Welcome back! Let’s conclude our journey through the past few decades of neglected horror flicks with the past ten years.
Martyrs will fuck you up. A bucolic image opens the film. Mother, father and rosy-cheeked children sip juice around a table. The door is kicked in. A young girl bursts into the room and opens their bellies with a large shotgun. It seems they kidnapped and tortured her as a child. Distraught by her decision to flee and leave behind a fellow victim years earlier, she commits suicide. Moments later, a disfigured young woman is discovered bound and gagged in an underground torture chamber. A group of fanatical strangers aimed at discovering the secrets of the afterlife via the creation of martyrs descend upon the house. It only gets more bizarre from there. A nauseating masterpiece, Martyrs is irresistibly fascinating from start to finish. Graphic and extremely brutal, director Pascal Laugier’s endows each blood-drenched scenario with a sense of beauty culminating in a climax that can’t be forgotten.
Sam is a spry college student weighed down by a lack of funds and a callous roommate in Ti West’s throwback suspense flick, House of the Devil. She comes upon a quiet rental property and a fortuitous babysitting gig that offers the most dreadful depiction of the profession since John Carpenter’s Halloween. Throughout the course of the night, Sam realizes there is something occult about the eerily compassionate couple who hired her. West is a horror enthusiast and understands the strength of mood and pacing. With House of the Devil he creates a stripped-down, retro experience that relishes its own sense of grim anticipation. He has a commendable knack for creating competent chillers from simple premises and meager budgets. House of the Devil remains his best.
Stake Land established director Jim Mickle as a developing talent in the field. Complete with gory terror, tense action and dark humor, the film rises above its familiar narrative. After witnessing his family disemboweled at the hands (and teeth) of savage bloodsuckers, Martin (Connor Paolo) joins with a vampire hunter known simply as Mister to find the elusive “New Eden.” Mister has this Charles Bronson thing going on. His lip fro isn’t as thin and Asiatic as Bronson’s was throughout his career, but he definitely puts in time on his chin pedestal. A sharp script, intriguing characters and gory suspense provide the film a fresh edge. It’s a cross-breed of vampire legend with apocalyptic scenarios that is both ferocious and lyrical. A scene witnessing a fundamentalist militia dropping vampires on a small town like nuclear bombs is worth the price of admission.
Short on embellishment yet big on suspense, Absentia is a dark fairy tale about the emotional struggles surrounding death and grief. Having been missing for more than seven years, Tricia’s (Courtney Bell) husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) is declared dead by absentia. As she prepares to move on, Daniel shows up barefoot and bloody on the front lawn with claims that he was abducted by a mysterious creature that dwells in the “underneath.” The debut effort from director Mike Flanagan, Absentia is deliberately paced and well crafted. Its mysterious storyline is eerie and suspenseful and the ambiguity of it all is highly refreshing. The amateur actors throw themselves wholeheartedly into their roles. If you’re a patient genre fan who prefers psychological horrors over shocking displays of gore, Absentia is for you.2012
Interview with the Vampire director Neil Jordan returns to the world of night crawlers with Byzantium, the story of a mother-daughter blood-sucker team hiding away from a brethren of elders intent on killing them. Stylish and moody with a color palette befitting an urban overpass, Byzantium sees a welcomed break from traditional vampire mythology. Saoirse Ronan ranks among the best actors working today. She sinks into the emotions of her troubled character. Sadness wells in her eyes. She scribbles her life story on a piece of scrap paper each day and tosses it into the wind. It’s both sad and beautiful all at once.2013
Cannibalism is one of our deepest taboos and not often examined in cinema. We Are What We Are uses the erroneous practice to comment on the horrors of family, tradition and extreme systems of religious worship. An aloof family that eats human flesh for religious purposes find their way of life threatened when a local sheriff and town doctor discover their secret. The antithesis of Jim Mickle’s previous effort Stake Land, We Are What We Are is a well acted, wonderfully directed horror that builds gradually toward one of the most shocking climaxes the genre has to offer.
A down and dirty horror fantasy weaves its way through Spring’s tale of romance. California tough guy Evan is spiraling out of control following the death of his mother. He escapes to Italy where he embarks on a romance with Euro-hottie Louise, a woman harboring a deep secret, not to mention a pair of tentacles. The film is slow to develop, playing more like a humanist pic than a horror film in its opening act. Once it enters blood-curdling territory, things get a whole lot more interesting. Scenes of transformational body horror exceed the picture’s minimal budget and add to the creative combining of genres. Character, theme and slimy effects: you’re lucky now a days to get one or the other. Spring delivers all three.
The late Anton Yelchin stars as Dee Dee Ramone wannabe, Pat in Green Room. Desperate for a gig, his band books a show at a neo-Nazi bar outside Portland. Following their set, they return to the green room where they witness a horrible act of violence. Now they must fight to escape the bar and its fiendish owner (Patrick Stewart). Green Room is not as Daedalean as its brethren. It’s a reminder that a well-told story is enough to satisfy audiences. A good cast and skillful direction don’t hurt either. Replete with unflagging tension and ruthless brutality, it has a magnetism inherent in the best horror has to offer.
The Eyes of My Mother is fucked up. Not fucked up like Linda Blair clubbin’ the clam with a crucifix, fucked up like Limburger cheese: it looks appetizing as hell but tastes completely foul. A mysterious man with shaggy hair and soulless eyes forces his way into the home of Francisca (Olivia Bond) and murders her mother in violent fashion. Francisca reacts as all young children would, she chains the man in her barn and gouges out his eye balls. As Francisca ages, a loneliness takes hold of her. She seeks victims to keep her company. A real polarizing movie, The Eyes of My Mother is graphic, it’s gnarly, it’s beautifully grotesque. It is surrealism at its absolute best. The darkness of the story permeates every aspect of the picture. Gray skies loom over monochrome landscapes, faces half concealed by shadow move hauntingly about as nightmarish chords blare away in the background. Yet despite its black tone, there is a poetic quality to its delivery. There is a rhythm and a beauty to the madness that makes it hard to look away.
Women are contributing more and more to horror cinema each year. One such filmmaker is Coralie Fargeat, creator of the brutal yet beautiful rape/revenge film, Revenge. Many pictures of this type fall too much in love with their babes in the woods before basking in the physical suffering that befalls them. When initially introduced to Revenge’s willowy heroine, I assumed the picture would fall into the same trap. Something radiates from Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz that makes her irresistible. However, when she comes under attack, it’s as distasteful as it should be. It’s also abrupt and captured mainly through sound. We are forced to experience the surreal horror of the incident from behind a closed door rather than in close-up. Jan spends the next hour-and-twenty minutes exacting her gleefully gory revenge. It’s stylish and inventive (the use of enhanced sound to accentuate chaos is particularly powerful) and viscerally terrifying without being overly cruel.
I think I enjoy reflecting and writing on Mandy a bit more than I enjoyed watching it. A lumberjack (Nicolas Cage) seeks revenge against a demonic cult after they set his girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) on fire. The surreal revenge tale by director Panos Cosmatos is visually stylish but its narrative is a bit underdeveloped and the characters are thinly drawn. Still, what it lacks in story it makes up for in midnight movie madness. It’s immensely unique yet exceedingly commonplace all at the same time. The film is an all-out attack on the senses with an outrageously bravura performance by Cage at its center. Cage is best when given a long leash. In Mandy, he’s provided no leash at all.
And that about covers the past 31 years. Thank you for reading, and if I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments.