According to IMDB I’ve seen over 400 horror movies, and while that may be inflated by loose application of genre tags, counting TV shows/episodes, and/or the product of a wasted teenage-hood (then again a great deal of horror films are barely features, so I guess cumulative hour-wise it’s not as bad), horror is my favorite genre when it works and also my least favorite genre more than half the time when it doesn’t (to misquote Paul Rudd, horror works 40% of the time, every time).
Anyway, while it seems that Netflix no longer has as many (interesting) horror movies as it used to (I first saw things like Silent Scream and Def by Temptation on Netflix a couple years back), here are some great horror movies still (at least as of Sunday) streaming on Netflix.
Absentia- There are some great Indie horror dramas being made and this may be the best (it made my year end top 10 list last year). Contemporary fable with spiritual and psychological working through.
The Cabin in the Woods-Anything I say about this will be redundant.
Dust Devil- See my semi-recent review. Not exactly a horror movie but a multivalent work of post-colonial art.
Evil Dead- Shockingly, I’m not as much of a fan of the 2nd one. I prefer the manic seriousness and loving (& perverse) craft of the first one; claymation and all.
The Frighteners- Criminally underrated horror comedy. Important in the history of green-screen use.
Hellraiser: Inferno-An interesting mess by Scott Derrickson. The Hellraiser franchise is a case study of interesting art-direction that never pays off. This is a rather nasty, Paul Schrader-esque, film noir morality tale that only uses bits and pieces of the franchise as set-dressing.
The Host- Political satire mixed with a deeply moving allegory of personal loss. Oh, and a great monster movie.
Ju-on: The Grudge- One of my top 5 horror movies of all-time and gets my vote as the scariest. A maddening, tragic, dread permeates this movie throughout.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space-Fun, pay-per-view cable b-classic that lives up to the ridiculousness of its title. This year is it’s 25th anniversary.
Land of the Dead- One of the most important Bush-era political films was this largely overlooked sequel.
Let the Right One In- I hear the US version is good but this is a perfect movie.
The Pact-Another outstanding Indie horror-drama. It unravels a bit in the end but few recent films have had the well-designed atmosphere that this one does.
Pontypool- One of the most clever zombie movies I’ve seen. Derrida would have loved this movie.
Pulse- I guess it’s technically a horror movie but really an outstanding tragic supernatural drama about the alienating effects of loneliness and technology.
Resolution- See my recent rave review.
Rosemary’s Baby- A classic. I’m still trying to see exactly what about this movie fascinated Stanley Cavell so much.
Session 9- On most true horror fans list of (underrated) horror classics.
Stake Land- It has a few rather serious problems, but an effective, surprisingly lyrical post-apocalyptic road-trip film.
The Stuff- Larry Cohen may be an acquired taste, if you’re a fan of quirky exploitation he is very much your taste, but this may be his most accessible. A goofy, fun, body snatcher, corporation run-amok, sci-fi horror.
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil- I don’t enjoy this movie, in the same way I don’t really enjoy W.C. Fields movies, and they’re basically doing the same things. A very clever revisionist horror.
Dir. John McTeirnan
* * *
[I wrote this a while ago but figured I’d post in closer to Halloween]
This is John McTeirnan’s first film and that may explain it’s level of ambition and how much of an unwieldy mess it is. Pierce Brosnan plays a French anthropologist, who is rushed to and dies mysteriously in an LA ER. The doctor who treated him suddenly begins to re-live his last days as he follows a group of heavy metalish punks that have something to do with an Inuit legend. Throw in Adam Ant and you have one of the stranger movies of the 80’s.
It’s full of fascinating ideas that aren’t executed well: punks as nomadic sub-culture, contact zones, identity, urban indigenaety, colonial guilt, etc. None of these are really explored, they are just there as the movie is more interested in the mystery/horror elements (even though the plot is a weak spot); it sort of proceeds like Weir’s The Last Wave.
Even though the ideas don’t amount to much, and if you’re not fascinated by it as an object of curiosity or study, it is an effective film because of it’s dream-like atmosphere. I was going to say it was Lynchian, but this would be pre-Lynchian (he hadn’t begun to play with plot structure yet), as some of the elements feel like later Lynch (particularly Lost Highway). This could be that the film suggests some influence from Persona, something it shares with Lynch.
I don’t like remakes, and a remake would probably excise all of the excess that makes this a strange and interesting movie, but if you were going to remake a minor 80’s movie this would be one to think about.
aka Three-way Intersection Theater (this title is fascinating); aka The Ghost Theater, 2006
Dir. Jeon Gye-Soo (surprisingly this is his only film)
I spend a bit of time on the internet looking for weird and wonderful movies, and this very much satisfies both criteria. Even as someone well versed in Asian horror, and cult films as myself I was surprised I had never heard of this. Then again it only has 21 (now 22) votes on IMDB. I read two very enthusiastic reviews by people I tend to agree with (in fact one internet poster seems to be the one person in the world flying the flag for this movie on various sites), and the description: a musical horror comedy fantasy film about movies, as well as comparisons to Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris (another brilliant, moving horror musical), one of my all-time favorite films. And luckily it is available on Youtube with English subtitles.
