October 4th, 2013


Halloween Countdown, Day 4

It's film time! 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 classics. Not the usual suspects.

Today I have quite a few new recommendations to add to the list, based on this past year's viewing. (We accessed all of these via Netflix.) Here they are, in reverse chronological order.

6.0 [Crime, Drama, Mystery] Jessica Biel the-awakening-poster

  • Mama (2013): This is a Spanish-Canadian treat based on the Argentine Muschietti's Mamá, a 2008 Spanish-language short film of the same name. Young children can be disturbing. Young children abandoned in the woods for several years and raised by a (territorial and possessive) spirit can be doubly so.

  • Dark Skies (2013): This wasn't the very best spooky film we saw this past year, but it was far, far better than I'd anticipated, and it scratched that "alien abduction" itch of mine that's been troubling me ever since The X-Files left the small and big screens.

  • Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013): This stand-alone story works independently of its prequel. It's not an unproblematic film, but if you have a taste for Southern Gothic, it's worth a look.

  • House Hunting, also released as The Wrong House (2013): What a surprise this psychological horror film was! Quite the mind game. Home-shopping families visit an empty farmhouse... and the house keeps them there.

  • The Tall Man (2012): I love it when a film goes in a direction I didn't foresee, and this French-Canadian mystery-thriller one did it again and again. In a small, poverty-stricken former mining town, children are disappearing on a regular basis. The abductions are blamed on a local legend called the "Tall Man." One of the standout favorites of the year for me, this one asks some uncomfortable and thought-provoking questions that keep you thinking long after the film is over.

  • The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012): This little Canadian film serves up some effective atmosphere. An antiques collector inherits a house from his estranged mother only to discover that she had been living in a shrine devoted to a mysterious cult. Soon he comes to suspect that his mother's oppressive spirit still lingers within her home and is using items in the house to contact him with an urgent message. Vanessa Redgrave's voice-overs as the late mother add depth to the spooky visuals.

  • In the Dark Half (2012): This was the first of three micro-budget movies to be made in Bristol, UK under the iFeatures scheme. Despite its humble beginnings, this is an absolutely riveting and deeply soulful work. Young Jessica Barden gives a particularly brilliant performance. Bad things are happening in a run-down working-class town, where a young woman is convinced that something nasty is out to get her. But she's also struggling with conflicting feelings toward her hard-drinking neighbor, whose son mysteriously died while she was babysitting him. One of my favorites from this year.

  • Sinister (2012): After moving to a new town, a true-crime writer discovers a cache of videotapes depicting brutal murders that took place in the very house he just bought. As he tries to solve the mystery behind the crimes, a sinister force threatens his own family. I'm sort of breaking my own rules here, as this wasn't an under-the-radar film, but merely hearing the music for this movie creeps me out!

  • Paranorman (2012): Okay, this wasn't exactly an off-the-beaten-path film either, but it's so wonderful, I had to list it. A perfect "feel-good" movie for Halloween!

  • The Awakening (2011): If I had to recommend one new(ish) film for this season, this would be it. Gorgeously done from start to finish. In post-World War I England, a boarding school haunted by a boy's ghost calls on Florence Cathcart, who disproves hoaxes for a living. But Cathcart senses something truly strange about the school, leading her to question her belief in the rational.

  • Whisperer in Darkness (2011): You can't go wrong with the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's adaptations of Lovecraft's stories. This is a "talkie" instead of a silent film (like the HPLHS's Call of Cthulhu, and it works well.

  • Sound of My Voice (2011): Wow. I mean, wow. This is high on my list of favorite viewing from this year. In this psychological thriller, journalists Peter and Lorna undergo an elaborate preparation process in order to infiltrate a cult, leading from a desolate road to an unmarked location, but the mystery only deepens when their blindfolds are removed. This is a smart, chilling film with just the right touch of cerebral science fiction.

  • True Nature (2010): This is another film that really surprised me, to my delight. This tells the story of a family reunited when their college-age daughter is found after a year-long disappearance. With no memory of what happened to her, she soon discovers that her very presence threatens to expose the secrets and fragile lies by which her family has lived.

  • Womb (2010): This stark, minimalist, quietly haunting film stars Eva Green and Matt ("Eleven") Smith, both of whom turn in subtle performances. A woman's consuming love forces her to bear the clone of her dead beloved. From his infancy to manhood, she faces the unavoidable complexities of her controversial decision. I found this to be wrenching, disturbing, and darkly beautiful. Full disclosure, though: my husband found it to have more style than substance.

  • Imprint (2007): Can you hear their cries? Shayla Stonefeather, a Native American attorney prosecuting a Lakota teen in a controversial murder trial, returns to the reservation to say goodbye to her dying father. After the teen is killed, she hears ghostly voices and sees strange visions that cause her to re-examine beliefs she thought she left behind. This is a solid independent film with a gifted Native cast.

  • House of Voices, also released as Saint Ange (2004): This French-Romanian film is a sophisticated mind game that kept me utterly fascinated and glued to the screen. A young cleaning woman is dispatched to tend to a crumbling orphanage called Saint Ange that houses only one child. While going about her duties, the new housekeeper begins to witness supernatural occurrences, causing her sole co-worker, a cook, to question her sanity. Whatever you expect this to be, I guarantee it will surprise you.

[Note: I've repeatedly had The Uninvited (1944) suggested to me, but I've been unable to find it. I'm glad to say it will be available on DVD later this month. At last!]

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Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Okay, you're turn: what under-the-radar, off-the-beaten-path, Halloween-friendly films do you recommend?
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