One of the decade’s most surprising, uncomfortable genre films is Creep, in which Mark Duplass proves that his mumblecore charm has a very, very dark side. Helmed by and co-starring Patrick Brice, the no-budget film created dread and unease through simple character development—what easily could have been a melancholic comedy becomes a horror film in just the last few moments. It’s easy to understand why Blumhouse wanted to capitalize on that magic through a few more installments; but how do you follow up a film that is entirely based on the element of uncertainty? Brice and Duplass have answered that question, delivering a hilarious, disturbing sequel which improves on everything that made the first film fascinating.
The possibilities for experimentation within the bounds of horror cinema are endless. For every commercially accessible masterpiece, there’s also a bizarre, unorthodox experience waiting to confound viewers. At a festival where there are dozens of films that fall into both categories, this writer has found one of the most unusual offerings to be Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse, a slow-paced, profoundly atmospheric plunge into the nightmare of seclusion.
Fans of horror literature have likely encountered Adam Nevill’s work. His novel The Ritual, a combination of occult fantasy and survival horror, has been ripe for adaptation since its release the better part of a decade ago. Few modern directors are better suited for the job than David Bruckner, the man behind the infamous surgery segment in Southbound. When it premiered in TIFF’s Midnight Madness section, early reactions gave no indication that Bruckner had returned to the feature scene with a debut of mythical power, but his faithful adaptation of Nevill’s novel revives the folk horror sub-genre to give us one of the year’s most terrifying films.
Recent years have seen a return to giallo, mainly in independent and foreign horror cinema. The genre doesn’t always hold up because it is inherently weird and often nonsensical. For diehard admirers of Fulci and Bava, however, Turkish director Can Evrenol has become an excitingly bizarre voice in cinema. His feature debut, Baskin, blew many a mind two years ago with its hedonistic madness. Evernol returns this year with Housewife, and while it may not reach the levels of incoherent thrills that his first feature achieved, it’s an involving vision of sensory insanity.
When one is in the mood for a romantic stroll through autumnal New England, the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne offer transport. His fables and novels evoke that era with atmosphere, bringing the reader into a landscape of brisk wind and rich colors, surrounded by the possibility of enigmatic sorcery. Amongst the dying forests and chilly winds, his characters encounter demonic entities, ghosts, and their darkest temptations. His collection of Twice Told Tales, published at the start of his career, showcases a broad example of his themes.
Very few people write like Dorothy Parker. Her poetry and short stories are marked by vicious wit, mainly aimed at the ridiculous romantic standards enforced upon her generation and gender. She laments her lack of love in delightfully economic verses, refers to her enjoyment of sex in not-so-subtle terms, and writes nihilistic advice regarding relationship downfalls. Yet there is a darker side to her. Aside from the Gothic imagery that sarcastically accents her more dramatic work, Parker explores the irony of despair in a disarming, often heartbreaking way.
In Cold Blood is one of the most horrific nonfiction novels ever written. Its frank, unsparing depiction of a small town torn apart by a pointless murder reveals awful truths about the nature of violence, and our terror of its senselessness. Knowing the brutality he describes actually occurred makes it all the more overwhelming. Capote didn’t need to draw from fact to terrify, however. Some of his short stories are equally as nightmarish as his nonfiction masterpiece, and perhaps more haunting for their liminality—often what’s real and unreal becomes indistinguishable.
Gothicism has been around for centuries, pervading architecture, music, literature, and film alike. Its roots are deep, and its identifying factors are strong—baroque style, high passion, and a healthy heap of darkness. Compared to architecture and music, Gothic fiction is fairly young, developing in the late 18th century with English authors such as Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe. No one was prepared, however, for the arrival of Matthew Gregory Lewis, who published his deliciously controversial novel The Monk at the ripe age of 19.
For decades, the Southern Gothic genre has dominated the depiction of American life. Authors like Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Carson McCullers have depicted the American South as an almost mystical region where the fear of God hovers thickly in the air and madness pricks at everyone’s overheated minds.
When one thinks of classic poetry, one does not expect to encounter horror. No, this is space for romance, for musing, for political diatribes, for art. Maybe this makes it even more exciting when one comes across the macabre and the depraved, in classic writing. There are plenty of dark poems throughout history: Poe’s entire oeuvre, Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and Goethe’s Faust are just a few. But few poets went so far as to create their own religion through poetry. Not everyone can be as rebellious and wild as William Blake.
It’s a classic plot: throw some morally questionable people into a dire situation and see who goes carnal first. When approached poorly, these stories can be among the ugliest and dullest in cinema. But when explored from angles of character and raw desire and desperation, there are wealths of dark truths to unleash. Recently shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival, Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s debut feature film, Friendly Beast (aka O Animal Cordial) fiercely proves the latter point.
Discovering that your loved one has been cheating on you is scary. Confronting them while in the throes of a reality-distorting dream, where weeks pass in an instant and animals talk, is a little worse. This is the shamefully distilled premise of the surreal, unpredictable Animals (Tiere), which screened this week at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.
In a cinematic age dominated by tentpoles and “influencers,” it’s refreshing to visit the world of film festivals, where one can still find content that’s authentically transgressive. I’m certain that some fans encountered the madness that is The Night of the Virgin (La Noche de Virgen) at the Fantasia Film Festival this past weekend. Roberto San Sebastián’s visceral, inverted homage to occult thrillers follows in the tradition of low-budget movies that push bodily functions and human behavior to the limit. Does that make it good? It depends on what you’re looking for. Considering the levels to which this film goes, some people would be advised against looking at all.
There are some authors who transcend genre so fully that classification becomes a moot point. Kelly Link is one example. Link’s writing style mirrors other authors - Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson and Neil Gaiman come to mind - but only superficially; her words are her own. The moods swing wildly, from whimsical to melancholic to deranged, though her voice always comes through. She writes as if talking in her sleep, lackadaisical and sparse, strange but deeply evocative. Yet what truly sets her apart from other genre authors is her incredible understanding of the human mind.
Death and the afterlife are two of the most commonly encountered themes in horror fiction. Apparitions and reanimated corpses are nothing new to fans of the genre; in fact, these images have been exploited so often that they’ve lost their impact. Then there are authors like Poppy Z. Brite, who manipulate familiar images in a way that transcends their meaning. This is put on display brilliantly and horrifically in his first compilation of short stories, Wormwood.