Fright Club: Nobody Dies

Leave it to our Correspondent from the Future, Cory Metcalfe, to come up with this killer topic. We rank the best horror films in which not one single person dies—not during the running time, anyway. And yet, they’re scary. Well, they range from funny to spooky to unsettling to terrifying, but these films prove that a good filmmaker can terrify you without pushing the knife all the way in.

5. Compliance (2012)

Compliance is an unsettling, frustrating and upsetting film about misdirected and misused obedience. It’s also one of the most impeccably made and provocative films of 2012 – a cautionary tale that’s so unnerving it’s easier just to disbelieve. But don’t.

Writer/director Craig Zobel – who began his career as co-creator of the brilliant comic website Homestar Runner (so good!) – takes a decidedly dark turn with this “based-on-true-events” tale. It’s a busy Friday night at a fast food joint and they’re short staffed. Then the police call and say a cashier has stolen some money from a customer’s purse.

A Milgram’s experiment come to life, the film spirals into nightmare as the alleged thief’s colleagues agree to commit increasingly horrific deeds in the name of complying with authority.



4. They Look Like People (2015)

Christian (Evan Dumouchel) is killing it. He’s benching 250 now, looks mussed but handsome as he excels at work, and he’s even gotten up the nerve to ask out his smokin’ hot boss. On his way home from work to change for that date he runs into his best friend from childhood, Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), who’s looking a little worse for wear. Christian doesn’t care. With just a second’s reluctance, Christian invites him in – to his apartment, his date, and his life.

But there is something seriously wrong with Wyatt.

Writer/director Perry Blackshear’s film nimbly treads the same ground as the wonderful Frailty and the damn near perfect Take Shelter in that he uses sympathetic characters and realistic situations to blur the line between mental illness and the supernatural.

3. The Conjuring (2014)

James Wan’s classic haunted house tale delivered real scares from start to finish. Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to, eschewing CGI for practical effects and understanding that our physical danger is not always as terrifying as what could happen to our souls.

2. Freaks (1932)

Short and sweet, like most of its performers, Tod Browning’s controversial film Freaks is one of those movies you will never forget. Populated almost entirely by unusual actors – midgets, amputees, the physically deformed, and an honest to god set of conjoined twins (Daisy and Violet Hilton) – Freaks makes you wonder whether you should be watching it at all. This, of course, is an underlying tension in most horror films, but with Freaks, it’s right up front. Is what Browning does with the film empathetic or exploitative, or both? And, of course, am I a bad person for watching this film?

Well, that’s not for us to say. We suspect you may be a bad person, perhaps even a serial killer. Or maybe that’s Hope. What we can tell you for sure is that this film is unsettling, and the final, rainy act of vengeance is truly creepy to watch.

1. The Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

Fright Club: Single Parent Horror

All the single ladies, all the single ladies – unfortunately, life does not always turn out as well for us as it does for Beyonce. Today we celebrate and fear the horror that can befall the single parent. Your kids may be monsters. Monsters may be after your kids. You may be the monster. Maybe it’s all three at once. Whatever the case, horror filmmakers have found a way to hit some very effective buttons when exploring the horror potential in a single parent home.

5. The Ring (2002)

Let’s be honest, Rachel (Naomi Watts) is not much of a mother. Were it not for her sloppy parenting, her precocious son Aidan (adorable and creepy David Dorfman) might not even be in this mess. But she left her VHS tape laying around, paid no attention to what he was up to, and now Samara is coming for him.

Gore Verbinski one-upped Hideo Nakata’s 1998 Japanese original Ringu with this deeply creepy, well-executed nightmare, much of it centering on questionable parenting. Both Watts and Dorfman are excellent, each creating a character that is somehow rigid and distant, but you long for tenderness between them. Dorfman’s wise-beyond-his-years performance feels both chilly and vulnerable, and the relationship here creates an off-kilter foundation for the horrific mystery unfolding.

Everything about this film is done well – the images on the video tape, the looks on the faces of the victims, that horse bit on the boat, Brian Cox in the bathtub, Samara climbing out of the well! Verbinski strings together one nightmare image after another, but the tension of whether or not Rachel has the wherewithal to save the son she hasn’t paid enough attention to in the first place is what holds these together.

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

4. Goodnight Mommy (2014)

There is something eerily beautiful about Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s rural Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh).

During one languid summer, twin brothers Lukas and Elias await their mother’s return from the hospital. But when their mom comes home, bandaged from the cosmetic surgery she underwent, the brothers fear more has changed than just her face.

