Fright Club: Best Horror Endings, Part 2

Thanks to S.A. Bradley of Hellbent for Horror for joining us to finish out our look at the best endings in horror movie history. A tough list to finalize, for sure, this one hits on some of the most brutal and memorable parting shots on film.

5. Kill List (2011)

Ben Wheatley’s diabolical 2011 indie slides from grim Brit crime thriller into something far more sinister.

Hitman Jay (a volcanic Neil Maskell) is wary to take another job after the botched Kiev assignment, but his bank account is empty and his wife Shel (an also eruptive MyAnna Buring) has become vocally impatient about carrying the financial load. But this new gig proves to be seriously weird.

The final act offers something simultaneously fitting and surprising. Wheatley’s climax recalls a couple of other horror films, but what he does with the elements is utterly and bewilderingly his own.

4. The Mist (2007)

If there’s one thing a successful Stephen King adaptation needs, it’s a writer/director who knows how to end a story. For all of King’s many strengths, ending his tale is no a strong suit.

Frank Darabont has certainly proven to have a knack for King’s source material, having helmed among the most successful and beloved films based on King’s books. But with The Mist, he outdid himself.

Thomas Jane plays a writer who, along with his young son, finds himself trapped in a grocery store when an opening in the space/time continuum allows giant, bloodthirsty creatures into New England. What begins as a wonderful creature feature turns into a terrifying Lord of the Flies before setting us up with a gut punch of utter, devastating perfection in a horror film ending.

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

3. Carrie (1976)

Another excellent King adaptation, Brian De Palma’s Carrie streamlines King’s sprawling ending to focus our attention where it will do the most damage.

And yes, the entirety of Act 3 is magnificent, but De Palma started something with those final, lingering images. He goes back to the cheese-cloth fuzziness of the earliest moments of the film as Sue Snell (this is really all your fault, Sue Snell!) glows with goodness and self-sacrifice. Only she truly loved poor, misunderstood Carrie.

Sue carries white flowers to the unholy ground where Carrie White lies.

And BLAM! De Palma has invented a new and forever mimicked horror movie ending.

2. Martyrs (2008)

Holy shit. This film is a brilliant and brutal test of endurance.

Writer/director Pascal Laugier’s mystifying sense of misdirection shares the aching, dysfunctional love of two best friends as one descends into madness. But that is not the point.

A couple of abrupt story turns later and we learn the point of the film and the film’s title. That’s about the time we meet Mademoiselle (Cahterine Begin, perfect).

And after ninety minutes of dread and terror, the climax Pascal and Mademoiselle have in store for you may not be satisfying, but it is perfect.

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. His inventive imagination created the genre and the monster from the ground up.

Still, the shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one inmate turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.

Fright Club: Rituals

Everybody has their rituals, and that’s all fine and dandy. But we aren’t looking for fine and dandy, are we? Hell no – we’re looking for the kind of rituals that generally includes goats heads and/or black candles and/or virgins and/or special meat preparation.

Where will we find these? In some great horror movies. Check it.

5. Kill List (2011)

Never has the line “Thank you” had a weirder effect than in the genre bending adventure Kill List.

Hitman Jay (a volcanic Neil Maskell) is wary to take another job after the botched Kiev assignment, but his bank account is empty and his wife Shel (an also eruptive MyAnna Buring) has become vocally impatient about carrying the financial load.

Without ever losing that gritty, indie sensibility, Ben Wheatley’s fascinating film begins a slide in Act 2 from crime drama toward macabre thriller. You spend the balance of the film’s brisk 95 minutes actively puzzling out clues, ambiguities and oddities.

Everything builds, unsettlingly, to a climactic ritual you won’t see coming.

For those looking for blood and guts and bullets, Kill List will only partially satisfy and may bewilder by the end. But audiences seeking a finely crafted, unusual horror film may find themselves saying thank you.

4. The Wicker Man (1973)

In the early Seventies, Robin Hardy created a film that fed on the period’s hippie- versus-straight hysteria. Uptight Brit constable Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) flies to the private island Summerisle, investigating charges of a missing child. His sleuthing leads him into a pagan world incompatible with his sternly Christian point of view.

The deftly crafted moral ambiguity of the picture keeps the audience off kilter. Surely we aren’t to root for these heathens, with their nudey business right out in the open? But how can we side with the self-righteous prig Howie?

But maybe Howie’s playing right into something he doesn’t understand – and what would the people of Summerisle do if he didn’t play along? The ritual would be blown!

