I've been thinking of compiling list of some great, underrated, underseen horror movies for Halloween for the longest time. But I never got around to it. This year, before October is over, I decided on accomplishing this task, even if it takes my precious weekend or two. So without further a do:
Pontypool (2008) - McDonald
Pontypool gets played more than any other film in my household. A virus in the language is making people get stuck in the loop and turning them violent. It has great, always watchable Stephen McHattie (poor man's Peter Weller or vice versa) as Grant Mazzy, a redneck shockjock in Pontypool, some snowy north nowhere up in Ontario, holed up in his radio station with his producer Sidney (McHattie's real life partner Lisa Houle) and their young assistant. They have to figure out how to stop the outbreak before hordes of infected break in to the station. Snappy dialog, claustrophobic setting and plenty of great humor, Pontypool is a great example of what can be achieved with very little. It's so much fun!
Wolfen (1981) - Wadleigh
A surprisingly elegant urban legend film. Drawing a parallel btwn gentrification and territorial war, Wolfen is a very well done atmospheric supernatural horror. A lot of great 80s actors- Al Finney (cop), Tom Noonan (zoologist), Gregory Hines (coroner), young Diane Venora(looking like a brunette nastassja kinski and not annoying for a change), and Edward James Olmos (sexy Native American construction worker) all take parts in the plot with a strong environmental message. It also has a lot of great visual details and gritty NY settings. The Bronx looked like a war zone back then, victim of years of neglect, drugs and landlords intentionally burning down tenement buildings for insurance money. And there are spectacular shots of Manhattan skyline from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. With lots of dusk and morning shots, New York looks all very empty and lonely. And how they managed to wrangle all these real wolves in Battery Park is anyone's guess. Pretty awesome movie.
Mulberry St (2006) - Mickle
Nowadays I find surprises and originality in low budget horror movies more often than not. I hate movies which I can guess where it's going within 5 minutes. Just like this year's some of my favorites, Mulberry Street surprised me. It is shot in such a way even snobs would find pleasing: natural lights, minimal showyness and meandering tracking shots. Unknown actors look like they came off the set of a new Carlos Reygadas movie with a dash of New York ugly realism. And they are all very good.
Mulberry St concerns a group of working class families in a tenement house about to get evicted because of a big time developer. Rats are gone crazy and start attacking people and turning them into a ravenous rat zombies! Sounds ludicrous I know and the sappy ending was disappointing but it has a lot in it that you don't see in movies much these days. I recommend this.
As Above, So Below (2014) - Dowdle
The concept of As Above, So Below poses a metaphorical quandary- dig deep and you will find a personal hell, deeper still then, you will find your way out. All the genre trappings and stupidities aside (a token black dude, attractive 20 something professionals with multiple Ph.Ds, the Philosopher's Stone, etc.), the film is an effective and creepy horror thanks largely to its narrow, snug, claustrophobia inducing underground tunnel setting.
Phase IV (1974) - Bass
The planets' unusual alignment in the solar system causes ants in New Mexico desert to gather collective intelligence and advance their territories, killing off all the other animals around them. From a shiny, teched-out bio-dome, Dr. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport, sort of workingman's James Mason) and his reluctant, number inclined assistant James (Michael Murphy) are trying to gather information on these super ants. Hubbs is a determined man and he will stop at nothing, even if it means sacrificing other humans around him. And soon they find that they are no match for these pesky creatures.
After being (accidentally) orphaned, a young, horse-riding, luminous country girl (Lynne Frederick) from the nearby ranch, also becomes marooned inside the dome and under attack.
Phase IV is a fascinating film. It's like Jaws but instead of one shark, you got thousands of ants trying to outsmart you. With effective extreme closeups and unexpectedly gorgeous visuals and the 70s pseudo science wtf-ness, it is a thoroughly enjoyable film.
Parasomnia (2008) - Malone
A creepy 90s throwback of a movie in terms of tone and look, Parasomnia is an all together a different, fresh horror film compared with the current, too-clever-for-its own-good horror trend. While visiting his friend at the hospital, art student Danny falls for Laura (Cherilyn Wilson), a virginal sleeping beauty who suffers from a medical condition which makes her sleep away most of her life, only waking up for short period. Determined to 'save' her, Danny sneaks her out of the hospital into his pad, only to find out that she is under the spell of mass murderer and mesmerist Volpe, who is chained and gagged in the same hospital she's been staying at. Bloody murders are happening around Danny and Laura even attacks him in her sleep state. And cops are looking for Laura and the murderer. Danny has only one way to save Laura, kill Volpe!
