News Column

Acts of scare-orrism

October 25, 2013

YellowBrix

So you want to see some scary movies for Halloween but are tired of watching the same old stuff?

I feel your pain.

Seriously, how many times can you sit through those old mainstream horror hits, remakes of Asian fright fests and those quirky cult movies?

Here's good news.

There are scary films out there besides "Psycho," "The Haunting," the complete works of Dario Argento, "Alien," "Repulsion," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," George Romero's zombie films, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Evil Dead" trilogy, Universal Studios' monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon), "Silence of the Lambs," "Ringu," "The Exorcist," Stephen King-based movies, "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Rosemary's Baby."

Submitted for your approval are these 10 off-the-beaten-bloody- path chillers not quite on the major horror movie radar. I have consulted with fellow critic Dave Canfield of Twitchfilm.com to come up with this list of lesser-known works by teams of deadly scareorrists.

1. "The Orphanage" -- Juan Antonio Bayona's 2007 supernatural shocker (produced by Guillermo del Toro) tells the tale of an adult orphan (Belen Rueda) who buys the rickety old seaside house she grew up in and transforms it into a school for disabled children.

Then her 7-year-old son begins talking to people nobody else can see. Add to that a missing child and Geraldine Chaplin's paranormal investigator and you've got the creepiest movie ever made that constantly relies on references to "Peter Pan."

2. "May" -- Angela Bettis' underrated performance as the shy, introverted high school student highlights Lucky McKee's perfectly pitched 2003 gothic drama about a lonely girl's unorthodox efforts to create the perfect friend. Anna Faris and Jeremy Sisto help her out, not always willingly.

3. "Munger Road" -- Produced and shot in St. Charles by local resident Nick Smith, directing and writing a first feature combining an escaped serial killer on the loose and two high school couples stuck over the railroad tracks on an allegedly haunted road. An unusually confident first effort with some nice scary flair.

It just completed an exclusive run at the Charlestowne Theater in St. Charles, and also is available on amazon.com and Netflix.

4. "Magic" -- Long before he gave the world Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins played a failing ventriloquist whose career receives an adrenaline shot from a new, nasty dummy named Fats.

Yes, Michael Redgrave already did the evil ventriloquist's dummy routine in the "Dead of Night" anthology, but Hopkins' tortured performance in 1978 never talks down to William Goldman's polished screenplay and Richard Attenborough's direction.

5. "The Devil's Backbone" -- Guillermo del Toro's ghostly 2001 period political allegory foreshadowed his later production of "The Orphanage." During the Spanish Civil War, a couple operating a remote orphanage take in a young boy left behind by his parents. He begins to experience strange visions at the same time an unexploded bomb from Franco's forces lies in the nearby courtyard.

6. "We Are What We Are" -- Jim Mickle's slow-fused chiller is one of those "what's wrong with this family?" dramas climaxed by a horror-ific scene nobody sees coming. Two sisters (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner) keep saying they want to lead normal lives after the death of their mother, and the rest of the movie shows us why they're not, especially with their strange dad (Bill Sage) in charge.

The movie, a rich combo of atmospheric suspense and visceral shock, just played at Chicago's Music Box Theatre. Look for it on VOD and DVD Jan. 6.

7. "The Girl Next Door" -- Reminiscent of "The River's Edge," this 2007 conscience-blanching drama tells a harrowing story about a girl trapped and tortured in a basement while normal neighborhood kids hang around and watch -- but never tell anyone what's happening.

Gregory Wilson's humanity-scorching movie, based on Jack Ketchum's novel, underscores the horror of children devoid of an empathy chip. If you see this movie once, you will never want to see it again.

8. "Pontypool" -- A claustrophobic study in growing paranoia awaits a radio talk show host (Stephen McHattie) whose evening drive time gets complicated by increasing reports of people coming down with an ominous form of homicidal dementia.

The idea of spoken words containing communicable viruses is diabolically clever in Tony Burgess' eerie story, recently adapted by Chicago's own Straw Dog Theater as a riveting stage show. Available on VOD now.

9. "Black Christmas" -- Before he gave us the beloved cult comedy "A Christmas Story," Bob Clark directed this harrowing tale of a psycho killer hiding in a sorority house populated by "Romeo and Juliet" star Olivia Hussey and a pre-"Superman" star Margot Kidder. Those eyeball-in-the-door-jamb shots! Yikes!

Clark's film predated "Halloween" by four years, but his film wasn't widely circulated in the U.S. until the 1980s under the title "Stranger in the House."

10. "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" -- This early cheapie and cheesy effort from director John D. Hancock ("Bang the Drum Slowly") makes no sense and comes steeped in hilarious 1971 period attributes. (Hey, cool peace sign on your car door, man!)

But when I saw it with a full house at the Will Rogers Theater in downstate Charleston, I didn't sleep for six years.

A former mental patient (Zohra Lampert) moves to a farm with her hubby. Then voices begin taunting her and the townspeople get a little strange and weird stuff starts.

But hey, it's that time of year, right?

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.


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