Scream n’ Stream 2016: Five Netflix Double-Features for Halloween

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Before we get started, I need to air a grievance: Netflix really dropped the ball on modern horror this year. While Amazon Prime was adding instant classics like The Witch and Bone Tomahawk (and other really good stuff like Afflicted, Spring and Open Grave), Netflix basically added a few old classics, dropped half of the best horror in its catalogue, and then called it a day. Sure, there have been a couple bright spots in between (see: The Hallow, Hush, The Invitation), but it’s been a pretty disappointing year in blood spatter for the world’s most accessible and oft-used streaming service.

If you need further proof (as well as more recs beyond the 10 or so on this list) check out last year’s Scream n’ Stream post: 12 of those 22 flicks are gone. The good news is that Amazon Prime has been picking up a lot of the great stuff that Netflix dumped. If you are fortunate enough to have access to the Big 4 streaming services (including HBOGo and Hulu), check out this fantastic Halloween streaming calendar a blogger on Reddit put together.

All said, the pickins were slim this year when it came to Netflix. Especially as I didn’t want to include fare that everyone has already seen (see: The Babadook, Jaws, Children of the Corn, Hellraiserwhich are all on there). Don’t worry though, I scowered the bowels and came up with a handful of thematically connected back-to-back features that should easily cover you this Halloween weekend.

So without further adieu, here’s this year’s witches brew…

Charlie’s Demons (Charlie Brooker horror)
black mirror playtest and charlie brooker's dead set on netflix

For fans of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set is a stellar addition to the Netflix canon. It has all the wry, fatalistic wit and undertones of the hit series, but caters more directly to a horror audience. It’s also a great chance to see Brooker’s hellbent mind working in its primal infancy, shortly before Black Mirror made him a Lovecraft-level household name. I think the closest comparison here would be Zack Snyder’s fantastic Dawn of the Dead remake, as Dead Set revels in both the bloodlust of vicious, capable zombies while at the same time staying fiendishly tongue-in-cheek. It’s also a fun look at the early careers of future crime-series faces like Riz Ahmed (The Night Of), Warren Brown (Luther) and Andy Nyman (Peaky Blinders). Beyond that it’s just two and a half hours of viscerally engaging zombie goodness.

While I can’t say Playtest is my favorite episode from Black Mirror Season 3, it’s definitely not the worst. And in my humble opinion, an average episode of BM is better than a great episode of just about anything else on TV. Add the fact that it’s one of the few episodes in which BM ventures into the terrain of horror (the show is often horrific and bleak, but soul-crushing depression does not exactly a horror show make), and I’m even more hooked. This one features an American bro backpacking through Europe, only to meet a hot gamer chick on one of his last days in the UK. Strapped for cash, she directs him to a temp job that offers big cash to test a new VR videogame. A drive to an eerie mansion in the woods takes our man to a gaming experience borne straight out of hell. I will say that the lead is extremely fucking annoying, but some superb CGI and one mind-bending skullfuck of a narrative make this some damn good Halloween viewing. Playtest is also probably the greatest cinematic reminder ever of why sometimes you should just pick up the phone and call mom.

Dead Set
IMDb: 7.8
GRADE: B+

Playtest
IMDb: 8.4
GRADE: B+

Presence in the Precinct House
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Channeling the cult-classic Session 9, Last Shift brings us into the world of Jessica (Juliana Harkavy), a cop working her first shift. Of course she just happens to look like the half-sister of Jessica Alba and Hope Solo. Of course the shift is run alone. At night. In a precinct house that’s haunted by the spirit of a mass murder clan! Last Shift is one of those low-budget, sleeper Netflix horror titles that more than does the trick in terms of delivering continuous suspense and some good visual and psychological thrills. In fact, I’d go so far as to place it in the top ten horror movies of 2015. As a horror buff who is typically bored by paranormal films, this one easily kept my attention throughout. An impressive flick from up-and-coming horror director Anthony DiBlasi.

I’ll be frank: Baskinwhich pits a group of Turkish cops against a netherworld of nightmarish evil in an abandoned precinct househas very little in the way of a linear narrative or plot resolution. Trying to make sense of this movie is an exercise in futility, because the movie itself seems to have no interest in logic. All that said, the nightmarish visuals, incredible makeup and creative mindfuckery put this one in an otherworldly dream realm from hellkind of like Hellraiser. This is the kind of horror flick I’d recommend if you either, a.) smoke the ganj, or b.) are stuck indoors this Halloween with a delirious headcold and are ingesting large amounts of cough syrup. It’s just a very strange movie with very strange visuals, and if you attempt to experience it more as a ride than as a plot-driven piece, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

Last Shift
GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 5.7

Baskin
GRADE: B-
IMDb: 5.7

Damsels in Digital Distress
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I know “found footage” is a pretty damn taboo subject among some horror fans, but between V/H/S/2, Afflicted, The Taking of Deborah Logan and a few others, I’ve been warming up to it over the past few years. The Den’s spin on the subgenre comes in the form of a webcam junkie (Melanie Papalia) who’s just received a university grant to do a study on a Facebook-meets-Skype web-chatting site called The Den (sorry, I’m too much of a luddite for a more specific comparison).

Her interactions with random strangers start innocently enough. Sure, there’s some pervs swinging their dicks around on the live site, but she also has some “meaningful interactions.” As she builds her data pool, an anonymous user starts sharing snuff films with her and hacking into her account. From here, her virtual reality and personal life merge as a living hell. There’s some corny acting and the typical horror cliche of inept authorities, but overall The Den brings a refreshing twist to the found-footage wave. And unlike many films in the subgenre and their supernaturally enigmatic endings, here we get some brutally chilling resolution.

