Shudder’s newest original film, The Beach House (directed by Jeffrey A. Brown) is a summertime horror film which follows a college-age couple – Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) – as they visit Randall’s father’s beach house on a romantic weekend getaway, hoping to reconnect and mend their relationship. Unexpected guests appear, and Emily and Randall find themselves sharing the house with an older couple. Trouble appears in the night, and they are pitted against a grisly force of nature.
There’s no shortage of horror to be found on film and TV streaming services, particularly the likes of Shudder, which specialises in the genre. But much of what’s on offer leans towards the lurid, gory type. The nine films I’ve selected below, on the other hand, typify the quieter, more understated – perhaps more literary – side of the genre. If you’re looking for something new to watch on those quiet lockdown nights, perhaps one of these will fit the bill…
Taken at face value it’s difficult to describe Richard Stanley’s adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Colour Out Of Space as a good film. The cast grind their way through a frankly abysmal screenplay and, although both Joely Richardson and Madeleine Arthur manage to tease out excellent performances, Nicolas Cage appears to cosplay Nicolas Cage.
Robert Eggers’ new horror The Lighthouse exhibits a close familial bond with the themes and ideas explored by its older sibling, The Witch (2015). Having watched the film, it makes sense to personify the Lighthouse. It’s not simply a structure or setting, like the Witch’s lair in the woods; the lantern room represents the fleshy heart of the film, its relentless rotations setting the pace for the plot’s quiet development like a steady heartbeat (sometimes uncomfortably noticeable; most times a silent, immutable truth).
From the moment I heard the vampire’s name, I associated him with forbidden desires. After all, I was only seven-years-old when the R-rated Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) was released to theatres and very much forbidden from seeing it. Despite the begging, my parents decided it “…just wasn’t for kids.” Unacceptable! We were a family of horror fans (seriously, my dad had me convinced he was an actual werewolf) and vampires were definitely my thing. Perhaps as a consolation, my mother went out and bought me a high-collared black cape from our local K-Mart. That Halloween, an elementary-aged but very convincing Count Dracula stalked the streets of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi in white face paint and plastic fangs.
In an undergraduate classroom, even one full of English majors, it can be hard for nineteenth-century literature to turn heads. “Achingly dull” or “overly wordy” are typical responses to the Victorians. Despite its place in our cultural imagination, Dracula doesn’t incite average readers to clamour for Bram Stoker’s foundational novel. But by the time Dracula’s three sultry vamp ladies crawl suggestively down Jonathan Harker in bed, who is insensate with fear and “languorous ecstasy,” students realise this isn’t some stuffy sermon on middle-class morality they’re dealing with. The assumed Victorian prudishness doesn’t fly, but catapults out the nearest window. This isn’t what they were expecting. Certainly not from 1897. But why not?
Horror can be a phenomenally surprising genre. For every handful of unimaginative paint-by-numbers slashers, there comes a film genuinely distinctive and unforgettable. Swallow, the debut feature of director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, is one of those films.
To say that Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the cornerstones of modern horror is an understatement. What has been one of its enduring impacts, at least to me, is the sharp juxtaposition of what could be argued to be a family movie against almost casual brutality, tuning viewers in across the span of decades to a story of fear that feels timeless at its core.
Even though they have arguably been around since Frankenstein and the inception of horror, medical horror films have been in retirement for quite some time. American Mary and the remake of Flatliners are perhaps the most recent examples for the 2010s, even though it’s a setting ripe with horrific potential, as proven by the popular franchise Re-Animator. Netflix’s newest horror film Eli documents the horrors of the cost of private medical care in the United States alongside the usual fears that accompany a hospital setting: patient vulnerability during treatment, suspicious staff members with questionable motivations, and the possibility that the hospital itself might be haunted. It also raises several interesting questions regarding informed consent: how much should a patient be allowed to know about his or her condition if it puts the entire world in jeopardy?
Last summer, alone, I decided to watch The Ritual on Netflix. I’ll admit, despite being a horror fan and generally desensitised, I was spooked. The tension of the first half and the eerie imagery of the second half got me, but I enjoyed myself. I was clearly in a particular type of mood because the next night I saw The Forest come up on my suggestions. Always down for a horror movie rooted in mythology and folklore, feeling like I wanted to watch more people get lost in the woods for some reason, I decided to give it ago.
I was sorely disappointed.