Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Horror Movie Picks this Halloween: The Best New Picks and Nostalgic Retro Vibes

All year I watch the worst in horror to unearth the best for you, I am the hero you don't deserve; I am Batman! This year I have a delectable selection. Each film is rich in thematic elements AND artful buffets for the eyes. These movies mock the technology of "now" or construct a "no-time" fantasy decade that reminds us that horror is inescapable in the past, present and future. These movies warn us of the danger of underestimating someone due to gender, or take us back to days where just existing in your newly pubescent body, with all it's hormonal changes, was scary. None of these picks kept me up half the night like my first pick from last year, these shouldn't even be particularly nightmare educing, but they're all exemplary examples of the genre.

It Follows 

The horror community was abuzz with rave reviews for It Follows, all for good reason! It Follows is so good that it makes me sad, depressed that there's just not enough films of its caliber in the genre. It Follows borrows its score and visual style from master directors of the genre, John Carpenter in particular, but ends up with a feel all its own. There's a fair bit of resemblance to the dreamy, no-determinate-decade style David Lynch used in his magnum opus, Blue Velvet, the vouyerism and paranoid environment evokes Hitcock's best works (Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo) and the still arty shots recall Ingar Burgman. This is a horror movie that looks like an art film.

There's vouyerism subtext, not unlike Hitcock's Rear Window.

The director deliberately uses blends elements from decades past, present and future (yes, there's a futuristic E-reader that doesn't exist in real life in this film) to create a world that looks like everyone's childhood. There's wallpaper and furniture from the 50s and 60s, cars and fashions from the 70s and 80s, but the characters use smart phones. This blurring creates a sentimental nostalgic vibe that's appropriate for the themes: fear of growing up, fear of death; that aging and death are things always following- and you can never avoid them. I appreciate the general avoidance of movie cliques. It Follows trusts the audience to understand themes without spelling things out for us explicitly, leaving some things up for debate, and others in the backdrop as subtext. Throw in various talking points to ponder, for example, the meaning behind the terrifying apparitions that appear and the order in which they appear has obvious significance that the director doesn't clarify.

With real scares, mounting tension, thoughtful themes and an INCREDIBLE old school synthesizer score by a video game music producer (my fav!) and you have the best horror movie to come out in years!

Ex Machina 

Ex Machina has been described as neo-Kubrick, but for it's slights, I'd call it Kubrick-light. That's still a hell of a lot of praise for a movie by a brand new director! Ex Machina is a Scifi Horror and a mystery story with a stark look and rich atmosphere. An awkward young programmer is sent to an eccentric billionaire's minimalist, isolated estate in the Alaskan Wilderness for an important robotics experiment. Through a series of interviews he has to determine whether or not a hauntingly beautiful (of course!) "female" robot is a true Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The visual buffet is formidable! Look at those colors. This movie is SO good!

Ex Machina's plot and writing can be predictable and clique, I craved more mystery and subtely, but that's my only gripe. The interviews with the AI are brilliantly shot and played. Her design is striking, simultaneously alluring and eerily alien. Choosing trained ballerina Alicia Vikander to portray the robot was brilliant casting, using her highly developed sense of movement she creates a graceful, mesmerizing blend of girl and delicate machine. You can't take your eyes off of her every time she's on the screen. The supporting cast is also excellent, our mad scientist villain is equally fascinating, our lead, though frustratingly naive, is sympathetic.

The themes of technology vs. man, the age of singularity and/or the next mechanical evolution of man pre-dates the industrial revolution. History's first recorded epic (Gilgamesh) had the same theme. This message is in Ex Machina, but isn't the heart of it. Ex Machina is a mystery and a power struggle between three characters working to outwit each other. My favorite theme in Ex Machina is the feminist subtext. Director Alex Garland included feminism in famous scripts he wrote: Dredd (covered here) and 28 Days Later. Both It Follows and Ex Machina discuss the misguided "pure" intentions of "The White Knight" character. These characters appear selfless and noble, usually the underdog, working to save the fair lady, but that's just the think, she's usually fair (attractive) and the actions are normally for the end-goal of "winning" the woman. This doesn't make you pure evil, but it makes you just as much of a discriminator as a "bad guy" who's blatant about his intentions.