Am I reaching to include Hush in a cyber-horror theme? Maybe. But a lot of this moviebased on a deaf woman dealing with a home invasion out in the woodsdeals with our heroine doing everything she can to save herself via the powers of the iPhone. It’s also one of the best new horror movies Netflix added this year. It’s also a solid slasher flick in a genre that has seen a steep fall-off in production, what with every horror movie these days about a talking doll or haunted house. Netflix horror regulars will likely have seen this. The rest of the world probably hasn’ta good enough reason for me to queue it up when folks are over this All Hallow’s Eve.

Sidenote: If you’re digging this cyber vibe, check out Black Mirror’s Shut Up and Dance—not horror, but arguably the best episode of Season 3.

The Den
GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.1

Hush
GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.6

50 Shades of Gangrene (Irish horror)
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When I put together a list of some of best lesser-known modern horror flicks on Netflix, The Canal was my glaring omission. Perhaps I held off on watching it due to the corny cover art on Netflix that makes it look like a generic, direct-to-DVD snoozefest. In fact, this film is so good that I’m doubling back on my claim that The Babadook was the best horror film of 2014 (granted, it was a pretty shitty year for horror).

So what’s the deal with The Canal? Premise: An Irish film archivist moves his wife and son into a creepy old house located on a… canal, of all things. With a heavy tip o’ the cap to The Shining, our man starts losing his mind a wee bit, especially when he finds some films at work that reveal his house to be the scene of a century-old murder wherein a man killed his wife and kids.

This familiar narrative just described is pretty much where The Canal stops adhering to any genre conventions. I’ve stated on this blog that haunting movies generally don’t do the trick for me (just leave the fucking house, already!). But this one is more refreshing and palpable, if only because the majority of the film doesn’t take place in the house, and we don’t have to wade through an hour of creaking doors and power outages to get to the real meat. Moreover, The Canal operates on a heady, multilayered plain of psychological dementia that enters into a possessed mind in one of the most convincingand therefore terrifyingways I’ve encountered. Trippy, manic and skillfully crafted, the lack of recognition for director Ivan Kavanagh’s indie masterpiece is criminal. Queue it up without further delay.

As for The Hallow, it embraces traditional Irish folklore of banshees, faeries and evil bog creatures in what amounts to another surprisingly good slept-on, b-horror effort out of the Emerald Isle. Premise: An environmental conservationist moves his wife and newborn into a dusty, old brick mansion in the middle of the woods. Locals eye the newcomer with suspicion, warning him of ominous forces about the titular “hallow,” which he of course pays no heed to. One of the film’s strongest assets is how its cinematography plays off of the haunting Irish countryside, creating for an atmosphere of eerie, mystical gloom. There’s also some very strong acting, and not just via protagonist Joseph Mawle (whose lupine eyebrows alone may have you wetting your knickers). With a cast including Michael McElhatton (AKA Roose Bolton from Game of Thrones) and Michael Smiley (Kill List, Black Mirror, A Field in England) such catchphrases as, “This isn’t Londonthings here go bump in the night,” take on an air of menace that are as chilling as a midnight wade through a murky bog.

The Canal
GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 5.9

The Hallow
GRADE: B
IMDb: 5.7

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid!
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Q: You know why no one ever makes Jonestown jokes?
A: The punch lines are too long…

OK, OK. Let me tell you why you should watch The Sacrament, a very thinly veiled “found-footage” recount of that time the homicidal megalomaniac zealot and pederast Jim Jones ritualistically killed off 900-plus people in a South American jungle. For starters, it’s directed by another cultish icon, the hallowed hipster-horror hero Ti West (The House of the Devil, V/H/S). Whether writing, directing or acting, Ti West has been involved in some of the past decade’s better horror showings (see also You’re Next) along with his plaid-clad homies Joe Swanberg, Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard. The Sacrament pits Swanberg as a Vice-esque journalist flying into an unknown jungle to research an ominous folk hero called Father (played by the great Gene Jonesno relation). From there, ominous undertones lead to all hell breaking loose in a suspense-packed 99 minutes of thrilling, if inherently predictable, damn-good horror.

I don’t really like to give away the genre of The Invitation, but seeing as this is a horror post I should let you know what this film is more “slow-burn suspense with deadly consequences” than it is all-out horror. However one would classify it, this take on the oft-visited “dinner party from hell” horror trope excels due to an expertly calculated level of psychological tension that courses through the entire otherwise-slow first hour of the film. I’m not going to outline the premise because, frankly, it would just take away from your viewing experience. Just know that it pairs well with The Sacrament.

The Sacrament
GRADE: B+ / B
IMDb: 6.1

The Invitation
GRADE: B+
IMDb: 6.7

-Sam Adams

Streaming Bleak This Week, #4: The Invitation on Netflix

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While this blog is a recommendation site and I do believe I’ve done my due diligence in that regard over the past few years, my last three picks in this series were, admittedly, an attempt to come up with worthwhile suggestions that I knew the vast majority of you readers wouldn’t have seen. As such, they weren’t all necessarily as savagely palatable as the typical fodder promoted herein.

They Look Like People, Bob and the Trees and We Are Still Here are all indie movies made on a shoestring budget. I think the most famous actor among all three was Barbara Cramptona name only dedicated horror fans would recognize. That’s not to say I think I fucked upI actually really liked all threebut this weekly pick series is an experiment, and your feedback has been hit or miss on said titles. Which means it’s time to recalibrate the meat grinder.

Back to the ol' drawing board...

Back to the ol’ drawing board…

Moving forward, I’m still going to err on the side of lesser-known titles, but I’ll try to keep in mind that I’m one of the few fuckers who’s exhausted the near entirety of everything bleak and horrific worth watching on Netflix. Point being that a hidden gem to me might justifiably be viewed as nothing more than a shiny pebble to you folks out there who have, ya know, lives.

