Friday, October 30, 2020

31 Favorite New to Me Horror Movies

Here we are near the end of scary movie season so I'm sharing my 31 favorite new-to-me horror movie viewings of the last year. 

Always ShineSophia Takal - Swell psychological horror riff on mirror images, performance and persona with Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin Fitzgerald doing the thing. I hate to be reductive and say you'll dig it if you're down for a budget-friendly Bergman or just a little light Lynch instead of a heavy meal, but that's not a bad hook. 

Basket CaseFrank Henenlotter - Duane is a just a sweet young kid come to New York City with a lidded wicker basket in his arms, looking for a flophouse and a little human company and everywhere he goes people ask 'what's in the basket?' The film waits until that tension has built to the point the audience sounds like Brad Pitt at the end of Seven before revealing that... you've seen it, right? I'm like the last guy old enough to have seen it 30 years ago who hasn't yet, aren't I? When I saw that it was streaming I had to check my letterboxd account to see if I'd seen it before and it just hadn't made an impression. Turns out I hadn't yet seen it though I could've picked the surprise out of a lineup - I knew that image, but holy hell I was not prepared for how effectively upsetting the effects and 'performance' would be... and sad, just really sad. I daresay I was moved. Anyway, I can't wait to catch up with the sequels. I fucking loved Basket Case.

Brain DamageFrank Henenlotter - An alien parasite attaches itself to Brian's brain in a most Cronebergian fashion, feeding on him and in turn turning him into something not quite himself. Apparently it feels awesome. Brian sees new colors and he lives (and dies) in a euphoric, if extremely destructive, state. What ensues is a trippy, disgusting splatter flick that's a swell metaphor for drug addiction, toxic relationships and... the dangers of alien brain-eating parasites. My first two Henelotters (this one and Basket Case) came way too late in life. I've got catching up to do.

Butt Boy - Tyler Cornack - Chip is just an average middle-aged schlub getting his yearly physical when the prostate exam awakens an appetite to cram things up his butt. First little things around the house go missing, Parcheesi game pieces, television remotes and so forth, but soon it becomes apparent that his anal appetite may not know bounds and threatens to derail his life. Fast forward sometime into the future where Chip's joined an addict's group and takes on the sponsorship of an alcoholic police detective who's seen some dark shit in his time and whose latest case, a search for a missing child, will bring the two men uncomfortably... unnaturally close. Bad Milo plus Dave Made a Maze divided by The Greasy Strangler equals one of my favorite movies of the last year.

Color Out of Space - Richard Stanley - Loved the triumphant return of Stanley to feature film making, Nicolas Cage's performance and the psychadelic horror of Joly Richardson's fate... some Basket Case/Eraserhead-quality moan/screaming. 

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus - Spike Lee - Actually saw this one before catching Ganja & Hess a few weeks later and, probably because of the order of exposure I prefer the remake though I'll admit I'm not prepared to unpack all the allegorical significance of either sexy, spiritual vampire/addict movie. I just enjoyed all the sensual pleasures and weird rhythms of Spike in give-zero-fucks mode.

Dead End Drive-InBrian Trenchard-Smith - One I absolutely would recommend for everybody. First, it's a fucking amazing concept - punks and undesirables corralled in a purgatorial drive-in movie theater. They can't leave, but most don't even notice, let alone mind. They're kinda content to watch action movies (BT-S's The Man From Hong Kong and Turkey Shoot are both featured), have sex in their cars and get coupons for the concession stand. It's a great metaphor for malcontents of the Reagan-eighties distracted by MTV and shopping malls, but mostly it's a whole lotta fun.

