Eddie Brock and his new pal Venom aren't just a Marvel duo, they represent a lot of our (post)modern-day fears.
Leigh Whannell's UPGRADE is a kick ass horror thrill ride. It's also a deep, dark rumination on technological singularity.
Xavier Gens delivers a political piece of brutal body horror with FRONTIER(S)
Clive Barker's 1987 horror classic touches on Freud, subverts Christian iconography, & gets naaaasty.
An underrated sequel that rarely gets its due, and tackles some terrifying ideas with its story.
Cronenberg and his body horror transform Vincent Price's original into remake heaven, as man's reach exceeds his grasp in this nasty modern classic.
One woman's rough night out becomes a somehow even worse nightmare than just an assault, when she discovers she's pregnant. With... something.
A found footage, ecological horror, creature feature mash from Barry Levinson; one of the best of the sub-genre in recent years.
Shivers. 1975. Directed & Written by David Cronenberg.
Starring Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele, Ronald Mlodzik, Barry Baldaro, Camil Ducharme, Hanna Poznanska, Wally Martin, Vlasta Vrana, Silvie Debois, Charles Perley, & Al Rochman. Cinépix/DAL Productions/Canadian Film Development Corporation.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Even if I love Alien to death and think it’s a masterpiece of cinema, the fact remains that Dan O’Bannon definitely saw David Cronenberg’s Shivers a.k.a They Came From Within. And not just that, he loved it. This was the original piece of dreadful science-fiction-horror that preyed upon an isolated environment, high up above everything else, a nearly self-contained atmosphere where a predator on the inside starts to take out the residents, one by one. Just like Weyland-Yutani were terraforming and the government or whoever were planning to use the Xenomorphs for sinister purpose, the creatures of Shivers were created for a purpose but then that purpose went terribly awry. Is it a coincidence then that the residential apartment complex where this film is set happens to be named Starliner? I’m not accusing O’Bannon of anything. He’s already been accused, anyways. I enjoy the little similarities because it shows the legacy and intrigue of Cronenberg. He is an important artist who dares to ask questions about human nature, the social effects of technology and medicine and more, as well as so many other things. Only his third feature, Shivers asks of us what the price of advancement is in terms of our social lives, as a whole in society. The more we isolate ourselves, jamming our life into smaller spaces so that we can cram more people in around us, the further at risk we put ourselves of becoming something entirely other. In that case, there is no progress, no evolution. We only evolve into something mindless, swallowed whole by a concern for economic and social status, consumed by our consumption. Through his trademark body horror Cronenberg explores the terrifying downfall of a society within society inside the Starliner apartment building, and much like J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, as well as the recent Ben Wheatley adaptation, this film depicts how a self-contained environment can eat itself alive
The big horror here is Cronenberg’s use of phallic, slug-like creatures to represent an invasion of otherness. Again, it is man-made. But it is other, a parasite. What we know know as typical Cronenberg comes here through those slugs squirming their way into the human body. Of course it happens many ways. However, the most eerie and prominent in this screenplay is sexual intercourse. These parasites drive the hosts sex crazy. One of the first women we see infected attacks a man and yells, terrifyingly enough: “I‘m hungry. Hungry for love!” Later, the most disturbing moment for me is when a family of three that were earlier stuck in an elevator are now infected, and they tackle a man; the little girl kisses him on the lips with her bloody mouth. This one scene really gets to me, as it is creepy anyways, but then with the girl kissing the man, the blood on her, the family all gone raving mad. It’s a sight to behold. Otherwise, Cronenberg does give us a few graphically pukeworthy practical effects, as the slugs slip out of mouths, flop out onto clear umbrellas leaving yucky streaks, one even slips its way up from a bathtub drain and between the legs of an unsuspecting woman (precursor to Craven’s famous bathtub scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street). So many effective, bloody little moments.
