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10 Films That Can Unite the Hardcore and Art-House Horror Movie Fans

February 26, 2016

What I love and hate about the horror genre is that nobody will ever agree on the definition of horror. Viewpoints are entrenched,  battle lines are drawn, and circular arguments are perfected in an effort to protect the sanctity of the genre. We can accept that doughnuts (I’m hungry) come in all shapes and sizes, but we scoff when we think about horror having many facets. I recently read a fantastic article written by Cinenation’s Jason Coffman entitled This is why we can’t have nice things: “The Witch” and horror fandoms gatekeepers. The article stirs the horror pot and asks that genre fans unite instead of attacking movies that try something new. I liked this quote a lot:

Critics and cinephiles in general tend to dismiss genre cinema wholesale, and genre fans as well, and seeing members of the community react to these films with such violent negativity only reinforces their image of the “horror fan” as a slack-jawed dullard whose only interests are sex and gore.

The gap between “the slack-jawed dullards” and the “art-house horror cinephiles” is growing because of the current horror hybrids that are being released. I started thinking about the indie horror boom last year when Mark Harris wrote a great piece called Scared Senseless: The Indie Horror Boom and What Frightens Us Now. He noticed that the current crop of horror hybrids are not particularly frightening, but they are certainly trying.

Perhaps it’s unfair for those of us who are, ahem, considerably older to sigh about what is and isn’t scary — if you’ve indiscriminately slept around in the genre for decades, of course you’re going to feel “Is that all there is?”But there are signs that the films themselves feel that ennui. At least It Follows scavenges the detritus of the genre in search of fresh ways to be frightening, not just as a way of creating wry commentary about it. That makes it an exception to current ruling sensibilities.

Since reading the post I’ve worked my hardest to trumpet the arrival of a new independent horror era. An era that is unique because of the surprisingly positive critical reception that rivals the classics of the 1970’s (Dawn of the Dead, Jaws, Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The new films are not as dangerous, gritty or iconic, but they have the independent spirit and uniqueness to make critics fawn all over them.  We are in an era where people who are influenced by the classics are going out of their way to make the genre fresh again. These films include It Follows, Spring, Creep, The Babadook, Honeymoon, Under the Skin, The Guest, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Witch. These inventive hybrids are critically adored, but haven’t achieved mainstream success because of their subject matter and expectations.

spring-fb-311

Director Richard Linklater said Spring was “a beautiful, unique love story. An accomplishment of genre and tone.”  Hardcore horror fans wondered where all the blood was.

It is frustrating hearing people complain about the lack of scares and gore when referring to the recent genre films.  Horror hounds and casual viewers have been conditioned to slasher tropes, and instead of thinking outside the box they’ve jumped in and closed the lid. To be fair, the last 30 years have  been punctuated by Slashers films, Scream knock-offs and Saw movies. These films have their merits but cannot be compared to the recent crop of “horror” films because of how different they are. They may be lumped in the same genre but that doesn’t mean they all have to be alike. The “horror” films nowadays occasionally toss in some ultra-violence, but there is a boutique vibe and thoughtfulness to them which alienate people conditioned to blood, guts and gore.

I’ve learned first hand about angry genre fans. Last year I figured out the best critic/audience rated 21st century horror films by breaking down available data from Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb. All of these films had “horror” attached to their name and I chose to include any film that could be labeled such.  The highest-rated film was Pan’s Labyrinth and this set off a whole lot of interesting (AKA angry) comments that proclaimed it was a “dark-fantasy-war-thriller with moments of horror.” This lead to a poll that answered “What is the best 21st century horror film?” Cabin in the Woods won and since then I been bombarded with comments deriding the top 21 and asking why The Shining isn’t on the list. The A.V. Club (who helped me greatly) even wrote about whether Cabin in the Woods is a horror film or not after the post came out. Nobody can agree when it comes to “horror.”

