Countdown to Halloween: Hidden Gems in the Dark by Avon Gale

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Hello! My name is Avon Gale, and I’m here today to tell you about a few of my favorite horror movies. As a horror fan, my favorite films tend to be atmospheric, supernatural movies but I’m a sucker for found-footage films, anything having to do with demons, and a good twist-on-a-classic. I think I’ve probably watched the entirety of Netflix’s horror collection, and I’ve given more than a few Amazon Prime horror films (or, more appropriately, “films”) a chance. I’d say about 35% of what I watch is enjoyable, and of that, 10% is fantastic.

So, while I have a lot of well-known favorite horror movies – my favorite being The Haunting (the old version, that remake is dead to me :|) – including classics like The Shining, The Exorcist, etc, I wanted to share a few of the gems I’ve found that you might not have heard of. They range from sci-fi horror to supernatural horror to psychological horror, but each one spooked me and I’d recommend any movie here without reservation.

Here we go!


Let Us Prey

This is a Scottish horror movie about a mysterious prisoner who shows up in a police station, and causes…things…to happen, with the other prisoners *and* the police. It’s admittedly got a few problems, but I love this film mostly for the unconventional romance (seriously, the ending. OMG. /swoons). It’s a clever little movie but please be advised – it’s *very* graphic with some heavy bloodshed. This is part slasher film and part supernatural horror, and yes, part romance. I tweeted about how romantic the ending was, in fact, and the film’s director (!) tweeted back saying very few people appreciated the romance. Leave it to a romance fan, eh? Anyway, not for the faint of heart, this one, but the ending. Gah.

Spring

This is technically creature!horror with a bit of a supernatural twist…but it’s mostly a romance. It’s got amazing dialogue that will crack you up when you least expect it, and it’s so well-done. It’s about a guy who goes to Italy following some family woes, and meets a girl with whom he falls immediately in love. But she’s more than just a girl. Seriously, this is *delightful*, okay? Just watch it and then come squee with me about how amazing it is.

 

It Follows

This is, hands down, the best horror movie I’ve seen in probably a decade. You might have heard of this one, as it got a lot of attention a few years ago. But listen – I still think about a certain scene from this movie when I wake up at night and am in the kitchen or the bathroom. It makes me shiver and dash back into my bed, so. This movie is beautifully written, gorgeously shot (there’s an awesome time-dysphoria thing going on, which lends a dreamlike, timeless quality to the film) with a simple and chilling premise. I also want to talk forever about the various interpretations and meanings, and I love the characters so much.

 

White Bear episode of Black Mirror

I highly recommend the entire Black Mirror series, which you can find on Netflix. The series features chilling tales about the dark side of technology, and while I love all of them, “White Bear” remains one of the most unsettling and terrifying things I’ve ever seen. What’s so frightening about this is how it could happen, and…ugh. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to ruin it, but it’s only an hour and trust me, it’ll freak you out. It’s giving me the shivers just thinking about it.  

The Atticus Institute

It’s no secret that I love anything having to do with demons and demonic possession. No matter how bad it is, I will probably watch it (ditto with found-footage films). This film has one of the most interesting takes on demonic possession that I’ve come across, and it’s filmed as a faux-documentary, which is a conceit I absolutely love.  Rather than taking a religious angle, this film is about a woman who shows up at a paranormal research institute in the 70’s, and is kept for observation for several weeks. The mockumentary-style film is set in present-day with flashbacks to the 70’s, and deals with the idea of the military attempting to weaponize a demonic entity. This movie was actually the inspiration for my upcoming short story in the “All in Fear” anthology by Open Ink Press, thanks to a quick interview with an Air Force soldier that planted a seed in my demon-loving brain. Really unique take on a favorite horror trope.

The Invitation

This is a wonderful example of how horror doesn’t have to rely on ghosts or masked madmen to be effective. This one’s a psychological thriller in some ways, about a group of people at a dinner party who have intertwined – and complicated, uncomfortable — pasts. There’s a masterful build-up of tension in this movie, and you’re never quite sure what’s happening or if things are as sinister as they appear. This is not a movie that is going to appeal to everyone. If you’re not into the slow-build thing, you might want to skip this one – but if you give it a chance, trust me, the payoff is more than worth it. Thinking about the last scene of this movie gives me chills. 

