It’s Halloween time again, and if you’re a horror movie fan, you might be tired of the same old thing and hoping for some fresh blood this year. In Part One of our annual Halloween streaming movie guide, we’re offering a selection of recent movies, from all different sources of dread (from djinns to zombies), as well as a suggestion for a double-feature pairing for each selection. This should provide many hours of mood-setting chills leading up to the holiday itself (and to our upcoming cult classics list), so, until then... sweet nightmares!
This spirited, silly horror movie—a Shudder exclusive—isn’t particularly original or scary, but Dead Shack (2018), with its memorable, grindhouse-like title, has enough charm to be worthy of a viewing by genre fans. Shy, awkward Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) is invited by his best friend, the abrasive, insulting twit Colin (Gabriel LaBelle) to join Colin’s family on a little vacation in a cabin in the woods. Jason has a little crush on Colin’s acerbic sister, Summer (Lizzie Boys), and his attempts to be kind to her are met with jokes. Colin and Summer’s father Roger (Donavon Stinson, quite funny) is a middle-aged goofball who only wants to get drunk with his cute new girlfriend, Lisa (Valeria Tian).
The three teens go exploring and come upon another cabin, where the sexy neighbor (Lauren Holly)—usually clad in tight-fitting black armor—cares for a horde of zombies by luring men there, drugging them, and turning them into zombie food. Aside from the three teens constantly blabbing and insulting each other, the rest of the story involves the usual investigating, screaming, gearing up, zombie-fighting, and splatters of gore, though certainly with a few fun surprises and genuine laughs. Double-feature idea: The final film in this list, Survival of the Dead (2010) [Hulu, Hoopla, TubiTV], by the zombie master George A. Romero was instantly dismissed upon its release and deserves another look.
The chilling, mysterious The Endless (2017) is a true low-budget discovery, with enough ideas and surprises for many movies. Co-directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, and written by Benson, the movie introduces two brothers, Aaron and Justin (played by the filmmakers), who were raised in a commune, but escaped. Justin, the eldest, believes that it was run by an evil cult and that they’re better off where they are, living in civilization and eating cups-o-noodles. But Aaron remembers all of it fondly, and misses it.
When they receive a strange videotape indicating that their former friends are still alive, Aaron wants to visit. Justin warily agrees, and as the visit becomes longer and longer, the brothers discover many weird, disturbing secrets, and even more questions, such as: What’s the reason behind the double moons? Moorhead and Benson get multitudes from their cast, their effortless FX, and simple locations, and it will surely leave heads spinning. Double-feature idea: James Ward Byrkit’s low-budget Coherence (2013) [Amazon Prime, Hulu, Shudder] plays with similar, smart themes, although don’t watch it until after!
The Girl with All the Gifts
There are so many zombie movies out there right now, and they’re mostly a dime-a-dozen, but Colm McCarthy’s The Girl with All the Gifts (2017) comes up with some fresh ideas, and, like the best zombie movies, is rooted in human characters and concerns. Based on Mike Carey’s acclaimed novel, the story is set in the future, where a kind of fungus has caused a zombie outbreak. Scientist Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) hopes to find a cure, mainly because there are certain children that still think and speak and act like humans, even though they hunger like zombies. Young Melanie (Sennia Nanua) seems to be the smartest and most promising of the children, and her teacher Helen (Gemma Arterton) agrees.
Unfortunately, rogue zombies (here called “hungries”) infiltrate their facility, and they must take to the woods, accompanied by the usual military types (Paddy Considine and Fisayo Akinade) to seek safety and shelter. Even if he stoops to all-too-ordinary scares from time to time, director Colm McCarthy (TV’s Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc.) interestingly juxtaposes the miserable, prison-like interiors that begin the film, with the lush, green, overgrown city streets in the second half, and it’s a solid, smart effort. Double-feature idea: Henry Hobson’s unsung Maggie (2015) [Rental—iTunes, Amazon, etc., from $2.99] is a zombie film as touching family drama, with fine performances by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin.
The Loved Ones
(Amazon Prime, TubiTV)
Australian director Sean Byrne’s crazed horror film The Loved Ones (2012) manages a perfect balance of humanity, dark, dry humor and bloody terror. Handsome high-schooler Brent (Xavier Samuel) blames himself for his father’s death in a car accident. But things are finally looking up for him, and he has a date to the prom with a girl who loves him. However, when shy Lola (Robin McLeavy) also asks him, and after he is forced to turn her down, all hell breaks loose.
Ms. McLeavy is a true find, managing to use her eyes and body to convey coyness, shyness, sultriness, and downright insanity. Simultaneously, Brent’s best pal, a tubby stoner called Sac (Richard Wilson) manages a date with the sexy, dangerous Mia (Jessica McNamee), with equally bizarre consequences. The movie constantly skitters in unexpected directions via these two subplots, and Byrne’s use of space and light is already very highly skilled; he gets some good dark laughs. Double-feature idea: Why not pair this with Byrne’s long-awaited follow-up, the equally playful, potent The Devil’s Candy (2015) [Netflix]?
The Love Witch
(Amazon Prime, Kanopy)
Many movies lately have tried to pay tribute to that special kind of bold, pastel-colored European horror film of the 1970s, but only Anna Biller’s The Love Witch (2016) is so authentic it seems to have arrived as if via a time capsule. It’s so thoroughly steeped in its design that no hint of the modern day comes through (it was shot on honest-to-goodness 35mm film). It’s a long movie, sometimes bizarre and unsettling, but frequently sexy and mesmerizing, thanks mainly to the presence of Samantha Robinson as Elaine, the title witch.
She decides she wants to find her ideal mate, moves to California, rents a room in a Victorian house, and begins casting spells. But these prove too much for a teacher, a cop, and a married man to handle. The movie’s satirical look at male and female roles and mores is the only thing that seems out of the 21st century, but refreshingly so; Biller brilliantly uses the genre format to sprinkle her discourse with a little fun. Double-feature idea: The only thing that can be done is to see this with a vintage Italian horror film, such as the king of them all: Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) [Hoopla, TubiTV].
One of the decade’s finest and scariest horror films, Mike Flanagan’s Oculus (2013) is about a creepy mirror, not a new thing in horror tales, but this one actually offers several fresh twists. After having killed his father as a boy, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) is released from an 11-year stint in an asylum. His sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) immediately asks him to participate in a ritual to destroy the mirror she thinks caused all the trouble. Once in the house, no more rules apply.
The mirror has the power to create illusions, which leads to flashbacks on the children’s homicidal father (Rory Cochran) and hysterical mother (Katee Sackhoff). The flashbacks are meant to be deceptive, folding into reality and into falsehoods, and sending the characters on unhealthy tangents. Unlike in most horror, the vivid, bonded characters emotionally anchor the proceedings; they are smart and attempt to stay one jump ahead of the scares. Yet nothing quite unfolds as it seems like it’s going to. This was Flanagan’s breakthrough feature, and since then he has only further proven himself to be an up-and-coming master of horror. Double-feature idea: John Erick Dowdle’s panned found-footage As Above, So Below (2014) [Netflix] also features not-quite-what-they-seem hallucinations, and deserves a second shot.