Since Monday night is Halloween, some of you may feel the need to take in a scary movie or two. I’m not particularly a fan of horror movies, mainly because many of them don’t scare me. There are even classic ones I’ve found disappointing. I stayed up late one Friday night to watch “The Exorcist” – and I wasn’t impressed. The same thing happened when I finally caught “Halloween” on the big screen. After I was done witnessing Michael Myers go on his slasher rampage, I was like, “So, that’s it, huh?”
My big problem with horror movies is that a lot of them are, well, far-fetched and unbelievable. I’m more a fan of movies that exhibit some realistic-looking terror – like “Deliverance.” I remember watching that when I was 12 and have been forever unnerved by thought of going in the woods and being greeted by toothless mountain men, who have nothing on their minds but to have their way with me.
Movies that are disturbingly, hauntingly made also rattle me, which is why my favorite horror filmmaker is someone you probably wouldn’t consider a horror filmmaker: David Lynch. I dare you to watch anything he’s done, whether it’s his made-in-N.C. masterpiece “Blue Velvet,” his body-switching nightmare “Lost Highway” or his acclaimed, short-lived cult series “Twin Peaks,” and not feel dazed, confused and afraid to be left alone afterward. The same thing goes for another filmmaker I dig, also named David: David Cronenberg. His films (“Scanners,” his remake of “The Fly,” his adaptation of William Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch”) are often punctuated with graphic, gory moments that’ll haunt your dreams.
For the most part, most horror films are usually cheap, jump-scare fests that you might forget about the minute you leave the theater. I spent years reviewing one garbage scary movie after another for this paper (that is, whenever there would be a press screening; horror movies are notoriously known for not having screenings for critics), often wondering was it bad because I wasn’t scared or was it bad because, quite simply, it was bad.
But it seems the horror genre has been getting some much-needed jolts of fresh, new creativity of late. A friend of mine, film critic/writer Simon Abrams, recently wrote a piece on RogerEbert.com listing all the horror films released this year that he considers both adventurous and original. “The ship has sailed for found-footage horror films,” Abrams wrote, “and the tide is pulling us back to horror that uses violence realistically and disturbingly.” All I can say about that is hallelujah. As someone who saw “Blair Witch,” the lame follow-up to the 1999 found-footage groundbreaker “The Blair Witch Project,” that sagging bomb (it grossed $20.8 domestically) appears to have put the long-overdue final nail in the found-footage genre.
According to Abrams, there have been some well-made, mainstream horror films, like the home invasion thriller “Don’t Breathe” (which has a became a modest hit, grossing $88 million) and the follow-ups to “The Conjuring” and “Ouija,” which have both done well critically and financially. But Abrams also reports that if you want to watch really exceptional horror movies, you have to look for international spine-tinglers. He recommends “Demon” from Poland, “Under the Shadow” from Iran. and “Train to Busan” and “The Wailing,” both from South Korea.
“Train to Busan” is now playing at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, but in general finding foreign films is, as Abrams says, “a crap shoot. Some foreign titles get simultaneous Video On Demand and theatrical releases, but many don’t. Some foreign films barely get theatrical releases, let alone publicized to media outlets that can help get the word out.”
Abrams does have a point about inventive, original horror movies hailing from other parts of the world. Some of my favorite horror movies of recent years have come from such spots as Sweden (“Let the Right One In”), Australia (“The Babadook”) and New Zealand (“What We Do in the Shadows”). And let’s not forget about all the horror that just flows out of Asian countries (anything made by Takashi Miike – aka the David Lynch of Japan – I consider a must-see).
These days, when people can stay home and TV shows like “The Walking Dead,” “American Horror Story” and the Netflix critical darling “Stranger Things” or play video games like “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” horror movies really have to put up or shut up. Since I trust my boy Abrams, I’ll be on the lookout for the movies he listed. But I can’t guarantee I’ll be scared – unless mountain men are in it, they’re gonna have to find another way to mess me up real good.