That’s a long winded way of conveying the obscurity of this movie, never released (perhaps even screened) in the US, (from what I’ve read) did mild box-office in South Korea, and unavailable on DVD (as far as I can tell).
But this movie deserves a larger audience, and should be a cult hit (then again I guess maybe around a dozen people online is about as cult as it gets). And unlike many cult films that may be acquired tastes or fill specific niches, this is a pretty accessible (but still quirky and at times bizarre) and even crowd-pleasing movie. However, fans of movies, and film history (as well as Greek mythology) will get extra enjoyment out of it. It may help to know, for instance about the pyônsa, a sort of Korean benshi.
So what’s it about? One night Sodan’s grandmother disappears on her way to see a movie she was in a long time ago, one final time. Sodan, lonely and aimless, goes to the theater (old, empty, and going out of business) and hoping her grandmother comes back there, gets a job working as the new cashier. One night she meets the ghosts of an old theater troupe with connections to the theater, though she is warned not to by the theater’s suicidal owner. As things go on she discovers more about her grandmother, a cursed movie, and Korean & Korean film history.
It’s also about movie going and film as a medium. There have been a few books written about how when movies first came around people felt there was something specifically ghostly about them. And throughout history the very act of watching dead people while alive in a different place and time, even removed from any sort of movie as spiritual medium view, can be spooky. It has informed all sorts of theories and views about film and watching movies. This is very much about that. The theater owner seems conflicted, at once obsessed with the immortality that films can give the people it films but also burdened by the curse of being replayed and not being able to ever die. And then there is the question of when theaters close and films are lost what happens to the ghosts trapped inside? If nobody sees them do they exist? Communal viewing of film is important here. And all of these concerns are worked out doubly in the film, first through the ghosts and the movie within the movie which gives us a director as mad scientist, but who, like many mad scientists, has a very good reason to do so, bringing up the possibility of film, and not just any film but the horror film, as oppositional political statement and attempt at a sort of spiritual reconciliation.
Which brings me back to one of the alternate titles, 3 Way Intersection Theater. What is intersecting? Life, Death, and what else? Past, present, future? This suggests that viewing is not passive, that something is intersecting, as in going through, and that the three meet at the site of the theater. Is film the third thing, a non-life death, or non-death life?
If the plot description, my bit of theory in the last paragraphs, and the multi-genre labels sound busy, that’s part of what makes this film great. It’s ambitious and full of ideas and throws so much into it but much of it tends to work. And even when it doesn’t it is thoroughly entertaining. Is it weird? Yes, but comparatively no if you’re talking Asian cult movies (maybe less weird than Katakuris). If Tim Burton saw this he’d be remaking it right now (though it has more of an edge than Burton, more Del Torro but not as twisted) with Johnny Depp playing Mosquito (so, maybe it’s good that it’s still under-seen?). It’s also somewhat familiar: parts Field of Dreams, Beetlejuice, Purple Rose of Cairo, Phantom of the Opera, and Demons. Overall the tone, while irreverent is good matured-this is such an endearing movie: it’s a bit misleading to call if a horror film, though it is a ghost story and part monster movie, and has all the components, because it’s not meant to scare.
Unlike Katakuris, where part of the concept was to contrast the controlled, composed nature of the music and dancing with the chaos and violence of the narrative action, this is pretty much a straight ahead musical, though more it seems to employ multiple musical discourses from the more punkish Hedwig type (I could so see this as an off-off broadway musical) to some more classical broadway tunes later on. At first it may seem a bit stagey and gaudy. This may also be a reason for its obscurity. The first two songs are the least accessible, a bit grotesque, and kitschy (then again I guess all musicals are). I was worried that the rest of the movie would be just like them. Part of the problem is that it comes across more superficial. However, as the movie advances it reveals deeper layer behind that superficiality, and by the end, while some of the characters are a bit unevenly developed, it is a surprisingly moving, and sincere experience.
It also helps that, and this was a concern about a lower-budget movie I’d never heard of, the music is rather outstanding, and the translation in the subtitles I saw were quite good; not too much seemed lost in translation, or as much as the awkwardly literal translation of the film’s title would suggest.
Another weakness of the film is some confusion about temporality: when did the ghosts live, how old is the boss, etc. These don’t really add up, but then again in a fantasy horror film they don’t have to, in fact confusion is a hallmark of Asian horror (the intervention of films like Ju On [which gets made fun of here] was why spend so much time on boring, tired plots with flat characters when you can exploit the very flatness into ambiguity and focus instead on atmosphere) and why they work so well. If things like this bug you the movie might bother you as might the ambiguous final shot.
To paraphrase those much parodied 80’s Broadway commercials, I laughed (it’s a very funny movie), I cried (I only just teared up, but I’ll go with it), it was wonderful.
Dir. Neil Blomkamp
I’m giving this film the benefit of the doubt because it’s not a sequel or adaptation of anything. And it may be partly that I’ve waited too long for Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9. But nothing that worked so well in that movie works here.
