There’s no better way to get into the Halloween spirit than by watching some scary movies. Check back each weekday in October for a new spooky movie recommendation, courtesy of George Wolf.
Disclaimer: We take no responsibility for nightmares you may have from watching these films.
October 15th: The Thing (1982)
The Thing | 109 min | Rated: R
John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World is both reverent and barrier-breaking, losing a bit of the original’s Cold War dread, but concocting a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination and mutation.
A beard-tastic cast portrays the team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in a cut-off wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.
This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.
Rob Bottin’s FX, especially for the time, blew minds. That spider head move – woo-hoo!
The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.
The film was an inexplicable bomb with audiences and critics alike when it opened, but it’s gone on to become a must-see.
Seriously, you must see it.
October 14th: Evil Dead (2013)
Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Sony-TriStar Pictures.
Evil Dead | 91 min | Rated: R
Bloody good remake (emphasis on bloody).
Yes, back in ’81, tenderhearted Ash and his beloved Linda – both Michigan State fans – hopped in the old Oldsmobile Delta and headed into the Tennessee woods for a relaxing weekend with buddies Scott and Shelly, and Ash’s bitchy sister Cheryl. Oh, the fun they had…
Flash forward, and a new set of vacationers young enough to be Ash and Linda’s own kids (I mean, had Linda survived the weekend) take up the mantle and chainsaw in Evil Dead, director Fede Alvarez’s update on Raimi’s cult favorite.
What Raimi accomplished on a budget of half a shoestring can’t be understated, but Three Stooges-style splatter is not what Alvarez is after. His reboot lovingly reworks Raimi’s tale, eliminating nearly all the humor but absolutely none of the bloodletting.
The film throws a bit more story and character development at us. Still, we find two couples and one sister holed up in an old cabin, but this time David (Shiloh Fernandez, cute but disappointing), his girlfriend and his buddies are there to help his sister Mia (Jane Levy, exceptional) quit her drug habit.
Though it’s impossible to pick out the contributions of each of the screenwriters updating Raimi’s script, certain elements – like this back story – scream of Diablo Cody, who ingeniously introduces a concept that gives the film potential subtext by way of an unreliable narrator. (Did it all happen this way, or is Mia just insane and detoxing?)
Solid writing and Alvarez’s gleefully indulgent direction allow the film – not only a remake, but a remake of a film that tread the overworn ground of “cabin in the woods horror” – to remain shockingly fresh. This is thanks in part to a handful of inspired tweaks, another handful of very solid performances, and a fearless but never contemptuous- eye for carnage.
From the super-creepy opening sequence, Alverez’s update announces its fondness for the source material and his joyous aspiration to stretch that tale to its fullest, nastiest potential. He also shows a real skill for putting nail guns, machetes, hammers, electric meat slicers, hypodermics, even your standard bathroom mirror to fascinating new uses.
Oh, yeah..expect a lot of blood.
October 13th: Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Sleepaway Camp | 88 minutes | Rated: R
Yes, this is a bad film. It certainly falls into the “so bad it’s good” category, but it’s actually more than that. A seriously subversive film with blatant homosexual undertones, Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre take on the summer camp slasher. It’s also wildly entertaining.
It may be the shocking finale that gave the film its cult status, but it’s writer/director Robert Hilzik’s off-center approach to horror that makes it interesting. Dreamy flashbacks, weirdly gruesome murders, and a creepy (yet somehow refreshing) preoccupation with beefcake separate this one from the pack.
It’s not scary, certainly, but it is all manner of wrong. Aunt Martha – what kind of mad genius is this? The kill sequences are hugely imaginative, and the subversive approach to the entire film makes it hard to believe more people haven’t seen this gem.
There are sequels. They are worth skipping, although the first two boast the casting of Bruce Springsteen’s sister Pamela as the chipper sadist hatcheting her way through campers. So at least you have that.
October 12th: Eden Lake (2009)
Eden Lake | 91 minutes | Rated: R
It’s crazy this film hasn’t been seen more. The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenaged thugs.
The film expertly mixes liberal guilt with a genuine terror of the lower classes. The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. And though James Watkins’s screenplay makes a couple of difficult missteps, it bounces back with some clever maneuvers and horrific turns.
Sure, the “angry parents raise angry children” cycle may be overstated, but Jack O’Connell’s performance as the rage-saturated offspring turned absolute psychopath is chilling.
There’s the slow boil of the cowardly self righteous. Then there’s this bit with a dog chain. Plus a railroad spike scene that may cause some squeamishness. Well, it’s a grisly mess, but a powerful and provocative one. Excellent performances are deftly handled by the director who would go on to helm The Woman in Black.
Don’t expect spectral terror in this one, though. Instead you’ll find a bunch of neighborhood kids mad at their lot in life and taking it out on someone alarmingly like you.
October 11th: Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Tucker and Dale vs Evil | 89 minutes | Rated: R
Horror cinema’s most common and terrifying villain may not be the vampire or even the zombie, but the hillbilly. The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance and hundreds of others both play upon and solidify urban dwellers’ paranoia about good country folk. The generous, giddy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil lampoons that dread with good natured humor and a couple of rubes you can root for.
In the tradition of Shaun of the Dead, T&DVE lovingly sends up a familiar subgenre with insightful, self-referential humor, upending expectations by taking the point of view of the presumably villainous hicks. And it happens to be hilarious.
Two backwoods buddies (an endearing Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) head to their mountain cabin for a weekend of fishing. En route they meet some college kids on their own camping adventure. A comedy of errors, misunderstandings and subsequent, escalating violence follows as the kids misinterpret every move Tucker and Dale make.
Director Eli Craig’s clever role reversal screenplay, co-written with Morgan Jurgenson, recreates the tension-building scenes that have become horror shorthand for “the hillbillies are coming.” From the bait and tackle/convenience store encounter with bib overall clad townies, to the campfire retelling of likeminded teens lost forever in the wooded abyss, the setup is perfect.
Each punchline offers the would-be killers’ innocent point of view – expressing their increasingly baffled take on what appears to them to be a suicide pact among the coeds.
T&DVE offers enough spirit and charm to overcome most weaknesses. Inspired performances and sharp writing make it certainly the most fun participant in the “You Got a Purty Mouth” class of film.