Halloween Movie Recommendations: Part 2 (2018 Edition)

More recommendations for horror films this Halloween. Link to Part 1 here:

Funny Games (2007)

8.5/10

The perfectly executed horror film.

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Funny Games is a psychological horror that follows two young men and their reign of terror on a poor family. Toying with them through torture and sadistic games, the film explores violence in cinema to harrowing heights. The result is quite the message.

In my view, Funny Games is a perfectly executed horror film from writer and director Michael Haneke. Not only is it horrifying; it’s also very intelligent and knows exactly what it’s trying to do. The film is essentially a vehicle for Haneke’s opinions on the audience’s fascination with violence in cinema. Perhaps this is why it is still polarising to some but to me, it elevates Funny Games as a horror masterpiece.

This is up there with the intelligence of A Cabin In The Woods, another great horror film.

Side note: whether you watch the original French or American remake, it won’t matter. Both are the same shot for shot and I enjoyed each equally.

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006) and Dead Alive (1992)

6.5/10

Explosive diarrhea and lawnmowers chopping people’s faces.

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Poultrygeist and Dead Alive are splatter horror comedy’s that I’m recommending to watch as a double bill. The latter being written and directed by New Zealand’s most famous export, Peter Jackson. Yes, before he was winning academy awards for epic films about hobbits, he was busy killing the undead with basic kitchenware items.

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Whereas Dead Alive follows the rise of the human undead, Poultrygeist bests it by introducing the rise of the chicken undead. These films won’t be for everyone but if you love intentionally bad dialogue and laughing your head off to the most ridiculous scenes of prop gore, then these films are for you.

May (2002)

6.5/10

A slow burn creepy classic.

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May follows the life of a young woman who struggles to connect with anyone. Her only true “friend” is a glass-encased doll; a gift from her mother. It was given to May with the adage “if you can’t find a friend, make one”.

The film cleverly builds on this phrase and slowly descends into a quiet madness. May might be the least heard of film on this list but it’s definitely the creepiest. This is one of those films something very bad is going to happen but you just don’t know what.

A large part of this is thanks to lead actress Angela Bettis. Her performance is great at getting you to sympathise for May while making her feel creepy. There’s a lot of awkward touches to her personality and overall I thought she did a great job.

Yes, it is low budget but if you don’t mind the slow burn nature of the plot, May is definitely a film for you. There’s one hell of a climax at the end and that sequence alone is worth a watch. Check it out.

“Amateur Night” segment from V/H/S (2012)

7/10

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This a bonus recommendation as it’s a short film segment that appears in the horror movie anthology known as V/H/S.

The film overall is a muddled collection of found footage films from different directors and is very hit and miss. However, the “Amateur Night” segment by writer/director David Bruckner is a big hit and I love it.

Bruckner cleverly solved the question I have with many found footage horrors which is “why are you still holding the camera?”. He does this by placing the camera inside the glasses of a character so we can see his point of view and the horrors he witnesses. This made “Amateur Night” incredibly immersive for me to watch and I had a blast. For those that are a fan of found footage horror films like The Blair Witch Project, this is a must watch to the list. But don’t look up anything for it online.

Suspiria Movie Review

8.5/10

A masterpiece mix of Rosemary’s Baby meets Black Swan. Suspiria is a disturbing, shocking, and thoroughly engrossing psychological horror. Yes, it holds a few flaws but ultimately, this is modern cinema at its finest.

The story is set towards the tail of the Cold War in 1977 Berlin. We follow the journey of a young American dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who is accepted into the prestigious but mysterious Markos Dance Academy. Strange occurrences begin to occur, and Susie soon finds herself among company that’s of a different kind. Hint: this is not a film for kids.

The most enjoyable factor for me was the suspense, as subtly indicated within the name of the film. A large part of this comes from the story and its incredibly developed mythology teased out an array of harrowing concepts over time. Every time a new detail was shed, the more intrigued I became and the suspense of what could linger in the future was added.

I also loved how the film structures complemented the build-up in sense over time. Like a Quentin Tarantino film, the story was divided up into chapters and each added to this looming dreaded feeling for next part of the story. Think Paranormal Activity and how each new night brought about something worse than the one before.

