Horror is an interesting genre. It covers a multitude of movies, from cheap home-made efforts to Oscar winners like Silence of the Lambs. The longer I thought about it, the less idea I had about what exactly counted as “horror.” Sure, there were the obvious – Halloween, American Werewolf in London, Wolf Creek, The Flintstones movies. But is Godzilla a horror movie?Are all monster movies? Is American Psycho? What about Zodiac? If a movie just has to be scary to be a horror movie, what about Gravity? I was terrified during the whole of that movie. But not a horror movie…right?
I have no idea.
And so began our journey of discovery. My son and I decide we haven’t seen enough of horror movies (or maybe-horror movies)…so we have created our own Friday-night film festival – #FridayNightFright 2017.
Yes, it needs a hashtag.
And this, dear follower, is what we’ve watched so far (while remembering that I prefer to only be positive in my reviews…there’s enough negativity on the Interwebs).
Midnight Meat Train: Bradley Cooper, Brooke Shields, and former footballer Vinnie Jones in a low-budget gore-fest based on a Clive Barker short story? We had to watch it and…OK, it’s one for Vinnie Jones completists and fans of literal eye-popping. A good example of what horror movies do perhaps better than any other story: it rattles along and provides its pleasures simply, effectively, and then it gets the hell out.
Babadook: Comes with more of a reputation than MMT (above) and rightly so. Generally low-key but with genuine tension, dread, and a refreshing sense that anything could happen. Small-scale, claustrophobic, and genuinely unsettling. I believed in it, which is essential for any movie that wants to scare its audience with things that go bump in the night.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: beautifully shot, making great use of its black and white cinematography. The story may be a little slim, but watching it was never less than a pleasure. Although when it finished I was left was a curious sense of wanting something more, I am definitely going to follow director Ana Lily Amirpour‘s career for her next few films.
Hellraiser: Another Barker short story, this one giving life to an 80s suburban London setting; an interesting period piece at this point with a suitably gross blood-and-bone villain. Made me want to go back and read Book of Blood.
Dog Soldiers: The ever-reliable Sean Pertwee leads a recognizably believable group of English soldiers into the countryside on maneuvers, only to find themselves trapped in a farmhouse fighting off werewolves. True fans of horror must, I would say, be able (and want to) suspend disbelief to a superhuman level, and the hairy-headed wolfmen here are a good example of this – but if you can make the necessary effort, then you’ll be rewarded with a tense and authentic-feeling defending-the-castle movie from the director of the upcoming Hellboy reboot.
The Host: South Korean monster movie with an unusual mix of tension, slapstick, and violence. A tentacled beast grows in the waterways of Seoul before coming to the surface and creating a predictable amount of havoc. The small band of heroes that gather to defeat the beast are sometimes funny, sometimes brave. The scares lie in the tension of how-will-they-overcomes-this-nature-gone-wild-monstrosity? Are monster movies like this actually horror movies? Is Jaws – surely the pinnacle of the genre – a horror movie? Discuss.
Take Shelter: Seemed appropriate during Hurricane Harvey; it’s available on a horror-streaming service, so it must be horror, right? How elastic is the genre? This one’s a mental-health/seeing visions take on a Noah’s Ark scenario. Leisurely paced but anything with Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain in it is never less that watchable. Highly recommended for the patient viewer.
Under the Shadow: although superficially similar to Babadook (mother and child terrorized by a ghostly invader), I liked this one more. Set in Iran during the war with Iraq, the broader context and greater cast of characters allowed the whole thing to grow in a more satisfying way. The pressure wasn’t on the mother to be quite so…interesting (read: crazy)…just so things could move forward. And this proved once and for all that a ghost in a sheet can indeed be unsettling.