Meerah Powell’s Picks
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)
Just because Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 film, based on a novel by Hubert Selby Jr., isn’t explicitly a horror film, doesn’t mean that it’s not totally terrifying. The film focuses on Brooklynites Harry Goldfarb, his mother Sara, girlfriend Marion and best friend Tyrone. Throughout Requiem, the characters become more and more entrenched in their obsessions and addictions; for Harry and Tyrone, it’s the dream of becoming big-time drug dealers, which eventually turns into a spiraling abuse of heroin — which Marion gets caught up in. For Sara, it’s the obsession of wanting to lose weight and be on a TV game show, which eventually turns into an addiction to amphetamines to aid her weight loss. As the characters become more and more entrenched in their obsessions, and distant from their dreams, they give into the most cynical selfishness — sacrificing loved-ones in favor of personal gain. Although more of a psychological drama than a horror movie, I’ve always regretted re-watching this one late at night.
GREEN ROOM (2015)
If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? Scratch that; if a touring punk band gets caught up in a murderous rampage at a neo-Nazi venue, surrounded by a vast Oregon forest, how the hell do they get out of that situation? That’s a little more exciting. Filmed in Oregon, most of Green Room’s scenes are entrenched in the lush forestry of the Pacific Northwest — adding to the isolation the film relies on. Green Room is exciting, gritty and fast-paced: amplified by brilliant acting by Anton Yelchin and other standouts Imogen Poots and Alia Shawkat. The most terrifying thing about this movie is how realistic it is. As someone who grew up going to punk shows in the Pacific Northwest, Green Room’s use of setting is extremely authentic. The dark, dingy venue that Yelchin and company performs in looks not unlike any number of music spaces I’ve been in, and that’s the most frightening part.
BLACK MIRROR (2011-PRESENT)
As a millennial, but also, just as anyone alive and active in this day and age, technology is a big part of my life. I rely on my phone and my computer much more than I’d like to admit. And Black Mirror hits on that reliance hard. The anthology series, so far three seasons long, acts as The Twilight Zone set in modern time — our reality, but twisted, just slightly, in an uncomfortable and, at times, unwatchable way. Unlike The Twilight Zone and other similar horror anthologies, though, Black Mirror doesn’t offer a hopeful moral to the story. Sometimes episodes just end with the nihilistic conclusion that the downfall of humanity as we know it is inevitable. One of my favorite episodes is “Fifteen Million Merits,” from the first season, which I think is a perfect example of that.
Do I regret putting two Darren Aronofsky films on this list? Not at all. For someone who doesn’t say he’s specifically a horror director, Aronofsky sure knows how to horrify. But more than that, he shows that he’s the master of psychological horror in his newest release, Mother. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, the movie’s plot doesn’t matter, and I mean that literally. Aronofsky stated he meant the film to be an allegory for the Book of Genesis — a story equal parts creation and destruction, cyclical in nature — but the film is so pliable that it could be an allegory for anything — female suffering, global warming, you name it. Mother portrays such a chaotic anxiety that reveals humanity’s own enemy is always, and will always be, itself.
GET OUT (2017)
As a person of color who lives in Eugene, Oregon — Jordan Peele’s Get Out hits close to home and tops my list. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya (of that Black Mirror episode I referenced earlier) as Chris, a black man, and Allison Williams (from the HBO series Girls) as Rose, his white girlfriend. The couple are about to visit Rose’s parents for the first time, something Chris is nervous about, since Rose says she’s never had a black boyfriend before. But, Rose calms him saying her family would’ve voted for Obama a third time if they could. The film’s first half is laced in micro-aggressions from Rose’s seemingly well meaning, liberal parents — little comments about Chris’ race that, although offensive, still seem harmless. But, the film’s second half reveals that Chris’ discomfort in being the only black person in a white setting isn’t necessarily unfounded. No movie has accurately depicted the constantly throbbing anxiety and discomfort of race relations in “liberal America” better.
Henry Weintraub’s Picks
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)
After a horde of alien slugs attacks a small college town and starts turning people into zombies, it’s up to a couple of teenagers to save the world from the alien invasion (including a sorority girl showing up at a fraternity in a formal dress, wielding a flamethrower and torching all of the guests). Director Fred Dekker (who shows up again on this list) does an amazing job of blending horror, humor and sci-fi in this overlooked gem — the first on this list of fun, tongue-in-cheek Halloween fare.
