The latest twisted parallels has bloody mouths, snakes, red neon lights, snakes, and dead bodies— oh, my!
Martyrs. 2016. Directed by Kevin & Michael Goetz. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith; based on the original characters from Pascal Laugier’s film.
Starring Troian Bellisario, Caitlin Carmichael, Kate Burton, Bailey Noble, Toby Huss, Diana Hopper, Lexi DiBenedetto, Taylor John Smith, Peter Michael Goetz, and DaJuan Johnson. Blumhouse Productions/The Safran Company/Temple Hill Entertainment.
Unrated. 81 minutes.
I always try to give remakes a fair shake. Slightly different story when you have to push through a favourite film being remade, especially if it comes out poorly. Though I love Spike Lee, as a filmmaker, his remake of Oldboy is one of the worst in recent memory. And that’s been a favourite of mine for years. When I heard Pascal Laugier’s frantic, bloody, wild movie Martyrs was being remade, it didn’t exactly excite me. Sure, I love when a fresh take or update can be done on a film, such as Alexandre Aja and his efforts on The Hills Have Eyes. But more often than not, an excellent foreign language film gets turned into nonsense by way of North American directors and writers.
Sadly, this new version of Martyrs is not up to the task of making things fresh, exciting, or even much different. It is definitely not a shot-for-shot remake, but it also doesn’t have a lot of what made the original French film so impressively visceral and continually interesting. This re-imagining, remake, or whatever word you choose to employ, didn’t have to go for big gore and get as graphic as Laugier. What it did need, though, is the emotional resonance, the quality techniques of Laugier and the original team, and generally a better screenplay if it were meant for glory. Not near being one of my favourite remakes. Another great film gets an unjust treatment for North American audiences, many of whom are probably too lazy to read subtitles and watch the original, evident by how many foreign films get remade here in the West. If that weren’t the case, if the demand weren’t so high, I’d assume people were seeking out the original pieces of work. In this case, I certainly suggest you watch Laugier’s movie. It’s leaps and bounds better than this mediocre, run of the mill dishwater.
Two young girls come together as orphans at a young age, Lucie (Troian Bellisario) and Anna (Bailey Noble). Lucie escaped from a terrifying, abusive situation of captivity, which Anna helped her get past.
Cut to years later. They’re grown young women. Lucie finds the family who supposedly held her captive, then shotguns them all, including the kids, to death. She calls Anna frantically, telling her what happened. Her friend arrives to try and help things go smoother, as far as is possible. But Lucie spirals out of control. Soon, Anna is in the house, bodies everywhere, and a group of armed people take over.
Brought to room and tortured, Anna discovers what Lucie went through. The two girls are pitted against their captors. Although, the past comes back to bear on their present situation. As things are revealed the capture of Lucie as a young girl becomes more clear, the movie behind it all unearthed. Can they survive this? Will Lucie be able to make it out of the horror a second time?
*SPOILER ALERT: TURN BACK OR THOU SHALT FOREVER BE SPOILED!*
One thing I quickly disliked about this version is that the screenplay from Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, Vacancy) decides to keep both of the main women alive. Whereas in the Laugier original, the Lucie character dies. What I love about that original screenplay is that the Anna character is then forced to deal with the aftermath of the situation, as well as the group who come to find her, forcing her to also suffer the torture her friend once did years ago. In this film there’s this sense of a bunch of subjects captured at once, while Anna and Lucie then also find themselves captives. Part of why I enjoyed the original French film is that Laugier went for a definitively tragic and truly epic plot. Smith, though he did amazing stuff with The Revenant, makes the mistake of going for something more hopeful. Realistically you have to look at the group doing these experiments; they are obviously massive, a solid organization, so to just do another escape thriller with this setup is wasting a lot of potential. The original capitalized on all its brutality, as well as emotions, and went for a dark ending. Without spoiling anything, this remake cops out. Some say the original was all nihilistic. Except for the fact the people torturing the hopeful martyrs, for all their faults and bloody terror, are seeking a way to discover what makes someone into such a portal to view what’s in their eyes, seeing beyond life and into the chasm of death. So, it’s not really nihilistic, not in true terms. But any of the impact of the film is taken away in this screenplay. Not at all impressed with Smith’s choices.
The execution isn’t a whole lot helpful either. Tons of exposition that the original never needed, as well as so much sanitized horror. It all combines into a real mess. There are, yes, several moments of decent blood, and also several intense sequences. Yet none of this adds up to even half the impact Laugier came off with, which does nothing to make me enjoy this needless remake. There was a grim, moody atmosphere and a gritty tone to the original. Here, most of the movie feels glossy, bright even in the darkness, and overall there is nothing technique-wise that ever grabs me. Kevin and Michael Goetz did 2013’s Scenic Route and I actually enjoyed that a good deal. It was entertaining, gritty at times, funny even. Lots of good stuff. Their follow-up film is nowhere near as good. Hopefully next they’ll go with an original film with a better story because they’ve proved themselves on the previous movie. Martyrs is a step backward.
I’ll give the film a 1&1/2 star rating, solely because I did enjoy aspects of Bailey Noble’s performance, even if I wasn’t a fan of the plot. Likewise, Troian Bellisario is decent enough to keep your attention particularly later when the torture commences once more. But this is an unnecessary remake. Honestly, I try to give these remade films a chance, however, they more often than not let me down big time. This one is no different. Over the past few years this is one of the worst. Again, I hope the Goetz brothers go forward and make something better. As I hope Mark Smith pushes on and finds better success with another movie. These are better artists than the movie suggests. Martyrs, the original, is worth your time. Despite what others say about a totally boring, gory film, Laugier made an impact with that one, which I will never forget. Skip this, see his original. You’ll thank me.
With a list for the disturbed, one for zombies/living dead/infected, a 31-day map of horror and even a list for Halloween-ers who aren’t horror fans, I’ve come to one with a special disturbing dedication: blood and gore and uncomfortable pains!
While the other disturbing list is a bunch of general unsettling movies, this one is based mainly around effects and the visual nastiness. Now, these aren’t meant to be the BLOODIEST, or the wildest gore imaginable, nothing like that. The movies on this list are some of the ones with the effects I enjoy most, the nastiest depictions of violence, and so on, which I’ve found throughout the 4,100 films I’ve seen in the past 30 years.
Hopefully you hardcore horror fans will enjoy some of these and you’ve probably seen a few, if not all. Either way, let me know what you think and if there are any others you enjoy that ought to be shared.
Anthropophagus (1980)/ Absurd (1981)
A perfect double feature if you want a big helping of senseless violence, relentless terror and creepy atmosphere. These two landed on the Video Nasty list during 1983; they were also prosecuted successfully.
Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagus sees a group of friends on a Greek island terrorized by a tall cannibalistic man of mysterious origin. No more explanation needed because there’s honestly nothing much else to say. It’s the way D’Amato shows everything, his style, which really makes this something to see. Truly nasty bit of work. Goes well together with a want for blood, guts, and flesh wounds of all shapes and sizes.
Moving on to 1981, D’Amato comes back with a spiritual sequel to his earlier Anthropophagus from 1980 – Absurd is the story of a priest chasing down a monster whose blood coagulates incredibly fast, rendering it near impossible to kill, and its killing is unstoppable.
This isn’t near as good as Anthropophagus, still it is some more savagery from D’Amato whose nastiness knows no bounds at times.
A ton of head action here: no, not a blowjob, I’m talking heads being drilled, heads being sawed, et cetera. If you’re in need of a bit of rough violence, this is certainly the ticket. However, as I said, D’Amato doesn’t come back near as good with this film as he did with the previous.
These two films make an interesting, nasty double feature. Don’t say I didn’t warn you – not plot heavy, but definitely thick with murder!
Blood Feast (1963)/ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
The second double feature (out of 4) on this list, it’s another one with both titles from the same director. This time, it’s the Godfather of Gore, Mr. Herschell Gordon Lewis.
The entree: 1963’s Blood Feast.
While this is by no means a great film, it’s definitely ambitious in terms of the blood and gore. With Blood Feast – the story of a killer slaying women in order to get blood to appease an Egyptian goddess – Lewis began introducing the world to his vibrant brand of gore horror. Right from the very beginning of the film, its first sequence comes off totally awesome and bizarre; a proper portion of H.G. Lewis signature style gory makeup effects. So pretty much immediately you’ll know whether or not you’re in for his type of filmmaking. I dig it and think it’s nasty as hell. This is one ridiculously fun and equally rotten bit of gore horror.
After Lewis shocked with the previous little blood & guts flick, he came back swinging with a much better film the next year: Two Thousand Maniacs!
This one is the story six people who find themselves trapped in a town, deep down amongst the Southern U.S. and one by one they’re killed, as part of a celebration/their revenge for the town being destroyed in the Civil War.
Talk about bloody! The poster does not lie. Early on in the days of splatter horror movies, H.G. was rocking it hard. Furthermore, there’s a real dreamy quality to Lewis’ filmmaking and I feel that’s a part of appreciating what he does; sure, it’s kind of cheap, yes it is also tame compared to things today. But is it really tame? I don’t think so. Either way, there’s a certain atmosphere Lewis creates which not a lot of people take into account. Sort of an avant-garde-trash mixture. Bless him. This is a wonderfully fun and bloody piece of work.
These two Hershell Gordon Lewis movies work so well together, though, the second is much better. This gives me my fill of organs and bleeding cuts and slashed throats and more. A perfect Halloween splatterfest!
My full review is here.
One of my three favourite Davids – another one comes later (and the third is my dad) – Lynch dropped his first feature film onto the midnight circuit in 1977 with the existentially horrifying and viscerally churning Eraserhead.
The story… ah, if you don’t already know what this movie is, there’s no real point trying to explain it. Maybe best put: the story of a man living in an unbearable industrial landscape, whose girlfriend gets pregnant and then they both must deal with it after coming out a tiny monster. Oh, and don’t forget the woman who lives in the radiator.
A whole mind trip of a film, this Lynch masterpiece has tons of the existential dread happening, from start to finish. But the visuals – holy fuck, the visuals! There are moments even some hardcore horror hounds find nauseating, simply because of the way Lynch shows us his imagery. I won’t ruin anything for those who’ve not seen it. Needless to say, you may never look at a turkey or chicken again in the same way once you’re ready to carve it up.
Fun note: Lynch still says to this day no one has ever really pinpointed what the film is about, for him.
Dans Ma Peau a.k.a In My Skin (2002)
This French film is the story of a woman who experiences a bad injury while at a party, then becomes increasingly obsessed with self harm – serious cutting.