That is why this week I’m going to offer up a really fucking awesome flick that any suspense-horror fan should be able to get behind. So without further adieu…

The Invitation
Michael Huisman (AKA Daario Naharis) hosts a dinner party from hell in The Invitation
Yep, that’s Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones (played in real life by Michael Huisman). See? This movie is already more relatable and less obscure!

The Invitation starts with a grieving father and his new lady going to a dinner party at the house of his ex-wife and her new feller (Daario Naharas, played by Daario Naharas). Actually you might also recognize the lead dude. It took me awhile to place him. At first I thought it was Tom Hardy from The Revenant reincarnated, but then I realized I knew him from … The O.C.

tom-hardy-logan-marshall-green-invitation-revenant

Apparently I’m not the first to notice that Bane has a doppelgänger…

That was another life. Moving on.

Anyway, a big group of folks who were tight two years ago get together. It’s an awkward reunion of sorts as no one’s really seen anyone else since the son of O.C. guy and Liv Tyler-lookalike ex-wifey tragically died in a freak pinata accident. (If there are truly 6 million ways to die, that sure is a motherfucker…)

It’s important to note that this is all taking place at a swank and secluded pad in L.A., which becomes a recurring excuse as to why everyone keeps acting so fucking weird. At one point a character even says of the freaky, culty, hippie-dippy hosts, “Yeah, they’re a little weird. But this is L.A. They’re harmless.” Famous last words, punto. Go ask Sharon Tate.

no more parties in la kanye

“No More Parties in L.A.” The one time Kanye gave good life advice…

One thing I love about The Invitation is how its first half is such a meticulous play between ebbing macabre suspense and one man’s struggles with grief, paranoia and anger. It’s like a delicately wired stage play that could easily go the route of heady psychological flick. Actually, unless you’d seen the previews (I hadn’t), this thing could have unfolded down several genre pathways at that midway markall with complete plausability. I even found myself thinking, Shit, I might be in for one of those moody indie dramas about coming to terms with loss and emotions and stuff.

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Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body: Never was self-immolation so hot.

With that in mind, director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Bodystarring Megan Fox and little else) deserves major credit for wielding such multi-layered sleight of hand in such deft fashion. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out exactly what type of film it is, but apropos of my earlier comments, let’s just say that there is nothing unresolved or left to the imagination here.

For comparison’s sake, think of something in the vein of Would Your Rather, Knock Knock and Kidnapped (Secuestrados). Then imagine the grown-folks’ version of Would You Rather, what some elements of Knock Knock would have been like if that movie had a pulse, and what Kidnapped would have been with better direction, a more fully evolved narrative and less torture porn.

All in all, The Invitation serves up the oft-visited “dinner party from hell” subgenre in delectable, ornate and satiating fashion. Look also for a brutally chilling monologue from the great character-actor John Carroll Lynch (who you may remember as Eastman from one of the greatest music videos Walking Dead episodes of all time!).

IMDb: 6.7
GRADE: B+

-Sam Adams

LAST WEEK IN THIS SERIES: They Are Still Here

Streaming Bleak This Week, #3: We Are Still Here on Netflix Instant

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If you’re in the mood for a low budget haunting-possession flick that doesn’t suffer from said low budget, Ted Gheoghegan’s We Are Still Here is one of the better recent additions to the Netflix canon. It’s also phenomenally cast, with scream queen Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) and Andrew Sensenig (the weird fucker from Upstream Color) playing a husband and wife who’ve relocated to a rural fixer-upper to start fresh after a family tragedy.

we are still here cast featuring Andrew Sensing, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, Barbara Crampton

Marie, Fessenden, Sensenig and Crampton (L to R): a hellishly haunted reunion of b-horror behemoths

Then there’s Lisa Marie as a psychic, hippie friend who comes to visit the couple with her Dude Lebowski-esque husband (Larry Fessenden from Jugfacereuniting with Crampton after he played the sleazy college professor in You’re Next). Add in a creepy local priest and several bumps in the frigid New England night, and a very enjoyable homage to ’70s and ’80s horror ensues. This flick also gets major bonus points for going more the route of old-school special effects in situations where bigger budget films would have lazily turned to CGI.

IMBb: 5.7
GRADE: B

-Sam Adams

LAST WEEK IN THIS SERIES: Bob and the Trees

Scraping the Barrel: 10 modern horror films on Netflix Instant worth watching

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If you’re wondering why I’m making a “worth-watching” list and not a “best of” one, the reasons are thus: This is not a clickbait site, and more importantly, horror is a genre whichlet’s be honestshits the bed more often than it has us fearfully checking underneath it.

Another main reason is that anyone who reads this site has probably made it through all of the well-regarded horror flicks on Netflix Instant, and it’s my job to point you in the direction of lesser-known treasures. Before we continue, here’s a list of modern movies on Netflix I’m assuming you’ve seen if you’re a horror fanall of which you should watch if you haven’t (links back to our original reviews):

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
—House of the Devil
I Saw the Devil
Let the Right One In
—Sacrament
Stake Land
The Babadook
—The Guest
—The Host
The Taking of Deborah Logan
—Troll Hunter

—Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
V/H/S/2
You’re Next

As for the list below, it’s for those nights when you’re endlessly browsing through Netflix’s horror section, wondering which loud-title parked between Sharknado and Leprechaun in the Hood is actually going to be a film that some motherfucker put a modicum of original thought into. Because it’s horrora genre in which roughly 98 percent of films suck, while the other 2 percent are what us junkies live for. So here ya go…

American Mary
Katharine Isabelle in American Mary

If there’s one thing that grinds my fucking gears, it’s movie titles that begin with the prefix “American.” With American Psycho, it made sense. But over the past few decades, it’s simply become a marketing scheme. Want to make an Oscar-bait movie? American Sniper, American Beauty, American Hustle, American Gangster, etc. Want to make a horror movie/show that will ride the coattails of American Psycho? Enter American Horror Story, An American Haunting, An American Ghost Story, etc. Point being that the word “American” is about as indicative of what a film is about as the word “the”. It’s the Hollywood version of clickbait, and it needs to be locked in a dark cabin and split open with various medical instruments in some remote swamp area near Carcosa.

