This Halloween, skip Jason and Freddy and give contemporary horror a chance
Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
It’s Halloween, but not just any Halloween. It’s Halloween 2019, the last Halloween of the twenty-teens.* And that means I get to do a top-10 decade-in-review horror movie round-up. Fun!
Before you start sending me hate e-mails and tweets calling me a moron because I left out Get Out, It and all The Conjuring movies (seriously?), know ye this: this list isn’t for dilettantes. It’s for people who want to see real, authentic, hardcore horror movies. Each one of these films has ideas and imagery that will stick to your psyche like a bad dream. This magazine is not responsible for your nightmares.
10 – BASKIN (2015) This Turkish film is unsettling because from the get-go, it feels like we’re in foreign territory. And boy, are we ever. A group of policemen investigate a black mass in the middle of nowhere. Little do they know the place is really a gate to hell. The imagery is seriously disturbing — very, very bad things happen to the cops’ faces — and the atmosphere is so hopeless you know there’s not going to be a happy ending. But you can’t stop watching. WHERE TO FIND IT: Amazon Prime, VOD.
9- THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (2018): Still the enfant terrible of western cinema at 63, Lars Von Trier makes provocation look easy. Here’s a somewhat sympathetic look at a serial killer (Matt Dillon) who thinks of his murders as art. Von Trier and cinematographer Miguel Alberto Claro makes the slaughter look so realistic it’s hard to stomach. What’s the point of this movie, you ask? To portray life as evil and soulless. Philosophical horror and gore — where do I sign up? WHERE TO FIND IT: VOD. Go for the unrated version. You came this far.
8- KILL LIST (2011): The most well-rounded of Ben Wheatley’s movies, Kill List is the closest modern horror has come to recreating The Wicker Man despite multiple efforts (including that GIF-spawning remake with Nicolas Cage). Two soldiers turned assassins (that old chestnut) accept a contract for three final killings. But there’s something off about this mission, like it was ordered by the devil himself. The conclusion is one for the ages, same as the hammer scene. Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.WHERE TO FIND IT: VOD.
7- CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011): The Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard-scripted flick goes further than mere genre deconstruction. It reveals unexpected and disturbing connections between horror myth and social stability. It’s kind of like something Joseph Campbell would think up if he were drunk and angry. Cabin in The Woods, created in the aftermath of the Bush era and the 2008 market crash, follows the phenomena of the best American horror films emerging in periods of unrest (so expect some doozies over the next year and a half). As for the movie itself, it’s still a fun romp that greatly benefits from freeze-framing technology. WHERE TO FIND IT: Netflix, VOD.
6- MIDSOMMAR (2019): How about a horror flick that also offers flawless relationship advice? The first of two Ari Aster films on this list is far more complicated than your standard cult movie. The Swedish commune is messed up, but so are the visitors, mainly a couple who are together through guilt and inertia rather than love. Midsommar doesn’t do jump scares. Instead, Aster’s style of horror conjures rising dread that’s inevitably and unpleasantly justified. WHERE TO FIND IT: VOD.
5- THE BABADOOK (2014): Speaking of scary movies with life hacks, few horror flicks have as much heart as The Babadook. Unspeakable grief and children’s paranoia conspire to turn a single mother’s life into a living hell when a monster from a storybook materializes. The film benefits from the exquisite design of Mr. Babadook: Top hat, Freddy Krueger-hands, oversized mouth, unblinking eyes. The Babadook should have been a hit, but the distributor botched the release. That’s the real scary part. WHERE TO FIND IT: Netflix, VOD
4- YOU’RE NEXT (2011): There is something very ’80s about You’re Next and it’s not just the casting of Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator). A well-off family celebrates a wedding anniversary in a mansion. They’re picked off one by one by mysterious assailants without motives. The fact each death is of a member of the family adds to the film’s pathos and unpredictability. Fun fact: several of the “victim” actors are indie directors helping to keep the budget under control. WHERE TO FIND IT: VOD.
3- IT FOLLOWS (2014): Most of this list’s movies have goals beyond just being scary. In the case of It Follows, the scourge of STDs becomes an even more tangible threat. Following a sexual encounter, Jay (Maika Monroe) is stalked by a murderous force that can take any shape it wants to. It can’t be stopped, so Jay can only hope to delay its arrival by putting others in harm’s way. Not only is the concept unsettling, the choices the characters are forced to make will haunt them long after this experience. WHERE TO FIND IT: Amazon Prime, Crave, Shudder, VOD.
2- HEREDITARY (2018): There’s a lot to like about Hereditary: A sound plot (a family is targeted by members of a pagan cult), superb performances by Toni Collette and Alex Wolff and a preference for dread over jump scares. But the scene in the car is the one that stays with you: while showing very little, the film gives you an extremely clear idea of something truly horrible and lets your mind fill the blanks. Perverse. Not only that, Ari Aster discovers a fun new way to make face-covering audiences see something they don’t want to: just smash cut to it later with no warning. Hope you like ants! (He uses the move again in Midsommar, the jerk.) WHERE TO FIND IT: Netflix, VOD.
1- GOODNIGHT, MOMMY (2014): Often the best scary movies are not the obvious choices. Take this Austrian chiller that’s both a psychological thriller and body-horror romp worthy of Cronenberg. Following extensive cosmetic surgery, a woman heads to her cottage for rest and relaxation along with her kids, a mischievous set of twins. The boys believe their mom has been replaced by an alien and concoct increasingly daring tests to prove their theory. Goodnight, Mommy is remarkable because nobody’s at fault here: All the characters are dealing with inner demons that become combustible when mixed. The pair responsible for this, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, have another humdinger lined up for February 2020, The Lodge. They’re the real deal. WHERE TO FIND IT: VOD.
* Technically next year is the decade’s last year, but no one counts that way. I mean we’ve been through this. Remember New Year’s 2000? Start of a new decade, not the end of the 90s.