Fright Club: Norse/Scandinavian Horror

It’s been too long since we took a trip around the world to see how certain corners view horror. Today we head to the cluster of chilly Norse and Scandinavian countries to seek trolls, wolves, Nazi zombies – and to steer clear of household tools, if possible.

5. Trollhunter (2010) (Norway)

All ancient cultures generated fairy tales. They passed on stories that wrapped the virtues most respected at the time inside common dangers to tell tales of heroism and humor. Norway’s fairy tales all involve trolls. Indeed, their entire national culture seems weirdly identified with trolls. Why is that? Well, writer/director Andre Ovredal’s Trollhunter suggests that maybe it’s because trolls are a real problem up there.

Ovredal’s approach is wry and silly – adjectives that rarely hang out together, but maybe we haven’t seen enough of Norway’s cinematic output. The FX are sometimes wonderful, and especially effective given the otherwise verite, documentary style. Ovredal makes droll use of both approaches.

Trollhunter is definitely more comedy than horror, as at no time does the film actually seek to scare you. It’s a wild ride into a foreign culture, though, and it makes you think twice about the Norway section of Epcot, I’ll tell you what.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy2nAOdBUlw

4. Dead Snow (2009) (Norway)

Nazi zombies, everybody! Hell yes!

Like its portly nerd character Erlend, Dead Snow loves horror movies. A self-referential “cabin in the woods” flick, Dead Snow follows a handsome, mixed-gender group of college students as they head to a remote cabin for Spring Break. A creepy old dude warns them off with a tale of local evil. They mock and ignore him at their peril.

But co-writer/director/Scandinavian Tommy Wirkola doesn’t just obey these time-honored horror film rules, he draws your attention to them. His film embraces our prior knowledge of the path we’re taking to mine for comedy, but doesn’t give up on the scares. Wirkola’s artful imagination generates plenty of startles, and gore by the gallon.

Spectacular location shooting, exquisite cinematography, effective sound editing and a killer soundtrack combine to elevate the film above its clever script and solid acting. Take, for example, the gorgeous image of Norwegian peace – a tent, lit from within, sits like a jewel nestled in the quiet of a snowy mountainside. The image glistens with pristine outdoorsy beauty – until it … doesn’t.

3. Antichrist (2009) (Denmark)

Saturated in the cinematic equivalent of melancholy poetry, punctuated with truly, deeply shocking moments of violence and brutality, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist takes the cabin-in-the-woods horror to brand new places, sharing his auteur cred with the horror genre.

A nameless couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) is wracked with grief after the death of their young son. They retreat to their remote cabin, hoping to speed the healing process. Things do not go well.

Dafoe and Gainsbourg give terrific, courageous performances. They are the only two actors onscreen for 99 percent of the film, and they do not shrink from the challenge. These are deeply flawed characters, and the performances are haunting.

Von Trier’s film is so gorgeous to see and so punishing to watch, the result is an amazing if bruising experience. His tone ranges from somber to insane, and one or two of the more vivid weirdisms feel terribly out of place. But there is no forgetting Antichrist, hard as you may try.

2. Hour of the Wolf (1968) (Sweden)

An atmospheric masterpiece, Ingmar Bergman’s meditation on artistic conflict and regret is a haunting experience.

Bergman favorites Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman are a married couple spending time on an isolated, windswept island. Ullman’s Alma is pregnant, and her relationship with her husband becomes strained as his time and attention become more and more consumed by visions, or demons – or maybe they’re just party people.

Von Sydow’s character is tempted with the decadence missing from the wholesome life that may be dissatisfying to him. But it’s Ullman, whose performance spills over with longing, that amplifies the heartbreak and mourning that color the entire film.

Shot in incandescent black and white, with Bergman’s characteristic eye for light and shadow, Hour of the Wolf is a glorious, hypnotic nightmare.

1. Let The Right One In (2008) (Sweden)

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flick 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 Lina 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.

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: Coming of Age Horror

For many – perhaps most – coming of age is a horror in and of itself, full of confusion, embarrassment, personality change, even blood. Which is why it is ripe fodder for horror, a genre that has plumbed the depths of adolescent despair for any number of monster movies, slashers, camping horrors, and nasty prom dates. Today we celebrate the unmitigated horror of burgeoning adulthood with our list of the five best Coming of Age horror films, with the help of Get It Together podcasters Pete Stroup and David Huff.

 

5. Ginger Snaps

Sisters Ginger and Bridget, outcasts in the wasteland of Canadian suburbia, cling to each other, and reject/loathe high school (a feeling that high school in general returns).

