Summer is always a rough season. Summer combined with the Corona virus lockdown is almost unbearable, but being stuck inside doesn’t have to be torture. I found these five low budget gems, definitely better than expected, that should satisfy your horror movie cravings.
We Summon the Darkness (2019) Service: Netflix
“There’s a lotta evil out there.”
For anyone’s who has ever worn a leather vest over a jean jacket, sported big feathered hair, or been bullied for listening to Ozzy or Slayer, all over the misguided belief that heavy metal is Satan’s music for devil worshippers, this one’s for you. Set in the 80s, this low-key thriller about three victims falling prey to a murderous cult with diabolical intentions isn’t particularly scary or gory, but it definitely harkens back to those old glossy B slashers that the studios used to churn out. The movie stars a gaggle of Hollywood’s brightest teen stars, led by Alexandra Daddario, and Johnny Knoxville, surprisingly right at home, playing a smarmy televangelist. The energy is high and acting is decent, honestly though, absolutely nothing else stands out here. Both the plot and the twists are totally predictable, it’s a little hard to tell if that’s by design or not. If I was one of the filmmakers, I’d get all meta and say, ‘oh yeah, it was supposed to be that way.’ People really enjoy homages, and stickin two giant middle fingers up to the real evil in the world, those big greedy corporate churches, for lying to the world about great music, using the lord’s name in vain, and besmirching religion. That, plus a bitchin’ soundtrack, and heavy metal couture, so 80s, you can almost smell the AquaNet, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.
Spring (2014) Service: Shudder
“I gotta make sure you’re the kinda crazy I can deal with.”
There aren’t too many well-made horror romances out there in the world, but this movie is in top ten. Spring, the story of grieving young man who finds love with a mysterious woman, while on a vacation in Italy, is just as refreshing as its name sounds. It’s simply a beautiful movie, everything from the strange Lovecraftian story to the incredible cinematography, and the dark, creepy suspense to the blossoming love between two strangers. What makes the film work, besides getting lost in charming scenery of Southern Italy, is the chemistry between the leads Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker, it’s sweet, like saccharine, yet, definitely filled with a touch of danger and mystique. Their romance moves a little fast and even seems unrealistic, but if you factor in love at first sight (hey, it can happen), and remember the vulnerability of a lonely, grieving, inexperienced young man, it becomes real easy to understand why he would be attracted to an alluring, beautiful, mystical 2000 year old creature. It’s almost sad to watch her toy with him so effortlessly, then again, the boy is as impulsive as he is lost. A violent episode in the film’s beginning shows he’s far from a perfect hero and they might just be morally matched. As for the girl and her “condition”, well, you’ll just have to go watch the movie to see if her intentions are pure or not.
Ghost Stories (2017) Service: Hulu
“Things are not always as they seem.”
This movie about a skeptical professor and paranormal debunker is a cleverly disguised anthology from IFC Midnight, turns out to be one of the scariest movies that I’ve seen in a long time. Triple threat writer-director Andy Nyman stars as the wry skeptic investigating the disappearance of his hero mentor. Once he finds him, he is then tasked with looking into the old man’s three most disturbing cases, which brings the professor on a terrifying journey of self-discovery. Nyman, along with co-creator Jeremy Dyson based their script off their hit theater show of the same name. The writing, cinematography and performances here are all phenomenal, in particular, Martin Freeman as a haunted banker, and in a mystery role, that I won’t give away. Ghost Stories makes good work of jump scares and sports some deep Hammer vibes, paying homage to numerous horror films, so it’s not inventing the wheel or anything, just making really good use of the tools from the tool box. Sometimes, that’s all a proper horror film needs.
One Cut of the Dead (2017) Service: Shudder (Japanese subtitles)
“One take, no cuts. With one camera from start to finish.”
Shin’ichiro Ueda’s brilliant feature debut is a bit of movie inception. The movie starts off as a seriously cheesy low-budget zombie movie about an indie film crew filming a zombie movie in an abandoned warehouse, when suddenly, they’re attacked by real zombies, much to the director’s delight. If you’re still watching by the time the credits roll about 37 minutes in, yes, you read that right, boy, are you in for a treat! As you’re sitting there wondering ‘what the hell was that?’ a new movie starts. Well, sort of, it’s a flashback, and all good things to those who wait. One Cut of the Dead isn’t really a cheesy low-budget zombie film, it’s a hilarious meta-satirical comedy about filmmaking, including the backstage antics of producing live television. There are a ton of references to zombie movies and lots of gore and screaming, of course, but, the real prize here is the storytelling. One Cut features a strong message about the collaborative filmmaking process, and the resourcefulness, courage and heart it takes to be in the entertainment business. I guarantee, by the third act, you’ll forget all about those 37 minutes wasted in the beginning and cheer on the film crew’s spirited efforts to make their zombie movie.
Blood Quantum (2019) Service: Shudder
“Every one of those motherf****** is a time bomb.”
Blood Quantum is essentially zombies on a modern-day reservation. You get all the blood-thirsty ravaging undead and pensive natives struggling to survive day-to-day, while reconciling their anger, resentment, and fears. Writer-director Jeff Barnaby channels his inner Romero and delivers biting social commentary on real life native troubles by drawing parallels to surviving in the zombie apocalypse, thus, immediately making it a better than average zombie story. Life on the reservation hasn’t improved, but it hasn’t necessarily deteriorated either. The white man is still trying to kill us. Same shit, different millennia. A little closer to the heart, there’s nice family drama subplot involving a wayward son named Lysol, wonderfully played by Kiowa Gordon. Lysol is one complex dude. He’s angry and alluring, righteous, and terrifying, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he represents a lot of young native men across the North America. Sadly, in a film filled with quirky interesting characters, Lysol is one of the few fleshed out characters. Dropped plot points involving back stories is just one of tiny problems that all add up over time, keeping the film from being truly great. I read director Barnaby wore several post production hats to ensure he told the story he wanted to tell, but I can’t help but wonder what the film could have been, if only it had a bigger budget and better editing. Despite its obvious flaws, this is a solid horror movie with nice cinematography, comical one-liners, ranging from cheesy to endearing, and plenty of zombie action and bloody carnage.