Inside this elegantly filmed environment, where sun dappled fields lead to leafy forests, the filmmakers mine a kind of primal childhood fear. There’s a subtle lack of compassion that works the nerves beautifully, because it’s hard to feel too badly for the boys or for their mother. You don’t wish harm on any of them, but at the same time, their flaws make all three a bit terrifying.

Performances by young brothers Lukas and Elias Schwarz compel interest, while Susanne Wuest’s cagey turn as the boys’ mother propels the mystery. It’s a hypnotic, bucolic adventure as visually arresting as it is utterly creepy.

3. Under the Shadow (2016)

The tale is set in Tehran circa 1988, at the height of the Iran/Iraq war and just a few years into the “Cultural Revolution” that enforced fundamentalist ideologies.

Shideh (a fearless Narges Rashidi) has been banned from returning to medical school because of her pre-war political leanings. Her husband, a practicing physician, is serving his yearly medical duty with the troops. This leaves Shideh and their young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) alone in their apartment as missiles rain on Tehran.

When a dud missile plants itself in the roof of the building (shades of del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone), Dora starts talking to a secret friend. Maybe the friend would be a better mommy.

Frazzled, impatient, judged and constrained from all sides, Shideh’s nerve is hit with this threat. And as external and internal anxieties build, she’s no longer sure what she’s seeing, what she’s thinking, or what the hell to do about it.

The fact that this menacing presence – a djinn, or wind spirit – takes the shape of a flapping, floating burka is no random choice. Shideh’s failure in this moment will determine her daughter’s entire future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fhejr94P14

2. Psycho (1960)

Was Norman Bates psychotic from the start? Or was he smothered into madness by his mother?

Hard to say – Mrs. Bates can’t speak for herself, can she? Although Norman’s mother is not a character in Hitchcock’s classic, her presence is everywhere. But to be fair, we don’t get to see her as she was, we only get to see her as Norman sees her.

Whatever the case, Norman has an unhealthy attachment to his late mother, a single parent whose relationship with her son may have driven him to some very bad deeds. Part of Hitchcock’s skill in this film is to play with our expectations of the characters.

The heroine has done some questionable things. The villain is the most sympathetic character onscreen. The most relevant character in the story isn’t even in the film. Was Mrs. Bates really a bad mom, or does she just seem like that to us because we see her through Norman’s eyes, and he’s a psycho?

1. Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. You let him choose a book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

Filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Likewise, Wiseman delivers as a tender, confused, dear little boy you sometimes just want to throttle. Their naturalistic performances genuinely showcase the baggage that can exist between a parent and a child.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.





Halloween Countdown, Day 9: The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks, or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Likewise, Wiseman delivers as a tender, confused, dear little boy you sometimes just want to throttle. Their naturalistic performances genuinely showcase the baggage that can exist between a parent and a child.

Radek Ladczuk’s vivid cinematography gives scenes a properly macabre sense, the exaggerated colors, sizes, angles, and shadows evoking the living terror of a child’s imagination.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

Eerily familiar yet peculiar and unique, The Babadook immediately ranks among the freshest and more memorable films the genre has to offer. It also marks a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

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





Day 1: The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks, or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Likewise, Wiseman delivers as a tender, confused, dear little boy you sometimes just want to throttle. Their naturalistic performances genuinely showcase the baggage that can exist between a parent and a child.

Radek Ladczuk’s vivid cinematography gives scenes a properly macabre sense, the exaggerated colors, sizes, angles, and shadows evoking the living terror of a child’s imagination.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

Eerily familiar yet peculiar and unique, The Babadook immediately ranks among the freshest and more memorable films the genre has to offer. It also marks a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

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





Fright Club: Feminist Horror

Horror’s come a long way from the days of nubile, sexually wayward teenage girls being victimized and/or rescued by men. Strong female characters have become staples of the genre, thanks in part to a rise in female writers and directors, but likely just as much credit goes to an audience unwilling to accept ridiculous stereotypes. Today we are joined by Senior Feminist Correspondent Melissa Starker as we pay tribute to half dozen of the best feminism horror has to offer.

6. The Descent (2005)

This spelunking adventure comes with a familiar cast of characters: arrogant authority figure, maverick, emotionally scarred question mark, bickering siblings, and a sad-sack tag along. And yet, somehow, the interaction among them feels surprisingly authentic, and not just because each is cast as a woman.

These ladies are not Green Berets who, unlike the audience, are trained for extreme circumstances. These particular thrill seekers are just working stiffs on vacation. It hits a lot closer to home.

