Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ten Spooky Flicks for Halloween 2012

If you're like me, you LOVE horror movies. Personally, I'm not a fan of the gore-and-guts-style of horror; I prefer atmospheric and spooky. Back in 2008 I put together a blog post with some horror movie recommendations. Time for a 2012 update!

Ten Spooky Flicks for Halloween 2012

1. And Soon The Darkness (1970)



NOTES:
  • There was a 2010 movie released with the same name. Make sure you're watching the right one!
  • IMDB link here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065398/
  • Actress Pamela Franklin was in a couple of really great spooky films, including The Innocents, The Legend of Hell House, and Necromancy!
Watch it: This somewhat-previously-obscure film is quite easy to find nowadays thanks to instant streaming! Currently available for streaming on Netflix.


(Image taken from Black Hole Reviews. Click the poster to read their review!)

This movie is an excellent choice for people looking for an older film, and for folks who prefer creepy atmosphere to action and violence (although there is a small amount of it, relatively tame by today's standards.) Besides actress Pamela Franklin being quite easy on the eyes, she's also perfectly suited to playing the role of a girl who finds herself in an essentially alien environment. Jane (Franklin) and Cathy are bicycling across France when Cathy disappears; the rest of the film centers on Jane's attempts to both find her friend and avoid what she increasingly understands to be a horrific fate.

What makes this movie interesting, among other things, is the way it doesn't really tell you exactly what's going on. Events and people are hinted at, and conversations take place in their original language (without subtitles!) but for the most part, you are in the dark to follow Jane through her eyes until the end. This movie is fairly slow-paced, although I didn't find it boring. I thought the pacing added to the sense of dread. Since you aren't being told what to think very often, it leads you to come up with your own ideas about what's happening in a way I found to be creepy and unusual. I also thought the ending was satisfying, and am glad that it did answer the questions you asked it throughout the viewing experience.

Tags: Retro, 70's, Killer, French, Mysterious

2. Insidious



NOTES:
Watch it: This movie is available on both Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon. I would recommend watching this film on as large a screen as you have, and in as good quality as you can manage. I haven't seen the Blu-Ray of this, but I kinda wished I'd seen it in high-def first. 


(Poster Image from GeekTyrant, an excellent geek-filled web site and Google+ feed.)

This movie touts itself as "...from the directors of Saw and Paranormal Activity!", which, in my opinion, isn't really a good thing. That said, this is probably the best horror film I have seen in the past decade! I was surprised as how truly creepy and scary I found this film. I'm kind of a jaded horror movie watcher; I've seen everything, and it's pretty hard to creep me out. This film managed to do it! When I finished watching it for the first time, I thought to myself that this perhaps was the scariest movie I'd seen since the first time I watched The Shining as an early teen (or preteen? Can't remember.) I was surprised at how effective this movie was. I really can't recommend this movie enough. That's not to say this is a perfect film: The audience begins the movie following one person, and about half-way through, that person becomes a background player to a second character, who then becomes the lead. There are also a few cheap jump scares in it. But - it's all forgivable, especially when the scary stuff is this unsettling. 

The "Saw" bit also initially is the reason I avoided this film. I dislike serial killer movies and slasher films in general (with the exception of Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter, and the first Halloween.) This isn't that kind of movie! There is very little gore in this flick. Instead, it's an incredibly atmospheric, moody, and frightening look at a family being haunted. The first act sets the stage, the second act explains what's going on, and the third act dives deep into an almost Poltergeist-like trip to spooksville.

Besides some truly scary stuff (I will never look at a baby monitor the same way again!), this movie also has incredibly effective cinematography and direction. One of the things I find most impressive is that it manages to accomplish so much on a relatively small budget. The film-makers truly understand the horror viewing experience, and are experts at coaxing out unique and unusual scares from their material. The story itself is somewhat of a horror movie staple, but it's the way the story is presented, and the way it unfolds, that makes this film so effective.

Tags: Modern, Haunted House, Creepy, Ghosts

3. The House of the Devil (2009)



NOTES:
  • IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1172994/
  • Director Ti West is quite hot right now in horror-film-land, if there was a "horror movie hipster" award, he'd probably win it. I mean that in a good way! This guy knows his stuff.
  • If you do enjoy this movie, I'd also recommend West's followup, The Innkeepers. I didn't like it quite as much, but it was also really fun to watch.
Watch it: This movie is available for streaming online at Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.




(Image taken from Schlockmania, which also has a nice article about this film.)