On the evening of Ginger’s first period, she’s bitten by a werewolf. Writer Karen Walton cares not for subtlety: the curse, get it? It turns out, lycanthropy makes for a pretty vivid metaphor for puberty. This turn of events proves especially provocative and appropriate for a film that upends many mainstay female cliches.

Walton’s wickedly humorous script stays in your face with the metaphors, successfully building an entire film on clever turns of phrase, puns, and analogies, stirring up the kind of hysteria that surrounds puberty, sex, reputations, body hair, and one’s own helplessness to these very elements. It’s as insightful a high school horror film as you’ll find, peppered equally with dark humor and gore.

 

 

4. Let the Right One In

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, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.

Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

This is a coming of age film full of life lessons and adult choices, told with a tremendous atmosphere of melancholy, tainted innocence, and isolation. Plus the best swimming pool carnage scene ever.

The unsettling scene is so uniquely handled, not just for horrifying effect (which it certainly achieves), but to reinforce the two main characters, their bond, and their roles. It’s beautiful, like the strangely lovely film itself.

 

 

3. Carrie

The seminal film about teen angst and high school carnage has to be Brian De Palma’s 1976 landmark adaptation of Stephen King’s first full length novel, the tale of an unpopular teenager who marks the arrival of her period by suddenly embracing her psychic powers.

Sure the film opens like a ‘70s soft core porno, with images created by a director who has clearly never been in a girls’ locker room and therefore chose to depict the one in his dirty, dirty mind. But as soon as the bloody stream punctures the dreamlike shower sequence, we witness the definitive moment in Mean Girl Cinema. The “plug it up” refrain, coupled with Sissy Spacek’s authentic, even animalistic portrayal of panic, sets a tone for the film. Whatever Carrie may do, we (the voyeurs, no doubt more like the normal kids than like Carrie) are to blame.

This film exposes a panic about the onslaught of womanhood. The same panic informs <em>The Exorcist</em> and dozens of others, but De Palma’s version offers more sympathy than most. Spacek is the perfect balance of freckle-faced vulnerability and awed vengeance.

 

 

2. It Follows

It Follows is a coming of age tale that mines a primal terror.  Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

 

 

1. The Witch

Ideas of gender inequality, sexual awakening, slavish devotion to dogma, and isolationism roil beneath the surface of this film, yet the tale itself is deceptively simple. One family, fresh off the boat from England in 1630 and expelled from their puritanical village, sets up house and farm in a clearing near a wood.

There William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) will raise their five children: the infant Samuel, young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), nearly adolescent Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the eldest, Tomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), nearly a woman now.

As a series of grim catastrophes befalls the family, members turn on members with ever-heightening hysteria. The Witch creates an atmosphere of the most intimate and unpleasant tension, a sense of anxiety that builds relentlessly and traps you along with this helpless, miserable family.

As frenzy and paranoia feed on ignorance and helplessness, tensions balloon to bursting. You are trapped as they are trapped in this inescapable mess, where man’s overanxious attempt to purge himself absolutely of his capacity for sin only opens him up to the true evil lurking, as it always is, in the woods.

 

Fright Club: Best Female Vampire Movies

An aching loneliness tends to be the overwhelming theme of any vampire film that focuses primarily on the female predator – unless, of course, the focus is girl-on-girl action. But even then, aching loneliness, too. Whether evil bloodsuckers or just tragic and doomed to feed off the living, there’s something peculiarly spooky about these ladies. Here we celebrate the vampiress with our countdown of the five(ish) best female vampire movies.

Listen to the podcast, complete with a live studio audience, HERE.

5. The Hunger (1983)

Director Tony Scott’s seductive vampire love story has a little bit of everything: slaughter, girl-on-girl action, ’80s synth/goth tunage, David Bowie. What more can you ask?

Actually the film’s kind of a sultry, dreamily erotic mess. Oh, the gauzy, filmy curtains. Catharine Deneuve is the old world vampire Miriam, David Bowie is her lover. But he suddenly begins aging, and she needs to find a replacement. Enter Susan Sarandon as a medical specialist in unusual blood diseases and a fine actress who’s not above smooching other girls.

There are three reasons people will always watch this film: Bowie, Catherine Deneuve’s seduction of Susan Sarandon (classy!), and the great dark-wave Bauhaus number Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Together it’s a Goth Trifecta! And Goths do love them some vampires.

4. Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Seduction, homoeroticism, drowsy lustfulness – this one has it all.

Countess Bathory – history’s female version of Dracula – checks into an all-but-abandoned seaside hotel. The only other guests, besides the Countess’s lover, Ilona, is a honeymooning couple.

