Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

24-hours of Netflix Streaming Horror--A Curated List of 16 Weird, Spooky Wonders

The all-night horror marathon --a long-standing tradition wherever Halloween traditions are solidly entombed in the crypt of cinematic history. The idea behind it is simple: the longer you stay up, the more films you watch, the deeper into late night / early morning you go, the creepier it gets as more people fall asleep and the night gradually becomes yours and yours alone and consensual reality fades and you move inside the screen, and your date follows a creepy bunny out of the theater down the sleep arson rabbit hole, no wait, that's you, a half-dreamer / half-watcher and the movie and your unconscious merge and characters in the film look right at you, talk to you, freak you out. You turn around and when you look again you just see an empty couch onscreen, and you're holding a candelabra and walking down a dark hall. And there's no one awake to hear you scream, because you put the volume down low to not wake them.

At college they had one of these festivals every year and after the first few hours they stopped taking tickets at the door and half the crowd went home, weary and irritable. By dawn it was only the hardcore, and the people working the projector. Then I'd sneak in, armed with flask and dilated pupils. There was nothing quite as satisfying as creeping across a deserted campus at the first crack of dawn, coming into the darkened theater to find THE TINGLER had just begun... If you have Netflix though, you can skip having to out your boots on to slog across campus. All you have to do is clear your que and line them up: each film is hand-selected for each particular time of evening, night and morning and afternoon, and to follow one another organically, like a good mix tape. Because if you have a sizable DVD collection as I do, then you know it can become paralyzing to choose the next film, fumbling through your bookshelves, scrolling endlessly through your instant libraries.

It's also annoying when you stumble on a cool list of weird movies online, read about one you never heard of and want to see, but can't find it. So you put it in your Netflix que and by the time it comes you forgot why you wanted to see it! Well, with this list you can forget about the options, the Acidemic Horror festival has you covered (Presuming all or any of these films are still up on streaming by the time you get this) 

And special Note: there's NO torture porn or sexual assault or slapstick, or animal abuse,  just the spine-tingling spookiness (and occasional lesbian cannibalism) that carries the tingling electric current along the soul's angsty wires. So dig, trust, and stay up laaaate til you're up so late you're up early.

5:00 PM - ABSENTIA
(2010) Dir. Mike Flanagan

Start with this one and don't worry about it--the film takes it's time getting started but it lures you in via the lived-in natural rapport between Katie Parker and Courtney Bell as two sisters, one of whom is pregnant in the process of declaring her husband dead after seven long years in the titular legal limbo; the younger one (Parker), recently off drugs, here to help with the pregnancy, jogs every morning and goes through a mysterious tunnel that recalls Billy Goats Gruff... at first, but might be home to an interdimensional giant super-intelligent insectoid portal. Turns out, well, I shan't spoil it, but the movie gets the lack of visible monster right, so the terror comes from the anxiety of not knowing entirely what we're dealing with; highlights including Bell seeing her dead husband everywhere but being conditioned by her therapist to just ignore him --great stuff that reminded me of my own tortured delirium tremens. I saw it alone on Saturday as it just happened to be on Showtime while I was writing the first part of this post, and just listening to the great rapport between the sisters from the TV behind me lured me in. I was alone and it was getting dark faster than I was prepared for, and the film ingeniously dug deep into my ancient fears, the way only BLAIR WITCH and Val Lewton have done before. And Parker is so good, warm, intelligent, and gutsy that you just might fall in love.

6:30 PM - HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
(2009) Dir. Ti West

Ingeniously retro and practically in real time across one overcast grey late afternoon into the late evening, it's Ti West's best film so far, and maybe one day he'll make something as good (if he remembers the value of tick-tock momentum), The cast is mixed but Jocelin Donahue as cash-strapped college student Samantha is beautiful, believable, and courageous in her doomed grab for a dollar, and Greta Gerwig sports some great feathered hair and a cozy college shirt you want to crawl inside of; her late afternoon fast food scene with Samantha brought the ache of an upstate New York fall winter back to my shoulder muscles after a 20 year hiatus. I could feel myself taking a nap with her on some crappy dorm twin bed as the sun went down at five 5 PM, could feel the sense of desolation creeping up like tendrils of cold around her broke buddy Samantha for needing to take this babysitter job so badly. I went to school in Syracuse, so I relate. The evenings there are so oppressive they don't need Satan lingering in the edges to be mega ominous.  The film's not perfect (the men are kind of anachronistically miscast--one's too quiet and wussy for the era, the other too Williamsburg hipster) but cult icons Mary Woronov and Dee Wallace smash through to make all the difference in minor roles. The perfect film to watch in the early autumn evening, still recovering from the last film's chill, so that by the end it's too dark to go out.

