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My Halloween Horror Recommendations

24/10/2012

With Halloween merely a week away, I thought it might be a good idea to pull together a collection of some of the recent wave of horror films that have impressed me in recent months. After years of Hostel and Saw inspired torture porn misery there seems to have been something of a renaissance for more cerebral horror fare, made with the clear intention to build a sinister atmosphere and creepy vibe rather than just trying to shock with a screenful of splatter or rudimentary scare tactics. It’s surely no coincidence that these examples of genuinely scary movies are, in the main, the product of independent film makers working with tiny budgets, bags of ingenuity and, most importantly, great stories. I’ve also included some great examples of recent comedy horror movies that don’t just deserve to be seen but will also act as an antidote to the scariness of the straight horror movies listed here, hopefully staving off those nightmares and letting you get to sleep with the light off.

All of the following reviews are compiled from the last few months of new release reviews and I unreservedly recommend all of them for a spooky night’s viewing… enjoy!

First up is the nerve shredding, haunted house horror LOVELY MOLLY from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT director Eduardo Sanchez. Early indications that this might be a found footage horror can be ignored and while it occasionally resorts to P.O.V. camcorder footage these segments serve a purpose in the broader story. Molly (in an intense, harrowing performance from newcomer Gretchen Lodge), recently married, moves back into her old family home, a move which awakens bad memories of a troubled childhood with her sister. The story unfolds into an upsetting, often creepy, at times terrifying tale of a young woman’s descent into madness, driven by demons that may be real or imagined. It’s a rare thing for a horror film to freak me out, but LOVELY MOLLY managed the feat and at four o’clock in the afternoon! It’s greatest strength is it’s ambiguity, every image and scare designed to provoke the imagination, the only thing presented with any certainty being Molly’s gradual mental collapse. Lodge’s performance is superb, her transformation from a pretty, dark eyed newlywed to sallow, strung out victim is entirely convincing and the pivot upon which the whole film swings. It’s powerful, affecting stuff just make sure you avoid the undermining on-disc featurettes where Sanchez revisits the pseudo-documentary style he employed with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s marketing stuff to explain the back story which basically ruins the effect of one of the most potent horror films I’ve seen in a long time.

Another film that riffs on the residual trauma of horrible childhoods is THE PACT. When her sister mysteriously vanishes whilst finalising their late mother’s affairs, Annie (Caity Lotz) is forced to revisit their family home, a place she’s avoided most of her adult life due to the abuse she and her sister were subjected to as kids. Annie finds herself subjected to terrifying phenomena in the house and sets out to discover what is the cause of the haunting. Despite early indications that it’s going to be yet another dull PARANORMAL ACTIVITY rip off, THE PACT turns out to be a taught and atmospheric horror film in the traditional haunted house vein, that successfully plays on our primal fear of dark places and past traumas with a few judiciously placed shocks which prove remarkably effective. Finding a film that that is genuinely unsettling like this is a rare and welcome treat.

In THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS, veteran hitman Pinner (an outstanding performance from Billy Clarke – HUNGER) and his young apprentice Cully (Jack Gordon – CAPTAIN AMERICA, FISH TANK) lie in wait for their next target at his home. Neither man is prepared for what awaits them in the house though and as they make some gruesome discoveries they quickly realise their boss hasn’t quite filled them in on all the details. This carefully measured horror story is as sinister as it is compact, it’s streamlined sets lending a theatrical air to a rather traditional feeling tale of the macabre. It’s the writing that makes it, and writer/director Sean Hogan’s dialogue is brought to chilling life by Clarke who gets all the best lines (in fact almost all the lines full stop). It crams a lot into its sub-seventy-minute running time, including plenty of gore and some diabolical philosophy for good measure. And it’s pretty darn creepy ‘n’ all.

LIVID is an exercise in horror French style, that combines creepy atmospherics with rivers of gore to great effect. On her first day on the job a young care worker, Lucy, learns of an old woman kept alive in her mouldering mansion on a life support machine who has reputedly hidden a treasure somewhere in her house. When she tells her boyfriend about this they embark on a THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS style house breaking to relieve the tragic old woman of her riches. Of course they are utterly unprepared for what they will discover inside the house and they soon find themselves embroiled in a living nightmare of blood and terror. There’s no question the French have a knack for this sort of thing (see MARTYRS, FRONTIERS and SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE for further examples of thoughtful Gallic gore) and LIVID is no exception, bringing a refreshing perspective to traditional horror tropes. By the end it is in danger of trying to be a little bit too clever for its own good but this is a minor flaw and easily forgiven when the overall feel is so unsettling.

