31 Days (Years) of Halloween: An Alternative Look – Part 2

Welcome back! Last week we covered some overlooked classic horror films starting with 1987. Today we pick up where we left off, starting in 1998.

1998

Law student Martin Bells (Ewan McGregor) believes his new position as night-watchman at the local morgue will provide him much needed time to prepare for the bar exam while keeping his pockets full of spending money. He begins to second guess the job however, as he begins uncovering clues that implicate him as a suspect in a number of slasher slayings committed by a necrophiliac killer. Elevated by standout performances from McGregor, Patricia Arquette as the concerned girlfriend and Nick Nolte as the homicide detective investigating the case, Nightwatch is a tense, chilling thriller. As Martin makes his rounds through the dimly-lit halls of the morgue, you can’t help but feel the quiet and cold. These scenes sustain a taxing level of intensity. We become involved in the experience

1999

The Sixth Sense was not the only movie about young boys seeing ghosts released in 1999. Stir of Echoes, directed by David Koepp and based on the novel by Richard Matheson, tells the story of Tom Linsky (Kevin Bacon), a blue collar man unhappy with the path of his life. At a party, Tom is hypnotized by his sister-in-law and provided an “open mind.” He begins to see visions of a missing local girl believed to be dead and makes it his purpose to solve the case. An above average ghost story, Stir of Echoes rises above its somewhat predictable plot line via a compelling performance from Bacon and smart, dramatic direction. The scenes that witness Tom being jerked from reality and implanted in the ghost realm are particularly effective.

2000

Dark and twisted and delightfully campy, Ginger Snaps works on multiple levels. At its heart, it’s a horror story about a pair of solitary, friendless sisters who must take action when one of them is bitten by a werewolf. Beneath the surface is a witty examination of feminine growing pains. The supernatural elements are metaphorically tied to what it means to be a pubescent girl in middle-class America. The lunar cycle runs parallel to Ginger’s (Katharine Isabelle) menstrual period. Her muscles contract, pain pierces her abdomen, she craves nourishment but wants nothing more than to lie down. Skillfully blending horror with humor and pathos, Ginger Snaps, like the protagonists at its center, is not afraid to be a little different.

2001

Adam Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) reveals to FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Booth) that his religiously fanatical father received visions from God that led him to murder supposed demons in character actor Bill Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty. Via his police confession, we experience his father’s puzzling descent into madness. A restrained meditation on the sins of the father, Frailty is a welcome departure from the glut-on-gore type movies that are so popular today. It’s a well-acted, wonderfully directed horror that builds gradually toward a twist ending.

2002

Director Neil Marshall captured the attention of horror fans the world over with his thrilling tale of six adventurous women being stalked by sanguinary beasts through an unfamiliar cave system in 2005’s The Descent. He proved his prowess as a filmmaker though, three years prior with the maliciously entertaining werewolf flick, Dog Soldiers. A British military unit on a routine exercise in the Highlands of Scotland must fight for their lives when behemoth creatures of the night attack. Made for next to nothing, the film bleeds confidence. The “trapped in a cabin in the woods” scenario is familiar yet effective. The audience shares with the characters the feeling of being unprotected in an unfamiliar place. Marshall’s devotion to the material drives the action. Once it hits, it doesn’t stop. Raw, gritty and relentless, Dog Soldiers is horror filmmaking at its manic best.

2003

Alexandre Aja’s gleefully gory, modern slasher, Haute Tension, has a few original ideas shrouded beneath its blood-soaked narrative. When best buds Marie (Cecile de France) and Alexia (Maiwenn) set out for a couple days of R&R at a remote farmhouse, they are attacked by a fiendish killer. A brutal, grisly trek through familiar territory, the movie challenges genre decorum in its final act. Marie (*spoiler*) escapes the hellish madman and fights for her life through one sanguinary set piece after another only to discover she is in fact the killer. The twist ending means that Marie is not only the strong, resourceful final girl we have come to expect from a movie of this type, but also the psychotic slayer.

2004

Innocence is a strange and whimsical fairy tale about that confusing period between youth and adolescence. The bizarre happenings that surround the young girls of the third dormitory at a secluded, unnamed boarding school are metaphorically tied to the dreams and anxieties faced by prepubescent children each day. Some will take issue with the film’s slow pace, but if you’re patient enough, you will find pleasure in watching director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s thesis unfold. The cinematography is simple yet charming, the writing haunting yet lyrical. It is a beautiful, mysterious movie worthy of attention.

2005

Hard Candy relays a powerful story that impacts the viewer strongly. At once an arthouse film and gritty exploitationer, it tells of a young girl (Ellen Page) who uses the internet to lure a potential pedophile out of hiding with the intention of torturing him to death. Once director David Slade hooks the audience, they are unable to escape the disturbing, dramatic tension. Though the gnarly stuff is mostly kept off camera, the material is still highly unsettling. It is strongly written, superbly acted and extremely compelling.

2006

Ils is suspenseful as shit. Released amid a wave of extreme French horror flicks, Ils is a reminder that you don’t need blood and guts to generate fear and panic. Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and her husband Lucas (Michael Cohen) move into their new home in remote Snagov and are tormented by a group of hooded assailants. A familiar yet highly effective piece of horror cinema, Ils spins a few narrative surprises into an otherwise conventional story. I once submitted a script to a production house. The response was that the script was too “different.” That the studio was looking for stories that were “creatively mundane.” Ils would fit their criteria to a tee. It takes a simple yet believable story and enhances it with astute sound and imagery and a shit ton of scares.

2007

Inside is rife with WTF moments. An audaciously gory, wholly unsettling and diabolically compelling horror movie from directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, it tells of a pregnant woman (Alysson Pardis) terrorized in her home by a mysterious figure set on snatching her unborn child. A rough and gritty gore film wrapped around a psychological drama, Inside is the type of film you watch through splayed fingers. The image of the cloaked intruder using a pair of standard scissors to slice through the soft, pudgy flesh of Sarah’s belly will be etched in your memory forever.

Come back in 1 week for the finale, covering 2008-2018.

Ernie Rockelman

Ernie loves movies. He's not so great talking about them, but he's pretty okay writing about them. He worked as a critic for the Press of AC for a number of years. Now he teaches film to high school kids and occasionally makes movies that nobody sees.

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One thought on “31 Days (Years) of Halloween: An Alternative Look – Part 2

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    October 21, 2018 at 11:59 am
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    Compared to the last decade this list has hit after hit. For anyone who hasn’t seen most these films before, you would be wise to watch your way through this entire list. Great article! Looking forward to the final list.

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