8:05 PM - BLACK SABBATH 
(1963) Dir. Mario Bava

It's the only one of Bava's films, and the only trilogy, I find truly scary - the good, shivery spine tingle kind, especially the Wurdulak segment, which taps into the way family ties can become nooses you don't notice 'til it's too late. Even strongly suspecting their father (Boris Karloff) has been turned vampire, the family do his bidding, too conditioned by their rigid familial social structure to rebel; and the mama can't resist running out in the cold to comfort her pale dead bambino, even stabbing her husband when he tries to restrain her. Did I spoil it? No man, I didn't. PS: The American version presented here is different from the Italian most fans know by heart from the DVD, in a different order, dubbed into English, missing a lesbian undercurrent, but providing instead Karloff's real voice (not in the Italian version) and "Sdenka" (Susy Anderson) is still sexy, as is Rosie (Michèle Mercier, above), gorgeously lit as she prowls the red telephone sequence.

9:30 PM: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13
 (1976) Dir. John Carpenter

It's the HD version and it sure looks good. There's no supernatural element, but just seeing the cop (the brilliantly named Austin Stoker) driving alone through the deserted eerie battle zone of East L.A as the big red sun sets and Carpenter's simple, brilliant theme clicks is ominous enough to qualify. Not to mention a gang member shoots a kid through the eye for asking an ice cream man for sprinkles. There was some real concern in the late 70s that gang violence was going to destroy America, so groove on the scariness of that and how we never hear any of the gang members say a single word. Even here, before HALLOWEEN, Carpenter knew that once a monster talks, smiles, or even laughs, half the scare factor is gone. The small but perfect cast includes Laurie Zimmer as the last truly Hawksian heroine, and Darwin Joston as the cigarette-strapped convict Napolean Wilson; Carpenter would revisit the concept and reverse the gender/races in in GHOSTS OF MARS, which would make a great choice on this list, too, and sometimes flits through the 'flix Stream, so be lookin'. 

11 PM: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 
(1968) Dir. George Romero

Two horror films in a row starring a black man (yet not blaxploitation)? Are we dreaming? No, just lucky--and is it a coincidence both films are classics worth endless repeat viewings? In fact, I got the whole idea for this post while spending the weekend in Harrisburg, PA (a stone's throw from where NIGHT was filmed) and turning to NIGHT via their cable's 'free on demand' channel as a last resort after everyone else was asleep, and even wrongly formatted and badly digitized, and having seen it countless times, on the big screen and in better formats, it blew my mind. From the start it's been the kind of movie that can reach a viewer right through any televisual limitation, surviving in potency even through a million second generation public domain VHS dupes. Aside from a rather wearying stretch of road with a bald uptight dad going on and on about how "the cellar is the safest place" there's nary a dull moment. Even if you just saw it for the 100th time; see it again, Karras, with us.

12:30 AM: LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE 
(1973) Dir. John Hough

Dark, thick atmosphere, decadent art design; red bathed Bava-esque level of warm, dusky, painterly light; the translucently pale skin of two beautifully alive in the firelight reflection of the rose red wallpaper women; the throbbing echo-industrial drone breathing, the score like one long auditory hallucination, sexy as hell and brilliant, creepy, untamed, assertive--it's ideal for the midnight hour of any festival (see more here) when you might be getting as surly as the characters here (the leader starts bickering, belittling and bullying from the get-go). Or if, like me, you just saw it.. go for (also in HD) and full of crabby yelling...

