[8 October 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s October again with only a few more weeks of marketing mandated terror to go. With cable channels and the Internet working overtime telling you what’s fright and what’s wrong, it seems like every angle of All Hallow’s Eve is covered, except, like any regulated holiday, the same of scares seem to be offered up. After all, how many times can you watch The Exorcist or The Evil Dead? Is there an expiration date on Halloween and its far too many sequels, or the various fleeting subgenres such as torture porn and J-horror? Indeed, if this particular celebration is all about delivering the shivers, how can something so well known provide said dread?
Luckily, we are here to help. Going back over the last few decades, SE&L has come up with ten alternative movie macabres that you just might enjoy a bit more than an umpteenth viewing of Friday the 13th. We’ve attempted to address both the outsider and the independent, the ‘may be familiar’ and the foreign. Some of these titles may already be in your collection. What’s equally obvious is that all of them should. So instead of busting out your Nightmare on Elm Street box set or the various American updates of Asia betters, why not give one of these offerings a try. Perhaps they’ll become the makings of a new terror tradition in your fear factors.
This ferocious freak show, this mercilessly madcap revolting romp through various unusual issues - Vietnam, hilarious necrophilia, homelessness, alcoholism - is a genuine post modern masterpiece. For gorehounds, it’s a grand slam, a movie with effects so amazing they haven’t been topped in almost three years. From its outrageous opening setpiece (a man literally melts into a toilet) to the final act fireworks which features the most unbelievable decapitation ever, this is a triumph of independent low budget moviemaking, the kind of inventive insanity you rarely see in today’s super serious DIY camcorder scene.
Like watching the ultimate collaboration between Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento (with some nauseating originality thrown in for good measure) this sluice-filled sensation is one of the sickest, most gratifying gross out efforts in quite a while. It’s literally overflowing with unsettling, bloody violence. But this isn’t just gore for the sake of shock. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have combined the visceral nature of childbirth with the mandates of the slasher film to forge a brilliant, ballsy comment on biology. It’s as nasty now as it was upon its initial, under the radar release.
Originally released under the French title Ils, Them does practically everything right - it gives us easily recognizable and slightly complex characters, it offers relentless and malevolent villains, atmosphere to spare, and an attention to filmic language that’s hard to escape. Like a boa constrictor slowly strangling you to death, directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud keep the fear flowing and the direct effect claustrophobic. Constantly keeping us off guard while allowing the action to grow organically, we become part of the macabre cat and mouse, unable to find shelter or respite from the tireless terrors encircling us.
Before he disappeared into the hit or miss medium of television, director Tibor Takac made two of the late ‘80s most memorable fright flicks. Naturally, fans adored his goofy The Gate while ignoring its far more complex follow-up. Centering on a dead Lovecraftian pulp author whose books seem to be coming to life, the sense of dread and doom here is so overwhelming that it’s hard to appreciate the plot’s various intricacies. Long forgotten except by only the most devoted lovers of offbeat fear, it deserves better. Watch it once and see if you don’t agree.
In the decades since Bob Clark’s creative take on the systematic slaying of innocent victims at the hands of a crazed killer, lovers of splatter cinema expect certain stereotypical standards from their slaughter party. Thankfully, Black Christmas avoids each and every one of these crucial clichés. This allows the film to function on its own, unhinged level of jaundiced genius. Though its premise predates Jason, Michael and all things Freddy, it’s hard to imagine that this film inspired anything but jealousy from those who would follow in its fascinating, fantastic footsteps.
Renny Harlin may today be nothing more than a piece of movie trivia, but before he died harder and dragged us to Cutthroat Island, he was an up and coming genre fixture - and this intriguing film is proof of his directorial prowess. A very low budget affair - it has the stamp (and stink) of Albert and Charles Band all over it - the otherwise atmospheric and quite effect spookshow sees an incredibly young Viggo Mortensen and a psycho Lane Smith battling restless spirits behind penitentiary walls. Along with some brilliant practical effects, the results are creative…and creepy.
Fright fans - if you don’t know the name Jaume Balagueró, you should. Granted, his only English language films - Darkness and The Nameless - were undermined by problems with their interfering American distributor, but the Spanish director redeemed himself with the marvelous [REC] franchise. Those first person POV ersatz zombie epics (made in collaboration with Paco Plaza) have gained such international acclaim that, naturally, his back catalog is being reevaluated and rereleased. Thus we have this 2005 haunted hospital effort. It’s one of the moodiest, most satisfying scarefests in a while.
Hell’s Ground is one of the most unique motion pictures ever. Not for what it does since there is nothing new here, technically. No, what’s most fascinating about this exceptional movie is watching director/co-writer Omar Ali Khan balance his love of old school fear, the mandates of his Muslin society, the censorship inherent in Pakistan’s film industry, and the changing face of his adolescent audience, all in one blood-soaked romp. Watching him wade through Raimi revisionism while still keeping one foot clearly in the Koran is one the movie’s main delights.
Here it is, all you home-movie hopefuls—100 percent proof positive that epic entertainment can be crafted out of a camcorder, a cast and crew of friends, and a great deal of cinematic creativity. This bravado brainchild of Argentinean auteurs Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez is like watching Peter Jackson’s private personal video experiments, or Sam Raimi’s first forays into Evil Dead-based fright. Consisting of two installments in a proposed trilogy, Plaga Zombie (“Zombie Plague”) and its sensational sequel, Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone, these movies represent the height of auspicious outsider moviemaking.
Imagine if David Lynch and Rob Zombie had a baby, gave said abnormal infant to John Waters to wet nurse, and on weekends, all three allowed Kenneth Anger and the Kuchar Brothers to come over and babysit. With Tobe Hooper and Jack Hill as the godparents and Edith Massey as thrift store style consultant, the results would begin to resemble something similar to the wonderfully weird brain damaged b-movie . The conceptual offspring of couture auteur Alan Rowe Kelly, this tasty take on the entire Texas Chainmail Massacre trip is one of the best unknown independent movies.