Ask me what the scariest movie I’ve ever seen is and time after time I’ll answer The Blair Witch Project. Sure it has it’s skeptics, cynics and badasses who aren’t phased but they’re the houseflies of the genre, constantly buzzing to one up each other. It’s much more fun to embrace when something scares the shit out of you and give it credit where it’s due. The most interesting thing about this film is the sheer amount of money made versus spent, it’s the ultimate minimalist experiment that swept the nation, landscaped the horror genre for decades to come and scared the fucking piss out of millions of people, myself included. So why is it so scary? Nothing completely descriptive happens, you never even see the witch and the ending is opaque.. but it’s exactly those reasons that make it so effective. Picture yourself in the woods at night; you’re already scared by the threatening elemental magic that only forests at night can offer, then you hear something in the trees, something overtly and obviously creepy. But you never see it. If a werewolf, witch, goblin or politician came barreling out of the woods then that once nameless fear is now right in front of you, and you are now faced with the prospect of overcoming it, the unknown element vanished. All this film gives you is that unknown element, for the entire 85 runtime, and ends on an ambiguously pitched note. It’s the withholding of what exactly is out there, along with other aspects, that makes this so haunting and a point that most horror movies inexplicably can’t seem to grasp. From the moment that documentary crew sets out there’s a cursed feeling because you know they’re headed for no good, then when they get hopelessly lost you feel the same panic they do. As the night wears on and they are forced to set up camp, they can hear eerie noises down by the river, babies crying and discover weird occult stick figures placed around their vicinity. This is when the true blood freezing terror sets in because now they are they so lost they’re not even sure what county they’re in anymore and whatever’s following them gets in their faces with increasing regularity and terrifying methods of approach. Much of the film happens at night, shot on shaky home video (this is bar one for found footage horror, the best there is) and the three actors playing these doomed guerilla auteurs are fantastically believable in their descent into panic, dread and mania. The final five minutes have since become legend and rightly so but the whole package is an impossibly terrifying nightmare from which it feels like there is no escape, and indeed for these poor people there ultimately is not. Masterpiece.
Imagine a game of tug of water against an alien who’s holding onto your intestines like a rope while you struggle to keep them from further unravelling. That’s a horrific thing to even picture but in Eduardo Sanchéz’s Altered you get to see it happen in graphic detail and it ain’t fuckin pretty. Sanchéz is part of the creative team that pioneered the horror genre with The Blair Witch Project, he’s a guy that doesn’t mince his words with horror and always puts out quality disturbing content, this being no exception.
After a group of friends experience a collective alien abduction in their youth, they come up with a plan decades later to turn the tables: kidnap one of the extraterrestrials responsible for their trauma, take it to a remote cabin in the woods and exact some much deserved payback on the fucker. Their idea goes well for a bit but then naturally everything that can go wrong does when they discover that they’ve grossly underestimated their quarry and are in for quite the night from hell.
This is a minimalist premise and the execution reflects that but it’s tense, uncomfortably gory in all the right ways and you get a genuine sense of terror that emanates from these guys. You’ll understand why as well when the aliens show up, these aren’t cute and cuddly things or even feral beasts, they resemble cunning, sadistic warlords who are used to dominating other species and don’t appreciate these guys bearing arms against them. The late character actor James Gammon has a grizzled cameo as the local sheriff who when confronted with the knowledge that the intruders he was called to investigate are aliens, dryly replies with “Shit. That’s fucked up” and if you know Gammon you’ll be able to hear his gruff delivery of that line in your head and chuckle some. It’s good stuff and proves that Sanchéz wasn’t just a one hit wonder with Blair Witch, also going on to make the awesomely terrifying psychological chiller as well as this panicky, nasty creature feature.
Eduardo Sanchez is a name you may or may not know, but title the title of the film which put him on the map you will most definitely remember. The Blair Witch Project was the little horror indie that caught the snowball effect and went on to become one of the most legendary fright flicks ever made, as well as unfortunately spawning the found footage sub genre. So the question was, how would a filmmaker who accidentally captured lightning in a bottle top such an achievement? Well, by not trying to recreate said lightning, that’s how. By branching off, by breaking new ground, and by giving us a terrifying little character study of a horror like Lovely Molly, which has unsettled me like no other in the past couple years since I’ve seen it. It’s a character study in the sense that the horror comes mostly from a psychological place, with the slightest suggestion of external and paranormal torment, a subtlety that goes a long way in scaring the pants off us. The story focuses on Molly (Gretchen Lodge, superb), and her husband Tim (Johnny Lewis, or halfsack for anyone who watches Sons Of Anarchy). They are a young newlywed couple just starting life together, until some restless demons from Molly’s past come back to haunt her. Tim is gone for extended periods of time with his trucking job, leaving Molly alone in their secluded house, a sitting duck for supernatural and psychological forces to hunt her. Raw, disconcerting terror sets in as we witness a tragic downward spiral of disturbing sexual behaviour, unseen phantoms and unending torment befall the poor girl. Scarier still is Sanchez’s blatant refusal to spell out in bold fonts just exactly what is happening to her. Is this just extreme mental illness cauded by residual trauma leftover from an abusive childhood that is hinted at? Are there actually percievable paranormal entities at work? It’s the murky deliberation to not draw lines or give solid answers that makes the film work so well, right up until a climax from darkest nightmares. Lodge is beyond capable with the role, taking Molly’s mania and sickness to levels beyond comprehension or reprieve, truly gone to a place of boiling internal horror. This is a different kind of horror for Sanchez, and he proves to be just as adept with the slow cooker style as he was in frenzied found footage. Don’t go expecting any clear cut answers here though, this is the realm of feverish ambiguity. Some people take issue with that and need a breadcrumb trail laid out for them. I for one love not knowing, just increases the intrigue and the creep factor. A horror gem.