There’s no better way to get into the Halloween spirit than by watching some scary movies. Check back each weekday in October for a new spooky movie recommendation, courtesy of George Wolf.
Disclaimer: We take no responsibility for nightmares you may have from watching these films.
October 10th: The Ordeal (Calvaire) (2004)
The Ordeal (Calvaire) | 88 minutes | Unrated
A paranoid fantasy about the link between progress and emasculation, The Ordeal sees a timid singer stuck in the wilds of Belgium after his van breaks down.
Writer/director Fabrice Du Welz’s script scares up the darkest imaginable humor. If David Lynch had directed Deliverance in French, the concoction might have resembled The Ordeal. As sweet, shy singer Marc (a pitch perfect Laurent Lucas) awaits aid, he begins to recognize the hell he’s stumbled into. Unfortunately for Marc, salvation’s even worse.
The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.
Du Welz animates more ably than most our collective revulsion over the idea that we’ve evolved into something incapable of unaided survival; the weaker species, so to speak. Certainly John Boorman’s Deliverance (the Uncle Daddy of all backwoods survival pics) understood the fear of emasculation that fuels this particular dread, but Du Welz picks that scab more effectively than any filmmaker since.
His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.
October 9th: The Shining (1980)
The Shining | 146 minutes | Rated: R
It’s isolated, it’s haunted, you’re trapped, but somehow nothing feels derivative and you’re never able to predict what happens next. It’s Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece rendition of Stephen King’s The Shining.
Though critics were mixed at the time of the film’s release, and both Kubrick and co-star Shelley Duvall were nominated for Razzies, much of the world’s negative response had to do with a needless affection for the source material. Kubrick and co-scriptor Diane Johnson use King’s novel as little more than an outline, and the film is better for it.
A study in atmospheric tension, Kubrick’s vision of the Torrance family collapse at the Overlook Hotel is both visually and aurally meticulous. It opens with that stunning helicopter shot, following Jack Torrance’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding that the film never shakes.
The hypnotic, innocent sound of Danny Torrance’s Big Wheel against the weirdly phallic patterns of the hotel carpet tells so much – about the size of the place, about the monotony of the existence, about hidden perversity. The sound is so lulling that its abrupt ceasing becomes a signal of spookiness afoot.
Duvall terrifies in that she is so visibly terrified. She may be “somewhat more resourceful” than Mr. Grady and his cohorts imagined, but she is a bit of a simpleton. Her gangly, Joey Ramone looks – so boney and homely – are shot to elongate what’s already too long, making her seem like a vision of death.
Let’s not forget Jack.
Nicholson outdoes himself. His early, veiled contempt blossoms into pure homicidal mania, and there’s something so wonderful about watching Nicholson slowly lose his mind. Between writer’s block, isolation, ghosts, alcohol withdrawal, midlife crisis, and “a momentary loss of muscular coordination,” the playfully sadistic creature lurking inside this husband and father emerges.
What image stays with you most? The two creepy little girls? The blood pouring out of the elevator? The impressive afro in the velvet painting above Scatman Crothers’s bed? That freaky guy in the bear suit? Whatever the answer, thanks be to Kubrick’s deviant yet tidy imagination.
And, if you’re in the mood for a double feature, check out last year’s Room 237. As it explores various interpretations of Kubrick’s vision that vary in wackiness, it cements the effect The Shining still has on pop culture.
Speaking of… if you’ve never seen The Simpsons take on it, The Shinning, you gotta remedy that.
October 8th: The Woman (2011)
The Woman | 101 minutes | Rated: R
OK, we’re 8 days in. It’s time to get real. And by that I mean real nasty.
There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleek (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.
The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. Notorious horror novelist and co-scriptor Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. And director Lucky McKee – in his most surefooted film to date – has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Like most of Ketchum’s work, The Woman is lurid and more than a bit disturbing. Indeed, the advanced screener I watched came in a vomit bag.
Aside from an epically awful performance by Carlee Baker as the nosey teacher, the performances are not just good for the genre, but disturbingly solid. McIntosh never veers from being intimidating, terrifying even when she’s chained. Bridgers has a weird way of taking a Will Ferrell character and imbibing him with the darkest hidden nature. Even young Zach Rand, as the sadist-in-training teen Brian, nails the role perfectly.
Nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the seemingly innocent baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate. It’s a dark and disturbing adventure that finds something unsavory in our primal nature and even worse in our quest to civilize. Don’t even ask about what it finds in the dog pen.
Warning: The following trailer contains profanity.
October 7th: Dead Snow (2009)
Dead Snow | 91 minutes | Unrated
Nazi zombies, everybody! Heck yes!
Like its portly nerd character Erlend, Dead Snow loves horror movies. A self-referential “cabin in the woods” flick, Dead Snow follows a handsome mixed-gender group of college students as they head to a remote cabin for Spring Break. A creepy old dude warns them off with a tale of local evil. They mock and ignore him at their peril.
But co-writer/director/Scandinavian Tommy Wirkola doesn’t just obey these time honored horror film rules. Like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods, Dead Snow draws your attention to them. It embraces our prior knowledge of the path we’re taking to mine for comedy, but doesn’t give up on the scares. Wirkola’s artful imagination generates plenty of startles, and gore by the gallon.
Spectacular location shooting, exquisite cinematography, effective sound editing and a killer soundtrack combine to elevate the film above its clever script and solid acting. In just one example, there is a gorgeous image of a peaceful Norwegian night – a tent, lit from within, sitting like a jewel nestled in the quiet of a snowy mountainside. The image glistens with pristine outdoorsy beauty – until it … doesn’t.
The unapologetically faithful image of the traditional American horror film, Dead Snow is funny and scary, utterly gross and thoroughly enjoyable.
October 6th: The Loved Ones (2009)
The Loved Ones | 84 minutes | Rated: R
Psycho may have asked us to look at the weird relationships possible with mothers and sons, but fathers and daughters can develop dangerously close bonds, as well. For proof, just gander at this Aussie freakshow.
Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés and deftly maneuvers between angsty, gritty drama and neon-colored, glittery carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own tale.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.
Byrne quietly crafts an atmosphere of loss and depression in and around the school without painting the troubles cleanly. This slow reveal pulls the tale together and elevates it above a simple work of outrageous violence.
Inside Lola’s house, the mood is decidedly different. Here, we’re privy to the weirdest, darkest image of a spoiled princess and her daddy. The daddy/daughter bonding over power tool related tasks is – well – I’m not sure touching is the right word for it.
The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, unique piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter. It’s a wild, violent, depraved to spend 84 minutes. You should do so now.