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Ol’ Hallows’ Eve comes but once a year – where masked murders and ghouls alike team and vie for the screams of the weak. No medium captures and evokes such emotions better than film and with a century-long legacy to salute (or slap in some cases) one night cannot contain what has become known, simply, as the scary movie. Welcome to Five Days of Halloween: Day Three – 10 Little-Seen Gems.
Did you miss Days 1 and 2? You might want to check them out first:
10. Session 9 (2001)
Starring the great Peter Mullan, a pre-CSI: Miami David Caruso and, coincidently, Paul Guilfoyle from the original CSI, Session 9 is a conventional “haunted” house (or in this case haunted asylum) flick that excels thanks to its strong creepy atmosphere and an ending that is disturbing at a root level all while hinting at a more malicious and supernatural presence. Session 9 was directed by Brad Anderson who would go on to make acclaimed psychological thrillers The Machinist and Transsiberian. Needless to say, his pseudo-ghost story has garnered a considerable cult following since its release.
Shot on location at Danvers Mental Hospital in Massachusetts using, at the time, a state-of-the-art Sony camera, Session 9 was able to capture the grime and decay of the facility and produce uniquely effective, deep-focus images using mostly natural light. In fact, the hospital has since been demolished, making this film not only an eerie and effective trip into darkness but a slice of preserved history.
9. The Host (2006)
A throwback to the days of Gojira (i.e. Godzilla) and implementing satire, scares and great special effects, this South Korean import is a bizarre and ultimately giddy exercise in monster-driven mayhem. After a healthy dose of formaldehyde is dumped into the Han River
For fans of creature features in particular it’s difficult to imagine them not falling in love with The Host and it’s not hard to see why it broke box office records in its home country. The most remarkable thing about this film is how many different genres it ultimately incorporates and how it’s able to touch on all of them without coming off as jarring or disjointed. The Host is a singularly unique little film.
8. May (2002)
Sure to divide audiences, May, uh, may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if this little seen 2003 flick does not give you some f-ed up dreams then you may have just as many problems as our titular anti-heroine. May tells the tale of a psychologically traumatized girl who in a desperate attempt to find a true friend decides to make her own, with Frankensteinian results.
Everything about this movie succeeds in making one squirm, from the awkwardness of May herself, the instances of gore and the grungy tone, right up to the utterly disturbing climax. May comes from the twisted mind of Lucky McKee who is a horror icon in the right circles. I’m certainly not a fan of all his films, but there is something tragic and beautiful amongst the sickening series of events on display. For diehard fans of the genre, if you have not seen May put it to the very top of your queue.
7. Fido (2006)
Easily one of the oddest and inventive spins on the zombie film, Fido takes place in an alternate universe in the 1950’s where radiation from space has turned the dead into the undead. This resulted in the "Zombie Wars," which eventually saw humanity the victors. With the radiation still prevalent, humans continue to live normal lives in fenced-in communities and protected by a corporation known as Zomcon. This corrupt entity provides collars and remote controls which are used to control the zombies' hunger for flesh so as to use them as slaves or servants.
In Fido, one family purchases a zombie servant which leads to their son befriending the creature and naming it/him Fido. It would take too long to go over the entire plot, but Fido works as a parody of the zombie film, corporate America, the perfect picket fence motif of the '50s and everything in between. It’s all such a unique and ultimately bizarre parable you’ll be hard pressed to forget it.
6. The House of the Devil (2009)
Another period horror piece, this time in the 1970s, Ti West’s The House of the Devil is an unabashed throwback to the days of John Carpenter’s Halloween. This well-acted and impressively shot film is all about the non-events and pin-drop tension before it finally descends into something far more sinister. Most of this film simply follows our young female heroine wandering around the creepy, gothic abode at which she is babysitting, but it's never monotonous as the rhythmic scenes drip with tension and impending doom.
In addition to the well-realized atmosphere, The House of the Devil also hinges on the one-woman performance from Jocelin Donahue who is required to emote almost entirely with her face, as being alone in the home, she has nobody to chat with to express her fear in absolute terms. With its stripped-down approach,this film has tried the patience of many viewers, but for some (myself included) this film was an utter relief when looking at what modern haunted house flicks have to offer.
5. Splinter (2008)
Not to be confused with the fantastic Slither from James Gunn, Splinter is a far less-seen gross-out creature feature delight from visual effects artist Toby Wilkins. Starring Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner as a couple and Shea Whingham (who is absolutely terrific) as an escaped convict, the trio eventually find themselves trapped in a gas station with a voracious parasite outside that transforms its victims into disfigured hosts. Those sequences when the creature gets hold of a human are creepy and disgusting with the low budget actually serving as an advantage. The creature's erratic and robotic movements and the use of quick-cut editing truly add a creepy vibe to proceedings.
The “thing” is very well realized and its characteristics can be viewed as an endearing amalgamation of dozens of movie monsters: the gooiness of the blob, the hunting practice of The Predator, the blood lust of Dracula, among others. There is a cornucopia of gore in Splinter, but it never seems excessive or vile and certainly provides the scares, notably a mutilation scene that puts the Hostel movies to shame. In the world of B-movies, Splinter is an Oscar contender.
4. Trick r Treat (2007)
Horror anthology Trick r Treat was so eagerly anticipated by horror fans, that upon hearing the film would not be released theatrically even after a glowing run on the festival circuit, an Internet petition was circulated to have the film see the light of day (I may have put my name down ...). Even a great ensemble was assembled including Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Leslie Bibb and Dylan Baker. Alas it was not meant to be, though Trick r Treat did find its way to home video and wound up being as wonderful as most people hoped.
Interweaving different stories all set on one Halloween night, Michael Dougherty’s expansion on his own short film is an ode to the holiday, incorporating everything from slasher tropes to werewolves and ghosts over to other supernatural entities, all in a gleeful collage of gore, retribution and a cute little masked Halloween spirit. Well, cute until he stabs you to death.
3. Severance (2006)
More popular overseas than in North America
2. Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
A slasher/cabin in the woods parody that does everything right, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil lampoons the genre staples, switching the role of killer and victim before finally embracing its roots though still not in the way you would expect. For avid fans, this film is a gory delight, but thanks to strong performances and some broader humor to go along with the subtle jabs means that casual viewers should have a blast as well.
Those thinking T&D is a one-joke film would be egregiously mistaken. If anything it is a one-concept film that packs its running time with buffoonery galore, though always loyal to the central premise it’s skewering. Writer/director Eli Craig seems aware that anything more far-reaching would present too many targets and leans more towards spoof territory than satire. A refreshing decision to be sure.
1. Triangle (2009)
Here's one I hadn’t even heard of it until recently. From Christopher Smith, the director of No. 3, Severance, Triangle is far from a horror parody but a time loop slasher thriller so intricately constructed and powerful you’ll want to watch it again immediately. It’s essentially Looper gone the scary movie route though perhaps even more of a mind *bleep*.
Off for a sail on her friend’s boat, Jess (Melissa George) and a collection of other colorful characters find themselves fighting for survival thanks to a freak storm. Drifting on their overturned vessel they spot the welcome site of a decrepit ocean liner. Climbing aboard, they soon discover that even though the boat is unmanned, they are far from alone, and their assailants are far from unfamiliar. In addition to the complex plot, Triangle is sorrowful and perforated with disturbing tests of morality, the type of which nightmares are made. Triangle is a masterwork of screenwriting and a film that will stay with you for days.
Be sure to check back in tomorrow for Day Four – The Worst of the Genre.