October 22, 2010 by abbyo
What a crazy couple of days it’s been! I would never have guessed that Wednesday’s post would end up on the front page of WordPress, but, low and behold, it did. I’ve had more views on Wednesday, Thursday and today than I’ve ever gotten before, and it’s very exciting. Thank you to everyone who read and commented, and welcome to all you new readers. I usually have new posts every Wednesday on rotating regular topics. Today, though, I thought I’d provide you guys with a little something extra, by way of greetings and thanks.
Next weekend is Halloween, which means legions of folks will be preparing for parties, making food, assembling costumes and (of course) renting horror movies. I love horror movies. I love the squirmy way they make me feel, and surprises I get when I’m watching one for the first time with friends. However, I have my limits. I like my horror movies to be somewhat smart and original. I don’t go in for that torture-porn stuff like the Saw or Hostel franchises. Other movie series, like Halloween or Friday the 13th are good for a while (Far be it from me to question the brilliance of John Carpenter or Wes Craven), but lose their appeal over time. For a horror movie to appeal to me, it has to explore new territory.
If, like me, you get tired of the same old slasher flicks year after year, here are a few movies that just might pull you out of your rut.
28 Days Later
I’m not going to hold back here. “28 Days Later” is one of my favorite movies. Say what you want about director Danny Boyle’s lack of consistency over the course of his career, when it comes to genre movies, the man’s got it down. On its surface, “28 Days Later” is a post-apocalyptic horror movie in the vein of “Night of the Living Dead” (A group of survivors try to stick together and ride out a virus that’s turning people into mindless raging cannibals. Conflicts ensue; violence and psychological infirmity inevitably follow). But Boyle and writer Alex Garland (“Never Let Me Go”) make the movie something much more profound. “28 Days Later” is really about survival tactics in extreme situations, and what those choices do to the people who make them. How far would you be willing to go to ensure your own survival? How much do you care about the safety of your friends? Horror movies don’t get much more philosophical than this.
Okay, so perhaps this movie doesn’t quite fit in with the smart set. But it’s a lot of fun. “The Mist” made a stir when it first came out, but kind of lost steam after a while, which is a shame, since it’s such a satisfying movie. This story of a small town plagued by otherworldly creatures and a thick, mysterious fog really delivers in the thrills and chills department. It’s part Twilight Zone, part David Cronenberg movie. Plus, it’s fun to watch “serious actors” like Toby Jones and Marcia Gay Harden go over the top in campy roles. It’s based on a story by Stephen King, which you’d be able to recognize even if you didn’t see his name on the poster, since the writing has his style all over it. This movie is also a great way to gear up for AMC’s upcoming TV series “The Walking Dead,” since “The Mist” director Frank Darabont is the show’s creator and directed the pilot. All of AMC’s TV spots have been noting Darabont as the director of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” which is great, but I think this movie is really what makes him qualified.
If you’ve seen some of my previous posts, you’ll know that I like Bruce McDonald’s “Pontypool” an awful lot. It was the first movie I ever watched at a film festival, and it holds a very special place in my heart because of that. Of course, that’s not the only reason I like it. The movie also has those smart and original qualities that I hold in high esteem when it comes to scary movies. Set in a radio station in rural Canada, “Pontypool” follows a day in the life of prickly radio host Grant Mazzy (an amazing Stephen McHattie), and two producers of his morning show (Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly). A seemingly normal morning is thrown totally out of whack when a strange virus that appears to be carried through speech patterns infects the town and turns citizens into a violent mob. The best part? We hardly even see the disease victims. Instead, we hear them through outside radio reports and voices outside the station. It’s a tactic that borrows more from “War of the Worlds” than from “Night of the Living Dead,” and works wonders. Watch it, watch it, watch it.
Danny Boyle’s first movie was an impressive debut that established a unique voice, a talent for working with dark material, and Ewan McGregor’s career. This often-overlooked but effective thriller tells the story of three self-absorbed flatmates (McGregor, Kerry Fox and Christopher Eccleston), looking for a fourth person to live with them. Their chosen man, Hugo, moves in, but dies of an overdose the next day, leaving behind a briefcase chock-full of money. The group decides to keep it, and bury Hugo themselves. Of course, this choice sets them down a path fraught with consequences. While McGregor ended up being the star-in-the-making here, the real person to watch is Christopher Eccleston (who you might recognize from “28 Days Later” and his one-season turn on “Doctor Who”) as a shy, unstable accountant who totally loses it over the course of the movie.