The 10 films below cover every facet of the “horror” genre and all have one thing in common. They are good films that offer something for everyone. In order to think outside the box we need to broaden our horror horizons and keep an open mind to the nice things placed in front of us. These 21st century horror films films did not receive wide theatrical releases in the states, but have managed to build a nice following around the world. They weren’t plagued by epic expectations and were allowed to find their audiences by word-of-mouth.

I believe if we put genre lovers in a room, and placed this list in front of them, world peace would be caused. If not, they could probably find one they all like. Which is a good start.

 

Trollhunter (2010)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: Trollhunter proves that found footage movies about trolls can be fun, original and occasionally violent.

When dealing with dueling ideologies the best thing to do is find common ground. The common ground amongst cinephiles is that everyone loves Trollhunter. On the surface, it can be written off as another found footage film, but that is not the case. It doesn’t play like a horror film, but it features familiar elements that showcase what a genre film can be.  Trollhunter creates a mythology and builds to a surprisingly emotional climax. I love the Norweigan landscapes and its ability to have fun while maintaining a wicked sense of humor (trolls have rabies).

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Thirst (2009)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: Director Park Chan-wook is amazing.

I love what Roger Ebert had to say about Thirst director Park Chan-wook (Stoker, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengence).

Park Chan-wook of South Korea is today’s most successful director of horror films, perhaps because there’s always more than horror to them. He seems to be probing alarming depths of human nature. Maybe that’s why he can simultaneously be celebrated on fanboy horror sites and win the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Thirst is blood-drenched and wicked, but it also has a heart.  It is the rare film that perfectly juggles depravity, beauty and insanity. Any type of horror fan will appreciate this film.

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Cheap Thrills (2013)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: Alamo Drafthouse distributed it and they’ve figured out a way to masterfully “destroy the balance between grindhouse and art-house.”

Director E.L. Katz does a great job of capturing the claustrophobia, humor and horror of a night of escalating dares. He draws strong performances from his cast and elevates the material to where even the most conservative of critics appreciate the work. The film can be frustrating and vague but I think that will lead to interesting discussions and leave more to the viewer’s imagination. It leaves you with questions in which there are no easy answers.

The movie has a nasty streak that doesn’t feel forced or gratuitous. It wears you out but it doesn’t drain you with depravity. It walks a tight rope of gore and despair but manages to not fall into a nothingness abyss. David Koechner and Sara Paxton remain villainous mysteries throughout and we never get any revelations about them. Are they really a couple? Have they done this before? The questions are welcome because it leaves you to come up with the answers.

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Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: It is lyrically written and features some crazy ultra-violence.

You know, I know the world’s supposed to be round, but I’m not so sure about this part.

Bone Tomahawk is a lyrically written horror western that plays with multiple genres while creating memorable characters. It takes its time getting to the violence and I applaud that decision. It has stayed on the fringes of the mainstream because it features lots of patience and extreme body mutilation. Director/writer S. Craig Zahler  pulled off a $2,00,000 dollar miracle and worked wonders with a brief 21 day shooting schedule. It is rare in the cinema world when a cannibal western can get nominated for multiple Independent Spirit and Fangoria Chainsaw Awards.

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Pontypool (2008)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: It does a lot with little and proves genre films can create tension without wiping out co-eds.

I’m not sure why it took my so long to watch Pontypool. It is a fantastic independent horror film that puts a new spin on the zombie world. I love how it captures a zombie outbreak in a completely new way. We get four characters, one radio station and words as weapons. Tony Burgess wrote the book “Pontypool Changes Everything” and he was fortunate enough to write the screenplay for Pontypool. You can tell he poured lots of love into the script and he lucked out with a solid director and editor. Director Bruce McDonald works wonders with very little and I love the trust he has in his actors. Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly do a fantastic job reacting to news reports and dealing with the insanity unfolding around them.

