October 14th, 2012


Halloween Countdown, Day 14 - and a POLL!

Every year about this time I think about good Halloween films (not necessarily horror movies, and definitely not lame slasher pictures, but suspenseful, atmospheric films that put a chill up the spine) that are "off the beaten path" -- that is, films that are independent, foreign, direct to DVD, or somehow under promoted, and thus might easily slip under the proverbial radar. Not the usual suspects.

Today I have quite a few new recommendations to add to the list, based on this year's viewing. Here they are, in chronological order.

  • Another Earth (2011): On the night of the discovery of a duplicate planet in the solar system, an ambitious young student and an accomplished composer cross paths in a tragic accident. This is one of my very favorite films of the year.

  • Exit Humanity (2011): A young man struggles to survive in the aftermath of a deadly undead outbreak during the American Civil War. This is a period zombie film with a heart and a brain. There's zombie-related gore, but it serves the purpose of the story.

  • Cabin in the Woods (2011): Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods. Joss Whedon wrote this, and that's probably enough said right there. This turns all the classic horror tropes upside down.

  • Some Guy Who Kills People (2011): This is a horror-comedy about a small town loser fresh out of an asylum who seeks revenge on those he deems responsible for ruining his life. Unexpectedly poignant and character-driven.

  • Hobo with a Shotgun (2011): In this satirical film, a homeless vigilante played by Rutger Hauer blows away "crooked cops, pedophile Santas, and other scumbags" with his trusty pump-action shotgun. Warnings for gore and adult content. This is a dark and wry tongue-halfway-but-only-halfway-in-cheek dystopia.

  • Absentia (2011): A woman and her sister begin to link a mysterious tunnel to a series of disappearances, including that of her own husband. I haven't had a chance to see this yet, but my husband (who has) assures me that it belongs on this list.

  • The Last Exorcism (2010): A troubled evangelical minister agrees to let his last exorcism be filmed by a documentary crew. I was unexpectedly enthralled with this; it twisted and turned in directions I didn't anticipate, and its ending is straight out of a Lovecraft story. Highly recommended.

  • Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010): "Good old boys" Tucker and Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids. This is ridiculously clever as it plays into and subverts classic horror scenarios. I laughed out loud.

  • YellowBrickRoad (2010): In 1940, the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire walked up a winding mountain trail, leaving everything behind. In 2008, the first official expedition into the wilderness attempts to solve the mystery of the lost citizens of Friar. There's gore here, but far more psychological horror. The premise would've made a fine Twilight Zone episode. My husband felt the ending was a disappointing cop-out, but I give it props for originality.

  • The Lazarus Project (2008): A former criminal gets a second chance at life and mysteriously ends up working at a psychiatric hospital where nothing is at it seems. Terrific psychological piece. I don't know why this didn't receive more attention and praise.

  • And, lastly...

  • Woman in Black (2012): This one isn't "off the beaten path" by any means, but I enjoyed it so much I'm noting it anyway. It's a rare example of a film adaptation that changes the ending of its source text and in fact improves the story.

Here are some of the other recent "off the beaten path" films that I find chilling enough for the season, starting with my "top picks" from last year:

  • the dark fantasy Black Death (2010). Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is tasked with learning the truth about reports of people who are immune to the sickness in a small village, allegedly made so by "witchcraft." What follows is a dark fable that considers evil and love, loyalty and death, faith and fate. Excellent turns by Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, and a strong supporting cast really bring this to life (pun intended), and I was more than pleasantly surprised by the atmospheric eeriness and thoughtful tragedy of this film. As Alan Jones from Film4's "FrightFest" said about the film, "This intelligent original represents a commendable break from the genre norm and is one of the most powerful films made about God, the godless and what the Devil truly represents."

  • the Gothic film Dorian Gray (2009), which I believe was never widely released in theaters in the U.S. I thought it was quite well done, true to the spirit if not the letter of Oscar Wilde's story, admirably restrained with the special effects, and graced by compelling performances by Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, and Rachel Hurd-Wood. It's perfect for the Halloween season, to my way of thinking.

  • the brilliant The Burrowers (2008), an independent science fiction/horror Western that was short on cheap gore and long on psychological terror (just the way I like it), and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Highly recommended.

  • the brilliant, quirky, lovingly satirical films of Larry Blamire (thanks to marthawells for the recommendation), which are "must see" material, including The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2004) and its sequel The Lost Skeleton Returns Again (2009), as well as the standalone films Trail of the Screaming Forehead (2007) and Dark and Stormy Night (2009) - I simply can't praise these enough,

  • the Finnish historical fantasy/horror/morality play Sauna (2008 - thanks to mr_earbrass for the recommendation),

  • the surreal dark fantasy Franklyn (2008),

  • the chilling, true crime-inspired Borderland (2007),

  • the Spanish science fiction thriller Timecrimes (2007),

  • the moody, Lovecraft-inspired Cthulhu (2007),

  • the gorgeous, silent Lovecraft adaptation The Call of Cthulhu (2005),

  • the U.S. Civil War-era dark fantasy/horror Dead Birds (2004),

  • and the dystopian psychological thriller Final (2001).

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Your turn!

Poll #1872373 Your turn! What "off the beaten path" film(s) do you recommend for the Halloween season?

Your turn! What "off the beaten path" film(s) do you recommend for the Halloween season?