I firmly believe in the importance of reveling in Halloween-appropriate entertainment throughout the month of October. Throughout the month, I’m making recommendations of worthwhile and off-the-beaten-path Halloween media, from films to television to books to online subcultures. As Halloween approaches, I hope you’re delving in and watching some new horror flicks you’ve never seen, or revisiting old favorites. I’m recommending some Netflix Instant-accessible horror movies here that you may have passed over, or never heard of.
‘Starry Eyes’ (2014)
A SXSW favorite in 2014, this C-budget, “weird Hollywood” flick will appeal to fans of Black Swan and Satanist-cult-themed horror in the lineage of Rosemary’s Baby. The story focuses on a young actress, Sarah (Alex Essoe), stuck in a dead-end job at a tater tot-centric diner (something out of Tim and Eric) who gets a rare shot at a part in a feature film by a major studio. The price of securing the role, however, requires more than cold reading, and Sarah undergoes a series of sadistic “auditions” to gain her shot at stardom. The third act of the film is unexpectedly gory, making for one of the oddest plot arcs you’ll see in a recent horror film. The pacing, in general, is bizarre, which makes for plenty of unsettling, unusual moments. Though all the themes in the film are familiar for horror fans, you’re never sure exactly where it’s going to go, and nothing can prepare you for Sarah’s ultimate transformation.
‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’ (2014)
This is exactly the kind of horror film with an extremely garish poster where selective viewers fear to click when it pops up as a Netflix recommendation. Yes, it has a student film-like quality. But it’s one of the most resourceful and endearing found-footage films I’ve seen in a while, with a tremendously satisfying conclusion (the film basically builds to one fantastic shot, the one the filmmakers actually spent money on). The conceit: A woman’s struggle with Alzheimer’s is the subject of a student documentary, before it becomes clear that Deborah is dealing with something far more sordid. It starts to become clear that the spirit of a serial killer is somehow affecting events. There is some excellent snake work, and some effective super-budget scares that call back to the glory days of ‘50 horror, when soap suds could pass as sinister alien ooze. Ultimately, though Logan starts out dubiously — is it exploiting Alzheimer’s patients? Is this going to be scary at all? — it packs a unique charm.
This is about 80 minutes of hilarious but often legitimately creepy weird-out: a vaguely psychosexual tête-à-tête between two men that ultimately turns deadly. Whether or not you respect or are generally annoyed by Mark Duplass’ work as a mumblecore figurehead, you will enjoy this genuinely scary, highly unusual movie, in which he stars as an unpredictable and goofy psychopath who owns the creepiest wolf mask you’ll ever lay eyes on. Again, found footage — but with an air-tight and effective conceit that will satiate naysayers of that subgenre.
Jesus wept! A horror classic still maligned by some — or deemed too self-serious and yicky by others — Hellraiser is one of the several warhorses of horror you can access on Instant. The iconic “Pinhead”-led Cenobites — partially disemboweled, pale-faced half-monsters who lurk in a world between that of the dead and living — appear when a trick box is solved to wreak their unique brand of havoc on the person who calls them.
Their outlook is cold and Nietzschean, and they dole out flesh-tearing, BDSM-reminiscent treatments that take their victims to realms beyond pleasure or pain. They don’t like it when their prey escape their grip, and the cycle of events that occurs when wastrel and hedonist Frank Cotton returns from their realm to the earthly plane as no more than an amorphous hunk of flesh is horrifying and gory. After all, you have to go to great lengths to regain a human form again once the Cenobites have done a number on you. If you fancy yourself a horror fan, you have no excuse for not having watched this British classic yet.
‘The Fly’ (1958)
Before Cronenberg made it into a slimy Jeff Goldblum-starring ‘80s classic (hit up HBO Go to watch that), early sci-fi specialist Kurt Neumann adapted George Langelaan’s short story about a scientist who merges his own matter and DNA with that of a fly. It’s a beautifully shot film — in the glorious Hollywood Technicolor specific to its time period — with campy but amazing costuming and several fantastic sequences. Old American film buffs shouldn’t miss this one, and fans of the Cronenberg remake will get a kick of seeing the source material he twisted out of recognition to create his career tour de force.