You’ll think twice about taking that shortcut through through the tunnel on your way home from work after watching Absentia, a spooky little indie with its heart in the right place and the filmmaking talent to back it up. There’s a tunnel that’s home to some unspeakable scuttling fiend in a local neighborhood, and two sisters who live nearby, as well as a few unfortunate other folks, stray directly into it’s path. Pregnant Tricia (Courtney Bell) and her younger sister Calley (Catherine Parker) are just trying to get by, literally and figuratively, but every routine trip into this hellish part of the neighborhood ends in disappearances, freaky apparitions from a spindly Doug Jones, this time not playing the monster, and tragic loss of life. I won’t give away what the threat is or what it even looks like (you’ll piss your pants), and such is the beauty of a minimalist scarefest like this. You go in not knowing much beyond the hype or word of mouth, and have your pants scared off. There’s a wonderfully atmospheric score at play here, no psycho strings of operatic swells, the film instead favoring a quiet, emotional melody that contrasts the extremely bleak story arc and grim happenings rather nicely. Jones is the only prolific actor we see here, but his work amounts to not much more than a cameo anyway, the brunt landing on our two protagonists, and a local detective (Dave Levine) who assists them, and they all give very solid efforts. The tunnel is a pure unbridled nightmare though, the fates of those who wander in something that you pray never happens to anyone ever, as you cling to whoever is closest to you on the couch (or bed, preferably). Horror should illicit some empathy from viewers as well as scare them, which will in turn be more disturbing for all. This little baby does just that with it’s characters, truly making you feel sorrow and dread for these poor people and their predicament, adding to the creep factor. A gem.
Hush is a pulverizing little exercise in extreme suspense. I’m not talking about this year’s Hush, a sleek little home invasion shocker that’s worth your time too. No, this Hush is a little seen British flick from back in 2008, and it’s a proper nerve jangler. In the tradition of Duel, The Hitcher, Joyride and others, it takes place on a bustling motorway somewhere in great Britain. A young couple trundle through the night on a highway, and find themselves behind a great big creepy semi truck. In one split second, the doors of it’s trailer come unstuck and open just a crack, allowing the to see what’s inside. It’s only a glimpse, but it’s unmistakable: a girl, badly hurt and tied up, screams for help before the motion of the vehicle causes the doors to slam shut again. What would you do? This couple bravely pursues the truck and it’s villainous driver across many miles of road, trying to rescue the girl inside, avoid getting killed themselves and put an end to whatever is going on. It’s one merciless ride into gut churning suspense, and I marveled at the film’s ability to keep such high tension up for a streamlined ninety minutes of pure horror nirvana. It’s not too lenghthy, never sags or drags and always keeps the vibe as taut as the ominous chain holding those truck doors in place. Swift and sensible in resolution, stylish as all hell and scary in spades. Any horror fan owes it to themselves to take a look.
Adam Wingard’s HomeSick is a treat, but only if you can stomach some truly jarring moments of gore and have one demented sense of humour with the capacity for.. let’s just say… abstract thought. Low budget, practical effects driven schlockers like these are a dime a dozen, but this one is worth it’s weight in gold simply for going that extra mile to make it memorable and stand out from the cheaply drawn masses. It starts out slow, with an eerie opening credit jingle that could suggest all kinds of horrors to come. We meet a group of friends going through the motions of partying and quarreling. Tiffany Shepis does a wonderfully nutty little riff on her scream queen shtick as a positively slutty little minx who likes to rail cocaine at her graveyard job and swing a mop around with gale force. Anywho, this weird little troupe is kicking back one night, when into the apartment walks a very ill adjusted stranger named Mr. Suitcase (the legendary Bill Moseley), and sits down on the couch like he owns the place. He’s chipper, charming and affable to a terrifying level, as he opens up his suitcase full of razor blades that he calls “gifts”. He asks them all to pick one person in their life they hate and want to wish dead, slicing a nasty gash on his forearm for each answer. The seemingly autistic member of the group (Forrest Pitts, in a priceless performance of comedic eccentricities) foolishly blurts out that he wishes everyone in the room dead, and then the real fun begins. A giant masked killer begins stalking and killing pretty much every character around in ways so brutal your balls will shrink into your pancreas. Seriously, it’s like they sat down in a boardroom and systematically came up with every squirm inducing way to inflict violence on a human body, and gave their results to the storyboard artist and effects team. It all comes to a chaotic, deranged finale when they take refuge with Uncle Johnnie (the late great Tom Towles, always brilliant) a gun toting chili enthusiast. That’s where the film comes off the rails, but it’s seemingly deliberate and actually quite hilarious, as everyone pretty much goes feral and loses the plot all at once like a coked up kindergarten class in overdrive. There’s some thought and care put into the writing, and as such the characters, however odd or over the top, seem like real people, albeit some strange and undesirable folks. The film oozes unsettling atmosphere right from the get-go, fervent in its aggressively weird sense of style and never taking the conventional route that most horrors end up with. Like I said, if your sense of humour has an affinity for the bizarre, demented and off the wall (think Tim & Eric meets The Evil Dead meets John Waters), you’re gonna love this little gem. On top of being a laugh riot, it’s just freaky enough to earn it’s horror classification, something which many films in the genre just can’t claim. As to why it’s called HomeSick, though? Couldn’t tell you, and there’s no reference to it the entire time. Perhaps it’s called that for the normies, the folks who watch it expecting a run of the mill, cookie cutter slasher and feel uncomfortable with the oddness, getting “home sick” for their bland fare. As for me, I’m right at home up the weird end of the alley, and love this type of thing. I hope you do to.
Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 is similar to Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado in the sense that it takes what was already there, in this case Evil Dead, and tells the same story once again, simply smoothing out edges, ramping up certain areas, using more money than it had before and generally giving the story a tune up. It also gets quite a bit funnier than Evil Dead, which although schlocky was pretty much outright horror. The sequel emphasizes comedy far more, and is the more definitive of the two in terms of the franchise’s legacy. The story is more or less the same: Ash (the eternal Bruce Campbell) and a group of friends venture to that creepy, archetypal cabin in the woods and foolishly set loose a rambunctious horde of unholy demons, zombies, cackling fiends, rapey trees and a mountable deer head with a disconcerting case of the giggles. This marks the first time Ash donned his now iconic chainsaw hand and picked up that ol’ boom stick to give the nasties a good whupping. And whup he does, like the smooth talking badass that he is. I love the aesthetic in these films; the monsters all have a devilishly mischievous attitude that provides endless laughs, always trolling, taunting and teasing the poor victims. Nothing beats the sight of Ash’s severed hand flipping him off before it scuttles off into the corner like an angry facehugger. That’s one key element which the 2013 remake ditched: I liked what they did in terms of special effects, but the pissy humour wasn’t there, the decayed, sarcastic ADHD madness that I came to love so much was replaced by something far too grim and somber. Bad move. No, kids, this is the ultimate Evil Dead flick, the most complete and entertaining entry into a franchise that has influenced every facet of the horror genre for decades. Ash is now a household name, a beloved halloween costume, a celebrated pillar of pop culture and still one of the most enjoyable protagonist’s to spend time with, as we now get to see with Starz’s terrific Ash Vs. Evil Dead. The original Evil Dead spawned it all, but this baby turned the dial up past eleven, tossed on the buckets of gore and has more than earned it’s place both in our hearts, and horror infamy.
Don’t watch Neil Marshall’s The Descent if you suffer from claustrophobia. Just… don’t. This film does for caves what Alien did for derelict space stations and what The Ring did for videotapes. Cleverly combining close quarters panic, the gnawing fear of losing your way in a near infinite set of tunnels and some visceral, throat ripping terror, it’s one horror package that will leave you reeling. I believe this is the one that put Marshall on the map, and since then he’s been doing mostly medieval style action adventure (he helmed the pilot for Game Of Thrones). This is his first, and most effective outing in a really solid career. The premise is simple: a group of girls decide to go on an excursion deep within a cave system in Eastern Europe. They run into a string of bad luck though, as they first find themselves hopelessly, sickeningly lost. Then the real fun begins as they realize they’re not alone down there, and that something is hunting them. Terrifying subterranean creatures emerge like Gollum on bathsalts, fast, wiry, agile terrors from the deep that know the system inside out and prey on these poor girls one by one. Once they show up its a chaotic bloody free for all that will shred your nerves, but I almost found everything leading up to that even more scary. The slow buildup where they realize they are just so lost and may be stuck down there forever just puts a knot in your stomach and instills a hopeless dread that can’t really be equalled by any monster or gory scene. Still, those things are pretty gnarly and provide more than a few wicked scares, especially when the girls first catch fleeting glimpses of them around corners and between cracks, dismissing them as tricks of the light. Marshall also employs cunning narrative tricks to perpetuate the lack of any kind of way out, one in particular that just curdles the blood in its ruthless, resolute sense of doom. The scariest film you will ever see set in a cave, and one of the premier fright fests ever made.