Amongst everything else, the symbolism of Cronenberg’s Shivers is what makes it a worthy and enduring piece of Canadian cinema. While there’s the invasion of otherness and becoming something else, there are more elements at play. The whole sexual angle of people just trying to ravish everyone, gone mental from lust, this comes to represent how the close proximity to the others in these buildings, jamming everybody together no matter if it’s high class suites or what is a recipe for social disaster. Essentially, it is the idea of assimilation, the conformity to a group norm and a way of life that’s accepted as singular. Because they’re not attacking each other like madmen and madwomen, they collectively seek out more people to pass the parasite onto. So it’s like this roaming group of social power, these parasitic citizens of the Starliner apartment complex gradually spreading their diseased love around until finally everybody has conformed, they all fit perfectly in their little boxed apartments(/compartments).
Also, if you want to go deeper, the idea of all these people living in a deluxe apartment complex sort of quarantined off from the rest of society can serve as a statement about how the upper class is sort of an incestuous group of people that perpetuate a system of disease amongst themselves by remaining sectioned away in their own little world. Not everybody here is big time rich or anything. But it’s a suburban residential building, so we’re certainly not talking about a rough neighbourhood. So the way these people descend into a madness of orgy and violence is a comment on how these people mingle only with their own kind, and anyone from outside – such as the man who worked with Dr. Hobbes, the original one guilt of scientific hubris by inventing the sex slugs – ends up killed. The new people, they’re simply indoctrinated and likewise infected with the parasitic, aphrodisiac slugs. So these types of cut-off suburban environments within societies only begets more isolation, in turn more madness.
That climactic scene where the Starliner’s own doctor, Roger St. Luc, who’d been fighting against the parasitic invasion this whole time finds himself being crowded and mauled in the pool with all the residents is a doozy. It is the epitome of the anxieties of the suburban social life, closed and boxed in, stuck into the cookie cutter frame with all the other mindless, sex-crazed, consumerist zombies. Honestly, there are few scenes in a film which get to me as deeply and have resonated as long-lasting as this one did. From the first time I saw this film about 12 years ago or so, it stuck. And watching it again now, especially where the kiss lands on St. Luc, similar to how the frame slows down on it like with the little girl earlier, the impact is just as weighty.
There are obviously flaws, as this is a low budget picture and also it was one of David Cronenberg’s first trio of feature films ever. With Shivers, he began to explore the physiological body horror that went on to become his trademark, and here his interest in the social life of humans started to really take off. In a disturbing, poignant fashion. Initially dismissed as completely useless, particularly after the CFDC and others were not happy about its content, Shivers has gone on to be better understood, also more appreciated by certain people. By no means perfect it has a unique charm. Moreover, it is effective body horror with plenty to please even some seasoned veterans of the genre.
Cronenberg is certainly king in the realm of body horror. Always. Forever.
Videodrome. 1983. Directed & Written by David Cronenberg.
Starring James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner, Reiner Schwarz, David Bolt, Lally Cadeau, Henry Gomez, Harvey Chao, David Tsubouchi, & Kay Hawtrey. Canadian Film Development Corporation/Famous Players/Filmplan International/Guardian Trust Company/Victor Solnicki Productions.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
The films of David Cronenberg are wonderful metaphors for the modern world. He often seems to navigate our brain waves, collectively as a society. His screenplays examine the fears and paranoia of modern people, taking us away from the classical film perspective on science fiction and horror. Perhaps single-handedly he gave birth to the body horror genre. While many people after him tried attaining the same level of horror on a physiological level, none have ever been able to match both his disturbing gruesomeness, nor his sophistication as a writer. Others might say Cronenberg is not nearly as good of a writer as he is a director. However, I completely disagree. Even his first novel, Consumed, is a buffet of well-written madness.
But above all his work, Videodrome may reign supreme. Definitely the most hotly debated film of his catalogue, up there with eXistenZ. But its implications are some of the most interesting, some of the realest and most unnerving of all the stories he’s chosen to tell. Inspired by the teachings of Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, Cronenberg crafted this tale of futuristic media gone insane to dive headlong into how media affects us, its purpose, as well as why our connection to media seems to have become so visceral overall as a society. Offering no answers, only a vision of what may come to pass someday – looking more likely as the years roll on – Videodrome shows us a world of our making should we continue a dangerous relationship with media, its various mediums, the images it puts into our brains.
