For your next Halloween binge-a-thon, why not look beyond the high-profile hits and tired old franchises? The following is a short list of recent horror films that don't get a lot of attention, but are well worth checking out for the spooky season. From slow burners to shockers to comedic creepfests, there’s something here for every type of horror fan. Since most of have been released during the past few years, you should have little trouble finding them on streaming services or good ol' fashioned physical media. Mee-ow!
Henry Czerny is an ex-priest grieving the sudden death of his adopted daughter and is seeking penance, which arrives in the form of a young stranger who shows up in the middle of the night. The Righteous immediately sets a somber tone with striking black & white cinematography, while the narrative subtly slips into horror territory during the second half with some stunning plot turns that explain the stranger’s presence. The film is slow-burning, but the truly haunting denouement is worth our patience.
The Cellar doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s made with enough style to be well worth seeing. A young family buys a big, creepy old house, and only after moving in do they begin to realize an evil presence is overstaying its welcome. Anchored by a fluid pace, atmospheric production design and decent performances, The Cellar doesn’t score many points for originality, but it’s a solid, spooky spin on a familiar premise.
THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR
The Boy Behind the Door is a tightly-paced, nerve-jangling little thriller. It builds its tension on a disturbing premise, which keeps the viewer on-edge because the protagonists in peril happen to be children. Though there are a few lapses in credibility and logic, The Boy Behind the Door compensates with convincing performances (especially Kristin Bauer van Straten) and smart, economical direction. Dark but never brooding, this is an intense little thriller.
Two self-absorbed vloggers just arrived at a remote vacation home to do their next show. Enter Rebecca (Gracie Gillum), the 'owner' who’s so cheery she makes the vloggers look like grunge-era shoegazers. She’s also dangerously psychotic. Superhost is frequently amusing, with bits of suspense here & there and a wonderfully gruesome death scene involving a knife to the face, but the film works best when having fun at the expense of the “Look at me!” culture. Those people have it coming.
WITCHING & BITCHING
The story masterfully balances witty dialogue, black humor and physical comedy, deftly performed by the ensemble cast. Unlike many horror comedies that tend to run out of gas too early, this film remains consistently amusing. Still, the film is not a parody, nor is comedy all it has to offer. This is a violent horror film that just happens to be extremely funny.
In horror circles, Barbara Crampton needs no introduction. The good news is Crampton is almost the whole show here. The better news is that, playing a meek housewife who evolves into an insatiable bloodsucker, she totally nails it. Jakob’s Wife is cleverly conceived, with plenty of black comedy, some narrative surprises and an audacious performance by one of horror’s most luminary ladies.
The Stylist is not-so-much a traditional horror film as a character study of a diseased mind. While it is certainly horrifying - unflinching in its depiction of a psychotic hairdresser’s handiwork - director-co-writer Jill Gevargizian seems to be striving for something beyond gonzo sensationalism. The film’s story and structure recall the 1982 gorefest, Maniac, but the similarities pretty much end there. Despite some shocking violence, the film is moody, atmospheric and deliberately paced. It’s a dark, compelling journey of a woman whose desperation to be somebody else reaches disturbing heights...or depths.
Mary J. Blige is Renee, an L.A. cop who's recently returned to active duty following her son's death. Soon after, fellow officers are systematically slaughtered by a dark figure that only appears on video cameras and only she can see. When she takes it upon herself to investigate further, Renee finds a connection between the dead cops, the apparition and a missing woman whose own son recently died (presumably the victim of gang violence). Disturbingly timely, Body Cam dishes out some vicarious justice and a few jolts along the way.
|WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS|
WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS
Though the first thirty minutes are almost embarrassingly awful, We Summon the Darkness takes a sudden, wonderfully clever narrative turnaround and never looks back. It’s more of a brutal black comedy than pure horror, but there’s certainly enough tension and blood to keep the horror crowd happy. Part-time scream queen Alexandria Daddario appears to be having an especially good time, not only playing against type, but engaging in some prime scenery chewing.
THE DEEPER YOU DIG
Well-written and atmospheric, The Deeper You Dig effortlessly segues from psychological to supernatural horror, belying its tiny budget with suitably bleak locations and occasionally grotesque imagery, enhanced by sparse-but-imaginative special effects. The narrative grows increasingly surreal and hallucinatory, which may be disorienting, but since when did great horror always need to be coherent? Smart, imaginative and exceedingly dark, The Deeper You Dig is a creepy little gem, methodically building dread before culminating in a bloodsoaked climax.
Before one assumes this is yet-another zombie flick in an already glutted genre, Blood Quantum adheres to some of the standard tropes while throwing in some nifty creative curveballs. Not everyone who gets bitten succumbs to the virus. It turns out the indigenous people of the Red Crow Indian Reservation are actually immune, and it’s suggested that's due to their harmonious relationship with the Earth. Blood Quantum is engaging, suspenseful, frequently funny and even thought-provoking, on occasion. If that ain’t enough, it more than earns its stripes by being a gorehound’s wet dream.
