Rial Majur (Wunmi Mosaku) sits across the table from her husband Bol (Sope Dirisu). She looks him in the eye. “After all we’ve endured,” she says. “After what we have seen…what men can do, you think it is bumps in the night that frighten me?” Her husband says nothing. Rial presses him, “You think I can be afraid of ghosts?”
Natalie Erika James’ debut horror Relic is a quiet, dread-drenched slow burn that sets out to represent the creeping horror of mental deterioration. The film centres around three generations: Edna (Robyn Nevin), the family matriarch who it seems is in the early stages, her harassed and stressed middle-aged daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer), and her free-spirited granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote).
From the creeping paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby to the gory births of the Alien franchise, imagery of pregnancy and birth has proved a fertile ground for horror directors to explore and exploit. Midsommar, Ari Aster’s 2019 folk horror outing, is preoccupied with themes of seasonality and rebirth, so it’s no surprise that the film is saturated with imagery that evokes the reproductive cycle. Protagonist Dani’s journey from traumatised onlooker to embittered cultist is coded as a journey from conception to birth, and from infantilism to hard won maturity. In the process, Midsommar reveals a deep ambivalence, both towards the physical act of childbirth and the emotional reawakening Dani experiences.
It’s often claimed that we know more about deep space than we do about the deep oceans. The truth of this is debatable – it’s a slight exaggeration of a quote by oceanographer Paul Snelgrove, “We know more about the surface of the Moon and about Mars than we do about [the deep sea floor]”, but we do know surprisingly little about something which covers the majority of our planet’s surface.
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?