Happy Halloween, kiddos! Hope you’re donning costumes and/or gobbling candy while you’re reading this last Spook Series 2013 post. It’s been a fun ride with lots of different horrors (all of which you can view in the Spook Series Archives), but alas, all good things must come to an end. At least, I hope you think it’s been good. If not, please continue to lie to me. Ignorance is bliss. Anyway, you may notice these Eerie Extras (aka miscellaneous horrors that I wanted to include) are a couple less than the original 10 films I promised. Here’s the sad truth: I ran out of time. Hope you aren’t too broken up about it. If you are, then I’m sorry, champ. I’ll buy you an ice cream later. Or you could just read about these 8 Eerie Extras and see if you feel better.
#8: Saw (2004)
Synopsis: “With a dead body lying between them, two men wake up in the secure lair of a serial killer who’s been nicknamed ‘Jigsaw.’ The men must follow various rules and objectives if they wish to survive and win the deadly game set for them.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Eerily Interesting: Okay, okay—I know what you’re thinking: This is on her list? Gruesome, twisted Saw from the girl who goes on tangents about horror movies having too much of a focus on gore? Call me a hypocrite, but yes, I think Saw is a worthy Halloween watch. The thing that most people who haven’t seen the Saw series don’t seem to understand is that the first Saw film is actually pretty tame when it comes to gore, especially compared to the six disgusting sequels. The first Saw is much more psychological, implying horrific things rather than showing them. It’s still thoroughly unsettling, but in a way that is much less in your face (aka no loving close-ups of limbs being mutilated). The disorienting beginning thrusts the audience into a mystery with a constant sense of dread. Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes) wake up and find themselves chained up in a gnarly bathroom with no memory of how they got there. Various clues regarding their situation and how to escape are hidden around the room, and the two men have to work together to figure things out. However, they quickly deduce that a notorious serial killer with a penchant for sick games is behind their abductions, and he never lets anyone escape without a hefty cost. It’s a compelling, disturbing mystery that keeps you guessing until the heart-pounding finale. I hate that Saw opened the door for a repulsive slew of “torture porn” flicks, but Saw itself has an interesting story, likeable characters, and surprisingly minimal gore. So give the first one a shot. Just don’t bother with the others.
My Grade: B+
#7: Scream (1996)
Synopsis: “A killer known as Ghostface begins killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the ‘Rules’ of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Eerily Interesting: Scream wasn’t the first and probably isn’t the best metafilm, but it’s definitely one of the most memorable. It’s a film that pokes fun at the horror genre while also celebrating it, falling into conventions and exposing those conventions in clever, humorous ways. The film’s opening sequence with Drew Barrymore is easily one of the most iconic openings to a horror film ever, and if anyone ever asks “What’s your favorite scary movie?” in a creepy voice, odds are you instantly know they’re referencing Scream. After a high school student is murdered by an eerie, cheeky masked killer in the town of Woodsboro, everyone is abuzz about who could’ve committed the gruesome crime. But protagonist Sydney (Neve Campbell), who’s still recovering from the brutal rape and murder of her mother a year ago, tries to avoid the gossip. Unfortunately for Sydney, the killer seems intent on dragging her into his twisted agenda. One by one he murders the people around her before finally coming for his real prize: Sydney. There are constant references to the horror classics of the ‘70s and ‘80s in this film—Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night, etc.—and it’s all very fun. The characters even follow stereotypical types: the innocent virgin, the sensitive boyfriend, the class clown, the catty blonde, etc. They’re all familiar characters, but the film recognizes that and points it out, making it funny and interesting. Scream may not surpass the greatness of its classic predecessors, but it’s still an entertaining, witty slasher with a nice meta twist. Excellent Halloween fare.
My Grade: B+
#6: Session 9 (2001)
Synopsis: “Tensions rise within an asbestos cleaning crew as they work in an abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past that seems to be coming back.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Eerily Interesting: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Session 9, but it turned out to be a pretty compelling psychological horror filled with mystery and a constant sense of dread. But then it’s hard not to feel a sense of dread in an abandoned, asbestos-riddled mental hospital with an infamous history. That’s where Gordon (Peter Mullan) and his cleaning crew have accepted a job, and boy is it a creepy place to work. The deteriorating building still has remnants of its past inside—rickety wheelchairs, therapy rooms filled with faded pictures, abandoned trinkets, etc. Crew member Mike (Stephen Gevedon) is drawn to a room filled with recordings of old therapy sessions, particularly sessions with a patient who had multiple personalities. While he’s occupied with the spine-tingling recordings, tensions rise among the other crew members. Phil (David Caruso) is fed up with Hank (Josh Lucas), Gordon is having some troubles at home, and newbie Jeff (Brendan Sexton III) is just trying to learn the ropes and manage his nyctophobia (fear of darkness). Everything begins to fall apart when one crew member disappears under mysterious circumstances, and things only get worse from there. Session 9 is an undoubtedly eerie film that has a lot going for it—especially toward the end. The use of the old therapy session recordings combined with the decayed atmosphere results in constant tension. If you’re into creeping, psychological stories or even if you’re just looking for something different than your standard scary film, I’d recommend checking out Session 9.