BRAIN DAMAGE (1988)
A man wakes up one morning to find a smooth-talking, brain-eating monster named Aylmer (who is just fucking incredible looking) attached to him. Aylmer injects his host with a healthy dose of a euphoric drug, but demands victims in return to feed his hunger for human brains. Director and cult legend Frank Henenlotter is no stranger to the dark comedy and horror genres, having created the Basketcase trilogy and the hilarious Frankenhooker.
JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI (1986)
Most people will argue that Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter is the superior film … but they’re wrong (and can’t get over their Corey Feldman fetish). This movie starts with a former victim of the notorious serial killer Jason Voorhees digging up Jason’s corpse to make sure he’s still “dead.” He unearths his rotting body, but in a fit of anger rips a metal spear off of a nearby fence and stabs it into Jason’s withered heart. At that very moment a thunderstorm forms and a lightning bolt strikes the spear, re-animating Jason and starting yet another killing spree. What makes this movie great is that it really seems like the filmmakers were aware of what they were making (which was the sixth Friday The 13th movie in as many years), and boy did they go all out to embrace the ridiculousness of it all.
MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
Fred Dekker strikes again with this coming of age tale about a group of pre-teens obsessed with classic monster movies that happens to come into possession of Van Helsing’s original diary. After getting the diary translated by a Holocaust survivor (long story), they inadvertently draw the attention of Count Dracula and his pals, including The Mummy, The Wolfman, Frankenstein and The (unfortunately named) Gill-man. We learn a lot of things from watching this movie, like the fact that Frankenstein loves kids, Stephen King rules and The Wolfman’s got nards.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT (1995)
A drifter comes into town and gets caught trying to steal a car. It turns out that he holds some crazy key full of Jesus’ blood that opens the gates to Hell. There are car crashes, decapitations and an army of demons — and that’s just in the first act. This is probably my favorite horror movie of the ’90s. Unfortunately, it came out toward the end of the Tales From The Crypt TV series and the brand was a bit tarnished by that point, but it really had nothing to do with the TV series or the original comic and it stands well on its own.
Henry Weintraub lives and works in Eugene as a video editor and producer. He loves movies, records and baking tasty treats for his family.
Sean Hanson’s Picks
THE SHINING (1980)
First, a bit of movie lore: Stanley Kubrick, notorious for taking liberties with his adaptations, never actually finished Stephen King’s 1977 bestseller before he began work on The Shining. And good on him. He replaced topiaries with hedge mazes, a roque mallet with an axe and an apologetic abuser who eventually proves he’s a worthy dad (a Mary Sue for King, as he wormed his way through the dark tunnel of alco-logic) with a patriarch who remains cruel to the bitter end (a Mary Sue for Kubrick, the grade-A asshole who never grew tired of tormenting his actors). In doing so, he created the quintessential American horror film, a churning, elegant beast that hasn’t aged a day in 37 years.
THE THING (1982)
John Carpenter’s 1978-1982 hot streak would make Alfred Hitchcock quiver with envy: Halloween, The Fog and The Thing, all equally great and pretty much interchangeable on any list of great horror films. But The Thing edges out the competition with its amorphous monster, its unsettling blend of claustrophobia and paranoia, and the impossible puzzle at its core: Who is the monster by the final scene?
FROM BEYOND (1986)
This low-budget queasy-magenta nightmare is the most quietly influential horror flick of the ’80s, with a monster that still gets copied in blockbuster films and games. The best part? Writer-director Stuart Gordon stretched the definition of “adaptation” even further than Kubrick, turning the title and most basic premise of an entirely sexless H.P. Lovecraft story (look it up: the man was absolutely terrified of sex and probably died a virgin) into the best possible psychosexual monster movie.
Fair warning: You should probably avoid this French shocker unless you’re already a jaded horror junkie. And even if you are, this will make you squirm — not because of the gore, although there’s quite a bit of that, but because the filmmakers fully commit to their premise, in which a woman sets out to steal an expectant mother’s baby … a few hours before he’s due. Far more than an effective home-invasion thriller, the directors have spun a demented political allegory about the nationalist tensions in France, which makes it timelier than ever. (If you’re ready for this, make sure you watch the 79-minute unrated version.)