If unsettling atmosphere is what you’re after, ABSENTIA has it in spades. Tricia’s husband Daniel has been missing for seven years and so, having given up hope of him being found alive and with the support of her sister Callie, she has him declared dead in absentia. While Tricia tries to move on with her life she is plagued by horrible visions and meanwhile Callie stumbles upon a sinister secret in the tunnel under the freeway that lies just across the street from their house. Naturalistic acting from a relatively unknown cast augments a fantastic script from writer/director Mike Flanagan that ratchets up the tension notch by painful notch, tormenting you with dark forces that lurk in the shadows, just beyond the fringes of perception. It’s refreshing to see a modern horror movie that eschews dull shock tactics and has the confidence (and originality) to leave it up to audience imagination to provide the real scares and Flanagan nails it here.

If horror-comedy is more your thing then why not check out SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, a darkly amusing story of vengeance that sees Ken (Kevin Corrigan) trying to live a quiet life since his release from a mental hospital where he spent years recovering from a breakdown as a result of being tortured by high school bullies. Just as life is looking up for Ken thanks to a reconciliation with his estranged daughter and a burgeoning relationship with Stephanie (THE OFFICE’s Lucy Davis) things take a sinister turn as the very Jocks that ruined his life start turning up dead. SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE is one of those beautifully rounded films that is the result of an excellent script falling into the hands of filmmakers who know how to make it a reality and who eschew digital effects in favour of old school, in camera tricks and prosthetics to provide some of the most entertaining gory murders I’ve seen in a while. Add the excellent cast into the mix, including SPIN CITY’s Mayor Barry Bostwick as the dryly witty town Sheriff and veteran actress Karen Black as Ken’s mother, and you get a perfect example of an independent movie. Not bad when you consider director Jack Perez’s earlier works include MEGA SHARK VS GIANT OCTOPUS.

Lycanthrope fans should have a look at Spanish horror comedy ATTACK OF THE WEREWOLVES. When Tomas is invited back to his home village to receive the freedom of the village due to his (almost) success as a writer he is more than happy to make the trip, of course that’s before he’s discovered the village is cursed with a Werewolf problem thanks to a run in with some pissed off Gypsies a hundred years previously. While there are shades of the like of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE EVIL DEAD in places, it’s its own film and, with the balance tipped in favour of humour over horror is an enjoyable romp in the Spanish countryside where our bumbling heroes are forced to fend off a pack of men-in-furry-suits werewolves (better than they sound – the creature effects are actually pretty satisfying and far better than any CGI wolf I’ve seen) to great comic effect. It even has time to thrown in a couple of good jumps for your money and a rather classy comic book style opening sequence that establishes the back story. Good stuff.

If zombies are more your thing the East End of London comes under undead assault in comedy horror COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES and it’s up to brothers Andy and Terry to make sure their grandad Ray and his senior citizen pals are okay in their retirement home as the undead menace spreads. Ignore the lazy LOCK STOCK meets SHAUN OF THE DEAD comparisons – this is something far better than that combination suggests and boy oh boy is it good fun. A script that sparkles with wit is delivered by a tremendous cast that includes ubiquitous cockney hard man Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Briers and BIONIC WOMAN Michelle Ryan, as well as the lesser known but equally good Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway who are all clearly having far too much fun putting together this spirited zombie romp. It doesn’t hold back on the gore either, with some impressive mechanical effects as zombies are decapitated, blown up, machine gunned, hacked, slashed and otherwise dispatched by our heroes. Round it all out with a bespoke end credits theme from legendary cockney songsmiths Chas N Dave and you have a stone cold zom-com classic.

For more amusing zombie antics you could do a lot worse than the dynamically titled KILL ZOMBIE!, a Dutch horror comedy about an extra terrestrial virus that sparks a zombie outbreak in the Amsterdam suburbs when it crashes to Earth on a downed satellite. In a plot that comes straight out of the Zombie Movie playbook, a disparate group of survivors have to fight their way to safety through waves of the undead but their fragile alliance is threatened by individual agendas, not least the attempts by one of the group, Aziz, to rescue his girlfriend who has been trapped near the source of the outbreak. The emphasis is very much on the comedy rather than the horror, although they have a great line in squishy zombie effects, especially once the carnage begins. It’s heavy on the SHAUN OF THE DEAD vibes, but this is no bad thing and the slightly madcap humour works very well. Is it original? Hell no, but it’s a well executed, well intentioned and most importantly funny entry into the genre.

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