If you’ve been paying any attention to the festival rounds or the independent horror circles, you’ve definitely heard of today’s pick, hailing from Ireland. The Canal is one of those movies that has been the subject of a lot of horror talk in 2014. And I’m here to say that it’s for good reason. After you see this film, it sticks with you. You will think about it. You will want to talk about it. It just unnerves you in a way that most films try for and never attain. The Canal earns a lot of love from me because it doesn’t fall into the “jump scare” school of lazy horror. Its methodical slower pace earns all its scares, by building an atmosphere of dread, a chilling mystery, and truly slick directing and editing. There are glimmers of other films in here for sure – The Ring, The Grudge, Sinister, to name a few. But overall, The Canal is uniquely its own. It’s actually a simple premise. A husband discovers his wife is having an affair, and that same night he sees her with her lover, she is found dead. While the police suspects him as the killer, he begins to suspect a ghostly presence is to blame. In one of the more interesting twists in the story, the husband, who is a film archivist, comes in contact with an old reel from 1902 that shows a brutal killing in his same house. He’s convinced it’s the same man that killed his wife, and he sets himself on the mystery of proving a ghost is the murderer. Much like a movie I wrote about a few weeks ago, Lovely Molly, there is a nice ambiguity to much of the film where you truly question our main character’s decomposing psyche and mental state. Whenever the audience takes the same journey as the fragmented soul, it’s usually going to be a fun ride. Especially when you’re in the hands of a really great director. And that’s where a lot of the kudos should be given. The writer and director, Ivan Kavanagh, knows what he’s doing here. Even small nuances like the jump cuts during scenes help add to a feeling of uneasiness. It’s slick, stylish, and shot with masterful eye for detail. And let me just tell you, the slower pace builds to one of the most disturbing climaxes I’ve seen in a while. There are a few scenes in the end that will stick with you like glue, long after the credits. Trust me, if you’re looking for something smart and scary, skip the cheaper jump scare stuff, and check out The Canal. You won’t be sorry.
Yep, Saw. Deal with it. In honor of its 10th anniversary today, and thus it being rereleased in theaters, I had to put Saw on this list. I know a lot of people can’t stand this movie because of its uber-violence. Hell, it even helped usher in a legion of copycat “torture porn” films, which mostly all sucked. But to dismiss Saw is a complete mistake. There’s a reason why Saw spawned so many sequels. There’s a reason why every single Saw movie made a shitload of money each Halloween. There’s a reason why Saw stuck in our collective brains when so many other horror films came and went. Saw is a clever, unique, and twisted little movie. This was James Wan’s debut as a director, a horror genius I’ve already talked at length about because of The Conjuring, Dead Silence, and Insidious. Here with Saw, he comes out of the gate with a film that packs a serious punch, has a ridiculously intriguing hook, and some fantastic twists (not to mention a jaw-dropping ending). I had tickets to the premiere of this at Sundance back in January of 2004. What’s that you say? Sundance? Yep, shocker, ladies and gentleman, but Saw was a Sundance movie. You forget that before all the studio love, this was a small indie horror flick made on a tight budget. As most of you know, the fantastic hook of this movie is that the serial killer here doesn’t outwardly kill anyone, but rather forces them to take place in sadistic games that gives them a chance to survive if they solve the riddle correctly. Aptly named Jigsaw, this killer creates these punishing games with a moral sensibility. Each victim has made a bad life choice, and he’s trying to teach them a lesson. This is wonderfully exposed in the character of Amanda, the sole survivor of one of his “games”, and *SPOILER ALERT*, someone who plays a much larger role in the upcoming sequels. It has a fantastic opening of two men waking up in a room, chained to the pipes, and a dead body between them. Why are they there? Who is each man? Who is the dead man in the middle? Oh man, such a great way to open a film. And of course there’s the lines, “He doesn’t want us to saw through our chains. He wants us to saw through our legs.” Those lines in the ad campaign sent this film through the roof. Yes, it’s brutal. Yes, it’s hardcore. But yes, it’s also clever and worthy of all the love. On its 10th anniversary, if you haven’t seen it, finally bend, and give it a view. Just know you might be watching certain parts through your fingers.