Movies like Pontypool are rare because they are are told organically and are in no way reactive. They are confidently made and the point is to tell a solid story and not appeal to the lowest common denominator (jump scares!). I love that I was sitting on the edge of my seat while people talked about other people dying (think War of the Worlds with zombies). The editing and fantastic cinematography capture every angle of the radio booth and the single location always for character building. Pontypool did something different, and that is a beautiful thing for horror lovers.

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Housebound (2014)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: It is a cheeky little thing that bounces around genres and features a new type of hero.

Housebound is a glorious horror hybrid that is equal parts funny, scary and outrageous. It plays like a Peter Jackson horror film teamed up with The People Under the Stairs and formed something completely different. Housebound exemplifies the current crop of horror hybrids because it refuses to be pegged down into any genre. Whether it be the characters or the tonal shifts Housebound is full of surprises and you will love Morgana O’Reilly’s performance

I can’t wait to see what director/writer Gerard Johnstone does next because his genre blending skills are impressive. I love what he had to say in an interview with The Nerdist.

I love movies which are stuffed full of multiple genres, plot-twists and big reveals, but it was paralyzingly difficult to write one of them. I guess because I knew it would all take place in a single location, I wanted the story to be anything but simple.”

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Spring (2014)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: The directors did something crazy and created a new monster!

In an interview with the AV Club  Director Justin Benson and co-director Aaron Moorhead had this to say.

It felt like there was something sort of rebellious in the act of creating a new monster. Because for some reason it was something that so few people attempt to do now. Usually, when people want to tell a monster story, it’s a vampire, it’s a werewolf, or it’s an alien. It’s always got to be one of those things. That’s pretty much it, conceptually.

Spring plays like Before Sunrise met An American Werewolf in London and spawned something like Species but totally different. It is an earthy film that plays with romance, love, loss and lots of squishy things. The critics have rallied around it (89% RT) and it exemplifies the current crop of sensitive horror films. Spring has proven itself to be a genre bender that takes old ideas, makes them original and still manages to murder jerky college kids.

A neat example of where Spring veers from the horror path is in the meet-cute. The two characters lock eyes, she is obviously out of his league and when he approaches she immediately invites him back to her apartment (think Species). He is caught off guard and begins to wonder whether she is trying to rob, kill or trick him. He declines the offer, and instead tries to set up a coffee date. It is a neat moment that plays refreshingly against type.

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Creep (2014)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: Creep creates an original and modern villain.

Creep is a semi-improvisational horror hybrid about a freelance camera man answering a Craigslist ad. He will be paid $1,000 to film a man’s final moments before a terminal illness kills him in a few months. The final product will go to his unborn child and will provide a glimpse into his daily life. Things go wrong (of course) but the direction of Creep is never predictable. The dark humor, paranoia and performance by Mark Duplass create an immensely watchable 80-minute experience.

What makes this film work is that it doesn’t seem to be a cash grab or more of the same. It fits perfectly alongside the original and proactive horror hybrids that have been hitting the theaters in the last couple years. Mark Duplass (The League, Safety Not Guaranteed) and director Patrick Brice started filming with a five-page outline and over the course of a year it evolved into a tight little thriller. If you are interested check out the podcast we recorded for Spring and Creep. It is the greatest thing ever.

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I Saw the Devil (2010)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: It is a beautiful punch to the face.

I Saw the Devil is a tough as nails cat-and-mouse thriller that will put your soul in a headlock. It looks beautiful and the performances go above and beyond what you normally see in horror. It is a draining experience that is anchored by an incredible performance by Min-sik Choi (Oldboy). He embodies evil and his performance is so layered. Choi is one of my favorite actors and I don’t think any body else could pull off this performance. I Saw the Devil has one of the best critic/audience ratings of any 21st century horror film. It may be bloody and depraved, but critics (80% RT) and audiences (86% RT) love it. If you can stomach I Saw the Devil you will leave the viewing knowing you just watched something incredible.

