Friday, October 28, 2016

Horror Movie Recommendations 2016: The Best of Netflix and New Standouts

If you're looking for entertaining Halloween watching for the weekend before Halloween, I've got you covered! I wanted to go through lists of horror movies with the most buzz in the community and watch them all before writing but it looks like the write-up of those ones will have to wait until next year! I did get through some excellent juicy ones that may not be on all the lists of "greats" for the year but still come highly recommended from this horror junkie.

The Witch: The best new horror I've seen since It Follows, I watched it twice in theaters. The director as spent a lifetime obsessed with 17th century American and poured himself into ensuring all of the details were accurate, lifting directly from diaries and documents from the era and consulting museums and experts in the field for authenticity. Borrowing from silent film greats with a dash of Kubrick, Robert Eggers shows great promise with this complex debut. It's a psychological slow burn that drips malice from every inch with a lot to say about the suffocating power of religion and even feminism with our put-upon young lead. Even non-horror fans can appreciate the desaturated colors and stunning art direction and this one.

The Awakening: This one was touching, and even romantic. A very well directed and acted film with a fascinating storyline and very sympathetic characters. The less I reveal here, the better, but I give this one a hearty recommendation. There were a few creepy moments but I'd say even those who hate horror can watch this one without too much fear.

From the Awakening

Housebound: I'm glad my roommate recommended this one because it's something I would have overlooked. It's hard to find even a half-decent, solid horror movie. Most of them are not scary in the slightest with horrendous character development and scripting, they're quick cash-grabs. House Hunting looks like another forgettable horror film on the outside but it's engaging and tense with great scares and characters. It has an earnest look and believability and is now the second horror movie after Alice Sweet Alice to even make me shed a couple tears! Just a good solid horror/thriller, it doesn't break the mold and that's fine, sometimes you just want to see a film get the formula right.

Stonehearst Asylum: This one was another surprising film for me. The Poe adaptation could have been a classic for the ages if it would have kept going with the initially hinted direction, dissecting the vulnerability of those in asylums centuries before. You don't even need a plot or angle there, it was simply horrific up until the 1960s and you could argue, even now. The sane could be committed and end up insane from the lethal cocktail of medications, lobotomies and/or shock therapy treatments. Women, believed to be prone to "hysteria" ( I'd be "hysteric" too if I was being carried away against my will to be locked up for just being a female with an "attitude" or something like that) were especially vulnerable. Rant aside, this film touches on all of those things with sensitivity but takes a more stereotypical, predicable, "Hollywood" approach to it. The characters are so enjoyable that the formulaic approach works and still keeps you engaged.

From the Cabinet of Dr. Caligiri

The Visit: There is some gross-out criiiinge in this one, be warned! But it was a return to good filmmaking for Shyamalan. Half black comedy, half horror, just a good, fun film for the season.

The Taking of Deborah Logan: This one gave me a bad dream, it's been a while since a horror film's done that for me! It had to make it on the list just for that! Like The Visit, it's a "found-footage" film involving the elderly and the sad/horror combination of diseases like Alzheimer's disease. Paranormal Activity created a new rash of imitators and most found-footage horror is forgettable and poorly executed, but this is one of the few low budget ones that came out since Paranormal to get the suspense factor right.

Oculus: Oculus is another solid horror film with great storytelling. There are some GLARING plot holes with this one but I enjoyed the relationship between the siblings and the way the story of their family drama unfolds. The ghost design in this is really well done, quite creepy! I didn't even include a screen-cap, it made my heart stop when I was looking up an example, so we'll just stick with the shot of the girl below!

From The Oculus

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligiri: Credited along with Nosfertatu for starting the horror genre and German Expressionism movement in film, it's a legitimately enjoyable watch despite it's age. Tim Burton fans will note that this film is responsible for influencing basically his entire aesthetic (Edward Scissorhand's design is nearly identical to Caligiri's somnambulist from this film) and I loved finally watching the movie that created my favorite director's style. The surreal, dream-like set-design alone makes this a feast for the creative's eye, it's like watching a gorgeous live-action painting. You can see the cubism and modern art movement reflected in each of the unique backdrops. The plot was cutting-edge for the era, too. It's a reflection of pessimistic nihilism left in Europe (especially inflation-plagued Germany) after the utter horror of World War I with a fascinating historical context to research. With the fascinating history and unique look, it's a must-watch for any history, horror, or art lover. 

Black Mirror: Season II of this Twilight Zone-style series is back! With morality plays about technology and the future horrors it can create, or hell, what it already has created, it's one of the most clever horror anthologies out there. A millennial Tales From the Crypt that's less silly and more psycological.

From Stranger Things

Stranger Things: Gorgeous cinematography and set design, it's a near-perfect pastiche of a particular era of horror film and novel creation with nods to dozens of movies and books. The logo alone evokes Stephen King classics from the 1980s. Stranger Things' plot is mostly a mash-up of Poltergeist and ET with dashes of ample 80s-90s pop culture.

