Normally this space is reserved for the latest features to arrive at the local indie theaters, but for one week, in the mischievous spirit of Halloween, we're going to mix it up. If you're looking for a good scare, you've come to the right place. Rather than recommend the genre's best-known titles – Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the original Nightmare on Elm Street, to name three personal favorites – I've tried to compile a list of less obvious shockers, all available at your local video store or via Netflix. Enjoy.
Don't bother trying to make sense of the plot, which is deliberately absurd. Yet Dario Argento's surreal 1977 masterpiece, about a German ballet academy where students routinely end up on the chopping block, is instantly memorable for its bold, Technicolor brillance, gruesome splatter and a score, by the Italian prog-rock quartet Goblin, that eerily, seamlessly ties it all together.
The high-concept premise sounds numbingly dull – three twentysomethings trapped on a ski lift after closing hours – but the execution is masterful and, at times, truly horrifying. Overlooked at the time of its too-limited February theatrical release, Hatchet director Adam Green’s foray into the frigid heart of a New England winter is mostly bloodless, but his talent for thrusting likable characters into all-too-believable nightmares trumps any need for gratuitous gore.
Bill Paxton makes his directorial debut and stars in this gripping 2002 thriller about an easygoing father who, convinced he's acting on God's orders, sets about kidnapping and killing mortal demons. What begins as a disquieting depiction of extreme religious fervor and the jarring violence that seems justified in the minds of true believers, ends as a frightening chronicle of child abuse, as Paxton's predatory pater familias pressures his two sons to join in the slaughter.
Takashi Miike's disturbing 1999 study of female objectification and one woman's merciless revenge – visited on a lonely, widowed producer looking for love among the actresses auditioning for his latest romance – is sometimes difficult to watch, but for the less squeamish among us, it is provocative, uncompromising and relentless.
Released on DVD as Zombi 2 – its original title, erroneously suggesting at the time of its 1979 theatrical release some tenuous connection with George Romero's popular Dawn of the Dead – Lucio Fulci's twisted vomitorium lacks the depth that distinguished Argento's gonzo artistry from cinematic trash, but none of the technical expertise. For those craving the spectacle of punctured eyeballs and lacerated flesh, Zombie is a semi-classic achievement of the basest order.
6. The House of the Devil
The House of the Devil plays like an homage – Rosemary’s Baby is an obvious influence – but the irony here is that director Ti West’s latest is so superior to many of the movies whose spirit he channels, including 1979’s When a Stranger Calls and countless damsel-in-distress flicks from the ’80s. From his era-appropriate soundtrack (featuring Thomas Dolby, Greg Kihn and The Fixx) to the visual style of his opening credits and his slyly reverential camerawork, West gives his movie the look and feel of a 25-year-old relic, yet nothing about Devil seems stale.
7. The Evil Dead
Few films have frustrated collectors more than Sam Raimi’s blood-drenched 1981 feature debut, which has been cynically repackaged in a never-ending series of special editions, limited editions and super-secret limited editions. Yet no incarnation of The Evil Dead, in which Bruce Campbell established his cult legend by slaying an army of gleefully ghoulish demons, has looked crisper or sounded clearer than Anchor Bay’s just-released Blu-ray treatment – complete with all-new commentary by Raimi, Campbell and producer Robert Tapert. Got DVD? No problem – stick with Anchor Bay’s almost-as-enhanced and equally exhaustive 2007 Ultimate Edition (ho, ho, ho).