Perhaps more importantly it’s a sci-fi film that’s not that interesting, and if it was supposed to be an action film it never gets going; I kept waiting for it to shift into another gear, and at those moments it would actually go slower. More importantly, what made District 9 work was compelling characters, even a giant alien-bug thing, but this movie assumes that putting people in unjust situations makes them sympathetic without really giving them any depth (but some instead some rather sentimental flashbacks).
If you liked the number of exploding bodies in District 9, then at least there’s something here for you. For the person who writes an analysis of Blomkamp’s oeuvre down the road this will give them nice material to work with about augmented (oh, and post-humanists too!) bodies and the limitations of flesh. The movie looks great, the robotics and exo-skeletons look cool, but the plot of the movie is a absolute, didactic mess. Even as someone sympathetic to its politics it felt heavy-handed.
That, and I wonder what it means that perhaps the most visibly post-Occupy film is a big-budget summer movie. Mostly, can you spend so much on a sci-fi/action film and still have any credibility at all talking about income inequality? Then again if you give the money away, or spend less, you don’t have a movie, or the same movie, and if you don’t play the system nobody sees the movie. And what does it mean that this, and The Purge, both have extreme violence involved in 99%/1% confrontations… This gets into long-lasting debates about political filmmaking, and while it may be a bit much too call this political film, its themes are a more explicit than those found in some of the classic 70’s sci-film films with left-leaning politics. Soylent Green was very much about similar topics, but it was essentially a mystery film (to the point that Charlton Heston didn’t have a problem starring in it). This is very much about confronting the unjust distribution of wealth and access to healthcare, to the point that I’m not sure it’s even metaphor anymore.
After years of dedicated acting service as horrible people, Hollywood owes it to write a movie where William Fichtner plays the most likeable, nice guy in the world. I’m concerned that when they see him in real life people regularly walk up and punch him in the face. And Alice Braga can’t seem to escape acting in disappointing sci-fi movies. Someone help her out please!
I’m not going to mention that Matt Damon, the savior figure in the film, seems to be the only white guy on earth (aside from his scumbag bosses). Not gonna go there. Not going to ask if Max was originally going to be a Latino character named Maximo. Just going to move onto the next point…
Elysium itself, modeled after those utopian space designs in pop science books I used to check out at the library, looks like the Citadel from Mass Effect and the exo-skeletans and droids, and body enhancement with tech…I guess it would be too obvious to draft Neil for the Mass Effect movies, also hypocritical given my first line about adaptations, but I did think it a few times.
I like Sharlto Copley a lot, I think he even made The A-Team a decent picture, and thought he deserved an Oscar nod for District 9, but I’m not sure he even had an idea about what to do with his performance (his character is probably the biggest missed opportunity in the film because he’s never made into anything). Though he does look awesome doing whatever it is he’s trying to do.
The people at Cracked are going to love tearing up the world of the film, beyond why is Dubstep the popular music 140 years in the future? Soon to be added on their “Happy endings with horrible implications” or something.
I was reading Esquire this morning and came across a list of movie characters’ styles to steal and one of them was Michael from Breathless.
But one of the points of the movie is that he stole his look from Bogart.
Did Esquire miss this or were they making a point. That everything now is a copy of a copy.
Either the tell-tale signs of a slasher serial killer is completely alien to them or they are Carol Clover.
Dir. Guillermo del Toro
* * 1/2
In a few words: Fighting Monsters Gundam Style
One [long] sentence review: Del Toro creates a lot of goodwill by, in large part, embracing the cheesiness of the concept, doing quite a bit with his characters (with what he gives himself to work with), and it does what you want big, loud summer movies to do (kids and teens will like it), but while it has more heart than had someone like Roland Emmerich done it, it ends up using quite a bit of the same shorthand.
- Like nearly every sci-fi action movie ever it is far more enjoyable and interesting when it sets up its world than it is when it wants to tie up its events.
- The contrast between the Charlie Day/Owen from Torchwood sub-plot, and their performances, and the main plot is almost extreme enough to suggest that del Toro was trying to do something more with it but not extreme enough for me to figure out what.
- Not sure if the whole other dimension thing, given the presence of GLaDOS, comes from the Valve universe? There’s also a bit of Lovecraft here, possibly from del Toro’s frustrated attempts at adaptation (giants from the sea: is there a bit of Cthulhu here?).
- Interesting that the classic Kaiju movies are generally read as responses to and allegories of the atom bomb yet here nuclear energy is important to stopping the monsters. Also interesting that in the Kaiju films the protagonists are (if not arguably the monster itself) typically scientists and civil servants, while here it is the military, or rather the hot shot pilots in some ways it is (a not quite as Lucas-ian;though he does use some Kurosawa wipes) as much an homage to those movies as it is to Kaiju films).
- Despite what I said in #4, this is a bit of return of the giant monster film to more mainstream entertainment after it was employed rather politically during the last decade, most notably in The Host and The Mist (the former the result of American imperial ineptitude [though more universally grief] and the later, quite terminally, as the breakdown of American civilization in the face of fundamentalism). Here the monsters may not be entirely politically neutral, there is a giant protective border fence involved, but are far less politically determined.