This one’s fresh off the presses and boy is it a doozy. Because of all the competition in the streaming universe right now, every service is looking for original content. This, combined with the fact that it’s Halloween season, means we horror fans are treated to a few original gems popping up lately. The blessed Netflix gave us TWO new Stephen King adaptations. Although today, I’m only talking about Gerald’s Game — a film that is a perfect fit for watching in the Netflix home viewing environment. Gerald’s Game is about a couple that travels to their isolated lake house for a weekend sex romp in order to spice up their marriage. Gerald likes it rough and handcuffs his wife Jessie to the bed. But dammit, as luck would have it, poor Gerald has a major heart attack and dies. This leaves poor Jessie handcuffed to the bed and isolated with no clue how to escape. It seems like a simple premise, and you’re probably curious how they get an entire film out of it, but holy hell do they make it work. I’ve had this book ever since it came out, and truth be told, I never actually finished it. That happens to me sometimes because I read so damn slow. But in a way, I’m kind of glad I didn’t finish this one because the last half of this film surprised the hell out of me. Gerald’s Game is so disturbingly effective that I want to shout from the heavens for it to find a larger audience. It starts so subtly with Jessie’s basic survival reactions then builds so intelligently using her fractured state of mind, mixed with visions and flashbacks. I was already a big fan of director Mike Flanagan (I’ve put both his Oculus and Ouija: Origin of Evil on previous lists), but I think he knocked it out of the park with this one. The acting combo of the always-remarkable Carla Cugino and never-fails Bruce Greenwood are a one-two punch of greatness. Plus, a few more fan favorites pop up as well. It’s full of suspense, contains scenes that will disturb you for days, make you look at your dog a little differently, and contains one scene in particular that might be one of the most graphically violent and disgusting scenes I’ve seen all year. Prepare yourself. A few moments are not for the weak of heart. But dammit, this is a good one folks. Watch it and spread the word. A tip of the cap to you, Netflix. Thank you.
Sunday can be such a nice, restful, relaxing day to spend with the entire family. What better choice of film is there to watch today, than an amazing movie about sadistic killer kids and a-hole parents. Today, I give you the British gem, The Children. The Children was one of the Ghost House releases from about a decade ago that was a bit under the radar when it was released, but has since garnered a bit of a cultish following. What is it about killer kids that we love so much? Starting back with Village of the Damned of The Bad Seed, there’s always been a fascination with cute kids who seem so pure… turning so evil. For me, I’ll never forget little killer Gage from Pet Semetery, armed with that little scalpel, slicing that Achilles like a boss. Ugh, that scene always affected me. It makes sense that in today’s day and age, movies like The Children are the natural next progression. And by that I mean this movie takes no prisoners, both in the disturbing category as well as the gore. The Children is about a family that travels into the snowy woods to celebrate the holidays with their relatives. Sweet, huh? Nope. Problem is almost everyone is an a-hole. The parents are all super flawed. The teenage daughter is a super dick. And the kids seem like innocent little bystanders in this whole mess. It’s all seriously dysfunctional, just like the holidays can easily be. Along the travel, the youngest child gets sick. They think it’s normal, but it gets worse. Eventually more of the kids get sick (yes, there is much vomit and grossness.) And finally, all the sick kids start to go psycho and deaths pile up, twisting up whom the viewer should be rooting for. That’s why I loved this movie. There’s almost no hero at first. You kind of want a few of these people to die. They talk about home schooling and seem like pricks. The sister especially behaves so erratically as the film progresses you want to punch her. But then you ask, if your kids started killing people would you actually believe your eyes? Anyway, just go with it. It’s a gorgeous movie with a fantastic snowy setting, always a favorite of mine, especially when red blood is involved. The suspense and buildup is top notch, really letting things breathe at first, until things start to go a little nutty. Plus, there are some great gore moments of head impalings and broken bones. The Children is one of those movies that will disturb many people because there are kids killing adults, and yep, *spoiler*, adults killing kids. Get ready for it. I told you it takes no prisoners. Anyway, give it a shot if killer kids are in your wheelhouse. It’s a great entry.