This movie is an obvious homage to the films director Ti West grew up watching: Dario Argento flicks like Suspiria, slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, and the original "the call is coming from INSIDE OF THE HOUSE!!!" film When a Stranger Calls (1979). That said, it's also unique in a way only a dyed-in-the-wool horror movie aficionado could re-imagine. This films knows you've seen all of the source material; like Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill", it revels in the knowledge that you'll "get" the references, and get more from seeing them presented to you like a movie mixtape. That said, West also plays on your expectations. You think X will happen, and when it doesn't, you've essentially had the scare as if it had happened. You'll notice that I'm speaking about the director as much as I am about the movie. This is an absolute auter flick, the film is about the people making it as much as it is about the movie itself.

However, this movie also delivers some great atmosphere, a creative retro look and feel, and a payoff ending that made the wait worthwhile (at least for me.) The basic plot revolves around a college-age babysitter (with super-late-70's/early-80's hair, even though the films takes place in modern-day) who is hired for a slightly different reason than she originally expected. As the film progresses, you are taken away from her perspective several times to see what's really going on, and because of it you'll be screaming at your television, "DON'T DO THAT!" even as she's blissfully unaware of what's about to happen.

It's telling that some of the imagery that will stay with you will be the protagonists hair and clothes, the retro furniture and decor, and a scene where the babysitter (kinda) eats a slice of pizza, rather than the gore or the killer. If it sounds like I'm trying to explain to you why you might hate this film, well, it's because I am. I loved this movie, but I know several people who would absolutely loathe it. This is a film where pretty much nothing happens until the very end. If you can't handle that, do not watch this movie. If you can handle it, especially if you consider yourself a bit of a "horror movie expert", then I'd highly recommend this movie. It's unique, well-made, and will stick with you long after you've watched it.

Tags: Retro, Hipster, Killer, Satanic Stories

4. The Eclipse (2009)



NOTES:
  • I found the haunting in this film to be realistic. If there were ghosts, I think this is what it'd be like to be haunted by them.
  • This is a collaboration between a playwright and a novelist.
  • Just a heads-up for people making movies: If you want your film to be found by other folks online, naming it very similarly to a teen vampire novel-turned-pop-culture-phenomenon it not recommended.
Watch it: iTunes, Amazon, Netflix


This is a great choice for people looking for a classy, romantic ghost story. The film takes place in Ireland, and involves writers re-discovering love while experiencing a haunting. The less said about the plot, the better here, so I won't get into it too much. This is my Halloween choice for the NPR/PBS crowd :), but I really loved it. Beautiful cinematography, Oscar-quality acting, fantastic, believable writing and characters. Overall, a gorgeous Irish ghost story. This film also sent CiarĂ¡n Hinds into my list of Great Actors. This might be a good choice if you have extended family over, or are looking for something to watch with your parents or grandparents.

Tags: Classy, Irish Countryside, Romance, Ghosts, Novelists

5. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)



NOTES:
  • When you ask yourself, "Where have I seen Tucker before?" the answer is that he's been in a lot of television, including the Joss Wheden shows "Firefly" and "Dollhouse."
Watch it: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes


 

(Image comes from the Alamo Drafthouse web site.)

On the exact opposite side of the scale from The Eclipse, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is raunchy, incredibly juvenile, disgusting, and funny. The film is a big joke about the "rednecks are evil - especially if you're a rich suburbanite" thing that tends to be a staple of the slasher genre. If you are looking for a funny (adult-level) Halloween party flick, this is a good choice. This movie is quite gross, but it's also genuinely funny, mostly due to the performances of Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk.

Tags: Cult Horror, Comedy, Gross-out Camp

6. Abesntia (2011)



NOTES:
  • This low-budget movie was initially funded through Kickstarter, and, for some indie filmmakers, served as an example to point to that crowdsourced funding could be the future of making this kind of movie. IMDB puts the budget at around $70,000 total!
  • IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1610996/
Watch it: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes



(Image taken from Killerreviews.com, a pretty great place to find cult horror and other films.)

Another movie with genuinely creepy moments! This super-low-budget film relies on mood and an unusual story to set itself apart from the crowd. This film appears to be shot in a very typical neighborhood, but the filmmakers make the most out of the "normal" landscape in order to contrast it with a horrific tale of people being stalked by a monster. A lot of the scares to be found in this film, other than the monster stalking its prey, comes from the "this could happen anywhere" factor. The film starts off telling the story of a woman whose husband disappeared years ago, in a neighborhood where an unusually large number of pets have gone missing, but soon veers into a twist that I would not want to spoil for you. Due to the low budget, you don't really see much of the monster at the center of this story, but what you do see is quite effective. I also found the final moments of this movie to be quite effective, particularly in the way the monster responds to one of the final requests of the protagonist to spare someone she loves.