Hardy and his cast have wicked fun with Anthony Shaffer’s sly screenplay, no one more so than the ever-glorious Christopher Lee. Oh, that saucy baritone!

The film is hardly a horror movie at all –more of a subversive comedy of sorts – until the final reel or so. Starting with the creepy animal masks (that would become pretty popular in the genre a few decades later), then the parade and the finale, things take quite a creepy turn.

3. We Are What We Are (2010)

In a quiet opening sequence, a man dies in a mall. This is a family patriarch and his passing leaves the desperately poor family in shambles. An internal power struggle begins to determine the member most suited to take over as the head of the household, and therefore, there is some conflict and competition – however reluctant – over who will handle the principal task of the patriarch: that of putting meat on the table.

We’re never privy to the particulars – giving the whole affair a feel of authenticity – but adding to the family’s crisis is the impending Ritual, which apparently involves a deadline and some specific meat preparations.

Grau’s approach is so subtle, so honest, that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a horror film. Indeed, were this family fighting to survive on a more traditional level, this film would simply be a fine piece of social realism focused on Mexico City’s enormous population in poverty. But it’s more than that. Sure, the cannibalism is simply an extreme metaphor, but it’s so beautifully thought out and executed!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBkNz3_pzsw

2. Martyrs (2008)

This is one you may need to prepare yourself for. Equal parts orphanage ghost story, suburban revenge fantasy, and medical experimentation horror flick, the whole of Martyrs is a brutal tale that is hard to watch, hard to turn away from, and worth the effort.

Mining the heartbreaking loneliness of abandoned, damaged children, the film follows the profound relationship between Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) and the only friend she will ever have, an undeterrably loving Anna (Morjana Alaoui).

Constantly subverting expectations, including those immediately felt for Anna’s love, writer/director Pascal Laugier makes a series of sharp turns, but he throws unforgettable images at you periodically, and your affection for the leads keeps you breathlessly engaged.

The third act offers the most abrupt change of course as well as tone. Here is where the ritual begins – it began long ago, but the subject wasn’t quite right. Though it feels like an abrupt shift, it ends up a gruesome but inevitable conclusion.

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

1. The Exorcist (1973)

For evocative, nerve jangling, demonic horror, you will not find better than The Exorcist.

Slow-moving, richly textured, gorgeously and thoughtfully framed, The Exorcist follows a very black and white, good versus evil conflict: Father Merrin V Satan for the soul of an innocent child.

But thanks to an intricate and nuanced screenplay adapted by William Peter Blatty from his own novel, the film boasts any number of flawed characters struggling to find faith and to do what’s right in this situation.

So was Friedkin, the director who balanced every scene to expose its divinity and warts, and to quietly build tension. The titular ritual was simply the climax of a film filled with rituals, big and small, Catholic and non-religious, that we use to keep us clean and safe.

Halloween Countdown, Day 18: Martyrs

Martyrs (2008)

This is one you may need to prepare yourself for. Equal parts orphanage ghost story, suburban revenge fantasy, and medical experimentation horror flick, the whole of Martyrs is a brutal tale that is hard to watch, hard to turn away from, and worth the effort.

On the surface we follow Lucie’s (Mylene Jampanoi) descent into madness after escaping, as a child, from an abandoned warehouse where she’d been tortured by unknown hands.

Mining the heartbreaking loneliness of abandoned, damaged children, the film follows the profound relationship between Lucie and the only friend she will ever have, an undeterrably loving Anna (Morjana Alaoui).

Constantly subverting expectations, including those immediately felt for Anna’s love, writer/director Pascal Laugier makes a series of sharp turns, but he throws unforgettable images at you periodically, and your affection for the leads keeps you breathlessly engaged.

The third act offers the most abrupt change of course as well as tone, and the proceedings are tough to stomach, but well conceived and equally skillfully executed. It holds some gruesome imagery, and though the climax may not be pleasing, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

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

Fright Club: See the Original, Not the Remake

Horror movie remakes are legion – most of them needless, many of them abominations, one or two really work out well. The Ring – that’s a great one. Let Me In – OK, we will! But today, rather than crucify the sub-par remakes, what we really want to do is to remind you of the bloody good original you may have missed, or maybe saw years back and need to check out again. Here is our list of horror movies where you should skip the remake and seek out the original.

