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.