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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?


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 14th, 2012 03:09 pm (UTC)
I have a very strange love for Dog Soldiers. It's very atmospheric and the cast just seems to be having a blast fighting werewolves. Besides, it has Kevin McKidd and the delicious Ian Cunningham.
Oct. 14th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
I second this motion. I supposed it's a little on the gratuitous side with the gore, it's really a very good film and well acted.
Oct. 14th, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
Where can we gain access to these?
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
We watched all of them (except for Woman in Black, which I saw in the theater) through Netflix.
Oct. 14th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
I've been trying to get a chance to see Cabin in the Woods in a setting that I can handle. A lot of people I really trust have been recommending it and they showed it at the college theater a few weeks ago (which goes to show the kind of cult following it is already getting), but a theater seemed a little too scary for me. I'll have to wait my number in line at the library. :-)
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
I'd love to hear what you think of it! It had me in the very first couple of minutes when it started playing off of the "You! I learned it from watching you!" public service announcements of yesteryear. Whedon's fingerprints are all over it in the best possible way.
Oct. 15th, 2012 12:07 am (UTC)
I definitely recommend The Cabin in the Woods and The Call of Chtulhu. I watched them both recently and thought they were both very well done, especially Cabin. Unfortunately my brain is scary image averse, so I don't typically watch a lot of horror movies, but I much prefer these sort that you mention--heavy on the psychological, lighter on the gore.
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
Yay! Glad to hear you liked those, too.

I finally saw Absentia, and it's fantastic. No more gore (and maybe less) than you'd see in your standard network police procedural show, and tons of atmosphere and psychological tension.
Curtis Weyant
Oct. 15th, 2012 12:44 am (UTC)
Of the movies you list, the only two I've seen are "Another Earth" and "Cabin in the Woods." Both are excellent for very different reasons (although I think they should've ended "Cabin" just a few seconds sooner for maximum suspensefulness...).

Not sure it's "off the beaten path," and it's probably older than you intended for your poll so I'm sticking it here in the comments, but my go-to movie for getting good and scared is "Event Horizon." The first time I saw it, I was alone, at night, in a strange house. In fact just thinking about it...crap, I probably won't sleep tonight.

Thanks for all the recommendations. I'll have to have to get in as many of these as I can now, because Nov. 1 officially starts the real horror in my house –– Christmas season!
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about Cabin. Good point.

Oooh, thanks for the rec! I'll add that to my list.

I finally saw Absentia, by the way, and I'd put it right after Another Earth as a "must see" film. Really brilliant.

I'll have to have to get in as many of these as I can now, because Nov. 1 officially starts the real horror in my house –– Christmas season!

LOL!!! You know, I was in the drugstore last week, and I walked down the Halloween aisle just for kicks, and I was horrified to see half of it swallowed by Christmas items. Three weeks 'til Halloween, and they were already doing the Christmas thing. AUGH!
Oct. 15th, 2012 04:17 am (UTC)
Thanks for the recs!
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
My pleasure! :D
Oct. 15th, 2012 12:17 pm (UTC)
Looks like a fabulous list. All the more so because I haven't seen any of them. Thanks!
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:15 pm (UTC)
Yay! So glad this is of use. Now that I've finally seen Absentia, I raise it to the "must see" category. It's really well done.
Oct. 15th, 2012 01:03 pm (UTC)
Absentia for the win! I saw this movie last year at the Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival in Seattle, and it delivers. It's essentially a minimalist horror film; very little in the way of special effects, no gore, most of the budget seemed to be spent on getting decent actors, and genuine scares.
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:15 pm (UTC)
I finally saw it and, wow, you were right! I'm really impressed. So well done. It must've been great seeing it at the film festival!
Oct. 15th, 2012 01:35 pm (UTC)
I'll once again give a shout out to The Uninvited, an atmospheric 1944 ghost film with Ray Milland. It's off the beaten path in that AFAIK it hasn't been released on DVD, just VHS. Perhaps one of the old-time movie cable channels will show it later this month.

Edited at 2012-10-15 01:37 pm (UTC)
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
I am STILL waiting to see that! I searched the schedule last year, hoping to catch it, and thanks to your reminder this year I've entered the keyword into the DVR. My fingers are crossed. It's so frustrating that it's not easily available! Thanks again for reccing it.
Jul. 27th, 2013 04:53 pm (UTC)
Woohoo! It's finally coming out on DVD! I'm so excited. Thanks to your rec, I've been wanting to see it for ages!
Oct. 16th, 2012 12:31 am (UTC)
I saw Cabin in the Woods and was pleasantly surprised. It was not what I was expecting, but it was very good.

Hobo With a Shotgun was hilarious, as was Tucker and Dale vs Evil.

I was White, a Korean horror film. It is like The Ring had a baby with a Korean pop band. I know that doesn't make it sound very good, but it was surprisingly creepy with the effects they thought up and it was rather haunting at the end.

Another addition I would have would be Lo. It is a story about a man summoning a demon to try and get his girlfriend back. It is a very simple story, but the ending makes the whole thing amazing.
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed those, too! During the opening scenes of Hobo with a Shotgun I was like "What is this?!?!?"; I'm so glad I stuck with it. ;)

And thank you so much for the recs! I really appreciate them. *adds these to the list* Word of mouth is such a great way to find good films.
Oct. 16th, 2012 11:14 am (UTC)
I watched DORIAN GRAY recently and was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was very well done - lushly set up, nicely acted and with worthwhile dialogue.

Also: hello! :D
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:20 pm (UTC)
HEY YOU!!!!! *hugs* SO, so good to see you. I hope all's well in your neck of the woods.

Very glad you liked Dorian Gray, too!

Happy Halloween season! *bounces*
Oct. 16th, 2012 11:31 am (UTC)
I've heard a lot about "Another Earth." Your rec has made me decide to definitely watch it. I really like "The Woman in Black," and am trying to get hold of the original movie since I've heard it's even better. And I agree that the 2009 "Dorian Gray" was quite well done.

Haven't seen the rest, but I certainly will try to check them out. Thanks!
Oct. 18th, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
My pleasure! I'm so glad you liked those two, too. I found Another Earth to be a beautifully crafted and meaningful film, haunting in the best possible way. I'd love to know what you think of it.

Edited at 2012-10-18 06:22 pm (UTC)
Oct. 18th, 2012 08:01 pm (UTC)
I've got it on hold at the library, but I'll let you know once I manage to snag a copy.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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