A lot of people might find themselves flinching throughout large portions of this one. Honestly, it’s a tough piece of cinema. The amount of nasty cutting and self-violence here is extraordinary. Perhaps what makes the blood and makeup effects here so devastatingly effective is the fact we get inside the headspace of the main character – also the director and writer, talented woman – and come to actually care about her, maybe some of us will identify with her. So this takes it to another level. Go into this expecting you may turn it off due to discomfort.
Hostel (2005)/ Hostel: Part II (2007)
For my full review of 2005’s Hostel – click here
For my full review of the sequel – click here
Another double bill, again each from the same director. This one would actually make a great quartet feature with H.G. Lewis, come to think of it.
Say what you want about Eli Roth, he’s effective. Can you honestly say the special makeup effects in Hostel aren’t well executed? If so, you’re kidding yourself. You might not like how Roth plays out his film, you may not even like the content. There’s just simply no fucking way you’re convincing me the blood and gore here isn’t properly nasty.
Hostel came out and turned up the label “torture porn” (get what it implies but hate the term). The whole thing, to me, is a sleazy masterpiece of bloody horror. Its first half plays like a roadtrip comedy with the three dudes, cut with bits and pieces of murder. Once the second half begins, Roth takes us on a gory ride. That eyeball effect? Come on… don’t let whatever your opinion of Roth/the movie overall may be cloud your judgement: this is some hardcore brutality. There are plenty more bits to “enjoy” when it comes to all the bloody goodness, the eyeball is my favourite.
I wasn’t expecting a good follow-up, honestly. Regardless of that, though, Hostel: Part II is one hell of a sequel from Roth. Of course the end turns out to be a nice little feminist twist, but most of the film sees a trio of women in peril, as opposed to the three dudes from the first. The savagery is just as prevalent here. Love the homage to Erzebet Bathory with the bloodletting bath scene. Also, I’m always a big fan of piece of shit men getting their dicks cut off. So there’s that.
Both of these films are incredibly horrific, in their own ways while still being similar. Even better than that, I find the sequel Roth came up with did well with creating an entire universe with the story, going deeper into the global club of psychopaths who round up victims for murder tourists to have a go at. On top of all the bleeding and the screams and the terror, there’s also a cherry of a decent plot, too.
Island of Death (1976)
Back to another of the infamous Video Nasties. And I’m not putting this on the list all due to it being on there, either. Only awhile ago did I actually get the chance to see this, but christ… what a doozy.
In 1976, director Nico Mastorakis put out Island of Death after seeing how well Tobe Hooper did with his indie shocker The Texas Chain Saw Massacre only two years before. Except without much of an intent, as I feel Hooper had with his own film, Mastorakis only wanted to bring the awe with a sadistic and perverse plot based around a British couple – who say they’re recently married yet are actually later revealed to be a brother-sister incest duo – wreaking absolute havoc on people while visiting a Greek island. Strangely enough, for two inbreeding siblings, they kill people who they deem sinful.
You’ll find yourself, most certainly, struggling to get through this because it’s not particularly good, in regards to plot or story. Neither is it overly well-acted. It’s the brutish violence and boundless depravity which will take you in. The blood flows and the gory scenes will make you understand easily how this ended up on the Video Nasty list.
Masters of Horror: “Imprint” (dir. Takashi Miike) (2006)
My vote for most disturbing segment ever made for television – Takashi Miike’s Imprint from the horror anthology series Masters of Horror.
Miike has turned up on another list I did for Halloween this year (for his 1999 horror-thriller Audition). He comes back here again with a vengeance.
Without giving away too much, an American traveler who once visited Japan for a time goes back for another trip. When he looks to find the geisha with which he connected so emotionally on his first visit, she is nowhere to be found, and he soon begins to unravel the devastating mystery surrounding her disappearance.
Think it sounds okay? One of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, and it was a television episode; though, it wasn’t allowed to air if I’m not mistaken. I bought the two seasons of this show and found myself blown away by this one in particular. Lots of nastiness from one of the true masters, Takashi Miike.
For my full review, click here.
A personal favourite of mine, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is similar, in a few respects, to what he was doing in eXistenZ later down the road. However, they’re definitely different, vastly so, as this 1983 classic goes much harder and more metaphorically at the body horror sub-genre.
Sleazy TV producer Max Renn (James Woods) searches for the ultimate in raw, real content for his channel. In his search, Max comes across an ultra-real show named “Videodrome”, featuring what seems to be actual snuff and torture, et cetera. Slowly drawn in, his quasi-girlfriend Nick Brand (Deborah Harry) goes to audition for the show, having an interest in masochism particularly. What happens next takes Max to the brink of reality and sanity at once.
Cronenberg is one of the genius filmmakers of cinema, even better that he’s Canadian (as I am one; he’s a national treasure). He’s very much an auteur, I would say he’s pretty much the king of body horror. Even further than that, I’d definitely say Cronenberg is at least ONE of the godfathers of the sub-genre. Lately he’s moved a little bit away, which is fine. You just cannot deny his power. Some of the effects here, provided by maestro artist Rick Baker, are simply unforgettable – the fleshy VHS tape, the mutilated/deformed bodies, and so on. Plus, on top of all the body horror, as is his style, Cronenberg also gets into how we relate to media, whether movies or television, what have you. Very interesting movie and also harrowing in terms of its body horror imagery.
Haute Tension (a.k.a High Tension a.k.a Switchblade Romance) (2003)
For my full review, click here.
Alexandre Aja is a favourite of mine, in terms of modern horror filmmakers who have emerged over the past 15 years. He’s vicious, funny, he’s displayed – in some of his films – that practical special makeup effects still have a place in post-2000 horror, it isn’t all about CGI. Most of all, I think he wears the biggest and best of his influences on his sleeve.
The story of Marie and Alexia, two college friends – they head for a vacation back to Alexia’s parents home in the country, deep in the cornfields. On their first night, a killer comes knocking at the door. Systematically he murders the family, except for Alexia – all the while, Marie is hiding upstairs in a room at the top of the house. Marie manages to slip into the killer’s creepy truck before he whisks Alexia off. This begins an intensely vicious night of cat-and-mouse maneuvering, swimming in blood.
I never once saw where this horror movie was going the first time I saw it. Then when you watch it over and over again, which I’ve done (because I fucking love it), it’s interesting to watch knowing where it will go and still find yourself enthralled. There are some of the most perfect special makeup effects in High Tension. It has such a great 1970s/1980s horror sensibility, one of the biggest reasons why I can’t get enough of this Aja masterpiece. Some will tell you the twist is something you’ll see coming. I don’t believe that; people who say those things, some of them anyways, are usually just naysayers unable to point out anything particularly bad about a movie they don’t like (for whatever reason). You’ll be blown away, or in love depending on how sick you are like myself, by all the blood and gore from start to finish. Plus, the performances are incredible, even the near mute killer. This one is a definite shocker you need on the Halloween movie marathon list. If you don’t dig subtitles, get over it or miss out on a fantastic piece of modern horror-gore cinema.
Macabre (1980)/ Demons (1985)
Moving on to our next – and fittingly final – double bill: back to back Lamberto Bava madness!
To start, the 1980 horror (amazingly it is loosely based on a true story) Macabre. This one is insanely fun in the sickest horror sense. A woman is reeling from the death of her extramarital lover; they were in a car accident and he was decapitated. After a 12-month stay in an institution, she gets out and heads back to the apartment where she and her lover would meet to make love and be together. Soon, her landlord begins to suspect there’s still something going on between the woman and her lover.
So that description alone should intrigue you + the poster art there! To tell you the truth, the poster itself I’ve got there is a bit telling. But still, not like my description wasn’t either. If you want some nasty horror dealing with dead bodies and psychosexual tension, this will make any Halloween properly disturbing with a nice spate of – you guessed it – macabre imagery.After Macabre‘s more subtle story, believe it or not, is the 1985 cult classic Demons. For those who don’t know, Lamberto Bava is the son of revered Italian horror/giallo director Mario Bava (see: A Bay of Blood & more). So while his father was an absolute powerhouse overall in cinema, not someone I would banish to simply being a great genre director but a true artist, Lamberto doesn’t quite rise to that height. That being said, he is still an amazing horror director. Demons is an all-out barn burner: a bunch of people are trapped in a theatre, home to demonic entities, and they proceed to kill/possess everyone possible inside. Honestly, there’s nothing else to say about the plot – it is what it is, and that’s all right. This is one wild piece of horror, similar to a zombie film yet these are demons; the more they possess people, the greater their numbers. Not only that, the special makeup effects in this one are gnarly and awesome as hell. You have to put this one on if you’re watching Lamberto Bava, it’s a wild ride, and a nice contrast piece to Macabre, a very different sort of horror. These two movies together will really get your blood flowing. Turn Halloween into a night of terror with this double feature full of depravity and utter chaos.
It’s strange because so many people seem to have seen Lucky McKee’s The Woman from 2011, yet inexplicably ignore its predecessor – the 2009 indie Offspring.
Based on a novel by Jack Ketchum, and subsequently his screenplay for the film, this is a tale of the remaining cannibals from an old clan who move in on a nearby town and begin to wreak havoc on its people.
There are some intense bits here, especially with the inclusion of the feral children in the clan; one scene immediately comes to mind when a woman walks into her kitchen, only to find blood and body parts and kids nibbling on the tasty little bits they’re holding. This is one really macabre story and its execution I find pretty damn good; not perfect, but good enough. Not sure why this one has a super low rating on IMDB, perhaps some might find it cliched or overdone, I don’t know really. The mind of Jack Ketchum comes out pretty nicely, to my mind. He is a unique and terrifying writer.
Either way, I do know this has enough satisfyingly disturbing bits of gore and morbidity in it you might spend a few minutes before bedtime making sure no cannibals are hiding out in the kitchen.
For a full review and examination of this shocker, click here.
Loosely based on the real murderer Werner Kniesek, Angst is the tale of a madman released from prison, after which he brutalizes and murders a family in their small home.
Truly, to me, this 1983 cult horror film out of Austria is actually an examination of institutionalization crossed with an already violent psychopath, almost the meeting of two immovable forces crashing against one another. Right from the first scene, we know how madly gone the psychotic (Erwin Leder; best known from Das Boot) has become in his time through the prison system.
