Damn you, James Wan. How do you keep this up? Every single horror film you work on is directed better than your previous effort. It almost hurts me how good you are at your craft. The Conjuring 2 is your latest example. Oh man, I loved the first Conjuring. LOVED. It was so classic, so amazing, and so downright scary, that I didn’t think a sequel stood a chance at holding any weight against it. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Conjuring 2 is practically a perfect sequel to the Conjuring. I go back and forth on whether I like this one or the original better, and I swear I can’t decide. It takes everything that worked in the first one and ups the ante to an insane and intelligent degree. It’s still got the classic feel. It’s still got great characters that you actually care about. And it still has countless scares that jolt the living shit out of you. The story here continues the exploits of the Lorraine and Ed Warren, the paranormal investigators. This time it takes them overseas to England to help out a single mother and her family from another horrific spirit. Most movies would be perfectly fine focusing on this storyline, but not The Conjuring 2. It adds more spirits into the mix, as well as a parallel storyline for the Warrens themselves. I swear this film has a little bit of everything. And can we talk about the terrifying nun? Dear God some of the scenes with the nun are stone-cold haunting. In fact, this entire movie brings the dread to such an insane level that I found myself gripping the armrests in the theater the entire time. My fingers were numb afterward. Wan builds so much suspense, mixed with sections of pure unnerving horror, that even when nothing is happening you’re freaked out that something is any second. Basically you’re never at ease. That, my friend, is the epitome of well-made horror. We’re so lucky as horror fans, and fans of movies period, to have these Conjuring films. I know there are more spinoffs coming, which is fine I guess, but let’s maybe hope that James Wan has ooooone more adventure with the Warrens left in him. I can’t wait to see how he decides to one up himself yet again.
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.
Okay, watch out, it’s Jeff’s guilty pleasure time. Look, this is my list so I get to put what I want on it. I know that at its core Dead Silence is a pretty ridiculous movie. I know it’s been critically panned. I know there are logic gaps a mile wide. But guess what? I simply don’t care. There’s such a manic craziness to this movie that I kind of love. To me, it has the same vibe and feel of the types of horror movies I worship from the 80’s. The filmmakers decided to just go for it and simply have a lot of fun, which really rubs off on the viewer. Let’s be honest, no one likes ventriloquist dummies. Not a damn soul. They’re only a small step below clowns on the universally terrifying factor. On occasion these dummies get small parts in horror films (my personal favorite is the old Tales from the Crypt episode, “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”), but here they take center stage. And you know what’s more terrifying that one ventriloquist dummy? How about a TON of ventriloquist dummies. Cause you just know that 3rd act is chock full of an entire wall of them. But in addition, let’s throw in deadly spirits, creepy old folk tales, scary old ladies, a “silent” mode that alerts you of evil, a few moments of gore, and even some neat underwater stuff, and you’ve got a hodgepodge of entertaining insanity. It’s worth noting the people behind this project. It was co-written by Leigh Whannell, who created Saw, so you just know there’s going to be some kind of “twist” involved (which is utter madness, but so stupidly awesome.) And it’s directed by the incredible James Wan, the masterful eye behind Insidious and The Conjuring (one of my favorite horror films of recent times.) So just know that even though this was an earlier work of his, it still has a lot of the atmospheric eye that gave those movies their luster. Look, like I said, this is a guilty pleasure, but I think if you’re just looking for an insane jolly good time, you really could do a lot worse. To me, Dead Silence is a blasty blast.
Here we go again! I can’t believe this is my 4th year of these October horror movie recommendations. If anyone is new to this and want to see the past years’ lists of these Halloween recommendations, go ahead and click the links above. They’re all right up there. See ’em? Go ahead and click. Don’t be afraid. We’ll wait…
Okay, now on to 2013.
Well, like last year, I want to come out of the gate on the first day with something recent. Sometimes people are afraid of jumping right into and checking out the classics (wrong!) So if you’re leaning toward seeing something modern, here’s a perfect one for that. Mainly because it’s a little bit of both – modern and classic. When I hear someone say that the glory days of old school horror is over, I find another movie to prove them wrong. This year it’s The Conjuring. This is as much of an old school, classic scarefest, as you can get. Point plank, James Wan understands classic horror. He understands suspense. He understands how to hold a scene so that the audience creeps forward in anticipation, and them BAM, throws a perfect jump scare at the perfect moment. It’s a fine balance that is usually loaded a little too much on one side or the other. But with the Conjuring, the balance is pitch perfect. Amazing acting. Fantastic “inspired by a true story” premise. Spectacular usage of the time period (it’s the 70’s so no cell phones!) Suspense and scares in spades. And some twists and turns that you won’t see coming. Really just a fantastic movie all around. It’s still playing in a few 2nd run theaters, or wait until it’s released for home viewing later this month. Regardless, check it out. There’s a reason why it made so much money at the theaters. It deserved it.