Fright Club: Evil Children

If horror films reflect the hysteria and fear of the moviegoing public, then we, as a planet, are definitely afraid of our children – or of children in general. There are countless examples of murdering, mutant, bloodthirsty, demonic youngsters. Whether they are born monsters or have been claimed by the Dark One, whether they belong to roving bands of toughs or happen to be your own evil offspring, children seem to play upon our deepest fears. So let’s celebrate that today with a count down of the scariest children ever!

6. Let The Right One In (2008)

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flicks in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure. Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar, with his blond Prince Valiant haircut, falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Linda Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Oskar and Ali grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can. The film offers an ominous sense of dread, bleak isolation and brazen androgyny – as well as the best swimming pool scene perhaps ever. Intriguingly, though both children tend toward violence – murder, even – you never feel anything but empathy for them. The film is moving, bloody, lovely and terrifying in equal measure.

5. The Bad Seed (1956)

The minute delicate Christine’s (Nancy Kelly) husband leaves for his 4-week assignment in DC, their way-too-perfect daughter begins to betray some scary behavior. The creepy handyman Leroy (Henry Jones) has her figured out – he knows she’s not as perfect as she pretends.

You may be tempted to abandon the film in its first reel, feeling as if you know where the it’s going. You’ll be right, but there are two big reasons to stick it out. One is that Bad Seed did it first, and did it well, considering the conservative cinematic limitations of the Fifties.

Second, because director Mervyn LeRoy’s approach – not a single vile act appears onscreen – gives the picture an air of restraint and dignity while employing the perversity of individual imaginations to ramp up the creepiness.

Enough can’t be said about Patty McCormack. There’s surprising nuance in her manipulations, and the Oscar-nominated 9-year-old handles the role with both grace and menace.

4. Them (2006)

Brisk, effective and terrifying, Them is among the most impressive horror flicks to rely on the savagery of adolescent boredom as its central conceit.

Writers/directors/Frenchmen David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up.

A French film set in Romania, Them follows Lucas and Clementine, a young couple still moving into the big rattling old house where they’ll stay while they’re working abroad. It will be a shorter trip than they’d originally planned.

What the film offers in 77 minutes is relentless suspense. I’m not sure what else you want.

Creepy noises, hooded figures, sadistic children and the chaos that entails – Them sets up a fresh and mean cat and mouse game that pulls you in immediately and leaves you unsettled.

3. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

But it’s the climactic image of procreation – of motherhood and childbirth – and the way the filmmaker and his leading lady subvert that life-giving moment, turning it into something beastly, that will stick with you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVQkJJxjdIM

2. The Omen (1976)

Gregory Peck brought impenetrable gravitas to this film, making everything seem very serious and worthwhile. This could be no ordinary horror flick – not with Atticus Finch in the lead.

Peck plays Robert Thorn, a rising politician and best friend to the President of the United States. He agrees to a delivery room switcheroo when he’s told his own son perished during childbirth, but another baby born simultaneously was orphaned. He brings home the tot, his loving wife (Lee Remick) none the wiser.

Eventually she does develop a sixth sense about the cherubic little Damien, though.
This mid-Seventies gem is gloriously over-the-top with its self-serious approach to the coming of the antichrist. Richard Donner – who would go on to direct a couple Superman movies, a bunch of Lethal Weapons, as well as the Goonies – made a name for himself as a director with this bloated and deadly serious bible thumper.

The film’s sinister elements – Mrs. Baylock, that dog, and Jerry Goldsmith’s intensely creepy (and Oscar winning) score – combine with Peck’s elegant heroism to keep the film fascinating, but all would have been for naught except for Harvey Stephens’s impish perfection as Damien.

1. The Ring (2002)

Gore Verbinski’s film achieves one of those rare feats, ranking among the scarce few Hollywood remakes that surpasses the foreign born original, Japan’s unique paranormal nightmare Ringu.

The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of the fledgling director. Verbinski’s film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.

This is basically the story of bad mom/worse journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts) investigating the urban legend of a video tape that kills viewers exactly seven days after viewing.
The tape itself is the key. Had it held images less surreal, less Bunuel, the whole film would have collapsed. But the tape was freaky. And so were the blue-green grimaces on the dead! And that horse thing on the ferry!

And Samara.

From cherubic image of plump cheeked innocence to a mess of ghastly flesh and disjointed bones climbing out of the well and into your life, the character is brilliantly created. (It’s actually a full grown man who climbs herky-jerky out of the TV.)