12: 30 AM (alternate) DAY OF THE DEAD
(1984) Dir. George Romero

1985 was a year of great zombie contention, according to a hazily remembered source, between Romero and co-NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD screenwriter John A. Russo. The result was two different zombie movies coming out at the same time, back when there were NO other zombie movies, outside of Italy, of course, certainly none that would make it a first run cineplex instead of a decaying drive-in. My punk crew and I saw both in one weekend; we loved THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, which really jibed with our then lifestyle (the whole thing with zombies going "Braaainnsss!" is from RETURN). But we found DAY a downer. Half the film is spent in irritable bickering between gonzo scientists (demanding more test subjects; trying to isolate what makes zombies tick) and a bunch of crazed military guys getting understandably tired of being bossed around by civilians. The pissy yelling and soldier Gary Howard Klar's evil snicker-giggling get annoying, but the idea of Bub (Sherman Howard) the first sympathetic zombie, being trained by one of the lead scientist (Richard Liberty) is tellingly Romero, who's always gone more for the social critique underlying the zombie menace and less the comedic self-awareness and suspense generation of most of his imitators. And perhaps the split from Russo hurts them both equally--the humor and speed could help with the social message stuff and vice versa-- the military and the scientists need each other after all. Meanwhile, a cool Jamaican chopper pilot (Terry Alexander) and and an amiable Irish drunk (Jarlath Conroy) have the right idea: set up some inflatable palm trees around a camper at the edge of the mine shaft and grow ganja. Humanity is saved.

2 AM - THE VAMPIRE LOVERS
(1970) Dir. Roy Ward Baker

Not only does it open on one of the worst matte painting castle exteriors in history, it also stands as a great British horror crossroad, straddling the decades with unrepentant 70s sapphic nudity right alongside all the typical 60s Hammer vampire Gothic trappings: florid dialogue, gorgeous Brit actresses, Peter Cushing, all that. Especially if you have a good HD TV, it's worth its precious 2 AM time slot because the colors are sublime. Once you see Peter Cushing's blazing red tunic in the post-credits dance scene, you're like DAMN. That ballroom looks 3-D, and then in comes Ingrid Pitt as Marcela Karnstein, and then two gorgeous fertile looking virgins just waiting to get knocked over like bloodless ten pins. You can float for days. And the time slot is just right for such 'ahem' moments, as guards are beginning to come down.

3:30 AM - THE AWAKENING 
(2007) Dir. Nick Murphy

So now it's late, and all that's left after VAMPIRE LOVERS is a yen to see and hear more British women--so effortlessly smart, confident, commanding (yet not bitchy), sexual (yet not slutty or self-hating) and relaxed compared with American actresses-- as they engage in candle lit supernatural hallway walking and weird noise investigating. Rebecca Hall--as a professional ghost-debunker lured to her existential Waterloo-- fits the bill. The movie around her aims in the direction of THE OTHERS, THE INNOCENTS, DEVIL'S BACKBONE, and THE WOMAN IN BLACK, and she aims for the stalwart company of Olivia Williams, Rhona Mitra, Kate Beckinsale, and Kierra Knightley. Bullseye on both counts. The setting and photography are evocative: a real old mansion of marble and crumbling plaster, greenish blue hues make it seem forever a cloudy dawn. Dominic West is suitably Rochester-esque as the superintendent. There's a kid with a distractingly awful haircut and a creepy dollhouse. You'll guess the twists a mile off, but that doesn't mean you don't like guessing. Just means you're good at it. So drink deep!

5:00 AM - PONTYPOOL (2008)
Dir. Bruce McDonald

It might not be as cold where you are as up in Pontypool, Canada (for the film's set in the dead of winter over one crazy-early morning local news radio time slot) but otherwise there's a lot of eerie meta sameness if you watch this film as the sun comes up outside: the special feeling when you and maybe none or two of your mates and only a few early risers and very very late-to-bedders are up and about in your time zone. You can at five AM spread you auric tentacles out and bask in the collapse of concrete consensual reality, the bizarre and magical mix of bleary cranky and open-minded, like a whole alternate dimension that's neither an asleep dream nor a conscious consensual reality. What really makes PONTYPOOL work so well, beyond the unique zombie-language gimmick, is the comfortable sense of being in a warm radio booth in a frozen Ontario small town early early morning, as disgruntled talk radio host Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) begins to think the locals are all fucking with him as the calls coming in become more and more panicked, incoherent, and violent. His producer (Lisa Houle) shows the wear and tear of humoring this charismatic, witty but bitter and paranoid dude. The unfolding morning events are so organic it all unfolds in real time for long stretches without the viewer (me at least) noticing any lapse. As the influx of news and shaky narration causes a breakdown in our perception of reality we're left to imagine most of the carnage in a kind of WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast in reverse.