It all makes me want to write a script titled American America that stars Bradley Cooper as a down-and-out boxer who returns home to Southie Boston from Vietnam in the ’70s and has to overcome the odds while steering clear of a bellbottom-clad coke dealer (Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Jeremy Renner, etc.) and winning back his smaht-talking sweethaht (Jennifer Lawrence or Amy Adams). … You’re welcome, Shawn, Marlon and Keenon Ivory.

Horror-wise, I’d just do this:

american go fuck yourself movie poster

Coming this fall from visionary blogger Sam Adams…

So anyways, it was a long time before I gave American Mary the time of day. And yeah, the title does kind of make sense, what with it being an arguably feminist revision of American Psycho. The premise: Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps) is a brilliant med student trying to make ends meet so that she can pay her way through school. When things go south during a desperate audition at a strip club, her surgical skills come in handy and prove to be exceedingly lucrative on the blackmarket. As she works her way into the upper crust of surgical culture, she gets invited to a doctor’s party. Bad things ensue, and all of a sudden Marythe undercover body modification surgeonstarts moonlighting as a scalpel-armed revenge assassin.

In the vein of both Tusk and the great wave of South Korean revenge thrillers, American Mary is a surprisingly entertaining look into the twisted underworld of body modification and mutilation. It’s also hard to take your eyes off Isabelle, who offers up one of the hottest PG-13 strip dances this side of Salma Hayek in Dusk Till Dawn or Jessica Alba in Sin City. Needless to say, Isabelle is right up there in the fanboy ranks of campy-modern-horror goddesses like Eliza Dushku and Elisha Cuthbert.

Katherine Isabelle striptease American Mary

American Striptease…

In less talented hands, her role of the smokin’ hot med school nerd turned mutilator would come off as wholly unbelievable. Fortunately, Isabelle is a seasoned horror vet who knows exactly what she’s doing here. All said, American Mary is a fun and gory revenge horror flick with quite a bit of style and sass.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.3

The Den
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I know “found footage” is a pretty damn taboo subject among some horror fans, but between V/H/S/2, Afflicted, The Taking of Deborah Logan and a few others, I’ve been warming up to it over the past few years. The Den’s spin on the subgenre comes in the form of webcam chatting. Hottie and PhD student Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia) is a webcam junkie who’s just received a university grant to do a study on a Facebook-meets-Skype web-chatting site called The Den (sorry, I’m too much of a luddite for a more specific comparison).

Her interactions with random strangers start innocently enough. Sure, there’s some pervs swinging their dicks around on the live site, but she also has some “meaningful interactions.” As she builds her data pool, an anonymous user starts sharing snuff films with her and hacking into her account. From here, her virtual reality and personal life merge as a living hell. There’s some corny acting and the typical horror cliche of inept authorities, but overall The Den brings a refreshing twist to the found-footage wave. And unlike many films in the subgenre and their supernaturally enigmatic endings, here we get some brutally chilling resolution.

GRADE: B
IMDb: 6.1

Devil’s Pass
Devil's Pass movie best horror 2013

Somewhere between The Descent and an even more far-fetched science fiction tale rests Devil’s Pass, a quasi-found-footage horror flick about a documentary crew trying to solve the mystery of a Russian expedition that went missing in the Ural mountains in 1959. The Descent is, of course, a thematic comparison only. Devil’s Pass in no way lives up to that standard. Still, it holds a current of strongly captivating suspense throughout its brief runtime, and offers at least a semi-innovative concept into the realm of sci-fi horror. This movie also gets major points for finding a reason to film a found-footage-style flick in HD. Hopefully this and Afflicted will be the final deathblows to those nausea-inducing, shaky handcam flicks of yore.

GRADE: B
IMDb: 5.7

The Horde
Yves Pignot in the horde (la horde) bloody

There is both nothing new and nothing boring about the 2009 French zombie flick La Horde (The Horde). The film opens with a cop family grieving the loss of one of their own and vowing to take vengeance on the gangsters who put him down. Shortly after, said coppers are running a special-ops-style mission in a rundown tower apartment where their foes reside. As a bloodbath ensues, so too does the zombie apocalypse. Naturally, blood rivals must team up in order to make it out of the building alive.

Horde’s undead are of the 28 Days Later, fast-running rabid variety. And the CGI / makeup here brings them to life just as well as any zombie flick in recent memory. As for narrative, it doesn’t go much farther than a bunch of gun-toting frogs trying to shoot their way out of a zombie-infested building. The Horde is basically the perfect film for Walking Dead fans who enjoy that show for the zombie-body-count factor. In fact, there are probably more zombies killed in Horde’s 90 minutes than in any single season of Walking Dead.

And while the film is pretty dry story-wise, it’s high on loud and bloody styleand fortunately not in the Tarantino-jocking, groan-inducingly campy form of, say, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. So is The Horde a great or original zombie movie? Nope. But an incredibly entertaining one for fans of the walker subgenre? Without a doubt.

GRADE: B
IMDb: 5.9

Housebound
housebound movie bloody face Morgana O'Reilly

While it’s not my favorite film on this list, Kiwi director Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound is arguably the best. It’s also one of the strongest horror comedies since Cabin in the Woods. Needless to say, I’m not a huge fan of self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek horror films, which is probably why I’m one of the few people on Earth who was severely underwhelmed by… Cabin in the Woods.

