Halloween on demand
Skip the multiplex, the best horror is showing on the small screen
Ah, the horror, the horror! In some ways, over the past decade it seems like the horror film has been going through a renaissance, with a new entry hitting the theaters on an almost weekly basis as the genre has crept back into mainstream consciousness.
Unfortunately, the current slate on the multiplex marquee has featured generally disposable reboots of classics (and not-so classics) and found-footage exercises in mediocrity. Admittedly, some recent mainstream horror films aren’t bad, some even pretty good, but the great new horror—the stuff being produced in places like Japan, France and Spain—hasn’t been invited to the party.
However, thanks to home media, there really is a horror renaissance, and it is flourishing right there in front of your couch, and all the really good international and indie choices—not to mention a 100 years’ worth of classic re-released ghoulishness—are just a mailbox or keystroke away.
Let’s start with the granddaddy of modern horror, Universal Studios, and its just-released Universal Classic Monsters set on Blu-ray, featuring eight of its iconic monster titles—from Dracula (1931) to Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). While it may seem that watching a horror film from the early ’30s could be a creaky affair, the box set offers an excellent opportunity to revisit the films that inarguably mainstreamed the horror genre in the early 20th century. Every horror genre filmmaker of substance has been influenced by these films.
Sure, when viewed in comparison to contemporary films, these perfect examples of gothic atmosphere might be found to be paced sluggishly with acting that spits sawdust, but visually they have aged very well. Each frame—depthless black-and-white contrasts of expressionism—could be frozen and hung on the wall. Or, well, at least appreciated on a wall-mounted HD screen.
Of course, black-and-white horror might not be to everyone’s tastes, so thankfully there is plenty of modern ghoulish fun for folks willing to eschew the multiplex and do some serious grave digging. (All of these titles are available on DVD and VOD.)
At the beginning of the new millennium, the Japanese were churning out some pretty twisted but disorientingly beautiful horror films on such a large scale that J-horror became its own genre. Takashi Miike’s Hitchcock-goes-to-hell Audition was the flagship in 1999, a movie so messed up that Hollywood was too traumatized to bastardize it for American audiences.
Another one that was just plain too weird to Anglicize was the bizarro Uzumaki, a slice of surrealistic Lovecraftian horror that doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but is so compellingly beautiful that it works as moving art on its own.
Not to be shown up by the Japanese, the French launched their own barrage of titles over the first of the oughts, creating the “new French extremism” that justifies the aesthetics of torture-porn genre by layering the proceedings with even more disturbing subtext. Titles like High Tension, In My Skin, Inside, Martyrs and Frontier(s) are good examples of extreme horror that stop just short of being gratuitous. (Well, sort of.) They’re also responsible for one of the best zombie actioners ever made, The Horde.
Meanwhile, Spain has churned out Catholic-centric creepers like The Day of the Beast and the [REC] franchise. Made before found-footage became ubiquitous, [REC] features the cutest reporter ever and her cameraman as they drop by a Madrid apartment complex to document ground zero of the zombie apocalypse.
Remade by Hollywood (very badly) as Quarantine, [REC] is easily one of the best horror films of the new century, and it was followed by two sequels released Stateside by the indie-horror distributor Magnet Releasing. With titles like Trollhunter, V/H/S, I Saw the Devil and the stalker pastiche Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Magnet is quickly shaping up to as the seal of approval for horror films too good to be shown at the multiplex, with almost every title on its slate being worthy of at least a rental.