Part Nightmare on Elm St., part deranged Tim Burton movie charting almost Clive Barker territory, Parasomnia is a totally above average horror/fantasy flick. Willam Malone's imagination is up there with early Bernard Rose (Paper House, Candy Man) in my book. Oh, horror great Jeffrey Combs shows up as a cop.
Starry Eyes (2014) - Kolsch, Widmyer
Perhaps the best satire on Hollywood since Mulholland Dr. Alex Essoe kills it as Sarah, an aspiring actress dreaming a big break while working at Tatertots (fictional equivalent of Hooters) and sharing a bungalow apartment with other twenty something dreamers who spend their time talking about making it near the pool. It's a life of daily humiliations and heartbreaks. Lanky and awkward, Sarah suffers from anxiety attacks where she distorts her long body and pulls her hair out. She auditions for a mysterious horror project, Silver Scream. The audition doesn't go well, but a scary lady who was at the audition witnessing Sarah's fit in the bathroom gives her a second chance. She has a meeting with a sleazy, old producer of the project. He wants her to bare it all, body and soul. He wants her to go all the way and she gets scared and runs away.
Starry Eyes is part body horror, part devil worshiping cult and part boulevard of broken dreams movie. Essoe's pretty amazing in a demanding role with unusual vulnerability and ferocity. She is our new Barbara Steele. A superb horror.
Eddie, The Sleepwalking Cannibal (2012) - Rodriguez
A once famous Danish painter Lars (Thure Lindhardt) gets a job in some snowy art college in a small town Canada. His intention is pure - he wants to teach and maybe start working on a new project ten years after his initial success in a tranquil, solitary environment. The town's suspicious inhabitants are hostile and the college folks are eager to use him as a savior as the school is in need of cash. In order to make good with the folks at college, he agrees to take care of Eddie, a big mute manchild whose aunt had been a sole funder for the school. There is one problem though. Eddie has a tendency to sleepwalk in his underwear and eat small animals in the woods.
Lars finds his new friend's appalling habit but also compelled by the carnage the sleepwalker leaves behind. He finds an inspiration for blood and gore for his new painting, just like he broke out in the art scene ten years ago after experiencing a catastrophic accident. In order to pump out new paintings, he needs to encourage Eddie to sleepwalk and ...kill. The great Stephen McHatty and his Pontypool co-star Georgina Reilly make an appearance. Another fun,wry horror comedy from Canada.
Triangle(2009) - Smith
Jess (Melissa George) is having a bad day. She is invited to take a day trip with a group of people on a yacht by Greg who frequents the restaurant she works at. But by the time she gets to the harbor, she is exhausted by taking care of her autistic son at home. Not long after they set sail, a freaky electrical storm capsizes the boat, the crew gets on board of a giant, empty ocean liner that appears out of nowhere. For Jess, everything seems so familiar. She is experiencing nightmarish deja vu.
A talented Brit Chris Smith (Creep, Black Death) directs this tightly done mindfuck of a movie, reminiscent of Time Crimes and Memento. The logic and moral of the movie are highly questionable if you think about it too hard, but while watching it, it's great shameless fun. Aussie George is fast becoming my favorite scream queen, ever since her appearance in Mulholland Dr. as the freaky 'it' girl.
Goodnight Mommy (2014) - Franz, Fiala
As far as creepy twins movies go, Goodnight Mommy tops it all. Impeccably executed and acted, this Austrian chiller rubs shoulders with Funny Games on cringy inducing level. It is no surprise then that the film is directed by the wife and the nephew of Ulrich Seidl. It's quite an achievement what they pulled out from the young real twin brothers Lukas and Elias Schwarz.
We are introduced to preteen twins, Lukas and Elias, playing in the corn field, then near the lake. Colors are lush and vibrant you can almost smell the warm Summer surroundings. Something dark and sinister is hiding just around the corner. You can feel it. Then there is mom (brave Susan Wuest), whose face is bandaged like a mummy. She is cold and distant and barks orders at Elias and doesn't seem to acknowledge Lukas's presence. It becomes pretty clear that Lukas doesn't really exist and that something terrible has happened before. But there is scarcely any dialog for the first half of the film. They are in the hiding in the ultra modern house in the country, away from Vienna. Lukas is feeding his brother some unspeakable thoughts: our mother isn't really our mother. We need to find out where our mother is from that woman who is not her. From then on, Goodnight Mommy slowly slips into very dark, dark territory.
Franz and Fiala really know how to build tension without the help of music or dialog. Goodnight Mommy is quite a feat for visual storytelling. Images, shots and editing matters. Not quite formalist approach of Seidl but the images have power in this film.