Shocktober 2018: Part 1 – Saw, 28 Days Later & More
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October is that magical time of year when the leaves begin to die, the weather drops to bone-chilling temps, and it’s socially acceptable to eat cavity-inducing levels of sweets. Oh, and watching movies of people being brutally murdered.
Shocktober is the yearly endeavor where fans of horror attempt to watch a movie a day for the entire month. Realistically, most don’t abide by “one a night” stipulation. Instead, it’s an excuse to get together with friends and indulge in some horror goodness.
If you’re struggling for recommendations, I have compiled a weekly list for the remainder of October compiling 31 of my favorite horror films in total. These range from classic slashers to more modern psychological horror, hopefully offering enough variety to appease everyone’s taste.
1. 28 Days Later (2002)
Director: Danny Boyle
I consider 28 Days Later to be the definitive zombie film. Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) delivers not only a blood-soaked and horrifying vision of a zombie outbreak, but a stylized one at that. Picking up 28 days after the initial outbreak, protagonist Jim (Cillian Murphy) sets out across ravaged London in search of his parents.
Jim isn’t a soldier. He’s a bike messenger. He isn’t prepared to do the things he must to survive a zombie apocalypse. Watching his character evolve over the course of the film into a survivor is not only emotionally heartbreaking but a character study in the adapt or die mentality. What mostly separates 28 Days Later from other zombie films is its grounded premise, along with Danny Boyle’s run and gun visceral cinematography. It has a look that’s all its own, a bleak, guerilla style lens to portray his dark vision of post-apocalyptic England. The definitive zombie movie.
2. Green Room (2015)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Part of what makes Green Room’s premise so terrifying is just how plausible it is. Stranded in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by neo-Nazis that want to kill a ragtag band (literally) of misfits. Green Room’s punk rock nature is apparent in every aspect of the film, whether it be the characters, setting, or director Jeremy Saulnier’s (Blue Ruin) unique style of filmmaking.
Green Room is one of those movies that I couldn’t stop thinking about after my first viewing, which was strange considering just how simple its concept is. I attribute this mainly to how Saulnier approaches violence in his films. Violence in the movie is a sickening gut punch of raw emotion and savagery, yet it’s used sparing which is what makes it compelling. It’s more about the moments leading up to the violence rather than the acts themselves.
Once it gets going, Green Room is an adrenaline-pumping piece of film that can’t be stopped.
3. The Devil’s Candy (2015)
Director: Sean Byrne
Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) shatters the age old depiction of the devil as a bright red, pitchfork-wielding caricature. The Devil’s Candy dispels this traditional view of the devil in favor of showing how easily susceptible man is to his will.
Struggling artist Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry) and his family have just moved to the Texas countryside to start a new life. Soon after their arrival, the previous occupant’s son returns and becomes obsessed with the Hellman’s daughter, Zooey. What transpires is the best look at the beast we have seen in film.
This is very much a film about an imperfect family making the best of a lousy situation. What makes the Hellman’s so likable and believable is that they don’t subscribe to the overplayed horror genre tropes of a family plagued by domestic violence or hard drinking. We all see a small piece of ourselves in them.
Sean Bryne’s ability to give every scene an anxiety-inducing weight, as if someone just out of frame is controlling the film’s characters like marionettes, makes it engaging and nauseatingly tense throughout.
4. The Thing (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
Few horror classics can retain their scares as well as John Carpenter’s (Halloween) The Thing. Its timeless, practical effects make it one of the most sickening and hellish horror films ever made. Taking place in an Antarctica research facility, a group of researchers discover a monster that can replicate any life form it comes into contact with. Led by the heavy drinking and tough as nails helicopter pilot James McCready (Kurt Russell), they attempt to stop the monsters before it assimilates.
As is the case with a majority of Carpenter’s movies, his double duty as director and composer allows him to execute his uncompromising vision of horror flawlessly. Carpenter’s hypnotic score perfectly captures the remote Antarctic setting, which makes every scene unnerving. This unsettling score makes the paranoia of the crew palpable. Who can you trust? The movie’s practical effects remain as gruesome and memorable as they were in 1982. The stomach-churning monstrosities of The Thing remain some of the most inventive and bizarre creations ever to appear in horror. An absolute must watch classic.
5. The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
It’s always a pleasant surprise to stumble upon a relatively unknown film and have it surpass your expectations. The Babadook revolves around a widower and her eccentric son, both of whom are attempting, and failing, to return to a sense of normalcy to their lives after the loss of her husband. First and foremost, our protagonists played by Essie David and Noah Wiseman are both fantastic in their portrayals of a distraught mother and a child attempting to understand the world around him. Their relationship is what mostly separates the film from others on this list.
