It’s October…and if the election hasn’t sufficiently frightened you, I’ve got a few recommendations for Halloween. Let me start by warning that I’ve steered clear of the usual suspects – your Exorcists, your Shinings, your Psychos. Certainly if you’re a film nerd, you’ve probably heard of and maybe seen some of the titles I’m going to mention. If so, they’re worth re-visiting. And if not, turn off the lights and dive in.
“Memories of Murder” is far from an all-out horror film, but if you want something that’ll creep into your bones like a chill (think: “Zodiac”), check this film out. It makes a great companion piece to David Fincher’s San Francisco slasher. Both are based on actual crime cases – “Memories of Murder” is about the first serial killer in Korea. Both deal with the hurdles of police work and show the toll these high-stake cases have on investigators. Those familiar with director and co-screenwriter Bong Joon-ho (“The Host” and “Snowpiercer”) will recognize his admittedly broad sense of humor, though like a hand closing around sand, it seeps from this film as more bodies pile up. The director has expert control over the frame and blocking. There’s a long take where a woman surveys a field at night, and if you’re like me, you’ll register that something is different in the frame without actually seeing the change occur. And though it’s been years since I saw “Memories of Murder” for the first time, the last shot still haunts me.
Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s “House” is a haunted house film like no other. Again, those looking for a more traditional horror will be disappointed. The premise isn’t particularly remarkable. A group of young women (with names like Gorgeous, Melody, and Kung Fu) go to an aunt’s house and discover that – you guessed it – things are not as they seem. If I were to try and pin down an easy description, it might go like this: imagine Monty Python made a horror film in Japan. “House” is a kaleidoscope of cinematic exuberance – split screens, composites, animation, shot repetition, matte paintings are all on display. (At one point, the young women pass in front of a matte painting – a billboard of some kind depicting rolling green hills on a sunny day – and as they walk by, the camera reveals that the actual landscape is…rolling green hills on a sunny day.) This is the type of film that throws everything at the wall, including the kitchen sink, to see what’ll stick. And most everything does.
“Attack the Block” was executive produced by Edgar Wright and aptly depicts some of the filmmaker’s humor. Though not as broad a comedy as “Shaun of the Dead,” Joe Cornish’s feature debut is about a young gang who have a close encounter of the bite-y kind. When wolf-alien-gorilla creatures – their words made family-friendly by me – fall from the sky, the boys defend their block. John Boyega plays the leader of the gang, Moses. This is the film that brought him to prominence before “The Force Awakens” catapulted him to…well, the stars. I appreciate the creature design here, as it feels like a lost art. These critters are pretty simple – the wolf-alien-gorilla description is apt, though they’re basically furry silhouettes with no discernible features except their rows of luminous sharp teeth.
“Pontypool” draws a lot of inspiration from Orson Welles’s radio adaptation of “The War of the Worlds.” Directed by Bruce McDonald and written by Tony Burgess, it takes place within a radio station. Shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) receives a series of increasingly strange and panicked phone calls regarding some sort of epidemic. Without going into spoilers, the film presents a clever twist on the zombie genre. McDonald’s direction is varied, and he makes the most of his limited setting. He also uses silence very well. You can feel yourself leaning forward, listening to the phone calls, and hoping to pick up on a sign as to what the hell is going on. The director has a great collaborator in McHattie with his expressive face and husky voice that sounds practically destined for radio.
Writer and director Mike Flanagan has become quite a figure in horror with “Oculus,” “Hush,” and most recently, “Ouija: Origin of Evil.” One of his first forays into the genre was “Absentia.” It’s about a woman, Tricia (Courtney Bell), whose husband has been missing for some time and her sister, Callie (Katie Parker), who tries to help her find closure. An uber-creepy tunnel across the street from Tricia’s apartment may or may not house a nefarious entity. Flanagan constructs his scares with real skill, eschewing easy thrills like stingers. For those who don’t know, a stinger in a horror film is a loud nose or jolt of music that accompanies a scare. Like walking up behind someone in a quiet room and shouting “Boo,” they can be fun but pretty cheap. Flanagan also has a great knack for using focus and depths of field to make you think you’re looking at one thing, only to realize…there’s something else.
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear about some of your favorite lesser seen Halloween titles. As always, feel free to comment below.