Last year for Halloween I wrote about five movies that scare me a lot. This year, I want to write about five more, but I am shying away from Freddy and Jason and Michael and Leatherface. Instead I am focusing on movies that aren't as well known and maybe even not horror at all but all had images that make me scared in the middle of the night. Not all of them are super scary, as a horror movie wimp, I shy away from anything too extreme, but I think any of these would make an excellent Halloween night choice! Four out of five of them are available on Netflix Instant!
1. Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011): I have written about this movie before on this very blog and nearly two years after seeing it, the imagery of this movie still terrifies me. The film follows incompetent hit man and father who is just trying to take care of his family. And it ends…well that’s the thing, Kill List has the most shocking, bizarre and unsettling ending of any movie I've seen. The story starts out quite mundane almost in a typical way, in the realist style, kitchen sink look, with Jay (Neil Maskell) and his mate Gal (Michael Smiley) taking on the fateful, final job before getting out of this killing business for good. Jay may or may not have committed some kind of atrocity while serving in the army and that may or may not be why he is picked for this job, to kill three people. Wheatley builds the tension exquisitely as the hits start to go wrong, and get weird and the viewer never really knows exactly what happening. There are demonic symbols and foreboding figures and a atmospheric and eerie play fight with his son, which feels like foreshadowing but you can’t pinpoint how. Once the first man on the kill list thanks Jay before he shoots him, you know things are going to get worse. As Jay and Gal try to explicate themselves from this job, the sense that something terrible is going to happen only builds. And boy does something terrible happen. Once the hit men encounter the druid / occult / satanic group that hired them, well I will leave it at that. A slow burn that explodes.
2. Entrance (Patrick Horvath and Dallas Hallam, 2011): I think the theme of this top five actually could have been slow burning horror because Entrance is another perfect example of a sense of dread building and building and finally exploding in one virtuoso ending. Whereas Wheately is more Kubrick, Horvath and Hallam are more Dardenne brothers, following our protagonist, Suziey (I almost want to refuse to spell it that obnoxious way), over her shoulder observing her everyday, very boring life. Suziey has moved to L.A. and made a few friends but mostly she is lonely and isolated. She spends her days walking (which in L.A. is strange in itself) and is threatened by men following her around, or are they? Her paranoia seems misplaced but as a woman I can definitely relate to that fear. We see a car slow down next to her on an empty road, she hears footsteps behind her, is it harmless or a threat? After her beloved dog goes missing and she begins to feel more and more anxiety in the city, she decides to move home to the Midwest. Throughout the film, there is a sustained eeriness and tension, a threat that Suziey and the viewer can’t quite put her finger on. At her going away party, the power goes out briefly and s*&t gets real we see what has been going on the whole time. Again, I will refrain from spoiling but the last twenty or so minutes of the film are a single, fluid take and manages to be terrifying and emotional and the last shot is strangely beautiful.
3. Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968): I am going to say that Witchfinder General is kind of silly, it’s a Hammer horror film for god sakes. A small budget, medieval setting, lusty wenches and Vincent Price? A combination for a good time maybe but a truly scary film, probably not. But again, the ending has really stuck with me for the last few years and the general tone of the movie. Vincent Price is the "witchfinder", Michael Hopkins, who goes from village to village torturing and killing women who have confessed to be witches and exploiting the fears of the townspeople. Price, casts an intimidating but slightly silly form, but still, a megalomaniac. But as the film goes on, the viewer can see how serious he takes the slightly silly material and the movie takes a dark turn. Hopkins and his henchman capture and torture a local priest. His young and beautiful niece offers herself to Hopkins in order to save her uncle. Instead she is brutally raped by the Igor like henchmen and Hopkins rejects her and executes her uncle. After the execution of the priest, the young girls soldier fiancé vows revenge and goes after Hopkins. The inevitable showdown at the end of the movie is almost as f*#&ed up as the aforementioned Kill List, a haunting vision of murder and madness.
4. The House of the Devil: (Ti West, 2009): Ti West uses the hallmarks of 1980’s horror films to, you guessed it, build exquisite and nail biting tension in this satanic take on the babysitter alone in the house film. Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is completely broke and in order to pay for her schooling she takes a job “babysitting” a bed ridden woman in a extremely isolated and extremely creepy house. Greta Gerwig, my current favorite indie darling, appears as the nosey and skeptical best friend and Tom Noonan is effectively unsettling as the man who hires Samantha. Donahue is pretty forgettable as Samantha, I mean if you have Gerwig, use her, but the atmosphere distracts enough from her uninspired performance. The standout sequence is when Samantha dances around the house listening to her walk-man, not quite realizing what is behind every door she nearly opens (you will never think of the song that plays, "One Thing Leads to Another" the same way!). West effectively conjures up the fear of isolation and strangers perfectly and leaves you creeped out at the very last scene (obviously I have a thing for last scenes, in horror movies, I think a shock ending is the way to leave a lasting impression, especially for me, since I have my hands over my eyes half the time anyway!). A perfect amalgam of haunted house and slasher movies with a bit of Rosemary’s Baby thrown in for good measure, House of the Devil is definitely not a movie I will be revisiting any time soon and on this list, that’s the highest compliment I can pay a film.
5. You’re Next (Adam Wingard, 2013): You’re Next is a clever and nasty little movie, house invasion story that doesn’t shy away from gore and bloody and creative ways to kill people. The story begins on an ominous and tongue in cheek note with a man and his much younger, much nuder girlfriend post coitus. As she mopes around (shirtless, of course, this is a nod to slasher films) he showers. We can guess what happens next. As he emerges from the shower he finds You’re Next written in blood. This isn’t a particularly scary movie but the you’re next motif was certainly the most effective scare of the movie. And it comes back, just let me tell you. We then move onto the neighbors, a beautiful country mansion. The family is arriving to celebrate the parent's anniversary, four children and their significant others. Tensions are palpable between the siblings, their spouses and the parents, everyone is whinging and . At first I thought the movie was too mean spirited with the viewer hoping to see the unsympathetic characters killed. But quickly Erin (Sharni Vinson), girlfriend of Crispian, slightly chubby college professor, emerges as the prototypical final girl and we have someone to root for and hopefully save the incompetent family. I also got a kick out of seeing Joe Swanberg, indie director in the flesh; he is appropriately smarmy as the eldest brother. There is a twist that I saw coming from a mile away and I didn’t like the egregious and mean spirited last shot but overall You’re Next is a fun dissection of the horror genre that follows the formula but also keeps it fresh.
House of the Devil, You're Next, Kill List, and Witchfinder General are all available on Netflix Instant if you are looking for a last minute scary choice. Happy Halloween!