Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Blog Month: My Favorite Horror Films

          My relationship with Horror is tricky. While it's a genre I particularly like, I usually walk away feeling cheated and angry. Horror has a way of playing to the lowest common denominator. This means that Horror is usually, on a maturity level, about even with anything from the Happy Madison production company. But when I find that diamond in the rough, that rarest of precious stones, the good Horror film, I cherish it for years and years.

Here are ten Horror films I can usually rely on. For list purposes, I'm leaving out The Exorcist, The Shining, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary's Baby, Carnival of Souls, and Night of the Living Dead. You've seen them, I've seen them, we've all seen them. We all know they're good. My number 10 is a little iffy too. But hey, here it is:

10) Evil Dead 2
          Sam Raimi's fantastic Horror/Comedy sequel is one of the most crowd-pleasing of all crowd pleasers. This movie gets better and better every time you see it. The camera work, the acting, the writing, the crazy effects. It all works. Army Of Darkness is also highly recommended. While the film isn't really all that scary, it makes up for it with the amount of fun it has with the genre.

9) [Rec]

          [Rec] is one of those Horror movies that sneak up on you. What at first feels like a pretty standard "found footage" flick becomes an immensely frightening, and surprising, real-time pot-boiler. It begins with a woman trying to find something interesting to film for her after-dark news series. When she decides to follow some firemen to a routine rescue, she quickly finds herself in a dangerous quarantine zone.

             The film's use of its set design is truly mesmerizing. The apartment complex becomes a character in itself. There was an American remake of this film recently that did an okay job of recreating the magic of [Rec], but there's just something about the end that doesn't compare to the Spanish-language original. The last five minutes are truly frightening.

8) Trick'r Treat
          Trick'r Treat is one of those rare short film anthologies that actually work. The films congeal. They are the separate limbs of a tree. Too often, these short film anthologies feel too disjointed and tonally dissimilar to be tacked to one another. When Trick'r Treat was brought to my attention last year, I couldn't help but feel like the movie would disappoint. Its distributor had decided to pull it from a theatrical release, last minute, in order to send it straight-to-DVD, the writer and director, Michael Dougherty, hadn't really proved himself in any significant way yet, and the overall story (plus marketing) are pretty dreadfully displayed.

         However, despite all of this, I found a way to really dig this movie. It knows what it's all about. There is a strange tone to it. It is a very funny Horror movie, but it's not really a Horror/Comedy. The stories work together to create this wacky Halloween film that exists in its own special world. As if Raising Arizona were made into a Horror film, but kept its zany logic intact. I'm going to make this movie a yearly event.

7) The King of Comedy
          Martin Scorsese's often overlooked masterpiece is also often overlooked as a comedy. While, yes, the film does use the word comedy in its title, have Jerry Lewis in its cast of characters, and center on a stand up comedian, the movie is really only kind of funny. The humor is dark, twisted, and mean. Robert DeNiro's Rupert Pupkin is only funny in that he doesn't really exist. Jerry Lewis' version of Jerry Lewis is only funny because we all know that Jerry Lewis truly is a mean, narcissistic comedian.

         In reality, The King of Comedy is a much less optimistic version of Taxi Driver. You read that correctly. While Taxi Driver has that little bit of redemption at the end, what does Rupert Pupkin have by the end of King of Comedy? The movie is a dark portrait of a man who wants nothing more than to be laughed with. He wants to be in on the joke, but he is always the butt of it. DeNiro's performance is sad, pathetic, terrifying, and, yes, a little funny.

       I recommend you check it out immediately. It should be more popular than it is.

6) The Devil's Rejects
          Something happened to Rob Zombie between House of a 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. While the former film seemed rambling and adolescent, the latter film feels like an absolute explosion of raw talent. The key word here is raw. The Devil's Rejects is, admittedly, totally disgusting, but it is also kind of charming. The characters are full and dynamic. They love each other. They have senses of humor about their day jobs. You come to truly care for them. And after you see the kinds of things they do in this movie, you really come to appreciate the level of skill Rob Zombie has as a director.

        I will be the first to admit that Rob Zombie is a horrible screenwriter. But what he lacks in his writing talents he more than makes up for with his casting, direction, and music choices. This movie has a killer soundtrack. And when the actors say their terrible dialogue, they do it with such conviction that you can almost believe it. There's just something whimsical about this film that Zombie has not been able to capture in his other efforts. It's so off the cuff, so unpretentious, so totally raw, that it is hard to find fault with it. It is one of the truest expressions of Horror filmmaking I've seen in some time. It's not for everybody, that's for sure, but The Devil's Rejects is definitely better than it needs to be.

5) Martyrs
          The hallmark of any good horror film is its ability to cause discomfort. There is the cheap route, where gore and violence become a quick way to make moviegoers barf, and there is the effective route, where the film takes its time to prove itself. Where it makes you fall in love the characters and fear for them. A good Horror film stirs something inside of you. It takes your fears and turns them against you. It forces you to question disturbing topics.
            Martyrs is in the latter category. While it is true that Martyrs has some of the most disturbing images of gore I have ever witnessed, it is not reliant on that gore to manufacture its scares. Martyrs is a hopeless film. It is about a girl who escapes abuse and makes it her lifelong goal to find retribution. When she finally does get her revenge, a half hour into the film, the audience wonders where the film could possibly go from here. And it goes to a place you never would have expected. The film is beautifully shot. The acting is superb. And the scares genuinely unnerve you. No matter how many "serious" critics dismiss the film as nothing more than a torture porn trifle, there really is something to Martyrs. In a way, it is a beautiful film. But it is also nihilistic as all get out.

