October’s horror movie round-up is a fragrant bouquet of breakdowns, trauma, and the ties that bind – perfect for the Halloween season that some of us love a little too much. Your bonds to other humans will be the death of you, these movies say, but even destruction beats disconnection.
WOUNDS: A bartender doesn’t turn in a phone recovered after a gory barfight, and through a series of disturbing photos, texts, and audio, slowly reveals to him who he really is. Based on Nathan Ballingrud’s novella “The Visible Filth,” WOUNDS is a tense downward spiral into the ugliness of indifference, selfishness, and performative machismo. As the bartender’s girlfriend, Dakota Johnson channels a bit of her Susperia character, to masterful effect.
Grade = A. (Hulu)
HAUNT: College students go to an extreme haunted house attraction that would be the best haunted house ever if it weren’t for all the killing. The final girl is visible a mile away, but the death traps are creative and the nightmare feels just real enough to get under your skin. Most notably, HAUNT is committed to sincerity instead of camp – the doomed kids are sympathetic, and the deaths aren’t cheap.
Grade = A. (Amazon Prime Video)
Grade = A. (Amazon Prime Video)
KAREN DOESN’T DREAM: An insomniac young woman becomes obsessed with mysterious videos of people sleeping, resulting in a deep mental breakdown. This uncomfortably slow, hypnotic student film out of Portland State University is sad, weird, and jarring – often all at once. While it’s certainly not for everyone, its “sleep tapes” tap into that same creepy-crawly, proto-found-footage vein as one of my all-time favorites, LAKE MUNGO.
HEAD COUNT: A boy ditches his brother to hang out with way too many cool kids in the desert, but accidentally summons a tricksy, numerically-inclined demon. The overall effect is a less scary Sinister meets a less inexplicable Picnic at Hanging Rock, but the demon keeps you guessing and director Elle Callahan has an eye for striking visuals.
Grade = B+. (Netflix)
WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE: Disturbed teen Merricat tries to keep her agoraphobic sister from leaving the family manor. While mostly faithful to the letter of Shirley Jackson’s strange novel, the result feels closer to an edgy YA. Merricat is a bit too sympathetic, Constance a bit too well-adjusted, and the musical cues a bit too twee.
Grade = B. (Netflix)
PURE: Girls brought by their creepy fathers to a Christian “purity retreat” summon the demonic Lilith as a “joke.” PURE is far more interested in hammering its message than being either scary or transgressive – it leaves a ton of potential on the table – but I give it credit for picking a subject that horror needs to whip: the patriarchal fetishization of female virginity.
Grade = B. (Hulu)
DISCARNATE: An experiment with the supposed objective of contacting ghosts via magic tea also summons a faceless clay monster. The result is a low-budget mess that’s more entertaining than your average movie about science-gone-stupid. The cast tries its best with a hokey script, and the use of prosthetics is endearing and at times even effective.
Grade = B. (Amazon Prime Video)
IN THE TALL GRASS: Travelers get into a whole bunch of trouble trying to find people lost in a field of tall grass. Based on a Stephen King/Joe Hill collaboration, an unsettling first act gives way to a more run-of-the-mill punch-em-up. As the plot zeroes in on the fate of a single pregnant woman, it also risks turning into a hooray-for-patriarchy morality play.
Grade = B-. (Netflix)
Nadia Bulkin writes scary stories about the scary world we live in, three of which have been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. Her stories have been included in volumes of The Year’s Best Horror (Datlow), The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Guran) and The Year’s Best Weird Fiction; in venues such as Nightmare, Fantasy, The Dark, and ChiZine; and in anthologies such as She Walks in Shadows (winner of the World Fantasy Award) and Aickman’s Heirs (winner of the Shirley Jackson Award).
Visit her at https://twitter.com/nadiabulkin.