Two important things about this weekend:
1. It’s the beginning of October, a month when even casual movie fans will take on the “31 Days of Horror” challenge, attempting to watch a horror movie a day all the way up to Halloween.
2. A giant chunk of the Northeast will likely spend the next few days getting pummeled by a giant Nor’easter storm, dumping buckets of rain all up and down the East Coast.
These two facts, seemingly unrelated, can in fact work together: If you’re not going anywhere this weekend anyway, why not stay in with your Netflix and get a jump on your month-long horror movie binge? And thus, we’ve scoped out the current library to find the best scary movie offerings currently available, a mix of classics, modern faves, and new(ish) releases.
An obvious kick-off choice, sure, but for good reason: Roman Polanski’ s 1968 masterpiece set the table for the arty American horror of the 1970s, using a classy cast and slick filmmaking to deliver a handful of memorable scares and a heady dose of dread. That last scene is still a corker.
Confession: your film editor was one year old or so when The Omen hit theaters, and thanks to my dark, bowl-cut hair, I bore an uncanny resemblance to Damien, the tiny antichrist at the center of Richard Donner’s 1976 smash. It was not a terribly enjoyable movie for my parents! But it remains a good slab of Gothic horror, thanks to those intricate (pre-Final Destination) kills and the screeching violin/thundering chorus music.
Another horror movie that’ll keep you from having kids — part of a grand tradition, in fact, of films positing that the day-to-day frustrations of parenting are just as terrifying as any slasher killer or demonic force. Last year’s sleeper hit features a ruthlessly efficient screenplay, two first-class performances, and an atmosphere that’s creepy even before the really bad stuff starts happening.
If Omen or Babadook make a good double-feature thematically with Rosemary’s Baby, Ti West’s 2009 breakthrough film is a terrific match structurally and tonally. Bucking the current trends of constant jump-scares and epileptic edits, West constructs House of the Devil as a throwback — not only setting it in the early ‘80s (and beautifully reconstructing the look, sound, and style of horror movies in that era), but replicating the slow boil build to a big payoff of Rosemary and so many other great vintage horror flicks.
It wouldn’t be a horror film list without our old friend the found-footage movie, but Patrick Brice’s low-budget chiller doesn’t just sleepwalk through the conventions. Thanks to a riveting lead performance by indie stalwart Mark Duplass (who also co-produced and co-wrote with Brice), Creep falls firmly into the realm of psychological horror — it’s a character study that uses the limited perspective of the found-footage style to time out its reveals, and that uses the passive camera as a chilling observer.
Director Rodney Ascher (who last gave us the nutty Room 237) takes on the subject of sleep paralysis by creating a hybrid of two seemingly incompatible genres: the horror movie and the documentary. He combines stylized interviews with dramatizations and visualizations, deploying the tools of the horror trade — monsters, shadows, visual and aural jump scares — to tell their stories and put us in their beds. By turns funny, peculiar, and scary, it’s probably not the best one to watch immediately before calling it a night.
Another unexpected genre mash-up, as director Jerome Stable combines the Friday the 13th-style slasher movie with… a heartfelt musical. And he’s not half-assing it; the songs are witty and catchy (legitimately earning comparison to something like Phantom of the Paradise), while the scares are real and the gore is plentiful. Give it a shot; you’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it.
The central premise of Eli Craig’s 2010 horror comedy is downright genius: it’s something of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for the cabin-in-the-woods genre, making protagonists out of the terrifying rednecks who traditionally terrorize our “heroes” in these films — and cleverly, patiently laying out how so many of those killings are just the result of cultural stereotyping and unfortunate misunderstandings. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are warm and wining in two of the three title roles.
When Wes Craven died unexpectedly just over a month ago, many writers (including this one) pinpointed his Scream as the moment that not only turned his career around, but reinvigorated the horror genre. Yet it’s important to remember that the 1996 sleeper hit was part of a continuing exploration of meta-horror for the filmmaker; two years earlier, he wrote and directed this underrated and frankly brilliant fun-house return to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise that made him a household name. It’s intellectual horror of the highest order, filled with probing questions and clever inside jokes, and may well stand as one of his finest (and riskiest) achievements.
Inherent to the spirit of October horror-movie binging is the sense of joy that emanates from most horror movies — it is, after all, fun to be scared. But John McNaughton’s controversial independent sensation doesn’t fuck around like that; it’s a seriously disturbing movie, about seriously disturbed people. The Chicago filmmaker got his low budget from a pair of businessmen looking to make a quick buck capitalizing on the horror boom of the mid-‘80s. But McNaughton instead made a fictionalized account of the crimes and confessions of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, coming up with a film so grim, so dark, and so upsetting that his producers didn’t know what the hell to make of it. You very well may not either — but there’s no discounting the skill of McNaughton’s film, and the degree to which, as few other horror movies do, it takes its monster seriously.