And that’s part of why Angst is so powerfully disturbing – aside from the messy, bloody bits, the entirety of the film has us knocking around in the head of this man. We’re never given any of what’s going on outside of him, anything from a different perspective, but rather this depraved killer is our guide, our sherpa into the heart of utter darkness.
If your Halloween season hasn’t been viscerally disturbing enough, get ahold of Angst. It’s becoming better known over the past few years, particularly with the Blu ray release, however, it’s still not widely recognized enough in my opinion. There are easily drawn comparisons between John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Though, trust me: this movie is far different, it gets deeper into the brain matter of its killer and really tries to strip things down to push us into the main character’s uncomfortable headspace.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
This 1975 Pier Paolo Pasolini-directed shockfest is one you’ll undoubtedly see turn up on most of the disturbing horror lists out there. Anybody in their right mind will find this completely raw and hateful nasty, no doubt about that. The most hardcore horror fans readily admit this is one insane piece of cinema.
While I do think there’s a major part of this movie speaking to fascism, et cetera, the majority of what you’ll find incessantly horrifying here is the imagery. And it’s not subtle, not even for a hot second.
Think – have you ever thought to yourself “I’d love to see a movie where people commit sodomy, eat human faeces, then throw in some violent torture/murder and a suicide to boot”? If so, this one is for you!
Okay, I don’t make this one sound in the slightest appealing. Because it’s not and I’m not trying to fool you here. This is a list of disturbing horror to do solely with imagery, effects, and so on. You won’t find a more visceral piece of cinema ever, maybe. Many argue this has no purpose, but under all its nasty and in-your-face nausea, Pasolini had something to say with Salò and after all these years – four decades later – people are still debating it, still fighting it, the controversy surrounding the film and Pasolini himself continues to burn in the public heart of film lovers. So can you say, either way, love it or hate it, that Pasolini’s movie is not effective? You’re kidding yourself if the answer is no.
Putting this one on could ruin October for you; the entire month. But if you’re adventurous, and a little messed up, pop this in and rock out to the Pasolini mindfuck machine.
Thanks for reading another of my Halloween lists this year. Once more, as always, I’m hoping you’ll find at least one flick to put on during October. Especially the closer it gets to the 31st. This list will induce shock and awe, I know it does for me. These are all pretty wild movies, to me. If you have any other suggestions for blood, guts, skulls and assorted nasty stuff, please drop a comment and let me know in what sort of madness you’ll be indulging over the next couple weeks.
In an effort to try and diversify, I’ve done my best to not include anything I included on last year’s Halloween List. Not to worry: plenty of horror for you here.
Wade on in to find yourself something creepy; one title for every day of the month in no particular order but merely numbered for order.
I’ve tried not to do anything too obscure. Most of these titles you should be able to track down somewhere. But regardless, I wanted to try and name at least a few movies other lists don’t suggest this time of year. Huge fan of John Carpenter’s Halloween (my review here) and even the rest of the series honestly, except for the last couple entries. They’re the ones you always hear about! I’d rather try to go for some titles you either might not know or wouldn’t think to watch.
Now… Let’s get spooked! October is upon you. I watch horror just about every single day of the year. Though I always get excited to share that passion with everyone else leading up that creepy day we all know and love.
1) Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
An obviously low budget movie, this 1971 underrated gem takes us to the depths of the line between sanity and madness.
To say much of anything would ruin this for you, but the movie follows a young, emotionally and psychologically unstable girl who goes out to a little farmhouse with her husband and their friend, only to experience a living nightmare of sorts after meeting another young redheaded woman who is at the house, drifting and living there.
Some people say this is a vampire film, though, I think it’s mostly because there’s a legend of vampire activity in the story itself. Me? I’d say this is psychological horror at its finest with emotional problems and local legends at its root, driving everything that may (or may not) be happening in the plot. Check this one out! It’s been called one of the scariest films ever, as well as the fact Stephen King has often talked about it in various interviews and I’m always keen to see the movies he thinks are scary. But regardless, I find this is a creeper. I watch it, then there’s always a hesitation to watch it again the next time because it’s that damn unsettling.
2) A Horrible Way to Die (2010)
* My full review is here
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have teamed up since this one to make an excellent slasher infused with dark comedy (You’re Next) and one of the best action-thrillers of the past few years with a throwback aesthetic (The Guest).
But honestly, it’s this film of theirs which really gets me in the gut, punches me hard and sucks the wind out of me. Some complaints I’ve seen are directed at Wingard’s directing, believing the handheld and more chaotic style of the film to be either distracting or simply not enjoyable.
For me, I think the handheld vibe helps A Horrible Way to Die because out of it comes a very intimate feeling. In every scene, whether it’s the serial killer (played by fabulous actor A.J. Bowen) or his sweet and emotionally devastated wife (played by an equally fabulous actor Amy Seimetz), no matter if it’s just them or they are onscreen with another character(s), there’s an incredibly intimacy from the style Wingard chooses to go with that really nails home the visceral feeling of this movie.
Not only that, Barrett’s screenplay is pretty great. It’s sparse and it doesn’t particularly telegraph a whole lot where the plot is headed. Then once the finale kicks in, again, it’s like a gut punch. It hits you hard, not once but twice before finally you can’t help but be in awe of how everything plays out. At least I didn’t see it all coming. I thought things were headed in a much different direction. This is one chilling movie; not really a date horror movie, not necessarily something you’ll want to watch with a group of friends, but rather a film you might consider taking in alone, a bit of a personal and riveting experience for a creepy fall evening.
3) Alone in the Dark (1982)
First off, this is clearly not the Uwe Boll shitfest of a video game adaptation.
1982’s Alone in the Dark is possibly one of my favourite ensemble horror cast movies, at least it’s near the very top. Featuring not only Donald Pleasence, we are treated to some horror with two other powerhouses: Jack Palance and Martin Landau.
I mean, isn’t that just the strangest combination for a slasher horror you could ever imagine?
Simple premise: when a massive power outage happens, a bunch of psychopathic patients from a mental ward break out, searching for the new doctor whom they falsely believe to have killed their old doctor. Honestly, it’s a top notch ’80s era slasher. Not to mention the fact, again, that the three top actors are amazing. For me, a lover of the first Batman from Tim Burton and many of his other works, it’s awesome to see Palance as a crazy, nasty maniac here. There’s one scene in particular where they’re driving around in this truck, or some sort of vehicle, and they’re just tormenting people like the mailman, et cetera; it’s classic dark comedy/horror. Great one to get your murder spree fix, especially if there’s a crew wanting to watch a fun and at times horrific slasher.
4) Carnival of Souls (1962)
This is one of the best, creepiest, most unnerving low budget horror movies I’ve ever seen.
Basically, a woman experiences a car crash, flying into the water off a bridge, and after she survives begins to experience strange happenings: she sees people, a man in particular, pale faced, walking after her, stalking her, appearing almost everywhere she goes. She’s also being drawn to a rundown pavilion, an old carnival, where it seems the strange man and other ghostly people are living.
I have no problem with low budget look, as long as the story and the atmosphere of the film can still be achieved. Carnival of Souls does have a highly independent look, but it doesn’t deter from anything. It’s all black and white, which only adds to the creepiness. Director Herk Harvey uses his imagery in a great way, plus the story itself and the plot maintains its effectiveness. Pop this on for an irregular ghost-like story with some shots that will – I guarantee – haunt your dreams, if you let them.
5) Zombi 2 a.k.a Zombie a.k.a Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)
* My full Blu ray review is here
Despite the often confusing titles of the film, this is not a sequel, but merely a victim of silly, opportunistic marketing.
Lucio Fulci’s 1979 Zombie is one of the most incredible flesh eating films you’ll ever see! Fulci is classic. He was one of those horror filmmakers who went for broke and sought to bring as much bone/eyeball crunching, blood spurting, neck biting, flesh peeling action as he possibly could in an hour and a half or so.
This movie is no more elaborate than any other in the sub-genre – people are being turned into zombies on an island, the disease itself making its way towards New York City on the boat of a scientist. Horrific madness ensues.
If you’re a zombie enthusiast, or a horror fanatic in general, and you have not seen this: you need to, it is mandatory. You’ve not seen zombies until you see this!
6) The Beyond (1981)
Another Fulci classic – it’s hard for me to decide, though, if pressed The Beyond would be my top pick for his masterpiece (tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin).
Beginning with a woman inheriting an aging hotel in Louisiana, soon it becomes clear the Gates to Hell – The Beyond – sit just below its foundation. When she and a doctor try to escape, they discover The Beyond and earth are becoming one, as the gates have opened and the dead are walking the earth.
This is more of Fulci’s savage and visceral horror mixed with an awesome dose of the supernatural, and yes – zombies! Or at least undead, whatever you want to call them. Others may not agree, but I do honestly think this is Fulci’s best. It’s my favourite, anyways, and I’m always keen to tell people this is a great film for Halloween!
7) In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
John Carpenter is truly one of the masters of horror, up there with the greatest. He’s also got an excellent, darkly comic tone in many of his films. Plus, he does wonders with thrillers; he knows suspense and tension more than anyone else in the horror genre.
In the Mouth of Madness is often described as Lovecraftian, as it plunges into familiar territory to the amazingly creepy H.P. Lovecraft. Sam Neill plays an insurance man sucked into looking for a famous horror fiction author, eventually coming face to face with the author’s own creations all crammed into a tiny, supposedly fictional town. It is one amazingly terrifying movie, at times downright chilling, at others there’s that dark comedy Carpenter does so well. The whole time, though, you’ll find yourself beginning to question – like the main character – what exactly is reality and what is imagination. For a weird and involving bit of horror, take this one out on a scary night.
8) Session 9 (2001)
For a full review, click here.
For me, this is one of the scariest movies of all time. Yes, there are a couple rough moments (re: acting), but you can pin that badge right on David Caruso; I actually don’t dislike him, though, I can’t defend him here. Most of the time he’s good, it’s just a few real stinkers sneak out here and there.
Peter Mullan is who you want to pay attention to. Even while Josh Lucas (before he got big) and Brendan Sexton III give two extremely solid performances, Mullan holds this all together.
Directed by Brad Anderson, written by him and Stephen Gevedon (who also plays a nice role in the film), Session 9 is a slow burn horror, which will gradually push itself under your skin like a splinter. By the time you’re near the end, after the climax has really rocked you and the finale begins, there’s this quiet sense of trauma you might feel. That’s a good thing; means this movie does its job.
Scene of note: when Jeff (Sexton) is running through an underground tunnel while the lights are going out behind him, one by one, his screams drifting out of the darkness, I honestly feel my heart race. Terrifying film, but this scene gets me something fierce.
