Horror is a tricky genre to nail down: some people love their horror movies goofy and full of nonsense, while others want a more serious tone kept throughout the runtime. It’s important to remember, however that horror is still a genre regardless of personal preferences, and an incredible genre at that. Horror is what brought us Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Jordan Peele and a plethora of other staple filmmakers. But not all horror entries are the big budget films with well-known names attached. Releasing this week in theaters’ is Ready Or Not, the new horror-comedy entry from filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, formerly of the film-making group Radio Silence. What better time than now to discuss other horror films in recent years that flew under the radar and had a specific voice worth hearing?
With a similar theme to Ready Or Not, You’re Next takes the home invasion premise to a whole new level. Adam Wingard directed this fascinating look into a family as dysfunctional as they come, but with a sinister twist: A group of masked killers are hunting the family members during an important dinner. We’re introduced to the family through Erin (Sharni Vinson) who’s meeting her boyfriend’s parents for their wedding anniversary. All of the adult children are present and they’ve brought all of their judgement and resentments with them. When intruders start attacking, everyone panics and tries to figure out what is really going on.
What’s so great about You’re Next is that it decides to throw multiple twists into the narrative, all of which will be kept secret in this article, since it’s sinister fun to watch how this story unfolds. Home invasion is a common sub-genre of horror, but not since The Strangers has a film stood out like this one. To boot, You’re Next contains multiple figures in indie horror from Simon Barrett and Ti West to AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg, all of whom give the feeling of how much fun they’re having making this picture. Worth multiple repeat viewings, You’re Next is an easy sell for horror fans looking for blood, laughs, and unexpected fun.
For months, The Invitation was mentioned like the new kid in school that everyone had heard of, but no one had actually seen. It has all the qualities horror audiences are looking for: lean run-time, easily accessible on Netflix, and engaging from scene one. So why wasn’t this film more promoted within the horror genre? Truthfully, we’re not sure. The Invitation is one of the better surprises in the last decade, if not just for its unexpectedly interesting story and the brilliant payoff it delivers.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is invited to a dinner party at his ex-wife’s after a tragic event split them apart. Reunited with plenty of old, familiar faces and introduced to some new ones, Will is nervous about being around his ex-wife and her new partner but tries to remain neutral and enjoy the evening. Easy enough of a challenge until her new partner, David (Haunting of Hill House‘s Michiel Huisman), mentions their religious group they follow and their practices. Will is frantic, unsure of what to make of these beliefs and whether or not something else is going on during their reunion.
A factor not always present in horror, but certainly heightened by it, is cinematography. Cinematographer Bobby Shore captures every moment beautifully, pairing chaos and emotional breakdowns in the majesty of suburban California. Logan Marshall-Green is amazing as the lovable, but broken Will, while Huisman perfectly captures David as menacingly endearing. The performances are equally critical at selling this plot, as some people might think at anytime that they would have behaved differently and simply left the party. To say anything else of The Invitation would be doing the film a disservice, as it expertly stretches the tension and delivers an incredible payoff, including one of the better endings in recent memory. By all means, put The Invitation at the top of your list.
Anthology is nothing new to horror, so it’s understandable that V/H/S might have slipped under the radar, but it deserves much more. Delivered as a segment of short films revolving around found footage, up-and-coming names in horror showcase their love for the gross, gory, and unexpected. We begin by following a young group of men making money off of depraved videos at the expense of others. When the group break into a house to fill a mysterious lead, they discover a treasure trove of VHS tapes. One by one, the group starts watching the tapes, which are presented to the audience as shorts interrupting the main story. They’re mostly slow-burn, but all of them feature horrible things happening to mostly horrible people. Honeymoons gone wrong, succubus encounters, and haunted houses are just a few of the things V/H/S has to offer, delivering unmatched dread and terror.
This writer had the experience of watching V/H/S in a small, independent theater in the middle of the night. Every minute I spent watching it involved looking over my shoulder to see if someone was approaching or the shadow wasn’t what it seemed. This momentary fear perfectly encapsulates V/H/S: Terrifying, dreadful, and uneasy, but a hell of a rush. One of the segments, 10/31/98, was directed by Radio Silence, the group featuring the directors of Ready Or Not and shows off their talent for balancing humor with terror of the unknown. V/H/S spawned a franchise of two other entries which are worth checking out, especially Nacho Vigalondo’s short, Parallel Monsters and Safe Haven by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto. Seriously, Safe Haven is brutal, incredible storytelling featuring some fantastic talents behind their long-takes. But they wouldn’t exist without the ground-paving work of V/H/S. Gross, uneasy ground, but paved by the expertise of upcoming names in horror film-making.
Channel Zero: The Dream Door
Technically, this entry falls under television as a season of SyFy’s original series Channel Zero, but, given how it plays more as a six hour television movie, I decided it makes the list. Since each season of Channel Zero is a stand-alone story, The Dream Door is available to anyone without prior knowledge on the previous seasons. Newlyweds Jillian and Tom have just moved into Tom’s childhood house, but discover a door in the basement that did not exist before. It isn’t long before Jillian realizes that she can open the door and bring a creature from her childhood imagination named Pretzel Jack, a contortionist clown who is loyal to a fault. Why is Pretzel Jack alive now and what does he want? These are the questions Jillian must discover the answers to before things go too far.
The Dream Door is fantastic storytelling that doesn’t feel too grounded by its surrounding reality. If Channel Zero got the love it deserves, Pretzel Jack would be up in the same league as Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers as horror icons. On top of featuring great characters, this six-episode series tackles loneliness, coping with trauma, and how to handle our own personal demons. It’s rare that a horror story features these emotional traits and actually answer the questions it asks, yet The Dream Door does this in spades. Available on Amazon Prime, Channel Zero: The Dream Door is 6 hours of pure terror, creatures, emotion, and offers one of the best horror characters in recent memory.
Ready Or Not premieres this week in theaters everywhere.