More importantly, the cast is rock solid, each bringing a naturalness to her character that makes her absolutely horrifying, merciless, stunningly brutal final moments on this earth that much more meaningful.

Writer/director Neil Marshall 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.

5. The Woman (2011)

In horror movies, things don’t always go so well for the ladies. But sometimes we’ll surprise you, and your pervy freak of a son, as director Lucky McKee details in his most surefooted picture, the gender role horror show The Woman.

There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.

The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. Writer Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. McKee has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Like most of Ketchum’s work, The Woman is lurid and more than a bit disturbing. Still, nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate.

4. Ginger Snaps (2000)

Ginger Snaps picks at most of the same adolescent scabs as Carrie – there’s the underlying mania about the onslaught of womanhood accompanied by the monsterization of the female, which leads to a mounting body count.

Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and her sister Bridget (Emily Perkins), 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. It also proves especially provocative and appropriate for a film that upends many mainstay female cliches.

Walton’s wickedly humorous script stays in your face with 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.

3. Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott made a lot of great decisions with this film – the pacing, the look, the monster, and the casting. Especially the casting. Because the Ripley characgter was not specified on the page as a female – no character was – but Scott decided that a couple of these crewfolk would certainly be women by this point in human history. And history was made.

Ellen Ripley is just the next in charge. She’s just a solid, smart, savvy crewman. That’s what makes the film so special. In Aliens – an all around outstanding film – Ripley is out to save a little girl. She draws on her maternal instinct, which is a far more traditional and comforting reason for audiences to accept a female behaving this way. But in Alien, her gender really is not an issue. She happens to be the strongest, most ass kicking survivor on board.

2. The Babadook (2014)

A weary single mother contending with her young son’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior begins to believe that her son’s imaginary boogeyman may well be a monstrous presence in her house.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jonathan Demme did the impossible. He took the story of a flesh eater who helps the FBI track down a flesh wearer and turned it into an Oscar magnet. How did he do it? With muted tones, an understated score, a visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and a subtle but powerful use of the camera. The performances didn’t hurt, either.

Yes, it’s awesome, but how is it feminist? Mainly, through Jodie Foster’s character of Clarice Starling – our point of view character and the film’s hero. We are meant to identify with and root for this fledgling FBI agent as she navigates the horrifying mind of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (an epic Anthony Hopkins) in the hopes of stopping a serial killer (the under appreciated Ted Levin).

Usually, a director shoots a villain from below, making him look larger and more menacing. (It’s also not a very flattering angle, which doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to make someone seem mean.) The victim is usually shot from above, which makes them seem smaller, less powerful, more vulnerable, and cuter. When Starling and Lecter are talking in the prison, they’re shot at the same angle, eliminating that power struggle. They’re shot as equals. In this way the film as a whole affords Starling all the respect and credibility the character proves to deserve.

Thanks to Senior Feminist Correspondent Melissa Starker for joining us today! Listen to the whole conversation on our podcast FRIGHT CLUB.





Fright Club: Best Australian Horror

Thank you to Senior Aussie Correspondent Cory Metcalf for co-hosting our salute to Australian horror (and forgive our stupid jokes about Vegamite and Men at Work)! In the last decade his native land has become a powerhouse in the genre, boasting inspired, wicked, twisted efforts that range from unsettlingly authentic to weirdly, darkly comical. Here are our favorites.

5. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)

It is hard to do something fresh and interesting with a zombie film, but director Kiah Roache-Turner has done it. Writing with brother Tristan, Roache-Turner takes pieces and parts of the basic zombie myth as it’s evolved over countless films, shows, comics and video games, and woven it together with an audaciously Aussie sensibility.

Barry (Jay Gallagher) gets a call in the middle of the night from his artist/badass sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey). The zombies are here.

Barry ends up on the road with an assortment of survivors and begins the search for his sister, who’s having one hell of an adventure on her own.

Like the best in the business, Roache-Turner follows Romero’s lead when it comes to trusting the government. Zombies are more principled. But Wyrmwood mixes interesting new ideas with some of the stronger genre tropes to create a novel, often funny, action-packed film that gets creepy as hell.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mgo0ZWlK4pk

4. Snowtown (The Snowtown Murders) (2011)

John Bunting tortured and killed eleven people during his spree in South Australia in the Nineties. We only watch it happen once on film, but that’s more than enough.

Director Justin Kurzel seems less interested in the lurid details of Bunting’s brutal violence than he is in the complicated and alarming nature of complicity. Ironically, this less-is-more approach may be why the movie leaves you so shaken.

