Oh, Halloween. It’s the day of the year when the general population publicly declares its love for horror films, even if, for most of the year, the closest thing to horror that most people watch is something like the Minions movie.
But, still, at least horror movies do get their day in the sun – err, moon. For most people, that means putting on one scary movie that they’ve seen so many times that it no longer has any impact. Your Friday the 13ths, Halloweens, Nightmare on Elm Streets – these are the basics to any horror movie watcher. But this Halloween; let’s take a step slightly outside the comfort zone. Let’s watch some movies that have flown under the radar – although not so far as to be incredibly difficult to find. Here are five obscure horror movies to watch this Halloween.
Directed and written by Jen and Sylvia Soska. Produced by Evan Tylor and John Curtis. Release date: May 31, 2013.
If the goal of a horror movie is to be twisted and gross, then American Mary fits the bill and then some. The premise alone is likely to put more people off than draw people in, but, then, that’s the point. If you’re feeling comfortable, then the movie is likely not doing its job. It’s hard to come away from American Mary with that feeling.
The premise starts rather simply. Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is a medical student who falls behind on her bills. She heads to a strip club for an interview, but instead of taking off her clothes, she puts on a smock and is asked to save the life of a man in its basement – for $5,000. The fewer questions, the better. She discovers she’s pretty good at surgery and winds up leaving school to perform body modifications. If you’re already feeling squeamish, good. We’re not even at the horror elements, which start halfway through after a traumatic event that turns Mary from someone who does body modifications to, well, torture. And given her chosen profession, you can probably figure out how that torture manifests itself.
Beyond the premise, we have a strong character study of Mary, who is intelligent, powerful, and tragic. The few glimpses we get into her psyche are fascinating. You are rarely sure of how she’s going to handle a specific situation, so even without the gross-out scenes, American Mary is worth seeing. It was also directed by the Soska sisters (Vendetta, See No Evil 2, and Dead Hooker in a Trunk), who shoot some of the most beautiful horror of all filmmakers currently working. They don’t linger on some of the more gruesome moments, and they have a great sense of style.
If that isn’t enough, there’s also a woman who looks like Betty Boop in the movie. Tristan Risk plays someone who has had several surgeries to look exactly like the cartoon character, and honestly, just seeing that on-screen is enough to see American Mary. It’s not the only reason, but it’s certainly one of them.
Directed and written by Christopher Smith. Produced by Julie Baines, Martin Hagemann, Barry Hanson, Robert Jones, Kai Künnemann, and Jason Newmark. Release date: January 28, 2005.
There have been a couple of movies titled “Creep,” the latest of which was released earlier this year. But the one I’m talking about was from a decade before. Christopher Smith‘s Creep sees a woman named Kate (Franka Potente) trapped in a London subway station overnight. She fell asleep while waiting for her train, missed it, and then finds out that she can’t get out. And there’s something down there with her.
Creep does several things that make me greatly appreciate it. First off, its opening kill scene – which in most movies has little-to-no impact on the rest of the plot – comes back into the equation later on. Secondly, its lead character, Kate, begins the film like most horror movie characters: completely unlikable and someone we hope to die. But as she spends her night underground, she learns many things about herself and comes to understand how her actions impact others. It’s a moral movie, in a way.
Then there’s the thing. The villain is realized with some great makeup and a fantastic physical performance by Sean Harris. You can’t recognize the man underneath, although there’s still something human to it. Harris’ eyes do so much talking, bringing far more emotion and sympathy for his character than you’d expect. Most horror creatures get less scary the more you see them; the one in this movie manages to stay at a pretty terrifying level throughout. Creep also contains the single most effective jump startle I’ve ever seen at the movies.
Directed by John Fawcett. Produced by Karen Lee Hall and Steve Hoban. Written by Karen Walton and John Fawcett. Release date: May 11, 2001.
One of the best werewolf movies ever made, Ginger Snaps is intelligent, scary, and one heck of a ride. Set in the suburb of Bailey Downs, an ordinarily quiet place where dogs have inexplicably been turning up dead, Ginger Snaps is led by two sisters, Ginger and Brigitte (Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins), who like to think about death and get sad and stuff. They’re the prototypical goths, but they have each other, and that’s all that matters.