The other parts that I thought were great to build suspense were the direction and performances.

Director Luca Guadagnino did a great job in breaking up these segments and teasing out important details to solidify the suspense. One of my favourite features was his use of the zoom on particular objects or faces. Apart from adding obvious focus to details important to the story, they were often employed before moments of dread and in turn made these scenes interesting to watch.

Normally directors would cut to a close-up but to me, Guadagnino’s choice of the zoom is far more interesting from a visual standpoint. Most of the zooms were done slowly, forcing me to gradually ascertain what important detail is being put forward.

It reminded me of Yorgos Lanthimos’ works (another great director, see our Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer reviews) as he also forces in this feeling of suspense from a zoom compared to a quick cut of a close-up. The latter style speeds up the information transfer process and doesn’t allow momentary confusion while I figure things out. Great in action pieces to hide the cheated punches; less in suspenseful horrors where you want to slowly tease out details and build up suspense (unless of course horror films want to use jump scares).

Interestingly, Guadagnino’s other works Call Me By Your Name and I Am Love which are dramatic films that are very different from Suspiria. Both of those are great films but I was still (pleasantly) surprised to see Guadagnino handle himself quite well in a horror genre.

Performances wise, Dakota Johnson was fine as Susie Bannion but it was Tilda Swinton who blew me away with her two roles; one of which I didn’t even realise she acted for it until looking up the cast credits. I don’t want to give this part away because I think the experience of picking this up later will make you smile but think Gary Oldman level of transformation. Suffice to say, she was simply incredible.

Apart from being a linguistic master, there are so many subtleties in her performance that really does confirm her as my favourite actress to watch. In Suspiria she plays a dance director with great commanding body movements but also real earnest in her eyes. She can give a lot away about her character simply through the way she stares at you and I found it fantastic to watch.

My only gripes with Suspiria are with subplots that could have been cut because they didn’t add anything to the story or weren’t addressed later.

Without giving too much away, there’s a subplot with the RAF (if you watch the film you’ll know what I mean) that kept getting raised but never had a payoff. I’m trying to grasp its relevance to the themes of the film, but I still don’t know what its point was. There’s also one character with glasses (again you’ll know who I mean) who I felt was important to the story but was never addressed by the end of the film. Once again, I’m not sure what her role was and I’m of the mind that this subplot could have been cut.

I also have a slight issue with the way the finale played out which came across as comical in parts even though that the exact opposite of its intention. After a while it became kind of ridiculous and in my opinion, it could have been presented differently to make it feel more harrowing. I can’t say exactly why it came across as comical without giving anything, but this is more of a minor issue compared to the almost pointless subplots.

Overall Suspiria is an incredibly well-made film and I had a blast watching it. I’m thoroughly recommending this to those that enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby and Black Swan because Suspiria feels like a mix of the two. Otherwise, if you like suspenseful psychological horrors in general, then this will still be right up your alley.

Be warned, it is quite long. The film clocks in at 2 hours and 32 minutes but thankfully I didn’t feel the film ever drag on because there’s a lot of intriguing suspense going on (even with the pointless subplots). This is a film that had enough for me to take away from one sitting but also made me more curious to read up on later (though I probably won’t be watching it again because I’m happy with what I got the first time).

I’m predicting this to be an early contender for Best Adapted Screenplay at next year’s Oscar’s as it’s based on the 1977 original of the same name. But until then, see the 2018 version when you can.

EDIT:

I forgot to add that the music is also composed by Thom Yorke, lead single and lyricist of Radiohead. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better right?

Mandy Movie Review

7/10

A mesmerising experience and one of the best movies for 2018 so far. Nicolas Cage makes a fine return with an action-horror film that’s incredibly stylistic and thoroughly entertaining. But be warned, this is not a film for the faint of heart.

Mandy tells the story of Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and his girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Red works as a logger while Mandy is a cashier and paints abstract fantasy art in her spare time. The two live a reclusive life until one day on her way to work, Mandy attracts the attention of the deviant hippie cult ‘Children of the New Dawn’. From that point on the nightmare begins.