9) The Sentinel (1977)
For a full review, click here.
Haunted house horror movies are a dime a dozen. There are plenty I love, and even more I don’t like at all. However, The Sentinel is one of the most perfect haunted house stories, to me, on film yet.
When a fashion model moves into a Brooklyn apartment, an old building, terrifying appearances begin to emerge, people who are no longer living seem to be still inhabiting their apartments, among other things.
There’s something about this movie which will always draw me in. I only saw it for the first time about 4 years ago and it floored me. It’s a mix of supernatural horror, religious superstition, and psychological trauma/character study. Amazingly creepy at points, plus there are a handful of amazing actors here from a young Christopher Walken to Chris Sarandon to Ava Gardner and John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, and the delightful Eli Wallach. Oh and a mysteriously dubbed over Jeff Goldblum, which is kind of hilarious, and Jerry Orbach. Perfect haunted house film for when you’ve got a stormy night outside – this will draw you in and creep through your bones!
10) Prince of Darkness (1987)
Already we’re back to Carpenter. But with good reason. Plus you may as well get used to it because there’s at least one more on here; not the one you’d expect, either.
1987’s underrated, overlooked, and only cult appreciated Prince of Darkness has a little bit of everything: religion, zombie-like people, Alice Cooper, Donald Pleasence, ’80s babes with hair to match, and of course – Satan!
When a green ooze is discovered in a canister (no you’re still on the right page this is not a review for the second live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film) below a church, a priest assembles a team of mathematicians and scientists in order to study the contents. Turns out, the ooze is as old as time itself: it is the devil, evil in pure material, sensory form. When the ooze begins to make its way out gradually, people are taken over by its terrifying power, from the homeless people wandering around outside the church to the mathematic-scientific team working inside. What begins is a struggle between good and ultimate evil.
This is just a downright awesome movie. Carpenter, as I said, knows how to really build up the suspense and execute his tension in the appropriate way. There are incredible effects (on the Blu ray Carpenter explains them in typically excellent Carpenter fashion; one involved the mercury from a crane, I believe, or something similar they were doing highly unsafely), the acting is good, and Carpenter’s writing is also spot on here – he merges the superstitions of religion, the idea of a pure evil, and brings it into the scientific, intelligible world. Interesting stuff and it’s a creepshow of a movie with more of Carpenter and his dark wit. Good for when you want a movie about good/evil/the devil without all the typical stuff.
11) Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
Another movie it took me years to see, one of William Castle’s best, Mr. Sardonicus tells the tale of a man who digs up his father to find a winning lottery ticket with which he was buried, only to also discover his face has become distorted into a permanent and grotesque smile. When he makes a doctor treat him, the results might be worse than the smile itself.
There are certain classic horror movies you always hear about – anything with Vincent Price or Boris Karloff particularly, and so. Yet there’s never enough buzz about this brilliant Castle flick. I also love his gimmicks, he truly knew what audiences wanted. Screw all the same old 3D movies we see nowadays – Mr. Sardonicus let the audience use the ‘Punishment Poll’, letting them determine what Baron Sardonicus received ultimately as his punishment!
But this isn’t just gimmick. The movie is a gothic romp through the eyes of greed and jealousy and heinousness. Fitting for any wild Halloween night. Definitely a good one for a crowd or pair!
12) The Fog (1980)
For a full review, click here.
We’re back to Carpenter. Yet again! Of course we are.
This is another of my favourite Carpenter films, especially in terms of his pure horror. A great script, great actors, on top of the truly creepy zombies. Or whatever you want to call them – zombies, undead, ghosts, I don’t know.
The story is simple yet very scary – a coastal town’s long buried history literally unearths itself when the members of a disrespected and murdered leper colony return from the dead to come, in the fog, to kill anyone and everyone in their path.
Carpenter creates a wonderful sense of dread with all his tension and then the terror comes on hard once people start to die, once the fog knocks at each door and surrounds every little thing in sight. Pop this on for another spooky, stormy October night. Definitely will get you in a Halloween-y mood.
13) A Clockwork Orange (1971)
For a full review, click here.
I’ve got a sneaking suspicion most of you by now have seen Stanley Kubrick’s shattering dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange. I won’t bore with a recap of the plot. What I will say is this: Kubrick makes this story into a carnival of horrors. Perfect for any October evening, as the masks and lights and colours, the mayhem, the carnage of this film truly speak to Devil’s Night in many ways. Throw this on and get your fix of madness.
14) Livid (2011)
I know not everyone is into subtitled films, but when it comes to horror you’re seriously missing out if you only watch English language movies. So I opted to only include one foreign title on this year’s list.
Livid is a French film about a young woman who begins training as a live-in caregiver to an old woman in a virtually eternal coma; discovering she has some kind of fortune kept hidden in her massive estate, the young woman and her two friends try searching for it. But when they make it inside during the night, things start to get extremely strange for the intruders. They discover it is not mere money, nor jewels, which is the actual treasure in the old lady’s home, but rather something far more sinister.
This is one savagely macabre film at times. There are great elements of a thriller, as well as lots of gothic style stuff happening. I can’t think of a creepier flick to add on to the haunted house viewings already on the list; it may not reinvent the wheel, though, it spins one hell of a tale. Lots of scary stuff lurking in this one, fit for any Halloween celebration when you want something aside from the regular tired recommendations on other lists. Even on mine, this one stands out.
15) Feed (2005)
This is perhaps the weirdest of all the films on this list. Absolutely no way to truly describe it without a full-on description and I don’t want to ruin ANYTHING. So go in without a trailer, but I’ll try and give you a bit of a… taste.
Cross a gritty cop thriller with strange and deadly fetishism, you’ve got Feed: a law enforcement agent falling off the deep end, after too long exploring the savage and rampant sickness floating around the internet, and comes up against one of the most depraved serial killers he has ever known.
Have you ever maybe heard of ‘feeders’ or a similar term? These are men who enjoy feeding women; they like to see them gain weight, they love to watch them consume food and drink, it turns them on. Not sure about the psychology, but it is certainly something different. Well, take that fetish to a truly deadly length.
Put this in only if you’re ready to be tested. While there’s very little blood, barely any at all to speak of, this is still a damn nasty horror. Though, there’s lots of interesting stuff happening. Plus you get a weird and wild performance from Alex O’Loughlin.
16) Angel Heart (1987)
I always hear people talk talk talk about both Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke, yet there’s rarely ever a reference to the fabulous 1987 Alan Parker directed Angel Heart. Recently it went up on Netflix Canada, so I suppose more minds will end up falling into this one. There needs to be more recognition for this one. It’s almost not really a true horror, rather a twisty supernatural thriller more than anything. Above all, I find the performance of De Niro absolutely fascinating – one role out of his vast filmography I believe is different than the rest and also like the film itself doesn’t receive the credit which it deserves – and Mickey Rourke gives us a level-headed effort which gives his character, aptly named Harry Angel, a very real, very sensible place in an otherwise unreal filmic space.
If you’re craving something dark, macabre, dripping of the filth and sleaze of a New Orleans underbelly packed to the brim with voodoo, murder, and double crossing criminal types, this is the film for you. There are some wonderful themes in here which I find fit the Halloween season perfectly.
17) When a Stranger Calls (1979)
* For my full review of this movie’s terror – click here
There have been films before this (think: original & fantastic Black Christmas) and after which use the ‘killer calling from inside the house’ trope. Almost none better than 1979’s When a Stranger Calls.
Babysitting one night, young Jill Johnson is terrorized by a psychopath who kills the children she is meant to be looking after. Traumatized by the experience somehow she manages to go on and live her life normally. Then seven years later, the same madman comes back to haunt Jill again; now older, a little wiser, she must somehow survive her second brush with insanity.
The best part about this movie, for me, is the fact it replaces the masked or hidden killer and early on in the film we see the killer – we know who he is, in fact we’re treated to a good portion of the plot where the focus is him, his mind, his life or at least his attempt at trying to have one. So instead of seeing a maniac without any real reason behind him, the killer here – played by Tony Beckley in fine fashion – is not so much sympathetic, as much as he is utterly, scarily, and wildly human. That’s the scariness here: without a mask, we’re forced to watch this killer be himself, we’re forced to see who he is and deal with everything it implies. Instead of forcing our feelings of fear off on a masked slasher, our fear is right in our faces.
When you need a slasher but want something actually terrifying without the need for jump scares and all the modern bells/whistles, When a Stranger Calls is calling you: view this one and you’ll no doubt find yourself checking the empty, dark bedrooms before heading to bed on Halloween.
18) Hellions (2015)
* My full review is here
Only recently did this become available on iTunes, but what timing! This is a perfect viewing for Halloween; in fact, wait until the actual night, not just during October. This one is set on Halloween, it pushes the fears of masked unknowns roaming neighbourhoods on Halloween, and there is so much going on.
After discovering she’s pregnant, a young teenage girl finds herself home alone on Halloween, when a group of masked children lay siege to her house. Initially undecided about the child inside her, Devil’s Night will shape her decisions to come after coming face to face with pure evil in pint-size costume and form.
This is a unique movie and will not be for everyone. Director Bruce McDonald – a homegrown Canadian talent – used infrared cameras during the filming, which gives several extended sequences and a good bulk of the movie a pink-ish hue, with the whites, greens, and other colours becoming extremely vibrant. There’s an unbelievable Halloween feel through this technique, apparently it was meant to mirror the effect of the Blood Moon (the script set Halloween on such a lunar event). Not only that, the horror and the terror are all there, in spades, from the creepy creeps to insane moments of blood/gore.
You need a nice savage fix for Halloween? You’ve found the one. Support this one, support Canadian/independent film. Hopefully this will bring the fear, too.
19) Spring (2014)
* My full review is here
This is one of the best horrors I’ve seen in a few years, honestly. Up there with some other great titles. Even further than that, you don’t get too many horror-romance hybrids, other than the awful excuse for whatever you want to call it in Twilight. This film from indie pairing Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead is a true mix between Lovecraftian style horror and a dramatic romance movie set abroad.
When Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) flees to Italy from his home in the U.S, precipitated by the death of his ill mother, he is not prepared for anything that’s about to happen. First, it’s more of an exciting, exotic adventure to a new place on a whim. But then he meets a mysterious woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker) and his life heads into a spiral; down into love, down into something deeper, more dark than just love. Louise is not who Evan thinks she is and soon he’ll figure it all out.