Housebound introduces Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly), a brooding amateur criminal and druggie who’s put on house arrest after a botched ATM-heist. This means that she has to spend eight months with her demented chatty-Cathy, hoarder of a mother (played by Rima Te Wiata, who showcases some masterful facial expressiveness here).

Soon, things start going bump in the night, and Housebound turns into an atypical haunting movie that shares several thematic similarities with both The Babadook and Wes Craven’s classic People Under the Stairs. Speaking of which:
everett mcgill people under the stairs burn in hellSo why am I not raving about this movie and writing a novel on it? Basically because it’s the kind of horror movie for folks who love that tongue-in-cheek horror nerdism branded by Sam Raimi and more recently incarnated in films like Shaun of the Dead and that cabin movie everybody loved. (Personally, I tend to like my horror much more sinister and depraved.)

Still, Housebound is a flawlessly executed horror-comedy that does provide its fair share of “jump scares.” It’s also highlighted by a superbly colorful cast of characters and a fun curveball of an ending. If you’re not a cinematic sadist like me, or are simply looking for a horror movie to watch with your 12-year-old niece/nephew, you really couldn’t ask for much more.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 6.8

Late Phases
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Like We Are What We Are, director Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases operates on the premise of a tried-and-true but also tired concept (werewolves) in what amounts to a very standard, predictable horror film. But wait! … It also stars Nick Damici, one of the most badass horror actors of the past decade (recognizable from every project the extremely talented Jim Mickle has ever directed).

Damici carries this film as a grizzled Vietnam vet who, despite being blind, is still handy with his heavy arsenal of firearms. Imagine Clint Eastwood’s character from Gran Torino being sightless and having to defend a gated elderly community from a horde of werewolves, and you’ve got the premise of Late Phases.
Clint Eastwood Gran Torino get off my lawn werewolf

There are also some interesting side roles here. Tom Noonan from Manhunter and House of the Devil (and also one of the creepiest fucking actors alive) plays the part of a chainsmoking priest who looks to shepherd Damici’s ornery, widowed character back toward the light. And Ethan Embry (what the fuck happened to him?) does a fine job as Damici’s jaded and somewhat-estranged son.

The creature makeup here is a little corny, but the action shots and fight scenes involving the moon-howlers don’t disappoint. Some of the sequences reminded me of Descent-director Neil Marshall’s fantastic debut feature Dog Soldiers. And while Late Phases isn’t anything groundbreaking, it arguably amounts to the best werewolf flick since Marshall’s 2002 cult classic.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 5.9

Starry Eyes
Alex Essoe Starry Eyes bloody sexy

The premise of Starry Eyes is familiar enough: Sarah (Alex Essoe) is a struggling young actress looking for her big break in Hollywood. By night, she and her group of hipster, industry friends get drunk and have resume-based dick-measuring contests about their trajectories toward stardom. By day, they wallow in the reality of being deadbeat, burger-slinging wannabes. But Sarah knows she’s different. And when the role of a lifetime comes her way, she’s determined to do absolutely anything required to land it. Anything, of course, turns into a lot more than she could have imagined in her wildest nightmares…

alex essoe starry eyes eat the cake anna mae

“Eat the hipster, Anna Mae!”

The filma veritable hybrid between A Serbian Film, Kill List and House of the Devilis certainly one of the goriest and most stomach-churning on this list. Despite the generic set up, its first half carries a highly engrossing air of mystery. Unfortunately, the second half just kind of devolves into a heavily prolonged clusterfuck of degradation, wrapped up with a mind-numbingly contrived conclusion that’s already been done in at least two classic horror movies (which I’ll avoid mentioning so as not to play spoiler). To the film’s credit, Essoe’s dramatic range and overall performance rank up there alongside the best the genre has seen in the last few years. Starry Eyes could have been really, really goodbut do we need yet another metaphor for the depraved vanity that defines Hollywood’s slimy underbelly? You be the judge. Either way, it’s loads better than the similarly themed Contracted.

GRADE: B / B-
IMDb: 6.0

13 Sins
13 sins mark webber bloody

An amalgam of every Saw movie and that Michael Douglas flick The Game, German director Daniel Stamm’s 13 Sins is essentially the torture porn version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Mark Webber plays Elliot Brindle, a New Orleans man in desperate financial straits. After being fired from his job, Brindle receives a phone call from an anonymous man who invites him to play a cash game that involves 13 feats. The first one is innocentswat a fly for $1,000. As each task gets more and more insane, so does Brindle’s greed and bloodlust. A remake of the 2006 Thai flick 13 Beloved13 Sins is a fast-paced and exhilaratingif slightly lowbrowgore-horror thriller. If the Saw and Hostel franchises are your brand of mindless guilty pleasure, you’ll definitely be at home here.

GRADE: B-
IMDb: 6.3

We Are What We Are
Ambyr Childers bloody face we are what we are

Director Jim Mickle has made two of the best atmospheric dark films of the past half-decade: Stake Land (2010), a vampire road movie, and Cold in July (2014), a Western-noir thriller featuring one of Don Johnson’s best-ever roles.

Why he sandwiched this canned story about a cannibal family living in the Catskill Mountains between the two is beyond me. I guess my main issue with this movie is that everything about it (including the title) just loudly screams “uninventive direct-to-DVD cannibal movie.” Which is weird, because the script comes from the talented trio of Mickle, cult-horror hero Nick Damici (Stake Land, Late Phases), and author Joe R. Lansdale (who penned both this and Cold in July as original novels).

Michale Parks in Kevin Smith's Tusk

Michael Parks in Tusk: “I Think the real savage animals are the humans.”

