A much-needed election break to talk about really good (and bad) horror movies
As I’ve pointed out before, the timing of the Metro Spirit’s street date can create some problems for the content of this column. My deadline is somewhere between Monday night and Tuesday morning — depending on how many men are punching each other in the head on television that weekend — so anything that happens between Tuesday and Thursday is pretty much a black hole when it comes these pages: too late to include in that week’s column, too far back to relevantly include in next week’s.
I’ve made some exceptions — this cycle’s first presidential debate — but even then, other people have already said pretty much everything I want to say, and probably better.
And look, it’s not like nothing politically relevant has happened these last few days. There’s fodder aplenty: during a debate in which Joe Biden absolutely ate Paul Ryan for breakfast, the GOP vice-presidential hopeful had the balls to say that he and Romney were willing to strive for “bipartisan solutions” in Congress, which is such a hilariously blatant lie, every computer at the factcheck.org offices shorted out from all the stupefied drool.
Romney, meanwhile, accused Obama on being soft on China, while Romney benefits from outsourcing jobs to — wait for it — China. So… there’s that. While we’re on the topic, Republicans, you’d better not wait too long after this election to reveal that you were really orchestrating some epic, Andy Kaufman-level cultural troll job, or history will not be kind to you.
Anyway, this column falls into a similar deadspot. We just wrapped up one debate, but another one falls on the day this column is due. Because of that, I feel no remorse in ordering you to watch certain horror films this Halloween. I mean, you can probably find some political subtext to it (“Josh hates popular, big-budget horror films because socialism”), but I wouldn’t recommend it. Serial killers have a sixth sense for stupid, and they’ve run out of babysitters in basements.
1. “The Cabin in the Woods” (Director, Drew Goddard; Co-Writer/Producer, Joss Whedon)
This magnificent son of a bitch just came out on DVD and Blu-Ray, so if you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re f***ing doing and go buy it. Don’t even bother with Netflix. Just spend 25 of your hard-earned dollars on it, as doing so will — spoiler alert — appease the Ancient Ones, and will undo most of the bad karma you’ve earned by going to see a “Saw” movie each of the past six years.
What It’s About: Without giving too much away, a few college-age friends take a trip out to a remote cabin, where boobs and murder ensue. If the plot seems tired and derivative, that’s because the filmmakers intended it. The whole of slasher film convention is offered up here for dissection, for justification, and the results are thought-provoking, hilarious and often downright scary in and of themselves.
Why You Should See It: Joss Whedon. Pre-“Thor” Chris Hemsworth. Oscar-nominated Richard Jenkins. Emmy-nominated and “Billy Madison” alum Bradley Whitford. WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS?!
2. “House of the Devil” (Director, Ti West)
West has been slowly making his name in horror circles over the past decade or so with a handful of shorts, but this is the film that kick-started the hype. Combining all the best elements of Hitchcock, Carpenter and the occult, they really don’t make films like this anymore. Except for this one.
What It’s About: A tale as old as time — girl agrees to babysit at stupidly creepy house for a suspiciously large fee, girl hears noises upstairs, girl investigates, oh my god why is that old woman wearing a goat mask.
Why You Should See It: Like “The Cabin in the Woods,” “House of the Devil” transcends what modern audiences know as conventional horror. Unlike “Cabin,” however, West’s film succeeds in its ability to fully embody and make newly terrifying the stereotypes that Whedon’s baby takes so much care to lampoon. And though the film is rife with jump-scares and expertly wrought tension, it’s the sympathetic, believable characters inhabiting this film that imbue it with such finely tuned terror and grace.
3. “Werewolf” (Mystery Science Theater)
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that humanity reached its cultural zenith with “Mystery Science Theater,” and we’ve just been trying to increase the drag on the plummet since. In case you don’t know, the show involves two robots (Crow and Tom Servo) and their creator Joel (in later seasons, Mike) being forced to watch terrible sci-fi as an experiment by bored mad scientists. To stave off insanity, they take to riffing on and making fun of the movie, in an undertaking not dissimilar to what the Metro Spirit pays me to do.
What It’s About: Digging in the Arizon desert, a team of archaeologists unearths a strange skeleton, and I won’t insult your intelligence here by telling you what it is. One of the workers is scratched by it and turns into, judging by the mask he wears in the movie, an unholy hybrid of a fruit bat and a ferret. The production values are insanely low; there are films from 1982 about chlamydia that have better pacing.
Why You Should See It: I’ve watched every single episode of MST3K at least eight times, and this is easily the funniest. There’s insult fodder aplenty: a vaguely European female lead who pronounces “werewolf” every way but the right one (“worwelf,” “warwilf,” “wehrwalf”), overwrought dialogue, and a storyline that’s more seizure than plot. If you have Netflix, you have no reason to not get this.
4. “Bubba Ho-Tep” (Starring Bruce Campbell, and that’s all you need to know)
I don’t know what combination of Anne Rice novels, Mad Libs and meth author Joe R. Lansdale was on when he wrote the award-winning novella this movie is based on, but the man apparently knows how to cut a line. Ostensibly, endearingly low-budget and borderline family friendly, it’s actually suitable for most 16-and-over crowds.
What It’s About: (deep breath) In the present day, Elvis (Bruce Campbell) and black JFK (Ossie Davis) team up at a backwater Texas nursing home to battle a decrepit mummy that has taken to harvesting the souls of the home’s residents.
Why You Should See It: Did you even read that? Every plot element is scientifically nuttier than anything Paul Broun and the makers of “Loose Change” could come up with after an all-night Mountain Dew and menthols session. And yet, it works. Campbell’s Elvis is not just one of the funnier, spot-on interpretations of the King, but one of the most honest and respectful, and Davis’ JFK is a subtle show-stealer with some real dialogue gems:
JFK: Lyndon Johnson sent someone to finish me off! I think it may have been Johnson himself!
Elvis: Uh, Jack, President Johnson’s dead.
JFK: S**t, that ain’t gonna stop him.
5. “The Horde” (Directors, Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher)
Without knowing much of anything about it, I clicked play on this film during a late-night Netflix exploration, and it was the best baseless choice I made since I decided to go to grad school.
What It’s About: A hardcore team of cops, out for vengeance in the name of a fallen comrade, launch an attack on a drug lord holed up in a dilapidated housing project. The mission goes awry, they’re captured, when suddenly… zombies!
Why You Should See It: Unlike some of the other films on the list, this one is refreshingly, deliciously uncomplicated. These people need to get out of the building, but about 16 floors of undead stand in their way, so they mow them down in increasingly devastating, genius ways. It’s like all the best parts of “The Raid,” “Dredd 3D” and “Dawn of the Dead” injected with synthetic testosterone and grain alcohol.
As an aside, I’d like to thank my editors for indulging me on this column. Next week, I’ll be back to calling Tea Partiers racist.You Might Also Like: