Tuesday, October 15, 2019

31 New to Me Horror Picks For October

For October I've made a list of 31 movies that I dug on my first-watch in the last year. Going through this list you may find legitimate grounds for completely dismissing me - seriously, you've never seen X or Y or Z before? Nope. I hadn't. Horror really isn't my first love, but I'm coming around and did honestly enjoy all of these flicks.

Antibirth - Danny Perez - If the names Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny and Meg Tilly aren't enough to get you interested in this goopy, soupy sludge of a hilarious paranoid, stoner body horror gross out then I just don't even know about you. It's the funniest, goriest thing I lived, laughed loved this year and I want to go again.

Apostle - Gareth Evans - The dude behind The Raid movies proves he can do something different like somebody said hey, Gareth can't you do anything different? Well, he can. And I liked it. It's a Netflix original which pretty much means you get movies that studios wanting a theatrical run won't release - they tend to be a little shaggy in the edit - and this one's no exception. It's longer than really seems necessary, but good gravy it does deliver where it's supposed to. Some great swampy, subterranean horror here as well as a couple gnarly scenes of martyr porn. Now, Gareth, can you do something same again?

Assassination Nation - Sam Levinson - Man did they think they had box-office gold with this bit of culturally relevant bloodletting. I dunno maybe the marketing campaign hurt it or maybe folks were bracing for the one-to-one allegories in the wake of Get Out. Or maybe the incessant acerbically teenaged-ness of the protagonists was just a bit much for audiences to really get behind (a problem I have with a lot of horror films - especially teenaged-character-heavy slasher films. I often end up rooting for everybody to die - recent examples include Tragedy Gilrs, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Donkey Punch - which isn't to say I don't enjoy those movies, I mean I get my wish more times than not, but a recipe for mass appeal it is not). Whatever the reason this was a zeitgeist misfire that may yet have its moment. Going for it - bigness. Just, I mean, huge swings at (obvious, but) deserving targets and the full-on batshit mayhem of the climax. It's loud and brash, splashy and confident and y'know pretty watchable even if I don't think it touches the Purge movies for catharsis.

Black Christmas - Bob Clark - Can't believe how unaware of this slasher classic I was. All I knew was it was from the director of Porky's and A Christmas Story (wasn't aware Clark had also done a couple more teenage-favorites of mine, From the Hip and Turk 182) and that didn't give me, any kind of preparation for what was on the way. I think... it might be my favorite slasher movie? Gonna have to get back to you on that when I've had a little more time and maybe filled in a few more blindspots, but I found it unusually satisfying. Great look - so warm in ways that feel comforting and claustrophobia needlingly stuffy simultaneously - set at Christmas and works as a Christmas movie too as far as I'm concerned, good use of a single locale, good cast and a few superb scares. Creepy and atmospheric.

CamDaniel Goldhaber - A sex-cam operator has her online identity stolen and suffers real-world consequences (loss of income, personal security concerns, having to come out to her family and community as a sex worker), but that's really just the tip of iceberg in this De Palma-y thriller. Maybe it's my age, my squareness and general generational anxiety about technology and sex norms, but I was unnerved and upset by many of the film's concerns that I wouldn't have been as a younger man. Make a good double feature with King Kelly.

Chopping Mall Jim Wynorski - Stupid fun Robocop/Short Circuit mashup that should have saved us from Chappie. Lazers and laughs and good gore bits.

Christine - John Carpenter - Confession: even though I'm a big fan of Carpenter I definitely prefer his science fiction films over the overt horror stuffs (I know, I know, how do you delineate and untangle those elements? I guess I'm saying I like Escape From New York a lot more than Halloween, and Big Trouble in Little China lots more than Prince of Darkness) so maybe that's why I'd never sought out this Stephen King adaptation before now. And? It's never going to be one of my favorite Carpenters, but it will probably survive as one of my favorite King adaptations (never having read the book).