My favourite aspect of Mandy must be the style. The cinematography oozes a psychedelic 80’s feeling with most shots lit and colour graded as a crimson red or neon green. Think the Stranger Things opening titles and you’ll get a picture of what I mean. I can’t imagine the effort it took for these shots to be set up. All credit goes to cinematographer Benjamin Loeb and the post-production team who did a fantastic job.

Everything about this movie fits perfectly with the themes of fantasy because Mandy looks and feels like a fantasy. There are scenes where characters words are slurred purposely and images of them moving are repeated to help give a fantasy feel. Even the chapter title cards look like original works of fantasy art. I had a blast watching every scene simply because it looked so amazing.

Mandy’s story is also thoroughly entertaining. Not only did it feel like a breath of fresh air, it acted as a catalyst for bringing out the best in Nicolas Cage. For an actor whose career has included some famously overly eccentric performances, I was pleasantly grateful that Mandy’s fantasy narrative gave him the platform to do just that. Mandy knows how to use Cage’s eccentric charm because it often intentionally plays on the ridiculousness of things for entertaining effect. Compare to this his other films like The Wicker Man and Vampire’s Kiss which don’t do this and end up making Cage’s antic unintentionally hilarious.

I should also add that this film isn’t for everyone because there are horror elements that really do earn it an MA rating. But for those that enjoy action-horror films or even just Nicolas Cage’s often over the top style of acting, I have no doubt that you’ll love this film. Mandy works by pairing a crazy fantasy with an actor that can match that same level of craziness in performance. And for me the combination worked brilliantly.

My only real gripe is that certain parts of the film tend to drag on and end up being slightly repetitive. In my opinion some of these scenes could have been cut earlier and their point would have been just as clear. I can see how extending the length of these scenes may have been an intentional choice from writer/director Panos Cosmatos. By slowing down the pace in these scenes one can argue they slowly lure you into a hypnotic-like state which fits with the fantasy theme Mandy is clearly going for. Maybe a second watch might confirm that but right now I’m still of the mind that scenes could have been edited for a shorter length and the same effect could have been achieved.

Ultimately with a fantastic style and gripping narrative, Mandy succeeds as a great example of independent arthouse films done right. I loved this film and I’ll be checking out more from this director in the future. Watch this on the big screen if you can because the experience will only be heightened. See it.

The Final Girls Movie Review

the final girls

See it. 6/10

“They were never alive! They weren’t real. Neither are you because this is just a movie!”

It seems that the only way to make a decent horror film these days is to have the story lampoon the common tropes of others like it. The Final Girls unashamedly parodies classic slasher film clichés and uses them for comedic effect, which thankfully does enough to make this worth the watch. This self-aware nature is not as intelligent as another similar film, The Cabin In The Woods (which is also a film that I love) so don’t walk into this with high expectations, but there is enough ridiculousness and meta-humor that still warrants seeing The Final Girls. Especially if you’re a fan of horror in general and love when it can be fused with the likes of comedy akin to the film Tucker and Dale vs Evil.

What works for The Final Girls is the story and its outlandish portrayal of horror stereotypes seen in each of the characters. Every figure is written as a caricature of the typical individuals that you’d come across in any basic slasher horror film, whether it be the dumb jock or the virgin or those that are sexually proactive; The Final Girls represents all commonly used facets of horror filmmaking but does so to lampoon their stereotypes. There are often moments of humor based on the expense of character motivations that worked well to make me smile and overall, I enjoyed the meta-like nature of the script.

The only semi-original aspect that makes it refreshing enough is the idea of having characters being sucked up into a B-grade horror film and interacting with the characters from that said film. The story then takes on the life of the B-grade horror film and utilizes all the common tropes attaches to it. I didn’t mind that it becomes unoriginal because The Final Girls is all about subverting the unoriginal clichés of horror films for comedic effect. The film might encompass super cheesy moments or poorly written plot holes but those aren’t flaws I can criticize negatively because it’s intentionally being parodied. The only unoriginal trait about The Final Girls is that it chooses to lampoon those clichés when films like The Cabin In The Woods or Tucker and Dale vs Evil have done it in the past already.