Happy September! School is back in session, summer is winding down, and that recent holiday in the sun is now a distant memory. Everyone knows vacations can sometimes be more stressful than relaxing. Between the airlines losing luggage and hotel rooms not looking anything like the brochure, to pricey tourist traps or flat out being robbed, the reality of exotic trips not living up to their expectations is a top reason why people just stay home. Let’s be honest, a lot of the disappointment could’ve been solved with better research and a Lonely Planet travel guide.
No matter how awful your trip was, just be glad you weren’t a character in an Eli Roth movie.
Camp Crystal Lake, Friday the 13th (1980) dir. by Sean S. Cunningham
Years after a child’s accidental drowning, a group of young camp counselors prepare for the summer camp’s reopening, only to be stalked and murdered by an unseen force.
This one almost didn’t make the list because for all its posturing and preparation for summer visitors, Camp Crystal Lake never actually opened to the public. That’s right, no vacations were had, which is a good thing because after all those brutal murders, they never would have survived the Yelp reviews. The locals called it ‘Camp Blood’ for short. I mean, can you imagine the BBB rating on this place? “One star for the blood-stained bunk beds!” Never before has the mere uttering of a vacation destination sparked so much fear, because no one steps foot in a forest these days without hearing Jason’s theme ‘ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma‘ in their head.
Posting this blog a day late and a dollar short, just like dear ‘ole dad. If you were one of the millions who spent Father’s Day pining over your lost, non-existent volatile relationship with daddy dearest, cheer up, and be glad you weren’t the offspring of any of these bad dads of horror.
10. Satan – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
It doesn’t really get much worse than having Satan for a dad. Sure, there are probably perks to being the Antichrist, but the trade-off is lifetime of micromanagement from mid-level staffers on daddy’s payroll. Satan’s coven rape, conspire, commit murder and drive the chosen mother-to-be to the brink of insanity, all to ensure Satan’s son is born on the exact date that will make him 33 years on the millennial, the same age as Jesus when he came into his own. Who would’ve guessed the devil would be so petty?
I was supposed to post this on Mothers Day but I was too busy hanging out with my momma.
Moms have one job, protect their children. There’s a reason why you’re not supposed to mess with women with offspring. Ever heard of mama bears? Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off mum! Now, most moms are good moms, but all moms have the potential to be scary. If you manage to survive their wrath, these terrifying ladies of horror will keep you in therapy for years.
10. Mama/Spirit – Mama, 2013
Mama is a vengeful spirit who doesn’t know how to let go. When she finds two children alone in the woods after a tragic accident, she cares for them, in the only backwoods way that a dark, scary cursed ghost can. Years later, the girls are finally rescued and sent to live with their father’s twin brother and his wife, but unfortunately, Mama is not okay with the new living arrangements. It’s unfortunate this movie tried so hard to be twisty because the plot only ended up in knots, but at its heart, this is a classic ghost story with solid jump scares.
January is almost over and few of us have kept our resolutions. Don’t worry, the year is still new and second chances can happen anytime. So, in keeping with that theme, here’s my picks for the best horror reboots/remakes.
Typically, I’m a big fan of the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However, with the superior technological advances in both filmmaking and special effects, some reboots or remakes are pretty darn good, a few even surpass their predecessors. Let me know what you think.
10. Fright Night (1985/2011)
Yes, the characters aren’t half as charismatic as the original cast, but the acting talents of Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette and David Tennant are what keep Fright Night from being a bad remake. While the story itself hasn’t changed much, the remake loses most of its humor, in favor of a more sardonic style, making the film more of a thriller.
Biggest Changes: Setting location moves from main town, USA to a glitzy suburb of Las Vegas. No more camp, just blood-thirsty vampires.
This isn’t just another ‘best of scary movie’ list, this is ‘the best of scariest movies to specifically watch on Halloween night’ list. You can watch those other films any day of the year. There’s something really special about watching a spooky movie on Halloween night though. These movies are not recommended for children, but, I’ll leave the parenting up to you.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Not only is Director Guillermo Del Toro’s Spanish language film visually stunning, it’s hands down one of the scariest and most masterfully written ghost stories ever produced. Besides that, creepy ghost children are just never not going to be scary.
Get Out (2017)
Writer and Director Jordan Peele delivers a terrifying psychological thriller, which relies on the audiences’ own inner fears to fuel the suspense on what the true scare here is all about, Is it a ghost story? Is it a killer story? Is it all someone’s imagination?
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Director Michael Dougherty weaves together four separate terrifying Halloween night horror stories, each connected by a mysterious little creature, who reminds us Halloween can be deadly if you mess around and break the rules of Halloween. I consider this film quintessential Halloween viewing.
Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
Dead kid. Check. Dead cat. Check. Dead ghost. Check. Writer and Director Takashi Shimizu doubled down on scares by telling this frightening story out of order, which added confusion for some. Make no mistake, scary is scary, whether you understand it or not. However, if subtitles or non-linear storytelling aren’t your thing, you can always rent The Grudge, the American remake, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the very same dead kid, dead cat and dead ghost. I affectionately refer to this film as the Neverending Ghost Story