Tags: creepy, low-budget, indie

7. The Possession of David O'Reilly (2010)



Watch it: Netflix, iTunes


(Image taken from Netflix)

This is another film that will be appreciated by some, disliked by others. While not a "found footage" movie, it bears a resemblance to these kind of films due to its "shaky-cam" style of cinematography, and down-to-earth "realistic people" performances. The ending in particular may leave some folks cold, since it is a bit on the obscure side in regards to what happens. That said, I found the overall vibe of this movie to be very effective, and thought a couple of scare scenes in particular were extremely well done. The plot centers around the haunting (stalking?) of a man who flees to his best friend's house thinking that the evil wouldn't follow him there. Ummm...why would you think that? I'm not sure, either. There are some really strong performances in this movie, and enough creepy moments to justify it as a recommendation for anyone looking for a genuinely frightening film this Halloween.

Tags: Documentary-style, Possession, With Friends Like These...

8. Lake Mungo (2008)



NOTES:
Watch it: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes

(I had difficulty finding a good source for the poster, but this comes from some Spanish blog.)

This is my "found footage" selection for this article. In general, I'm not a fan of this trend, since it's become quite the cesspool of bad jump scares, "OMG he's like over the person's shoulder!!!", and poor acting. However, when done well, it can add a touch of realism to the proceedings. This Australian film is shot in a fake documentary-style and centers on the family of a girl who drowned several years prior to the start of the movie, and the haunting that ensues. This movie effectively makes you like the people you are watching, and has a pretty well-written mystery at the core of the story. Even the "people-running-around-so-much-you-can't-see-anything" moments of this "found footage" flick worked for me, which is quite rare. You can tell that intelligent people worked on this film. This movie is as much a mystery and drama as it is a ghost story, which works in its favor.

Tags: Found Footage, Ghost Story, Haunting, Family Drama, Australian

9. The Devil Within Her (1975)



NOTES:
Watch it: Netflix



(Image taken from a great article about this movie from the excellent web site Cool Cinema Trash. Highly recommended!

If you like unintentionally jaw-droppingly funny, super-cheesy, super-70's shlock horror, this is a rare and good one! There are few films that dare to have the baby itself jump out of a crib and attack people, but this film has the guts to do it. :) Starring Joan Collins as the frequently-screaming woman who gives birth to a demon-baby (thanks to a curse given to her from a short person at the burlesque house where she works, I'm not kidding!), this film has several moments that are so bad and funny, you simply won't believe your eyes. Your mind will be blown by just how insane and bad this movie is! I loved, loved, loved this movie, because it speaks to my particularly strange brain. If you like cult Z-grade horror, this is a truly fantastic must-see.

Tags: Insane, Z-Grade, Low-Budget, Unbelievable, Rosemary's Baby Knockoff, Demonic Baby

10. Phenomena (1985)



NOTES:

  • This is a film from Dario Argento, so expect it to make absolutely no sense.
  • The fashion in this movie was done by none other than Giorgio Armani!
  • The excellent Italian prog rock band Goblin does the music for this movie.
  • IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087909/
Watch it: Unfortunately, this is the one film in the list that's unavailable for legal streaming online. You'll need to buy a physical copy from Amazon or someplace like that.



(Image source from some Italian site, unknown. Click, though, to read a nice writeup on this film from Kinoeye.)

This movie is my other "so crazy it's great" selection for this article. If you've ever seen a Dario Argento movie before, you know what you're in for: great music by Goblin, an absolutely incoherant plot, young girls being terrorized in gruesome ways, and some seriously batshit insane happenings. In this case, it's a monkey that knows how to defend itself...If you are looking for strange and trippy, here's my pick for the year! Also a very early starring role for Jennifer Connelly, who does a great job in her role despite probably having no clue about what the heck she's supposed to be doing. Technically, this movie centers on Jennifer's growing ability to attract friends from nature, while attending some kind of school in Switzerland, and there's a serial killer around for some reason. Honestly, don't try to make sense of the plot, it's typical Argento. This is a pretty gory movie though, be warned. Also, Donald Pleasance!

Tags: Argento, Italian, Prog Rock, Fashion, Child Star, Crazy, Insane, Monkey to the Rescue

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That's it! Hope you enjoyed this article, and feel free to offer your own suggestions and/or comments on my picks in the Comments section below! Happy Halloween!

- Jerry Snook, October 2012

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