Bad horror movies are a dime a dozen, but if you look carefully I think you’ll find there’s a lot to like in today’s scene. Foreign and independent films are a good place to start. Sometimes you can even luck out when a mainstream movie is actually released to good reviews. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even get around to seeing some of the best reviewed horror-related films of the year. Paranorman and Frankenweenie (my theater had technical difficulties) were two that I sorely missed. Fortunately, I still managed to put together a tight top five for this year’s Shocktober.
Don’t let the gimmicky title fool you, this is a sharp political satire. A comical spin on the zombiepocalypse made in… Cuba? I didn’t even know they had a film scene. So for me this was my first real cinematic look at the streets of Havana and it’s inhabitants. Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) is a slacker fisherman highly critical of his oppressive government. So when a zombie-breakout hits Havana he becomes his own man and starts a zombie-busting service with his fellow odd-ball friends. The humor and horror are well balanced but it’s the satire that makes the film. For example, the Cuban government tries to convince the people that the zombies are dissidents revolting against the government. Ha, Viva Juan de los Muertos!
V/H/S is a multi-director, found footage, anthology film. Probably the first one of it’s kind, which is both it’s gift and it’s curse. V/H/S is a series of five found footage short films, each by a different director. The segments are wrapped around by a main story about a group of criminals who’ve been hired to find a special VHS tape in a creepy house. When they arrive they find not just a tape but dozens of tapes. So they then must go through them one at a time for some reason. Each tape is a short film done by a different filmmaker, with Ti West being the only notable name in the bunch. Strangely his segment is the least impressive, but there’s still a lot to like in V/H/S. Subjects range from murderers, to ghosts, to man-eating succubi. The first and last segments are the best (as they should be) but at the least every short delivers a few good jump scares. V/H/S is a bold horror experience which is probably the reason it’s failed to get any mainstream attention. Still, I commend the personel involved for their effort.
Sinister is an effective combination of classic shocker techniques and found footage. The film utilizes Super 8 footage to put an eerie spin on the paranormal. Ethan Hawke stars as a struggling true-crime writer who has just moved his family into a murder house. What he discovers there is a series of old super 8 films depicting a series of grisly family murders. These reels soon become his obsession in a well paced thriller from the director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Sinister follows all the typical horror beats but with just enough flare to make it fun.
Adapted from Susan Hill’s 1983 ghost story novel, The Woman in Black is a return to the same gothic style that made Hammer Films famous. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a widowed single father and struggling lawyer. In danger of losing his job, Arthur takes an assignment to obtain the paperwork to sell Eel Marsh House, a creepy estate with a dark past. The kicker? Arthur has to stay in the mansion until he’s finished his work. This leads to a series of jump-out-of-your-seat scares that’ll leave you shaking in your hobnail boots. The Woman in Black maybe formulaic but it’s my pick for scariest film of the year.
It just had to be. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard riffing on horror cliches? Sounds awesome. Throw in Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins? That’s just icing on the cake. Cabin in the Woods is a full on horror-meta overload with more than enough grins and gore to satisfy any horror fan. Jam packed with twists and turns it may have been the most fun I had at the movies this year. So many horror movies today are so brooding and serious, it’s a nice of change of pace to get something that’s not only freaky but funny too. Not since Scream has a horror movie turned the genre so on it’s head. The Cabin in the Woods will be a cult favorite for years to come.