As Halloween approaches, I’m sure you’re already perusing the internet’s vast array of streaming platforms for October cinebites. Although, I don’t know why you’re searching anywhere other than Plex? The free-to-use streaming service, our parent company, catalogs copious horror titles ready to chill, entertain, and delight audiences in search of some fantastic frights this holiday season. In lieu of launching into another puff-paragraph about our corporate sponsors, why don’t I get to the recommendations? I know my place in this world. Behind a barbeque grill, beer in hand, or writing horror-themed listicles.
Did anyone else go through a weird Danny Dyer appreciation phase? Just me? I still remember renting Christopher Smith’s Severance as one of my first in-the-mail Netflix selections, when discs would appear at your doorstep. One of my first brushes with “Worksploitation” vindication, now a personal favorite subgenre given my background as a Business Management undergrad who stumbled into an obsession with horror. A noteworthy introduction, it seems.
The film follows an ill-fated corporate retreat for Palisade Defence sales employees who are eventually hunted through an Eastern European mountain range by crazed killers. It’s a whip-smart British dark comedy that enjoys skewering industry stereotypes and torturing coworkers with demented glee. Along for the ride are familiar faces Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman and more, who attempt to synergize amidst the slaughter. Another bloody office outing, as they say. [Shivers at the thought of forced boardroom ice breakers.]
In every Scream franchise entry, Wes Craven’s characters talk aloud about how the sequel they’re currently playing out reinvents and subverts. Exploits norms, diverts from expectancies, bowls past traditions, yadda yadda. Meta commentary is all the genre rage these days, but a filmmaker’s execution has to be tightly accomplished, too. Scream 4 is the best at talking the talk and walking the walk, therefore making it the best Scream sequel (so far), hard stop.
The distance that spans release dates between Scream 3 and Scream 4 is eleven years, providing far more expansion on rewriting horror histories. Throughout the initial Scream trilogy, horror – as a genre – didn’t evolve much past teenage slashers that aped the same Scream notes Scream itself was self-roasting. Scream 4? Remake culture bled into reboot crazes, along with social media horrors coming into the forefront of thematic upswings. Sidney Prescott was back as a full-fledged survivor, along with new, ambitious characters using the Ghostface legend for their own fame. Scream 4 boasts the smarts, the kills, and the opportunities both Scream 2 and Scream 3 can’t equal.
What’s Halloween without a little vagina dentata to cause male audiences everywhere to respect the opposite gender? For too long, horror’s imbalance between male and female nudity has impartially skewed towards bare breasts and exposed bottoms on those same chromosomes characters. Male nudity remains taboo, especially while erect, despite female nudity being a staple of the genre. Then comes Mitchell Lichtenstein’s Teeth, which takes a gruesome bite out of the representation disparity, literally removing the penis’s might while, well, detaching penises.
In an empowered turn by Jess Weixler, her character Dawn discovers she has a rare condition where her vagina sprouts teeth. As you can imagine, this makes intercourse dangerous for participating partners. It’s a response to abuse in Dawn’s life, how that turns sex into something terrifying, which she then weaponizes. So many severed dicks plopping onto the floor, but not in schlocky B-movie regards. This is Dawn’s reflexive journey, after being backed into a corner and traumatized. All men, as a whole, had to do was…well, better.
This entry brings sadness since Demon should have been a breakout moment for Polish filmmaker Marcin Wrona, who sadly – as per reports – took his own life at Poland’s Gdynia Film Festival. In a way, that makes it all the more important to spread the good word about this dybbuk tale, as an evil spirit possesses a bridegroom on his wedding night. Vodka is slammed while the festivities become more unsettling and the dance floor remains lively, recalling World War II and Holocaust pains. Dybbuk tales are more common in Jewish households than on the screen, and Demon bridges that gap with a fresh vision from a talented director. One we can still cherish in his gifts to horror cinema.
When pondering Halloween streamables, something that’ll blend the bone-chilling with the comical-but-thrilling, Waxwork has it all. The door is opened with regards to Cabin In The Woods or other kitchen-sink flicks, given how the premise hinges on wax museum exhibits coming alive. Zach Galligan, alongside other unfortunate patrons, find themselves teleported into parallel realms whenever passing the velvet ropes between person and the presumably fake scene, then werewolves, vampires, and sadists go on the attack. The secret is within David Lincoln’s (David Warner) signature sculpting goop and the horror-comedy goodness that oozes forth. Primo 80’s genre vibes, complete with a gonzo melee between museum invaders and Lincoln’s reanimated army.
If you’re not into horror anthologies, Southbound is good enough to make you a believer. David Bruckner, Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, and Patrick Horvath chart segments around their highway theme. Be it reapers who chase in hot pursuit behind revving engines or one man’s desperate attempt to treat an accident victim. Where lesser anthologies feel more random, even at-odds between segments, the fluidity that lubricates Southbound keeps all pistons firing in synchrony. From nasty effects work via broken bones that snap like twigs, to the varied implementations of creativity throughout each unique story. Always changing, each offering bursting with individual merits. Also telling is how contributors blew up in their own way after the film’s release (Radio Silence and Ready Or Not, Bruckner and The Ritual, etc.).
I often get caught generating recommendation lists that are majority comedy-influenced, because that’s my favorite flavor of horror. In fair balance, may I point out that Gore Verbinski’s adaptation/remake of The Ring is available to scare the everloving jeebies out of your heebies? Years later, after Rings and everything else, Naomi Watts’s playing of that damned tape is still one of the scariest American horror films since its 2002 release. The way Samara crawls from television static is the definition of “jeepers creepers.” I’m not here to undersell my passion for this J-horror adaptation. Absolutely, positively, must-watch horror.
Since we’re talking about early 2000s horror classics – yes, classics – how about Neil Marshall’s The Descent? I’m a colossal Dog Soldiers fan, but can still respect how The Descent is Marshall’s crowning horror achievement (thus far, but c’mon). His marriage of claustrophobic cave crawlspaces and subterranean creatures is horror synthesized to its core. So many fears and paranoias trapped amidst stalagmites, visibility limited to mere feet. Look at this, two scary picks in a row! Not to mention how Marshall weaponizes color in an otherwise monotone setting, thinking specifically of the rage that’s amplified by drenching the screen in red overlays when savagery spikes highest.
Allow me to sing the praises of Stage Fright, a horror musical with a metalhead twist. Meat Loaf plays the manager of a failing theater camp that, this year, is stalked by a musical-hating psychopath known only as “Metal Killer.” As snobbish aspiring Broadway talents attempt to rehearse their kabuki version of The Haunting of the Opera, Metal Killer slices and stabs his way through the cast roster. Orchestrated music is catchy, the satire hilarious, and horror influences apparent (Hellraiser to Friday The 13th). I have a blast with this one every time, and don’t think that love will ever die.
As mamma always said, respect your elders. Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom deserves influential credit for its 60’s slasher template and first-person camera perspective, now familiarized in found footage cinema. It was considered too controversial at its release and was torn to shreds by furious critics, but now, Powell’s work is heralded within conversations around Britain’s top however-many films. With good reason. A madman who mixes his murders with cinematic intent? It’s as dreary and deliciously deranged as you’d think.
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