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

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Black Mirror on Netflix Instant: Twilight Zone for the ADD Generation, Part II

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BY ADAM FOX

1987’s The Running Man was one of my favorite movies growing up. While I likely appreciated the bravado of one Arnold Schwarzenegger and the video game-like levels of its plot as a kid, it wasn’t until later that I finally grasped what the hell was really going on. The Running Man was quintessential ’80s action at its cheesiest, to be sure, but it did ask a pretty good question: How far are we willing to go for entertainment?

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“I’m not into politics, I’m into suh-vival:” A slogan the Governator used to great effect in both Running Man and his California GOP campaigns.

I bring up Paul Michael Glaser’s magnum opus because its story is not dissimilar to the second episode of Black Mirror, “Fifteen Million Merits.” “Fifteen” introduces us to a futuristic environment in which presumably working class citizens—never changing from their dull-gray jogging attire—spend their days accumulating a collection of points, or “merits,” on stationary bicycles. To help prevent this process from getting too tedious, a selection of video games are offered as an overlay to the exercise, including scenic backdrops or risqué sex scenes.

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Hell… on wheels.

The merits are permanently saved to inhabitants’ profiles and can be used to purchase things like food, entertainment, or entry fees to any of the enormously popular game shows that play throughout the day. One of them even involves unleashing high-pressure hoses on the morbidly obese.

Unlike Running Man, these spinners/SoulCyclers aren’t hardened criminals, whether real or imagined. They’re certainly prisoners in their screen-covered cells, but most lack the self-awareness to grasp their predicament—except for Bingham “Bing” Madsen (the excellent Daniel Kaluuya, who American audiences might recognize from Kick Ass 2).

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Daniel Kaluuya, kicking ass and drinking beer

Bing is disillusioned with this dystopia of rampant materialism and unfulfilling labor and refuses to buy into it, becoming the Winston Smith of his era. He begrudgingly starts the grind anew each day until he meets the beautiful Abi (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay). His crush develops into an impassioned affair when he stumbles upon Abi quietly and masterfully singing to herself in the bathroom.

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“Nice jumpsuit. GAP?”

Bing encourages Abi to compete on the American Idol-style talent show “Hot Shots,” believing she possesses the talent to harness her singing and earn a one-way ticket out. The Hot Shots entry fee is a steep 15 million merits, and since Abi is new to the bikes, she has a minimal number saved. Bing, in a selfless act, volunteers his own merits to gift Abi an entry ticket, draining his entire account in the process.

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Jessica Brown Findlay channels her Orwellian Kelly Clarkson

What ensues creates for easily one of the more tragic and unsettling editions of Black Mirror. Initially appearing to be a somewhat typical revenge story a la Mad Max, “Fifteen” transforms into a bold, hard-to-stomach statement on everyone having a price. The acting is particularly outstanding in this episode on the part of the two leads (Kaluuya and Findlay) who portray a seamlessly organic love story sans Nicholas Sparks sap. The emotional poignancy of the middle part of the episode proves that good writing isn’t just confined to lengthy Oscar-bait—although the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s Up should’ve put that notion to bed a long time ago.

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UP: The happiest fucking movie ever referenced on this blog.

This episode is one of the least “dark” of Black Mirror’s library, but its message is certainly still consistent with the rest of its titles. Viewers expecting a shock-value follow up to the swine-sexing antics of “The National Anthem” will be a little disappointed, but the bulk of “Fifteen” is so goddamned interesting that it manages to provide one hell of a scintillating ride.

