It’s almost Halloween, and some of you haven’t even watched a horror movie yet. Not sure what you’re thinking, but it’s not too late! Here are three horror movies to watch before Halloween.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Before there was Cabin in the Woods, there was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Both films take place in a world where horror is real, albeit not necessarily in the way the horror movies make it out to be. And both are fantastic.
Leslie Vernon starts out as a mockumentary. During a brief intro scene, we learn that in this world, Michael Myers, Freddie Kruger, and Jason Vorhees are all real, legendary killers. And Leslie Vernon wants to be the next in that illustrious line. To make his legend even more spectacular, he invites a documentary crew along with him, showing them the behind the scenes of how these killers do it, the tricks of the trade, and the planning a good killing spree requires. But as the appointed night draws near, it’s possible everything is not as it seems.
I’d heard about Leslie Vernon for years, but it was only this Halloween season that I finally got around to watching it. I’d been missing out, and the horror mockumentaries and self-aware horror movies of the past decade clearly owe a debt to what was, at the time, a pretty unique idea. Leslie Vernon starts off a little awkward, and it takes a while for it to find its footing. But when it does, the movie simply launches into orbit. There’s a point, definitive and obvious, where the movie transitions from the documentary style to traditional horror. It’s brilliant and perfect and I loved ever minute of it.
These kind of movies aren’t for everyone. But if you are one of those people who loved Scream and What We Do in the Shadows and Cabin in the Woods, The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a no brainer. And what better time to check it out than this Halloween?
Viewed on Shudder streaming.
Spoiler Warning: Somehow, I managed to avoid all spoilers to this movie. If you haven’t seen it and want to do the same, I’d stop reading now.
Truly, we are living in the golden age of horror. Horror’s always been around, and there have been classic scary movies in every decade. The classic monsters of the 30s and 40s, the aliens of the 50s and the zombies of the 60s and 70s (and the 2000s). Exorcists and slashers of the 80s and 90s. But today, it seems as though we’ve reached a new level of quality.
At the top of that peak are new classics, brought to us by new voices with a unique way of looking at things. They aren’t looking to scare us with jump scares so much–though they know when to throw one of those in there. Rather, they want to disturb us. They want to burrow in and leave us thinking.
Movies like The VVitch, The Babadook, and It Follows have redefined what horror can be. And then, there’s Hereditary.
Hereditary hits you like a sledgehammer. From the beginning, it oozes dread. It starts with a funeral, and the atmosphere only gets darker from there. By the time that scene happens, you’ll be forgiven for wondering if you’ve stumbled onto the most depressing drama since Terms of Endearment. But the creeping fear that’s been growing since the beginning is about to break out, and when it does, you’ll be staring at the screen with your jaw open and your eyes fixed.
At its core, Hereditary is a movie about fate and about our utter powerlessness to fight back against it. We’re puppets in the hands of dark masters, and Hereditary drives that home from the very first scene. There’s something deeply Lovecraftian, and certainly Ligottiesque, about the whole thing, and if you are looking for a happy ending or even a bit of redemption, you need to look elsewhere. This movie is not for the faint of heart.
I’m not sure exactly what to say about Hereditary. It’s not a movie that I’m going to add to my yearly watch list. But I doubt I’ll ever forget it, either. I’m not sure you’ll enjoy Hereditary, but you must watch it. You don’t have a choice.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Horror comes in all shapes and sizes, but there’s something about small horror, in closed, claustrophobic places, that gets me. Only a few characters. Small sets, and not many of them. Darkness, tight spaces. No escapes. When done well, the tension is unbearable, every sound its own jump scare.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of those movies that does it well. Father and son run a mortuary/coroner’s office in small, nondescript town. When three people are murdered and the naked body of a young woman is found half-buried in their basement, it’s left to them to perform the autopsy on the Jane Doe to figure out just what happened. And figure it out they do, but will they live to tell the story?
The Autopsy of Jane Doe rises and falls with the actors. Most of the story is told through the eyes of our father and son team of coroners, as they discover more and more strange things about the body on the slab. When a storm begins to rage outside and strange things start happening inside, the story works because of their reactions. It’s easy to lose a story like this, to make it boring. But that never happens. The first two thirds of this movie are brilliant, and even if it slips up a bit in the final act, that’s a minor quibble.
In atmosphere and overall feeling, Autopsy reminds me a lot of Last Shift, another claustrophobic thriller. If you liked that one, give this one a shot. You won’t be disappointed.
Bonus review: All Cheerleaders Die. Caught this one on Shudder, and it was far better than I expected. Fresh, funny take on the zombie genre. Check it out.