C.H.U.D. - Douglas Cheek - Another movie long time a part of my consciousness, but it turns out I was very mistaken on its actual content (I think I was imagining something more like Ghoulies). This one turned out to be a bit more serious-minded than I'd imagined, but c'mon, not that serious. It had some great 80s special effects that I'm a sucker for. Also, very possible that childhood nostalgia colored my experience more than actual quality.

Climax - Gaspar Noe - So glad I caught this one theatrically. On the big screen it was an absolutely overwhelming sensory experience if not emotionally. Easily my favorite Noe film (and I haven't seen all of them) it's still not as great as I'd like it to have been. It goes on longer than my interest in the characters and the ultimate payoff isn't as terrifying as I was beginning to believe it could be. This gradual cooling of expectations should not deter you from seeking it out however because it is full of virtuoso camera work and the first long-take dance number/party scene is just fan-fucking-tastic. Noe's a another film maker like Lars Von Trier or Pedro Almodovar for me; an immense talent who doesn't always (or often) do what I'd like them to with that talent.

Communion - Phileppe Mora - Based on the non-fiction book by novelist Whitley Strieber about his alien abduction experience. Make what you will of the author's claims, the emotional reality feels authentic and the surreal scenes of trance-induced memory are very effective and walk the line between unsettling and inspiring - a quality that somehow applies to the film versions of every Strieber adaptation (also Tony Scott's The Hunger and Michael Wadleigh's Wolfen) despite being made by very different film makers and at least in the case of The Wolfen (the only Strieber book I've read and can attest to) straying fairly far afield from the  source material. Christopher Walken is of course worth watching.

The Crazies - George Romero - Having first seen and very much enjoyed Breck Eisner's 2010 remake before I even knew it was one (I've mentioned being pretty new to horror, right?) I put off watching Romero's original till the remake wasn't as fresh in my mind and... turns out I didn't really need to as this version felt very different to me. Dug it.

Dance of the Damned - Katt Shea - A vampire wanders the streets of New York(?) hunting by feel and his instincts lead him into a strip club where the object of his fascination is revealed to be a dancer. He takes her home and seduces her over the course of the evening intending to absorb her story and essence before consuming her body just before daylight. It's an extremely skin-a-max set-up, but Shea is a film maker whose commercial savvy gets her movies made, but never trumps her human interests as a film maker. Yes, it's got a lot of awkward on-the-nosed-ness to it, no I won't hold it against you if you roll your eyes and pass on this one after a few minutes, but the longer the film goes on, like the vampire, I think you'll find yourself more intrigued by the conversation than you expect.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again - Robert Fuest - Not sure why I'd put it off as long as I did, but it turned out to be a very worthy sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes and only made me wish the many proposed franchise entries had been realized. These fucking weird as fuck campy horror movies are so fucking gorgeous as fuck with their fucking weird-ass fucking animatronics and masks and capes and fucking delightful visions of fucking awful deaths they're absolutely mesmerizing. Just terrific triumphs of set design and costumes and art direction and visual story telling. Fucking wonderfully hypnotic.

Goodnight MommySeverin Fiala, Veronika Franz - Creepy kid fest combined with isolation paranoia, psychological thriller and hints of body horror make virtually ever frame of this one an intense experience. Twin brothers living alone in a beautifully sterile house in the woods with their heavily bandaged mother regard her with suspicion and continually run afoul of her very strict rules. We don't know what's happened to mother (her face is wrapped in bandaging), but the boys are increasingly unconvinced that she is actually their mother and increasingly concerned that she is actively trying to harm them. The tables turn and turn again and when they stop it's pretty fucking awful.

The Last Horror Film - David Winters - Joe Spinell is back in Maniac land with this story of a creepy outsider obsessed with making a horror film starring Caroline Munro the it scream-queen of the fictional moment. The limits of his commitment to that goal drive the plot as his (ahem) taxi driver takes his unhealthy fixation all the way to the Canne Film Festival to shoot his movie with an unwitting star and as he's on hand to film a series of real murders (and her reaction to them) the tension mounts. It's very icky and creepy and often effectively funny in an unexpectedly self-aware way (again, I don't know horror that well). It's probably not going to make me many friends among horror fans, but I think I prefer this on to Maniac.

