By Peg Aloi
Here are some wonderful offerings to get you through the gloomy months ahead, including under-sung and under-seen horror baubles that you may have missed.
If you’re like me, you sometimes let your Hallowe’en plans stay fluid until the last minute. This year being Year Two of the Great Plague (sounds like a costume theme for a Hallwe’en party, doesn’t it?), going out to a crowded gathering may not feel so appealing. Staying at home and watching horror movies and series though? Hells yeah! (And chomp on some bags of candy — if you end up not getting too many trick or treaters. Or just buy some tasty treats for yourself. Hey, no judgment here).
The weather forecast for the Northeast this weekend finds us surrounded by clouds, rain, and chilly temperatures. Next week we change the clocks which will give us an even earlier sunset. Basically, the season of darkness is upon us. Recent studies have shown that many people find watching horror to be a good way to de-stress; it has something to do with finding comfort in stories of survival and being inspired by monsters and murderers being vanquished and, in some cases, just being really glad that’s not you on the screen being pursued and tortured and scared.
Here are some wonderful offerings to get you through the gloomy months ahead, including under-sung and under-seen horror baubles that you may have missed, now available across streaming services. As a doyenne of quality horror, I love helping people discover new stuff. I’ve looked at the schedules from a variety of streaming services. Behold, my recommendations! Oh, and while my recs are mainly from Criterion, Netflix, and Hulu, I spend a fair amount of time watching films on Shudder (the all-horror streaming service). I always find something wonderful there, from premieres and original content (like the excellent documentary Horror Noire which inspired a just-released anthology series) to classic and obscure jewels from way back when… I highly endorse this affordable streaming service for horror buffs.
Criterion Picks: Yes, I subscribe to this excellent service full of classic and obscure films and you should too. Their horror offerings are both sophisticated and crazy, including David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), about, well, a guy who really loves his TV, David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) about, well, a guy who really loves the weird little lady living in his radiator, and Dutch thriller The Vanishing (1988) about, well, a guy who really loves his girlfriend and becomes obsessed with finding out why she disappeared. There’s also fabulous obscure offerings like John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (1970) featuring the divinely decadent Divine; the French mindfuck Eyes Without a Face (1960), and the Japanese comedy-ghost story House (1977). The arthouse classics include Nicolas Roeg’s unforgettable psychological thriller Don’t Look Now (1973) starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, George Romero’s seminal, genre-inspiring Night of the Living Dead (1968), Brian de Palma’s creepy crime thriller Sisters (1972), the slow burning Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and Lynch’s very weird, very scary Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992).
Netflix Picks: For some reason, if you search for “popular horror films” on Netflix you end up with a lot of newer films that you may never have heard of. Friends, there are a LOT of horror films coming out these days, almost more than even a die hard fan can keep up with. I can’t tell you whether that’s a good thing or not because I haven’t seen most of these newbies yet either. But I have seen a fair chunk of the horror oeuvre this streaming juggernaut is offering, and here’s the ones I think you should check out (and links to reviews I’ve written if you’re interested) if you haven’t seen them yet.
The Wind (2019) is Emma Taimi’s stunning directorial debut: an eerie folk horror film about settlers in the American West. His House (2020) is an intriguing take on the haunted house narrative, with excellent performances by Sope Dirasu (His Dark Materials) and Wunmi Mosaku (Lovecraft Country). Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz surrounding this year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, Titane, by Julia Ducorneau. Catch the filmmaker’s debut Raw, a grisly yet beautiful coming-of-age story about a young woman with a taste for human flesh. And if you’ve never seen the only film in the Exorcist franchise that’s almost as good as the original, Exorcist III, well it’s time you did. With tour de force performances by George C. Scott and Brad Dourif, this terrifying movie, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, who penned the book that started it all, and based this film on his novel Legion, just might keep you up all night. Exorcist III is also available streaming on Tubi, Vudu, and Amazon Prime. Other Netflix picks I’d recommend for spooky season: It Comes at Night, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Cam, The Strangers, Apostle, and The Ritual.
Hulu has some excellent streaming series that are perfect for this season of strangeness, like the Stephen King homage Castle Rock. But they also have a respectable slate of horror films, some not available elsewhere. Check out the beautifully photographed and stylish thriller about a creepy cult, The Other Lamb. Then there’s Saint Maud, a somewhat slow burning atmospheric drama about a caregiver who succumbs to religious delusions and, hoo boy, what an ending! The Lodge features a great performance by Riley Keough in a psychological thriller by the directors of Goodnight Mommy, about a family stuck in a snowy mountain retreat that turns tense and dangerous! Dammit, there’s also the folklore haunted Amulet, a fine debut by actress-turned-filmmaker Romola Garai. Fans of Claire Foy, seen recently in The Crown and The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (my review coming soon!) should check out Steve Soderbergh’s Unsane, a disturbing story of a woman and her stalker filmed entirely on an iPhone. And for fans of English filmmaker Ben Wheatley, Hulu has both his black-and-white psychedelic tour de force A Field in England and his recent Sundance offering, a strange little folk horror tale filmed during (and touching upon) the recent pandemic, In the Earth.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, Crooked Marquee, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at themediawitch.com.