I try to at least half-plan my Horror Picks every year, but I leave a lot of room for a few movies to enter my brain organically. This is a perfect example. Yesterday I did It Comes At Night, a claustrophobic film about a family that stays in their cabin for fear of a plague that has taken over the outside world. That immediately made me think of another film with this extremely similar premise, 10 Cloverfield Lane. Oh man, I forgot how much I loved this movie. If yesterday’s film felt claustrophobic, today’s is a downright straightjacket. 10 Cloverfield Lane follows a woman that gets in a car accident and wakes up in an underground bunker with two men. She’s told there was an alien invasion and the air outside is poisonous so no one can leave. But slowly as the movie progresses, questions start popping up as to what actually is happening. That’s where I’ll stop because this is definitely one of those movies where the least said about it, the better. Obviously whenever JJ Abrams is involved there is a mass amount of secrecy, but in this case there’s good reason. This horror/scifi/mystery will keep you guessing all the way until the very end. While there are numerous reasons to recommend this film, the story, the pacing, the unrelenting suspense, for me the biggest draw is the acting. In particular, John freaking Goodman. We’ve all seen him in a million things where he’s constantly amazing. Personal favorite – Walter from Big Lebowski. But here, he might give his most intense and demanding performance ever. His character of Howard is both terrifying and heartbreaking. You never quite know what to make of him and his intentions, yet you can’t take your eyes off of him. I actually think he deserved an Oscar nomination for this role, but alas, horror/scifi movies are usually not part of the mix. Regardless, everyone should check this movie out. It’s a wide recommend for the entire gamut of viewers. It’s a complex and twist-filled journey that will leave you speechless. See it. Now.
This will be one of the more divisive titles on my list this year, I guarantee it. I’ve spoken to many people who saw this film and it’s split right down the middle. Half love it. Half hate it. I blame most of that on the complete misrepresentation of the advertising campaign. If you had a preconceived notion of what this film was going to be, based solely on the trailers that make it appear supernatural, you’d be pretty pissed. Myself, I love this film. I had no preconceived notions, so I just let myself wade into the dark waters of it all, and boy I was pulled right in. It Comes At Night is a simple enough premise. A family, led by a very commanding Joel Edgerton, has isolated themselves in a mountain cabin after a major plague of some kind has taken over the country, possibly even the world. Much is unknown, which is exactly how it would be in most cases. The family has very specific rules for survival that they adhere to almost meticulously. Yet, that all gets thrown asunder when another small family happens upon their cabin looking for help. The dynamic between these two families fighting for survival is the entire basis for this film. The psychology of the balance between trust and mistrust is the main thrust, and if you like your thrillers on more of the cerebral side, you will dig this flick. Don’t be looking for a large, supernatural affair like the trailers make it appear, but definitely be ready to be seriously uncomfortable wondering how everything is going to crash down. It’s so hopeless and desolate, yet because of the characters, I was transfixed by every seemingly menial moment. It feels like you’re watching a true reality. The authenticity of it all really makes you believe that this is what might actually happen in case of a major disaster. Tense direction and some really interesting visuals sprinkled throughout add to the whole mix. If you’re looking for something a little different than your typical horror flick, something that feels like a disturbing near-reality, give it a whirl and enjoy your psyche being severely damaged.
Yesterday I did one kind of home invasion movie that dealt with being locked in a house with a tiger (Burning Bright). That one is fun horror fluff that everyone can enjoy. Today, I’m bringing you an entirely different type of home invasion movie. This baby is hardcore, dark, visceral, and not for the squeamish. Today I bring you the French horror gut-punch, Them. Before I continue, let’s make sure you know which Them I’m talking about, because there are quite a few films with that title. This one is French, subtitled, came out in 2006, and its original title is Ils (French for Them, obviously.) Now that we know which Them I’m speaking of, let’s give this brutal beauty its due. When most people think of what helped with the resurgence of home invasion horror movies, they normally think of The Strangers. But not so fast, that film came out in 2008. Them was there in 2006. Granted there have been a long list of home invasion horror flicks over the years, but this was probably the first of the current releases to truly go for the jugular in such a tense visceral way that you can’t help but feel like you were hit over the head with a 2×4. Them is about a French couple in the countryside who’s isolated house is suddenly the subject of an attacker/attackers of some kind. There’s no explanation why, so don’t go looking for reason. It just happens. Now, to say any more than this would ruin the experience because, well, there’s a slight twist to this film. But don’t go searching online for this twist. You want to figure it all out yourself so it has the impact it’s supposed to have. Now, be prepared for what you’re about to see. This film is tension overload. Your stomach will be in twists. Once it starts, it never stops. It is relentless. You will definitely feel just as helpless as our main couple, and that is due to the amazing direction. Many of you know that French horror films are among my absolute favorite. Them definitely deserves to be right alongside the recent masterpieces of Martyrs, Inside, and Frontier(s), all films I’ve had on this list in previous years. If you want a tension-filled flick that may be light in the story department, but heavy on the atmosphere and dread, Them is absolutely perfect for you. Just be prepared for the final scenes. They’re absolutely haunting.