Unfortunately, one of them also gets attacked by some creature, and begins to experience “changes.” As we recognize earlier than anyone in the movie does, she’s becoming a werewolf. The two characters now have to figure out how to deal with this.
Ginger Snaps is so effective because of the way it portrays its characters, as well as its lycanthropy. Ginger and Brigitte are incredibly well-written, which ensures that you care about what they’re going through – yes, even with their goth attitudes, since we understand why they’ve chosen that form of expression. Lycanthropy is linked directly to puberty, which is a clever metaphor, although the film has more to say on adolescence than just that. It’s got some sharp observations about life as a teenager – particularly a teenage girl – and it’s quite funny at times. Maybe it’s this effective because it’s not a watered-down PG-13 film, which is always refreshing.
As this is a low-budget Canadian film, practical effects are used more often than not, and the filmmakers understand that using them sparingly is for the best. We only get to see the full werewolf transformation near the end, and since we hadn’t seen it at any point before, it comes across as more terrifying – particularly because we care about the individuals involved. Ginger Snaps is fantastic, and probably the best of the films on this list.
Directed and written by Pascal Laugier. Produced by Richard Grandpierre and Simon Trottier. Release date: September 3, 2008.
Martyrs is the type of film that gets mentioned on lists that feature movies like Salò, Irréversible, A Serbian Film, Antichrist, and so on. Yes, it’s one of the most disturbing movies that you’ll ever see. It may or may not have someone being flayed alive, for example. I’ll put it this way: I tried to get one of my friends to watch Martyrs, and we turned it off 10 minutes in – and that’s before it gets to the truly disturbing moments. Is that a good enough warning? This is not a film for most people and is by far the least accessible one on this list.
I don’t want to spoil Martyrs for you, and much of what I could say won’t matter without context, anyway. The film stars two women, Anna and Lucie (Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï). One of them was abused as a child, and they met in an orphanage. Most of Martyrs takes place 15 years after they first met. What takes place is something that you can read about yourself on Wikipedia or simply watch the film.
Martyrs is far more disturbing than it is scary. The most frightening thing about the film is that it will remain in your head for days, weeks, months, and maybe years after you watch it. There are some images that are incredibly difficult to forget, even if you’d rather they disappear from your mind. But it’s not just disturbing for the sake of being disturbing; there’s a story being told and some interesting points being made. This isn’t just torture porn for the sake of it, like, say, Hostel.
Directed and written by Quentin Dupieux. Produced by Gregory Bernard, Julien Berlan, and Kevos Van Der Meiren. Release date: February 25, 2011.
Rubber is about a psychic killer tire. If you’ve already tuned out, you’re not the type of person who would enjoy this movie. If you’re intrigued, then you will enjoy Rubber. Yes, it’s a serial killer movie in which the killer is a tire who can blow things up with its … mind? Can you call it a mind?
Anyway, the film follows this tire around for somewhere around 80 minutes, as we watch it go from place to place and kill various people. There’s a meta-narrative which has a random collection of citizens watching the tire go about its business – they’re the audience stand-in, but incredibly self-aware – and there are even parts of the tire’s story that stop and say “this isn’t real!” Rubber is such an odd little movie, and it’s one that has to be seen to be believed.
It’s also quite funny. It’s bizarre. It’s self-aware and self-indulgent. It starts off the rails and winds up nowhere near them. But does it ultimately work? Yeah, it does. It’s insane, but it’s also not unlike anything else you’ll see. The killer tire is good enough reason to see it, and the premise itself is enough reason to get me watching. The meta-narrative is both fascinating and annoying, pushing the line of how self-aware a film can be and still function. You may be asking, right now, what the point of the whole thing is. The movie addresses this. “No reason.” It opens with a scene in which a man addresses the camera and tells us that lots of movies have things happen for no reason and that Rubber is an homage to that. So, yes, you have to be in a very specific mindset to enjoy Rubber, but if you are, it’s amazing.