Wednesday, October 30, 2013


     For decades, the modern horror film has held a reputation of existing solely for the glorification of violence.  Horror fans themselves shoulder much of the blame for this; many name among their heroes masked psychos who stalk and slash their way through bland, two-dimensional characters in sequel after sequel, killers who can only be killed themselves by diminishing box-office returns.  However, if cinema fans look deeper they will find films within the genre that are not only genuinely scary, but artfully made and instilled with thought-provoking subtext. 
     There's so much more to the horror genre than Chucky, Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers.  You just have to know where to look to find quality films that leave you thinking about them long after the closing credits roll.
     Just in time for Halloween, here are ten titles that offer something different.  So lock your doors and windows, toss a bag of popcorn in the microwave, turn off the lights, and kick back for some good, scary fun . . .


     Trick r’ Treat (2007) is nothing less than a gushing love letter to a horror fan's favorite holiday:  Halloween.  You can almost smell the crisp autumn leaves, the mouth-watering aroma of caramel apples and pumpkin spice in the air.  The film’s non-linear narrative is constructed from several different Halloween-related stories, but the tales in this “anthology” weave in and out of one another in a format similar to the way Tarantino did it with Pulp Fiction.  See Trick r’ Treat, and remember what it felt like to sit around a campfire with your buddies, telling ghost stories and urban legends, scaring yourselves silly.  


     While a bit dated due to its gang of punk-rock protagonists, Return of the Living Dead (1987) is an underrated classic in the zombie sub-genre.  Be warned if you're bothered by "the red stuff", as this one definitely has its share of gruesome moments (“Braaaaaaains!”), but Return is as side-splittingly funny as it is scary, thanks to a near-perfect script by director Dan O’Bannon, who also wrote the seminal Alien.  Consider this exchange between the two bumbling medical-warehouse employees who inadvertently bring about the zombie apocalypse:  “I hit the brain!”/”Well, it worked in the movie!”/”You mean the movie lied?!” 


      A poignant look at friendship as much as it is a horror film, Lat Den Ratte Komma In (2008) is a Swedish vampire movie that’s not afraid to do something different with a classic monster.  A bullied teenager befriends a young lady (or is she?) who survives by drinking blood . . . but can even the strongest of friendships truly last forever?  Let the Right One In is nothing less than a somber work of art, and easily one of the best genre films of the last twenty years.  2010 saw an American remake called Let Me In (starring Chloe Grace Moretz from the recent Carrie rehash), and that version is worth a watch too. 

      Night of the Creeps (1986) knows exactly what it is, and it never aspires to be anything more:  a B-movie roller-coaster ride full of aliens and zombies and oh-so-quotable dialogue.  When the students of a small college are infected by slugs from outer space that get in through your mouth, it’s more than just keg parties and plummeting grade-point averages that the powers-that-be have to worry about!  Enter a grizzled, Scotch-swilling detective with a dark past, and you’ve got all the makings for a fun fright flick.  Night of the Creeps features what might be the coolest line in any horror film ever:  “Girls, I've got good news and bad news.  The good news is, your dates are here . . . (the bad news is) they’re dead.”

     Re-Animator (1985) could be considered a zombie movie, but at heart it’s really a mad scientist movie -- you can almost hear Colin Clive’s cry of “It’s aliiive!” from 1931’s  Frankenstein in the silence between every scream.  Herbert West is a promising student at a prestigious medical university who has discovered the secret of reanimating dead tissue (via a funky green glow-in-the-dark goo).  When this obsessed young man realizes the morgue is the perfect place for his clandestine experiments, you know this can’t end well.  Like Return of the Living Dead, this one’s as funny as it is scary, and the film is all the better for it.

     A box-office flop due to audience expectations brought on by its predecessor (the wretched Exorcist 2: Heretic), this third installment in the Exorcist series is the true sequel to the classic original film, as it is based on writer/director William Peter Blatty’s novel LegionThe Exorcist III (1990) follows Detective William Kinderman (Hollywood legend George C. Scott, in one of his most underrated performances) as he investigates a series of sacrilegious murders in Georgetown, murders that appear to be committed by a killer who died in the electric chair.  There’s a disturbing link to a certain young lady, too – a troubled twelve-year-old who once sprayed profanities and pea soup on two priests.  Despite an ending that feels out-of-place (forced upon Blatty by the studio), The Exorcist III: Legion is as terrifying as William Friedkin’s original Exorcist.  Especially that one scene.  You’ll know which one when you see it.

     A tragic look at how young men and women who are sent off to war often return as ghosts of their former selves, Deathdream (1972, a.k.a. Dead of Night) is the story of Andy, a young man who is killed in Vietnam.  But then his family is elated when he comes knocking at their door one night, seemingly safe and sound.  Problem is, Andy now needs blood to stay alive.  Eventually, his loved ones start to wonder if it would be best if he had never come home at all.  A modern take on W.W. Jacobs’ classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw”, Deathdream is an underrated gem from Bob Clark, who also made Black Christmas, Porky’s, and A Christmas Story (!).

     Lola asks Brent to take her to the prom.  He politely turns her down.  He’ll regret it.  The Loved Ones, an Australian horror film from 2009, is a nerve-wracking descent into terror that some have called “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Pretty In Pink” . . . and that’s not too far off.  Robin McLeavy turns in a devious performance that ranks among horror’s all-time greatest villains, a rarity in a genre that usually restricts women to the role of helpless victims.  “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, indeed.

    Once upon a time, John Carpenter was a master of horror, as evidenced by genre classics like Halloween, The Fog, and The ThingSadly, In the Mouth of Madness (1994) is his last really good film.  This one’s about Sutter Kane, a best-selling horror author whose work has driven his worldwide fan base to acts of murder and madness.  When Kane goes missing, an insurance investigator -- played by genre fave Sam Neil (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon, Omen III: The Final Conflict) -- is hired by the writer’s publisher to find him.  Before long, the hunter becomes the hunted, the lines between fiction and reality blur, and it’s the end of the world as we know it.    

     This wonderfully eerie film from Thailand takes the old “long-haired ghost girl” trope so prevalent in popular Asian horror films like Ringu, Ju-On, et al, and makes it scary again.  After a young man kills a woman in a hit-and-run accident on a deserted country road (or does he?), he’s haunted by her ghostly visage at every turn.  Shutter (2004) is worth seeing just for the last ten minutes, which feature one of the creepiest get-under-your-skin images in the history of modern cinema.  You won’t stop thinking about this one for a long time, guaranteed . . . .


     Thanks for reading!  Hopefully you’ll find something on the list to give you chills this season . . . .

       Watch for details soon re: my upcoming horror movie trivia book, scheduled for publication in early 2014:  666 Hair-Raising Horror Movie Trivia Questions!.