Doctor Sleep - Mike Flanagan - Yes, I love Stanley Kubrick's The Shining without feeling precious about it and have not read Stephen King's book. No, I haven't read the less-loved sequel, but my son has and I enjoyed the hell out of our late show viewing of Doctor Sleep and our after-the-show de-briefing on everything changed from the book and his admiration for how it payed seemingly equal respect to the twin pop-culture versions of its origin as well as smoothing rough edges of the source material into something special. Also, Rebecca Ferguson, aye-yi-yi. 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch - Tommy Lee Wallace - Tom Atkins leads this fucking bonkers intrusion into John Carpenter's supernatural slasher franchise that disappointed fans upon its initial release - no Michael Myers! - but yes, everybody who told me for years that it's one of, if not the, best in the series, you were correct. 

Head Count - Elle Callahan - Nicely atmospheric and spooky. That's all.

Highway to Hell - Ate de Jong - Charlie and Rachel (Chad Lowe and Kristy Swanson) are off to Las Vegas to get married, but when Rachel is abducted and carried off to hell Charlie follows on a rescue mission. Along the way he'll meet all manner of supernatural denizens of the spiritual plane, strike bargains and make eternal enemies. Shit, if I'd seen this one when it came out and it was pitched to me like a Snake Plisskin exploit it probably would've been my favorite movie for a few years. Go big and hopefully go home.

- Gerard Johnstone - A young woman with substance and petty criminal issues is spared prison time, but sentenced to house arrest with her mother. What could be worse? The house could be haunted. Goodness gracious, I did not expect to be that creeped out by what I assumed was going to be a strictly comedic haunted house movie.

The Howling - Joe Dante - 1981 was an amazing year for werewolf movies also seeing the release of An American Werewolf in London and Wolfen, but The Howling gets a nice mix of urban and rustic settings and an unexpectedly scuzzy grindhouse, serial killer running amok in the sex arcades of 42nd street element. 

The Invisible Man
- Leigh Whannell - Elizabeth Moss is a woman gaslit by the vengeful ghost of her abusive ex. Either that or he's not dead, he's very much alive and transparent. Pretty swell 21st century re-purposing of the Invisible Man monster. 

Knife + Heart - Yann Gonzalez - Just another gorgeously dressed gay porn slasher period giallo. What's the difference between slasher and giallo again? Am I using either of those terms correctly? Porn though... pretty sure I nailed that one. Oh man, that guy jizzing in the phone booth is a great visual gag.

Killer Condom - Martin Walz - I'm at the stage of life where I hear about edgy gross-out German language Troma releases from my kids. Whatcha watching, son? Killer Condom, dad. Oooh, monster design by H.R. Giger? Shh, dude's about to get his tip bit. Yeah, the title is literal, but perhaps the weirdest bit about this story of a hardboiled big city homicide detective who suspects the hourly rates hotel is being preyed upon by sentient, monstrous prophylactics with razor sharp teeth is that the story takes place in New York City, but everybody speaks German. 

Lake Mungo - Joel Anderson - Unexpectedly affecting mournfulness to this mockumentary about a drowned girl and a haunting. Slow, unsettling burn.

Overlord - Julius Avery - I was a huge fan of Avery's feature debut Son of a Gun and was disappointed to learn that his follow up wasn't a crime film, but a WWII zombie movie belonging to the briefly, inexplicably expanding Cloverfield universe, but... holy shit, did I dig Overlord. This is an audience-pleasing genre mashup of D-Day expendables vs. Nazi Frankenstenian monsters that skips over all the dull exposition. I appreciate films that recognize they don't exist in a vacuum and do not have to painstakingly lay the groundwork for their audience to leave accepted reality, instead they accept that when they say 'jump' we'll say 'how high?' Um... plenty. 

Prom Night
- Paul Lynch - Neither as good as Carrie or Halloween (its two most apparent influences), it's so much pleasure to watch Jamie Lee Curtis be a young, hot, disco-dancing babe I forgave all shortcomings. 