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Kill List (2011)

Why it will appeal to all genre fans: Director Ben Wheatley is a master of combining multiple genres

What I love about Kill List is you never know where it is going because director Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, A Field in England) is amazing. Bloody Disgusting said it was the “#1 horror film of 2011”  and called it a “straight up shocker.” I’m going back to the Roger Ebert again because I love what he said about the film.

The movie may leave you scratching your head way too much when it’s over. Yet it proves Ben Wheatley not only knows how to make a movie, but he knows how to make three at the same time. I suppose one of the characteristics of horror is that it wears shifting faces.

 

What movies do you think could unite the horror masses? Can genre fans all get along?

If you are interested make sure  to check out our podcast on Blog Talk Radio or Itunes. We cover pretty much every aspect of horror and Kurt Russell’s best sleeveless shirts.

Photos via Rotten Tomatoes

 

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2016 11:45 am

    This is a great article, and every film that I’ve seen on this list I have thoroughly enjoyed. (Those that I haven’t seen have been on the “watch list” since their release.)

    I think I tend to judge what kind of “horror” fan someone is by their reaction to The Walking Dead. It’s a decent litmus test. For a perfect example, people who called the mid-season return one of the best WD episodes ever (and there were a lot of those people, both critics and fans) probably feel that way because of all the blood, deaths, and zombie kills. I don’t know this for a fact, but such an opinion couldn’t possibly be arrived at from the pacing, the writing, the character work, or the tension of the episode, because those things were non-existent in that episode. But those things matter to the OTHER half of WD fans, people like me who were enthralled by Season 2 and was bummed when people were decrying the first half as “slow.” I think the show really changed from there on out, and now it’s trying to serve two master: fans of blood and zombies exclusively, and fans of drama, tension, and character development, as well as blood and zombies.

    Another film from a few years ago when I saw similar divide to the “It Follows”-type of divisiveness was Ti West’s The Innkeepers. I LOVED that movie, but very many people found it (and frankly much of West’s work) to be “too slow” and “not scary” enough to be a horror film.

    These examples are indicative of the genre as a whole, as well as what a “genre label” means about audience expectations. Some people only want blood and guts and jump scares. Some people want a story and characters that also contains the occasional blood and guts and jump scares. Horror movies can be torture porn, slashers, psychological or spiritually themed, atmospheric, bloody, creepy, contain monsters, ghosts, serial killers, aliens; they can be big and broad or indie and intimate; they can be PG-13 all the way to NC-17. That wide of a range is going to capture a wide variety of fans, probably more so than any other genre. And so it will always leave some viewers’ expectations of any given film unmet.

    • February 26, 2016 11:58 am

      Thanks! I love The Innkeepers! It is so patient and well made. I love “horror” movies that build to something and require viewer attention. I totally agree with you about The Walking Dead. I think it has a very interesting fan base.

      Hopefully, this post can help bridge the gap between horror fans!

  2. February 29, 2016 3:14 pm

    Love this list! A far better one than the 50 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen. You’ve added a number of movies to my “must see” category.

    • February 29, 2016 5:31 pm

      Thanks! I really appreciate it. I wanted to put a list together that would appeal to mostly everyone. What movies did you add to your list?

      • February 29, 2016 9:02 pm

        Thirst (loved Stoker), Housebound, Spring, Creep (really liked Safety Not Guaranteed)

  3. Victor De Leon permalink
    February 29, 2016 10:13 pm

    Cool list! I have to catch a few of these and I definitely need to re-watch Pontypool and Trollhunter.

    • February 29, 2016 11:28 pm

      Thanks! I had a good time putting it together! Pontypool and Trollhunter are so good. I might need to re-watch them again in honor of your comment.

      • Victor De Leon permalink
        March 1, 2016 8:08 am

        Please do! Those are 2 titles I haven’t reviewed yet. I recently reviewed Piranha if you’re interested! Have a good week bro.

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