Halloween Top Five Obscure Horror DelightsA column article, Shot For Shot by: Ben Martini
As someone who watches a lot of weird crap, I often get asked, “What the hell is this weird crap?”
Then my wife makes me turn it off.
But, here, within the safe folds – that’s right, I said folds - of Comics Bulletin, I can relax and pretend that others are actually interested in the weird crap that I watch. Therefore, let me crack open the dusty lid to my chest of obscure delights, and present to you –
Five Scary Movies You Possibly Might Not Have SEEEEEN!
Did that scare you?
Well, fuck it then. I guess you’re just too grown up to be scared.
Here’s the damn list.
Mimic 3: The Sentinel
(2003, Dir. J.T. Petty)
Don’t give me that look. I know what you’re thinking. And I admit that I’m a bit of a horror movie snob myself. I learned long ago to steer clear of film titles followed by numerals. Especially when they’re released with little or no fanfare and suddenly pop up on your doorstep like that cousin you thought had died years ago. But when I saw that it was written and directed by J.T. Petty, I knew I had to check it out. Petty first came to my attention after I saw his short film, Blood Red Earth, a creepy period piece about nocturnal monsters on the American Frontier. This was expanded into the full-length feature The Burrowers, one of the best new horror films of the last decade.
Mimic 3 was made about five years before The Burrowers, and it shows where the director cut his filmmaking chops. Working on what must have been a shoestring budget, the film eschews special effects in favor of solid writing, strong acting, and creative editing. Most of the action is seen through the eyes of the protagonist, an alienated “bubble boy” who can only experience the world from his bedroom window. Marvin, an amateur photographer, watches his neighborhood around the clock through the lens of his camera.
Slowly, the story unfolds through shadowy figures glimpsed in the background of Marvin’s pictures. Like the hero in a Hitchcock film, Marvin is pulled helplessly into a web of intrigue that only he can see. Don’t expect a splatter fest with this one. Mimic 3 harkens to a time when scary movies relied more on the viewers’ imaginations, creating a rich, creepy atmosphere full of “unseen” horrors.
Plus, Lance Henriksen and Amanda Plummer are in it. Both of them in the same movie! How awesome is that?
Ready for more? Too bad! Here’s Number Four!
(1988, Dir. Frank Henelotter)
There isn’t much I have to say about Brain Damage, except that it’s awesome. Frank Henenlotter, also responsible for the Basket Case trilogy, delivers another of his trademark, low-budget entries.
In a nutshell, a guy contracts a parasite that demands brains in order to survive. If the host doesn’t comply, then he suffers painful, life-threatening withdrawal. The drug subtext helps to create an affective portrait of our character as a hapless victim with little or no control over his own fate.
Balancing out this tragic tale is a darkly comic style that borders on the absurd. The parasite has a name, Aylmer. In scenes that may or may not be the result of hallucination, the creature speaks in the voice of legendary NYC horror host, John Zacherale. He even gets a short, musical solo. Now that’s entertainment. I’m still waiting for someone to market the Aylmer plush toy.
But enough of my inane attempts at humor . . .
Onwards to Number Three! And MORE inane attempts at humor!
(Yes, that last remark counted as one.)
(2008, Dir. Eduardo Sanchez)
This is another movie that I won’t say much about. I want you to see it the way I did. Shrouded warmly in blanket of ignorance.
Oh, Okay. I’ll tell you a little bit more, I guess.
For starters, it was directed by Eduardo “that guy who did Blair Witch Project” Sanchez. Here he tells the fish out of water tale of two young newlyweds vacationing in a remote part of China. The writing is deceptively simple. We learn only the barest facts about these people, making them practically strangers to us. But through the course of the story’s events, we learn to identify with their struggle to survive. The film has the consistency of a nightmare. You don’t need a lot of exposition or pointless theories to try and explain what is happening. What is happening is inexplicable, and the characters just need to run as fast as their little, American legs can carry them. This is the kind of story I imagine we’d get if Stephen King had been born in China.