Max Renn (James Woods) is a small-time cable man, running CIVIC-TV which deals in a lot of softcore pornography and violent material. He searches out the best, sleaziest content in order to satisfy his viewers. He wants something groundbreaking. CIVIC-TV’s satellite operator Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) then shows him a program called Videodrome, seemingly broadcast from somewhere in Asia, which is a show without plot, senseless torture and murder in a bare clay-like chamber inflicted upon a struggling victim.
From there his life becomes more complicated. After meeting Nick Brand (Deborah Harry), a psychiatrist and radio host who also happens to engage in BDSM play, things get even more murky. He comes in contact with Professor Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley) and also a man named Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson), both of whom expose him to very terrifying new aspects of reality.
No longer will the things you watch on television be on television, in that they will no longer be fake. They will be an authentic, real experience. You’ll watch everything on a television screen. Because everything will be television. It will all be real. No more are there then shows or films, real life is media. Media is real life. Our minds will become so synonymous with media in its many forms that there’ll be no need to tune in on a box in your living room, as the technology will literally be us; the human body. Such is the large fleshy slit, the media orifice which Max Renn sprouts later on in the film – a VHS tape is inserted directly inside him, as there isn’t any middle equipment to separate flesh from objects.
Even further, media will influence is, as it already does. We see this very clearly at one point early on when Renn receives his secretary at his place; he believes to have hit her, seeing it lifelike and raw. Although, nothing like it has happened. He even sees himself switching from his secretary to Nicki. And like Renn, whose body ingests a gun and makes it a part of his bodily makeup, this influence of media will become a part of us, ingrained in our memories, in our touch – “Television is reality, and reality is less than television,” just as Brian O’Blivion tells us. Similar to how The Brood concerned a manifestation, a physical and living manifestation of rage, Videodrome is a body horror in regards to the infiltration of media into our minds, as well as our bodies.
One thing, though, which must be remembered – this is a first-person narrative. We see as Max sees. So, even while things seem as they do from O’Blivion’s perspective, the madness and the hallucinatory body horror is a part of Max’s delusion. All these things before are still true, in a sense, as they’re part of the way media has ultimately influenced him. Through an elaborate plot, Renn becomes a tool of violence after his exposure to so much sex and violence. It gradually grips him tight until he’s seemingly a part of some grand war between different factions of a two-sided conflict over media and its proper use.
So all the metaphorical bits and pieces of Videodrome are great. Even better are the fascinating practical effects, courtesy of designer Rick Baker – one of the legendary effects artists in the movie business. Here, he helps Cronenberg realize the terror of this media affected world in which lives the screenplay. There are so many that it’s hard to touch on them all. Some of the best then. One favourite is when Renn is sitting on his couch, he slowly starts to itch at a sore spot on his lower stomach. Until finally it’s an open, gaping, vagina-like orifice, and then his gun gets lost in it. Later, after he manages to get hold of the gun inside him, he pulls it out and the things grafts into his hand; or at least, that’s what Max sees anyways. Often people will talk about the television screen extending out. My favourite is later when Renn is shot in the chest and stomach, then we cut to a television with its screen looking like Renn’s body, blood oozing from bullet wounds. Such a great effect. Of course the nasty death of Convex is a rough one, shockingly well executed. Baker is truly one of a dying breed, those who are capable of bringing to life horror with their hands and making it real. The Criterion release has lots of nice stuff on the effects and everything else, so that’s a highly recommended purchase for those who are fans of this film.
Added to the effects, Howard Shore, longtime collaborator of Cronenberg, provides us with an eerie score that has lots of synthesizers, as usual. Also there are these organ pieces, which casts everything in such an ominous tone. What I enjoy about this is how the film is a modern horror, but Shore infuses it with this old school, classic horror feel using those specific organ compositions. It’s a real mindfuck, in a sense. As usual, Shore adds his solid punch to Cronenberg’s hypnotic, twisted images, and the film is all the better for it.
