The least dumb shit you're already paying for
|Oct 25||Public post|| 3|
It's always sort of a gamble when you give someone a horror film recommendation. The things that scare us are so subjective and individual, so closely tied to the specific traumas we've all respectively endured, that it can be hard to pinpoint someone else's specific psychological weak points with enough accuracy to match them to the particular film designed to exploit them. This is why Jaws and Alien, films about how monsters are demonstrably less destructive than the exploitative financial system that encourages those monsters to keep eating people, are the most universally terrifying films ever made, because everyone is intimately familiar with that terror. But I figure you've seen those already.
I'm assuming that if your interest in fucked up shit runs deep enough that you're reading this extremely esoteric newsletter, you've probably already made your way through the obvious titles (The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, etc.), so I'd like to suggest some stuff you maybe haven't seen before. On the other hand, I recognize that we're all paying for multiple streaming services every month that we rarely even use because they're loaded with unwatchable horseshit, and that the suggestion you should spend additional money on more obscure selections is a frustrating reminder that you’re paying $9 a month for a service that can’t be bothered to provide more than one or two horror films made before 2013 under its little “Halloween” header because it’s too busy spending $100 million so it can stream old Friends episodes for another year. So with all that in mind, I put together a list of lesser-seen movies that are mostly available on streaming services, with a few (*) that you can pay the extra few bucks and rent if you're feeling adventurous. Here they are, in ascending order of how likely they are to cause you psychological harm.
(Note: There’s only one movie from Netflix on here, because Netflix sucks. There are a couple from services that not all of you may have, but Tubi is free to download and has lots of cool stuff, and Shudder is worth paying for if you care about horror movies.)
SUITABLE FOR BABIES:
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990) - Hulu/Amazon Prime
Pre-fame Julianne Moore and Steve Buscemi and Kuffs-era Christian Slater try to wrangle a mummy. Buster Poindexter fights a cat. James Remar meets a gargoyle and also Rae Dawn Chong. These are the stories pre-teen Matthew Lawrence tells Debbie Harry from a cage in her kitchen as she prepares to cook and eat him.
BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) - Amazon Prime/Shudder
It's hard to go wrong with a Mario Bava film on Halloween. This one, about a masked killer stalking the models of an Italian fashion house, basically invented the slasher genre while using more vivid gorgeous color than any slasher film that followed.
THE INNKEEPERS (2011) - Amazon Prime
A ghost story set at a hotel in its final week of business, filmed in a real New England hotel that was just about to close. You can actually smell the musty carpets when you watch this.
DEMENTIA 13 (1963) - YouTube/Tubi/Amazon Prime
Francis Ford Coppola, master director and People’s Champion in the guerilla war against Disney, began his career with this horror movie about an axe murderer targeting a wealthy family at their Irish castle. It’s in the public domain, so you can watch it on YouTube for free.
*THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) - Not on Amazon Prime, but My Mom’s A Werewolf is
One of the most celebrated aspects of the classic Universal Studios horror movies is how they frequently had deep sympathy for their monsters, often portraying them as simply misunderstood, or as victims themselves. And yeah, those movies are all fantastic, but personally I always preferred the ones about the irredeemable pieces of shit who just enjoyed being irredeemable pieces of shit, like Dracula, or this one, maybe the most underrated of the classic monster films. Claude Rains is amazing as a bandaged, smoking-jacketed psycho losing his grip on his sanity at the same rate as his opacity.
THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018) - Hulu
If "Dylan McDermott plays a lightly fictionalized version of Dennis Rader" doesn't sound interesting to you, maybe you're subscribed to the wrong newsletter.
RAVENOUS (1999) - Hulu
Cannibalism spreads like a cold at a military outpost in the mountains in 1840s California. A snowbound fort and a bitter rivalry make this feel a little bit like The Revenant, except that this one is intentionally funny.
THE INVITATION (2015) - Netflix
Karyn Kusama proves that her stretch in director jail for Jennifer’s Body was some bullshit with this film about a guy’s creeping suspicion that his ex-wife has joined a cult. Sort of related, I met character actor John Carroll Lynch once. When I saw him I blurted out, “Oh shit, it’s the Zodiac killer!” He sighed and said, “I played the Zodiac killer,” in a voice that made me think people must yell troubling accusations at him in public every single day.