I don’t want to build up Seventh Moon to be more than it is. We do get an interesting cultural spin on some old favorites, such as ghosts and zombies. But, primarily, this is just a refreshingly, old-fashioned horror movie with no tricks or gimmicks up its sleeve.
I liked it.
Don’t walk – RUN! From Number Two!
(1981, Dir. Tobe Hooper)
Even if you’ve seen The Funhouse, you should go back and watch it, again. I watch this movie every couple of years, and I’m always amazed by how good it is. Around my house, it ranks up there with Carpenter’s Halloween as a seasonal favorite. It even takes a playful jab at Halloween early on. It simply warms the cockles of my dried-up husk of a heart to see the man who created Leatherface paying homage to the man who created Michael Myers. Now that I think about it, the Halloween homage is wrapped up in a Psycho homage, effectively making it a double homage. There’s a lot of homaging in this movie. References to Universal’s Frankenstein are abundant, and function both as tribute and motif, foreshadowing the film’s over-the-top, gothic climax.
I don’t think I’m giving away too much by telling you that the action takes place at a carnival funhouse. There’s a soft, dreamy quality to these early scenes that summons my own nostalgia for the traveling carnivals that passed through my hometown when I was growing up. Whenever I watch this movie, I can almost smell the cotton candy and dead leaves, and I remember the hint of danger always lurking under the façade of bright lights and calliope music.
I would be remiss if I ended my discussion of Funhouse without mentioning the performance of legendary “that guy” Kevin Conway. Conway plays the sinister carnie barker with so much pathos that you almost feel sorry for the sick bastard. Which is really saying something when you consider how despicable the character is. Fans of Star Trek TNG might remember him as the first emperor of the Klingon Empire, Kahless. But to me, he will always be Freakshow Barker, as he’s credited in The Funhouse.
(When you watch this movie, and I know you will, note how similar the funhouse interiors are to Captain Spaulding’s “Museum of the Strange” in House of a 1000 Corpses. Looks like Tobe Hooper got hisself homaged right back, don’t it?)
Saving the best for last, I release upon you . . .
(1971, Dir. Robert Mulligan)
I first saw The Other when I was around eight years old. It effed me up pretty good, to say the least; instilling in me a permanent phobia for crows, pitchforks, and elderly actresses named “Uta.” (Separately, I’m fine with each of those things. But combine them, and I freak the fuck out. Or I would, if ever I encountered such a situation. Luckily, I have not.) It wasn’t until recently that I went back and watched The Other. I expected a fairly typical thriller full of Southern Gothic trappings, and a cameo by a then unknown John Ritter. As it turns out, this is one of the most unique and poignant thrillers I have ever seen.
Set on a rural farm during the 1930’s, this is the story of twin brothers, Niles and Holland. Of the two, Holland is the rule-breaker, often talking Niles into mischief for which the latter generally takes the blame. Their grandmother, Ada, (played by method acting guru, Uta Hagen) makes no bones about her preference for Niles. He is clearly her favorite, and tutors him in her Old Country ways.
Which includes nifty tricks such as projecting one’s spirit into birds.
While Ada is playing Merlin to Niles, the other brother grows envious. His schemes turn more dangerous, and we begin to wonder how far he will go to create chaos on the farm. And why exactly does he feel compelled to act out this way? Is he simply jealous of Niles? Or, as Ada implies, was he born evil? The archetypal rivalry between brothers is explored brilliantly, and I hope the ending effs you up as much as it did me.
Well, there you are. I hope it was short and sweet. At least, I hope it was short. If I’ve helped one person to discover a movie here, then my work was not in vain. Thus illustrating, if you set your goals low enough, you will never be disappointed.
Peace out, True Believers. Now go watch the hell out of some movies.
Ben Martini watches lots of movies, plays lots of video games, and sometimes reads things. He is not lazy, he is just conserving energy for the apocalypse. Which, by the way, will not involve zombies, and is taking way too long to happen. One day he is going to do some stuff or something. But right now he doesn't give a shit. He also wants to know what happened to his hat. The green one.