So what are the saving graces of this film that make it worth a look? The most pronounced would be Mickle’s deft hand with atmospheric cinematographya quality that oozed from his two much-better recent films. His vision of the Catskills in a perpetual downpour here feels more like the setting for Winter’s Bone than it does some B-horror movie. The film also has strong acting, including a role from the great character actor Michael Parks (Tusk, Red State, From Dusk Till Dawn) and a cameo from Damici.

All said, I wouldn’t highly recommend We Are What We Are, but I’d say it’s worth a gander for fans of dark cinema simply because Jim Mickle is one of the most exciting, up-and-coming directors of thrillers/horror in the game.

GRADE: B- / C+
IMDb: 5.8

Wolf Creek 2
wolf creek 2 mick taylor bloody

Rarely does a horror sequel live up to its predecessor. Recent cases-in-point would be The Descent 2, Insidious 2, Jeepers Creepers 2 and The Hills Have Eyes 2. But when the original was just an above-average, gore-horror thriller with a memorable antagonist that didn’t ask too much of its audience, the recipe shouldn’t be that hard to duplicate. Directed by Greg Mclean (who also directed Wolf Creek and the killer-crocodile Ozploitation flick Rogue), Wolf Creek 2 gets points for knowing exactly what it is, and exactly what its fans want from it.

Mick Taylor (John Jarrat) returns as everyone’s favorite xenophobic, catchphrase-spewing, Outback serial killer. His prey in this installment are a pair of German outbackers and a British bloke who all happen to find themselves near the barren, titular area where Taylor prowls at night in his highbeam-adorned pickup. While the film relies on the same lowbrow, torture-porn fear factor of the first, Mclean does a nice job of showcasing the qualities that made the original such a hit: the Outback setting, and more importantly, the unforgettable Mick Taylor and his maniacally hilarious dialogue.
Wolf Creek 2 Mick Taylor

I fully understand that everything about this movie is about as accurate a representation of Aussie culture as a Foster’s add. Still, “the kangaroo scene” is arguably one of the funniest sequences a horror movie has delivered in years (and is certainly the most memorable use of kangaroos in film this side of Wake in Fright). If you didn’t like Wolf Creek, there is absolutely no reason to watch its sequel. If you don’t like frivolous gore (albeit with a sense of humor), you also shouldn’t watch this. But if you liked the original, I’d venture to say that Wolf Creek 2 is at the very least as good, if not a slight improvement both in terms of its comedic dialogue and Outback cinematography.

GRADE: B
IMDb: 6.1

-SAM ADAMS

The Exorcist on Netflix Instant: Rewatching the Best Horror Movie of All Time

the exorcist poster
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BY ADAM FOX

1973’s The Exorcist is the furthest thing from underrated when it comes to the scary-flick canon. Every new release that’s even slightly in contention for “best horror film of the year” is inevitably compared to William Friedkin’s masterful tale of demonic dread. Trailers like to flash ballsy quotes in an effort to earn your hard-earned cash like, “Scarier than The Exorcist!” (this is always bullshit) and “The best horror movie since The Exorcist” (this is usually bullshit).

evil dead the most terrifying film poster

Not a bad remake at all, but yeah… bullshit!

I don’t mean to come across as some disgruntled and jaded codger when it comes to the genre. After all, horror film (and my fascination with all things macabre) have stood as the cover photos in my catalog of interests for as long as I can remember. It’s not that I even think that The Exorcist is such an untouchable feat in filmmaking that no director from our generation should  bother to recapture its magic.

clint eastwood gran torino angry old man

Adam Fox: resident disgruntled and jaded codger.

The main problem lies in the fact that movie studios have taken a liking to financing projects that skip through the boring stuff (character development and solid individual acting performances) and jump straight to the good stuff (computer-generated ghosts, jump scares, excessive gore). The issue is that my idea of what constitutes as “good” and “boring” are viewed inversely by Hollywood, and as a result, I’m left feeling incredibly underwhelmed when I trek to a theater to catch the latest spooky offering.

clint eastwood gran torino angry old man

“They sure don’t make ’em like they used to…”

…And I don’t really know what the hell the reason for this phenomenon is, either. Do studios think that horror movies are attended exclusively by teens who lack the attention span to make it through a healthy dose of backstory prior to seat-jumping? Is it strictly a budgetary thing? Has the genre evolved so dramatically throughout the years to the point where a horror film can’t just be a great stand-alone movie anymore?

clint eastwood gran torino angry old man

“You draft-dodgin’ sons of bitches wouldn’t know a good horror movie if you were sittin’ in the theater and it gave you a reacharound!”

The reason The Exorcist is so brilliant has actually very little to do with little Regan’s entanglement with the demon Pazuzu and more to do with how the movie unfolds. The message conveyed throughout that the presence of disharmony (or evil) brings out the worst in humankind is far from subtle, but far more clever than a film like The Babadooks metaphorical head-beating.

And even the uninitiated know that no ghost, demon or monster has anything over a human being and their capacity to inflict pain on one another. It doesn’t even take stomaching the latest ISIS video leaked on the Internet to realize that humans are responsible for a metric ton of horrifying, fucked up things. This is where a handful of horror films really hit a home run and where so many others fail; when the novelty of seeing a terrifying monster in the bathroom mirror wears off, you’re left looking at your own reflection staring back at you.

The Exorcist also straddles that fine line between reality and fantasy so expertly that it evokes the most terrifying two words imaginable after watching a horror film – “It’s possible.” Perhaps it was years spent in the American Southwest that made me particularly vulnerable to Catholic mumbo-jumbo, but there’s a reason why the topic of exorcism is such a meat-and-potatoes staple for horror films. After all, The Exorcist was based on the 1949 real-life exorcism of Roland Doe which has long since been the Roman Catholic Church’s Rule 1…

Brad Pitt First rule Fight Club exorcist shutter island

First rule of exorcisms: You do not talk about exorcisms.