James Woods does a fantastic job as Max Renn. He is so confident and sure of himself at the start. As time goes by, Renn devolves into a paranoid man, more and more. Until almost coming full circle, as he embraces “the new flesh” and starts to take matters into his own hands, then he is confident once more in a new sense. The charisma of Woods works well with the beginning of Renn’s character arc. He’s capable of playing those edgy, crazy sort of characters, so the evolution of Max becomes an interesting thing to see.
Along with Woods, Debbie Harry is awesome here. She plays a disturbing character, but everything from her look to demeanour fits Nicki appropriately. Her eerie calmness throughout some of the more vicious moments is definitely unsettling. Also, she sort of plays Nicki like this blank canvas, a veritable open book upon which violence is written, and she becomes this kind of muse for Renn, in a macabre way. Her and Woods have chemistry together that’s dark and dangerous, which serves their characters’ relationship well.
Cronenberg is not for everybody. He is not the sort of science fiction or horror that anybody will pick up and just get into. Certainly not for date movies, unless you’ve got a really cool partner like yourself. But Videodrome particularly is probably Cronenberg’s best work. It is visceral, filled with explicitly graphic violence, body horror, lots of sexualized violence. Yet every last drop of it has a purpose. This is a metaphorical, metaphysical story of our relationship with media. So strap in, take a ride with this one. Maybe you’ll think twice about watching those clips of beheadings on the dark side of the web next time.
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!
Clown. 2014. Directed by Jon Watts. Screenplay by Christopher D. Ford & Jon Watts.
Starring Peter Stormare, Eli Roth, Laura Allen, Graham Reznick, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano, Andy Powers, John MacDonald, Chuck Shamata, Sarah Scheffer, Emily Burley, Matthew Stefiuk, Allen Altman, and Robert Reynolds. Cross Creek Pictures/PS 260/Vertebra Films/Zed Filmworks. Rated R. 100 minutes. Drama/Horror
For some, clowns as they are simply frighten. Others, such as myself, don’t really find clowns that scary to begin with, unless it’s Tim Curry’s Pennywise from It. Mostly I think people have a problem with the painted face, the hiding of the true self; something dishonest and creepy they see in a clown hiding themselves behind a weird, some times sad or happy face and trying to make others laugh supposedly.
What’s interesting about Jon Watts’ Clown – through a ballsy move it came to be produced by Eli Roth and the Weinsteins due to the filmmakers putting out a fake trailer with Roth’s name on it – is that the film tries to take the clown into a mythological realm. All the while grounding things in a very physical realm with a shade of David Cronenberg influence coming, as the clown takes on aspects of body horror.
From the director of Cop Car with Kevin Bacon comes a glimpse into a world of clown horror many might not have wanted in the first place. Me? I dig it. So fucking hard you wouldn’t even believe. Despite the few problems I have with the film, Clown is appropriately scary, brutish, and unnerving where it counts, making this one hell of a surprise horror movie I’d not anticipated to take me on the ride it ended offering up.
When Jack’s (Christian Distefano) parents face the possible disappointment of their boy after a clown cancels on the party, his real estate agent father Kent (Andy Powers) finds a clown suit at one of the houses which he looks after. Dressing up in the costume, he entertains the party full of children. However, afterwards the suit doesn’t seem to come off.
Kent tries everything, even attempts to cut it off to no avail, until it leads him to the suit’s previous owner Herbert Karlsson (the ever interesting Peter Stormare). Not allowing himself to believe the suit may be something far more sinister than simply the costume of a clown, Kent fights off the grim realization that not being able to take it off is only the beginning.
Right off the bat, one of the only things I’m not overly thrilled by in this film is the cinematography. There are a several times, specific scenes, which looked gorgeously horrific. A lot of other scenes feel very basic, or generic I should say, as if reflecting not indie film but daytime television. Not to say it’s all bad, certainly not. I just think a film like this could’ve used a more steady atmosphere. The tone of the film works really well, from beginning to end, as both campy and also real dark. But the atmosphere itself is unbalanced and if Watts had crafted the scenes with an overall better aesthetic, one holding through the entire time, I truly believe this would’ve been an amazing horror movie. It’s still damn good, but there’s a degree of wasted potential I feel slipped past Watts and the crew.
