Besides releasing a number of our favorite classic horror films and the occasional cult oddity, the good folks at Scream Factory are also releasing a number of contemporary horror films and giving them a home on Blu-ray. Here’s a look at three of their recent efforts:
For some horror fans, the late, great George A. Romero is considered the George Lucas of horror: he created a trilogy of classic films that changed the face of the genre forever, then years later returned with a second trilogy that was less well-received. But whereas Lucas’ second set of Star Wars films close off his universe, answering unasked questions and making his world feel smaller by tying every corner of it together, Romero’s 2000s trilogy expands his living dead world further and brings the series into a new millennium. They don’t diminish the legacy of his first three zombie movies. If anything, they make it richer.
Start out 2018 with some of the latest releases from Scream Factory! Though they’re probably best known for releasing definitive Blu-ray editions of many of our most treasured horror movies, one of the things I like best about Scream Factory is their willingness to use their brand to put out smaller films and oddball curiosities that would probably not otherwise see the light of day on the format. Let’s take a look at three such titles, all recently released on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
When Sam Raimi directed the original Darkman back in 1990, it was an impressive feat, especially for the time: he created a big-screen superhero out of whole cloth—part comic book, part Universal monster, part Gaston Leroux, part ’80s action movie. It’s the kind of movie that should have launched a host of sequels—or, even better, a weekly series—but because of Sam Raimi’s own difficulties in making the film and because of the box office climate of the time, it didn’t happen. Not right away, at least.
Oh, ’80s slashers. You come in so many shapes and varieties that I never get tired of you. Take Slaughter High, for example, a slasher movie that was released in 1986 but looks like it was made in 1981. It has three directors. It was shot in the UK by English filmmakers, but passes itself off as an American film taking place in an American high school. The high schoolers all appear to be in their early 30s. It’s entirely placed on April Fool’s Day but couldn’t be called April Fool’s Day (its original title) because there was already a movie coming out called April Fool’s Day. Nothing about Slaughter High makes complete sense, but it’s in this way that the movie distinguishes itself.
Sometimes, charm is enough to get a movie across the finish line. It may not all work, the whole may be less than the sum of the parts, but if there’s enough charm to it all, we audiences will tend to overlook some of the more obvious issues and give ourselves over to a film. We like to be charmed.
As feature debuts go, director Ted Geoghegan’s 2015 ghost story We Are Still Here was a real kick in the ass: a slow-burn throwback to the work of Lucio Fulci that spent most of its running time building dread and atmosphere before exploding into outrageous gore in its go-for-broke climax. Beyond being an extremely effective haunted house movie (my favorite horror movie of that year), it was also a sad and atmospheric meditation on grief and loss—there was a genuine emotional backbone to the story, making it just as involving as it was scary.
For Mohawk, his 2017 follow-up that recently screened at Chicago’s Cinepocalypse film festival, Geoghegan has done it again, sneaking a real human story into thrilling genre fare.
If you have been paying any attention to the independent horror scene over the last five years, you are undoubtedly familiar with the work of actor Graham Skipper. From his star-making turn as Dr. Herbert West in the stage version of the Re-Animator musical to his leading man turns in the films of director Joe Begos (Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye) to his role in Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates to seemingly countless supporting roles in everything from Tales of Halloween to Carnage Park to The Devil’s Dolls, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to watch a modern independent horror movie and not have Graham Skipper show up. While I’m always delighted to see him pop up in something I’m watching—I know that for however long he’s on screen, I am in good hands—that kind of ubiquity doesn’t automatically lend itself to talent behind the camera. So when I learned that Skipper had written and directed a feature, Sequence Break, I was excited, intrigued, and cautiously optimistic.
Horror isn’t always machete-wielding maniacs or monsters or houses haunted by demons and ghosts. Sometimes it’s just two people in a room, one determined to hurt and humiliate the other. That’s the horror of Poor Agnes, director Navin Ramaswaran’s Canadian indie about the relationship that develops between a serial killer and her potential next victim.
At the age of just 26 or 27, writer/director Mickey Keating already has five feature films under his belt. These aren’t just homemade backyard projects shot with his buddies for $200, either; these are movies with major stars of the indie horror scene (Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, Pat Healy, Larry Fu**ing Fessenden) and getting actual distribution through companies like Glass Eye Pix and IFC Midnight. While his previous films have shown major chops behind the camera, they’ve also all had an air of familiarity about them; Keating is a director who wears his influences proudly, and some of his past work has played more like him riffing on an existing piece than like something borne of his own interests and obsessions.
With his fifth feature, Psychopaths, Keating has really come into his own as a director.
I liked enough of 2014’s Let Us Prey, the debut feature from Irish filmmaker Bryan O’Malley, to want to see whatever he would do next. In addition to conjuring up some truly nightmarish imagery, O’Malley displayed an incredible talent for stylized visuals and slow-burn pacing. His follow-up film, this year’s The Lodgers, is a totally different kind of horror movie, but one which again showcases many of O’Malley’s same gifts as a visual storyteller.
As I’m writing this review, news has just broken of another mass shooting, this time in Texas. It’s another in what has become a regular occurrence in America: random shootings, casualties, the nation mourns, then we move on until the next incident, which, tragically, is never far off. These frequent acts of terrorism have us all on edge, all living in fear, never sure where random violence will break out or where we can be safe.
This can make it difficult to watch and talk about Downrange, the latest thriller from director Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus, The Midnight Meat Train), because it deals directly with acts of random violence like those we hear about every other week. But just as it can be designed as fun, escapist entertainment, the function of horror is also to touch a nerve, to speak to our fears, to reflect that which we dread back to us in the hopes that we might work our way through the nightmares. Downrange manages to do both; it presents a scenario that has become all too real, all too common, but stylizes it all as an exercise in sustained tension—Hitchcock by way of Takashi Miike.
As a lifelong Monster Kid, the only thing better than a good horror movie is a good horror movie that’s set on Halloween. Despite the fact that the entire month of October is devoted to horror, there are surprisingly few movies actually set on our favorite holiday—and even fewer when talking about the really good ones.