Chaw (2009, Jeong-won Shin, South Korea)
Carriers (2009, David Pastor & Àlex Pastor, USA)
Carriers is a post-pandemic apocalypse movie about a group of survivors navigating the highways of what remains of the US. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness. It teaches you that only assholes survive and then dares you to care for its protagonists.
One of my takes that I keep under a heat lamp is that often, zombie movies don’t need zombies to do what they’re trying to do, which is often show that humanity is petty and cruel. In that way, this feels like a zombie movie without the zombies, which I’ve kind of been asking for. That’s not giving the movie enough credit though: not only does it show its survivors as petty and cruel, but they’re scared and caring, hopeless and hopeful, methodical and indulgent, and in love.
Splice (2009, Vincenzo Natali, Canada)
A scifi horror about two geneticists who create a human-animal hybrid and raise it as a child. Throughout the movie the two take on various parenting roles and relationships with their monster daughter and it all goes to some dark places.
I’ve had a hard time writing down any thoughts about this movie, and I think it’s because there was something preventing me from really falling into it. It felt very top-down, if that makes sense. The characters felt molded by the script rather than emerging organically; the monster felt more defined by what we would see as monstrous, rather than being herself, personally and biologically. I felt very distant from her, and that’s the biggest disappointment for me. That doesn’t take away the fact that the movie really went into some new places and showed that there’s a lot more out there for horror.
Stir of Echoes (1999, David Koepp, USA)
I saw this when it came out in theaters, and at the time it was easy to write off as a copycat of The Sixth Sense. Except with digging. I’m so happy I saw it again, because it’s such a fun one. In the wake of the 90s teen-slasher revival, this movie fits right in with The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch as a supernatural horror that lets its cast and setting carry the weight in spooking you.
The movie has its dark and scary moments, but for the most part it’s playful and pokes fun at Tom’s (Kevin Bacon) masculinity. He’s a guy who feels destined for something greater than his middle-class job, afraid of being ordinary. He’s got this assumption that he’s entitled to something interesting, and his family is not it; when he learns Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) is pregnant, he seems to only dread the added inconvenience a new baby will bring. When the supernatural stuff starts happening, he tells her it’s the only interesting things that’s ever happened to him.
The Plumber (1979, Peter Weir, Australia)
A TV movie by Peter Weir (Master and Commander, The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society) about a malicious tradesman inserting himself into the home and life of an academic couple. From the poster, I thought this screamed slasher, but couldn’t be further from it. The charismatic and unnerving plumber is a trickster, crossing boundaries and tearing them down—throughout the movie his work of tearing open walls and sabotaging pipes serves as a metaphor for exposing the way the middle-class couple sets themselves above mere tradesmen and the way they construct gender roles of their household.
First Man into Space (1959, Robert Day, UK)
A scifi horror about an astronaut who returns from space and becomes a monster. Produced in the UK and filmed in the US, it still had that Hays-Code tameness feel to it on the horror end; however, it still kept the tension up, especially in the opening scenes, and I liked its sympathy for the monster.
The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959, Nobuo Nakagawa, Japan)
Classic Japanese vengeful ghost movie with gruesome effects and striking lighting effects echo back to the story’s theatrical origins. This is the first incarnation of this story that I’ve seen, but I’ve been reading about its many adaptations in kabuki and film.