My Grade: B+
#5: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Synopsis: “Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Eerily Interesting: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when Joss Whedon is involved on a project, it’s guaranteed gold. Cabin in the Woods, a film co-written by Whedon and the director, Drew Goddard, is no exception to that fact. When I first saw the preview for this film, I distinctly remember thinking it looked stupid. Then, all the glowing reviews started rolling in, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Now, I’m obsessed with this film. Cabin in the Woods is a deceptive film that you think is going to be one thing and ends up being something totally different. In a good way, of course. It’s very clever, very funny, and very, very different—especially toward the end. The basic premise revolves around a group of five college friends who get together for a weekend of fun at an old, remote cabin. Everything is splendid until they discover an artifact that accidentally awakens an ancient evil. After that, the weekend becomes a desperate fight for their lives. Here’s the twist: what they don’t know is that a strange, secretive organization is pulling the strings behind the attack, desperately trying to ensure the friends’ deaths for a very specific purpose. With this interesting addition to the plot, Cabin in the Woods transcends a typical B-movie horror flick, delighting in genre stereotypes while also poking fun at them. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and it’s wonderful. If you like your horrors a little weird and a lot funny, I strongly suggest this film.
My Grade: A-
#4: Misery (1990)
Synopsis: “A famous novelist is ‘rescued’ from a car crash by an obsessed fan.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Eerily Interesting: Kathy. Freaking. Bates. This film earned her an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and for good reason—she’s absolutely, brilliantly terrifying. As deranged nurse Annie Wilkes, Bates plays one of the scariest characters Stephen King ever created, and she is both wonderful and horrible to watch. You see, on his way back home from a remote cabin where he was finishing his book, famous author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) accidentally runs his car off the road during a blizzard. When he comes to, Paul finds himself recuperating in the home of his self-proclaimed “number-one fan,” Annie, who pulled him out of his car and effectively saved his life. Grateful for her help, Paul agrees to let Annie read the final installment in his bestselling “Misery” series, which he just finished a few days ago. As she reads, Annie gradually reveals cracks in her cheerful façade, and Paul begins to realize that she is a very unstable and obsessed individual. When the ending of the series isn’t to Annie’s liking, she throws a terrifying tantrum and forces Paul to rewrite the whole book, threatening his life if he doesn’t. Immobilized from his severe leg injuries, trapped in the house, and cut off from the rest of the world, Paul has no choice but to write for his life. Though I’ve already mentioned Bates’ performance, Caan is not to be ignored. He very convincingly conveys Paul’s terror, pain, and frustration, and we’re right there with him the whole way through. Misery has a constant sense of anxiety, phenomenal performances, and a gruesome scene you will never forget involving the act of “hobbling.” Ugh. I shudder to even think of it.
My Grade: A-
#3: 28 Days Later (2002)
Synopsis: “Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Eerily Interesting: My favorite thing about this film? Cillian Murphy gets to play a NORMAL DUDE. Well, as normal as a dude can be in post-apocalyptic Great Britain. Everyone’s gotten used to Murphy as the bad and/or weird guy, but it’s always refreshing to look back and remember when he was just a nice fella trying not to catch a raging zombie virus. Oh, and bonus points because he gets to use his natural Irish accent. But these are just a few of the factors that make 28 Days Later one of the best zombie flicks out there. The trouble begins when a group of British animal rights activists break into science facility where chimpanzees have been infected with a so-called “rage virus.” The none-too-bright activists set one of these chimps free, and surprise—it bites them. And so the virus spreads across the nation. Cue Jim (Murphy), a bicycle courier who awakens from a coma 28 days later in a deserted hospital in London. Upon exploring the city, Jim finds it deserted as well. Eventually he meets up with tough survivors Mark (Noah Huntley) and Selena (Naomie Harris), who fill him in on what has transpired. Scared, confused, and devastated from the sudden loss of everyone he knew, Jim has to find his place in this new world, avoiding the rabid infected at all costs. As heartbreaking as it is terrifying, 28 Days Later is much more than a gory zombie flick; it’s a well-crafted, thrilling film and an emotional journey for poor, sympathetic Jim, who gets to see the best and the worst of humanity. As far as zombie films go, this is a must-watch.
