List: 10 Alternative Horror Movie Choices for Halloween 0 164

10 Alternative Horror Movie Choices for Halloween

Halloween is almost upon us once more and for a lot of movie fans that means delving into the horror genre feet first. The usual suspects get brought out; The Exorcist, The Shining, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street and so forth. But what of the lesser known films, the more obscure, forgotten or criminally under seen gems that deserve attention too?

Below is a list of 10 such alternative Halloween movie choices that are well worth your time. A few of them can helpfully be found on Netflix (I’ve noted them as such) but even if they aren’t they’re still worth going out of your way to track down.

Note: the list is in no particular order.

Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Pulse (Kairo)

Hideo Nakata pretty much kicked off the trend now known as J-Horror with Ringu back in the late ‘90s which led to a raft of films trying to replicate that one’s success. Not all of them hit the mark but Pulse (AKA Kairo), by director Kyoshi Kurosawa, is one of the sub-genre’s finest hours. Centering on a spate of suicides that seem to have come as a result of people visiting a mysterious Internet webcam site, it deals with issues of modern technology and urban legends as well as just doing it’s all to creep the hell out of you. Please avoid the crappy American remake and watch the original – it contains a couple of the most masterfully unnerving sequences this side of The Shining. Available to watch on Netflix US.

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Trick 'r Treat

Whenever anyone mentions the phrase “underrated horror gem” then this is one of the first films that comes to mind for me. It embodies the spirit of Halloween, and Halloween-inspired horror movie pleasures, more than just about any other movie of the 21st century so far. In a comic book-esque style it features four different story threads taking place on the same Halloween night that are all interwoven with one another throughout the film. It’s best not to know too much about the actual plot itself going in as it contains a lot of spooky, often blood-soaked surprises.

The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - The Happiness of the Katakuris

What to say about this one? It’s directed by one of world cinema’s most unpredictable and prolific directors, the Japanese maestro that is Takashi Miike, the man behind such eclectic fare as Ichi the Killer, Audition and 13 Assassins. Katakuris might just be his most bonkers film (and that’s saying something!) as it melds together everything from body horror to family drama to farcical comedy, punctuated by musical numbers, claymation and sailors… Yeah, it’s that kind of film. It’s grotesque and funny and shocking all rolled into one.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

We all know fictional horror icons like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. But what if they really existed and their “mastery” inspired someone to follow in their footsteps? That’s the brilliant conceit behind this film, centering on the eponymous Leslie Vernon as he trains to become a serial killer in his own right with costume, weapon and general persona included. It gleefully plays around with both audience expectation and has a wink-wink attitude when it comes to in-jokes surrounding the world of horror franchises and the icons that rule them. It also becomes a genuinely scary slasher flick in its own right once Leslie’s carefully constructed plan is set into motion.

Cube (1997)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Cube

A few years ago Vincenzo Natali made a sci-fi horror entitled Splice (a film which almost made this list) but more than a decade prior he directed this ingenious little sci-fi mystery horror about a group of strangers who wake up in a seemingly endless maze of connected cube-shaped rooms and they have to work together, despite their clashing personalities, to try and solve the giant puzzle. As well as providing some nice conflicting character drama and truly gruesome moments, it’s also a lot of fun to be in the dark, so to speak, alongside the characters trying to work out just what the hell is going on and how they’re going to get out of the situation. It’s not exactly a leave-your-brain-at-the-door sort of fun horror but the fact you have to work your brain a little bit only adds to the experience. Available on Netflix Canada.

Dead End (2003)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Dead End

The great Lin Shaye was back on our screens this year in James Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2 but a decade ago she starred in this underrated horror mystery alongside the likes of Ray Wise (who many will still remember as Laura Palmer’s father in Twin Peaks) and Alexandra Holden. It follows a family who are driving along a quiet highway on their way to visit relatives for Christmas, but the trouble is that the road never seems to end no matter how far or fast they travel. The horror gradually escalates and despite a dodgy ending that doesn’t quite hold water it has some genuinely creepy and surprising moments along the way. Available on Netflix US.

Session 9 (2001)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Session 9

You may be more familiar with director Brad Anderson’s recent films like The Machinist and this year’s The Call, as well as some of his TV work on the likes of Fringe, Boardwalk Empire and The Killing, but this 2001 horror starring David Caruso and Peter Mullan is well worth watching. Its set up might seem overly familiar – a group of people working in an abandoned insane asylum start to experience spooky events – but don’t let that fool you; this is a very effective chiller that utilises its naturally scary surroundings to brilliant effect. Available on Netflix US and Canada.

Hausu (1977)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Hausu

Not to be confused with the 1986 film House, this Japanese head-scratcher is much like the aforementioned Happiness of the Katakuris in that it’s a very hard film to fit into any one category. It’s as much a comedy as it is a horror and might just be one of the most brilliantly bizarre films ever made. Look no further than the scenes of a woman’s head floating around the screen, terrorizing a young woman (see above) or a Japanese schoolgirl being eaten by a grand piano, to name but a couple of examples, for how crazy the film is. Apparently much of the film’s content came from ideas dreamt up by the director’s daughter – suddenly it all makes sense… kind of.This one might be best enjoyed with a group of friends.

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Eyes Without a Face

Made by director Georges Franju in 1960, this quietly creepy horror centres on a plastic surgeon who, after his daughter gets into a car crash that leaves her facially disfigured, kidnaps women and cuts off their faces in order to try and restore his daughter’s looks. It’s messed up by nature but it’s also oddly beautiful and dramatically engaging in its own way thanks to skilled direction and performances.

Pontypool (2008)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Pontypool

This Canadian horror based on the book by Tony Burgess and starring the great Stephen McHattie proves that sometimes less is more. It’s set almost entirely inside a radio station in the dead of winter as reports trickle in about an apparent zombie outbreak. The tension and horror is amplified by the reactions of the people stuck inside the station as we feel impending doom bearing down. It also sets itself apart from other zombie movies with the way the infection manifests itself. I won’t give too much away here but suffice it to say that it’s not all about the usual biting and eating… Available on Netflix UK and US.

What do you think of the list? Are you a planning on seeking them out? What movies would you have on your alternative Halloween list? Let your thoughts and opinions be known in the comments below!

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 422

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 454

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10