Fright Club: Home Invasion Horror

Who’s up for a little B&E? We are, that’s who! That particular fear of violation – that someone can harm you inside your own home – is universal enough that it hits a nerve with nearly everybody. And there are a lot of options, many of them really great, which means we had to leave a bunch behind. Sorry about that, but just to be fair, it’s a fuzzy math countdown. So, let’s hit it! Today we stroll through some of the most unsettling and affecting home invasion horror.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

5. Kidnapped (2010)

Don’t let the title fool you. While there is, indeed, a kidnapping in Miguel Angel Vivas’s Spanish film, the real horror is happening back at home.

It’s moving day, and a family is still unpacking boxes in their new home when three masked men break in. There are certainly familiar threads that run through the films on this list, but Kidnapped is terrifying because it is wholly believable.

The family feels real. The perpetrators seem real. No sadistic toying in Halloween masks, their goal is specific, and yet, these are not good men.

Viva allows tensions to build until they occasionally burst in fits of violence. And while the workaday motives of these villains may make other entries in the genre seem more colorful, there is something uncomfortable, even terrifying, in seeing a situation so believably articulated.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNn-OKqR87Q

4. The Strangers (2008)

Writer/director Bryan Bertino creates an awful lot of terror in a gem of a horror flick that made an impression on horror fans. You can see that in the number of movies that stole the unsettling image of adults in children’s masks.

Bertino beautifully crafts his first act to ratchet up suspense, with lovely wide shots that allow so much to happen quietly in a frame. This is a home invasion film with an almost unbearable slow burn. Bertino creates an impenetrably terrifying atmosphere of not just helplessness, but sadistic game playing. The film recalls Michael Haneke’s brilliant Funny Games, as well as the French import Them, but Bertino roots the terror for his excruciating cat and mouse thriller firmly in American soil, with scratchy country blues on the turntable, freshly pressed Mormon youth on bicycles, and rusty Ford pick-ups hauling folks in kids’ Halloween masks.

His image is grisly and unforgiving – part and parcel with the horror output of the early 2000s – but The Strangers is a cut above other films of its decade.

3. Ills/Them (2006)

For another look at what can happen when you’re trapped inside a house, there’s Ills/Them. Brisk, effective and terrifying, Them is among the most impressive horror flicks to rely on the savagery of adolescent boredom as its central conceit.

Writers/directors/Frenchmen David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up.

A French film set in Romania, Them follows Lucas and Clementine, a young couple still moving into the big rattling old house where they’ll stay while they’re working abroad. It will be a shorter trip than they’d originally planned.

What the film offers in 77 minutes is relentless suspense. I’m not sure what else you want.

Creepy noises, hooded figures, sadistic children and the chaos that entails – Them sets up a fresh and mean cat and mouse game that pulls you in immediately and leaves you unsettled.

2. Straw Dogs (1971)

Sam Peckinpah had a complicated relationship with his notion of manhood, and his notion of womanhood was even harder to define (some would say stomach). He explored these issues in many films, perhaps never more graphically than in 1971’s Straw Dogs.

A sincere product of its time, Peckinpah’s film swam the dangerous waters of the era’s culture clashes. Love it or hate it, you remember it.

Dustin Hoffman’s schlubby American mathematician David returns to his hot young wife’s (Susan George) hometown in rural England to encounter not-so-subtle attacks on his masculinity from the more traditionally manly townies, who remember his wife Amy as a hometown trophy they seem determined to reclaim.

Peckinpah’s film generates dread like few others. As is his way, he crafts heroes that are more flawed than heroic. Hoffman’s character is as cowardly as the townies suggest, and their taunting does not bring out his better side.

Essentially a Western, Straw Dogs leads to a phenomenally violent home invasion sequence that highlights the rotty human underbelly Peckinpah finds so appealing. Survival, but at what cost?

1. Funny Games (1997, 2007)

Michael Haneke is a genius, an amazing creator of tension. Everything he’s done deserves repeated viewing. With Funny Games, he makes it easy because he made it twice.

A family pulls into their vacation lake home to be quickly bothered by two young men in white gloves. Things deteriorate.

Haneke begins this nerve wracking exercise by treading tensions created through etiquette, toying with subtle social mores and yet building dread so deftly, so authentically, that you begin to clench your teeth long before the first act of true violence.

Haneke is hardly the first filmmaker to use adolescent boredom as a source of frightening possibility. Kubrick mined Anthony Burgess’s similar theme to icy perfection in A Clockwork Orange, perhaps the definitive work on the topic, but Haneke’s material refuses to follow conventions.

His teen thugs’ calm, bemused sadism leaves you both indignant and terrified as they put the family through a series of horrifying games. And several times, they (and Haneke) remind us that we are participating in this ugliness, too. That we’ve tuned in to see the family tormented. Sure, we root for them, but we came into this with the specific intention of seeing harm come to them. So, the villains rather insist that we play, too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48s781bxWF8

Fright Club: Best in French Horror

French horror films are not for the squeamish. In particular, the French languge output in the first decade of this century boasted some of the most extreme and well-crafted horror available anywhere. Films like Sheitan, Trouble Every Day, Frontiers, High Tension and many others mark an era that may never be bettered. In celebration of this week’s live Fright Club, we walk through some of the best in best French language horror films.