Like “The Mist,” Peter Jackson’s “The Frighteners” is just good old-fashioned sloppy fun. It’s like a much darker “Ghostbusters.” Michael J. Fox plays a small-town paranormal investigator who uses a couple of ghostly accomplices to con homeowners into calling him to exterminate ghosts they don’t actually have. It’s a pretty sweet gig, until someone starts killing off townspeople, cutting numbers into their foreheads beforehand. Some of the writing can tend towards the cheesy, but the climax is nice and creepy. As scares go, “The Frighteners” is a creative middle-of-the-road pick for those who want something riskier than a Tim Burton movie, but less hardcore than “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
While it’s more sci-fi than horror, David Cronenberg’s bizzarro cult classic still delivers tension, violence and gore aplenty (it wouldn’t be a David Cronenberg movie if it didn’t). James Woods plays Max Renn, a sleazy cable CEO whose approach to programming decisions lean more towards pornography than family-friendly fare. One day, he comes across a broadcast of a shockingly violent program called Videodrome. After deciding that he needs to include the mysterious show in his lineup, Max slowly starts to lose it as he tries to track down the program’s creators, and discovers political conspiracy and surprisingly prophetic visions of the future from the mysterious Brian O’Blivion, who only allows himself to appear via television. Technology and biology intertwine in this movie in simultaneously riveting and repulsive ways that only Cronenberg could devise. It’s not for the faint of stomach, but it sure is good.
Cronenberg fans check this out: David Cronenberg’s iphone charger
This one’s a classic thriller of the Hitchcock variety, with a great plot and some delicious old-school scares. At a French boarding school, two women conspire to murder the school’s cruel headmaster, Michel Delasalle: his wife, Christina, and his mistress. Nicole. Michel physically abuses both of them. It’s particularly hard on Christina, who has a heart condition. Nicole and Christina drown Michel in the bathtub, and then dump the body in the school swimming pool. But, when the pool is drained, Michel’s body is nowhere to be found. What’s more, he (or someone who looks just like him) keeps showing up around town. “Diabolique” is a twisty, tense experience with an ending that will leave you breathless. The movie was remade in 1996 with Sharon Stone and Chazz Palminteri, but that’s not the one you want. Trust me, go with the original.
Way before she won the Best Directing Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” Kathryn Bigelow directed this 1987 movie about a newly-minted vampire traveling the highways with a group of fellow bloodsuckers in a Winnebago. If you’ve ever read the excellent graphic novel series “Preacher,” this movie’s a fair comparison. It takes place in dry, desolate parts of the country, and is bloodier than a rare steak. It’s a movie that’s been getting more attention of late, thanks to Bigelow’s big win, so now’s the time to get a jump on it. Bill Paxton is the standout performer as the rash, merciless Severen.
This movie has a solid background in the “Evil Dead” and “Tremors” school of horror movies (also great choices for Halloween viewing). “Slither” is a campy, gross-out party of a flick filled with in-jokes and references to the legendary B-movies it draws so heavily on. Nathan Fillion plays small-town sheriff Bill Pardy, whose dull existence leading the law enforcement department gets shaken up when people and animals go missing, and local businessman Grant Grant (a wonderful Michael Rooker) starts behaving suspiciously. He’s more aggressive than normal to his wife (Elizabeth Banks). There are strange rotting smells coming from the basement. Weirdest of all, he’s got this nasty rash that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Suddenly, weird sluglike creatures start turning the townspeople into zombies. Fillion, Rooker, Banks and Gregg Henry as the town’s foulmouthed mayor all look like they’re having a blast, and I don’t blame them. The effects are icky fun, and the script is filled with a kind of goofy dark sarcasm.
I’ve been watching horror movies for a while, and my reactions to the scares on screen vary. Often I jump, sometimes I gasp. Very rarely, if ever, do I scream. I screamed during “The Orphanage.” Twice. It’s one of the few movies I’ve seen during which I was legitimately frightened by the things I saw. If you’ve seen it, you know why, because this movie is nothing if not haunting. If you haven’t…well, the feeling won’t be the same if you know what happens. It’s just better if you don’t know. But despite the scary bits (and there are plenty), “The Orphanage” is also a touching, emotional movie. It’s rewarding in lots of ways. Director J.A. Bayona goes places with his horror, both in terms of surprise and dramatic heft that few other modern directors do. It’s a treat to watch. Just don’t watch it alone.