Late PhasesAdrián García Bogliano - Put this one alongside Bubba Ho-Tep in the underpopulated sub-genre of retirement horror. This one has Nick Damici's recently widowed, blind Viet Nam vet being unceremoniously dumped into a retirement village by his semi-estranged son and almost immediately realizing there's more pattern to the cycle of gruesome local murders than the cops have caught on to. His heightened remaining senses make him formidable enough when when combined with his hardass marine instincts to take on the werewolves wreaking havoc. Plenty of good gore and humor balance this one.

Lord of Illusions - Clive Barker - I've got to hand it to Barker, adaptations of his writing never feel quite like any other horror films I've seen (even Candyman which kinda has box office hit stamped on it in many ways feels magically different to me than other boogey-man fare). They tend to go places or sustain moods, poke at things, or take subject matter head on, in ways that tend to feel refreshing to me. Even the nineties-ness of the early digital-effects and shit is kinda cool now and I dug being inside this weirdo world.

Lords of Chaos Jonas Åkerlund - Knowing nothing of the true story the film is based on probably worked in my favor. I really didn't know where the story of the right to claim the mantle of True Norwegian Black Metal was heading. I know there was controversy around the accuracy as well as the streak of white supremacy that festers in some of the scene, but the film rests well on Rory Culkin's shoulders and he lends a believably human presence to the often outlandishly ugly behavior. The lines separating professional provocation, performance, persona and practicing nihilism are crossed and blurred and a lot of blood is let. I'm also not investigating the actual events, I'm hoping there was a lot of printing of the legend going on here. Say what you want about the tenants of national socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

Maniac Cop 2 - William Lustig - Just pure fucking pleasure. Just heard Nicolas Winding Refn is making a TV show based on Maniac Cop (though I believe it's the series' second installment that is where his true admiration lies) and... I dunno. Of course I'm interested, but this is already great. Interesting news about the TV show - John Hyams is co-creating the show and that's exciting considering his work revitalizing the Universal Soldier franchise and digging the horror concepts out of the carcass.

Piercing - Nicholas Pesce - Christopher Abbott is a young father who cooks up a scheme with the help of his wife (Laia Costa) to murder a call girl in order to keep loved ones safe from what is apparently an overwhelming urge of his. Mia Wasikowska plays the intended victim and the film plays out mostly in the hotel room where the event is supposed to take place. Piercing is a fucking sick movie played very effectively for laughs. My favorite guffaw-moments came during the montage of Abbott rehearsing the murder, dismemberment and disposal of evidence. The whole sequence is just him pantomiming to wonderful editing and sound design that ought to illicit gasps and giggles in more or less equal proportions. Of course nothing goes as planned and fans of Audition will find a lot of similarities and could probably guess they came from the same mind (both are based on novels by Ryû Murakami).

Possum - Matthew Holness - This one is legitimately unsettling and upsetting. It's kinda like a feature length version of The Cure's Lullaby music video... without the awesome song.

Prophecy - John Frankenheimer - Surprisingly potent bit of ecological horror about deforestation and pollution and how responsibility for corporate atrocity applies to everybody and how easily shrugged it is.

Psychos in Love - Gorman Bechard - This could've been a good 5-minute Saturday Night Live sketch about a love match made between lonely souls whose peculiar passions happen to be the same: murder and dismemberment. Whether it's the corny jokes, the film nerd stuff, the commitment to blending horror and rom-com tropes in a pre-digital age, Psychos in Love manages to be funny and maybe sometimes sweet... probably just the effect of watching it 30 years later, but I liked it a lot more than I would have expected to reading about it.