Feminist rant aside, this a gorgeously shot, spellbinding film with clear still shots that make you think. Still waters run deep.

Lost Boys 

Lost Boys is light on plot and nil on scares (unless your a toddler? infant? embryo?) but makes up for it with bright, gaudy cinematography. Searing reds, blue fog, swooping flying shots, expertly employed slow-mo; this movie employs every MTV filmmaker trick to comprise one of the most beautiful horror films you will ever witness. Joel Schulmaker (music video alumni, director of the entertaining Batman Forever and the abysmal Batman and Robin) acts like a kid in a candy store with this one and takes a "kiddie" horror movie to another level with laughs, high style, and some of the most photogenic 20-somethings playing teens even committed to celluloid.

Visually striking. Blues, Reds, Spotlights, all used for expert dramatic affect. Photogenic half-dressed twenty-somethings everywhere doesn't hurt, either. 

I don't think it's merely my childhood memories of this movie that gives me nostalgia pangs while viewing. It's deliberately constructed to invoke memories of childhood shenanigans. The universe is ever-so-slightly off kilter from reality. It takes place in a tiny beach town with the biggest population of pretty teenagers in the world. (The movie explicitly says the city has the highest murder rate in the world, but then, how the HELL are there so MANY people left to keep killing?) And the Lost Boys title really fits, Santa Carla is like Neverland, complete with an underground gaggle of teenagers that can never grow-up. It would have been interesting if the movie would have explored older brother Michael's horrorific ordeal because it was a fresh angle, but as it is, this movie has a little of everything. Laughs, awe-inspiring beauty, and a mysterious aura. It's a horror classic for a reason.

Also, best soundtrack in horror or perhaps in both the horror, teen, and kid movie genre combined. Thou shall not cry...

Ginger Snaps 

I love horror movies because they're allegories for things we're afraid of as a society. It Follows was about aging, changing, and death, that things we can't avoid are always following; the uncertain future and the horrors that could be there. Ginger Snaps is another horror movie about growing up, this time dealing with puberty in particular. Again, Ginger Snaps is funny, sad, and gripping while avoiding cliques. Extra points for it being a story about the relationship between two sisters that doesn't involve cat fights, jealousy, or romantic interests. This is a unique horror film with a lot of empathy for the female puberty experience (John Fawcett also directed Xena: Warrior Princess so you guessed it, feminist director) and I give him a lot of kudos for it.

Watch it, you'll laugh and you'll probably cry, too! (I think to this day though, the only horror to make me cry- and the two people watching it with me- was Alice Sweet Alice. Covered here.)


We're looking at the horror of female puberty again with yet another quirky teen-horror film. Teeth isn't trying to be scary, it's going for an intentional B Horror movie vibe and weaves teen angst, coming-of-age drama  and black comedy with the horror notes beautifully. I love the world they've made here, the desaturated any-place, any-time America look to it reminds me of It Follows, but Teeth's world is slightly kitschier. There are some sharp barbs against abstinence-only education and the general American fear of the female reproductive system that I adore! Jess Weixler as Dawn is the glue that holds this film together, you need a lead that you can empathize with for all the elements of this film to work and Jess is pitch-perfect for the role. Watch Teeth if you want a unique horror watching experience with equal parts over-the-top B Horror laughs, smart social commentary, and pathos.

Black Mirror

Black Mirror is a British Science Fiction Horror anthology series, each episode is a complete short story dealing with humanity's relationship with modern technology, each a short allegory for the dangers of over-reliance on modern convenience. The stories are a terrifying warning about dystopian future possibilities if we keep going on our current path of automation. It's good enough to be mentioned in the same sentence as The Twilight Zone, which had similar themes and stories!

It's a satire of popular culture, selfies, and smart phones, what's not to love? Put down your phones and live, kids!

 * * * 

I could go on with recs forever but this is this year's picks, there will be time to go over the classics another year!

Horror Flick Recommendations: October 2012 // Vintage Picks/Amazing Set Design | October 2013 // Classics on Netflix // 

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