Part of Spring is Lovecraftian as I’ve mentioned – you’ll figure out how on your own. There’s good horror with an eerie atmosphere of dread hanging over every last scene, even in the more beautiful bits. Part of Spring is also a touching character piece of a man sort of running away from himself, running away from even being human – having to live and love and let people go – when he meets a woman who changes everything. There’s a lot to enjoy here. You’ll get something romantic, in a strange sense, as well as a good dose of creature feature-like horror. Looking for an interesting twist on the horror genre? Definitely find this one and give it a go (decent price on iTunes), it’s a unique piece of film from two interesting filmmakers.
20) The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Ever see I Am Legend and just think to yourself: this would be way better if it was Vincent Price?
The Last Man on Earth is an all around better film than that mediocre bit of post-apocalyptica. Taken from the same source material – Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend – this 1960s era horror/science fiction classic sees Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, the titular last man alive. Or is he?
What I like about this is the subtlety. I mean, the Will Smith-starrer was in a post-apocalyptic landscape, yet still there’s this huge blockbuster style as if Michael Bay were sitting behind the wheel. Honestly, it’s just not right. Yet in The Last Man on Earth, we get a real quiet, desolate feeling from start to finish. Even better, I love the way the vampire-humans look and act in this, as opposed to a bunch of CGI’d zombie-like infected humanoids. To each their own, but this is a far spookier vision of Matheson’s original novel than its more recent incarnation. And who can’t love Vincent Price? Here he’s a little less hammy than usual, which I love anyways, though don’t kid yourself – there’s always ham with Vincent. Part of his charm. Most of all this is a seriously creepy picture of a decimated world roamed by a single man and hordes of vampiric humans. Want to get creeped out, put this on alone and let yourself be drawn into the world of this terrifying post-apocalyptic vision out of a 1954 novel from one of the great science fiction writers of the 20th century.
21) Candyman (1992)/ Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)
So what’s Halloween season without a couple double features? This is the first of three you’ll find in the last heap of this list.
Candyman is one of the first horror movies I remember seeing as a teenager which actually scared me bad enough to give me a nightmare. There’s something about Tony Todd’s performance, his voice and his demeanour all together that creeps the hell out of me. And the story itself, adapted into screenplay by director-writer Bernard Rose, is from Clive Barker originally titled “The Forbidden” out of Volume V from his Books of Blood. That in itself makes things interesting, but this is adapted well and the original story is just solid, so you can’t lose.
Basically this is an urban legend brought to life by the supernatural, as two women research a legend at Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, it actually comes into existence. The Candyman, long ago persecuted, begins to kill people and drive one of the women completely mad. The second film, subtitled Farewell to the Flesh, sees a family torn apart by the Candyman and a young woman become a target of his horrific longing.
I love Candyman, and I even love the sequel. Though, the first is still best. Part of it is Tony Todd, hands down. But apart from that, Bernard Rose does amazing stuff and creates a whole scary aesthetic, from the terror of the visuals to the creeping sound design and score. A scary, dark night is the right one for these two films. You should honestly watch them one after another in a double feature, they’re stellar and will chill you to the bone.
22) Black Death (2010)
Oh man, what a work of horror this is – set in medieval times, as the black plague is spreading, an English monk is tasked with heading to a remote village, alongside a knight and his crew of nasty outsiders, in order to figure out where the witchcraft originating the disease is hiding.
There’s sorcery and witchcraft, action involving medieval misfit bounty hunters; there’s Sean Bean being a bad ass; there are medieval zombie corpses; and much, much more.
What I love in this is the story, the plot, as well as the solid acting from Bean and Eddie Redmayne, along with others you’ll surely enjoy. Medieval times are ripe for horror and do not get used enough, at least not correctly. This film in particular, directed by Christopher Smith (Triangle, Severance, Creep), gets just about everything right for this savage period piece. Plenty of weird darkness happening, lots of bloody horror, and you’ll love the finale: it’s a god damn barn burner!
23) The Wicker Man (1973)
For a full review, click here.
Ever see a movie you’ll never forget? One that leaves a mark on you forever?
The Wicker Man is one of those for me. About 15 years ago, I saw this one very late at night and during the climax of the film was absolutely jarred. Stuck to the screen, what happened in the final moments really leapt out at me and latched on, never letting go. Every time I watch this, I can’t get it out of my mind for a good while afterwards.
I won’t say too much, just in case you’ve yet to see it, trust me – it is a really unique experience. With Christopher Lee playing an absolutely delightfully demented local leader, a sort of enigmatic and lord-like cult figure, you’re sure to find this unsettling. Give it some time. At first, and for a little bit, the movie might seem to be something quite unlike any horror you imagined. But once things start moving, the horror is evident underneath it all. Put this on for a real fall-style horror night. Maybe in the early evening, as the changed leaves are hanging in shadow, and the October weather outside seems delightful… this horror thriller, set in the Scottish countryside, will change all that.
24) Starry Eyes (2014)
* My full review is here
Never has the quest for fame ever been displayed so intensely and terrifying as it is in Starry Eyes. Following a young woman trying her best to break into Hollywood, or at least the outer fringes, the story takes us on an aspiring actress’ journey in the film world, which becomes more like a descent into the lower bowels of Hell.
This indie film was on my radar for a year or more before it came out, simply because the poster art was glorious and the synopsis looked to be pretty intriguing. Was I surprised, though! Most of all, amongst the horror and the insane body-horror coming out during the finale, Alex Essoe – who plays main character Sarah – cranks up the bar for indie film acting with her performance. There’s nothing else I can say without giving up too much. Go in without watching a trailer even and you’re going to see something unexpected. This will rock you. A good one for a group of friends, a pair, or solo; just let it grab you and the horror will blow you away.
25) Don’t Go in the House (1979)
For a full review, click here.
A lot of people will probably say this is a horrible attempt at the slasher sub-genre. Somewhere, though, I remember reading one of the best analyses of Don’t Go in the House, and it accurately described how this movie was almost the film metaphor of the death of the 1970s. I won’t go on too much more, just consider that while watching.
Simple pitch? This movie sees a young man, whose tortured childhood under a ruthless and sick mother who burned him (literally and figuratively), stalk women, bring them to his home, then trap them in a steel room downstairs where he’ll burn them alive.
Nasty enough for you? There’s lots of silliness here, no doubt whatsoever. But there is more to it, there is some kind of really palpable atmosphere here amongst everything else. With disco music and burning humans, there is certainly a bit of Halloween-y goodness happening in a good portion of scenes. Naturally, there is ’80s cheese, too.
An amazing flick to choose if you’re going to have a few people over to watch some movies. Have a laugh with this, but remember – keep in mind there may be more to it, no matter how low budget or whatever else you deem it the movie may be. Despite any of that, there’s lots of nasty horror here in slasher movie form to please your needs and wants this Halloween season.
26) Asylum Blackout a.k.a The Incident (2011)
* For a full review – click here
This one came out of nowhere for me. Usually I like to pride myself on keeping an ear to the ground for all sorts of horror; even the most diligent of us fanatics fall short some times, right?
Well Asylum Blackout, while deemed amateurish by others, is an awesomely creepy piece of horror.
After a power outage knocks the communications and electricity out at an asylum, the guards and staff members must band together in order to try and survive through the night, or at the least until some sort of help and hope arrives in the form of police. But the inmates overcome the main guard and some of the others, leaving only the staff, the young stoner musicians in the kitchen to face off against the violent and mentally unstable patients running amok in the corridors.
There’s lots of style in this one, but also some nice bits of substance. We get more character than you’d expect, though it isn’t exactly sprawling – still, it’s nice to get any when it comes to modern horror, so many movies opting only for scares and style without anything beneath as its foundation. With this movie, I found myself really falling into feeling for the guys in the kitchen, they weren’t all the smartest or all hugely stand-up guys, yet they were sympathetic characters and I was putting myself right in their shoes. The very last shot is a bit foolish and I wish the filmmakers opted for a different close. Other than this moment, I loved everything else.
Close to Halloween, when the mood is right, put on a copy of this one (available through Google Play at a great price to rent or buy). A group watch is definitely recommended; you’ll be talking to the characters, laughing at times, gasping at others. Hopefully this one will terrify you because it certainly pulled a number on me.
27) Murder Party (2007)
Admittedly I’m not huge on horror comedy. I love dark comedy in horror, and I do love comedies (obviously a horror hound). There’s just something about horror-comedy I’m not always game for, but time and time again there are movies which prove as exceptions – big time – to this self-imposed rule of mine.
One such film that many people I know haven’t yet seen, or even heard of, is Murder Party. This is a fantastic little indie horror-comedy from director-writer Jeremy Saulnier; you may have heard of his impressive indie revenge-thriller Blue Ruin, or perhaps the film I’m DYING TO SEE, his new Neo-Nazi versus punk band concoction Green Room.
Beginning with a nice, quiet guy who finds an invitation to a Murder Party on the street, this movie is full of hilariously hipsterized characters (who you’ll be aching to see perish), nasty horror effects done practically and wonderfully, and then there’s the main character’s journey which will make you laugh and cringe at times.
If you want a good movie for Halloween day/night, this is perfect! A great comedy with equal amounts of fun horror, this is not one you’ll regret spending time to watch. Lots of fun for the 31st here! Maybe even one to put on whilst the little trick or treaters make their way to and from your door.
28) Maniac (1980)/ Maniac (2012)
Another double feature, this time a horrific, savage opus – the 1980 William Lustig-directed, Joe Spinell-starring Maniac versus the Alexandre Aja-produced, Franck Khalfoun-directed 2012 remake. Honestly, I’m a huge fan of both, for different reasons.
The original is a character study in absolute depravity, focusing in on Spinell’s version of a real, raw, genuine maniac whose issues with women have turned into something absolutely awful. There’s something painful about this character, which Spinell brings across in such a clear way it almost hurts you to see him resorting to the murders he commits out in the night, stalking the city streets.
Then in the 2012 remake, there’s not just Elijah Wood doing a great job with a partly sympathetic but mostly vile and horrible character, Khalfoun further makes things interesting by employing the use of 1st-person P.O.V throughout the entire film. There’s something really creepy about finding ourselves directly behind the eyes of the killer, only stepping outside his immediate perspective in a few brief shots.