The Rage: Carrie 2 - Katt Shea - For fans of Brian De Palma's original this probably felt a little heretical, but for fans of Katt Shea I think it feels very personal and appropriate. It was not a hit when it came out, but I suspect it could have been what the makers of Assassination Nation were hoping for in the wake of #metoo.

Scanners II: The New Order - Christian Duguay - On twitter the other day I saw that Stephanie Crawford had copped to preferring Scanners 2 & 3 to David Cronenberg's original and while I'm not willing to go that far (not nearly that far) I will still defend these films from accusations of garbage. Trash they may be, but garbage they are not. Like many sequels to iconic originals these cheaper, lower-brow(?), explorations of the world and rules and undefined mythology find a lot of room to play with the fun stuff (more exploding heads, more gun battles) trusting that thirst for the other type of headiness was satisfied the first time around. Kinda like a low-budget gruesomer X-Men movie. But don't take my opinion seriously because I also dig the Robocop sequels.

Skinner - Ivan Nagy - Ted Raimi plays a lonely Ed Gein-esque psychopath who needs more material to make his ultimate cross-dressing suit a reality. Yeah it's another light movie that casually kills women (specifically) for entertainment and maybe you've had quite enough of that in your life, but the real pleasure here is the silliness and the gore effects. By the time Raimi got his suit on I was glad I stuck around.

Society - Brian Yuzna - What if David Cronenberg directed a run of Beverly Hills 90210? Like full on motherfuckers getting turned inside out - faces coming out their own assholes during an orgy shit. What if that's all I needed to hear? Fuckin sign me up.

Spontaneous Combustion - Tobe Hooper - No idea where fans of Hooper land on this one, but I went in entirely unfamiliar with it. Easy to see why it's not held in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Poltergeist esteem, but when you task Brad Douriff with convincing us he's killing people over the telephone with fire that's probably going to be worth your time right there. Lots of fun.

SuspiriaLuca Guadagnino - Confession time. I've tried several times and have yet to make it through Dario Argento's Suspiria. It's... going to take a mighty effort when I finally do. Yes, I've enjoyed clips from it plenty (enough to try watching it again and again), but it's somehow never been the right moment for me to experience it. So, I was very surprised how easily I was sucked into and shat out of the remake. I really can't say what the ultimate differences are (having only seen the remake really), but some of the superficial choices - the muted color scheme this time around vs. the deeply rich over-saturated palette of the original plus the pulsing, popping electronic score by Thom Yorke vs. Goblin's prog-rock bombast make for distinctly different experiences. I dug the creepy, crawly and deep shivery feelings this one gave me and the dance numbers are mesmerizing. Tilda Swinton of course is, as always, worth the price of admission.

Trouble Every Day - Claire Denis - Denis makes a commitment with every film goer: hang with me and you'll have an experience. It's no guarantee of how you'll respond, it's not a promise of thrills or even that that thing you think you want out of this type of movie will survive - she may well ruin that favorite trope of yours forever - but it will be a potent experience one way or the other. This vampire film is no different. Sexy vampires? Not so much, but erotically-charged vampirism? Absolutely. In fact the movement between sexual hunger and bloodlust is so fast and frequent it's not just criss-crossing lines it's more like playing a finely-tuned stringed instrument. And the results are strong, they're upsetting, they're horrifying. I kinda love this movie.

Us - Jordan Peele - Hawt damn, I think this is my favorite horror movie of the year. I really enjoyed Get Out and even revisiting it to pick up on the tiny details, but the one-to-one allegory was pretty much swallowed whole. Us, however, is a much trickier, pricklier thematic puzzle box. I suspect it's only going to improve and prove more satisfying with every revisit. Race isn't the main issue this time out, but class around the world and also in the um U.S. The resistance of privileged people to view the underclasses as 'just like us' and our comfort level with the poverty of others that can only be achieved with calculated and willful callousness. A lot to dive into and of course thrills and chills and plenty of humor along the way... not to mention that the central performances are so effortlessly engaging I'd frankly have been happy to just hang out with Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke's family on an otherwise happy trip to the beach.

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