The Witch

A very slow-burn horror set in Colonial America, this movie is incredible. It’s brilliantly written and acted, and deals with a family that’s been ostracized from their community. It’s another one that relies on tension and dread to be effective, and some people might hate the period-appropriate dialogue but I absolutely loved it. A perfect atmospheric horror film for a cold night. Unique and original and just all around a wonderful addition to the genre. 

Arq

This is a Netflix Original that just came out, and it’s about a machine that causes a time loop, an estranged couple, and a dystopian future. If I say any more than that, I’ll ruin it. Brilliantly acted film with an obvious low budget, this is horror sci-fi at its best – a great mix of tension and interpersonal drama that moves the plot along instead of stymying it. The action starts off right at the beginning and doesn’t let up, and I loved this movie for not forcing the audience to try and understand why the characters are in the situation they’re in. It just throws you in with them, and lets you figure out as they do. Really brilliant.

The Final Girls

So, I love horror but one thing I could do without? The “woman in peril” plotline. Not that I can’t appreciate it when it’s done well, and I know that most survivors in horror movies tend to *be* women, but I especially can’t stand it when the woman has to be pregnant just to “make it more horrible” that she’s in danger. Anyway, tangent aside, this movie is a highly-stylized production that reminded me a bit of a comic book. It’s beautifully filmed, with these deep bright colors and contrasting shadows, and it’s unclear what time period it’s set in. The premise is a girl who has been trained to take on a group of murderous, privileged young men who like to hunt and kill women. Watching the main character kick ass is so satisfying, I can’t even. This movie might not appeal to many *because* it’s so stylized, but it’s different and unique and I found it really enjoyable.

(note – there are two movies with this name, and honestly, I recommend both of them. This one is the shorter of the two, and was my favorite simply because it was so different from anything I’ve ever seen.)

 

Muirhouse

This movie has a terrible rating on IMDB, and it infuriates me because I thought it was awesome. It’s a slow-burn horror movie as well, about a paranormal investigator who spends some time – not even a night – in the haunted Muir House. Look, this isn’t the movie for you if you want jump scares galore or things explained and resolved. The majority of the movie is this one guy in the house, in which strange things keep happening and freaking him out. This is a supernatural movie that does amazing things with tension and dread, and one of the better found-footage films I’ve seen in the last few years.  

The Ceremony

I’m putting this movie on here because it is absolutely one of my favorites, and I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve searched and searched, and it’s like this damn thing no longer exists. It’s from 2008 and it’s about a guy trapped in his house while sinister things happen…and other than that, I can’t really explain it without giving anything away. All I can tell you is that I’m SO MAD I can’t find this, because I was only able to watch it twice and now it appears to have vanished (there are other films with this title, but this one is from 2008 and there’s a single trailer on YouTube that is terrible and not representative of this film at all). The film is about as low-budget as you get, featuring one actor in a perfectly normal college-ish duplex, stuck inside with the remnants of his absent-roommate’s class project. So good.

IF ANYONE FINDS ME THIS MOVIE I WILL SERIOUSLY SHOWER YOU WITH GRATITUDE, BOOKS, WHATEVER YOU WANT. I’m so enamored of it that I have a half-written story inspired by it, and I can’t work on the story because every time I try, I just get angry that I can’t find the movie >:( One day, ONE DAY, this will be available again and you’ll hear me yelling from Missouri.

A couple others to check out if you’re so inclined:

Housebound, They Look Like People, The Taking of Deborah Logan, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (the most brilliant take on a slasher film ever), The Dark, Grave Encounters, The Houses October Built, Ava’s Obsessions (hilarious horror-comedy), Rows,  Hush, You’re Next, and Lake Mungo.

Honestly, I can go on and on, so if you want to talk horror, please do! Hit me up on Twitter at @avongalewrites anytime!!

