By Kristin Battestella
Since it’s never too early to start watching spooky movies in the Halloween spirit, here’s a list of what to snuggle up with this autumn and what to avoid like cemeteries at midnight-unless you’re into that sort of thing, of course.
House of Usher (2006) - For a classic horror fan, little can compare to the 1960 Corman staple House of Usher. New interest in all things Poe has however brought new remakes and takes on his macabre tales, and believe it or not, this 2006 The House of Usher wasn’t that bad. There are some good plot differences from director Hayley Cloake (Tease, Thump). It’s creepy, yet sexy thanks to stars Izabella Miko (Coyote Ugly, Clash of the Titans) and Austin Nichols (One Tree Hill, Friday Night Lights). Beth Grant (Delta, Speed, Rock Star, Donnie Darko) as the scene stealing Nurse Thatcher also adds to the suggestion, eerie styles, and gothic feel. It’s modern and updated, yet old school and in the spirit of Poe. Now it’s on to the fancy 3D adaptation!
Tales from the Crypt (1972) – This precursor to the anthology series has five star-studded vignettes, including a disturbing Christmas scene with Joan Collins (Dynasty) and Ian Hendry (The Avengers) in a dangerous adulterous getaway. Peter Cushing (Star Wars, The Horror of Dracula), creepy crypt keeper Ralph Richardson (Time Bandits), Robin Hood Richard Greene, and Patrick Macgee (A Clockwork Orange) delight as well. Unlike today’s effects over-fest, director and Oscar winner Freddie Francis (Glory, The Elephant Man) keeps things largely silent, letting the creepy catacombs and twisted tales build up and progress on their mystery, suggestion, and scares. Yes there are a few jump worthy moments, and the dated seventies style only adds to the spooky atmosphere. Perhaps there’s not a lot of rewatch value, but stick this one in amid your favorite Halloween anthology series for some old school scares.
The Uninvited (1944) – Future Oscar winner Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend) and Nominee Ruth Hussey (The
Story) delight in this quintessential black and white spookfest from director Lewis Allen (Bonanza, The Unseen). Somehow, I feel this one is now unloved by the modern audience-especially in light of the also named but unrelated 2009 The Uninvited, itself a remake of a 2003 Asian horror flick. No confusion here, however, thanks to the Oscar nominated cinematography. The positive and negative use of candles, scary moaning, groaning sounds-the simple smoke and mirrors of early film production does wonders. In addition to all the mood, atmosphere, and suspense, the young and tragic Gail Russell (Angel and the Badman) is as charming as Cornelia Otis Skinner (The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing) is creepy and subliminally kinky. Without thinking, I erased this one from my DVR; and since it’s not available on DVD, I’ve been kicking myself since. Philadelphia
Wolf – Though this 1994 lycan tale from Oscar winning director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Silkwood) is imperfect with its fair share of plot holes and unanswered questions, I like it. Face it; this is the best, if not the only, mature wolf movie around. Thanks to the sarcastic and witty performances by Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,
Chinatown, The Shining) and the rest of the all-star cast, Wolf smartly doesn’t take itself too seriously. The beguiling Michelle Pfeiffer (Scarface, The Fabulous Baker Boys), a wonderfully disturbing James Spader (sex, lives, and videotape, Boston Legal), the charming Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, The Moneychangers), and plenty more on form supporting players are allowed to have their fun. These are all great, big names one wouldn’t usually see in any old horror movie, either. There’s even a good bit of scares and kinky violence here-especially on an initial viewing. Some of the effects are hokey now, but others are very well done with fine spooky build-ups. Despite plotting faults and a little confusion, there’s more good than bad in Wolf. Multiple viewings are even in order to catch all of the subliminal suggestions.
The Amityville Horror (1979) – The horror, scares, and fright fest from director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke) are all still there, and I love it. Even the old looks and seventies styles aren’t so dated, just more nostalgic and period now. However, it seems like out of all the other numerous sequels and direct to video drivel that follows, this original starring the fine Margot Kidder (Superman) and eerily on form James Brolin (Westworld) is too close to the real life circumstances that started the franchise. Was this independent blockbuster made purely to capitalize on the scandalous book that was in turn highlighting the sketchy true story that started it all? Separate the supposed paranormal facts or hoax talk from the behind the scenes, and then you can enjoy this fine demonic haunted house in all its glory. Likewise, we favorably reviewed the 2005 remake. Again, take away the talk of Indian burial grounds and just scare us silly and we’re a okay.
Haunted – Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall) and Kate Beckinsale (Underworld) shine in director Lewis Gilbert’s (The Spy Who Loved Me) great English locales and post World War I period piece decoration and styles. There are plenty of fine but disturbing performances from Anthony Andrews (The Scarlet Pimpernel) and Sir John Gieland (Becket), too. Haunted has its share of creepy and kinky- both good and bad by design, nasty stuff. Beckinsale fans will love to hate spotting her nude body double, too. There are even a few genuine spooks and scares and though obvious throughout, the film is entertaining for the most part. However, there simply aren’t enough scares for what’s supposed to be a good old haunted house ghost story. There’s no mood and things are not as atmospheric as they should be. Despite the lovely cast and wonderful locations, it’s as though we’ve seen this all before- namely in The Others.
Rogue - This 2007 crocodile thriller has a great premise and fine acting from Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black) and Michael Vartan (Alias). Sam Worthington (Avatar) fans (of which I am not) will enjoy seeing his jerky performance, too. Writer and director Greg McLean (
) adds a tight, contained, ticking clock to the lush, exotic, and foreign cinematography. The audience is hooked as things turn dark and dangerous- the issues among the stranded and perilous ship‘s crew build as our crocodile gets his chance in the spotlight. Its man against himself, man against nature, and man against man all in one- the tide is rising and time is running out! And then….well, the silly and stupefied ending here kind of undoes all the goodness. The viewer is asked to suspend belief one too many times for too preposterous an outcome. Is the overall goodness worth the ill-conceived conclusion or does the finale undo all? Wolf Creek
The Descent – Okay, so I don’t really know who the girls in this 2005 spelunking adventure are- but they are not the problem. A stereotypical yet somehow refreshing group, yes, but the individualism and back-stories are acceptable enough. I suspect there’s plenty of ogle and subtext value for interested audiences, too. The caves are also creepy and this is a dangerous sport after all- so why did director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) have to resort to glowing cave mutants? There’s enough internal strife and issues to mix in with the peril of falling rocks, being trapped or injured, and all that unknown caving. Let our gals go bad and have their own hysteria do them in; we could still have a serious horror movie without rock people. Most of this film gets it right, but the deus ex machina of the creepy crawlies and open ending for the sequel tire the positive strides.
Hide and Seek - Even Robert DeNiro (Casino) and Dakota Fanning’s (Man on Fire) battle of wits can’t save this familial thriller. Toss in Famke Janssen (X-Men) and Elisabeth Shue (Leaving
) and we’ve still got the same old, same old suggestive psychological thriller. It’s tragic wasting such a fine cast on this supposedly scary evil imaginary friend but there’s a twist yadda yadda story. They couldn’t even decide on an ending here- there are count ‘em five on the DVD! Las Vegas