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Special Mention: Red State
Kevin Smith’s powerful, violent rage outside his usual comic comfort zone has quickly become one of my favorite films of the fall–not the least because this raw, brutal, almost humorless tale of religious extremism marks such an exciting new cinematic direction for a filmmaker I’ve always hoped would grow beyond his usual shtick. However, despite all that, and despite an execution scene that’s deeply disturbing, I’m giving it a “special mention” because I’m not sure I’d call it a “scary” or “horror” film. Sure it shows the terrors of misguided human righteousness, but it’s more along the lines of Tarantino-esque shock and exploitation in the name of social commentary.
My Halloween Picks
Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson have crafted a sequel that deftly, relentlessly folds into itself like an M.C. Escher drawing of a ball of snakes. Only with lots of stabbing. Scream 4 is so relentlessly “meta” about its bloody murders, you can’t really tell where its ironic self-awareness starts or ends. “Listen up, kiddies,” Craven and Williamson are saying. “This is how it’s done.” As such, Scream 4 plays like an aging rock band’s reunion tour—they may not have any hot new singles, but it’s fun to watch pros play the old hits with precision.
As the AMC show’s second season gets going this month, here’s your chance to get up to zombie-shambling speed with the entire first season (all on two sides of one rental disc). With these six solid, well-made episodes, The Walking Dead does more than just offer up zombie-Apocalypse survival horrors–it also establishes real (still breathing) characters. They’re clinging together, desperate to preserve humanity and society while dealing with the same interpersonal issues of trust, prejudice, anger, abuse, and fidelity as any humans not surrounded by reanimated flesh-eaters.
- Reserve the entire season on one (two-sided) disc at redbox.com
- Read Five Things You Need to Know about The Walking Dead
Mira Sorvino and Weeds‘ Justin Kirk co-star in this moody, quiet tale that’s not so much a horror movie as a ghost story about human relationships. How quiet is it? As Sorvino’s character arrives alone at a secluded cabin surrounded by misty trees and a lake, there’s no dialogue for the film’s first 20 minutes–just a ghostly figure inside the house, watching her as she settles in. That silence helps gear you down for the rest of the film, which asks what happens when a ghost itself is haunted, and ends with a wonderfully chilling final shot that’s worth hanging around for.
Does the world need a mumblecore serial-killer movie? Maybe so. This subdued but impressive little film uses its downbeat style to put some painful emotional realism back into the the serial-killer genre. Amy Seimetz is a recovering alcoholic trying to cope with the fact her ex-boyfriend was a serial killer, and AJ Bowen plays the ex, now escaped from prison and killing his way back to her. Both actors are names to watch, as is director Adam Wingard, who doesn’t skimp on the brutality and bloodletting, but doesn’t wallow in it either. This is not killing as entertainment, but a pensive, aching look at lives both destroyed and maintained.
The hype-obsessed might call it a meeting of the vamps: Twilight‘s Rachelle Lefevre teams up with True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer to figure out why an unhinged woman is seemingly calling and threatening Lefevre from the past. At first, The Caller feels a bit like a one-room stage play, and Lefevre isn’t the most dynamic of actors. But stick with it as its Twilight Zone premise gets darker and more twisted–the movie’s grim, time-warping finale may be outrageous, but it’s also plenty compelling in a loopy, fatalistic way.
This grisly and gruesome torture-porn isn’t for all tastes, but fans of hard-core, psychotic bloodletting will appreciate its deeply twisted and disturbing descent into madness. Writer-director Stevan Mena’s prequel to his indie horror flick Malevolence tells the tale of a deranged killer who kidnaps a young boy and trains him as his apprentice. Old genre pros Michael Biehn and John Savage are on hand, but the one to keep an eye on is scream-queen-in-the-making Alexandra Daddario as the young woman who finds herself in the middle of all the bloody crazy.
Special Re-Mention: Insidious
I already included Saw creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s PG-13 spook fest in my summer scary movie round-up, but it deserves a reminder mention this Halloween. Insidious is a gore-free haunted-house romp that mixes creeping dread with fun-house “boo!”s. With a variety of ghosts and a Darth Maul-lookin’ demon who excels at pop-up scares and loves him some Tiny Tim, it’s is the rare horror film that lovingly takes the genre seriously, but also understands the old-school joys of scaring and being scared.
More Scares from Redbox
Lauren Holly and Lance Henriksen star as archaeologists (one good, one eeeeviiil) who uncork an ancient Irish spirit of death and doom. That has some very big teeth. Goofy, gory fun.
Sexy teenagers, young lust, high school graduation, werewolves… Yes, it’s all a bit Forks, Washington, as a young man begins to learn the truth about his hairy heritage.
True, this is a SyFy monster movie based on the same local West Virginia legend as Richard Gere’s The Mothman Prophesies. But with Firefly/Serenity‘s always lovable Jewel Staite front and center and a CGI creature that (for SyFy) is almost as creepy as it is silly looking, Mothman is plenty entertaining.
Not-so-Scary Family Halloween Fun
If you need some post-trick-or-treating, fright-free fun for the young ones this Halloween, check out these titles from redbox’ Family section:
- Spooky Buddies – Disney’s G-rated talking puppies are out to stop Warwick the Warlock.
- Scooby Doo: Legend of the Phantosaur – Those meddling kids in the Scooby Gang takes on a dinosaur ghost in this animated adventure.
- Hocus Pocus (1993) — Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy star in the witchy comedy from High School Musical director Kenny Ortega.
- The Dog Who Saved Halloween – After saving Christmas twice, Zeus the yellow Lab unleashes his canine rescuing skills on a new holiday
- The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That: Tricks and Treats — Enough with the Halloween dogs–Dr. Seuss’ well chapeau’d feline (voiced by Martin Short) gets in on the holiday action
- The Gruffalo — A wonderful, subtle tale about a mouse who invents an imaginary monster–but then runs into his creation