Okay, so right of the bat I have to admit that Burning Bright is not a perfect film by any means, but there’s a reason I’m including it here today. Sometimes when you watch a movie that has a premise so golden, and so utterly insane, that you fall in love with that film regardless of execution. That, in a nutshell, is Burning Bright. I love this premise so much it hurts. A girl and her autistic brother are sealed up in a house to wait out an approaching hurricane. Seems simple enough. Only problem is… there’s a freaking man-eating tiger loose in their house! And because of the hurricane proofing, all the doors and windows are sealed with boards, tightly screwed on from the outside! There’s no way out. Oh, and did I mention that the tiger hadn’t eaten in two weeks so it’s pissed? This is freaking Jaws, with a tiger, in your own home! How awesome is that premise? Whoever thought it up I want to hug. Yes, there are a few problems with the movie. Story-wise, using an autistic child as a story device seems a bit off at times. Aesthetically, it uses step-framing a few too many times – a technique where normal speed footage is altered into slow-motion, giving it a fragmented, staccato feel. But all in all, it’s not a horrible movie in the least. In fact, I find it damn fun. So let’s focus and talk about all the good. First of all, the sequences with the tiger have some fantastic tension. The scene in the laundry chute is reason enough to watch the entire film. The direction of it, setup and payoff, is sheer genius. Briana Evigan plays a fantastic lead and we truly feel for her character. Plus, the tiger itself is done quite well. It’s not an easy feat to try and create a realistic tiger weaving all around the house, and they nail it. Burning Bright may not be perfect, but I think it’s a damn fun, PG-13 romp, with an amazing premise and some great tension that everyone in the family can enjoy.
A few days ago when I wrote about Green Room, praising director Jeremy Saulnier, I hinted that I was going to be putting another of his movies on this list a little later. Well, here you go! I bring you the absolutely hilarious Murder Party, his very first directing effort. Now, if you’ve already watched Green Room or Blue Ruin, alter your expectations. You might be initially confused when you watch this movie compared to those beasts. While those were grippingly suspenseful and as dark and brutal as can be, this movie is silly, light, funny, and well, I guess still pretty damn dark and brutal. This is more like early Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles) than his later Lord of the Rings, King Kong stuff. Murder Party is a super micro-budgeted, bonkers, delightful treat. I have such a soft spot for this movie because it makes me laugh so hard. It’s just insane with some of the greatest moments of nonsensical levity. Murder Party is about a loner who happens upon a mysterious invitation to a Halloween “Murder Party.” He’s so lonely and has nothing else to do so he figures, what the hell, and he goes. But not before he hand-makes an epic knight costume from a cardboard box and a welcome gift of raisin pumpkin bread. Upon his arrival to the unknown address at an abandoned warehouse, well, shit gets bad. And by bad, I mean absolutely freaking hilarious. Murder Party is not to be taken seriously, and is obviously a satire of the entire art world, but holy crap is it entertaining. There isn’t a second where you are bored, and that is a difficult feat to attain sometimes on these micro-budgeted features. You can tell this baby was made for like $5, and it doesn’t matter in the least. In fact, you’ll be amazed at how much production value they end up with in the 3rd act. It builds to a much larger film than the first two acts lead you to believe. There is an insane amount of comedy, some moments of extreme gore that come out of nowhere, some epic Halloween costumes, and the best damn game of drug-induced truth or dare ever. And it may have one of my personal favorite makeup jobs ever when something really horrific and hilarious happens to one of the characters. All I will hint at is that it deals with a werewolf mask, a fire, and well, a combining of the two. Murder Party rules, and for those of you that love twisted hilarious dark comedies with a serious gore edge, you will love this film. And yet, you won’t believe it’s from the man who brought you Green Room or Blue Ruin, which is kind of what makes it awesome.