Effortlessly aristocratic, Delphine Seyrig brings a tender coyness, a sadness to the infamous role of Bathory. Seyrig’s performance lends the villain a tragic loveliness that makes her the most endearing figure in the film. Everybody else feels mildly unpleasant, a sinister bunch who seem to be hiding things. The husband, in particular, is a suspicious figure, and a bit peculiar. Kind of a dick, really – and Bathory, for one, has no time for dicks.
Caring less for the victims than for the predator – not because she’s innocent or good, but because her weary elegance makes her seem vulnerable – gives the film a nice added dimension.

The accents are absurd. The outfits are glorious. The performances are compellingly, perversely good, and the shots are gorgeous. Indulge yourself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFRuSbykaV0

3. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Leave it to visionary writer/director Jim Jarmusch to concoct a delicious black comedy, oozing with sharp wit and hipster attitude.

Great lead performances don’t hurt, either, and Jarmusch gets them from Tom Hilddleston and Tilda Swinton as Adam and Eve (perfect!), a vampire couple rekindling their centuries-old romance against the picturesque backdrop of…Detroit.

Not since the David Bowie/Catherine Deneuve pairing in The Hunger has there been such perfectly vampiric casting. Swinton and Hiddleston, already two of the most consistently excellent actors around, deliver cooly detached, underplayed performances, wearing the world- weariness of their characters in uniquely contrasting ways.

There is substance to accent all the style. The film moseys toward its perfect finale, casually waxing Goth philosophic about soul mates and finding your joy.

2. Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

Let’s be honest, we’ve combined these two films just to make room for an additional film in the countdown. 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, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure. Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

Hollywood’s 2010 version is the less confusingly entitled Let Me In. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

While the original had an ominous sense of dread, a feel of bleak isolation, and a brazen androgyny that the update can’t touch, Let Me In scores points all its own. Reeves, also adapting the screenplay, ups the ante on the gore, and provides more action, scares and overall shock value.

Together the films set the standard for child vampire fare, and neither one should be missed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Hz0x67hMcg

1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour has made the world’s first Iranian vampire movie, and though she borrows liberally and lovingly from a wide array of inspirations, the film she’s crafted is undeniably, peculiarly her own.

Set in Bad Town, a city depleted of life – tidy yet nearly vacant – Girl haunts the shadowy, lonesome fringes of civilization. The image is highly stylized, with a hip quirkiness and stationary camera framings that noticeably mine Jarmusch’s early work. Indeed, Amirpour seems an avid fan of American indies of the Eighties and Nineties, as well as the films of endlessly imitated French New Wave filmmakers and Sergio Leone – so that’s a mish mash. But Amirpour effortlessly balances the homages and inspirations, the cultural nuances alive in Girl giving every scene a uniqueness that makes the whole effort surprising.

Amirpour is blessed with a cinematographer in Lyle Vincent capable of translating her theme of loneliness in a dead end town, as well as the cultural influences and Eighties pop references, into a seamless, hypnotic, mesmerizingly lovely vision. The film is simply, hauntingly gorgeous.

Fright Club: Best Horror 2000 – 2009

We have a new winner! Prior to this time travel cataloging exercise, we embraced the misunderstanding that the 1970s offered the best in horror. Nope. Pruning our list of the horror films released between 2000 and 2009 to just five proved honestly impossible. It was so hard! Too hard, actually, so we cheated: we are going to give a quick nod to the top 5 that didn’t make the list, and then we’re going to make #5 a tie. It had to be done!

So, our apologies, love and respect to the five best films that did not make this list: Eden Lake (2008), Frailty (2001), The Orphanage (2007), Martyrs (2008), and Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004).

No, onto the tie!

TIE! 5. Wolf Creek (2005)

Using only digital cameras to enhance an ultra-naturalistic style, writer/director Greg McLean’s happy backpackers find themselves immobile outside Wolf Creek National Park when their car stops running. As luck would have it, friendly bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) drives up offering a tow back to his camp, where he promises to fix the vehicle.

If this sounds predictable and obvious to you, rest assured that McLean has plans to burst every cliché in the genre, and he succeeds on almost every level.

His first triumph is in the acting. Jarratt’s killer is an amiable sadist who is so real it’s jarring. You find yourself hoping he’s an actor.

A horror film this realistic is not only hard to watch, but a bit hard to justify. What makes an audience interested in observing human suffering so meticulously recreated? This is where, like a true artist, McLean finally succeeds. What is as unsettling as the film itself is that its content is somehow satisfying.

