By Richie Reitzfeld
It kills me to say this, but horror films have been pretty shitty as of late. In a genre that provides writers and filmmakers an outlet by which some of the most interesting and depraved aspects of the human psyche can be explored, we are mostly presented with contrived plots and cheap scares.
In a word, one could say that horror has largely become trite. But fear not horror fans (get it?), for not all hope is lost: There still exist some horror gems that will make you scream, squirm, and think – should you be courageous enough to view them.
Here is a list of four horror films guaranteed to push your senses to overload in ways you’ve never experienced, and restore your faith in the horror genre. It’s currently 11:00 PM, and I’ve spent the past eight hours watching these back to back. It’s feeling like a lights-on kind of night.
A Serbian Film (2011)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 44%
IMDb Score: 5.5/10 – Serbia
I have never screamed as often or as loudly while sitting alone in my apartment as I did while watching A Serbian Film. I’m serious. For about 30% of this film I was alternating between roaring “JESUS CHRIST!!”, “WHAT THE FUCK?!”, and what I can only describe as a low-pitched, throaty wail-moan which crescendoed and decrescendoed over the length of entire scenes.
I can say with quite a bit of confidence that it is probably the most twisted and depraved series of events to have ever been committed to film. This movie’s existence both gives me hope for horror, and frightens me because it means that somewhere, someone is walking around on this planet with shit like this in his head.
The story centers on a retired porn star, who at one point in his life was a legend in the porn industry. He’s moved past his days of film fornication, however, and has since settled down with a wife and child. Unfortunately for him, savings from his “acting” career have begun to dwindle, and porno pension is practically nonexistent. He is approached by a former “co-worker” who presents to him an opportunity to star in one last high-paying role.
Strapped for cash, he begrudgingly signs a contract to star in the film with no knowledge of what it will entail. How bad could it be, right? Bad. Really fucking bad. What ensues is a whirlwind of murder, child rape, necrophilia, incest, and snuff porn so overwhelming I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to puke, poop my pants, or just give up and run somewhere less horrifying than my living room, like North Korea. But I persevered. It was exhausting, but somehow I managed to sit on my couch for two hours without moving.
A Serbian Film restores my faith in the horror genre for its unapologetic exploration and depiction of subject matter too depraved and taboo to have made its way to film until now.
Important Disclaimer: All humor aside, this one is a tough watch. Every aspect of it is explicitly and graphically depicted. DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM if you have a low threshold for gore, sexual depravity, or rape/incest depiction. You have been warned.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
IMDb Score: 8.0/10 – Sweden
As far as horror movies go – and movies in general really – Let The Right One In is a treat. It is one of the more subtle, even charming vampire films ever made, with incredible performances from a tremendous cast. In fact, the film is so good that it was recently remade in America, under the name Let Me In.
I actually saw Let Me In first, and I thought it was the best vampire movie I’d ever seen. Then I saw Let The Right One In. This movie very quietly walks a line that borders creepy, frightening, uplifting and depressing at the same time, all the while contained within a quasi-romance. And yet, no one element is ever explicit or overwhelmingly more apparent than the other at any point.
Our protagonist is a lonely young boy living in the wake of a divorce and suffering at school from bullies and loneliness. His life takes a turn when a young girl and her elderly companion move in next door, and the two children slowly begin to form a friendship. As not to spoil the beautiful subtlety of the film’s reveals, all I’ll tell you is that we see the evolution of their relationship, and that somewhere there are vampires, vengeance, and sweet, sweet justice. Especially having just come off of watching A Serbian Film, this horror drama went down smoother than any other film I’ve seen in its genre.
Let The Right One In restores my faith in the horror genre due to beauty and care with which the film is shot and its story is told. You’ll find no cheap jump-scares contained within this vampire masterpiece – just a subtly chilling curiosity and care that persist throughout.
Dead Alive (Braindead) (1992)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
IMDb Score: 7.5/10 – New Zealand
Dead Alive is the kind of film you can tell was a blast to make. This Peter Jackson (Lord Of The Rings, King Kong) gore-fest straddles the line between horror and comedy, depicting violence so graphic and disgusting you can’t help but laugh at its absurdity.
The film has a deceptive beginning: At first I couldn’t tell if I was watching a horrible, campy piece of crap – which I probably would have found equally as enjoyable, but for different reasons – or a purposefully crafted parody of the former. It was the latter. The initial goofiness fast becomes endearing, and once Jackson begins to have his sick and twisted way with the characters, you can’t help but be transfixed.
I legitimately retched at various points throughout the film, only to crack up immediately after. I’ve never quite been affected by a film in such a way. While its plot is cliche – animal imported from a foreign country, bites someone, zombies ensue – its execution is nothing short of a creative masterclass. At the time of its release – and very arguably still true today – Dead Alive was heralded as the goriest film of all time.
Its slow, disgusting, hilarious progression builds into a final half-hour – dare I say – gore de force bloodbath featuring sentient entrails, mutant zombie copulation and subsequent mutant zombie childbirth, and a glorious showdown between a zombie hoard and our lawnmower-wielding protagonist. Dead Alive is a mind fuck of a film that’s sure to leave you asking yourself, “…What the hell did I just watch?”
Dead Alive restores my faith in the horror genre for its brilliantly creative violence and grossness, which oscillates between hilarious and horrifying at a pace so frenzied that the line between the two begins to blur.
Funny Games (1997)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%
IMDb Score: 7.6/10 – Austria
Dude, this movie is intense. No joke, it is psychological torture of the highest caliber. Its premise is very simple, but it remains both absolutely terrifying and completely believable – barring one or two outrageously meta moments – throughout.
It’s impossible not to empathize with every step of the horrific experience the protagonal family undergoes. A family comprised of a mother, father, and son (a child) arrives at their semi-isolated vacation house for some much desired R&R. Through a series of – at first – seemingly coincidental happenings, two strangers wind up in the house and begin to slowly and systematically terrorize the family, asserting complete control over them purely for their own sadistic pleasure.
This is full on edge-of-the-seat, “holy fuck”, can’t-look-away tension the entire way through. The extreme calm with which the two antagonists assert their dominance over the family sets the tone of this film; the faux justifications they give for their actions are asserted with such confidence that at times I almost found myself believing they were perfectly in the right. And then I felt genuine guilt when I realized that.
Funny Games restores my faith in the horror genre for its measured tension pacing, which builds steadily without escalating in tone, creating a terrifying film that feels like a depiction of actual events.
What are your favorite horror films? Do you think the genre needs restoring?