My Grade: A
#2: Donnie Darko (2001)
Synopsis: “A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a large bunny rabbit that manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after narrowly escaping a bizarre accident.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Eerily Interesting: According to most terrifying bunny ever, the world is supposed to end the day before Halloween. Luckily not the case this year. Or did somebody pull a Donnie Darko and save us…? This film may be a little more sci-fi and/or drama than horror, but I believe the dark tone and general weirdness make it pretty darn creepy and a great, offbeat Halloween watch. Our peculiar protagonist, the titular Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), is an intelligent yet troubled teen who has been seeing some pretty strange stuff. For example, he regularly sees Frank, a monstrous rabbit straight out of your most disturbing nightmares. Late one October night, Frank informs Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, leaving Donnie to puzzle over whether this information is fact or simply a product of his own anxious brain. But pieces begin to fall into place (quite literally in the case of a stray jet engine) as Donnie uncovers more odd things to support Frank’s troubling prophecy. Complex, visually interesting, and very well-performed, it’s easy to see why Donnie Darko has become a celebrated cult classic. Gyllenhaal quite possibly owes his rise to fame to the film, which was very well-received despite a weak box office performance. The film includes heavy hitters Drew Barrymore (who also acted as an executive producer) and Patrick Swayze, and you even get to see the Gyllenhaal siblings play siblings (Maggie is Donnie’s older sister, Elizabeth). Donnie Darko is an oddly beautiful, haunting film that will leave you scratching your head and a little depressed, but I promise, it’s so worth it.
My Grade: A
#1: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Synopsis: “A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Eerily Interesting: Cannibalism has never looked so sophisticated. But when Sir Anthony Hopkins is playing the cannibal, it’s hard not to see the character with an air of sophistication. The winner of a whopping five Oscars, The Silence of the Lambs is a remarkable film and undoubtedly the gold standard by which all other crime films are measured. And it’s not too shabby as a downright disturbing horror either. Based on the novel of the same title by Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs introduces ambitious FBI cadet Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) right whenever she is saddled with the assignment of her career: talk to the incarcerated Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). It might seem like an easy enough task, but the deviously clever Dr. Lecter is much more dangerous than you’d expect a suave psychiatrist to be. Nicknamed “Hannibal the Cannibal,” Lecter had a secret hobby of killing people and munching on their flesh prior to his incarceration, and even behind bars he remains just as lethal. But Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit sends young Clarice to interview Lecter hoping she’ll glean information from him about a serial killer currently on the loose. In exchange for sensitive personal information, Clarice receives tidbits about the killer from Lecter. She races to put these pieces together before the killer strikes again. Intense and unsettling, The Silence of the Lambs draws you in and keeps you glued to the screen with phenomenal performances from both Hopkins and Foster, a grotesquely fascinating plot, and a clear, clever vision from director Jonathan Demme. The success of this horror has brought about several other films and even an intense new TV show (that I’m a little obsessed with), and for good reason—The Silence of the Lambs is one of the best.
My Grade: A+
Well folks, that’s a wrap for the Eerie Extras and for Spook Series 2013! I hope you have had at least half as much fun reading about these films as I have had watching them and writing about them. Did you discover any new ones you’d like to check out? Maybe rediscover some old favorites? Whatever the case, I hope your Halloween is filled with delicious treats and a few good spooks 😉 I’ll list my eerie extras below. How about it—what have been some of your favorite films to watch this month? My ears are open for Spook Series 2014! 🙂
#1: The Silence of the Lambs (A+)
#2: Donnie Darko (A)
#3: 28 Days Later (A)
#4: Misery (A-)
#5: Cabin in the Woods (A-)
#6: Session 9 (B+)
#7: Scream (B+)
#8: Saw (B+)
P.S. Though I’ve had a few people say they’d like to contribute something, I welcome anyone else who’d like to add to my upcoming series, NOOOOvember (see the details here). I probably won’t post anything for it for a couple days (I need a break!), but if it sounds like something you’d like to do, please comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.