Another problem I had is the score. Once more, I wholeheartedly feel this is another aspect which could’ve benefited the film, yet they instead chose to go subpar. There’s a very Goosebumps feel in one scene I remember vividly, as Kent (Powers) is driving in the car with Karlsson (Stormare), and it just felt not even campy; it was an embarrassing scene, honestly, which would’ve become full of tension and suspense had the look and the music been different, in turn working together differently.
These aspects together, or apart, don’t ruin Clown for me. I’m able to look at a film and see the parts I don’t like, while (hopefully; depending on how bad it gets) also finding things which really thrill me. There’s plenty in this horror movie I find effective in other ways, despite the few flawed pieces I’ve already mentioned so far.
On to what I do like, and even love.
The Cronenberg body horror influence comes into play early on and it’s a big part of why I love this movie. Starting in the beginning, I already found Kent dressed as a clown highly creepy. The pasty faced makeup, the pale costuming, it’s all unsettling to see honestly. Like I said, I’m not even scared of clowns, not at all in the slightest. But something about the costume alone strikes a deep, weird chord in me.
The fear further sets into my bones once Kent finds himself going through the body horror motions, the clown costume literally consuming him and beginning him to consume the flesh and blood of children. To watch Kent basically deteriorate, mentally and physically, it’s all very haunting. His body changes with every passing day he spends in the suit – or as we discover THE SKIN – of a clown. Bringing in the mythological side of things introduced with the Karlsson character, the clown transformation becomes something of pure nightmares, an unadulterated trip and fall into terrifying madness.
Makeup effects are a huge thing here. Not only is the transformation itself stunningly creepy and nasty in many scenes, there are bits of blood and gore to enjoy as the sick horror hounds we are proudly. For instance, when Kent tries to blow his brains out, it’s sickeningly tragic and a nasty little treat: his brains eject from the back of his head in multicoloured rainbow, which I found equally funny and disturbing all at once. Really grim, but so effectively wild and brutal.
As Kent continually gets worse and worse physically, his face just crumbling into an eternal clown face of agony and monstrosity and pain, I found myself marvelling at the makeup work. It’s honestly something to behold! Even the damn poster for this film is creepy as all hell. There’s plenty to be said for this aspect of the film and I think without such expert makeup work, as well as the practical special effects, Clown wouldn’t have come off so deliciously vicious.
Funny enough, for all the heavy handed bits (I love those too), this movie does pack in a degree of subtlety. Like all the child death happening, not that there’s an abundance but it does happen. I think Watts could’ve easily went the route of shock horror, intentionally killing off children in nasty ways to make the clown figure seem even worse than it already came across. In opposition, Watts goes for a better technique in many of the scenes. My favourite is when Kent’s wife comes to find him, holed up in the motel: as she leads him away to the car, shutting the door, we get a glimpse of the bones of a child, picked near clean, a young boy we’d seen interact with Ken earlier. This could have been presented as a vicious moment, yet Watts prefers to withhold a bit, at least until later on. Once things move further, especially towards the end, things do get slightly more graphic. It’s the building up of the tension and the subtlety at first which I find a great touch, and certainly it pays off by the end of the film.
Even with some gaping flaws, I still find Clown a 4 star film. Not perfect by any means, Jon Watts really throws a ton into this film and makes it worth our while. I wanted better music, a much different score than ended up in the finished product, and also hoped to have a better aesthetic cultivated around the creepy subject matter. Regardless, this is a solid horror and it takes the fear of clowns to an entirely new level! The mix of body horror here helps Watts take a mediocre horror and instil it with an almost epic quality. Ignore the few problems and I found myself a new cult classic in the making. Guaranteed this will at least chill your blood once or twice, even if only in terms of the clown makeup and Kent’s bodily deterioration into a clown out of the most phobic person’s worst nightmare.
Beware the painted face and the fake happy smile of the clown! It could be a mythological beast waiting to emerge, to feast on children.