SESSION 9 (2001)
If film lists were wine menus, Session 9 copy would read: “Pairs well with The Shining.” It’s another tale of potentially supernatural forces driving men insane, but the real kicker is the atmosphere. Director Brad Anderson shot on location at Danvers State Mental Hospital, a real abandoned asylum, and the horrors of the past seep into every frame. A wheelchair parked before a picture window, the stainless steel hydrotherapy tubs, the sheen of standing water, the cracked paint of cartoon animals, the gleaming lobotomy pick — all found objects, all tools that Anderson uses to get under your skin.
Sean Hanson co-owns the Broadway Metro, writes about film for Front Row Central, and would probably go up the staircase.
Rick Levin’s Picks
THE DESCENT (2005)
Writer/director Neil Marshall conjures an atmosphere of claustrophobia thick enough to cut with a pickaxe in this creepy tale of six British women on a doomed caving expedition in the Appalachian Mountains. Shot, remarkably enough, almost entirely in a London studio, the film is a macabre meditation on the limits of human endurance: The first half of the movie is a fairly straightforward thriller about a descent into the oozing bowels of the earth, gone horribly wrong when a minor earthquake hits; then, as the women repel ever deeper into the depths, searching for an exit, they are overtaken by a mute, pale, blind tribe of vaguely humanoid cannibals (frighteningly feasible, in an evolutionary sense) that commences to stalk them as prey, trying to pick them off one by one. A smart, visually stunning and truly terrifying film that has no desire to let you off the hook as it traces a descent — literal and metaphorical — into total mind-numbing madness.
FUNNY GAMES (2007)
Not technically a horror film, Michael Haneke’s gleefully nihilistic psychological thriller about a rich white family being held hostage in their Hamptons-like summer home and systematically tormented and tortured (the “games”) by a pair of young, white psychopaths in tennis shorts is an excruciating test of our own voyeuristic impulses. By turns mesmerizing, repulsive, maddening and deviously “funny,” the film — which stars Michael Pitt as one of the smiling sociopaths, and Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as the besieged couple — slowly and steadily turns the screws with an apparent disregard that seems amoral and unforgiving, until you realize the funny games Haneke is playing are with you. This is not torture porn; it’s the antithesis — a harrowing kind of satire that deserves repeated viewings, if you can stomach the pointed cruelty of it all.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
Evil cannot flourish in a vacuum; it takes a village — of enablers, errand boys and apologists, all of them bonded by an avid belief in the righteousness of their cause. Hail Satan! Roman Polanski’s classic thriller about a woman (Mia Farrow) duped into conceiving a child with the Prince of Darkness is not just a great horror film; it’s a great film, period, a classic that grafts a gothic, Lovecraftian evil onto Manhattan on the eve of the 1970s. Polanski makes it all look so pedestrian and urbane, and the juxtaposition of Satanic rituals with Lower East Side life creates a kind of cognitive dissonance, a cultish paranoia that shivers the soul, best exemplified by Ruth Gordon’s brilliant performance as the nosy, meddling neighbor lady who quietly engineers the whole thing. Chocolate “mouse” anyone?
TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)
Totally underrated and unfairly dismissed as lesser Lynch, this combination prequel-and-sequel to the television series is remarkable, first and foremost, for its central performance by Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer — the strangled vulnerability and corrosive, demonic possession of Lee’s performance should have garnered her an Oscar nomination. Beyond that, the film, albeit uneven in places, contains passages that seem to delve into the very heart of evil. It’s as though Lynch, deliciously constrained by what he could do on TV, unleashed here, and the results are nightmarish.
THE VANISHING (1988)
As unforgivably bad as the Hollywood remake was, the original film, by George Sluizer, is a masterpiece — an obsessive, slow-burning portrait of evil incarnate that channels Alfred Hitchcock at his sinister best. A couple on vacation stops at a gas station; the girlfriend vanishes into thin air; the boyfriend searches for her relentlessly, for years, until he finally discovers that she was abducted by a cold-blooded killer, to whom he draws ever-nearer until they finally meet. Does he want to know what happened to his girlfriend? If so, he must submit to this psycho, and experience exactly what she did. Yeah, enough said — the ending will knock the wind right out of you.