Each of these movies has its merits, but for me I’m a bigger fan of the 2012 version. Seriously. I bet I’ll piss off tons of so-called horror movie purists. Whatever. I haven’t the time or effort to pretend I care. I love Wood as the character, even more than Spinell whose creepiness is astounding – and he’s a good actor generally – there’s something in this new one that just gets to me further. I think Spinell lent himself to the role because of his natural appearance and also his acting talents, but Wood’s boy-nextdoor appearance countered with the maniac in him becomes something wild over the film’s runtime.
Want gore and depraved characters, plus really incredible practical makeup effects? You’ve come to the right place. Double feature these two and you’ll be set for a Halloween season night when full-on, balls out horror is knocking at your door.
* My full review of the 2012 remake is here
29) Shivers (1975)/ Rabid (1977)
This last double feature is from a favourite director of mine, a fellow Canadian – David Cronenberg. The master of body horror, a true auteur.
His 1975 film Shivers takes psychosexual horror to another plateau, as an apartment complex becomes overridden with zombie-like humans – not dead, these are humans with pulses. However, these living, breathing people are sex crazed, and they’re passing on a terrible virus, multiplying, over and over.
If there were ever a pre-It Follows classic concerning sexually transmitted disease – hell if there were ever a precursor to some of the epidemic films we see today – Shivers is one of the most significant out there. Word has it Dan O’Bannon saw this film and loved it, inspiring in part his ideas for Ridley Scott’s Alien four years later. You want to get terrified of sex and the human body? Shivers will get you and it will work its way under your skin, under your nails; it will get inside you.
Two years after Shivers, Cronenberg came back at it again with Rabid starring Marilyn Chambers – the story of a young woman whose experimental plastic surgery after an accident turns her into a unsatisfiable zombie-like creature, rabid, seeking out blood, and this soon becomes a city-wide infection, reaching far and wide.
Another foray into the epidemic sub-genre of horror, Cronenberg’s Rabid is a low budget, fierce piece of work that is very much a visceral experience. As is usual, this movie is all-out body horror right from the start and Cronenberg is right at home in this area.
I think if you’re looking for zombies this October/Halloween, forego all the typical stuff one night and opt for the David Cronenberg epidemic duo of Shivers and Rabid; a healthy meal of zombie-styled horror in a devilish, excellent Canadian wrapper.
My full review of Shivers is here.
30) May (2002)
For a full review, click here.
Lucky McKee attracted me immediately to his work with this modern reinterpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
May follows the young alienated titular woman whose only friend is a doll she’s had nearly her entire life; it helped her get through all the tough life moments, especially difficult for May with her lazy eye problem and distant nature. She has an obsession with hands and meets an interesting young guy whose love of all things weird draws her close. But after his rejection, May is determined that each person is horrible except for ONE SINGLE PART; or in this man’s case, two small parts. From there, her journey to find and create the perfect companion, the perfect friend and lover begins, and there is no telling how far May will go in order to secure a happy and fruitful relationship.
What I love about this? Everything. The acting, the plot, the writing, plus it has a great soundtrack to boot. Including a few costumes on Halloween, this is a perfect movie to spook you out, as well as make you laugh inappropriately a ton and feel awkward a little. What good horror doesn’t do those things? Okay, well not all make you laugh, but a real horror movie is absolutely going to make you feel uncomfortable at least once or twice. Dive in – this one is unique and a nice spin on an old story.
31) The Others (2001)
From the director of another fabulously chilling work of horror, Tesis, this is a stellar story of despair, ghosts, and haunted places. While you could say this is a haunted house style film, I think it’s more strictly about ghosts than an overall haunting. I say that for a particular reason, which I’m sure you’ll understand after watching.
The Others gives us a story of a reclusive family and their new caretakers, all of whom end up dealing with spooky presences all about the large estate on which they live. While the husband is off with the war presumably, the mother of the family looks after her children, doting on them, protecting at all costs. Once ghosts begin to all but leak from the very walls around them, the mother tries to discover exactly what is going on.
The performance from Nicole Kidman is solid, the music and atmosphere are all perfectly sinister and beyond scary with lots of suspense and tension. There’s nothing I can complain about here and it makes for some fine ghost story telling. The ending still surprises me now, even though I know it, simply because I find myself gripped by the plot and the aesthetic of the film overall just really works its magic. Perfect ghost film for an October night, certainly for Halloween when the night is dark and people are roaming the streets, sounds filtering through the windows in bits and pieces. This really has a fitting atmosphere for that type of evening.
I hope everyone found something worth watching off the list. If you’ve got any suggestions, I’m likely to have seen them but still want to hear what everyone else likes to watch for October and the Halloween season of fright.
Drop a comment if you want and I’d love to hear what you’re watching, as well as if you’ve been digging the movies here.
Happy Halloween to all, my friends!
Kristy. 2014. Directed by Oliver Blackburn. Screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski.
Starring Haley Bennett, Ashley Greene, Lucas Till, Chris Coy, Mike Seal, Lucius Falick, Erica Ash, James Ransone, Mathew St. Patrick, and Al Vicente. David Kirschner Productions/La Sienega Productions/Electric City Entertainment.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
There’s nothing absolutely unique to Kristy. I can’t say there’s anything I’d call overly innovative, honestly. Yet something about the film draws me in. I’ve seen it three times in total now. There’s nothing to dissect, nothing to unpack and pick apart, nothing to examine. But each time I viewed Kristy, something lingered in me about this horror movie I could never fully shake. At least not for a couple days.
People look at the movie and see it as cliche-ridden, predictable horror with situations we’ve seen a million times before. I’m not saying director Oliver Blackburn reinvented the wheel on the genre. Nor am I trying to claim Anthony Jaswinski’s script is revolutionary, it doesn’t take horror and turn a mirror in on itself or bring new light to the tropes of the genre, anything in that sense. Simply put, I find Kristy just a good old fashioned horror movie. The difference which makes me think it’s better than the rest? A kick ass lead character, who is female and who doesn’t merely survive on instinct, she wills her survival into existence. Then takes some more.
At college trying to live her own life, Justine (Haley Bennett) works scrubbing dishes while studying her ass off to get good grades. During Thanksgiving, her boyfriend Aaron (Lucas Till) heads off to spend time with his obviously rich family, as does her roommate Nicole (Erica Ash) at the very last minute when her father suddenly gets time off from a political campaign.
Virtually alone – except for the groundskeeper, a young man named Scott (James Ransone), and sparse security including the friendly Wayne (Mathew St. Patrick) – Justine finds herself walking the halls, listening to music, studying, and generally passing away time. Though, Nicole left behind her BMW offering it to Justine in case she needs to get away from campus.
When Justine takes the car out for a drive and stops at a convenience store, one nice gesture towards a girl named Violet (Ashley Greene), who rudely declines, turns into a night of absolute terror and a horrifyingly tense struggle for survival.
An immediate thing I noticed, then saw again more the next two times I saw the film, is how at the beginning of Kristy, the college campus has this beautiful, bright visual sense about it. Even while Justine finds herself alone across the entire college, there’s still this brightness everywhere she goes. Blackburn chooses to film much of everything in the first 15-20 minutes in this way, making the college and Justine’s life seem pretty relaxed. Along with that, there’s a pretty good little montage sequence where Justine goes through the motions, passing time swimming and bouncing around the lonely, empty halls with her headphones playing “Pumpin’ Blood” by NONONO as it bleeds out into the film’s soundtrack itself.
Then once Blackburn moves further into the screenplay, we start to get a mood shifter in terms of visuals. We see Justine go out at night, then things figuratively and literally get foggy. She drives through fog, almost like a barrier as she leaves the enclosed safety of the college campus gates into the real, terrifying world. You can almost look at it in the metaphorical sense: once you leave college/university, real life is there, real will fucking get you.
Because this is where Justine’s life changes, at the convenience store. This is also where the tone of Kristy links back to its grim opening sequence. Real life outside of the college campus clashes hard with Justine. Worst of all is the fact Justine herself is not the “Kristy” the antagonists are searching out to taunt, torture, and kill. She is not the rich type girl, but only drives her friend’s car (most likely a car her friend got from her parents). Funny enough, Nicole, the roommate with the BMW, is more the type Violet (Greene) and her crew are trying to find. There’s a tragic and scary irony in that. Especially considering the fact Justine even tries to befriend Violet by paying for the latter’s items at the store.
Passing through this point, the land of no return. Things get legitimately suspenseful, tense, and downright frightening at times moving forward. I love the interaction at the convenience store/gas station with Justine and Violet, then the clerk is thrown into the mix, as well. There’s great tension in that scene, which I found thick enough to bite. Great stuff and a well-written scene. This is the setup leading into the film’s real meaty bits.
A notably unsettling scene happens when Justine goes back to the dorm rooms at one point; as she goes by the wall of one room, unbeknownst to her, has all the pictures scratched up, specifically the eyes. I thought it was a brief and real eerie shot. This slowly ratcheted up the tension, adding to Justine’s fear without her even knowing.
In conjunction with creepy scenes like this one, I love the score composed by François-Eudes Chanfrault; his excellent work has included Alexandre Aja’s High Tension, Inside, and Vinyan. The amazing music goes along SO WELL in certain scenes that it’s hard to deny its effects. Moments when Justine finds her life threatened, when the danger is most real, the music swells and sort of throbs at you. In quieter moments the score lulls you in and captures you, the emotions onscreen jump into your head and into your chest. Chanfrault has a knack for incredible music and I think he is a definite asset here.
What really does it for me throughout Kristy‘s meagre 86 minute runtime (including the credits/post-credits scene) is the central performance of Haley Bennett as Justine. Not only her performance, I think Anthony Jaswinski’s screenplay has a great character in Justine. She’s a vulnerable, scared young woman in the beginning whose lonely Thanksgiving on campus turns into a nightmare. By the end of this psychologically daunting horror movie, I found myself almost fist pumping because of how kick-ass this woman had become; she had inside her, just like the intellectual side of herself coming out through class and study, this venomous and visceral side which was required in order to cast out these predators. They hunt her down, thinking she’s someone she is not, and she also becomes – in a sense – someone she is not in order to overcome their savagery. I think an important part of Kristy – not just why I like it – is the fact Justine starts off in a position of weakness, but really takes charge and becomes a tougher, stronger person after coming out the other side of a bloody, haunting situation. Justine reminds me of the Erin character from Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett’s You’re Next, yet without the same background, and in a sense a bit cooler.