5. Diabolique (1955 v 1996

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s twisty psychological thriller with horror-ific undertones is crafty, spooky, jumpy and wonderful. Jeremiah Chechik’s 1996 remake capitalizes on the popularity of a post-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone and the moviegoing public’s spotty memory. If a film relies on a twist ending to work, why remake that film? You have to ask whether the film still works if the ending is apparent all the while. In all honesty, with the atmosphere of brittle dread Clouzot created, the answer could well be yes – although that bathtub scene is far scarier when you don’t know it’s coming. But Chechik – whose National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation hardly suggested he had instinct for tense, potentially supernatural horror – was not up to the task. Flat. Uninspired. Spook-less. Boo.

4. The Wicker Man (1973 v 2006)

Oh my God. What the hell?! The once-promising Neil LaBute and the once-talented Nic Cage turn that saucily blasphemous ’73 gem on Summerisle into an embarrassing battle of the sexes. In the early Seventies, Robin Hardy created a film that fed on the period’s hippie versus straight hysteria, and he did it with insight, humor, and super creepy animal masks. LaBute, characteristically, turns that primary conflict into male versus female, sucking all the irreverent humor from the story as he does. And he pulls his punch with the ending – so what on earth is the purpose of this?!!!

3. The Haunting (1963 v 1999)

Well, here’s another one that just pisses us off. In ’63, Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music – yeah, that one) took Shirley Jackson’s beloved haunted house novel to the big screen. True to the source material, The Haunting relied so entirely upon your own imagination that it garnered a G rating and still scared hell out of you. In 1999, Jan de Bont abandoned nuance entirely, embraced vulgar displays of literalism and wasted a cast that was actually perfect for each role. In somebody else’s adaptation, Catherine Zeta-Jones would have made the perfect Theo and Owen Wilson a delightful Luke, but the achingly missed opportunity is Lily Taylor. There is no better option to play Jackson’s repressed heroine Nell – Taylor couldn’t be a more perfect choice – and a blind de Bont understood his talent even less well than he understood Jackson’s novel.

2. Oldboy (2003 v 2013)

No surprise here. We honestly feel a bit bruised for poor Spike Lee, who endured so much Hollywood interference with his reboot of Chan-wook Park’s near-perfect Korean original that a decent product was out of the question. And yet, this abomination was released on an unsuspecting – or worse, optimistic – movie going world. And it sucked! Just sucked outright!! Gone were all the glorious bits of subversive genius, every punch pulled, every shock diluted. Park’s dizzying action sequences – ditched. And this seriously badass cast – Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel Jackson – wasted, while Sharlto Copley embarrasses himself. Awful!

1. Martyrs (2008 v 2015)

Pascal Laugier’s diabolical masterpiece Martyrs is a merciless film. It’s also one of the most impeccably written, directed and acted films in horror history. Co-directors and brothers Kevin and Michael Goetz underperform with their 2015 remake – pulled punches, heavy handed explanations, and a general lack of spine mark their work. The questions here resemble the same conundrum of remaking Oldboy – if you lack the guts to do the film justice, why do it at all? Why choose such a bold effort if your whole goal is to water it down?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7Qx2dT-lUw

Day 21: Martyrs

Martyrs (2008)

This is one you may need to prepare yourself for. Equal parts orphanage ghost story, suburban revenge fantasy, and medical experimentation horror flick, the whole of Martyrs is a brutal tale that is hard to watch, hard to turn away from, and worth the effort.

On the surface we follow Lucie’s (Mylene Jampanoi) descent into madness after escaping, as a child, from an abandoned warehouse where she’d been tortured by unknown hands.

Mining the heartbreaking loneliness of abandoned, damaged children, the film follows the profound relationship between Lucie and the only friend she will ever have, an undeterrably loving Anna (Morjana Alaoui).

Constantly subverting expectations, including those immediately felt for Anna’s love, writer/director Pascal Laugier makes a series of sharp turns, but he throws unforgettable images at you periodically, and your affection for the leads keeps you breathlessly engaged.

The third act offers the most abrupt change of course as well as tone, and the proceedings are tough to stomach, but well conceived and equally skillfully executed. It holds some gruesome imagery, and though the climax may not be pleasing, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

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

Fright Club: Most Horrifying Moments

This is an odd one for us. Generally, our countdowns are meant specifically to draw attention to films we think you should see. The films covered today are not recommended for the squeamish, and one of them is not recommended for anyone. When the hobbling scene from Misery is not tough enough to make your list – indeed, did not even make the top 10 – you know you’ve chosen some pretty miserable content. (We’ve decided to include trailers here rather than the actual scenes.) After much help from listeners and a lot of soul crushing time spent watching movies and scenes we’d rather forget, here is our list of the 5 most difficult scenes in horror movies to watch.

