Some Interesting, Lesser-Known Horror Movies from the redbox Kiosks
We’ve been celebrating Spooky Movie Week (or “Half Halloween”) here at redblog, so let me take a whirl through a bunch of spooky DVDs currently in the kiosks. Some are new, some are older. Some I love, some I like, some I didn’t care for but feel are intriguing enough to bring to your attention.
The Descent 2 — The original Descent was a disturbing surprise–powerfully directed by Neil Marshall, it was exactly the sort of small, thoughtful, utterly unsettling horror flick we fans always hope to stumble across. Well, if The Descent‘s claustrophobic, Freudian tale of women spelunkers exploring a cave that turns out to be infested with mutant hillfolk was Alien, then The Descent 2 is Aliens. (The survivor of the first film returns to the scene of the slime to kick the butts of her fears.) Without Marshall back at the helm, the focus is more on action than atmosphere–we see a lot more of the creepy, icky critters and of course that robs them of some of their scary impact. But the sequel (which picks up immediately following the original) makes up for the loss of dread with a glorious excess of rubbery gore and bright, gooey blood. Descent 2 is the perfect cheap, fun, action-horror flick, full of silly but effective set pieces and plenty of pop-up-and-shriek jolts.
Wind Chill – With a real actress starring–The Young Victoria‘s Emily Blunt–and George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh producing, this one was aiming a little higher than most low-budget horror flicks. It lands short of the mark, winding up firmly in Stephen King Ville: A mismatched pair of young folks are trapped overnight in the deadly cold on a back road haunted by a the malevolent spirit of a once-murderous highway cop. But despite some missteps (Martin Donovan can’t quite raise his spectral patrolman above camp cliche), Wind Chill still sports some creepy moments and pervasive dread. Plus it’s the second horror film this spring to employ (and even name-check) Nietzsche’s theory of Eternal Recurrence! (See Triangle below.) Did someone hand out copies of The Nietzsche Reader at a Hollywood Holiday party a few years back?
Autumn – I understand why some were disappointed by this low-budget British “zombie” movie. With its melancholy heaviness and brooding tone, it’s clearly modeling itself on the edge-of-your-seat-terrific 28 Days Later. But Autumn has a huge twist: the walking dead are just that, dead folks walking. Not eating brains, not chasing, not attacking. It’s like a plague of frogs: unsettling and gross, but not really dangerous. At least not at first. That gives Autumn a much slower, more thoughtful, less thrilling pace than most people probably expect from a living dead flick, but I like how it plays with its novel concept. And it stars one of my favorite underrated British character actors, Dexter Fletcher. Plus the late David Carradine even pops up later to mumble and fuss!
Triangle – I wrote at length about Triangle a month ago, but I want to take this opportunity to kick it back up for your notice. The more I think about it, the more I like this smart, engrossing, philosophically engaging, and fatalistic story of folks trapped on an eerie, abandoned ghost ship. Triangle may start off slow, but it veers off into something different than you’re expecting, preferring to focus more on creepy atmosphere over easy gore and really paying off on multiple levels. Plus, more Nietzsche!
Train– Just a warning to the faint of heart and weak of stomach, this thriller–starring American Beauty‘s Thora Birch as part of a U.S. wrestling team trapped on an Eastern European train that’s really a butcher’s market for live-organ harvesting–is really Hostel on a Choo Choo. But if you can handle the extreme gore (or seek it out), it’s not a bad bit of grisly torture porn.
A Few More of Varied Quality You May Not Know About
Gabriel – I have to admit, given my counter-intuitive attraction to messed-up, misguided horror films, I kinda wanna give this one a second spin. The first time around I was lost in the murk of Gabriel’s gothy Nine Inch Nails, angels vs. demons chaos. (Going for a Nightwatch/Daywatch vibe, it’s one of those horror-fantasy flicks that requires you read 10 minutes of back-story title cards before you begin.) Purgatory City, where the “Arch” and the “Fallen” tussle, is all rainy dark shadows and cracked mirrors–tons of Bad-Rock-Club style, but (despite attempts at Matrix kung fu) not much energy. Still, Michael Piccirilli, the actor playing the head Fallen, has moments of genuine oomph amid the seemingly endless, ponderous philosophical discussions. (Some of the Fallen seem to be speaking Klingon.) If all this sounds like your thing, then check it out–I may eventually join you again.
The Graves– The first few scenes hooked me with the potential fun of Texas Chainsaw Meets From Dusk Til Dawn Only With Hot Goth-Rock Chicks. However, from there on out the dialogue, acting, and carnage go way South–all the way south to a ghost town in the Arizona desert. Still, The Graves has enough of a silly, sloppy, shoddy vibe to make it a fun Drive-In rental, as long as there’s liquor and friends to enjoy it with. However, the film makers’ hopes for a low-budget monster-hunting franchise starring the Graves Sisters (the title comes from the sibling hotties’ surname) will most likely go unfulfilled.
Open Graves– Not to be confused with The Graves, this one is set in modern seaside Spain and stars Dollhouse‘s Eliza Dushku and a group of the usual horny, ill-fated college kids messing around with a Medieval occult board game–turns out the Chutes and Ladders to Hell game inflicts cut-rate Final Destination-like fates on the losers. There are killer snakes (and crabs!), dragonflies (for some reason), and surfing–plus it’s the third film on our list today to mess around with the notion of Eternal Recurrence! Other than that, eh…
Dolan’s Cadillac – Wes Bentley (another American Beauty alum) stars in this adaptation of Stephen King’s short story about a man seeking revenge on a crime boss with an inventive and ambitious desert “car trap.” But the real draw is Christian Slater chewing the scenery as he indulges that Crazy Jack Nicholson impersonation he’s long tried to suppress.
Seventh Moon– I like what this one was going for–a moody, dreamlike tone, as Amy Smart and her Chinese-American fiance travel to his ancestors’ home village and run afoul of its annual ghost night of the dead. Unfortunately the same loose, unsteady visual style that makes Seventh Moon kind of interesting also makes it nearly impossible to follow in the second half. Still worth a look if you’re up for something different from the usual teenage chop-shop stuff and want to see some Asian ghosts that aren’t just young girls with stringy hair.
And a Few That Are Better-Known, Got Wide Theatrical Releases But I Think Are Worth Mentioning Again
Drag Me To Hell– I still get such a hoot out of Sam Raimi’s manic, PG-13 no-holds-barred return to his Evil Dead horror-slapstick roots. This may not be Raimi’s scary masterpiece–it’s less of a symphony and more of a nasty, silly, Looney-Tunes ditty– but it’s still a whole lot of howling, body fluid spilling fun.
The Box– I know it can be frustratingly odd, slowly paced, and tricky to figure out–and probably not what most viewers expected–but all those things continue to fascinate me. No, Richard Kelly’s third film is no Donnie Darko, but it’s no Southland Tales, either. Give it a second look–as you acclimate to its grim, offbeat tone and sci-fi weirdness, it starts to make a darkly pleasing sort of sense.
Orphan– This one is a guilty pleasure–it’s uneven and eventually very, very loopy, but I like how the first two thirds are all chilly, atmospheric mood and then the last half hour goes hurling off into circus-crazy Nuttytown. Plus Peter Sarsgaard (An Education) and Vera Farmiga (Oscar nominee for Up in the Air) give solid performances, hearkening back to the ’70s when horror films starred real actors doing real acting.
If all this is a little too spooky for you and you want something more uplifting, check out Erika’s Earth Day picks from last week.