I also have some issues with the film technically. There were times when the story wasn’t necessarily trying to lampoon those clichés just yet and that I thought these scenes could have been done in a way that didn’t really need to rely on B-grade jump scares. It seems like a wasted opportunity to employ some innovative horror filmmaking techniques like the use of sound or a slow pan to reveal something sinister and it could make me feel scared.

Altogether I can’t fault the films unoriginal story even though there are a lot of cheesy cliches thrown in. This film is attempting to parody slasher films and for the most part, I say it does so well enough. I wasn’t laughing hysterically and it’s nowhere near the genius of a parody film like Black Dynamite but it’s nevertheless passable. There’s enough to warrant seeing this film, especially if you’re at all interested in seeing horror but don’t go into it with exceedingly high hopes. The Final Girls isn’t a modern horror masterpiece but it’s still worth a recommendation. See it.

Tucker And Dale Vs Evil Movie Review

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See it. 7.5/10

Just a couple of rednecks caught up in some good old-fashion horror hijinks.

With a name like Tucker and Dale vs Evil, you might be easily mistaken to think that this is yet another cheesy B-comedy horror film. However, the genius that lies behind this film is that it’s actually made as the biggest piss take on all of those said films. And it does it in ways that are not only clever but more importantly, hilarious.

We follow a group of college kids heading out on a road trip to go to a holiday cabin that’s located in the deep dark woods. Yeah, I know. Just like every other fucking horror film. But, like I said, this is a film that takes the mickey out of situations like this and subverts all the typical tropes associated with horror films. How does it do so you may ask? Well, unlike all those other films, our youthful and hopeful college kids haven’t met the likes of two country rednecks, Tucker and Dale. What the college kids don’t know, is that whilst their looks might be deceiving, Tucker and Dale are in fact the kindest people you would ever hope to meet and are just unfortunately placed in a lot of “bad looking” type situations. As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil constantly use this expression to conjure up a heap of laughs that otherwise wouldn’t be possible in any other horror film. This idea of placing the good guys in scenarios where they appear bad is the trope that makes the basis for the film’s foundation and it allows for it to take the mickey of so many other horror films that try to be like it, but in a serious way. Whilst this film essentially relies on this form of gag throughout the whole film, and it is great to see, it can be a bit stale after a while. It’s nowhere near detrimental to the fun you’ll have watching it, but I have to bring it up because it’s the main reason why this film isn’t above the rating it is.

Having mentioned the biggest problem with the film, I am writing this article because I genuinely believe that this is still something you should watch and there’s no reason not to, since, hey, it’s on Netflix! Hence why I am also putting this into our Netflix Gems category as it definitely warrants a spot, compared to some of the other crap that is on there (*cough* Annihilation cough). Tucker and Dale vs Evil might not be as intelligent as other films like The Cabin In The Woods, but it’s a lot funnier and a blast to watch with a group of friends. This is one of those films that is great to watch with others who enjoy horror and love having a laugh at the same time.

So, grab a few beers, get some snacks and some friends (hopefully you have some), and whack this one on at your next gathering. I’m sure there’ll be moments of squeamish gore that will disgust a few but also please many others. But most of you will come away from this laughing your heads off and then hopefully be recommending this to everyone else that you know. So, goooooo see it.

The Ritual Movie Review

the ritual.jpg6/10

Straight out of Netflix and into the fray. The Ritual is one of the better-made horror films in recent years. But it’s unlikeable characters, are once more a plague that ultimately drags down the quality of the story.

Set in the ever popular landscape for horror films: the deep dark woods. The Ritual tracks the lives of four friends, as they embark on a lads-like hiking holiday. Without giving the rest of the film away. You can gather an idea of what’s next to follow.

As this was the first full feature film, for one of my favorite upcoming horror directors: David Bruckner. I was eagerly excited to see how he’d handle a proper runtime, given he has only directed short film segments for horror anthologies like V/H/S and Southbound. But at the same time, I knew going into it that, unlike those said segments, he had nothing to do with the story for The Ritual. So, I should keep my expectations low and boy was this ever-great advice.