TIE! 5. 28 Days Later (2002)

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table. What follows is the eerie image of an abandoned, desolate London as Jim wanders hither and yon hollering for anybody. In the church, we get our first glimpse of what Jim is now up against, and dude, run!

Prior to 28 Days Later, the zombie genre seemed finally dead and gone. But Danny Boyle single handedly resurrected the genre with two new(ish) ideas: 1) they weren’t dead, 2) therefore, they could move really quickly. Like Romero, though, director Danny Boyle’s real worry is not just the infected, it’s the living.

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is certainly his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

4. The Ring (2002)

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 fledgling director Gore Verbinski. His 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 plump-cheeked cherub to ghastly figure crawling from your TV…yikes.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”

At this point we realize he means us, the audience.

We watched the tape! We’re screwed!

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

3. The Loved Ones (2009)

Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés, maneuvering between gritty drama and neon colored carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.

Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.

The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, deeply disturbed piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olB5Wrg8Sxc

2. The Descent (2005)

A caving expedition turns ugly for a group of girlfriends who will quickly realize that being trapped inside the earth is not the worst thing that could happen.

Writer/director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) must be commended for sidestepping the obvious trap of exploiting the characters for their sexuality – I’m not saying he avoids this entirely, but for a horror director he is fantastically restrained. He also manages to use the characters’ vulnerability without patronizing or stereotyping.

He makes even better use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience. Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers, but Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier. For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.

1. 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, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.

Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

This is a coming of age film full of life lessons and adult choices, told with a tremendous atmosphere of melancholy, tainted innocence, and isolation. Plus the best swimming pool carnage scene ever.

The unsettling scene is so uniquely handled, not just for horrifying effect (which it certainly achieves), but to reinforce the two main characters, their bond, and their roles. It’s beautiful, like the strangely lovely film itself.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.

Fright Club: Best Horror Reboots

This week the new Ghostbusters cast was announced and for the first time, we were excited about this reboot. The reimagining of a classic is hard to do well, which is obvious when you count the unforgivably botched horror reboots there are: Shutter, The Eye, The Hills Have Eyes, Prom Night, Rob Zombie’s Halloween – don’t even make us say Oldboy. It’s a long, depressing list. But that only makes those rare gems – the well-made reboots – shine the brighter.

Here is a list of horror reboots we love – maybe even as much as we loved the original!

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.

As teen thugs put the family through a series of horrifying games, they (and Haneke) remind us that we are participating in this ugliness, too. 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. In one particularly famous scene, Haneke decides to play games with us as well.

His English language remake is a shot for shot repeat of the German language original. In both films, the performances are meticulous. This is true of the entire cast, but it’s the villains who sell this. Whether the German actors Arno Frisch and Frank Giering or the Americans Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt, the bored sadism that wafts from these kids is seriously unsettling, as, in turn, is each film.

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

Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004)

Zack Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley). Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

The Ring (1998)/Ringu (2002)

Gore Verbinski’s film 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 bizarre 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.)

Hideo Nakata’s original was saddled with an unlikeable ex-husband and a screechy supernatural/psychic storyline that didn’t travel well. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger did a nice job of re-focusing the mystery.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”

At this point we realize he means us, the audience.

We watched the tape! We’re screwed!

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

Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flick in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.

Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut 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.

Hollywood’s 2010 version is the less confusingly entitled Let Me In, and fans of the original that feared the worst (ourselves included) can rest easy. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.

While the original had an ominous sense of dread, a feel of bleak isolation, and a brazen androgyny that the update can’t touch, Let Me In scores points all its own.

Together the films set the standard for child vampire fare, and neither one should be missed.

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

The Crazies (1973/2010)

Just five years after Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero found himself interested in taking his zombiism concepts in a different direction. Building a cumulative sense of entrapment and dread, the both versions of this film rely on a storyline whisper-close to a zombie tale, but deviate in a powerful way. The slight alteration plumbs for a different kind of terror.

The military has accidentally tainted a small town’s drinking supply with a chemical. Those who drink the water go hopelessly mad. Both films begin by articulating humankind’s repulsion and fear of infection and loss of control before introducing the greater threat – our own government.

Romero was more interested in social commentary than in horror, therefore his film is not as scary as it could be. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in his film.

Breck Eisner’s remake offers solid scares, inventive plotting, and far better performances than expected in a genre film. Eisner’s languid pace builds dread and flirts with an effectively disturbing sense of compassion. His sense of timing provides a fine balance between fear of the unknown and horror of the inevitable. He also has a far more talented cast, and he mines individual madness for more terror – although he pulls one punch Romero was happy to land.

