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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Thin White Dude's Guide To Alternative Halloween Movies

Hey there, folks, me again! Excuse that awful title. I hate using the word 'alternative,' as it makes me sound like someone who is well versed in the ancient art of (hipster) douchbaggery and an all-round highbrow elitist prick. However, being a movie fan I naturally found myself browsing the Internet at Halloween movies, and with people opening the floodgates for their chance to opine on the matter, I've decided to take the opportunity to do one myself. There is only two criteria really for this list:

1. It is not a commonly cited film (no Exorcists, Shinings, Halloweens etc.). 'Classic' horror movies continue to have their flag waved on a regular basis, and so my voice is not required where they are regarded.

2. It had to make me shit my pants (literally or metaphorically)

So, instead of doing a Top Ten, for reasons due to laziness and the fact that I'm sure everyone is bored to tears with Top Ten, here, in alphabetical order, are my Sixteen Picks For Halloween.

Audition (Miike Takashi) - Never before, and perhaps never again, will I be more scared. A psychological head-trip that will leave genuine scars. First time I watched it, I spent the latter half of the picture cowering behind a cushion. The second time, I nearly vomited. Intensity and controlled chaos at it's very best.

Bride Of Frankenstein (James Whale) - A classic, I know, but deserves merit on account of being half a century ahead of it's time. A riotous laugh of a picture that is perfect for drinking to, the camp tone and homoeroticism make it incredibly titillating. Furthermore, on top of it all, Boris Karloff's Monster hits home as hard as Shakespearean tragedy.

Bug (William Friedkin) - Exorcist director Friedkin jacks up the paranoia levels to maximum overdrive in this psychological thriller. Crushingly claustrophobic, the viewer is never quite certain as to what really is going on. A reflection of post-9/11 American trauma and what it can do to people, brilliantly depicted by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon.

Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato) - Controversial to this day due to depictions of sexual assault, brutality and (some genuine) animal cruelty. Director Deodato was arrested on obscenity charges, later amended to murder, because the courts believed it to be a snuff picture. Fascinating in that it predates the now-popular 'found footage' genre by nearly twenty years and has something important to say.

Coraline (Henry Selick) - The Nightmare Before Christmas director Selick spins another great yarn, based on Neil Gaiman's book of the same name. Doppelgangers and nasty doubles posing as real people create for some really scary moments. As beautiful as it is creepy, Coraline is a kid-friendly horror movie that is all the better for not patronising it's target audience.

The Crazies (George A. Romero) - 28 Days Later unquestionably has it's roots in this picture by The Godfather of Zombies. Romero uses the horror genre to say something about the world around him, and this story of a town cordoned off by the military after a biological weapon spill speaks volumes about the right to assume power. Deeply underrated, and as important as his 'Dead' films.

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly) - A real treasure box of a movie from which so much can be gained. Anchored by an amazing central performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, it is horror, teen-comedy, bildungsroman, philosophical treatise, but above all, mesmerising. Just stay away from the Director's Cut though: some things are best left unanswered!

The Hitcher (Robert Harmon) - Identity crisis, existentialism, Rutger Hauer, you're thinking Blade Runner, right? Well, this film has all that in leaps and bounds, with Hauer's Jungian phantom seemingly transcending the physical realm in his prolonged torture of poor C. Thomas Howell. Superb on so many different levels.

The Mist (Frank Darabont) - Quite possibly the best horror movie of the best ten years. Frank Darabont's screenplay is airtight, with each character in the cast perfectly representing a part of the social microcosm that is trapped inside a supermarket. Without giving away spoilers, it has one of the most shocking endings to a film in history.

Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (Werner Herzog) - Both an adaptation and an homage to Bram Stoker's Dracula and F.W. Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu, Herzog's work stands out in its own right. The character of Dracula is given a sense of pathos and tragedy, while the gothic atmosphere of dread is chilling and creepy. Eine symphonie des grauens, indeed!

The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona) - Between this and The Mist, 2007 was as about a good a year for horror film as we have got in quite a long time. A unique story that is striking in it's originality and its distinct lack of cheap shocks, respecting the audience for its intelligence. Belen Rueda delivers a spellbinding lead performance of depth and personality.

Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon) - Definitely one of the more bizarre things to come out of horror cinema in the 1980s (and that's really saying something!). Zombies, Frankenstein and Bernard Herrmann will never be the same again! A potpourri of extreme ultra-violence and ultra-laughter that will have you calling for some spare ribs.

Switchblade Romance (Alexandre Aja) - Has been criticised by a good number, but I think is one of horror cinema's most recent gems. Brutal both physically and psychologically, it has a wholly unique atmosphere to it. The fact that it manages to be a pure horror film while (very) subtly dealing with sexual and gender politics is quite an achievement.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Tsukamoto Shinya) - An industrial hellride of violence, fetishism and gruesome transformations. Limitations imposed on the film by its budget are certainly worked around in form of innovation and creativity. No film carries the rocket-propulsion momentum of Tetsuo, and I doubt that anyone can ever replicate it.

Tony (Gerard Johnson) - An English horror movie that was little seen, and undeservedly so. A mixture of Ken Loach's social realism, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and Taxi Driver, Peter Ferdinando's eponymous protagonist is a masterful portrayal of the levels of depravity one can reach. However miserable and oppressive the atmosphere, it is never anything less than hypnotic.

Videodrome (David Cronenberg) - One of Cronenberg's many great films, and certainly part of a wonderful period that also brought us The Brood, Scanners, The Fly and Dead Ringers. The venereal horror and body politic of Cronenberg is mixed here with a brilliantly realised eroticism of reality television violence and snuff television. Complete, immersive, cerebral, profound, brilliant.

So, there you have it. Each of these films is great in their own right, and while obviously there are many other great horror films, these are ones that deserve to be viewed on equal footing, but don't as often have someone tooting their horn. Eight of these films are new additions that have sprung up since the beginning of the 21st Century, six of them foreign-language pictures, two are in the black-and-white format and one of them is a remake. They represent a varied, unique sub-section of scary films that are fit for just about any Halloween screening. House party, orgy, date night, alone in the dark, you name it, these films have got it. I just have a brief amendment to make to my criteria:


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