An unflinching examination of a predator swimming among prey, Snowtown succeeds where many true crime films fail because of its understatement, its casual observational style, and its unsettling authenticity. More than anything, though, the film excels due to one astounding performance.

Daniel Henshall (also in Babadook) cuts an unimpressive figure on screen – a round faced, smiling schlub. But he brings Bunting an amiability and confrontational fearlessness that provides insight into what draws people to a sadistic madman.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcoCTA2IZ7c

3. Wolf Creek (2005)

There have long been filmmakers whose ultimate goal is not to entertain an audience; the idea being that art is meant to affect, not entertain. These filmmakers, from Sam Peckinpah to Lars von Trier, generally develop impenetrable indie credibility and a line of devoted, bawling fans. No one in recent memory has applied this ideology to horror cinema as effectively as writer/director Greg McLean with his Outback opus Wolf Creek.

Some of the best scares in film have come as the reaction to urbanites’ fear of losing our tentative grasp on our own link in the food chain once we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere. With Wolf Creek, it’s as if McLean looked at American filmmakers’ preoccupation with backwoods thrillers and scoffed, in his best Mick Dundee, “That’s not the middle of nowhere. This is the middle of nowhere.”

Using only digital cameras to enhance an ultra-naturalistic style, McLean follows happy backpackers who 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.

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.

2. The Loved Ones (2009)

Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés and deftly maneuvers between angsty, gritty drama and neon colored, glittery 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.

Byrne quietly crafts an atmosphere of loss and depression in and around the school without painting the troubles cleanly. This slow reveal pulls the tale together and elevates it above a simple work of outrageous violence.

Inside Lola’s house, the mood is decidedly different. Here, we’re privy to the weirdest, darkest image of a spoiled princess and her daddy. The daddy/daughter bonding over power tool related tasks is – well – I’m not sure touching is the right word for it.

The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, unique 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

1. The Babadook (2014)

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Listen to the whole conversation on the Fright Club Podcast.





Fright Club: Best Horror 2010 – 2015

It’s official. Our flux capacitor is running out of power, our time travels are coming to a close. We’ve highlighted the best horror films of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the first decade of the 2000s, and now it’s time to bring things up to the present with the best in horror from 2010 – 2015. Who would have thought that list would be so hard to put together?

What do we wish we didn’t have to leave off? Indies like The Woman, Kill List, The Snowtown Murders; major releases like Evil Dead and The Woman in Black; foreign language gems like Big Bad Wolves, The Last Circus, We Are What We Are and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. All of this convinces us that we are in the midst of a horror movie rennaissance – hooray!

So what did make the cut? Here you go:

5. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off when.

But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard, along with his co-scribe Joss Whedon, uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.

Goddard and Whedon’s nimble screenplay offers a spot-on deconstruction of horror tropes as well as a joyous celebration of the genre. Aided by exquisite casting – particularly the gloriously deadpan Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – the filmmakers create something truly special.

Cabin is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror comedy.

4. The Conjuring (2013)

Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.

Wan’s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ

3. Let Me In (2010)

With Hollywood’s 2010 reboot of the near-perfect 2008 Swedish film, 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.

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h39ikMdei4

2. The Babadook (2014)

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

1. It Follows (2015)

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in years. He’s crafted a coming of age tale that mines for primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted 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.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB podcast.





Spooky Stories For Your Queue

The best horror film (indeed, one of the very best films, period) of 2014 is available today for home entertainment and you must see The Babadook. Writer/director/Australian Jennifer Kent, with an assist from cinematographer Radek Ladczuk and magnificent performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman – has crafted an unsettling and spooky haunted house style tale.

The horror here is fueled by compassion generated by the naturalistic performances. Kent has captured something with primal urgency, something simultaneously heartbreaking and terrifying. The film’s subtext sits like a raw nerve just below the scary happenings afoot, making this as the freshest and most relevant horror film of 2014.

Pair it with another remarkable tale of either a crazy mother or a supernatural presence, J. A. Bayona’s 2007 ghost story The Orphanage.

Belen Rueda shines as a mother whose son disappears shortly after making imaginary friends at the orphanage the family owns. Bayona creates a haunted atmosphere and Rueda’s utter commitment to the character keeps the film breathless. It is a spooky nightmare that takes its material seriously and delivers.





Fright Club: Horror’s Best Female Directors

Sunday, March 8 was International Women’s Day. We thought we’d celebrate by perusing the very best horror directed by women. It’s a much stronger list than many people realize and it includes two of the finest genre works of last year.

