When I was 6 years old, I saw a commercial for a horror film flicker through the snow of our black and white television. She-Demons was a film about a mad scientist who transforms native island women into monsters. I really wanted to see She-Demons, but no amount of begging could convince my parents to let me stay up late. She-Demons became my Holy Grail. It wasn’t a matter of wanting to see it; I had to see it. Years passed; TV Guides came and went.
I finally got a chance to see She-Demons when it came out on video. I was surprised that my VCR didn’t puke out the tape. Bad? I’ve spent more on film processing than the producers spent making She-Demons. Scary? Not as much as using a beach bathroom. Expectations crushed like garlic in a press.
Horror films are all about expectations. They are also economically sound, often inexpensive to produce and quick to make a profit. To help you sort through the body count, here’s a quick rundown of new horror films to haunt your dreams.
After dark horror fest
All seven films in the Lionsgate series feature numerous extras, including commentaries, deleted scenes, artwork, interviews and featurettes.
And you thought your neighbors were trouble. Meet The Hamiltons, a family desperately trying to remain together after the parents die. On the surface, The Hamiltons look like your typical family next door, except for one annoying habit: They kill their neighbors and drain their blood to feed something in the basement. Filmmakers The Butcher Brothers do an excellent job of twisting and turning this Norman Rockwell painting into a horrific version of The Scream.
Wicked Little Things
Horror veteran J.S. Cardone (The Forsaken) directs this tidy little thriller about a recently widowed mother and her two daughters trying to get away from it all by moving to a remote mountain home, unaware that it was built near a horrific mine tragedy where a lot of children were buried alive. Polished acting, creepy atmosphere and a chilling premise make this one of the better films of the series, a goose bump-inducing ghost story that stays with you.
Talk about gross anatomy! When medical student Alison begins dissecting stiffs in the morgue, she senses a presence. Reassured by her teacher that it is just nerves, Alison attempts to dive into her work. When a friend ends up dead, Alison knows her stiff is to blame, and learns it has been possessed by a spirit intent on carving up a few medical students. The use of real cadavers only adds to the creep factor of this medical thriller.
If you dance, you’ve got to pay the piper, as a group of friends learn after celebrating on the grave of a friend. After a night of drinking, the friends reunite at the grave, where they enrage and then engage three particularly nasty spirits. The premise is simple, but director Mike Mendez punches every frame with visual finesse and suspense.
Hold on tight for the ride of your life. Penny (Rachel Miner) survives a childhood car crash that killed her parents, leaving her traumatized and unable to ride in a car. When her psychiatrist (Mimi Rogers) takes her for a therapeutic ride, their chance encounter with a hitchhiker and an accident forces Penny to come face to face with her worst fears. Nail-biting suspense, unexpected plot twists and a constant sense of dread make this one a keeper.
A group of college students party in an old, abandoned Dark Ride, unaware that it was the scene of a brutal and gruesome murder. The students get more than they bargained for when the killer escapes and returns to his old stomping ground, intent on killing anyone who crosses his path. Great, gruesome fun with lots of traditional shock moments painted in red crimson.