5. Oldboy (2003)

Like most every film on this list, Chan-wook Park’s 2003 original Oldboy boasts many scenes that are tough to watch. It’s a magnificent if punishing film, full of unseemly twists and bloody turns that ratchet up tension and keep you utterly bewildered for 120 minutes. But there are two scenes in particular that really hit a nerve as only a root canal can.

Dentistry horror is tough for a lot of people to take, and Park explores his oral fixation several times in this film. For us, the hardest one to watch happens toward the bitter end, when the smitten Dae-su Oh attempts to prove that he will never tell the secret. To give away either the secret or the proof may be to spoil too much, but he is guaranteed to do no tongue wagging after this scene.

4. Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s foray into horror follows a couple down a deep and dark rabbit hole of grief. Von Trier’s films have often fixated on punishing viewers and female protagonists alike, but in this film the nameless woman (played fearlessly by Charlotte Gainsbourg) wields most of the punishment – whether upon her mate (Willem Dafoe) or herself.

Like dental scenes, gynecological horror draws a particular reaction. Whether it’s the abuse scene at the beginning of Proxy, nearly any scene in the brilliant French film Inside, or the final feast in Trouble Every Day, scenes of this ilk can be tough to watch. But to watch as Gainsbourg – who’s already inflicted some serious pain on Dafoe’s character – takes the scissors to herself is next to impossible.

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

3. Irreversible (2002)

French filmmaker/provocateur Gaspar Noe does not play well with his audience. Every film, no matter how brilliantly put together or gloriously filmed, is a feat in masochism to watch. Later efforts, like Enter the Void, spread the misery out for its full running time, but for Irreversible, he gave it to us in two horrifying scenes. While the head bashing is tough viewing, the film centers on a rape scene that is all but impossible to watch.

Noe’s general MO is to punish you through sheer duration. The scenes last so long you feel like you cannot endure another minute, and this scene certainly does that. Not shot even momentarily for titillation, and boasting a devastatingly excellent performance from Monica Bellucci, it justifies its own horrific presence. There are other films with necessary and difficult rape scenes – Straw Dogs, I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – but none is harder to stomach than this.

2. Martyrs (2009)

Martyrs is an incredibly difficult film to watch, but it pays you for your perseverance. It’s a brilliantly conceived and thoughtfully executed film about innocence, zealotry, and misery that opens with a child surviving torture. Not an easy image to overcome, and yet Martyrs only gets tougher.

Writer/director Pascal Laugier plays on the same visceral reaction to torture that drove Hostel, Audition, and The Strangers. Indeed, mainstream directors understand the “look away” reflex that informs Martyrs – just watch the slow knife death in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, or American History X’s curb stomp scene. But Martyrs builds and builds, pulling you in, asking you to love poor Anna so that it is that much tougher to watch her when she’s skinned alive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7Qx2dT-lUw

1. A Serbian Film (2010)

This is not a movie we would recommend to basically anyone. That’s not to say it’s a bad film – it’s pretty well directed, acted, and written. It’s just that the co-writer/director Srdjan Spasojevic is trying to articulate the soul-deadening effects of surviving the depravity of war. The film title is no coincidence – the film is meant to reflect the reality of a nation so recently involved in among the most depraved, horrific, unimaginable acts of war. It’s as if he’s saying, after all that, what could still shock us?

Like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious 1975 effort Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom – also a depiction of the depravity left behind after war – A Serbian Film overwhelms you with horrifying imagery. Indeed, between Salo and A Serbian Film, you’ll find just about every single scene we’ve mentioned in this list. But there is one scene that has to top the list, and you probably already know what that is. Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) finally realizes the depths of his new director’s evil when he sees his latest effort: newborn porn. There is no unseeing this.

Whew. Now, on to some comedies!

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB podcast.

Fright Club: Zealots

Horror films have long told the story of religious zealots, usually of the Black Mass variety – The Mephisto Waltz (1971), Sheitan (2006), Starry Eyes (2014), Rosemary’s Baby (1968). We decided not to look to the cloaked, horned Satanists and instead, examine religious zealots of a different flavor. Here are our favorites.