This leads me to the fact I love the finale of the film, so incredibly much. Again, nothing innovative or absolutely fresh, I simply find it hits all the right notes and really becomes this visceral experience. With Justine, we walk through this hell-like evening, or more like run and fight, until she essentially snaps and becomes the hunter instead of prey. She takes on these murderous masked psychopaths and there’s this awesome quality to her redemptive scenes I find really powerful, in terms of horror. I think some might fin the first 40 minutes a little slow pace, which I personally don’t mind. To those viewers I say: hold in there. The next 44 minutes are pretty spectacular, in my opinion. This portion of Kristy truly grips me, as the action and horror get more and more intense, barreling towards a nice finish.
And make sure you check out the scene after the credits.
With some real amazing horror moments and a strong female lead in Haley Bennett, Kristy is a 4 out of 5 star film in my books. Tons of modern horror aims to be scary yet doesn’t hit the mark, as well as the fact we don’t often see a lot of horror movies where the lead female characters are anything but simple survivors, based on the merit/lost lives of others or a lot of lucky; Kristy is at times terrifying and always sees the character of Justine as someone who is willing to fight, to work, to really strive towards conquering the fear and obstacles surrounding her.
Check this out. Honestly, I think it’s worth the time, even if only for the final half hour. Plus I find the ending/post-credits scene intriguing with the idea from the beginning – of an online type of cult, people killing these “Kristy” substitutes in order to “kill god” as they put it. Very wild and weird and horror-ish fun.
There’s some great character in the screenplay, as well as genuine moments of horror and terror, in equal amounts. Maybe this is not for everyone. For me, it’s a movie I can watch over and over again obviously. Hopefully it might strike others in a similar way, chilling and thrilling to the end.
The Hills Have Eyes II. 2007. Directed by Martin Weisz. Written by Jonathan Craven & Wes Craven.
Starring Cécile Breccia, Michael Bailey Smith, Archie Kao, Jay Acovone, Jeff Kober, Philip Pavel, David Reynolds, Tyrell Kemlo, Lee Thompson Young, Danielle Alonso, Eric Edelstein, Jessica Stroup, Joseph Beddelem, Jacob Vargas, Ben Crowley, Michael McMillian, Reshad Strik, and Derek Mears. Dune Entertainment.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Funny, as much as I find myself a Wes Craven fan, I didn’t realize until watching this again while reviewing it that he wrote the screenplay with his son Jonathan Craven. I think it’s a slight touch better than Papa Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes Part II from 1985, which despite being a guilty pleasure of mine is still a horrid film; not in the right way, either. However, this version of The Hills Have Eyes II is still nothing great or special in any way, shape, or form. There’s little to enjoy.
I say that with a little sadness. Honestly, the original The Hills Have Eyes is a favourite horror classic of mine, as well as the fact I loved Alexandre Aja’s remake a tiny bit more even. So I expected, or more so I hoped, that maybe Aja would be involved. At least Craven was, though, his script is not very good.
When Martin Weisz was announced to direct, I’d actually anticipated something halfway decent. Personally, I am a big fan of his previous movie based on the real life case of Armin Meiwes – Rohtenburg a.k.a Grimm Love. That was a different and also horrific piece of horror mixed with drama. The real case is wild enough, but the presentation of a script written by T.S. Faull by Weisz makes things even more intense.
Unfortunately I don’t feel as if Weisz brought much, if anything, from the style he cultivated in Rohtenburg to add to this film. There are a few decently creepy moments, most of which come very early in, but there’s not enough of this or any solid script to make this into a decent movie. Rather, The Hills Have Eyes II is one of the worst scripts Wes Craven has had his hands on, and I’m left hoping Martin Weisz will recapture some of what he did with his previous film later on down the road.
Starting off we come to see how the mutants in the hills from the first film are holding a woman captive. Once she has birthed a child for them, she is killed. Afterwards, some scientists and members of the U.S Army are murdered by more mutants.
Cut to a group of National Guardsmen in training with their sergeant. They’re out on a mission resupplying scientists working in a camp in the desert, there from the U.S DOD doing surveillance; those same scientists from the beginning scenes. When a group of them head up into the hills after finding the camp abandoned, Napoleon (Michael McMillian) and Amber (Jessica Stroup) are left with the communications in punishment. In the hills, the soldiers find the mutilated bodies of the people they’re there to help. Back down near camp, Amber is attacked by one of the mutants who quickly runs off when Mickey (Reshad Strik) is returning to camp with a sprained ankle. But when Mickey gets hauled through a crack in the rocks, virtually eviscerated in one brutal pull, Amber and Napoleon realize there is something sinister at work.
Up on the mountain, everyone else is cut off from contact, and this gives the mutants plenty of things to do. What began as a routine re-up mission devolves into a fight for survival, as only a handful of the soldiers wind up alive and in good enough to shape to try and make it out of the hills alive.
Was there ANY need of such a disgustingly graphic opening sequence? I mean, I’m not saying the story is a bad idea. There’s no reason not to believe the hill mutant clan wouldn’t be kidnapping women in order to make babies. First of all, they’re mutants; they probably have no control over their impulses, whether to kill or to rape or whatever. Doesn’t surprise me. Second, they’re mostly concerned with survival. They kill to eat, so as primitive, basic humans – though mutated – they’re probably hardwired to try and procreate. They’re essentially cavemen.
But all that said, why show us right off the bat such an explicit birthing scene? Personally, I think there’s a way to be effective , then there’s this: hitting us over the head with gory nastiness immediately. It’s not even so much that it disgusted me – I’ve seen more than my fair share of gore and savage horror – I feel like it’s heavy handed. Even in the opening scene of the 2006 remake, there’s still brutality and a scary beginning. This one is a load of tripe.
I think had the Cravens decided to just go with the opening being the whole sequence where the National Guardsmen and the scientists from the U.S Department of Defense get attacked by the mutants, this movie would’ve opened much better. The way things start out here makes me think “Ew”, but not in the sense of being good for horror. It’s all shock without any substance.
Again later on in the film, there’s more mutant sex. This is something I’m really bothered by because there’s no need of it. At all. I am totally fine, as I said previously, with the plot having partly to do with the mutants in the hills carrying on their family, breeding, kidnapping women to do the deed. It’s nasty, but as a plot it’s understandable. But there’s no condoning having to show actual shots of a mutant raping a woman. Certainly there was no point to showing a GRAPHIC mutant baby birth at the very start, so it doesn’t surprise me that there was more useless shock horror down the line.
There’s a potentially creepy film in The Hills Have Eyes II. One of the big problems I had with Craven’s original 1985 sequel to his film was the fact there seemed to be a tenuous link to why everything was happening; from the dirtbike team to Ruby becoming Rachel, and so on. I like the idea of this movie as a premise – the whole National Guard angle and the DOD scientists in doing surveillance is good. Plus, I usually enjoy horror films that mix in a military storyline/action. However, with too much of the mutant sex being a focus and a much less defined atmosphere in comparison to Aja’s remake, both the Cravens and director Weisz fumble a solid opportunity to make a terrifying sequel.
There are a couple aspects I do like, honestly. To start, I did find a couple of the mutants and their makeup effects pretty awesome, as well as the fact they were unsettling. Derek Mears plays a mutant named Chameleon, whose ability to blend into his surroundings are obviously a perk for him. While it was different to see a mutant who has an ability, as opposed to merely a deformity or hideous appearance, I enjoyed it all the same. There’s an added bit of danger, obviously, when a cannibal killer can blend into rocks and walls.
Moreover, I found one of the mutants – the blind one – was a creeper. Very weird and scary! His look/face eminded me of one of the Cenobites from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and that’s always a good thing. The way he sniffed around everywhere in the darkness was terrible, in the best way possible.
So I have to say that while most of this movie is hugely disappointing, the mutants themselves and the makeup effects, their overall design, it was all pretty well executed. Doesn’t hurt that Greg Nicotero (who appeared as Cyst in Aja’s remake) and Howard Berger, along with a bunch of others from K.N.B EFX, were responsible for the makeup department, from the special effects to the hair to on-set makeup and design. These guys are classic. Even in shit films, I’m always pleased to see Berger/Nicotero & Co. in the credits because their work is usually pretty phenomenal. It’s no wonder they’ve become a staple in the horror movie business.
In the end, what hurts The Hills Have Eyes II most is that Jonathan/Wes Craven did not write a good script. I’d love to say this father-son team knocked one out of the park, because that’d be cool. Sadly, I cannot state anything so cool. The dialogue at times wasn’t too bad, yet most of the time I felt as if I was listening to a walking bunch of cliched U.S Army soldiers; the character of Crank especially made me want to punch holes in my eardrums. Even more damning is the fact that the characters themselves are pretty stupid. They make pitiful decisions. Now, I’m not one to criticize for little mistakes, or even the things people do when they’re scared – I’ve said more than once I put myself in the shoes of characters to try and feel their fear – but there’s no excuse for some of the behaviour these characters exhibit throughout the film.
What I did enjoy about the script was that Wes used little bits from his original sequel to throw in. Such as the whole hills location itself – in his first 1985 sequel, Craven had the mine shafts and all that happening. So here, there’s a much more elaborate version of that going on. Not sure if that was intentional or if the plot they wound up using simply lent itself to using the shafts, et cetera, but either way it’s one thing I liked about the film. There’s great atmosphere once down in the darkness there, as opposed to not much of anything going on before then.
Fun note – the shaft system was done by the same crew who worked on the excellent British horror The Descent, so no wonder the atmosphere and tone amped up once the film shifts to being mostly set down in the mine.
When it comes down to the nitty gritty, all the set pieces and makeup effects and interesting premises in the world do not an effective horror movie make. Although, I have to give The Hills Have Eyes II a 2 out of 5 star rating. I can’t deny there is some creepiness, from the suspenseful moments in the mine to the K.N.B makeup effects which made a couple new mutants look scary as hell.
But this Wes Craven script, written with his son Jonathan who has never written anything good honestly, is one if his worst. In fact, I’d almost say it is definitively his worst. I’d honestly put My Soul to Take, a near equally bad film, above this one; and that’s saying something! Mostly it saddens me because I hoped that with an absence of Alexandre Aja for the sequel to his remake Craven as screenwriter would make up for that. It did not, in any way.
My suggestion? Watch the original, or the remake, but this doesn’t have much to offer outside of some nicely executed effects and an eerie setting in the last half hour.
The Hills Have Eyes. 1977. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Steadman, Janus Blythe, Peter Locke, Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent, Suze Lanier-Bramlett, Dee Wallace, Brenda Marinoff, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, James Whitworth, Michael Berryman, and Lance Gordon. Blood Relations Co.
Unrated. 89 minutes.