Director Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge) returns with another freaky ghost story, this one set inside an abandoned hotel, the site of a gruesome mass murder. When a director and his crew show up 35 years later to recreate the event, they are haunted by ghosts from the past. Honestly creepy. (Lionsgate)
Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film
Fans of slasher films will appreciate this informative documentary that cuts through the fat. Horror icons speak their minds and spill some blood as they discuss their craft, ponder the effects of their legacy, and question the future of the genre. (ThinkFilm)
Remake of 1974 chiller ratchets up the suspense and gore. A group of students find themselves stranded in their sorority house on Christmas Eve with the former occupant, a killer with an appetite for blood. Directed by Glen Morgan, Black Christmas covers pretty much the same territory, recruiting a roster of television actresses to play potential victims. For a remake, the film is surprisingly suspenseful and jarring, recreating iconic moments with its own signature. (Dimension/Genius)
City workers securing an abandoned medical facility come face to face with an experiment gone out of control, a rat-man creature hungry for flesh. Tom Sizemore stars as Vince, who leads a group of workers to their slaughter. Cheesy B-movie monster and cat-and-mouse game of survival do little to distinguish this thriller from the litter. (Genius)
Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) wrote and directed this contemporary thriller about computer- generated models. Albert Finney stars as a famous Beverly Hills plastic surgeon whose clients, models featured in a new subliminal advertising campaign, are dying mysteriously. Former Partridge Family star Susan Dey plays his latest creation, at the mercy of James Coburn and his mysterious research facility. Crichton plays into public paranoia to create a chiller ahead of its time. (Warner Home Entertainment)
The Mario Bava Collection
The late Italian director’s most acclaimed early work is included in this five-film collection, a testament to his influence on modern filmmakers. While not all the films are horror in theme, they are representative of the style of Bava, whose use of imagery, explicit violence and sexuality are still considered cutting edge. My favorite film is Black Sabbath, also known as The Three Faces of Fear. Presented in its original Italian language, the film is a trilogy of macabre tales hosted by Boris Karloff, including The Drop of Water, an absolutely bone-chilling ghost story that will leave you wet. Boxed set also includes Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knives of the Avenger and Kill, Baby … Kill! (Anchor Bay)
Children’s book author Claire Holloway (Gabrielle Anwar) attempts to reconcile her dark and disturbing visions by vacationing in the country home that haunted her dreams. Assisted by the local newspaper editor (Justin Louis) and an expert on the supernatural (Forest Whitaker), Claire explores the origins of her nightmares, ghostly figures that draw her closer and closer to the truth. Atmospheric, creepy and thoughtfully paced. (Sony)
Masters of Horror: Pro-Life
John Carpenter returns to form with this splashy horror film about a young woman (Caitlin Wachs) seeking an abortion against the wishes of her extremely religious father (Ron Perlman). As the drama plays out in a remote, secured clinic, the staff watch in horror as the baby goes from fetus to monster in a matter of minutes. Carpenter turns the happy event into a bloody free- for-all when the real father arrives to claim the kid. (Anchor Bay)
Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes
He’s back! The demonic avenger returns to wreak havoc on a small town physician who has been desecrating the dead and leaving their remains to rot in the local swamp. Using the remains of the creature’s creator, the villagers resurrect the monster to teach the doctor a lesson, but forget that what goes around comes around. OK addition to the franchise. (Sony)
With jaw-dropping special effects and white-knuckle thrills, Re-Animator features great, goofy performances and a wild sense of abandon. Jeffrey Combs is delightfully over-the-top as Herbert West, whose new formula reanimates dead tissue. Bruce Abbott plays the graduate student who gets more than he bargains for after helping West, learning that sometimes dead is better dead. Unrated, uncut and insane, the film pushes horror effects and camp to the extreme, arriving at a place where anything is permissible. Two-disc DVD uncovers a graveyard filled with great bonus features. (Anchor Bay)
Chilling tale of exorcism from Germany about a young woman experiencing unexplainable and violent seizures and the priest who suspects she is possessed. Raised in a strict religious family and suffering from epilepsy, Michaela (Sandra Huller, sympathetic and sullen) leaves home for college, but her education is cut short when she suffers a nervous breakdown. Using implied imagery instead of shock effects, filmmakers manage to make Michaela’s plight real, forcing us to sit there, helpless, as she undergoes one traumatic event after the other. (Genius)
When George Grieves (Thomas Cavanagh) checks into the hospital for a routine procedure, what begins as simple tests manifests into an unnerving alternate reality where death is the only way out. The second film in Warner Home Entertainment’s Raw Feed series starts off as a paranoid exploration of questionable hospital procedures and mushrooms into a riveting psychological game of give and take. When George comes face to face with a black intern who teaches him a wicked lesson in race relations, Sublime becomes painful to watch.
American tourists on vacation in Brazil encounter a mad doctor engaged in illegal organ transplants. When a bus accident interrupts their carefree excursion, the group of Americans find themselves drugged and at the mercy of a surgeon who likes dissecting patients while they are awake. Like Hostel and Saw, Turistas is another edition of slaughterhouse horror, films that exploit the depraved side of human nature. The cast of freshly scrubbed Americans (led by Josh Duhamel) line up for the slaughter, while the filmmakers delight in ripping them apart. Unrated version cuts deeper. (Fox)