Films You Didn’t Know You Needed to See 666

(Kai Parker, creator extraordinaire of The List, has hatched this creepy, spooky and altogether ooky posting event on great horror films you might have missed. Below you will find my top three picks designed to scare off your britches. To see the entire list, visit the post on his blog.)
 
 “Black Christmas” (1974) — Before “Friday the 13th,” before “Halloween” and even before “When a Stranger Calls,” there was Robert Clark’s wholly unsettling “Black Christmas.” Hailed by fans as one of the original (if not THE original) slasher films, this scary little find of a film turns a cozy, Christmas-lit Canadian sorority house into a den of psychological terror, mayhem and murder as a prank caller’s calls turn from annoying to scary. You’ll never look at your attic — or your telephone — the same way again.

 

“The Brood” (1979) – Horror films don’t tend to contain deep, personal messages; David Cronenberg’s “The Brood,” however, is one of the few that does. Written during his own painful custody battle with his ex-wife, this disturbing horror film/thriller centers on an emotionally distraught divorcée (Samantha Eggar) who seeks the help of an unconventional therapist and begins giving birth to deformed, child-like beings that exact revenge on those who hurt her. The kid killers are scary, but it’s the message about the trauma of a family divided really lingers unpleasantly.

 

“The House of the Devil” (2009) — Ti West’s unbelievably tense “The House of the Devil,” a minor indie horror sensation, is not for the impatient. The film, which introduces a cash-strapped college student (Jocelin Donahue) who takes a babysitting job despite the employer’s (Tom Noonan) obvious creepiness, is slow going for a full 80 minutes — a time of complete inaction (nothing, truly, is all that happens). But West understands that the anticipation, the endless waiting, plays on our minds and forces us to do all the real long-term damage to ourselves.

Shriekfest 2010: “El Orfanato,” “Wolf Creek”

“El Orfanato” (2007)
Starring Belén Rueda, Roger Príncep, Fernando Cayo, Montserrat Carulla

Cheery, idyllic childhoods are uncommon. Laura (Rueda) believes she had one, and she wants to recreate the experience by reopening the orphanage of her youth, now a rambling, creaky building in disrepair. Since moving in, though, Laura and her husband Carlos (Cayo) have noticed some alarming changes in their adopted son Simón (Príncep). Simón begins to talk of a new friend, Tomás – invisible to Laura and Carlos – who lives in the orphanage and wears a sack mask. An eerie woman (Carulla) who claims to be a social worker shows up unannounced with a file on Simón; later that night, Laura spots her lurking in the coal shed. The bizarre events culminate in Simón’s disappearance, and Laura’s growing suspicions that the orphanage may be haunted by ghosts of the friends she left behind. In that respect, “El Orfanato” is a beautifully shot, nerve-wracking ghost story in deliciously ominous setting. Director Juan Antonio Bayona goes only for the under-the-skin frights – the unexplained thumps and bangs above and in the walls; unrelenting, hostile silence; Laura’s growing certainty that someone or something in the house is toying with her. Or has her grief driven her to the brink of madness? Bayona – and Rueda, who delivers a raw, heart-twisting performance – give away nothing until the moment is absolutely right. Because in “El Orfanato,” as in all good ghost stories, it’s the tale, the people and spirits wrapped up in it that matter most. A

“Wolf Creek” (2005)
Starring Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips, John Jarratt

The forever-winding Australian outback is said to be one of the harshest, most inhospitable natural environments in the world. Greg McLean has that dusty, barren soil in his blood, which explains why in “Wolf Creek” the outback feels as much like a character as any of the unknown actors. The terrain appears to watch, silently and knowingly, as three friends – English tourists Liz (Magrath) and Kristy (Morassi), plus their Aussie pal Ben (Phillips) – travel deeper into the middle of nowhere in search of a crater. It’s but a matter of time before the car won’t crank and the trio faces a night huddled together inside, away from the unforgiving landscape. Obliging, helpful chap Mick (Jarratt) drives up, his headlights like glowing animal eyes breaking up the darkness, and offers to tow them to his camp and fix the car. In his odd smile and tone there’s an edge only Ben catches, but he’s outnumbered and a little too eager to impress Liz. Only after Mick has towed the travelers hours from the crater do they realize his only interest in mercy is making them scream bloody murder for it. The unblinking torture (like the bit with the severed spinal cord) and the endless, agonized sobbing are a bit gratuitous at times, and certainly a bit heavy-handed, but McLean does what he sets out to. He crafts a film that flirts with torture porn yet has enough smarts, psychological chills and awe-worthy cinematography to stand squarely apart from it. B+

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