          Martyrs is for the brave. Be warned.

4) Inland Empire
          I think I've said enough about this movie, but I'm going to say some more. If you let it, Inland Empire can really, really terrify you. Lynch takes almost every film convention and turns it on its head. He intentionally edits scenes of dialogue so that the moments of silence stretch into an eternity. He takes the convention of character continuity and spins it by making names and faces almost never match up. The visuals are fuzzy and unclear, breaking our HD-centric times. The film plays like a bad nightmare. It never fully makes sense. Its characters suffer and we don't know why.

         And then there's that horrible shot of Laura Dern running toward the camera, her makeup running across her face, screaming.

       Good luck.

3) Don't Look Now
          You'd be hard-pressed to find a more atmospheric Horror film than this one. Nicolas Roeg's strange, hypnotic psycho-Horror about a married couple's slow descent into madness after the death of their daughter is truly a masterpiece of film editing. The entire film plays like the worst therapy session of your life. The film succeeds because of its truth. These are parents who are struggling with a very real fear. The characters are honestly and accurately portrayed.

           The Venice setting adds another layer to the madness of the film. Its thousands of small alleyways and canals make the very setting something of a Jungian maze.

         And that ending, my God, that ending.

        Don't Look Now is not only one of the best Horror films I've ever seen, but one of the best films period.

2) Audition
          Now that I've told you that Audition is a Horror film, it is much less likely to scare you. But don't let that fact deter you. This is one genuinely disturbing flick. What starts off as a kind of sweet little art film about an old man's search for love turns into a sort of poor attempt at a RomCom, which then turns into an excellent attempt at terrifying Horror masterpiece.

            Takashi Miike does something amazing with Audition--he somehow combines an interesting, thought-provoking arthouse film with a Horror film final act that doesn't suck. While a lot of Horror films seem to fall apart and lose steam as they reach their conclusions, Audition only gets better and better. If you haven't seen this one, definitely look it up. I believe it is available as Watch Instantly on Netflix.

1) Benny's Video
          Benny's Video is, without a doubt, the most disturbing film I have ever seen. This is because the film does not ever, at any time, ring false. Michael Haneke's direction is straightforward. At no time does the movie go out of its way to be theatrical. It merely is. And the bleak picture that it paints is enough.

             The film is about a young man, Benny, who obsesses over violent videos in his bedroom. There is one video in particular, one where a pig is slaughtered, that he watches repeatedly. In a time where literally any form of violence can be found on the internet, this film is even more true, and even more bleak, in its representation of disillusioned youth.

          Benny's obsession with the video leads him to make his own. He invites a cute girl over to his house, watches the video with her, sets up his own camera, and kills her. The shot is long. We watch her die and fall onto the ground. Benny cleans up his mess, hides the body, and watches the tape again.

         The film makes a point to be untheatrical. It just exists. The shots last for several minutes at a time. The acting is incredibly minimalist. There are no consequences in the film. It is truly the bleakest, most disturbing Horror film I have ever seen. And it is also the best.

Honorable Mention
         Santa Sangre
               This film defies genre. But it is mostly Horror. It is on Netflix Watch Instantly. I suggest you just look up and watch it. You won't regret it.

What are some of your favorite Horror films? Let me know in the comments section or on Facebook. 


  1. Trick 'r Treat is my favorite Halloween movie. Of all time. I think last year I watched it at least twice a week for two months. It was awesome. Still is an amazing movie.

    If you haven't seen it on blu-ray you need to. Not just because blu-ray is awesome, but because it comes with all the kick-ass special features. And Evil Dead 2... it's another one I really like. Grated, it's almost as if they're like "uh ignore the first Evil Dead. That was just a test, now here's the REAL one." But maybe that's just the vibe that I get.

    Have you seen Budda Hotep? Or Repo! The Genetic Opera? Both are must sees... at least in my book.

  2. Quite happy to see Trick 'r Treat on here. The more love that movie gets the better. Although you should never let a distributor screwing a film and sending it straight to DVD as a sign of its quality.

    ...OK, you usually can, but every now and again it happens to good movies too. Those festival reactions count for something, after all.

    [rec] was good too, though it didn't quite work for me (the angle the end of the film plays is one that never quite sits right with me). Good call on Audition, and yeah Martyrs is some distrubing stuff. The only horror movie I can think of in recent memory that really stuck to me like that one did is The Woman (one you should check out, actually).

    Anyway, it'd take ages to list out all my favorite horror movies (it's tied with sci-fi for my favorite genre). Up there you've got The Shining, The Mist, Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, Pontypool (seen this one? It too could use more love), and oodles more. For my absolute number one, though, it's no question: Carpenter's The Thing. Horror movies don't get much more perfect than that one, says I.