Halloween’s odd placement on the calendar this year means the majority of us have already partied in our respective sexy costume variations (this year I went as “Sexy Freemason”) and passed out candy to excited kids, leaving the blessed day itself as the perfect time to kick back and treat yourself to a night of 1,000 frights. (Note: amount of frights is variable.) And to sweeten the pot, I’ve only chosen films currently available for streaming, meaning that if you’re as hopelessly connected as I find myself, you’ll be able to watch these all at no cost (if you’re not as hopelessly connected, the cost would be signing up for trial memberships, I guess). So without further ado, let’s get mysterious and spooky:
Covering ample cinematic terrain that I personally delight in (movies set almost entirely on trains, the spirit of scientific inquiry leading to the downfall of civilization, dubbing both good and terrible, brain-based autopsies) and combining it all into one fevered product, Horror Express is a perfect way to kick off a seasonal fest. A British/Spanish co-production that attempts to cash in on Hammer Horror goodwill (featuring Hammer mainstays Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee) is an underrated delight. The then-tradition of filming without sound and later dubbing in all dialogue and sound might prove too big an obstacle for those lactose intolerant movie fans amongst us (there’s plenty here that could be deemed “cheesy”), but for those willing to stick with this tale of an anthropologist (Lee) whose discovery of what he believes to be a missing evolutionary link that proves to be far less dead and frozen than he originally believed, there’s a heckuva entertaining picture on display. The film is fun enough as numerous expendable characters are slowly picked off by the briefly glimpsed creature, but then Telly Savalas shows up and starts devouring scenery as a Cossack officer in the late stages of the picture and the entire enterprise shoots into the stratosphere. Surprisingly atmospheric and funny (Cushing’s female assistant unleashes some truly nonsensical double entendre), Horror Express is well worth any horror fan’s time.
HAUSU aka HOUSE (Streaming on Hulu)
This 1977 fever dream of a haunted house picture is unrelentingly bonkers. I’m loathe to spoil the experience of seeing this psychedelic freakout for any first time viewers, so I won’t go into any specific plot detail (a girl and her friends visit an aunt’s house, and things happen) and instead pass on a few bits of trivia:
The film was released by Toho studios who only allowed experimental filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi to direct the film after all in-studio directors rejected the project on the grounds of it being career suicide.
The film is mostly populated by non-actors, whose characters are given names like Gorgeous, Kung Fu and Fantasy.
The film’s initial conception came out of conversations Obayashi held with his pre-teen daughter, with many of the films memorable set pieces springing from her imagination.
This is absolutely a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience, bursting at the seams with nonsense and color, a movie whose critical esteem has risen so highly that it was released as part of the Criterion Collection in America. If you haven’t yet caught this, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Ti West’s slow-burn descent into terror is a divisive film amongst horror fans, with many die-hard genre fanactics claiming the slow burn is like sunbathing in mid-January as you wait for Jocelin Donahue’s babysitting gig to go terribly wrong. As somebody who loves the genre, but still finds watching horror movies a deeply stressful proposition (a childhood of Freddy Krueger-starring nightmares and a fear simply of hearing the Gremlins theme music from another room should paint a robust psychological portrait), I have to disagree vehemently. The payoff to the film’s slow-burn is spectacular, and director Ti West does more than enough to sprinkle unease throughout the proceedings, recreating the atmosphere and mood of ’70s and ’80s horror with a masterful touch. For someone who writhes in their seat with anticipation whenever the poo is about to hit the fan in this type of picture, this film is agonizing in a deeply pleasant way. Plus, it’s got Greta Gerwig and a spectacular use of The Fixx.
Easily my most beloved movie being recommended here, The Host is essentially a monster movie, but proves to be very much more. Managing to be terrifying, thrilling, hilarious and tragic (often in the same scene), Korean mastermind Bong Joon-Ho has crafted one of the great films of our modern era here and while I’d argue there’s not a bad time of year to take in this masterwork, Halloween is especially perfect. Following one family’s desperate search for a young daughter captured by a disgusting monster born of American pollution in the Han River (there’s some strong political satire running as an undercurrent in the film), it takes the best parts of Little Miss Sunshine and Jaws and combines it in one unforgettable package, with a daytime monster attack sequence that is an absolute all-timer.
V/H/S/2 (Streaming on Netflix)
Anthology films are tricky things, but the malleability of the horror genre seems to make it the best destination for such filmmaking – the variety of creatures and archetypes available to a filmmaker playing in this sandbox makes for some substantially different styles of story that still manage to feel like they’re thematically connected, which is the biggest hurdle this style of story-telling has to face. And where the original V/H/S, a found footage horror anthology, was definitely a mixed bag, V/H/S/2 is an absolute blast from start to finish with nary a clunker in sight. The absolute best entry follows a documentary crew given unprecedented access to a geographically secluded cult, an exercise in escalation from the creators of the action film The Raid: Redemption that might literally blow your mind. But ghosts, aliens and zombies fill out the rest of the entries and they’re uniformly great. Once again, the story that connects these disparate found footage tales is slightly lacking, but even that is a vast improvement over the previous selection. Hyper-violent and wildly entertaining, this is the perfect close to a day of horror movie binge-watching.