Most films classified within the horror genre are not so much truly scary as they are fun in a sort of morbid way, at least to true horror fans. A real horror fan is too jaded to actually jump when the killer jumps out of the shadows, and certainly most monster movies are more eye candy to the true fan than they are actually frightening. The one thing most of the scariest films ever made have in common is a strong atmosphere of claustrophobia, a sense of no escape from a terrifying situation. Whether it’s in outer space (Alien), a remote arctic wilderness (The Thing), or an isolated building haunted by the past (The Shining), the feeling of being either physically or psychologically trapped is essential to real terror.
Brad Anderson‘s Session 9 has this atmosphere in spades, which is one reason it is probably the scariest film of the past decade. Though its characters can and do leave the location of the horror, a defunct mental hospital from which they have been contracted to remove asbestos, once they have set foot in it the horror never really leaves them. Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan) is the owner of the company, a man troubled by a failing marriage and seemingly a lack of proper sleep. The rest of his team has their problems as well, all integral to the horror that befalls them. Mike (Stephen Gevedon, the film’s co-writer) is a law school dropout who has some prior knowledge of the asylum, which gradually begins to seem like an unhealthy obsession. Phil (David Caruso) and Hank (Josh Lucas) have an uncomfortable shared history, in that Phil’s former girlfriend is now with Hank, and Gordon’s nephew, Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), has a severe case of nyctophobia, or fear of the dark.
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After decades of nothing but the excellent 1960 art film Eyes Without a Face, the French cinema has been outdoing itself over the course of the past several years in producing some of the best, most extreme and disturbing horror films in existence. Beginning in 2003 with Alexandre Aja’s relentlessly brutal High Tension, the past decade has also produced, among others, the terrifying but strangely beautiful Inside and the unspeakably violent Martyrs, which is one of the most fiercely anti-religious films ever made. Kim Chapiron’s Sheitan (or Satan, if that wasn’t obvious enough) is a distinctly different breed of horror film from these previous three examples, dispensing for the most part with the graphic gore in favor of unsettling atmosphere and perverse, disturbing humor. It is scary in the way that late-period David Lynch films are scary, thrusting the viewer into a surreal nightmare world from which there can be no escape but outright madness.
Sheitan opens in the disorienting underworld of a Parisian nightclub on Christmas Eve, its cinematography mildly reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (by far the most disturbing non-horror film France has produced in the past decade), where Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) and his two friends, Thai (Nicolas Le Phat Tan) and Ladj (Ladj Ly), drink and attempt to pick up women. Bart has already had too much to drink, and he quickly becomes belligerent to the point where a bartender has to crack a bottle over his head and forcibly eject him. The three friends and two women, Yasmine (Leila Bekhti) and Eve (Roxane Mesquida), then decide to take the party back to Eve’s home in the country, where they meet her constantly grinning housekeeper, Joseph (Vincent Cassel), and the seductive Jeanne (Julie-Marie Parmentier), both of whom seem friendly but oddly frightening right from the start.
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I am notorious for my willingness to watch pretty much any movie, so it is always a joy to find one that wildly exceeds my expectations. This is often not a great movie, by any means, but one that flew under the critical radar for the most part, and provided some unexpected pleasure, a film that I can enjoy recommending to friends in the knowledge that they have probably not encountered it. Eli Craig’s debut feature Tucker and Dale vs Evil is one of those films, especially for horror fans. Though it is relatively slight and far from perfect, this is an enormously fun and clever riff on the slasher genre, a film that will undoubtedly be especially enjoyed by fans of the recent horror deconstruction masterpiece The Cabin in the Woods, or the mostly overlooked 2006 mockumentary, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (also available on Netflix).
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With Halloween just around the corner, TV networks will be airing a non-stop selection of horror movies throughout the week. So which ones should you watch? Well, you can always revisit Bullz-Eye’s list of the 15 Best Horror Movies to help you decide. It not only includes scary classics like “The Exorcist” and “Halloween,” but more nontraditional picks like “The Shining,” “Alien” and “Jaws.” After all, it doesn’t have to include bogeymen in October to scare the living daylights out of you.
Curiously, although horror movies are cranked out faster than a burger and fries at McDonalds these days, there haven’t been too many new entries in the genre that would truly deserve a place on the list. There are certainly a few that would be up for consideration, including the original “Saw,” Neil Marshall’s cave-diving thriller “The Descent,” and the Spanish horror film “[REC],” but it would be difficult to knock anything off. Less likely suggestions might include the horror comedy “Slither,” Eli Roth’s hate-it-or-love-it “Hostel,” and the Swedish vampire film “Let the Right One In.” Of course, you could always get out of the house and see “Paranormal Activity” instead, because if our own horror-shy Bob Westal loved it (not to mention millions of other moviegoers), then chances are you will too.