The Babadook’s scares come less from shock and instead on creating suspense as the mother and son’s relationship becomes more strained – and strange. One of the more emotional family driven horror films where the relationship feels genuine, avoiding many of the over the top family drama horror tropes.
Few best of horror lists omit The Babadook, and for a good reason as it’s a promising first horror debut for director Jennifer Kent.
6. Saw (2004)
Director: James Wan
Despite the Saw franchise having devolved into trashy torture porn, the original Saw remains groundbreaking for making audiences ask themselves: How far would you go for your freedom? Director James Wan (Insidious) shocked audiences with Saw’s gruesome gore as well as examining the depraved mind of the serial killer Jigsaw. Exploring Jigsaw’s depraved morality — he only kidnaps those who he feels have wronged society — as well as the twisted “games” or traps he crafts to teach his victims a lesson are terrifying. The plot follows two concurrent storylines: Jigsaw’s latest two victims who are confined to a bathroom, and the detectives hunting Jigsaw.
Its gruesome shock value aside, the original Saw was compelling for its gore as well as challenging viewers to uncover the mystery behind its character. Later films lacked the mystery and intrigue, opting in favor of murdering dozens of characters, of whom we are never made to care about, in the most depraved ways imaginable. Saw is not for those with a weak stomach, but if you can muster the courage, it is very much worth your time.
7. Last Shift (2014)
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Randomly stumbling upon horror gems on Netflix is incredibly rare, as a majority of their selection are classics you have seen a dozen times or low-budget/concept indie garbage. And judging by its cover art, Last Shift should have been of the later, but its smart scares and blending of psychological/jump scares make it a stand out.
Rookie cop Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy) is assigned to guard a police station the night before it’s decommissioned. What should be a straightforward assignment quickly gets out of hand as the spirits of past inmates still linger and lash out at Jessica. The concept of reversing the empowerment typically associated with law enforcement, as well as a cop protagonist was one I hadn’t seen in horror before.
Despite its low budget, Last Shift manages to produce genuine terror through well-balanced jump scares and psychological twists and turns. Uncovering the protagonist’s history, as well as the precinct’s, is an engaging fright fest that doesn’t disappoint.
8. The Collector (2009)
Director: Marcus Dunstan
The Collector is best described as a Saw inspired heist film. Retired thief Arkin (Josh Stewart) returns to his old ways when his family finds themselves in debt to the wrong people. In a last ditch effort, he breaks into a wealthy family’s home when they are away, but he isn’t the only unwelcome guest. A serial killer known as The Collector — nicknamed as such for taking one victim from each of his crime scenes — is in the home and has set several deadly traps Arkin must maneuver if he wants to make it out alive.
What initially stood out to me about The Collector was the style it was filmed in is different from a majority of horror films. A style most similar to Ocean’s 11, as multiple camera angles are on screen at once to show different parts of the house, resembling a blueprint. Then there’s the Sa- like nature of traps meant to maim and deter our protagonist from escape that evokes the similar stomach-churning injuries much like Saw. The Collector is a strange amalgamation of different inspirations and genres that shouldn’t work, but does, creating a uniquely tense and disturbing horror experience.
9. The Invitation (2015)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Before discussing The Invitation, I must make my one caveat regarding the film clear: Do not, under any circumstances, read extensively about the plot nor YouTube the trailer. The Invitation is best gone into cold, knowing only a brief description regarding its premise. I may gush extensively about what is easily my favorite thriller of the last few years. Apologies in advance.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his current girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are invited to a dinner party by Will’s ex-wife. After arriving, he’s greeted by friends as well as several strange guests of whom he is unfamiliar with. What transpires is a film that is a real test of nerves and unbearable tension. That’s a go-to horror line that is used ad nauseam, but I’ll say that The Invitation was the first movie to make me pause, and take a quick walk around my house before continuing.
The key to a slow burn is that the film must justify its methodical pacing with a grandiose pay off at the end and The Invitation does just this. A chilling ending along with one of the most iconic final shots ever, The Invitation is a film that will sit with you long after you finish it.
10. Hush (2016)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Being alone in the middle of the woods can be an unsettling situation for anyone. Now imagine if you were alone in the middle of the woods and were deaf.
Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a writer, who after a severe break-up, now lives in the secluded wilderness. One evening, a masked man wielding a crossbow shows up at her door, and Maddie will need to use the faculties at her disposal to survive this killer game of cat and mouse.
How director Mike Flanagan (Oculus) uses sound (in some cases a lack thereof) as well as technology the hearing impaired would use, adds another dimension to Hush that separates it from being just another cabin in the woods movie. Instead of treating Maddie as a disabled victim, she is an empowered woman who finds herself in an unthinkable situation. If you like your horror unique and tense, check out Hush.