Listen to our Frihgt Club PODCAST at Golden Spiral Media!

Halloween Countdown, Day 9

Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

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.

Hollywood’s 2010 version carries the less confusing title Let Me In, and fans of the original that fear the worst can rest easy. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.

While the original had an ominous sense of dread, a feel of bleak isolation, and a brazen androgyny that the update can’t touch, Let Me In scores points all its own.

Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Smit-McPhee (The Road) are both terrific, and give the film a touching, vulnerable soul. Reeves, also adapting the screenplay, ups the ante on the gore, and provides more action, scares and overall shock value. Incredibly, he even manages to build on the climactic “revenge” scene that was damn-near flawless the first time.

Together the films set the standard for child vampire fare, and neither one should be missed.

Countdown: Movies that Know How to Embrace the White Death

We’re buckling under blustery weather and offensive temperatures. I require more degrees! Why not just embrace the White Death? These five films certainly do, so snuggle in with a big blanket and look at how much worse you could have it in this wintery weather.

6. Frozen

No, not the Disney film. In this skiing mishap, three friends hit the slopes one afternoon. They con their way onto the lift for one last run up the hill. But they didn’t really have a ticket to ride, you see, and the guy who let them take that last lift gets called away and asks a less reliable colleague to take over. That colleague has to pee. One thing leads to another. So, three college kids get left on a ski lift. It’s Sunday night, and the resort won’t reopen until Friday. Wolves come out at night. This is a brisk and usually believable flick. Sure, it’s Open Water at a ski resort, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

 

5. 30 Days of Night

If vampires can only come out at night, wouldn’t it make sense for them to head to the parts of the globe that remain under cover of darkness for weeks on end? Like the Arctic circle? The first potential downfall here is that Josh Hartnett plays our lead, the small town sheriff whose ‘burg goes haywire just after the last flight for a month leaves town. A drifter blows into town. Dogs die viciously. Vehicles are disabled. Power is disrupted. You know what that means…the hunt’s begun. Much of the film’s his success is due to the always spectacular Danny Huston as the leader of the bloodsuckers. His whole gang takes a novel, unwholesome approach to the idea of vampire, and it works marvelously.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xAJGjPQpOM

 

4. Let the Right One In

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either the 2008 Swedish original or its 2010 American reboot Let Me In. We’re leaning toward the original here only because director Tomas Alfredson made such effective use of the Swedish winter. Young social misfit befriends the mysterious new girl in his apartment complex. A sweet yet bloody romance blossoms. Whether you choose the original or the remake, a brilliantly told, often genuinely scary vampire flick emerges.

 

3. Dead Snow

You had us at “Nazi zombies.” A fun twist on cabin-in-the-woods horror, this film sees a handful of college kids heading into a remote mountain cabin for some winter sport fun and maybe a little lovin’. Dead Snow boasts some of the tongue-in-cheek referential comedy of the outstanding flick Cabin in the Woods, but with a great deal more actual horror. It’s grisly, bloody, hilarious fun.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJkd5X2aG34

 

2. The Thing

For our money, this is John Carpenter’s best film – isolated, claustrophobic, beardtastic, and you can get frostbite just watching. A group of Arctic scientists take in a dog, but he’s not a dog at all. And soon, most of the scientists are not scientists, either, but which ones?! The FX still hold up and so does the chilly terror.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoAuJaN78Hk

 

1. The Shining

Because that’s what could happen if you wander outside right now. You might find yourself lost in a maze, icicles hanging from your eyebrows, your bloody axe frozen to your cold, dead hand. Not that anyone inside is much better off. Enjoy Stanly Kubrick’s masterpiece of family dysfunction, Gatsby-style partying, Big Wheel love and bad carpeting. It’s never a bad time to watch The Shining.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1G7Ju035-8U

One Scary Movie Every Day in October! Day 29: Let Me In

Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

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.

Hollywood’s 2010 version carries the less confusing title Let Me In, and fans of the original that fear the worst can rest easy. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.

While the original had an ominous sense of dread, a feel of bleak isolation, and a brazen androgyny that the update can’t touch, Let Me In scores points all its own.

Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Smit-McPhee (The Road) are both terrific, and give the film a touching, vulnerable soul. Reeves, also adapting the screenplay, ups the ante on the gore, and provides more action, scares and overall shock value. Incredibly, he even manages to build on the climactic “revenge” scene that was damn-near flawless the first time.

Together the films set the standard for child vampire fare, and neither one should be missed.