Do you remember when you went to the Old Country Buffet and loaded up lasagna, tater tots and brownies but it was nasty and then you thought maybe I should have had the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and bits and bobs? So it is now to be a horror movie fan as streaming is a new normal. The choice is wide, the quality varies, and the choices are daunting.
This is where I come in. In this column, I’m going to be giving a fan’s scary movie recommendations for people who want to tell the terrible from the terrible. In the first place: demonic possessions, traumatic dreams and killer jeans.
Rent or buy it from Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu.
I swear I saw David Cronenberg peek out from behind a door in this 80s-inspired sci-fi horror mashup by screenwriter Anthony Scott Burns. Like Cronenberg, Burns is Canadian, and like one of my favorite Cronenberg films – “Rabid” (1977) – “Come True” uses garish storytelling and unusual production design to threaten the screen.
Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), a concerned young woman who has become estranged from her mother, participates in a sketchy sleep study conducted by researchers who are well aware of her goals. As the experiment goes on, tall, menacing figures haunted by Sarah’s nightmares reach the real world, threaten her waking hours, and lead her into the arms of one of her researchers (Landon Liboiron) for comfort. The story ends with more questions than answers about Sarah’s horror, but that secret is what makes the movie so annoying.
There is definitely substance here, but the film has style to spare. The pulsating synth score, the creepy institutional locations (good job, Edmonton), and the rooms lit in vibrant jewel tones would be what I would call dreamy.
“The Darkness and the Evil”
Stream it on Shudder.
A demonic presence plagues a remote farm in this macabre film written and directed by Bryan Bertino (“The Strangers”). Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. play siblings who return home to say goodbye to their dying father. When tragedy strikes her mother, it triggers a series of supernatural events that point to something far more vicious than a dusty wind blew through the windows.
Bertino nails what too many directors don’t do: this terror is still powerful terror. The scene, which I can’t get out of my head, shows a demonic ghost floating silently in the courtyard, an image far more creepy than a growling monster in running shoes. Later, when a girl shows up at the front door and asks softly: “Can you smell it?” That ruined my night. It was heaven.
Bertino represses such moments even more by filming many of them from below, adding to the perception that invisible evil lurks everywhere. Then comes the coda and he sets a cruel, heartbreaking tableau.
“The Block Island Sound”
Stream it on Netflix.
Sometimes a monster and a movie change together. Such is the case in this intense horror thriller that begins as an aquatic mystery and then turns into a dream of alien abduction fever before ending as a harrowing drama of mental illness.
The film, directed by brothers Kevin and Matthew McManus, is set on the road between Block Island and the Rhode Island coast, where the filmmakers grew up. When dead fish wash up on the beach, an EPA team comes to investigate. But then a local fisherman, Tom (Neville Archambault), dies under strange, hallucinatory circumstances. and his son Harry (a great Chris Sheffield) begins to lose his own grip on reality. It soon becomes clear that science has no chance against the supernatural forces that play in water.
When a horror film mixes and brings subgenres together, it’s often the mark of a disoriented filmmaker. Not here. The McManus brothers multitask with horror conventions and ultimately deliver a heartbreaking story of what happens when a man’s natural world and mental stability collapse.
Stream it on Shudder.
This bloody satire marries two of my favorite horror subgenres: the killer object (“Rubber”) and the single wicked location (“ATM”). The film is set in a Uniqlo-like fast fashion store where a new line of denim that adapts to the contours of each wearer is to be stored overnight. But the Obsessed Pants have their own nefarious plans: to scare the employees and take them out in a spectacularly bloody way. I’m not exaggerating when I say the jeans are so tight they kill.
The special effects, especially the dance jeans, are low-fi silly. But Canadian director Elza Kephart gets smart with cuts and syringes that splatter fans will find weird.
Kephart and her co-author Patricia Gomez aren’t just out for sick laughs. They also ask viewers – as deeply as possible in a 77-minute film – to think about conspicuous consumption, the exploitation of child labor and the hypocrisy of corporate do-gooderism. Your mess has a message.
Stream it on Hulu.
When a movie mom locks her child in a cage, it’s usually a sign that her maternal instincts are up to date. Such is not the case in Emma Tammi’s creepy but surprisingly delicate film, the season two finale of Into the Dark, the anthology series from Hulu and Blumhouse Television.
Esme (Megalyn Echikunwoke) is a single mother who settles in a small town with her young son Luna (Yonas Kibreab) after a monstrous incident forced her to flee. They’re sticking to themselves, and for good reason – there’s a clue in the circles that marks each full moon on their calendar.
The film is stingy with straightforward answers to the suffering that causes Luna to develop a vicious bite and taste for meat. But there is no question why his mother is hiding him.
Some fans might be disappointed with how humble the monster has manifested itself in the last few moments. I thought such reluctance was a wise and visually refreshing departure from the typical wicked, changing narrative. It is a pleasure to see a film that is more interested in a human story than a flashy one.