Halloween without creepy movies is like Christmas without watching Die Hard.
On the off chance you haven’t already sifted through Netflix to select your Halloween viewing picks, I am here to presumptuously offer recommendations. “But,” you say suspiciously, “I don’t even know you. You have no idea what kind of films I like.”
“Yeah,” I respond, “This could go south quickly. And I don’t really much like slasher movies. I hope that’s not gonna be a problem.”
Pontypool (2008 – Directed by Bruce McDonald)
Films about zombie apocalypses and alien invasions often rely on faceless reporters, from radio or television, to provide key bits of expository information for the main characters. Pontypool focuses on what a tough thankless gig it is to be one of those reporters when inexplicable shenanigans are going down.
The film takes place almost exclusively in a radio station in the small Canadian province of Pontypool. Producer Sydney, her new shock-jock morning deejay Grant, and technician Laurel-Ann’s normal morning routine is disrupted when random acts of violence begin happening all over town. As they scramble to report whatever information they get from their weather & traffic guy, it becomes clear that the violence is the result of a fast-spreading virus. Soon they begin to question whether they should continue reporting, or even talking, when they discover the virus is transmitted through language.
If anyone can explain what the post credit scene means, I’d like to hear it. All I know is that it’s perfect and I love it.
They Look Like People (2015 – Directed by Perry Blackshear)
A silhouetted face whose features are obscured in shadow. Whether the face is peacefully sleeping or menacingly staring back at the camera is uncertain.
At that point I was already like, “Fuck yeah. Ambiguity. This looks promising.”
Wyatt rolls into New York City where he crashes at the apartment of his childhood friend Christian. Though both are upbeat and their conversations have the casual improvisational feel of a mumblecore film, they’re each miserable in their own way. Wyatt is tormented by phone calls from someone insisting that he shouldn’t trust anyone because people aren’t what they seem. Christian meanwhile is trying to become a new person through a liberal intake of motivational tapes and working out. “I can bench 250 now. I’m different,” he tells Wyatt.
Whether the final stage of a bodysnatcher-esque takeover of humanity is about to commence, or whether it’s all in Wyatt’s mind, or whether Christian will be able to help either way, is kept uncertain until the very end.
“Fuck yeah. Ambiguity.”
The Invitation (2015 – Directed by Karyn Kusama)
If someone is going to draw you into a trap, they could do worse than use a dinner party to snare you. The formalities. The forced smiles and small talk. Even if you suspect danger, when do you act on it? During or after cocktails? I mean you don’t want to be rude to the host, but there’s this growing sense of dread and… Oh, now we all have to go into the dining room. It’s like one of those Temple Grandin livestock herders up in here. This film is ridiculously tense.
John Dies at the End (2012 – Directed by Don Coscarelli)
Did you ever have that friend in elementary school who was able to sneak into an R-rated sci-fi monster movie (because they had an older brother, Steve, who was totally cool ’n stuff) and they proceed to describe the plot, acting out all the characters and monsters––swinging their arms around making sound effects––and what they were saying didn’t make a whole lotta sense (and you were pretty sure they were misremembering it or making some of it up), but it still sounded pretty amazing nonetheless?
John Dies at the End is that movie.
Hush (2016 – Directed by Mike Flanagan)
Remember what I said about me not much caring for stabby slasher films? Well, this one’s an exception. And it’s mainly for the protagonist, who is neither a helpless scream queen nor a preternaturally Jovovichian martial arts expert.
Also the the masked killer in this film is particularly well-played as a total dick that you’re eagerly waiting for her to turn the tables on.
Darling (2015 – Directed by Mickey Keating)
Holy heck, this film.
In the opening scene a woman called Darling is hired by Madame to be the caretaker of her sprawling yet claustrophobic New York town house. Madame cautiously mentions the house’s spooky reputation, as well as the unfortunate fate of a previous caretaker. Then Madame is out the door. The whole conversation takes only about a minute. It’s such a perfunctory set-up that, at first, I thought this film was going to proceed in a knowingly wiseass manner.
But, no, the lightheartedness ends there. Darling is a stark black and white film that conjures up images and impressions of trauma. The editing is staccato and occasionally non-linear. Single frames from scenes that have yet to happen blink on screen and continue to echo afterward like they’re rippling out from a central concussive blast. It is not a fun ride but, holy heck, it’s very well done.
Also this film reaffirms my yet-to-be-disproven theory that any movie in which Larry Fessenden has a cameo appearance is worth your time.
The ‘Burbs (1989 – Directed by Joe Dante)
If “mysterious goings-on in a charming bucolic 1980s suburb” is a recognized sub-genre of film, I think Steven Spielberg can lay claim to having invented it. And then at the end of the 1980s Joe Dante took that genre for a joyride straight off a cliff and called it The ‘Burbs.
You’ve probably already seen The ‘Burbs, right? I feel like everyone’s likely seen The ‘Burbs. It’s one of those films that would play endlessly on basic cable. But it is about 27 years old now so maybe you weren’t even born when it came out.
It’s pretty darn good. Carrie Freakin’ Fisher’s in it. I don’t know what else to tell you.