October 25, 2012

The Movies: 10 great horror movies you've never heard of

Our resident film geek loves to have the bejesus scared out of him. Today, he shares favorite flicks that were up to the challenge.

By DENNIS PERKINS

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“The Orphanage” rises to the level of greatness in the horror genre, as do "Pontypool," “The House of the Devil,” “Martin,” “Behind the Mask” and others, shown below.

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"Pontypool"

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"Are You the Walkers?" (2011): Featured on last year's edition of the Maine-made horror anthology "Damnationland," director Derek Kimball's film is a masterful example of short-form storytelling, employing skillful editing and diabolically judicious deployment of facts to lead inexorably to one of the most chilling endings I've ever seen. (Yeah, I said it.)

Two estranged friends retreat for a weekend of male bonding to an isolated lakeshore cabin. A blizzard, an unexpected knock at the door, the discovery of a strange object and the use of a horror prop so ingenious I can't believe I've never seen it used before. For anyone who's ever listened to the howl of the Maine winter wind and prayed for morning

"Stakeland" (2010): Like a vampiric version of "The Road," "Stakeland" posits a post-apocalyptic America where humans cower among the decaying ruins of civilization, hiding out from the conquering bloodsuckers. A taciturn lone wanderer (Nick Damici) reluctantly takes on a young traveling companion after the boy's family is sucked dry. Together, the pair set out for a rumored sanctuary in Canada, coping with the animalistic vamps and barbaric humans who've taken up a particularly nasty brand of Christian fundamentalism.

Making effective use of its miniscule budget and delivering both exciting and bloody action and good, small-scale performances (including a nearly unrecognizable Kelly McGillis), "Stakeland" delivers a uniquely grim twist on the vampire genre.

"The House of the Devil" (2009) Director Ti West creates what could easily be a 1985 long-lost horror cult classic in this atmospheric, deviously-directed chiller about a young college student (Jocelin Donahue) who, desperate for money, answers the "babysitter wanted" flier from a creepy local couple (brilliantly played by genre vets Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov). Once she and her chirpy tagalong pal Great Gerwig arrive at the couple's requisitely creepy mansion, Noonan reveals that her assignment isn't exactly what she was told, and as the night goes on, she gradually realizes things are even less ideal than she thought.

West is clearly a student of the genre, and the way he plays with the expected conventions and springs unexpected twists along the way produces alternating gasps and giggles.

"The Orphanage" (2007): In this Spanish-language haunted house flick, a woman (the exquisitely weathered Belen Rueda) moves her husband and young son back into her gothic childhood home, which she intends to turn into an orphanage for handicapped children. Of course, there are buried secrets, hidden rooms, a spooky medium (Geraldine Chaplin) foretelling terrible things and her son's imaginary friend, a silent little guy in a creepy burlap mask who Rueda starts glimpsing at unexpected times around the house and grounds.

Directed by J.A. Bayona, "The Orphanage" has a lot in common with Guillermo Del Toro's celebrated "The Devil's Backbone," but I think this one is even better. Bayona's skill with sudden, deeply shocking reveals and Rueda's beautifully empathetic performance provide added layers to the well-worn plot.

"Cube" (1997): Like a particularly brilliant and nasty episode of "The Twilight Zone," this fiendish Canadian puzzle box of a movie sets up an outlandish, irresistible premise and then spends 90 minutes squeezing every drop of tension out of it.

Seven strangers wake up in identical cube-shaped rooms. They're all dressed in jumpsuits stenciled with their names and have no memory of how they got there. Each of the six walls of the rooms have an identical hatch leading to an identical room. Oh, and some of the rooms are equipped with very. very nasty booby traps.

As each victim tries to make sense of their predicament, we're in the same boat. You know, except that we're not in danger of being sliced to ribbons if we make the wrong choice. With decent performances from the increasingly desperate victims, "Cube" is a diabolically constructed terror device.

"May" (2002): A lonely, troubled and decidedly odd young woman (the remarkable Angela Bettis) tentatively reaches out for friendship and love, only to react to her inevitable rejection in, shall we say, eccentric ways in this bloody, disturbing and oddly touching character study from director Lucky McKee.

Bettis' May, with her social awkwardness, her isolation and her lazy eye, is the quintessential outcast, except that her perpetual silent marginalization masks a lurking insanity that eventually reveals itself in a third-act outburst (appropriately occurring on Halloween) as brutal as it is tragically poetic. A shocking and beautiful final shot.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

 

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“Cube,” a 1997 release out of Canada, finds seven strangers held captive in seven identical cube-shaped rooms, some of which are diabolically booby-trapped.

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