They say that the root of horror is a fear of the unknown. Classic films like Psycho, Jaws, and Alien capitalized on this by not parading the big horror around in all its glory–at least not until the inevitable, terrifying end. And for me, there’s something magical about a movie that hits the credit sequence and I find myself wondering, “What the holy fuck did I just WATCH?”
So, in a digital media space packed like a pinata with lists of favorite, most classic, or scariest horror movies, I realized something that was lacking. Here’s my remedy. 5 WTF horror movies that you might have overlooked that stood out strong in my memory.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2: Listen, I know a lot of you hate this movie. Coming out a year after the original Blair Witch turned the horror movie genre on its head, how could you NOT feel a little bit screwed? Instead of another found-footage experiment, they presented us with a story about the people who were drawn to Burketsville, MD, because of the movie. It was a bit too meta for a lot of people. And people hated it. I’m kind of in the minority here, because what it does well is create terror by creating an atmosphere where we can’t trust what we’re seeing. Book of Shadows is, at it’s core, the film of the unreliable narrator. How much of what you see on screen is real? How much is going on inside someone’s head? And can they even tell the difference? Book of Shadows is not without its flaws. But it does star Jeffrey Donnovan who went on to star in Burn Notice, so there’s that to occupy you for the run-time. Plus, if you go in not expecting it to be a sequel to Blair Witch as much as a movie about the phenomenon of the Blair Witch, it’s a decent movie with some good scares. Trust me. The trailer doesn’t do it justice.
The Attic Expeditions: You probably never heard of this one, despite a pretty decent pedigree. You have some good horror character actors in here–especially Jeffery Combs and Seth Green. Throw in Ted Raim, Alice Cooper, Wendy Robie (from People Under the Stairs and Twin Peaks), and cult director Jeremy Kasten and you have something of a winner here. The basic premise–a young man brutally murders his girlfriend as part of a Satanic ritual and is committed to a surprisingly comfortable facility where he begins to question his memories and the reality of what is going on at the institution. And I don’t think I can really tell you any more than that. Honestly, when I think of WTF horror, this is the first movie that comes to mind. I’m still not 100% about what happens in it. Thankfully The Attic Expeditions rewards repeat viewings.
Yellowbrickroad: This one is more recent, and I’ve recommended it to a few people. First off, the sound design in this movie is outstanding. Second, for a big cast and almost no budget, they do some amazing work here. I don’t recognize a single face in the cast, but that’s not a bad thing. They’re all great actors, and have no baggage as a result of that. The basic premise, in 1940, all the residents of a town in New Hampshire pack up and walk away up a trail and (mostly) vanish. 70 years later some poor suckers try and figure out what happened. The trailers try and spin this as “people get lost in the woods, run into some mysterious force, and all die,” but that does Yellowbrickroad one hell of a disservice. I found the script surprisingly good, solid visuals, and I’ll debate the ending of this movie for hours in an all-night diner with anyone. Of all the movies on this list, this has my highest recommendation, but don’t expect easy answers.
Gozu: No WTF movie list would be complete without Takashi Miike. At one point, I considered putting his Masters of Horror piece, “Imprint” on this list, but for sheer “…the fuck just happened?” you cannot beat Gozu. Imagine if David Lynch decided to do a Yakuza horror piece, and took his motherfucking gloves off. About a person told to deliver a mob boss’s corpse to a small town, things go off the rails real fast. Watch it with a friend. It’s a hoot. Bloody, weird, unexpected, and undeniably Miike.
Chasing Sleep: Seriously, fuck this movie. It came out in 2000 and stars Jeff Daniels and involves a collage professor who wakes up one morning to discover his wife never came home. Shot almost entirely within his home as he starts to question what might have happened, time becomes kind of fluid. As does reality. Is it the result of sleep deprivation or repressed memories? What really happened? For that matter, what IS really happening? The writer/director, Michael Walker, wanted to leave it open-ended and not provide any easy answers. And seriously, fuck Michael Walter. I got so angry when I realized the movie was over having given me not only any answers, but, in my estimation, no tools with which to construct my own answers, that I raged around the house for an hour. I felt like I lost 104 minutes of my life to utter frustration that I will never, ever get back. But I never forgot it, either. You like puzzles and maybe have that kind of time to kill? You’re welcome to figure this mindfuck of a film out. At the very least it’s well shot and well acted. But damned if I can explain it.