*THE SENTINEL (1977) - Not on Hulu, but The Last Sharknado is
A model moves into a New York apartment building and learns it’s a gateway to Hell. Also, at one point Burgess Meredith throws a birthday party for a cat, if that’s a better selling point.
*THE BLOB (1988) - Not on Netflix, but The Bye Bye Man is
Definitely the most fun movie you'll ever see in which a puddle of extraterrestrial slime savagely devours a child.
RATED R (FOR “REPELLENT”):
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) - Amazon Prime/Tubi
Tobe Hooper returns to his 1974 masterpiece to give it the Gremlins 2 "Fuck it, let's just make the whole thing a comedy" treatment, four years before Gremlins 2. It's got Dennis Hopper as a pissed off sheriff wielding double chainsaws, some of the gnarliest gore effects you've ever seen, and Oingo Boingo on the soundtrack. What the hell else do you need?
FROM BEYOND (1986) - Tubi
Stuart Gordon’s follow-up to Re-Animator is loaded with just as much gleeful sadism, pseudoscience, and goopy repulsive makeup effects work as its predecessor, and should be just as celebrated. I mean, Jeffrey Combs bites out a nurse’s eye in this so he can suck out her pineal gland through the empty socket. Come on.
DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1980) - Amazon Prime/Tubi
A young Dan Grimaldi (weaselly Patsy Parisi on The Sopranos) plays a dorky killer who burns women alive and has conversations with his abusive mother’s corpse. On paper, it sounds like it’s just going to be Psycho, But With A Flamethrower, but there’s such an unsettling desperation driving all of it that it develops its own greasy, kerosene-soaked identity.
*THE BROOD (1979) - Not on Amazon Prime, but Rockula is
David Cronenberg channeled all his bitter-divorce-and-child-custody-battle energy into this radiation poisoning diagnosis for one nuclear family. As Cronenberg explained at the time, “The Brood is my version of Kramer vs. Kramer, but more realistic.”
*BLISS (2019) - Not on Netflix, but Scary Movie 2 is
Some movies just have your number. This one, about a freshly turned vampire who splits her time between gobbling psychedelic drugs, blasting stoner metal while painting fucked up hellscapes, and messily exsanguinating everyone she knows, had mine. If “Leaving Las Vegas, but with blood instead of booze” sounds good to you, it has yours, too.
THE EVIL WITHIN (2017) - Amazon Prime/Tubi
Oil heir Andrew Getty wrote and directed this deeply weird movie about a developmentally disabled man haunted by a demon, filming it in his own mansion with his own money over a period of 15 years before dying from a combo of heart disease and a methamphetamine habit, leaving a producer to finish the editing. The film as a whole is about as uneven as you’d expect given its troubled production, but the special effects, many of which were designed by Getty himself, are so unsettling and surreal it's like you're trapped inside his dying meth-corroded brain alongside him.
MANIAC (1980) - Shudder
I got to meet makeup effects legend Tom Savini at a horror convention in Burbank a few years ago. I told him how much I loved his work in this nearly plotless film about a sweaty oaf murdering women and nailing their scalps to mannequins in his disgusting studio apartment. He must have noticed a real Mark David Chapman-type gleam in my eyes, because he squinted at me and said, "No one should watch that movie."
KUSO (2017) - Shudder
Flying Lotus’s directorial debut, a roving series of vignettes in the aftermath of a Los Angeles earthquake, is impressively, pioneeringly gross. Maybe don’t sit down with a big bowl of clam chowder when you watch this one.
*INSIDE (2007) - Not on Amazon, but Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla is
A young expectant mother locks herself in a bathroom as a deranged woman tries to get in. Technically this French film takes place on Christmas Eve, but it’s so brutal and intense that any holiday spirit you find here belongs to a different holiday.
*HALLOWEEN 2 (2009) - Disney+, lol just kidding you have to pay extra for this too
This is the one to put on at your Halloween party if you really want to torpedo everyone's good time. It's not my favorite Rob Zombie film (That would be The Lords of Salem, available for free on Tubi), but it's one of the rare slasher sequels that cares deeply about what happens to the Final Girl after that first movie ends. Michael Myers is the corporeal embodiment of PTSD, and it almost doesn't matter that he's returned to Haddonfield, because Laurie would be painfully reliving her attempted murder every October either way. The conventions of a slasher movie are mangled and rearranged to emphasize the grief, pain, and guilt that would eclipse every other feeling if this ever happened to you. This total bummer movie is what you deserve for liking shit like this.