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 which—let’s be honest—shits 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 fan—all 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
—The Taking of Deborah Logan
—Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
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 horror—a genre in which roughly 98 percent of films suck, while the other 2 percent are what us junkies live for. So here ya go…
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:
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 Mary—the undercover body modification surgeon—starts 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.
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+
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.
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.
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 style—and 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.
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:
So 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.
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.
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+
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…
“Eat the hipster, Anna Mae!”
The film—a veritable hybrid between A Serbian Film, Kill List and House of the Devil—is 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 good—but 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-
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 innocent—swat 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 Beloved, 13 Sins is a fast-paced and exhilarating—if slightly lowbrow—gore-horror thriller. If the Saw and Hostel franchises are your brand of mindless guilty pleasure, you’ll definitely be at home here.
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).
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 cinematography—a 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+
Wolf Creek 2
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.
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.