Inside (2007)

Holy shit. Sarah lost her husband in a car crash some months back, and now, on the eve of Christmas, she sits, enormous, uncomfortable, and melancholy about the whole business. Were this an American film, the tale may end shortly after Sarah’s Christmas Eve  peril makes the expectant mom realize just how much she loves, wants, and seeks to protect her unborn baby. But French horror films are different. This is study in tension wherein one woman (the incomparable Beatrice Dalle) will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.

Them (Ils) (2006)

Brisk, effective and terrifying, Them is among the most impressive horror flicks to rely on the savagery of adolescent boredom as its central conceit. Writers/directors/Frenchmen David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up. Creepy noises, hooded figures, sadistic children and the chaos that entails – Them sets up a fresh and mean cat and mouse game that pulls you in immediately and leaves you unsettled.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Djvi1-k0s

Irreversible (2002)

Gaspar Noe is perhaps the most notorious French filmmaker working in the genre, and Irreversible is his most notorious effort. Filmed in reverse chronological order and featuring two famously brutal sequences, Noe succeeds in both punishing his viewers and reminding them of life’s simple beauty. There’s no denying the intelligence of the script, the aptitude of the director, or the absolute brilliance of Monica Bellucci in an incredibly demanding role.

Martyrs (2008)

This import plays like three separate films: orphanage ghost story, suburban revenge fantasy, and medical experimentation horror. The first 2 fit together better than the last, but the whole is a brutal tale that is hard to watch, hard to turn away from, and worth the effort.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbct9qWBSME

Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)

A paranoid fantasy about the link between progress and emasculation, The Ordeal sees a timid singer stuck in the wilds of Belgium after his van breaks down. With the darkest imaginable humor, the film looks like what might have happened had David Lynch directed Deliverence in French. As Marc (a pitch perfect Laurent Lucas) awaits aid, he begins to recognize the hell he’s stumbled into. Unfortunately for Marc, salvation’s even worse. The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive. This film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgB9JTdrXhg

FC 02-Best in French Horror Films

Join us the 4th Saturday of every month for Fright Club Live, as we unspool a horror gem at Drexel Theater. Join the club!

Countdown: Best French Language Horror Movies

French horror films are not for the squeamish. Hell, even Belgian and Canadian horror seems affected by the French flair for bloodshed and discomfort – the Grand Guignol, as they might say. And those crazy frogs may be making the very best in the genre right now. In celebration of this week’s live Fright Club, the brilliant and horrifying Calvaire (in 35 mm!), we count down the other 5 best French language horror films.

5. Sheitan (2006)

The fantastic Vincent Cassel stars as the weirdest handyman ever, spending a decadent Christmas weekend with a rag tag assortment of nightclub refugees. After Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) is tossed from the club, his mates and the girls they’re flirting with head out to spend the weekend at Eve’s (a not shy Rosane Mesquida). Way out in rural France, they meet Eve’s handyman, his very pregnant wife, and a village full of borderline freaks. The film is savagely uncomfortable and refreshingly unusual. Cassel’s performance is a work of lunatic genius, and his film is never less than memorable.  

4. Martyrs (2008)

This import plays like three separate films: orphanage ghost story, suburban revenge fantasy, and medical experimentation horror. The first 2 fit together better than the last, but the whole is a brutal tale that is hard to watch, hard to turn away from, and worth the effort.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbct9qWBSME

3. Irreversible (2002)

Gaspar Noe is perhaps the most notorious French filmmaker working in the genre, and Irreversible is his most notorious effort. Filmed in reverse chronological order and featuring two famously brutal sequences, Noe succeeds in both punishing his viewers, and reminding them of life’s simple beauty. There’s no denying the intelligence of the script, the aptitude of the director, or the absolute brilliance of Monica Bellucci in an incredibly demanding role.

2. Them (2006)

Brisk, effective and terrifying, Them is among the most impressive horror flicks to rely on the savagery of adolescent boredom as its central conceit. Writers/directors/Frenchmen David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up. Creepy noises, hooded figures, sadistic children and the chaos that entails – Them sets up a fresh and mean cat and mouse game that pulls you in immediately and leaves you unsettled.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Djvi1-k0s

1. Inside (2007)

Holy shit. Sarah lost her husband in a car crash some months back, and now, on the eve of Christmas, she sits, enormous, uncomfortable, and melancholy about the whole business. Were this an American film, the tale may end shortly after Sarah’s Christmas Eve  peril makes the expectant mom realize just how much she loves, wants, and seeks to protect her unborn baby. But French horror films are different. This is study in tension wherein one woman will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.