Tuesday, October 28, 2014

12 Great New Halloween Staples

There are only about four days left until Halloween. And being that I am nothing if not completely punctual, I'm here to give you a list of some of the best post-80s horror flicks so you can rush to watch them in these last few days. While the classics like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw and The Exorcist have been well-documented on this blog and, well, anywhere else you go to read about horror, I think there's still something to be said for the genre in the modern day, too. While nothing will replace the classics, there are plenty of creative filmmakers working today, putting out grisly, supernaturally-laced scares like it's nobody's business.

So...here they are.

12. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

While I wouldn't say it's a masterpiece, this really is a good slasher flick in a genre mostly oversaturated with nonsense and shoestring budget flicks these days. This combines some solid kills (of extremely annoying characters, no less) with a vicious plot twist just like the classics have. Add in a great lead character, some commentary on expectations on high school girls and shallowness of young people and a fast, fun pace, and you have yourself a very solid horror flick.

11. Contracted

Grisly, gross violence taken to the extreme. This is a crazy-ass story about a woman who is raped at a party and then her body starts to fall apart. Gore freaks will have a field day with this, as it is a brutal, extreme good time. The story and characters are well done, too, and like most great horror films it takes a real-world problem and hacks away at it with a chainsaw to make it into a bloodbath. Highly recommended.

10. Frozen

There are a lot of movies like this out there - survival flicks with characters battling nature. But this one is a cut above the rest due to its exciting pacing and the cool, desolate wintry setting - there's a real sense of darkness and abandonment in this, and the characters are a bit annoying I guess, but they also act like real people and I believed they were afraid. Unlike other such movies like Dead Snow or Cabin Fever, this takes itself pretty seriously and doesn't focus too much on the characters' drama. While it is there, the main focus is always on the survivalist element, and as such this is a killer romp I really recommend - especially when you're snowed in at night.

9. Trick 'R' Treat

Probably the most well-known movie on this list, but I'm mentioning it anyway just for its sheer October fun factor. It's an anthology film and all the stories are laced with some of the best Halloweenish atmosphere you'll find - it's practically drenched in that atmosphere. While I don't find this scary at all, I don't really think it was trying to be. It's just a fun, enjoyable romp, and a big part of Halloween is having fun too.

8. Orphan

This was a bit of a controversial film upon its release and a lot of horror fans didn't like it. I always did, though, and it still holds up now as a fun, dark, hilarious romp. I don't think this story, about a family adopting a little Russian girl who turns out to be more than they bargained for, is taking itself entirely seriously, and there are some very goofy, tongue-in-cheek scenes. A lot of 80s horror could be kind of silly, too, and it doesn't mean this is some kind of horror comedy - it just means you don't have to take everything super seriously all the time. However, this just makes the actual dark, serial-killer-y moments that much more fucking intense. When Orphan gets scary, it means business, and the scary scenes here are incredibly terse, violent and macabre. Great characters and acting also enhance this and set it apart from the norm, far better than most movies of its kind. Clever, eerie, fun and opaque - go see this if you had any doubts.

7. Oculus

Mike Flanagan is the go-to guy for good horror these days, as this 2014 movie is the horror Pick of the Year so far. It's a surreal, mysterious film about memory, perception and childhood, and the lead actors both do a good job at conveying that lost, confused feeling for the movie to work. While this movie does utilize some of the common tropes of modern horror, such as vague supernatural exposition and excessive flashback scenes, it just really works. Flanagan knows what he's doing and sells the shit out of this story, common as it may be. The flashbacks (to the main characters' troubled childhood) are incredibly well done and come off as a legitimately scary, tense story on their own, and the scenes in the present time are dreamlike, ethereal horror theater, with tons of fun, bizarro-world scares that I found extremely enjoyable. It's a bit predictable and like I said, does tend to use a lot of the tropes we're tired of in modern horror, but it does everything so well that I don't care.

6. The Sacrament

Ti West is a real upcoming talent, and this newest film of his is a real killer. It's a Jim Jones, Kool Aid Cult-esque thing about some journalists going to a remote island to investigate a 'self help' cult, and getting in over their heads. It's a very meat-and-potatoes story with little adornments, but the actors sell the shit out of it and the tension goes from pleasantly, slightly creepy to all-out pitch-black horror at the end. West's directing is at its best so far here, as he transitions between the build-up and the explosion of terror very smoothly, and overall it's a very well done film. Go see it.

5. House of the Devil

The first Ti West movie that really put him on the map five years ago, and still my favorite thing he's done. I mean, sure, the film wants to be the 1970s so bad it's practically obsessive, but the occult horror is so, so cool here. The lead girl is likable, which makes her eventual descent into occult madness at the hands of a Satanic cult that much more terrifying. The eerie ambiance of the film's first two acts explodes in the third act into some of the best horror since Sam Raimi laid down Evil Dead or Fulci did The Beyond - it's that fuckin' good, and you should see it if you haven't.

4. The Children

A movie about children that turn evil. It's a pretty basic storyline done very, very well as we see a bunch of British people get picked off like babes during hunting season by their own progeny. The atmosphere is morbid, the gore is completely fucking nuts and the story is laced with all kinds of dark, seedy character stuff that builds to a boiling point. It's really all about the tense, feral horror, which is as hungry as a ravenous wolf here - this is an energized, macabre trip that you won't forget. One of my favorite horror movies.

3. Session 9

Insane asylums practically write themselves as scary as fuck horror movie locations, but this movie has excellent writing to back it up as well. The story of a construction crew cleaning up an old abandoned asylum and gradually sinking into madness makes for what I consider a new classic. Atmospherically brilliant with good characters and a lot of underlying themes about madness and the human condition's relation to it - the mind's breaking point is explored in full. It's also a very ambiguous story, without any real clear word on what's going on. Is it supernatural, or are the characters just losing their minds? You owe it to yourself to see this if you haven't.

2. Pontypool

This is a zombie film about a disease which infects the English language and turns people in a small Canadian town into "empty radio signals" when they hear and understand words. The twist, aside from that, is that all the action takes place in a radio station and from the point of view of the people working there. Much of the blood and gore is just told to us, rather than actually shown. I really think this is a fascinating movie and one of the best-written horror films in years and years. The acting and characters are superb and the story about the English language being infected is so weird, it actually works. It puts a very cool, clever twist on words and is much more "literary" than many other horror films. If you haven't seen this, it's imperative you do.

1. Absentia

Up there with the five or six scariest movies I've ever seen. Mike Flanagan's first big movie is a bone-chilling tale about people going missing, telling the story of a woman about to declare her husband dead in absentia after he's been missing seven years. However, a mysterious tunnel nearby may have had something to do with it and the woman's sister, arriving suddenly, sets in motion a dark chain of events. It's just a perfect horror film. The tension and atmosphere are very well crafted, and you care about the characters - they act like real people and their conflict is real, at the center of the story even. That's the key to a good horror film. Horror comes when we care about what's going on and then realize, hey, there's something creepy going on here that we didn't notice. It's the perversion of the mundane. Through its story and atmosphere, Absentia grows on you like fungus until the terrifying last act. Not only scary but also sorrowful, wistful and fantastical - a classic that I highly recommend.

So that's my list. Any you'd recommend? Any you disagree with? Let me know!