5. Red State (2011)

Kevin Smith’s first foray into horror is perhaps his very strongest and least seen film. Red State is an underrated gem. Deceptively straightforward, Smith’s tale of a small, violently devout cult taken to using the internet to trap “homos and fornicators” for ritualistic murder cuts deeper than you might expect. Not simply satisfied with liberal finger wagging, Smith’s film leaves no character burdened by innocence.

The usually stellar Melissa Leo chews more scenery than need be as a devoted apostle, but pastor Abin Cooper spellbinds as delivered to us by Tarantino favorite Michael Parks. Never a false note, never a clichéd moment, Parks’s performance fuels the entire picture.

There’s enough creepiness involved to call this a horror film, but truth be told, by about the midway point it turns to corrupt government action flick, with slightly lesser results. Still, the dialogue is surprisingly smart, and the cast brims with rock solid character actors, including John Goodman, Stephen Root, and Kevin Pollak.

Smith said at the time: “I think we have something. It’s creepy and very finger-on-the-pulse and very much about America.”

We agree.

4. The Wicker Man (1973)

In the early Seventies, Robin Hardy created a film that fed on the period’s hippie versus straight hysteria.

Uptight Brit constable Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) flies to the private island Summerisle investigating charges of a missing child. His sleuthing leads him into a pagan world incompatible with his sternly Christian point of view.

The deftly crafted moral ambiguity of the picture keeps the audience off kilter. Surely we aren’t to root for these heathens, with their nudey business right out in the open? But how can we side with the self-righteous prig Howie?

Hardy and his cast have wicked fun with Anthony Shaffer’s sly screenplay, no one more so than the ever glorious Christopher Lee. Oh, that saucy baritone!

The film is hardly a horror movie at all – more of a subversive comedy of sorts – until the final reel or so. Starting with the creepy animal masks (that would become pretty popular in the genre a few decades later), then the parade, and then the finale, things take quite a creepy turn leading to what is still a very powerful climax.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21gb49H-Uo4

3. Kill List (2011)

Never has the line “thank you” had a weirder effect than in the genre bending adventure Kill List.

Hitman Jay (a volcanic Neil Maskell) is wary to take another job after the botched Kiev assignment, but his bank account is empty and his wife Shel (an also eruptive MyAnna Buring) has become vocally impatient about carrying the financial load. But this new gig proves to be seriously weird.

Without ever losing that gritty, indie sensibility, Ben Wheatley’s fascinating film begins a slide in Act 2 from crime drama toward macabre thriller. You spend the balance of the film’s brisk 95 minutes actively puzzling out clues, ambiguities and oddities. (The often impenetrable accents don’t exactly help with this sleuthing). The “What the hell is happening?” response to a film is rarely this satisfying.

For those looking for blood and guts and bullets, Kill List will only partially satisfy and may bewilder by the end. But audiences seeking a finely crafted, unusual horror film may find themselves saying thank you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQDPp5hxFZQ

2. Martyrs (2008)

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

Mining the heartbreaking loneliness of abandoned, damaged children, the film follows the profound relationship between torture survivor Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) and the only friend she will ever have, an undeterrably loving Anna (Morjana Alaoui).

Constantly subverting expectations, including those immediately felt for Anna’s love, writer/director Pascal Laugier makes a series of sharp turns, but he throws unforgettable images at you periodically, and your affection for the leads keeps you breathlessly engaged.

The proceedings are tough to stomach, but well-conceived and skillfully executed. It holds some gruesome imagery, and though the climax may not be pleasing, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7Qx2dT-lUw

1. Frailty (2001)

Director Bill Paxton stars as a widowed, country dad awakened one night by an angel – or a bright light shining off the angel on top of a trophy on his ramshackle bedroom bookcase. Whichever – he understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.

Flash forward and we’re led through the saga of the serial killer God’s Hand by a troubled young man (Matthew McConaughey), who, with eerie quiet and reflection, recounts his childhood with Paxton’s character as a father.

Dread mounts as Paxton drags out the ambiguity of whether this man is insane, and his therefore good hearted but wrong-headed behavior profoundly damaging his boys, or is he really chosen, and his sons likewise marked by God? The film upends everything – repeatedly – until it’s as if it’s challenged your expectations, biases, and your own childhood to boot.

Paxton crafts a morbidly compelling tale free from irony, sarcasm, or judgment and full of darkly sympathetic characters. It’s a surprisingly strong feature directorial debut from a guy who once played a giant talking turd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89u-uKDNrfU

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB podcast.

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 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.