★★★ (eOne DVD release)
I want to start off this review by talking solely about Wes Craven. It’s hard to pick a top director in horror for me because there are many different, talented individuals in the genre who have put out a ton of great work. But at the top of the list, you’ll always find Craven.
With his first feature in 1972, the now infamous The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven announced himself to the world as a young and angry filmmaker with not just balls, but with a vision. I truly think many of his movies can be looked at as more than just horror, they often have a bit of message buried deep down; sort of in the similar way George Romero instills his zombie films with a bit of political/social commentary from time to time.
He went on to do The Hills Have Eyes, but his career was only beginning to cook with gas around this time. Another 7 years in, he had movies like Deadly Blessing, Swamp Thing, and a much hated (but a movie I actually enjoy a bit) sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Then came A Nightmare on Elm Street, and from then on it was Master of Horror Wes Craven, not simply Wes Craven.
Also just to note, I’m a big fan of his movie The People Under The Stairs. If you feel like it, check out my review here. I’ve got a lot to say about it and I won’t take up your time any more here than I already am!
So needless to say, in regards to Wes, I love a bunch of his movies. Even despite what others might say and how they may feel, I’m a big fan of the first three Scream movies; the fourth wasn’t terrible or anything, just not my cup of tea. Most people I know hate the 3rd, sort of like the 2nd. Some I know don’t even like the very first one. For me, they came at a time when I was just on the verge of high school – the first came out when I was 11 years old. So I’m not sure, maybe nostalgia plays a part in it. But I still watch Scream at least a couple times a year, plus the other two usually get a view not long after.
Back to The Hills Have Eyes, though. This is one of those 1970s horror movies that hits you right in the gut. I know that Craven is a big fan of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, so there’s no surprise to me even the cinematography is a little similar. Above all, I think Craven probably meant bits of his film to be – at least in small part – an homage to Hooper’s movie. I don’t know, but it feels that way to me. Not at all saying Craven rips TCM off. This is its own beast. Comparisons probably come from a few of these minor points: 1) Carter family is out in their car/camper driving on a roadtrip, 2) they’re in an unfamiliar place, and, 3) a family (of sorts) descends upon them and terrorizes each one. Other than that I don’t see anything else similar, totally different stories. Each a great horror in its own right.
What The Hills Have Eyes has going for it is a genuinely dreadful atmosphere, in part through the cinematography and direction, as well as everything from the music by Don Peake to the locations Craven used while filming. A truly horrific movie that smacks of realism while also drawing in almost urban legend-like fears to make the audience experience the terror of the Carter family in a visceral fashion.
The Hills Have Eyes sees the Carter family on vacation – Big Bob (Russ Grieve) and his wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent) driving their car along with their teenage kids Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier); in the camper out back is the oldest daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace), her husband Doug (Martin Speer), and their baby Katie, as well as the dogs Beauty and Beast. At an old gas station, they stop and meet a man named Fred (John Steadman). He advises to keep on the main road, but the Carters further on end up running off the road and crashing the car. Once they’re stranded, Bob leaves for the gas station to find Fred and get help. At the same time, one of the dogs – Beauty – runs into the hills where someone attacks her. When Bobby finds Beauty’s body, torn up and bloody, he’s terrified, but falls and knocks himself out. Coming to, he’s afraid to scare his family.
Meanwhile, Big Bob witnesses Fred killed and hung in an outhouse by a crazed lunatic: a hideous looking man named Mars (Lance Gordon) hiding in shadows. Once all hell breaks loose, the rest of the unsuspecting Carter family lays in wait out in the darkening desert, unaware that Bob will not be returning.
But somebody will. And he’s bringing his brother.
I honestly love this film. Though, I do love the remake by director Alexandre Aja a tiny bit more. Shoot me, whatever.
Reason I say this is because one thing I do enjoy more in the original is the scene involving Big Bob Carter (Grieve) and the old man at the gas station, Fred (Steadman). First of all, their acting is solid. Each of them holds their own. What I like most is how Fred lays out a little bit of the history about the people in the hills; he makes mention of whacking the “devil man”, as he calls him, right in the face with a tire iron. Not that it’s anything earth shattering, I just like how later when we get our first good look at Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth) there’s that noticeable, jagged split in his forehead. Mostly, I think John Steadman does a fantastic job with the short supporting role of Fred; it’s brief, but the story he tells Big Bob at the gas station is creepy, sort of unsettling. An awesome bit of drama with the horror to follow.
Much of what I think appeals to a lot of horror fans, like myself, is the fact Craven gives the film such a low budget style and it effectively brings us into its realism. Sure, the story is out there. At the same time, parts of it are so very raw and realistic that it’s hard to deny how scary The Hills Have Eyes can be at times.
For instance, one real perfect scene in terms of being unsettling is when Bobby (Robert Houston) first hears a bunch of noise out in the bushes in the dark. It’s an eerie few moments. The way the camera tightens in on his face, the darkness around him. We see little glimpses of Papa Jupiter making noise out in the desert bushes.
But then the worst of all happens, as Bobby goes back to the camper where he finds himself locked out. Rattling at the door, Craven gives a peek inside where Pluto (the amazing horror actor Michael Berryman) is waiting with his hand right by the handle. The Carter women – Ethel and Brenda – sleeping soundly. Highly effective scene, and the way in which it’s presented really makes it work. Craven served as editor on this one, so I love some of the techniques he used. In my mind, if he’d chosen to let Bobby go on and wake up Doug/Lynne, then went back to show Pluto inside, this would’ve been far less shocking. It’s the way we watch the camera almost move through the door, Craven cutting from Bobby outside, to see Pluto’s hand, and then the camera slowly crawls up to reveal his face. Amazing example of how editing can do all the work in terms of an effective creep-out moment.
Another part of why this movie is a hit amongst horror hounds has to do with the viciousness of it all. This came even a year before John Carpenter’s Halloween, but films like Peeping Tom, Psycho to a certain extent, and most certainly the fantastic Black Christmas had already begun the slasher trend; even if it was in its early stages at that point. What The Hills Have Eyes does is take away the slasher gimmick. In turn, it tries to aim for that real life feel, as I’d mentioned before. I’m glad Craven didn’t go with everything he’d initially planned, as it was meant to be a modernized version of Sawney Bean. Apparently it would’ve been nearly 20 years into the future, and honestly it all sounds like a real mess.
With the film we know today, Craven brought a sense of reality to it all. I think Alexandre Aja did a good job updating things and including other real life situations into the remake. But here, there’s very much a gritty, visceral atmosphere throughout the entire movie. It’s a savagely emotional horror, as we’re watching this normal family on a roadtrip together become fodder for a bunch of cannibalistic serial killers living out in the desert. And I think that’s another aspect of what takes The Hills Have Eyes away from the slasher sub-genre more than it already is – the whole family is involved. Not only do some of them get killed, it isn’t one sole survivor left as is so often the case in the typical slasher horror movie; Doug, Brenda, and Bobby are the three last bastions of civilization left out in the desert once their loved ones are killed and the baby is stolen. I find that a neat aspect. Particularly in 1977, I think though Craven went on to do some slasher stuff he did a nice job of not doing the same old thing everyone else was doing. Even some of the nasty stuff in Black Christmas, a favourite of mine, doesn’t compare to the brutality of Craven. Furthermore, while we do get a bit of explicit terror here, there is an excellent use of shadow in all the locations in which Craven films, adding a mysteriously creepy quality. Just goes to show also what you can do on a budget. Not everything in horror requires tons and tons of cash being thrown into special effects and whatever else; part of it requires innovation and a keen eye for natural lighting, as seems to be the case here.
Producer Peter Locke does a good commentary on the DVD release from eOne Entertainment, alongside director-writer Wes Craven. Pretty enlightening stuff. Also, it’s fun to hear these two guys watch the movie and be captivated by it. Funny because so many artists, filmmakers particularly, don’t actually like to sit and watch their stuff much. Or at least that seems to be the gist of opinions and even more so with actors. Craven and Locke both admit at one point they forgot to say much because they were sucked in watching; Locke had recently watched it again to prepare, Craven says he hasn’t watched the film in years.
Moreover, I think Craven puts a point on what I’d said earlier about his films. One line from Mars has him say “I’m in yer out!”, as he gnaws on Big Bob’s forearm and rants at a dead, burned Bob. Chilling scene. But what Craven says is that this is the white man’s ultimate fear, that the outsiders are going to get in and then they’ll be ousted. So again, I think behind even some of Craven’s most outrageous horror there are poignant pieces of knowledge. Maybe they don’t always come across perfectly, especially for those who aren’t deeply into horror. However, I don’t think you can deny it once you look at it long enough and think about what Craven says. Of course you can always make your own subjective meaning out of movies, but this one really does fit. Aja picks up on this aspect of the original and amplifies it during the remake, which is a reason why I enjoyed it even a little more.
Finally, the acting is all solid. From Michael Berryman, always a treasure onscreen in horror, to Papa Jupiter played by James Whitworth who is extremely unsettling each time we see him. Most of all, I thought Susan Lanier as Brenda did an impressive job with her character. As Pete Locke says on the DVD commentary, you actually feel for her situation and you feel that she’s beyond broken, it’s sadness you get out of her in so many scenes. The one scene with Susan Lanier and Virginia Vincent, as her mother Ethel who is all but fully dead, is heartbreaking and amazing all at once.
All over, I think the acting helps this film’s script, as the actors all put in their good work to help everything off the page come alive.
Overall, I love this movie and it is most certainly a 4 out of 5 star horror. Some of the acting could’ve been a little better, but most is excellent. My biggest problem is with a bit of the costuming and the makeup. Naturally, the budget was less than a quarter million dollars, which in terms of movies is a very low budget independent project. So I can’t knock them terribly. All the same, it still could’ve been better.
Either way the little problems I have with the movie don’t take away from its greatness. This is a classic of terrifying horror cinema. Wes Craven has created so many memorable horror characters and films that it’s sometimes impossible to believe it. There’s seemingly no end to it at times. The Hills Have Eyes, no matter if it’s one of his first, will always be one of the best Craven movies and I can watch it again and again. Solid horror with creepy performances and an unsettling premise.
Check it out if you’ve never seen it, I always recommend it as a classic horror from the late ’70s. The DVD from eOne is nothing spectacular, though, it does contain the commentary which I enjoyed thoroughly. I’d love to pick it up on Blu ray soon to see if there are any further features. I’d love to see some of what was cut because it sounds vicious and pretty wild horror fun!