Hopefully by reading this blog over the years you realize that I am NOT a horror snob in any way. I like every type of horror. I dig anything from obscure French gross-out films, to B&W classics, to made-for-$5 indies, all the way to made-for-the-masses studio features. If something entertains me in some way, that’s all that matters. Normally, I will say that the PG-13 studio films are a bit lower on my totem pole, mainly because they usually are just too softball and I can feel the “trying to please all the quadrants” mentality. Yet, The Boy is a studio feature from last year that I had a ball with. It’s a smart and fun flick with some great twists and turns. First of all, as with any film that has a basic title like this, let’s make sure we’re talking about the right film. There was another quite disturbing film called The Boy that came out in 2015 about a messed-up real kid. This is the The Boy that came out in 2016 and features a creepy doll. This film is about an American nanny that gets a job in England working for a family to watch over their “son.” But when she gets there she discovers that the “son” isn’t actually a child, but rather a life-sized doll that resembles their son. The couple treats it like a real child as a way of coping with the death of their real son twenty years previous. The parents leave and the nanny is given a specific list of rules to follow. Well, let’s just say as she starts to break some of the rules, things happen, and suddenly it appears the doll may actually be alive. It’s a twisted and weird little mystery that appears simple on the surface, but packs a punch by the end. I won’t ruin anything for you, but the third act of this film is spectacular. There are some great jump scares and creepy moments throughout, but that ending rules. Lauren Cohen from Walking Dead is amazing, but that damn doll steals the show. Man, I love this recent rash of doll horror movies lately. This one may seem like just another one on the surface, but trust me, it has a whole other layer to it that I appreciated quite a bit. The Boy is a PG-13 studio feature that may be a slow burn at first, but give it time and you’ll have a smile on your face by the closing credits I guarantee.
Here’s a classic horror film that is required viewing for anyone that loves classic B&W spookers, but ABSOLUTE required viewing for any of my hometown Utah peeps. Why, you may ask? Well, maybe because this classic was filmed in Utah! Not only is it cool to see Salt Lake City in the early 60’s, but the titled “Carnival” is none other than Saltair! That place is a Utah landmark. This movie was like walking back in time for me. Carnival of Souls is about a woman who was the sole survivor of a car accident trying to move on with her life. She gets a job in Salt Lake City as a church organist (apt for the city) and moves there. It’s not long until she’s haunted by a creepy phantom who appears to reside at an abandoned Carnival. Thus begins her slow decline into unease and madness. Oh man, Carnival of Souls has such a cool, creepy sensibility to it. Its use of atmosphere, music, and sharp angles reminds me both of the Universal classics, and definitely of German Expressionism. You will see some Nosferatu in here I guarantee it. It’s one of those classic films that you really feel yourself drawn into regardless of the time difference. The organ soundtrack will bore into your psyche. Yes, there are a few outdated touches. Her male neighbor that will not take no for an answer is super creepy and has a real rapey vibe, and in the 60’s for some reason this was played off as “charming.” Yeah, it will definitely make you cringe occasionally, but as with any older film, you have to watch it in context of the time. To me, I loved the 60’s sensibility here. Candace is a strong-willed female character trying to figure out and take control of her life, but the constant haunting of this phantom keeps her from attaining anything. There are some nice spooky touches throughout. The scenes at the abandoned amusement facility of Saltair are absolutely incredible, especially the dance sequences. Saltair sits on the edge of the Great Salt Lake and was once the pinnacle of amusement. But once the waters receded and the brine shrimp smell took over it fell abandoned. I grew up going to a million concerts there after they redid it so I have numerous memories of that place. Anyway, Carnival of Souls is a definite classic that for some reason is usually forgotten in the annals of horror. I’m here to try and give it its due. From the first moment of the creepy askew credit sequence to the shocking-for-its-time ending, you’re truly in for something a little… different. Utah people enjoy the nostalgia. The rest of you, enjoy a true horror classic.
Maybe it’s the extreme heat wave right now, but I’m going a little goofy with my pick today. While this may not be horror in the purest sense, I’ve always said horror comes in all shapes and sizes, so why not? It’s about a plant from outer space that eats people! I’m pretty sure that touches the horror realm. Hell I don’t care, Little Shop of Horrors is one of my favorite movies ever, and I pretty much guarantee that you’ll be entertained by it. This ridiculously awesome 80’s musical is a remake of the cheap 1960 Roger Corman original (that famously starred Jack Nicholson in a small role.) This one is FAR superior, but hey, you always have to give credit to the source material. For those that haven’t seen it, Little Shop of Horrors is about a down on his luck florist that suddenly finds notoriety with a brand new plant he happens upon. It ends up bringing him fame and fortune, and potentially even love. Problem is, well, the plant needs blood to live. This forces the florist to feed him in order to keep everything he’s gained. At first he feed it from himself, then as it grows larger, it requires more substantial food. It soon escalates out of hand and becomes a balls-out insanity fest. This movie has a little bit of everything perfect about the 80’s. Rick Moranis was at his peak and couldn’t be a more perfect Seymour. Plus many other 80’s comedians have small roles throughout – everyone from Steve Martin (one of my absolute favorite roles EVER), Bill Murray, John Candy, even Christopher Guest has a bit part. Plus, since it’s a 50’s period piece, it still feels timeless today. The music is absolutely unforgettable and you’ll be singing the songs for days afterward. Steve Martin’s “Dentist!” song and sequence rivals the Raising Arizona “stealing diapers” sequence as one of my all-time favorite comedic segments in film. I’m telling you this baby is a gem. If you haven’t seen it before, now’s the time. Also, be sure and watch the Director’s Cut. You really deserve to see the original ending. It’s SO much better (and darker) than the theatrical cut. Have a ball with this one today, and if you’re in Los Angeles like me, for the love of God seek out some A/C.
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.