THE MORTUARY COLLECTION
Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) is a droll, sunken-eyed mortician in the small town of Raven’s End. Despite his advanced age and relatively mild demeanor, there’s something unsettling about him, almost as though he gets a little too into his work. This anthology film is funny, clever, gruesomely violent, and given an additional boost by atmospheric direction, good performances and gorgeous production design. And at the center is Brown, who’s clearly enjoying himself and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
Freaky is loaded with references to a variety of horror films, not-so-much poking fun at them as giving respectful tips of the hat to such diverse films as Carrie and Heathers. The masterstroke, however, was using the classic body-switch premise of Freaky Friday as a clothesline on which to hang everything. It has the heartbeat of a balls-out horror film, but the idea of a bullied teenage girl switching bodies with a sadistic serial killer is filled with inherent comedic possibilities, which the film exploits at every opportunity.
THE CLEANSING HOUR
On his weekly livestream show, Father Max vanquishes demons through exorcism. However, he ain’t a real priest and the ‘possessed’ are just hired actors. But the next is extremely convincing at playing possessed because it turns out she really is. Not only is Max subjected to nasty physical torment, but he’s also forced to admit he’s a fraud before a worldwide audience. If nothing else, at least we get to see a religious profiteer get what’s coming to him.
|THE DARK AND THE WICKED|
THE DARK AND THE WICKED
Louise and Michael are two estranged siblings who arrive at the family farm to visit their dying father. Mom, however, is behaving strangely and they soon learn why. They initially think she simply went mad, at least until they become similarly tormented while caring for dear ol’ Dad. They’re threatened by a wide variety of terrifying visions and demonic assaults, while the hired help are coerced into killing themselves.. Playing like Evil Dead on downers, there ain’t a lot of originality, but the film is perfectly paced, emphasizing mood over shocks (though it’s sometimes extraordinarily brutal).
THE BEACH HOUSE
Despite a limited budget and more-or-less taking place in a single setting, The Beach House effectively conveys the ominous implications of its concept, resulting in a chilling film that might linger with you afterward. Emily and Randall are a young couple who arrive at his parents' beach home, but it’s soon obvious that something isn’t quite right...about the empty beach, the air, the water and the critters living there. By the final act, slow-building dread has created a sense of certainty that things are going to end badly for everyone.
Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg is David’s son and it’s obvious the acorn hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Explicitly dark and extremely gory, Possessor achieves a surreal, hallucinatory tone similar to Videodrome. Its brain-bending concept is bolstered by visual flair and oddball details to intentionally disorient the viewer. Since the gore scenes are in service of a sharp, challenging story, those with strong stomachs will consider them icing on the cake.
First-time writer-directors Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz built a wonderfully structured narrative, punctuated by atmospheric cinematography, authentic production design and a powerful performance by Jenaelle Monáe. Antebellum may not be an all-time horror classic, but I did not see the plot twist coming and am willing to wager most other viewers won’t either. The less you know about the film going in, the better.
Horror anthologies are always a risky endeavor and most end up being wildly inconsistent. But not only does Scare Package feature far more hits than misses, but the whole thing is also generally played for laughs. And for the most part, it earns them. Sure, poking fun at horror tropes is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, but it’s clear the legions of writers, directors and producers who put this together have a lot of love for the genre.
THE DEAD ONES
Those not turned off by the premise - the plot centers around a school shooting - will find a lot to love here. A dark, oppressive tone dominates the entire film, enhanced by atmospheric production design and cinematography. The four main characters are well-drawn and convincingly depicted by the young cast. Visually and narratively surreal, it’s almost like being dropped into the middle of a fever dream. Despite the inevitability of its plot revelations, the film masterfully instills dread and concludes with a denouement that more than justifies the off-putting premise.
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THE DIVINE FURY
A mixed martial artist with a grudge against God teams up with a seasoned old exorcist to vanquish demons from people who’ve become possessed. Though a little overlong, The Divine Fury is a fun action-horror hybrid with enough blood, fists and devilry to amuse fans of both genres. Writer-director Joo-hwan Kim borrows a lot of familiar possession tropes, but wisely plays them straight and gives us characters we genuinely care about. He also leaves the door wide open for a sequel, which in this case might be welcome.
The film is a creative mash-up of action, historical epic and bloody horror. Taking place during the era of Korean dynasties, Joseon is ruled by tyrannical King Lee Jo, whose treacherous military minister is secretly plotting to overthrow the king with the help of trusted underlings and...legions of zombies. Rampant is ultimately a big, fun spin on the genre, with an intriguing setting and great production values. It's no Train to Busan, but you shouldn't hold that against it.
While The Toybox is indeed about a possessed RV with a taste for blood, the film isn't nearly as stupid as it sounds. A perpetually bickering family feels obligated to go on a road trip with the two brothers' recently-widowed Dad. Then the RV itself takes over the driving duties and abruptly stops in the middle of nowhere. One by one, people start dying in a variety of awful ways. Despite its inherent comic possibilities,The Toybox takes the premise more or less seriously, maintaining an oppressively dark tone throughout.
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