It Comes at Night (2017)

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There’s a specific sub-genre of horror movies, the “siege” type scenario, the kind of movie where people are essentially locked into one area, one house or one cabin (or in the case of Dawn of the Dead, a mall), and they are unable to leave because the world around them is crumbling and rife with threat.  In the case of It Comes at Night, there is a deadly, highly-communicable disease.  Contact with the disease is, as of now, pretty much 100% lethal.  In the vein of George A. Romero or John Carpenter, the disease isn’t the monster—the disease just does what a disease does—the real monster is humanity.

Something John Carpenter has said again and again is that it’s so easy to say that monsters are out there, that they live in the shadows, that they dwell in the darkness.  But what’s really scary is the truth, that the monsters are already among us and we are them.

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Blair Witch (2016)

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Found-footage horror movies are a strange format for filmmaking that sometimes works wonderfully, and other times dully, an uninspired mess with the storytelling technique utilized for pure gimmickry and nothing else.  People forget that when the original Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, it was totally unlike anything anyone had ever seen (I mean, Cannibal Holocaust already existed, but unless you were a gore hound, you probably had no idea it existed).  And unlike the hundreds and hundreds of impostors that have been released since, The Blair Witch Project didn’t present itself as a “found-footage” horror movie for any other reason than it was the most effective method of telling that story.  On the DVD special features, you can find a faux documentary that is also pretty well-done and creepy, but nothing compared to the actual feature film.  There was something so raw about it, so boiled-down-to-its-essence scary that made a lot of people forget that it thrived on ambiguity.  Whether or not there was even a witch in the movie was completely irrelevant.  What mattered was taking primal fears and running with them.  No one is inherently afraid of witches, but we’re all afraid of the unknown, and we’re all afraid of being killed by it.  That’s why the original film is so effective.

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Classic Movie Review: The Blair Witch Project

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The Blair Witch Project is the first movie I can recall in my life that was immensely popular and, as a result, became very popular to hate.  The reasons were usually sort of samey:  The camera shakes too much, it made the viewer feel nauseous, nothing happens, it’s boring, it’s this, it’s that, it’s whatever.  Most of all, the people who hated it just didn’t think it was scary.

What people find scary is going to vary from person to person, so if The Blair Witch Project doesn’t do it for you, it’s not going to do it for you.  But for those who enjoy the movie as much as I do, there’s a lot there for the viewer.  It’s a real treat.  It’s a real rarity in the world of films that it was such a huge, just phenomenal success at the box office and immediately became a piece of our pop culture fabric.

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The Invitation

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The Invitation begins with a car ride to a dinner party. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) has gotten an invitation from his ex-wife, whom he has not (nor has anyone else) seen in two years. He and his new girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), travel together and along the way, a bad omen begins the night: They accidentally run over and mortally wound a small coyote that Will has to mercifully put out of its misery, lest it suffer.

The awkwardness of the evening only intensifies from there. Will and Kira meet his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new lover David (Michiel Huisman), and a house full of guests to celebrate Eden’s breakthrough in coping with misery. We learn that she and Will had had a child together who died. Both of them had different ways of coping and their relationship crumbled. Eden’s way of coping was by joining a group that seems terrifyingly like a cult.

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Eyes of Fire (1983)

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Never so vividly has a nightmare been captured on film.  Many films are surreal or nightmarish in quality, but often they wind up as looking like shoddy David Lynch imitators.  To truly capture a nightmare on film, the logic contained within the story has to be self-contained, but plausible, with surreality and reality intertwined seamlessly.  Eyes of Fire is like a fever dream that you can’t escape from.

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Creep (2014)

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Found Footage movies always have that one problem for me, where I really have to suspend my disbelief because the character holding the camera is getting into some serious shit and, instead of running for the hills, they decide, “Okay, I have to keep filming this.  No matter what, I have to make sure I don’t have access to my hands and will have an obstruction over my eye.”  So, in order to overcome that bit of logical vacation, a Found Footage flick has to keep my brain distracted with some good acting or just unbelievable suspense, where I don’t have time to let my brain do any senseless thinking.

And, for the most part, this is true of just about any movie in any genre–as long as you keep the action going and it’s entertaining, it makes up for some of the most serious flaws that exist in plotting (no one notices that Indiana Jones hangs onto the outside of a submarine under water for a couple hundred miles in Raiders, because of good editing).

Creep keeps its flaws in logic and sometimes-requires suspension of disbelief in check by being very well-acted by its lead, Mark Duplass.  He plays Josef, a man who may or may not be dying of cancer who may or may not have hired a cameraman to document a day in his life under false pretenses.

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After Midnight (1989)

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Anthology horror movies have always been hit-or-miss, but are always sort of irresistible for the Halloween season. They perfectly capture that feeling of sitting around a campfire and having a talented storyteller (or two, or three, or four) spin a couple yarns that ends in a somewhat predictable twist.

After Midnight is about as dumb as a movie can get, but it never makes the fateful error of taking itself too seriously–or seriously at all, for that matter. It’s a silly excuse to get people together to tell stories that are supposedly true within that universe, for the purpose of taking a college class that’s all about the nature of fear. The professor fakes a suicide in the middle of a class and everyone in attendance is just sort of like, “Eh, that was weird.” The professor does, however, make the mistake of scaring a stupid jock to the point of pissing his pants and he’s out for revenge in the wrap-around storyline from which all the other stories flow.

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