Exorcisms are grounded enough in reality that, combined with Catholicism’s constant fixation on sadness, despair and good old-fashioned title fights of good versus evil, they create for some plausibly terrifying results on a big screen.

The Exorcist also succeeds at being a solid movie against the backdrop of a ghost story, without being “just” a ghost story. The moral dilemmas of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) are vast as he struggles with pledging fealty to the Catholic Church and his guilt in committing his elderly mother to a mental institution. We easily recall the memorable scenes like the head-spinning, the pea soup and the spider-walk, but the story was ever only really about an embattled Jesuit priest in over his head who commits one final, selfless act to save a little girl. It’s nothing especially heady, but it certainly rises above the ranks of its colleagues whose characters show up to shuttered houses to, you know, find out why doors are closing and the furniture is moving.
paranormal activity spoof poster

I feel like I’ve created an unintentional ranking system whenever I watch a horror movie that scales from “one” to “Exorcist,” with most modern horror releases failing to reach even a five. I’d like to think of this less as elitism and more as being so affected by the film the first time I watched it that I now have impossibly high hopes for the genre, knowing full well what it’s capable of. The Exorcist is far from perfect and even starts to show its age a little these days, but it will forever remain king of the genre until someone successfully unseats it from a four decades-long reign. You come at Linda Blair, you best not miss.

GRADE: A
IMDb: 8.0

NOTE: Creator of this blog Sam Adams does not endorse Adam Fox’s assertion that The Exorcist is the greatest horror film of all time. Mr. Adams does, however, endorse Mr. Fox.

The Babadook on Netflix Instant: Revisiting the Best (and Most Overhyped) Horror Film of 2014

The Babadook, Essie Davis
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Every couple of years, there’s that indie-horror darling that gets critics horny to affix their names to movie posters via hyperbolic soundbites. Thus was the case with The Babadook, Australian director Jennifer Kent’s debut about a mom and son who are haunted by a scissor-handed, pop-up book character come to life.

OK, to be fair, the most hyperbolic of these critics wasn’t actually a critic. It was William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, who tweeted, “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than THE BABADOOK.” That’s rather lofty praise from the guy who made what everyone and their mother seem to agree is the greatest horror flick of all time. (NOTE: I disagree with you and your mothers.)

Still, this seemed to unleash an avalanche of critical praise that built the flick up to near-Blair Witch levels of hype. So when I went to go see it in theaters last year, I knew a letdown was inevitable.

But wait.

The Babadook is actually a damn good horror movie. Let me illustrate this to you with my own superlatives. …  It’s the best horror movie of 2014 (not a great year for the genre, but still); it’s one of the most emotionally compelling horror films of the past decade; and it features one of the best female lead roles in the history of the genre.

Enough quotables for you? Let’s talk about the movie…

The Babadook
Essie Davis in The Babbadook
Amelia (Essie Davis) lives with her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) in a creaky, barren two-flat in Nowhere, Australia. She’s a lonesome, sex-deprived widow whose husband died six years ago when he was transporting her to the delivery room.

Samuelthe reward of that tragic nightis an amateur magician who shoots other kids with darts, is prone to fits of rage, believes in the bogeyman and regularly screams like a dying hyena. In short, he’s the type of problem child that makes one feel sympathetic toward the Chinese government’s stance on population control.

parenthood, The Babadook, Noah Wiseman, Norm MacDonald

Note to self: forget about fathering children…

Samuel is also the first of several shopworn genre motifs that Babadook introduces. He’s the prescient, mommy-coddled oddball plagued by demons (see: The Sixth Sense, Insidious,The Ring, etc.). I truly look forward to the day when the creepy-kid formula is thrown out the window of horror filmmaking. In the meantime—and to Wiseman’s credit—Samuel is more of a believably tortured soul than he is Child of the Corn. (It’s actually a very strong child-acting performance; I personally have just had enough children in my goddam horror movies.)

Anyway, one day Samuel stumbles on an ominous red book called “Mr. Babadook.” Amelia hesitantly reads it to himuntil she realizes it’s basically an Edward Gorey bedtime story from the depths of hell. And thus an unspeakable evil is released.
Edward Gorey the babadook

While all this may sound incredibly sinister, it should be noted that The Babadook is not the standard jump-out-your-seat horror thriller. It’s more slow-building, high-tension psychological horror with strong emotional overtones tied to the concept of grief. What makes this formula work so incredibly is, first and foremost, the transformative work of Essie Davis.

Her beautiful-but-disheveled Amelia wears an exhaustive home life on her face, and the weight of her hellish, grief-stricken burden is beyond just palpable. Davis’ acting is the kind of stuff Oscars are made for. Unfortunately, The Babadook is an indie horror movie, and therefore unpalatable to the mild-mannered octogenarian elite who bestow such honors. (I’d venture that the late Johnny Cochrane would find it humanly fucking impossible to make a compelling argument that Rosamund Pike’s performance in Gone Girl is on par with what Davis did here.)

essie davis the babadook

Heeere’s Mommy!

It should also be mentioned that this flick is the best tale of grief in horror since The Descent (a personal horror top-five). I can’t really go into the uncanny similarities between the two films without giving much away, but I think you’ll get the gist.

Another strong point of Babadook is that despite its tendency to rely on horror tropes, the narrative and emotional undercurrent of the film are anything but formulaic or stilted. The film is about the roots of a troubled child’s dark imagination as much as it is about a mother coming to terms with hell on Earth. Narrative analogies in the form of old cartoon and movie clips played in Amelia’s home bring both wit and ominous artistic flair to the mother and son’s predicament. (In particular, digging into the annals of Georges Jean Méliès’ work to provide imagery for the titular character is a stroke of cinematic brilliance.)

