Innovative Horror Films to Watch this Halloween

When I was a kid, I was terrified of horror films. I
was the proverbial “scaredy cat.” Just seeing the trailer for a scary movie would keep me up all night. And yet, I was, and have always
been, fascinated by the horror genre. Upon entering high school, I grew out of my
paralyzing fear and I began to explore the genre with my friends, watching
American classics such as The Omen
(“It’s all for you, Damien!”) and Rosemary’s
(“He has his father’s eyes…”), as well as masterpieces of the
international scene like Audition
(“Kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri!”) and The
Devil’s Backbone
(“Many of you will die.”). I was delighted to find that the techniques and conventions of horror are just as
varied and complex as any other narrative type, and that even though innovation
may be less visible in this genre, it certainly exists. This week, in light of the upcoming holiday, I’d like to
share three of my favorite modern English-language horror films that demonstrate the innovative spirit that lies beneath the surface of
mainstream horror.

Pontypool (2008)

there is one type of monster movie that requires a creative kick to
attract audiences these days, it’s the zombie flick. The traditional,
Romero-style, slow-moving, brain-munching zombie has been so overplayed in the
past decades that it isn’t only not that interesting anymore, it isn’t that scary. The unfamiliar is a
key part of fear, and we’ve become very accustomed to this particular menace.

Pontypool returns to the unfamiliar by reconstructing the means of disease transmission. Instead of
spreading the zombie plague through biting, the infection is carried through
language. Certain words and phrases allow the virus to spread between hosts.
It’s a complicated concept, and sure to upset those who demand utter logic from
their movies, but I found it to be a refreshingly original idea and argue
that Pontypool manages to pull it off
quite well. The thought of a crowd of shuffling people all
muttering the same thing is quite chilling.

Despite the
fact that Pontypool is an independent
film, it doesn’t feel low-budget in the slightest. The entire movie is set in a small-town radio station, where reports from the outside world leak in to capture our imagination and create a true feeling of entrapment in a major event. While the actors aren’t
well-known, they perform remarkably well. However, it’s in the editing where Pontypool really excels. The film is
extremely high quality and stylish for an independent film. Imagine, if you will, that J. J. Abrams had shot a zombie movie. Pontypool looks a little like that would. Overall, an impressive film.

Europa Report (2013)

My personal
idol in the realm of film criticism, the great Film Crit Hulk, once defined a masterpiece as “A FILM THAT SEEK TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING (OFTEN VERY SPECIFIC) AND IT EXECUTE THAT GOAL (OR SET OF GOALS) FLAWLESSLY THROUGHOUT.” Please excuse the
capitalization and grammar; Film Crit Hulk is a Hulk, after all. By this
definition, the low-budget sci-fi horror flick, Europa Report, is in fact a masterpiece.
Every element of this movie has been carefully crafted to reinforce its central
question: What is the price of knowledge?

It’s an
ambitious goal, and the plot is founded on an even more ambitious premise: A team of a half-dozen astronauts are on a journey to survey Europa, a moon of
Jupiter that has been declared by scientists as the celestial body in
our solar system most likely to hold extraterrestrial life. The movie is
structured in a faux-documentary format, with occasional talking-head segments and handheld footage of the shuttle and team. This
creates a realist aesthetic that helps to capture the claustrophobia of the
close-quarters setting.

The realism does not end there. Europa Report is what some would
describe as a piece of “hard” science fiction in that it strives to keep its
narrative grounded in actual science. This includes obvious gestures, such as the
signal delay as information travels the widening distance between the craft and
Earth, as well as some smaller ones, like how a certain
chamber of the ship is viewed from outside be to constantly rotating, creating the oddly-segmented artificial gravity we witness in the film. These concessions to realism
are greatly appreciated, and serve to make the thrills of the movie even more
chilling. What I found most fascinating about Europa Report, though, is that even as disaster after disaster
strikes, there is a feeling of wonder among the characters. Call it insanity if
you wish, but these guys are happy to be where they are, on the frontiers of
human knowledge. All this and much more (no spoilers!) adds up to an extremely
effective movie that horror aficionados, as well as scientists, will love.

Attack the Block (2011)

something odd: there are very few horror films that are set in a city. Sure,
the occasional zombie flick may kick off in a major population center, but even
28 Days Later moved rather quickly to
the British countryside. Whatever the reason for it, this reluctance to tell
stories in an urban setting is disappointing, especially when you consider that
films like Attack the Block could be
more common. A small-scale alien invasion movie centered on a South London
apartment block, Attack the Block
follows five young teenagers as they go from looking for trouble to simply
trying to stay alive.

I must say,
out of the three films I’m discussing, Attack
the Block
is my favorite. I loved everything about this film, from the
distinctive design of the monsters to the perfect fit of the soundtrack to the
frenetic action scenes. I was not surprised to learn that many of the people
behind the film had worked with the legendary director Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame), as the movie
demonstrates his astonishing ability to seamlessly blend humor, action, and
suspense into a single sequence. The world that Attack the Block conjures is extremely stylized, from the language
to the mannerisms, and yet its characters transcend its South London setting.
The perceived invincibility of these kids is universal, as is the affinity and
protectiveness they feel towards their home. It’s incredibly endearing, and
manages to raise the stakes even higher for English-language horror films.

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