In other words, while not being specifically scary, and always kind of funny (even romantic), at other times nearing literary pretension, there's a sense that something meta is always at stake, something that might leak out and affect even your seeing it, like you could call in to Mazzy's show and maybe he'd answer onscreen, and you'd both realize you'd probably fallen asleep. It's okay... it's okay... itsooo kayyyy (more)

6:30 AM - HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)
Dir. William Castle

William Castle prided himself on being the dime store spooky matinee knockoff Hitchcock, and his palpable love of dime store horror help his films endure, like hazy childhood memories of parking lot haunted carnival rides, and this his masterwork, as subtle as a skeleton on a string zooming over the heads of the popcorn tossing kiddies (a process called "Emergo") and six times of terrific. Like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD it has a punchy energy that endures past any amount of public domain dupe streaking. Netflix's copy is adequate (you don't really want it to look too good--though the Blu-ray in Vincent Price Vol. 2 is terrific) and, take it from me, six in the morning is the best time to see it, ideally with a ten year-old kid who just woke up and is sitting on the floor because your sleeping bag is taking up the whole couch. Dude, that kid was me! Elijah Cook Jr. gets drunk and babbles the grisly exposition; Vincent Price plays deadly games with his scheming wife (Carol Ohmart); the elderly caretakers, frozen in papier mache poses of carny ride menace, roam around in the dark on wheels; pistols in little coffins are handed out as party favors; there's two severed heads, and an animated noose. (see my first ever site, Dr. Twilite's Neighborhood, which includes this as part of its 50s Canon)

 8 AM - MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971)
Dir. Gordon Hessler

The Grand Guignol meta effect is pronounced here, as it was in PENNY DREADFUL after it, and MAD LOVE before it. A movie about people performing dastardly deeds onstage is bound to echo. Here the troupe is re-imagining Poe's classic story: now the ape is the hero and Herbert Lom gets acid thrown on his face (again?) but the audience of semi-bemused royals presume it's part of the show. If the ape looks familiar, it smashed bones for Kubrick in 1968, spooked Joan Crawford as TROG in 1970, and now here it is, much the worse for moths and wear but still the only sympathetic face in the film. In short, it's director Gordon Hessler's finest hour, which doesn't say a lot unless you like fake mutton chops, ratty period costumes, a script that's just a few dull eps of THE AVENGERS taped together (without the actual Avengers - just the bad guys and their victims), and boozy British actors pretending they remember their lines and marks. Well, the Demoiselles are stunning and dressed in dusky reds and black lace chokers which radiate lovely haunting power in this HD print (making their acid scarring all the more painful) and even at low wattage and sleepy star Jason Robards is better than most; the period mise en scene is at least at Hammer level toasty, the budget relatively big (were they poaching other films' sets?) and there's galore post-modern leakage, which is why it's after PONTYPOOL. And if you fall asleep, well dream your way right in.... into the cage, that is, with Erich, the gorilla!

9:30 AM - BLACK SUNDAY (1965)
Dir. Mario Bava

I could do without the schmaltzy concert piano score or the misogynist torture of the opener, but the rest is great, and it's perfect Halloween fare. Lots of long pans and dollies across acres of ancient castle griffins and Barbara Steele standing or lying with eerie alien stillness and holes in her face. Even the 'good' Steele is spooky looking, like a reverse Rondo Hatton! This was Bava's big American calling card, and it's a perfect breakfast movie once the ugly taste of Catholic metal spikes is out of your mouth. The print used here is just so so, but it might inspire you to get the Blu-ray, to better savor the tactile, brilliant cinematography and dreamy dark fairy tale poeticism.

11:00 AM -HELLRAISER  (1987)
Dir. Clive Barker

This was just an innocent list but it's become about the actresses of Great Britain, more cigarette resonant and unabashedly sexual than most American girls depicted in films. this chick Julia (Clare Higgins) has the balls to ask for a brandy from her husband when she's sick, rather than refusing one with a dainty little 'eh' of a sneeze like a Yank bird; and it's pretty great the way she plays with a sadistic smile after her first kill, traumatized but hardly succumbing to the American tendency to play the glum martyr --though even now she says she's afraid of thunder, and worthless husband Larry is like, "I'll protect you!" not realizing she's already done and seen things that would turn him ashen. To bring his brother (her lover) back from the Cenobiteverse, for example, Julia gamely lures a string of grotty 70s-looking British business men on their three martini lunch hour up to the attic, where she bashes their heads in with a hammer so her love can slowly absorb their blood and put some meat on his bones, as it were. Her stepdaughter meanwhile (Ashley Laurence) is getting wise, and endangered by angler fish-esque demons and shit. She's cool too but with her beyond-morality pursuit of pleasure, unapologetic wit and intelligence, and her mature handling her body, Julia's exhibit A in what's lacking in so many similar American ladies, who tend to be youth-worshipping baby doll types until it's too late to dodge the Baby Jane mirror headlights (click this searing yet lovingly indulgent list that tracks them from Lolita to cougar). Think Julia gives a fuck her man's got no lips or skin? She'll shag him anyway just as he wouldn't care if she was in the thick of her period. Fookin' A. Oh yeah, the Cenobites themselves: not my bag, but I respect the analogy towards the masochism of the horror marathon viewer! If you've seen it lately, HELLRAISER 2 is pretty good too, even #3 is watchable, but it's a steep slope, human!