Georges Jean Méliès, The Babadook

You might recognize Georges Jean Méliès’ work from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

All said, while The Babadook is by no means one of “the most terrifying films of all time,” it is a beautifully imaginative horror flick, and one that relies more heavily on acting and psychological drama than the CGI, torture porn and “jump” factors that seem to dominate much of the genre’s modern-day output.

Sure, it’s slow and has its fair share of contrivances. But while you might want more monster out of something that masquerades as a monster movie, you couldn’t ask for more out of Essie Davis, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better allegory for the pitfalls of grief in any genre.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 6.9

-Sam Adams

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Netflix Instant: The Hipster Vampire Movie that’s Better than Jim Jarmusch’s Hipster Vampire Movie

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night best of Netflix instant
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Director Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the vampire movie Jim Jarmusch should have made. Or perhaps the one he would have made 30 years ago.

Instead, Jarmusch served us Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)a largely plotless mood piece about self-indulgent hipster vampires; a film that self-indulgent hipster critics saw their transparent, vain reflection in, and heaped with such enigmatic praise as “a meditation.”

Tom Hiddleston Tilda Swinton Only Lovers Left Alive hipsters

“I hope they serve PBR in hell.”

While we’re on the subject, don’t patronize me about how Only Lovers was an allegory to the plight of the aging rockstar, the death of rock and roll, or some other grandiose malarkey. Its attempts at tongue-in-cheek humor about immortals cavorting with dead artists was groan-inducingly pretentious to a Diablo Cody-esque level. (And I don’t see how the fuck Tom HiddlestonAKA morose, bootleg Jared Letowhining nostalgic about the merits of vintage guitars and LPs equates a “thoughtful, atmospheric” film.)

As a former Jarmusch fanMystery Train and Down by Law were at one time two of my favorite moviesmy two cents is that the guy hasn’t made a worthwhile flick since Ghost Dog. But hey, perhaps I just have a softer spot in my heart for the hipsters of yesteryear (Jarmusch’s castings of Tom Waits and John Lurie) than the egocentric shitbags he’s portraying nowadays.

Tom Waits John Lurie Down By Law

John Lurie and Tom Waits in the phenomenal Down By Law—back when being a hipster stood for something!

Oh, and about that other movie…

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
a girl walks home alone at night on netflix streaming

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, A Girl Walks Home at Night, that terrific Iranian vampire flick that feels a lot like those great Jarmusch films of old.

It opens in the fictional town of Bad City, as our brooding, Iranian James Dean of a protagonist Arash (Arash Marandi) steals a cat from a junkyard for no apparent reason. While this occurs, gypsy organ music that sounds like something off Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs plays in the background.

Then there’s the bleak, barren industrial cityscapes that Arash walks through as he puffs cigarettes in his dark shades. We see the recurring image of an open mass grave in a dried up canalan early signifier that rules of modern law and logic are less important to this narrative than the weird we’re about to be immersed in. And with these stylings of offbeat mystery, sinister imagery and grim coolness, the influence of black-and-white Jarmusch classics like Down By Law and Stranger Than Paradise is undeniably apparent from the get-go.

arash cat a girl walks home alone at night corpses

Cool Cats, B.A.D. City

After a bit more of Arash chain-smoking and cruising around in his vintage hotrod, we get a picture of his family life, which is far less hip. Arash’s dad is a feeble junkie, heavily indebted to a slippery goon who looks a bit like a hybrid of Ivan Drago and one of the Taken thugs.
Dominic Rains Hey Girl A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Our last major character (outside of House of Cards‘ Mozhan Marnò as a beautiful prostitute) is, of course, The Girl. Bad City is kind of like an underpopulated Gotham, and The Girl (Sheila Vand) is its vampire bat-woman. She patrols the streets in a black cloak and one of those black-and-white French sailor shirts that hipsters seem to fancy. She also rides a skateboard. Consider her the anti-manic, empowered pixie dream girl.

Sheila Vand Zooey DeSchanel A girl walks home alone at night

Sheila Vand: The Iranian-American answer to Zooey DeSchanel

A large part of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’s intrigue is its balance of beautifully bizarre art-house stylings mixed with the type of live-undead romance that worked so charmingly in Let the Right One In (and failed so miserably with those apathetic, narcissistic mopes from Only Lovers). A magically lit scene set to the tune of White Lies’ aptly titled “Death” shows our lonely outcasts basking in the shadows of a disco ball as they come together in the night. Like so much of the film, it blurs the line between dream sequence and traditional narrative, and feels more like something out of Lost in Translation than your typical bloodsucker fest.

Sheila Vand Arash Marandi A girl walks home alone at night white lies death song

Love at first bite.

Then there are the parts of the film that feel more like art-house for art-house’s sake—but that’s really not a bad thing here in less you came looking for Blade 4. A scene halfway through shows the film’s randomly everpresent cowboy drag queen dancing with a balloon in an empty dirt lot. What does it mean? What does it say about the movie? Factually, little. Artfully, it’s one of A Girl Walks Home’s many bizarre and inexplicable gifts to simply take in. Or maybe it’s just a rehashing of American Beauty‘s plastic trash bag scene. You decide.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night drag queen

Stranger than purgatory...

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night leaves us with a few other unsolved riddles. Mainly, what the fuck is the deal with that cat? Still its blend of art-house, horror and romance makes for one of the best additions to Netflix’s recent catalogueand arguably cements it as the best vampire flick since Let the Right One In.

If you want a more traditional vamp story, try Stake Land (also on Instant). If you’re a Jarmusch fan with a dark bent, it doesn’t get much better than this.

IMDb: 7.1
GRADE: B+ / A-

-Sam Adams