of a movie about a haunted castle/boarding school patiently waits to be discovered. But there are millions of haunted castle movies, you say? And you’re right, originality is not one of director Nick Murphy’s debut’s stronger sides, but when a movie has a post-Edwardian boarding school situated in a medieval castle full of windy hallways and giant velvet curtains, a couple of interesting actors (Hall and West accompanied by Imelda Staunton) and a grain of quality terror, the end result simply cannot be disappointing. Decide to watch The Awakening the same way I did – prepared for a couple of spoofs, relaxed and, expectation-wise, not too high maintenance. You may end up pleasantly surprised and equipped with a reason or two to dismiss the claims of Daniel Radcliffe’s army of fans that The Woman in Black is the best British horror film in a long time.
This year we were able to give Daniel Radcliffe a chance to prove that he was far too old and far too serious an actor to be running around in robes and waving wands, thanks to “the best British horror movie of recent years”, as many fans of the latest adaptation of Susan Hill’s popular novel liked to claim. However, I find this year’s Halloween a good opportunity to think back on the original film that managed to chill the British in the winter of 1989. Exactly on Christmas Eve, the Brits had the honor to meet The Woman in Black, an evil and revengeful ghost harassing a small English town by making kids commit suicide. Cheap production but with obvious charm, the film easily produces a feeling of palpable uneasiness, without the help of sneaky tricks or gallons of blood. Perfectly satisfied with the latest, Radcliffe version, I cannot say which movie I find better, but it’s not that difficult to determine which one has more spirit. Sorry, Potter, but this is a duel you failed to win.
I’ll be honest here and admit that Wrong Turn is one of my guilty pleasure movies which are very fun and pleasurable to watch, despite the hard beating by the critics that usually accompanies them. At the very beginning of a longlasting but, quality-wise, incredibly forgettable film series, we see Eliza Dushku parading around some kind of American godforsaken wilderness and managing to escape from the territory belonging to incestuous, horny gang of inbreds armed with axes and spears. Five years later, the Australians decided to shoot a similarly themed flick. So, the Australian version of the contemporary American tribute to the legendary The Hills Have Eyes tells the story of a quartet of young people from the city coming to Van Diemen’s land (Tasmania) to prove the existence of an almost mythical Tasmanian tiger. The expedition is lead by an eager scientist and the only expert among them, enthusiastic Nina, determined to finish the job her sister started but was unable to finish because of her sudden and mysterious death eight years ago. As it’s often the case in movies like this, our guys will succeed in proving the existence of an incredible species. Unfortunately for them, it was not the species they were hoping for.
The story of this overlooked American horror movie could hardly be more ordinary – two young people celebrating their anniversary have the misfortune of running into an escaped convict, and the three of them are then forced to fight off an attack by an agressive splinter-parasite that feeds of human and animal blood, taking control of their corpses. Wait, what?! That’s right, Splinter isn’t your typical horror movie. Toby Wilkins’ directorial debut won me over the first time I saw it thanks to its solid character development, consistent fast pace and unflinching tension. Paulo Costanzo (Joey), beautiful Jill Wagner and our old friend from Boardwalk Empire, Shea Whigham, offer good acting, making it easier to turn the blind eye on one or two overt cliches. This is a very good choice for horror lovers, especially the prejudiced ones, unable to take seriously such a trivial thing as a splinter.
During the last ten years or so, there have been numerous movies about viruses turning people into agressive zombies. Boyle’s 28 Days Later, to start with, is only the top of the iceberg made out of flicks such as I Am Legend, Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, Zombieland… However, in this crowded sub-genre one title managed to somehow stand out. Canadian low budget Pontypool takes us to a small radio station in a tiny American town of Pontypool, Ontario, where a formerly successful shock jock works as a radio announcer. When the connection with their field reporter is suddenly cut off in the middle of his shocking report on a series of bloody incidents at the local doctor’s office, the radio crew slowly starts to understand that outside their walls there is nothing but chaos produced by a strange virus that turns people into bloodthirsty, mumbling animals. Obviously having a limited budget at their disposal, the film crew accomplished something worthy of praise and produced a quality, claustrophobic mood, and their fresh and intruguing idea appealed to far more people than the movie’s 30 000 dollars at the box office would suggest. Based on the novel by Tony Burgess, „Pontypool Changes Everything“, this little Canadian pearl managed to breathe in some fresh air and creativity into the seemingly hopelessly stale genre.
