Dragons, Zombies and Aliens:
‘Tis the season to binge-watch horror movies! I don’t know about you guys, but October is one of my favorite months of the year for just this reason (It’s narrowly surpassed by December. Because, you know, Christmas). A Halloween tradition in my family is to record/rent a handful of horror movies and binge them all night, stopping only to answer the call of trick ‘r treaters.
In preparation for this, we consult the Almighty Google for good horror movies. Don’t get me wrong, bad horror movies have a hallowed place in the Halloween tradition. Next week’s post will be dedicated to just that. But as much as we like making fun of bad horror movies, we prefer being scared shitless--or at least genuinely freaked out--by good horror movies.
Now, if we wanted to play it safe, we could just go back to the ‘80s and hit all the classics: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc. But there’s only so many times you can watch a movie before you start to hate it, no matter how good it is. And there are a ton of really good, underrated horror movies that have come out in the last few years. They’re buried amid all the crappy remakes and unnecessary sequels, but they do exist. And I have a list of my personal favorites for you lovelies right here:
1. Blair Witch
The Blair Witch Project is a 1990s masterpiece. To this day it holds the record for earning the most money off of a minimal budget. Very simple: three college students set out for a weekend camping in the creepy woods to do a documentary on the legendary Blair Witch. They're never seen again.
Blair Witch is the sequel that came out last year, though it stands on its own merits (re: you don’t have to watch Project to follow along). It got mixed reviews, as sequels and remakes often do. The best way to describe Blair Witch is that it is what Blair Witch Project would have looked like if it had been done in 2016 instead of the ‘90s, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
I loved Blair Witch. I loved the throwbacks to the original, the special effects and body horror, the witch herself...it’s a terrifying film with few flaws. Definitely worth seeing if you haven’t already.
2. Cabin in the Woods
This will always be one of my favorite horror movies. It toes the line between straight-up horror and horror comedy (which is what you get when you hire Joss Whedon as a screenwriter) and presents a very grey, simple-yet-complex dilemma rarely seen in most horror movies. In order to prevent the world from being destroyed by the all-powerful, horrible Ancient Ones, there must be a human sacrifice of at least five young people every year. The more gruesome the deaths, the better.
You feel bad for the five protagonists that are getting murdered. You feel bad for the men pulling the strings and orchestrating the murders. And you’re laughing your ass off because not only are the characters charming and funny, the movie takes every single horror trope (dumb blond, ill-advised sex scene, stupid decisions, etc) and mercilessly mocks them. It’s beautiful.
4. The Grudge
One of the few foreign films remade in America that’s actually good, The Grudge is based off of Japan’s Ju-on. Basically, it’s a haunted house in Japan. Starring Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Gellar, it’s the story of the ghost of a mother and son who were murdered in their home, which they continue to haunt. Every single person who enters the house--or even leaves a friggin’ voicemail on the landline--ends up dying in a horrible, gruesome manner. It’s awesome. Even better: the two sequels are also good. For a horror movie franchise to pull that off is nothing short of a miracle.
You wouldn’t think a movie about an evil mirror would be any good (“why don’t they just smash the damn thing?”) but this one is very good.
One of the best features is the dual timeline: you get two stories at once. We see siblings Kaylie and Tim growing up with the evil enchanted mirror that’s slowly driving their parents insane, while at the same time watching their adult counterparts try to destroy that mirror ten years later.
Another great feature: the main characters are very intelligent. Even the mirror is smart. As adults, Tim has spent the last ten years convincing himself that what they experienced as kids was nothing but an elaborate fantasy to cope with their murdered parents, while Kaylie has spent those ten years researching the shit out of the mirror and planning on how to take it down. As a result, there are no annoying Horror Movie Mistakes™. Yay!
6. Ouija: Origin of Evil
It’s a very rare prequel that surpasses the original film. But that was an easy task in this case; Ouija sucked balls. Its prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil, blew it out of the water. Most of it boils down to the stellar acting of Lulu Wilson (Doris). She spends the first half of the movie all innocent and fun and genuinely trying to help people by connecting with their dead loved ones, and then, when she gets possessed, becomes the stuff of nightmares.
7. Lights Out
I need to see this movie again, because the first time I saw it I was cowering and looking away from the screen. It was very hard to get to sleep that night. And the next night. And the night after that...
Our protagonists are haunted by a spirit that only appears in the dark. Despite opening with a gruesome murder, the body count is quite low. That doesn’t make it any less terrifying. I can’t say much more due to spoilers, but if you’re looking for good ol’ fashioned jump scares that break a few horror tropes along the way, this is the movie for you. Just...maybe keep the lights on while you watch it.
8. The Visit
M. Night Shyamalan’s movies have been hit-or-miss the last few years. The Visit is a resounding success, almost enough for us to forgive The Happening and The Last Airbender. Very low budget, very simple: two kids spend the week with their grandparents. The first few days of creepiness and strange behavior is casually explained away as old people being weird. But as the story ramps up, the kids--and by extension, the audience--become more and more nervous until The Big Reveal.
It’s one of those movies that’s good because it’s weird. The writers and actors take the raw, everyday material from people’s lives and puts it on the screen. The boy is an amateur rapper (who surprisingly doesn’t suck), the girl is a wannabe film director, and the grandparents are, as previously stated, strange and getting stranger. So it makes for some awkward moments that family members could find in their kitchen, and the movie is all the better for it.
9. Get Out
You know that horror movie about racism your PC-obsessed friend was raving about back in February? This is the movie. And it’s terrific. Like The Visit, it’s less about jump scares and gore and is instead fueled by creepiness, that itch under your skin that blares NOT RIGHT NOT RIGHT GET OUT (pun intended).
Chris--a black man dating a white woman--goes to visit his girlfriend’s family for the first time. At first, there’s the usual awkwardness that comes from a white family trying way too hard to reassure the black guy that they are definitely not racist, no sir. But as Chris spends more time with them and the neighbors, things quickly turn pear-shaped.
If nothing else, watch this movie for Chris’s TSA friend Rod. He’s hilarious.
10. The Witch
Another movie that makes a statement about society (although one much less obvious than Get Out), this is a historical horror that satisfied both my inner horror geek and history nerd. Even the dialogue is taken straight from colonial documents, but modern audiences can still understand it and follow along.
A colonial family is kicked out of town for their religious beliefs and so build a secluded farm on the edge of a forest. Unbeknownst to them, there is a witch living in the forest, one whose powers and evil is exactly aligned with what people believed witches did at the time. So the crops go bad, the baby goes missing, the son is seduced, the animals go crazy, the cows give blood instead of milk, etc.
Critics compared this moving to The Crucible, a 1950’s play about the Salem witch trials. (One that set my teeth on edge because half of that story is so so wrong, none of that happened, she was nine not a seductress!) It’s obvious why: both stories are making a point about group paranoia, both use fear of witchcraft as their big metaphor, and both stories feature innocent women who get blamed and punished for crimes they didn’t commit. The difference is that there is no witch in The Crucible. As the name implies, The Witch does indeed have an evil witch targeting this family, but the parents don’t know that and instead blame their daughter. It doesn’t turn out well for anyone.
Know any movies I missed? Let me know in the comments!
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!