 

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Countdown to Halloween: Halloween Watching with Ginn Hale

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Halloween Watching with Ginn Hale

I love Halloween; it has been my favorite holiday since 1976, when I first had the surreal experience of seeing the streets of my new neighborhood flooded with hundreds of small monsters—all clutching little sacks, laughing and running wild through the darkness.

At that time I was only eight and had lived in the mountains, largely removed from American culture. I had no idea what I was witnessing; I only knew that it appeared to be a night when strangers opened their doors to the weirdest of creatures and gifted them with candy, fruit, and baked goods.  

From my uninformed perspective Halloween seemed to embody the most generous and beautiful capacities of human beings and our communities. Here were people, looking past alien, strange, frightening and often ugly appearances—even welcoming them with exclamations like, ‘Oh what big teeth you have!’— and celebrating their very ‘otherness’.

As a stranger—and something of a little weirdo—I was nearly moved to tears.

Though I have long since learned about the genuine origins of Halloween, that first impression has remained with me. To this day I think of the holiday as a celebration of diversity; a time when the small generosities of a neighborhood can accumulate into treasuries of sweetness, and when strangers at the door are greeted warmly no matter what they look like or how different they seem.

With that in mind I’ve compiled a list of a few Halloween movies that I feel reflect my idea of Halloween.

The first two are very much a joy to watch for kids and adults alike.  

Nightmare Before Christmas

Vivid, animated musical about the king of Halloween, growing bored and deciding that he and his people should dedicate themselves to the production of Christmas.   

ParaNorman

Also animated and very stylized, ParaNorman tells the story of a boy who can see ghosts and his attempt to placate the spirit of a wronged witch. This one stands out to me for the depth of side characters, truly funny slap-stick and an ending that speaks to both the difficulty and power of forgiveness.

Next are films that contain more adult themes or violence but are still funny and also reflect a surprising depth of humanity.

Young Frankenstein

A comedy classic that still manages to evoke the poignant isolation felt by a monster. It’s hilarious, sweet, and silly.

Shaun of the Dead

A zombie movie that pokes fun at zombie movies, while staying true to them and contemplating the importance of friendship.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Like Sean of the Dead, Tucker & Dale is a send-up (this time of the slasher in the woods sort of films). But here the would-be killers are the protagonists while the boisterous college students who are so often the fodder of these kinds of films become the relentless threat.

The final list of films are, on the surface, straight up horror, involving vampires, zombies, insane killers and invading monsters. But these films are also studies of coming to terms with suffering, loss, alienation and violence both from outside and within ourselves.  Be warned that the endings of these films are often satisfying but not always happy.

(While Attack the Block and The Host both have comedic elements, their overall tone and their endings made me include them with this group instead of the more up-beat ones listed above.)

The Host (Korean Film not American film based on Stephanie Myers book)

A dysfunctional family slowly pulls together to attempt to save one of their own from a monster. It’s the unique combination of quirkiness, terror, and sincerity that makes this a fascinating watch, for me.

Pan’s Labyrinth

A beautiful and horrific recounting of the Spanish Civil War as seen through a lens of fairy tale grotesquery. This film is brutal in its depiction of war, cruelty and sacrifice. It would be almost unbearable if not for the sheer magic of it.   

The Babadook

An inventive, tense, and scary study of a woman battling not to succumb to a monster within, while still caring for her wild son and mourning the loss of her husband.

Let the Right One In  (Original Swedish version)

Young boy befriends vampire girl who is at turns a brutal, vulnerable and loyal friend.

Attack the Block

Inner city kids battle monsters from outer space in a London housing project.

the_girl_with_all_the_gifts_posterThe Girl With All the Gifts

A zombie film that explores the place of old values and societies in the face of a new kind of humanity.

So, those are a few of my favorite humanist Halloween films. Any I missed? I hope so because I would love to have recommendations from other folks!

Happy Halloween, to you all!

-Ginn

 

 


tiny-ginnGinn Hale resides in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and wayward cats. She is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as an avid coffee-drinker.

Connect with her on her website.

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