I am of the opinion that every even slightly respectable list of horror films, even one such unofficial as this one, should contain at least one home invasion movie. Unlike the previous movie on the list, which gathers its power from its atmosphere and subtle build-up of horror, there is little subtlety regarding the directorial debut of French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexander Bustillo. The story of a pregnant woman being terrorized by an unknown, mysterious woman set out to cut her baby out of her is an over-the-top festival of bloodshedding where all the blood and gore are used to hide a relatively shallow and predictable storyline from the shocked viewers. The movie annoyed the hell out of me, but given its specific genre, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The appearance of something so evil and sinister at the only place in the whole world where we’re supposed to feel completely safe, our home, is more than a good enough reason for my hour and a half long biting of nails and asking myself what I had been thinking when I decided to give Inside a chance. All of you who fancy home invasion films, if your stomach and mind are not too sensitive, watch Inside. The fact that it is very effective in all its brutality cannot be denied even by still disturbed me.
In 2009, Sean Byrne wrote and directed a horror movie that harvested the recognition of film critics all around the world, both in the literal (People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival) and metaphorical sense (numerous thumbs up from influential critics). This unusual story of kidnapping, torture and a truly sick family of incestuous psychopaths uses a modest premise and explores it to its full potential. After a popular high school stud respectfully declines a weird girl’s invitation to the prom, he ends up drugged and tied to a chair in her living room, where he is then forced to dine with her twisted little family. What this leads to is a disturbing one hour of our protagonist’s psychophysical torture, while at the same time we’re able to watch his mom and girlfriend’s desperate and futile attempts to find him. Australian cinema, it seems, holds more than a few gems in its still unexplored closet. Tense and brutal, skillfully written and hard to watch at times, Byrne’s movie uses a trivial, every-day thing such as a declined prom invitation to make one of the best torture movies of recent times.
Guillermo del Toro is a name that needs no introduction in the world of horror. His movies, particularly praised for their brilliantly creepy atmosphere, have managed to find their audience all the way since Cronos (1993), and several projects with the subtitle of “Guillermo del Toro presents…” also gained universal critical recognition. After all, who doesn’t like The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth, and who can say they did not enjoy the inspired Orphanage? Almost equal to those movies, but far less promoted and talked about, there lies forgotten a little horror mysteriously entitled Julia’s Eyes. Guillem Morales tells us a story of a woman trying to come to the bottom of her twin sister’s alleged suicide. Strongly refusing to accept the police report’s version of events, she keeps on digging until she finds herself faced with a brutal serial killer. The chief source of horror in Julia’s Eyes is the fact that the woman is afflicted with some kind of a strange disease which causes her eye-sight to slowly deteriorate, which serves as a foundation for a couple of truly memorable and haunting scenes that somehow managed to stick with me. There is nothing that a man fears more than the unknown, and while there is a cruel and twisted serial killer strolling in and around your house, your sight is certainly not something you can afford to lose.
What is this, a list of Australian horror films?! Well, it turned out that way, and now I’m delighted to present to you the third Australian flick in this article already. Shot as a mockumentary about a family trying to deal with the unexpected loss of their daughter and the paranormal activities around the house that occur after her burial, Lake Mungo is a unusually structured psychological horror that functions very well party thanks to the air of authenticity. Alice’s story, the story of a teenage girl who drowned in a lake and apparently took a secret or two with her to the “other side”, is not a typical horror movie by anyone’s standards. Clever, memorable, original and at times elusively terrifying, this movie is just another solid proof that very interesting movies are made down under among the kangaroos. Its greatest asset is maybe the fact that, dealing with the paranormal, it simultaneously deals with the quite normal – lies, secrets and distrust.
I was ecstatic to stumble across this television film made in 2003, which proved able to easily cover the costs of its production (900 000 dollars) and even make a clean profit of around 76 million dollars (!). Beside this being a financial success on which only Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) can comment with a smile and a “bitch, please”, Dead End is a cheap, simple but extremely effective little horror flick that surprisingly cleverly used its resources and earned it rightful place on a whole lot of top lists such as this one. It’s Christmas Eve and a slightly dysfunctional but overall quite average family is travelling to their relatives for a traditional dinner get together. When the head of the family, Frank, decides he’s “feeling wild” and leaves the highway for a shortcut through the woods, unexplainable things start happening. They meet a mute girl dressed completely in white with a dead baby in her hands, after which the shit hits the fan and it starts to become obvious that they are probably going to miss their Christmas Eve dinner. Smart, creepy and praiseworthy for its simplicity, Dead End has become an excellent choice for any movie lover open-minded enough to give it a chance.
What do you think? Can you give us a suggestion or two on what to watch? Thanks.