All too often in mainstream media, the greatest horror films fall under the radar, overshadowed by their big budget, more commercial counterparts. Everything is either a sequel or a franchise reboot nowadays, and sadly, originality and thinking outside the box in the horror genre seems to get swept under the carpet. But that does not mean there are no longer any good, original horror films released, because there are. You just have to look in the right places.
The French have taken the cake when it comes to horror lately. They push boundaries and raise questions in the mind of the viewer that most horror films would not be brave or brazen enough to ask. High Tension started off the French horror resurgence, and in many ways, was a brilliant film (apart from a questionable subtext and a slightly nonsensical ending). It also helped open the door for a flood of brutal yet brilliant French horror films. High Tension seemed simple at first glance. A girl stays with a friend at their family farm and a madman shows up and attempts to systematically take them down, one by one, in increasingly brutal fashion. But the further you get in to the movie, the more it becomes apparent that all is not what it seems.
Not long after High Tension, a French film called Inside was released. Without getting too graphic or too spoiler(iffic), I’ll say that it’s bleak and brutal at times, but it also incredibly scary, tense, and even a bit…existential. This is where French horror differentiates from American. Instead of just assaulting the viewer visually, these movies ask questions that linger long after the credits roll. Inside is about a pregnant woman who has recently overcome a tragedy. On Christmas Eve she is visited by a woman in black who is claiming to have car trouble and needs to use her phone. Suffice it to say, she does not need to use the phone, but she does have an unhealthy fixation with the lead character’s unborn baby. Cue horror. While this movie is not for everyone due to the heavy nature of the subject matter ( it took me a year to sum up the courage to view it ) I was glad I did. I was left with an incredibly graphic and somewhat poignant story about loss, madness and redemption.
Onward to Funny Games. Not the American remake (both directed by Michael Haneke), but the original Austrian film, and it’s one horror movie I was absolutely floored by. It does something no other horror film did before. It takes us from being the viewer, to being an accomplice to the film’s crimes. It is a film about home invasion, and the joy two young men take in playing these cruel games with both the viewer and the family in the film. It is by no means an easy watch, and though no gore is shown in the film, it may be the one I am the most hesitant about recommending. That film has a way of filling you with a growing sense of hopelessness, and that is not a feeling a lot of viewers are comfortable toiling in. But what Haneke does so shockingly well in that film is he places you in those feelings, and then leaves you there for long, drawn out periods, sort of forcing the viewer to deal with these feelings. There’s a scene with a remote control that I will not ruin but I will say it may be the most brilliant deus ex machina ever used in modern cinema. This film is so groundbreaking; the director remade it, shot for shot, word for word, just so we Americans could experience it as well. Because you know, we hate to read.
Meanwhile, in America, it seems that if a horror film doesn’t have known actors or a big budget (unless it’s a Saw or Paranormal Activity installment) then it simply does not get studio support or release, meaning there is no press behind it. There’s no one trying to sell it to the different chains, and sadly, it falls by the wayside. It’s not that America is no longer making good horror films, it’s that they are making them for modest budgets and unfortunately, often don’t have the resources to make the movie and promote it properly. Frozen was a great film that came out in 2010 about a group of friends who go skiing and snowboarding and then get caught up in the lift after the park closes. They figure out it’s Sunday night and the place won’t be open for a week and they panic. Then a storm comes in. Then wolves start circling them below. You can tell it sort of pays homage to the “at the mercy of nature and animal” films of yore, outwardly referencing Jaws many times, but it is still a fun little romp. And while the latter half of the film was not nearly as strong as the first, it was still a fairly creepy film that no one heard about so no one saw. Same thing for another movie from 2009 called The Collector. A thief breaks into a rich family’s house to rob them, only to realize the family is being held captive by a psycho who broke in before the thief and set up a series of traps. The thief then takes it upon himself to try to free the family from the masked madman. And while the movie may be a little far-fetched and contrived at times, it is a fun, gory horror film not many have heard about, and therefore (say it with me, people) no one saw.
In the indie horror department, you have very little to pick from. Right now, Indie is in, but mostly quirky Indie comedies are spotlighted, so finding an Indie horror film is tough. But there is one worth mentioning, a film called Baghead. There’s little that should be said about it without giving things away, because if you go at it blind like I did, you will enjoy it more. It’s Indie from head to toe, but it works. It reeks of Indie comedy, it has the sorta cute but ugly Indie leads, it has the quirky, acoustic soundtrack and it has a slow, methodical, almost plodding pace. But if you wait it out, it’s absolutely worth it. Original American Indie horror. Who would have thought it possible?
So in closing, good horror movies still exist. Good horror still gets made. It just gets made in different countries, and if it gets made here, no one promotes it so no one knows about it so no one sees it. It is a vicious cycle, and we need to end it. I’ve tried to do my part here, so go out and give one of these a rent.
Other honorable mentions worth looking into if you are a horror fan:
- The Caller
- The Ruins
- Session 9
- A Tale of Two Sisters
- Triangle ( which has been mentioned on Unreality before )
- Grave Encounters