As I’ve oft lamented, I watch many horror movies. I’d like to think my taste has become discerning enough that I can guess quality from a synopsis or title picture. I’ve fallen for a few duds, but I’m also not afraid to walk away before finishing; life’s too damn short for crappy movies. Here are three that I stuck with to the end when maybe I shouldn’t have.
The Open House
A Netflix Original, and that stamp is sadly quickly losing the mark of quality it once enjoyed. I’d like to think I’m generally immune to aggressive ad campaigns, but when Netflix throws something up on my welcome page for a solid week I start to become curious.
There might be minor spoilers for the end but I’ll put up warning signs for you.
After a sudden tragedy, Dylan and his mom are forced to move to her sister’s palatial mountain resort home until they get back on their feet. The only condition is they have to clear out on Sundays for the open houses.
I’m not kidding when I say “palatial.” It looks like a commercial ski chalet. Here in Denver there’s a “Parade of Homes” every year where the public can slog through multimillion dollar homes (some people ostensibly are there to buy, but I’m sure most of us aren’t fooling anyone). And my thoughts are always the same: “Nice and all, but a bit much for just me and Tery.”
And this movie proves me right. It’s way too much house for Dylan and mom, and between the vast dark emptiness at night and the mountaintop seclusion, this is a natural setting for a horror movie.
After the first open house, strange things start happening. Items getting moved around, and the real star of the film, a troublesome pilot light that repeatedly goes out. This is the first problem with the movie: There are easily about five trips into the creepy basement to relight it, and that’s about two trips too many, in my opinion. Not unless you WANT your audience screaming, “Oh FFS, why won’t you bring in someone to fix the thing???”
It’s also obvious the basement is intended to provide the biggest creep factor, but unfortunately it’s so dark that every time there was a scary music cue, I had no idea what I was supposed to be seeing (I suspect this still I found was something; this picture is the first time I saw legs).
Dylan hits the nail on the head (and the audience over the head) with the whole conceit of the film: “Aren’t open houses weird? A bunch of strangers walk through your house all day, and no one’s checking at the end that they’re all gone.” He’s right, of course, but it’s only a real problem in a house this ridiculously enormous — yes, our condo is tiny, but a stranger would be hard pressed to find a place to hide in it too. Silver linings.
SPOILER ALERT!!!!!! Because that’s exactly what happens. There’s a creeper hiding out after an open house fucking with them. Until he gets bored and decides to kill them. But what bugged me, despite insisting I don’t always need a twist in my movies, is the creep remains faceless and anonymous. He’s not another character we’ve met, he’s just a pair of work boots. The twist IS it doesn’t matter who the killer is, he could be anyone. It reminded me of the film 8 mm (underrated, if you ask me), whose moral is we always want an explanation for evil, but sometimes it just exists and there’s nothing we can do about it.
It just felt like the end really petered out after the rest of the movie was so promisingly atmospheric. After building up perfectly good tension, it squanders it in the third act.
The Bye-Bye Man
I might not have chanced this if not for some pretty big names attached: Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway, and Doug Jones.
What really grabbed my attention was the opening scene featuring Leigh Whannell, writer of such favorites as the Saw and Insidious franchises. He’s on a shooting rampage through the suburbs in 1969, asking everyone “Did you tell anyone?” before blowing them away. (Must’ve been a lot of fun for him; sadly for me, this is the extent of his involvement.)
This is basically a rip-off of Candyman — say, or even think, his name and he comes to get you. “He” being the Bye-Bye Man (and whereas I agree the name is silly, I take exception to the critic who said it was as silly as the Babadook. Incorrect, sir. “The Babadook” is an OUTSTANDING name for a fairytale monster).
The movie teeters constantly between good and mediocre. Three college friends are renting a huge house off campus, where one of them finds scrawled writing in a drawer “DON’T THINK IT, DONT SAY IT” in insane circles. And he’d be okay if, mystifyingly, the author hadn’t carved the forbidden name underneath the paper.
It would also be great if he didn’t weirdly have what resembles a monk’s cloak hanging across from his bed that always looks like a man standing there (and *yawn* eventually does become the monster. STOP BEING SO PREDICTABLE).
The Bye-Bye Man doesn’t hurt you himself. Instead he makes you see things that trick you into hurting others. That’s pretty cool, actually.
The movie thought it through in that the kid can’t find anything online about it, but he digs further in library archives and finds a paper trail (which he tries to scratch out). So he knows how critical it is to erase all trace of this thing. So what does he do with the night stand with the carving? Burn it? Chop it into a million pieces? No. He tosses it into the woods a few feet from the house. I understand sometimes dumb things have to happen to keep a movie going. But there’s horror movie dumb and then there’s “no human being with enough brain cells to keep breathing would ever do this ” dumb.
But the worst crime this movie is guilty of is its use of Doug Jones. Doug Jones is a fine actor, but his unique talent is being inhumanly skeletally thin (though not as thin as Javier Botet, who does have a genetic disorder). Wrapping him up in a voluminous cloak nullifies his super power.
I got tricked into watching this by an article claiming that it was SO SCARY people couldn’t even finish it.
Ummm, NO. There were some creepy moments but a modern day Exorcist this isn’t.
It was this bombastic claim that makes me wish we had a useful rating system for horror movies. For instance, beginner could be “terrified by the Allie McBeale dancing baby.” Advanced could be me, “watches in the dark with headphones, falls asleep immediately after.” Expert would be extreme fans who watch, for instance, Oldboy and Audition, which in my defense aren’t my style anyway (no torture porn, thanks). Assuming everyone is scared equally by the same thing is nonsensical so stop with the fake hype.
The Hallow (2015)
Despite being three years old, this maintains a near perfect rating on Netflix (I’ve noticed that everything starts at five stars on Netflix, but give it a week and that slowly drops.) (Also to be fair, I’ve no idea how to find out when a title was added to Netflix. This might have only been up for a few days.)
Adam (who I recognized as being in Game of Thrones, as if that helps narrow it down at all) moves with his wife and newborn son to a remote forest in Ireland. He’s there to mark dead trees for removal, which makes him no friends among the locals, including the faerie folk. But don’t imagine sparkly little pixies; more along the lines of mini Pumpkinheads, and just as murderous.It was incredibly hard to find an enticing picture that wouldn’t give away the monsters. What can I say that won’t spoil you but give you enough information to want to see it?
The setting? This forest means business. So dark it doesn’t let any light in. Which can also be said for the dilapidated old farmhouse they move into. Maximum creepiness.
The monsters? Mostly practical, and perfectly lit (or maybe should say underlit) so you aren’t entirely sure what you saw until the climax (director is a Stan Winston fan. That’s all I need to know).
The sound design? Watch with headphones so you don’t miss a single chilling shriek coming from somewhere in the distance…or maybe closer.
Characters you care about? I shed a tear or two at the end. And hey, no one does anything amazingly stupid either.
“If you trespass on them, they’ll trespass on you.” Instant Blu-Ray purchase, which coming from me is a HUGE endorsement.