“Fifteen” is also the longest episode of the first season, clocking in at just over an hour and giving it the feel of an actual film with its deeper set-up and lengthier scenes. Black Mirror is also a decidedly British show, so while the American Idol-type format of “Fifteen” might feel like a dated reference to an American audience, X Factor is very much a thing overseas much like Idol was in its heyday. Everyone who watches should be able to agree, however, that the ramifications of elevating the modern game show can go far beyond just Richard Dawson slipping your girlfriend the tongue.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 8.1

Black Mirror on Netflix Instant: The Twilight Zone for the Attention-Deficit Generation

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BY ADAM FOX

I clearly hadn’t done my due diligence on bleak boob tube when it was announced that British TV series Black Mirror would join the ranks of Netflix Instant. This, of course, happens on a weekly basis to many a television show of typically shoddy quality, but when I started to hear comparisons to The Twilight Zone and promises of pitch-black satire stuffed in each episode, I couldn’t help but give it a watch.

I can happily say with confidence that Black Mirror in its entirety is one of the best things on Netflix Instant, especially if the above-mentioned description appeals to you in the slightest. How could something so right up my alley from 2012 have Trojan Horsed me so? I don’t necessarily have my finger on the pulse of current British television, but after watching a handful of episodes of Black Mirror, I was surprised that something of such high-quality, pervasive creepiness evaded me for so long.

After the initial shock wore off, I was in for a real treat. Black Mirror is the brainchild of English satirist and broadcaster Charlie Brooker. It’s far from a traditional television series in that each of the two “seasons” contain a mere three episodes, clocking in at just under an hour each. Much like The Twilight Zone before it, each episode contains a completely unique premise with its own host of characters. It’s only in Brooker’s persistent thinly veiled social commentary that, as with Rod Serling’s legendary  narration in Twilight Zone, a thread of continuity exists. You don’t need to watch Black Mirror in any type of order, although it does help build anticipation for the gold nugget sandwiched in the middle of Season 2 (“White Bear,” which is probably the best of the bunch).

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The late, great Rod Serling

Every episode of Black Mirror is bleak as hell, has a lot to say, and is set in the not-so distant future. The most appealing part of Brooker’s science-fictioned setting is how engrossing and completely plausible it is. Brooker skips the hover-board and sports-gambling hypotheticals in exchange for something that hits a little closer to home.

Keep it. I've got a Pitbull now!

“Keep it. I’ve got a Pitbull now!”

Modern technology in its entirety is taken to the woodshed here, examining the roles of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Farmville as antagonists in the journey to be, and become, human.

The first episode of the series, “The National Anthem,” focuses on British Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) and the abduction of Princess Susannah, Duchess of Beaumont (Lydia Wilson). The Princess is a much-beloved public figure with the people’s interests at heart, much like a Princess Di or Kate Middleton before her (the comparisons being undoubtedly intentional). The kidnappers are wholly unknown, but whoever is behind the plot filmed a ransom note in the form of an eminently sharable YouTube video showing a bound Susannah directly addressing PM Callow. [MINOR SPOILERS] To ensure her safe release, he must fuck a pig on live television by 4 p.m. that afternoon.

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David Cameron says, “I’d fancy me a proper swine shaggin’.”

It’s certainly pitch-black comedy and it’s intended to be, but the tone of the episode flawlessly descends from lighthearted to soulcrushing as we’re put in the place of a man in a position of power faced with a very real decision. The attitude of the British public changes as well, with 87 percent of the population wholeheartedly supporting sex with swine so long as it leads to seeing their beloved Princess Susannah once again. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s hardly explicit while simultaneously being difficult to watch as we see Callow risk everything in the face of the seemingly omnipotent court of public opinion, exacerbated by the potency of social media.

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“Things were so much simpler when all PMs had to do was terrorize Ireland and imperialize third-world nations…”

“The National Anthem” is an excellent, scathing initiation into the futuristic environs of Black Mirror. It’s not the strongest episode of the set, but like those that follow after it, it will disturb the shit out of you and keep you reflecting on it long after it’s finished. This characteristic, to me, is the linchpin of any work worth its weight. I was skeptical at first upon being lambasted with endless Twilight Zone comparisons that heightened my expectations, but Black Mirror has soundly exceeded every one of them. “The National Anthem” offers plenty of satire that might only truly stick with native Brits conscious of their own political state, but it’s also a strong word of caution that echoes universally.

Grade: A-
IMDb : 8.1