Here's where I have to vent on the series though. I find this show to be WAY overrated. From the moment I saw the hand-drawn promotional art of the series, done in a perfect imitation of the style of Lucas/Spielberg films, I felt manipulated. While it does, via visuals alone (albeit heartrendingly gorgeous ones), tug at the heart's nostalgia strings, it feels hollow. Horror at large, like SciFi, is a medium often used to reflect societal fears. The horror in A Nightmare on Elm Street (visually referenced in one scene) stems from the helpless impotence and vulnerability of adolescence, for instance, or horrifying side-affects of vigilante justice; those 80s horror had depth that belied the simple surface premise. There are plenty of opportunities to dig deeper with this series that feel overlooked, like it was too busy trying to be a perfect copy of other, better, creations. As a jaded former-marketer I see a show a bit too deliberately trying to evoke a sweet-spot of nostalgia that trendy right now for branding. I still recommend it, but I feel like the massive fanfare and deeper discussions on the "psycological" aspects of it I see popping up everywhere are unwarranted. It's just a simple show with cute kids and a bit of creep factor that's fun to watch this season; a great "popcorn" show. Watch it because it's very pretty and polished, sometimes that's good enough.

Honorable Mention, Nightbreed: Now here's a weird little cult classic! Directed by Clive Barker (creator of the immortal classic Hellraiser) studio interference turned this into an odd blend of horror with the action style of those 1989-1990 superhero movies. The Danny Elfman score in particular makes me feel like I'm watching a spiritual partner to Darkman or Batman. Not scary with bizarre writing decisions, it's still a great watch from lovers of kitsch or 80s-90s nostalgia. I love the monster designs in this.

 * * * 

Horror Flick Recommendations: October 2012 // Vintage Picks/Amazing Set Design | October 2013 // Classics on Netflix //  My Top 13 Unique and Scary Films for Halloween //2015 Recommendations

What are your thoughts? Any classics new or old to recommend for me this year? I'd love to hear them.
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  1. I haven't been into horror films since being traumatized by Nightmare on Elm Street and not being able to sleep for a week as a child! However The Cabinet of Dr. Caligiri is up my alley since I love classics, even the horror films. Cinematography was amazing back then. Now there is too much CGI. My husband and I are watching Stranger Things and just finished the first season. Luckily I don't find it creepy at all. Maybe I have outgrown my fears and need to start watching scary things again!

    1. Stranger Things isn't truly a horror, it merely evokes them, but doesn't work up any suspense or have any real "scares". The Cabinet of Dr. Caligiri is GORGEOUS, the ominous pointy-everything set designs really set an unsettling mood without any true fear factor.

      It's funny, I grew up watching Freddy from such a young age he didn't scare me too much. I'd have a little fear he'd appear like he did in the tub scene in the first movie but otherwise watched his films like bedtimes stories, haha.

  2. I looooooved Stranger Things! One of my favorite scary movies is The Descent. And I also like the Saw series.

    1. The Descent was so claustrophobic it had me cringing on the couch, that was a good one!

  3. As a big fan of horror movie, I highly approve this post:D I've seen most of these, but must admit that even though I started watching The Witch, I didn't watch the whole thing. I must admit though that I was distracted, but I'll give it another go. And I haven't seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligiri. Am adding that to my to-watch list!
    I think the Insidious series is by far my fave horror series, followed by Nightmare on Elm Street. I also really like the Resident Evil series, and the first Conjuring.

    1. Yay another horror nerd :D I *love* the Resident Evil games but can't stomach the movies, too much action and no horror. The Witch moves slow and it's hard to understand what they're saying with the authentically reproduced accents but it's worth another try, the meat of what it's getting at with fear of women's beauty and "power" is excellent, it's made to 100% accurately reproduce early American folklore as it was written from diaries. Let me know how you like that and Caligiri :) The first Conjuring was awesome, I'm excited to try the 2nd one. Just saw Annabelle last night and it kind of scared me, surprisingly, but demon/devil stuff is my weakness.

  4. So scary. But great movie picks!

    1. Thanks :) This time I didn't have to go through and see too many terrifying screen captures on the web, haha.

  5. wow what a list..
    i used to watch a ton of horror movies growing up.. i stopped when the horror movies became less about the scares and more about the gore.. and now I haven;t watched one in so long.. we don't watch a lot of movies in general.. but thanks for the list.. might just watch one.

    1. Yeah the gore fests are my least favorite, slow psycological movies are the ones that get me. All the ones of this list fit the bill.

  6. thanks for this list, i love being creeped out this time of year. naturally, i'm watching american horror story, are you? it just keeps getting better and better this season.

    1. I don't have cable, but can't wait to watch the new one. The Hotel one was 3rd best, glad they seem to be getting back to form with the writing. :)

  7. Stranger Things has been on my To Watch list for so long! I do need to get around to finally watching it. Happy Halloween!

    1. It's pretty, overrated but very pretty and fun to watch, haha. :)


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  9. Thank you for sharing the list! Gotta save it for this Halloween.


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