Unlike the technical aspects of this film; the characters of the plot can be just downright awful. This mainly goes for the supporting cast, whose time on screen was better spent playing the most unhelpful group of people. Rather than what they were meant to be: a group of best friends.

Granted, they were put into some extraordinary situations. But when it becomes annoyingly obvious that there has to be a conflict for the sake of conflict; it’s a complete hindrance to the story. When you’re fighting and arguing with no logic, I find it hard it to be engrossed in what you have to say. And if this is happening the entire time you’re on the screen; there’s almost no chance that I will be empathetic towards your situation and I’m praying for the moment you get killed off.

Thankfully, this wasn’t the case with the technical aspects of this film. And this is where my love for David Bruckner has come from. Ignoring the moments of frustrating character exchanges; there are some genuine moments that scared the shit out of me. Which if you may have forgotten (like I have over the years), is what a horror film is meant to fucking do.

Simple but clever technical decisions were employed as clever and perfect scare tactics. The best example of these come from the use of sound mixing, which involved silencing everything in the background and then cutting to an extremely loud zipper noise as the character opens their tent. These are just smart and fantastic works of play, that are equally effective as the now over-used jump scares trait. It often had me turning down the volume on my TV because I was afraid of it scaring the shit out of me the next time it would happen.

And when it comes to the visual aspects of the film from a technical standpoint; there are a lot of “things” that just look fucking incredible. I’ve put the word things in quotation marks, to not give away more of the story. But suffice to say, if you end up watching the film; you’ll know exactly what I mean.

In conclusion. The Ritual is a technical sound horror film with a shitty story. Not to say that all the mythology of its universe is bad. But the characters are often frustrating, like most typical holes other horror films fall through. In saying so, it still warrants enough of a watch, as David Bruckner’s technical genius still shines as an example of how to make a horror film. Therefore, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing it, even with the low ranking that I’ve given it. Just lower your expectations as well before you do so.

It Comes At Night Movie Review

when it comes at night8/10

Although its title is sure to stir up many phallus jokes, It Comes At Night is nothing remotely humorous but instead, a taut and thrilling modern horror film that is equally refreshing to see.

Without giving much away, the plot follows the life of Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who have secluded themselves from the outside world that hosts a highly contagious disease. For those fans of the highly popular game series The Last of Us on PlayStation, this film is the unofficial movie adaptation. And just like the series, you can’t help but be enthralled by the characters dire circumstances. The film’s universe is teased throughout the short 91-minute runtime, as you begin to learn new pieces of information that keep you involved with the characters. This is done perfectly as we go from simply observing actions unfold but being placed directly in their mindsets. Whilst this teasing of information sounds annoying at first glance, it only reaffirms how this is occurring the same for our characters. We learn when they learn and react when they react.

The situation they are placed in also acts in this barebone approach that ultimately reflects more of the logical reality of the apocalyptic circumstance. Writer and director Trey Edward Shults use this opportunity to narrow his scope and to focus instead on character interactions and building of suspense. This is a film that is less about its mythology, (which is still just as interesting), but more so on the tension and tone. The music works fantastically to accompany such a mood, with doses of pounding drums and eerily quiet quartets of high octave violins. And when the film states it comes at night, so does the cinematography. Day shots are fine but it’s when the night falls that the shot setups truly shine. You’ll have yourself looking out into the distance, trying to spot every nook and cranny of the dark abyss, desperately searching for something, anything that you can find. The lighting of these shots is exceptional in that regard.

When it comes down to it, It Comes At Night is a great psychological modern thriller. It’s almost a film that comes out of nowhere as its marketing promotions in Australia are incredibly minimal. I wouldn’t recommend watching the trailer to only add to the enjoyment of watching it with a blank slate but I would gauge interest simply by looking at the movie poster. Even the design of that is thrilling enough to stand alone and should be more than enough to hook you in to see the film. Forget waiting for October when the majority of horror films comes out, you only have to wait until It Comes At Night to see the real deal.