The second-best but least acknowledged season of the last quarter is almost upon us; the time we hear parents and neighbours lament that we are not American therefore should not be disturbed by hordes of children dressed like Kinder Egg versions of horror icons. Yes, it’s Halloween.
For me it’s an excuse to unashamedly indulge in watching a plethora of horror films across all sub-genres. There are always the staples of the Halloween movie diet that are as synonymous with the holiday as toffee apples and tooth decay: Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Hellraiser, The Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc, etc.
However, its also an opportunity to peruse the horror aisle of HMV in search of gems that would otherwise be overlooked. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a broad range of horror films from the independent scene this year, and I’ve got five must-sees that would be perfect with the lights off this Halloween…
5. We Are Still Here (2015)
A haunted house horror story set in the 1970’s, the film follows Anne and Paul, who move to a small New England town to grieve the loss of their college son Bobby. As with any small town in America, the town and the house itself harbour a dark secret that Anne and Paul uncover. There will be blood…
We Are Still Here harks back to the golden days of 70’s horror. There’s no technology so their remote location is truly isolating. The tension and scares build to a bloody climax that has an ending only independent film could save from the cutting room floor. The loss of their son enables the leads to believe more in the possibility of the supernatural, and when the signs start to show, they build in a believable way and with tension that is sure to see you hiding behind the bowl of popcorn.
4. Julia (2014)
Another throwback, this one to the exploitation rape and revenge thrillers of the 70’s and early 80’s. Julia Shames is a woman who has spent most of her life dealing with abuse in one form or another. One night she is drugged and raped by several men after seemingly believing she had finally found a nice man. Dealing with the trauma, Julia learns of an experimental new kind of treatment for women who are victims of such crimes, putting the power back in to their hands. Through the mysterious Sadie, Julia joins the ranks of this reverse-Hostel group of women, taking everything she has learned and funneling it into revenge against the men that wronged her.
Julia takes the revenge element of this sub-genre to new heights, using a society of like-minded and similarly troubled women to evolve her character into a seriously badass woman you would not want to cross. Similarly, it plays to the character’s strengths and shows depth by not allowing the audience to believe that it took this kind of crime for her to become who she is. A strong film of the vein of the brilliant American Mary.
3. The Canal (2014)
The first of two Irish horror films to feature in this list, The Canal is a psychological horror film following David, a film archivist who is suspected of murdering his wife whom he had recently discovered was cheating on him. In the midst of trying to prove his innocence and shake the suspicion of a particular Detective, David discovers through police film archives that his house was once the setting of a brutal murder. After awhile David begins to see things in the home, his wife turns up dead, and an early 20th century camera begins to reveal the truth…
The Canal is an incredibly well-paced psychological horror film with an impressive turn by lead Rupert Evans. The perspective the film applies leads the viewer to question everything they see, and that’s also the beauty of this film: horror can often show too much or too little, but this strikes the balance perfectly, and the scene in which David plays back footage he has filmed at the side of the canal is genuinely scary stuff.
2. From the Dark (2014)
The second Irish film to appear, From the Dark is another throwback classic to the Vampires of ‘Salem’s Lot and Coppola’s Dracula. The film stars Niamh Algar and Stephen Cromwell as Sarah and Mark, a couple driving through the Irish countryside. Early on the relationship is posited as on the brink, with tense conversations about marriage and directions flowing between the two leads. In classic horror fashion, the man gets lost and the car breaks down. In search of help, Mark stumbles upon a remote farmhouse where the inhabitant is displaying unusual behaviour and injuries to boot, and soon the two find themselves hunted by an ancient and thirsty predator.
From the Dark is an incredibly nerve-wracking experience. From the opening sequence that examines the vast isolation of the Irish countryside whilst introducing our protagonists’ most recent origins, writer/director Connor McMahon crafts a superbly tense horror film by going back-to-basics. The location is simple, the cast is small and the villain is a classic one that makes them all the more scary. A must-see.
1. Honeymoon (2014)
Newly married Bea and Paul retreat to Bea’s family cabin in the woods for their honeymoon. In isolation with nothing but the woods and lake around them, they aim to spend their honeymoon blissfully together. But after Paul discovers Bea naked and afraid in the woods one night, tension builds as Bea begins to change and Paul desperately tries to understand just what drew Bea out to the woods that night and, more importantly, what happened to her…
Like the other films in this list, the beauty of this film is that it chooses a popular and often seen narrative in horror but completely eschews conventions. A unique ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ tale, the tension builds slowly and is aided by Paul’s obvious love for Bea as he tries to understand the changes taking place. Similar to From the Dark, this film plays to its strengths the remote location and small cast by setting most of the action inside the cabin, the tension between the two leads building to an emotional yet terrifying ending.