5. Near Dark (1987)

Back in ’87, future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow brought a new take on a familiar theme to the screen. A mixture of vampire and western tropes, Near Dark succeeds mostly on the charisma of the cast. The always welcome Lance Henricksen is campy fun as the badass leader of a vampire family, while the beguiling Mae (Jenny Wright) – nomadic white trash vampire beauty – draws you in with a performance that’s vulnerable and slightly menacing.

The most fun, though, is Bill Paxton as the truest psychopath among the group looking to initiate a new member. All the film’s minor flaws are forgotten when you can watch an unhinged Paxton terrorize a barful of rednecks. Woo hoo!

4. American Mary (2012)

A masterful Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) stars as med student Mary Mason, a bright and eerily dedicated future surgeon who’s having some trouble paying the bills. She falls in with an unusual crowd, develops some skills, and becomes a person you want to keep on your good side.

Writer/director/twins Jen and Sylvia Soska offer a screenplay that is as savvy as they come, clean and unpretentious but informed by gender politics and changing paradigms. Were it not for all those amputations and mutilations, this wouldn’t be a horror film at all. It’s a bit like a noir turned inside out, where we share the point of view of the raven haired dame who’s nothin’ but trouble. It’s a unique and refreshing approach that pays off.

3. 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. The film is simply, hauntingly gorgeous.

Set in Bad Town, a city depleted of life – tidy yet nearly vacant – Girl haunts the shadowy, lonesome fringes of civilization. The time is spent with singular individuals – a prostitute (a world-wearied and magnificent Mozhan Marno), a drug addicted father (Marshall Manesh), a street urchin (Milad Eghbali), a pimp (Dominic Rains), and a rich girl (Rome Shadanloo). Two people weave in among these players – the handsome Arash (Arash Marandi), and a lonesome vampire (Sheila Vand).

Vand’s Girl is the constant question mark, and that – along with the eerie, sometimes playful camerawork – is what makes the film unshakably memorable. I promise the image of a vampire on a skateboard will stay with you.

2. The Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror. Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

1. American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.

There’s an elegant exaggeration to the satire afoot. Bateman is a slick, sleek Wall Street toady, pompous one minute because of his smart business cards and quick entrance into posh NYC eateries, cowed the next when a colleague whips out better cards and shorter wait times. The more glamour and flash on the outside, the more pronounced the abyss on the inside. What else can he do but turn to bloody, merciless slaughter? It’s a cry for help, really.

Harron’s send up of the soulless Reagan era is breathtakingly handled, from the set decoration to the soundtrack, but the film works as well it does because of the lunatic genius of Bale’s work. Volatile, soulless, misogynistic and insane and yet somehow empathetic. It is wild, brilliant work that marked a talent preparing for big things.





Fright Club: Best Horror in 2014

If you think 2014 was a paltry year in horror, you just weren’t looking hard enough. Sure, the big blockbusters – Ouija, Annabelle, etc. – disappointed, but there were independent and foreign gems aplenty. We count downt the best horror had to offer in 2014. You’re welcome!

5. Housebound: Long before Hobbits and dragons, kiwi Peter Jackson filled New Zealand cinemas with laughs and screams while covering their screens in blood and body fluids. The torch has been passed to Gerard Johnstone, whose Housebound is a funny, clever, heart-racing horror flick about a potentially haunted house. It’s also among the very best of the genre released this year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT1KcYiPb4I

4. Big, Bad Wolves: In Isreal’s hypnotic fairy tale nightmare Big Bad Wolves we follow one driven cop, one driven-to-madness father, and one milquetoast teacher who’s been accused of the most heinous acts. Not for the squeamish, the film boasts brilliant performances, nimble writing and disturbing bursts of humor. It treads in dark, dark territory, but repeatedly dares you to look away. It’s a bold and brilliantly realized effort.

3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Ana Lily Amirpour’s first feature – also Iran’s very first vampire film -is a gorgeous, peculiar reimagining of the familiar. Amirpour mixes imagery and themes from a wide range of filmmakers as she updates and twists the common vampire tropes with unique cultural flair. The result is a visually stunning, utterly mesmerizing whole.

2. Only Lovers Left Alive: The great Jim Jarmusch (Ohio boy!) updates the vampire genre with a well conceived twist on the unusual, aided by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful performances as well as his own dry humor and magnificent eye for visuals.

1. The Babadook: A familiar tale given primal urgency, the horror fueled by compassion, the terror unsettling and genuine – this film is more than a scary movie, and it immediately ranks among the freshest and most memorable the genre has to offer.

Listen in to our new Fright Club podcast with Golden Spiral Media!

FC 01-Best Horror in 2014