This one seems to be gaining a reputation, but it’s one of the few recent examples of a really solid psychological thriller. It’s set in an actual abandoned insane asylum, and the basic plot involves a small crew of hazardous materials workers assigned to clear the asbestos out of the abandoned nuthouse. With only one location and a limited cast, this is a killer atmospheric horror piece that relies on the characters involved, some very tight writing, and the setting to slowly wind the tension up to the screaming point. You do need to pay close attention for this one to make sense, though- there are no big reveals and it hands you nothing on a platter. Judging by reviews, this is a love-it-or-hate-it film. We love it.
AKA Braindead. This is pretty much the opposite of Session 9. No complex psychology here, though there is a surprisingly sweet love story interspersed with the carnage. This is mostly notable for being a low-budget cult classic of a zombie where the director- Peter Jackson before he got famous- is clearly there almost purely to have fun. Zombie moves usually have some kind of political message and rely on an apocalypse scenario; there’s no apocalypse and no politics here, just a young man with an exponentially increasing number of problems in his life, starting with his mother disapproving of his girlfriend, continuing with his mother’s becoming a zombie, and culminating the house party from hell. There’s a kung fu priest. There’s a lawnmower. There’s a zombie baby. Not for the squeamish, as this movie has oceans of blood and gore, but if you’re a fan of zombie movies you’re probably not squeamish anyway. The only thing that makes it any less wonderful than Army of Darkness is the lack of Bruce Campbell.
Stingray’s not as fond of this one as I am, but I consider it a must-watch. Don’t let the fact that it’s a sequel, or the fact that Exorcist II was epically bad, deter you. The author of the novel Exorcist was based on got almost complete creative control, and he made an almost totally different kind of movie with it- like Session 9, it’s mostly psychological thriller. It relies heavily on the out-of-the-park performances by George C. Scott and Brad Dourif- add in some creatively done scares that are much subtler than the ones used in Exorcist and you have a thoroughly watchable horror movie. I actually don’t like Exorcist very much, because many of the scares that were fresh and original then are tired tropes now. Alien held up pretty well despite the same phenomenon, but Exorcist really didn’t. Exorcist III was simply never well-known enough to be widely copied.
Broke into the wrong god damn rec room, didn’t ya?!
I don’t know if there’s anyone in the gun-nut crowd that still hasn’t seen this movie, but they damn well should. I hesitate to put this under “scary movies”, because it’s really not all that scary, but it’s a wonderfully fun B monster movie. It’s also one of the very few where the over-the-top “crazy survivalist” is not only absolutely right and the only fully prepared character in the movie, but a sympathetic sort who helps his neighbors through the crisis. The other characters are charming enough, but Burt Gummer totally steals the show. It’s also one of the few “oh crap, trapped by monsters in an isolated setting” movies where once people realize what’s going on, they’re mostly pretty smart about it. The first sequel is worth checking out, too.
This is another one that I think more of than Stingray does, but if he wants to complain he can do his own list. Most likely the reason I like it so much better is because ghost stories are a weakness of mine; if a movie is marginal but mostly ghost-driven, the odds are that I’ll end up more or less liking it and he’ll hate it. (He has a similar thing with monster movies, if you ask me.) This one isn’t marginal, but our respective preferences put it in his “pretty good” category and my “great”. It’s a lovely atmospheric period piece, set in 1920s England during the “spiritualist” craze. The main character is a psychology professor dispatched to the countryside to debunk someone’s ghost problem. The twist at the end is pretty good- you can spot it if you’re alert, but it neither forces itself into your awareness nor hides to the point where no viewer could have guessed what was going on. It also benefits from being an almost totally different movie the second time through; Sixth Sense is no longer interesting once you know what’s really going on, but if you ask me this one only becomes creepier. It also gets bonus points from me for a subversion of a trope that’s been particularly popular of late.
This one did scare me the first time through, but I’ve liked it ever since because it’s essentially a love letter to horror fans from John Carpenter, one of the greats of the genre. It’s a solid story with a reasonable twist, it’s pretty, it’s got a great score, but mostly it’s references-a-go-go. It’s also got Sam Neill having a ball, a story that ultimately owes so much to Lovecraft it gives him a writer’s credit, and one of Charlton Heston’s last roles. We end up watching this one again at least once a year or so.
This is another one that seems to be gaining some popularity over time, though at the time it was dismissed as either a Shining wannabe or an Alien wannabe. I suppose you could call it part 2 of Sam Neill goes to Hell in a sense, too. It’s a very nice blend of psychological thriller and special effects scare-a-thon, and the thing I like best about it is how GOOD the writers were at finding people’s phobias and giving them a hard twist without resorting to worn-out tropes. There are a few scenes in this one that I still have to watch through my fingers. It’s also one of those movies with many rewards for the careful and alert viewer- it doesn’t *require* you to be, like Session 9 does, but there are many cool extra touches that you’ll only see on multiple viewings.
This is the only one on the list that we don’t have on our DVD shelf, because it scared the piss out of me at the time and I haven’t really felt the need to do it again. It takes one of horror’s more basic plots- family lost in the woods, increasingly horrible things happen to them- and executes it about as well as can possibly be done. There is a twist at the end, and I didn’t see it coming, probably because I was too distracted waiting for the movie to either kill ALL the characters and put everybody out of their misery or stop teasing. The family’s fear and panic and attempts to get out play out very realistically, and even though few of them are very likeable, their deaths hurt. The movie isn’t even an hour and a half long, but it feels much longer. Nothing was very special about it except the quality of the execution, even though the basic idea has been done to death. I suppose it might not be that scary, it might have just managed to push my own buttons well- I have no sense of direction and have been very lost very late at night as well- but it’s worth a go.
More later if I think of ‘em, and the odds are good that I will.