12:30 PM: LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1985)
Dir. Ken Russell

Keep the British lady thing going with this gem from Ken Russell, the colors on the Netflix are gorgeous. Amanda Donohoe is a tour de force, never camping or vamping but nailing, in every possible permutation that verb can be permuted, the most intoxicating upper crust broad since Stanwyck as the Lady Eve. Her snake goddess is what Auntie Mame always aspired to be but could never shake her ostentatious Americana baggahge. Familiar Scottish face Peter Capaldi is a summering archeologist who unearths a dragon skull; Hugh Grant, in his film debut, is great as the local lord-inherit who inherits too the burden of a giant white worm; the two local blonde sisters at the inn (Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis) are fetching, smart, and crafty; and even the hallucination scene has a disturbing potency-- "she had a bad trip" -- notes Grant, after one of the sisters accidentally touches some of hallucinatory snake venom. No one ever says no to a drink anywhere in the film, thank god. Between this and his Chopin opposite Judy Davis in IMPROMPTU, Grant was melting hearts like only Cary Grant used to before him. There's also the hottest older woman-on-paralyzed younger boy seduction in film since Creedence Leonore Gielgud's in TROLL 2. So forgive the occasional silliness, such as the absurd fangs and charmed dancing of Paul Brooke, be charmed yourself.

2 PM - INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
(1977) Dir. Phillip Kaufman

Let's face it, you're never going to make it this far in this bizarro festival -- the 'you' who began doesn't even exist anymore. A slough of cells, a weariness, probably passing out, falling asleep, and when you wake up, the you back in the cool raro moments at the crack of dawn with HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL are long gone. It's cool. I get it. Move on if you must, but make sure it's still you and there's not a shell of a being that was once or will be you under your pool table or cooling in your sauna, or in your garden, or in the crawlspace, or under your bed. And then put this on the 'stream and join the flow of ditrates and bata. And then read Poe's William Wilson. And weep...


And let's just say the HD print on Netflix looks damned good, which is important as Michael Chapman's photography is of that great 70s urban texture dilapidated period (he also did TAXI DRIVER), filled with great moments of alienation. San Francisco makes an ideal crucible for the dehumanization of 20th century society, the urban disconnect from your closest neighbors, and the cast includes: Leonard Nimoy as a pop psychologist; Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland as health inspectors on the run; Jeff Goldblum and a pre-ALIENS / post-BIRDS Veronica Cartwright as their mud bath-slangin' friends; and even Kevin McCarthy and Robert Duvall in moments of cameo stunt casting. See it with someone you love and then wonder...


4:00 PM - YOU'RE NEXT (2013)
Dir. Adam Wingard

Let's end on a cheerful, non-supernatural note... Scrappy Sharni Vinson is a great final-ish girl, full of wily Australian gumption in this tale of a besieged family reunion in the woods; it works because it recalls not just classics of the 70s and 80s, but classics of the 30s, i.e. the old dark house full of secret panels, greedy relatives gathered for the will, lightning storms, scary masks, strong female leads, no one who they seem, ironic karma, sudden twisting violence, moody Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack, and a refreshing lack of any moral compass. (MORE)

If you've recently seen any of the above, do substitute GRABBERS, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, SCREAM, SCREAM 2, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, RE-ANIMATOR, JOHN DIES AT THE END, EVIL DEAD 2 (though it's got some slapstick, fair warning) and/or CABIN IN THE WOODS, CANDYMAN, or WITCHING AND BITCHING, or see them later. And for God's sake, stay alert, lock your doors, keep watching the knobs and clutching the butcher knife or fire poker, and turn on a white noise machine or Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast to block the spooky noises of trees against the window, because they're not trees....

1 comment:

  1. Great list! I liked your opening paragraph, made me want to do exactly that! I've seen all the movies on your list save for Pontypool, Absenthia and You're Next. I recently had a chance to rewatch Invasion of the Body Snatchers, still creepy as hell! So 70s gritty style...I love that about films from the 70's. And I love how practical all the effects were...no computer generated nonsense.

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