Shrunken Heads - Richard Elfman - What the actual fuck was the pitch for this movie? It starts off with the wide-eyed innocence vibe of a Stephen King coming of age in the sixties story focusing on a trio of thirteen year old boys running the urban jungle between school hours and chores then turns suddenly horrific as the boys are slain by gangsters to set an example for other neighborhood kids not to fuck with them. It gets weirder when the local mortician beheads them with a hacksaw, shrinks their skulls and uses some dark magic to re-animate them and send them out as avenging, uh, flying heads clutching razors in their teeth who slice up the city's criminal element and perv on their tweenage crushes. It's like The Crow directed by Tim Burton bridging the gap between Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. with a dollop of Porkys for good measure. Written by Matthew Bright if that means anything to you. I watched everything that he wrote or directed this summer and who-boy, he's a delightfully weird one.

Strip Nude For Your Killer Andrea Bianchi - Edwige Fenech starred in at least two of the greatest-titled gialli ever, but I easily prefer this one over Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key because Strip Nude wastes no time grabbing your attention opening on a between the knees shot of an abortion procedure that the patient does not survive. It's... eww. Turns out the dead woman worked at a modeling agency and shortly after her fatal operation a black leather-clad, motorcycle-helmet-topped, knife-wielding killer is stabbing their way through the agency's personnel... usually while they walk around apartments and hotel rooms naked for their um killer. What's not to love?

Sweet Kill - Curtis Hanson - Tab Hunter trades on his wholesome all-American image as a killer whose sex and murder drives are crossed to the detriment of many victims. Straight up exploitation trash. Blood and boobs and a great hammy central performance.

- J.D. Dillard - Kiersey Clemons is castaway on an island with her boyfriend, but loses him in short order to an ocean monster. Fuck. This is great economical survival/monster horror that uses a small cast, a great locale and a simple, potent premise to wring a little dread outta nature and the unnatural. 

10 Rillington Place
- Richard Fleischer - Richard Attenborough and John Hurt in early roles before casting directors swapped their types. Attenborough plays the sadistic torture killer John Christie who preyed on the women in his apartment building (at the titular address) and Hurt is the young family man Timothy Evans who was convicted of and executed for some of Christie's crimes. 

Things - Andrew Jordan - Video nasty with pure shot on a camcorder production value and an enthusiast's commitment to gore and hideous ideas. 

UnfriendedLevan Gabriadze - Terrific low-budget, found footage premise (haunted internet call) that goes harder than I expected in a couple of key areas. Listening to actors convincingly portray obnoxious adolescents may be a little hard to sit through, but I'm hip. 

The Velocipastor - Brendan Steere - A rare example of a super-cheap movie reverse engineered from a joke title that actually explores all the territory said title suggests to a satisfactory degree. I'm excited for the sequel.

Waxwork/Waxwork II: Lost in Time
- Anthony Hickox - Cheating by writing one entry for two movies that are a fair amount different from each other, the first is something like a Vincent Price movie directed by Sam Raimi and written by Clive Barker and the second more like a horny Bill & Ted adventure, but I watched them back to back and the impression is kinda singular. I'm not... really sure the experience I had was real, but I'm also reluctant to confirm my memory, afraid that it will fall apart if I attempt to recreate it. Goofy fun with a stupidly deep bench of character actors and half-good practical effects. Don't ever remake these. Don't change a frame.

White of the Eye - Donald Cammell - David Keith stars as a sound installation expert at the center of a police investigation into some brutal murders in this fucking weirdly amazing serial-killer tone poem. As familiar as all the elements are; (giallo-staged killings, Art Evans' driven detective, native peoples' spiritual overtones, obsessive off-beat charming suspect) I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. Probably won't be for everybody (I mean, it's over 30 years old and I'm just hearing about it), but man did it hit a sweet spot for me. Loved it.

Wishmaster - Robert Kurtzman - I watched all four entries in the series in a couple of days and the third entry really jumps the franchise shark, but I enjoyed the hell out of the first one (and liked the second quite a bit too). The practical effects depicting nightmare orgies and monstrous creations and all the nasty ways to die or be cursed to live were deliciously ticklish to the imagination. Surprised nobody ever recommended these flicks to me before.