Here’s another gem from the 80’s. Sorry, I just can’t help myself; I effing love this decade. And once again, The House on Sorority Row is pitch-perfect 80’s. Like most of these wonderful slashers, this flick once again features a bevy of lovely ladies being stalked by a mysterious killer, taking them out in interesting ways. It even takes place in a sorority house, much like Black Christmas (which I wrote about just a few weeks ago.) The setup is a tried and true horror trope – a prank gone wrong, and death ensues. Here, the girls of Theta Pi accidentally kill their mean and surly house mother during a botched prank, but then instead of contacting the police, they try to hide her body instead. Yeah, that never works. And of course their house throws a big party that same night. Yep, wouldn’t you know it, during the party her body seems to disappear and now someone armed with the house mother’s trademark pointed cane is revenge killing them all. But who is it? Is the house mother still alive? Is it someone who saw them kill her? Is it a partygoer? Is it one of their own sorority? It’s just good times. And man, just when you thought you’d seen enough pointed cane deaths, you’ll get more. Even a good eyeball one. Gotta love the pointed cane, it’s actually a clever trademark weapon. But it doesn’t stop there, there’s quite a bit of interesting kill scenes in this movie. But what made this movie stand out a bit to me is the finale. The final 15 minutes or so, where you figure out what’s going on, and why, is so twisted, and just so… 80’s! I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but there are some hallucinogenic drugs involved, and well, let’s just say after this, you won’t look at a Jack in the Box the same way ever again. I just loved it so much. Anyway, The House of Sorority Row doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but dammit if it isn’t a fine, top notch, entertaining wheel, crafted completely from delightfully wonderful 80’s materials. Dig in to this one.
I’m here to give this long underrated sci-fi horror sequel some love. Before Seven, The Game, Fight Club, or his latest hit Gone Girl, David Fincher’s debut feature was this dark and dirty beast of a flick. Like much of his work, this movie is desolate, dreary, and did I say dark? Well it is. Super dark. Now, it’s a bit difficult for me to talk in any way negative about any Alien films because they are my all time favorite film franchise, but I will at least mention some of this movie’s criticism. I understand the anger at the reboot of this story. *minor spoiler from a movie that came out in 1992* But to start a film off with killing everyone that fought so heroically to survive at the end of Aliens is a difficult pill to swallow. Hicks is dead. Newt is dead. Bishop is in pieces. Only Ripley survived. And well, even she’s… changed. I understand it’s a bit slower with more drama. And the ending left some people… upset. But screw all that. Here’s the deal. That’s what’s wonderful about this franchise. Each and every film has a different feel, vibe, tone, and scope. They are truly their directors’ films. And here, David Fincher wanted to make a dark prison movie with a runaway beast at the core of it. That didn’t sit well with a lot of people, especially after the more action-focused Aliens. But if you can accept the slower, more methodical tone of this prison drama/horror hybrid, it can be a really pleasure to experience. The fact that Ripley crash landed on a prison plant, only inhabited by men, and criminals at that, is just as foreboding as the beast that lurking in the shadows. I found this overall setting of dread insanely cool and interesting. Many things about this film are unique in the Alien universe. Even the alien itself, since it burst out of a dog this time instead of a human, looks and maneuvers differently. It’s stealthier, sleeker, and faster. Some of the most creative camerawork of this film comes when you’re supposedly looking from the POV of the Alien itself during a chase, and it runs along the sides of the walls and even on the ceiling. It’s clever and really cool. The acting is amazing, I mean, Sigourney… she’s perfect. But special kudos should also go to the two Charles — Charles Dance (from Game of Thrones), and Charles S. Dutton. They, along with all the other prisoners are perfect in this film. Look, most of you have already seen this movie and have your own opinion about it, but I’m here to say give it another chance. Look at it through the David Fincher lens and you’ll see it in a whole new light.
Today’s movie is a perfect example of the early 70’s showing us exactly how to create a truly unsettling atmosphere by using the simplest techniques available. Watching Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is an unnerving experience. There’s almost no blood, most of it takes place in the broad daylight, and yet, it all just works. This is the story of Jessica, who has just been released from a mental institution. Along with her husband and friend, they leave the city life and try to start anew in the country. They buy an old house near a lake, that, well, may hold a few dark secrets. In fact, the entire town just might. But you have to figure it all out. One of the things that makes this flick so unsettling is that you hear Jessica’s inner voice throughout much of the movie. And even though she’s smiling on the outside, she’s usually confused and fearful of something on the inside. She, and thus the audience, is always hearing whispers, and voices from beyond. But what are they? Who are they? Are they real? Is this all in her head? It’s just such a trip. In fact, along with all these whispers, all the sounds of this movie are simply amazing. I’d recommend watching it with the voiume turned all the way up. Because the usage of music, jolting cues, whispers, and all kind of audio effects create a powerful overall unsettling experience. Also, beware the underwater scenes. Haunting. It’s just such a creepy little flick. If you’re looking for a good old fashioned ghost story, then look no further. Hell, Stephen King claims this to be one of his all time favorite horror movies, so if you’re not going to take my word for it, take his.