Seven spooky movies to stream this spooky season
A spooky movie list? In this economy? Though I doubt that anything on this list will scare you more than the horror movie we are currently living through (an exquisite mélange of “Contagion,” “Get Out” and select episodes of “Black Mirror”), these films might get your heart racing just enough to temporarily subdue your existential dread.
The seven horror flicks on this list feature plenty of my two favorite things: women and neon lighting. They’re hidden gems that range in fear factor from “ooh, spooky” to “please turn this off I am literally crying.” As Halloween draws closer and you start figuring out what costume you’ll be wearing to just, like, vibe in your kitchen, treat yourself with these treasures.
If you weren’t already feeling bad enough about abandoning your quarantine sourdough dreams, enter Rob Savage, who made an entire movie while quarantine restrictions were in place. “Host” is a British found footage film for the COVID-19 era, in which the footage in question is a recorded Zoom conference. The meeting is hosted by Haley (Haley Bishop), who gathers her friends on a video call while they’re all in lockdown — not for trivia or cocktail hour, but for a virtual séance with a medium (Seylan Baxter). Many of the horrors in “Host” are all too familiar — spotty WiFi, pandemic anxiety, picking on your friend who plans all the Zoom bonding — but things swiftly take a turn for the worse when the characters find themselves pitted against demonic spirits. The movie is even better knowing that everything was produced remotely and that Savage led a workshop with his actors over Zoom to teach them things like “making things fly off shelves.” Running at a tight 57 minutes, Savage’s film is a clean, suspenseful delight and a clever artifact of the times. “Host” is available to stream on Shudder.
Working a job entirely through video calls has quickly become the norm, but there was a time when it was somewhat of a novelty. “Cam” dives into one of the most popular virtual professions — camgirling, or sex work that takes place over livestream. The film follows Alice (Madeline Brewer), a camgirl obsessed with raising her rank on the website FreeGirls.Live. In an effort to grow her fanbase, Alice starts making her streams more shocking, and it pays off. Then, just when she seems to be on a fast track to success, her account, fans and face are stolen by what appears to be an identical replica of herself. Drenched in dreamy pink neon lighting, the film follows Alice as she helplessly watches her robotic twin blur the lines between her own personal and professional lives, and tries to take her own identity back. Written by former camgirl Isa Mazzei, “Cam” is a chilling, sharp dive into sex work and technology, which — with rises in OnlyFans, freelancing and working from home — has only become creepier since its release. “Cam” is available to stream on Netflix.
If you’re like me, few things can convince you to sit through a three-hour-long movie. If you’re like me, Toni Morrison is one of them. “Beloved” is the 1998 film adaptation of Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title, which is set shortly after the Civil War and tells the story of Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), a formerly enslaved woman living with her teenage daughter Denver (Kimberly Elise) in rural Ohio. For years, their house has been haunted by an abusive poltergeist who rattles the floors and flings furniture around, refusing to let Sethe and Denver live in peace. Their lives are upended with the arrivals of Paul D (Danny Glover), a former friend of Sethe’s from the Kentucky plantation she was enslaved on, and then Beloved (Thandie Newton), a young woman who speaks and moves in an eerie, not-quite-human way. The horror that unfolds on screen is a physical manifestation of the psychological trauma Sethe suffers, brought on by the ghosts of sexual abuse and slavery. Although something is bound to get lost in translation when trying to recreate the poetry of Morrison’s writing, “Beloved” is a pretty successful attempt. And if the movie won’t get out of your head after watching it (it won’t), listen to this phenomenal episode from the New York Times’ podcast “Still Processing” that traces the links between “Beloved” and Jordan Peele’s “Us” (2019). “Beloved” is available for purchase on Amazon Prime and iTunes.
“Kill Me Please” (2015)
The air is sticky and filled with pheromones in “Kill Me Please” (originally “Mate-Me Por Favor”), the stunning debut from Brazilian director Anita Rocha da Silveira. Striking a tone that’s somewhere in between Sofia Coppola and David Lynch, “Kill Me Please” follows 15-year-old Bia (Valentina Herszage) as she becomes obsessed with a string of murders of young women that take place in her wealthy Rio de Janeiro suburb. As Bia’s fascination begins to cloud her every thought, the film becomes somewhat of a fever dream, placing the viewer deep inside of her mind and often detouring from reality. Da Silveira paints suburbia as a fluorescent dreamscape, which her teenage antiheroes compulsively dilute down into Facebook posts. There’s certainly enough blood in this movie to pin it as horror, but more than anything it’s a coming-of-age story that captures the sensual, mercurial and dark nature of girly adolescence. “Kill Me Please” is available for purchase on iTunes.
“It Follows” (2014)
In “It Follows,” Jay’s (Maika Monroe) personal hell starts the moment she has sex with her new boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), for the first time. Shortly after, Jay finds herself chloroformed and tied up as Hugh proceeds to explain that through sex, he has passed on an evil spirit to Jay that will haunt her until she gives the curse to someone else. The sexually-transmitted demon will only be seen by Jay and will take the form of anyone — from a frail, elderly woman to one of her best friends — as it moves toward her in a zombie-like gait. With a sharp, synthy score buzzing underneath, the movie follows Jay as she tries to convince herself and those around her that the frightening figures she begins seeing aren’t just in her head. Teeming with paranoia, anxiety and stellar breakout performances, “It Follows” is one of the freshest and most disturbing thrillers in recent memory. It Follows is available to stream on Kanopy.
If you’re on the hunt for something truly unsettling, sink your teeth into “Raw,” the French-Belgian cannibal film that brought paramedics to the Toronto film festival after multiple audience members fainted. Pink and fleshy, “Raw” follows Justine (Garance Marillier) as she goes to college to become a veterinarian, following in the footsteps of her parents and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), who is a few years ahead of her in school. Justine arrives at vet school a devout vegetarian and animal rights activist, but all of that is challenged when, during a hazing ritual for new students, Alexia forces her to eat the raw kidney of a rabbit. Although the fleeting encounter with meat immediately makes Justine feel sick, it also brings on a voracious appetite that vegetables can no longer quench. What unfolds for Justine is at times erotic, at times repulsive, and on the whole unrelentingly horrifying. “Raw” might make you want to pass on dinner, but beneath its gory exterior, it’s a compelling story about negotiating social pressures and carnal desires. But, like, in the way that “Midsommar” (2019) is a story about navigating a breakup, yaknow? Raw is available for purchase on Amazon Prime and iTunes.
“The Babadook” (2014)
Grief and trauma come back to haunt Amelia (Essie Davis) and her six-year-old son Sam (Noah Wiseman) quite literally in the Australian horror movie, “The Babadook,” which follows the pair after they read a seemingly innocuous children’s book that reveals itself to be something much darker. After Sam’s father died in a car accident on the way to the hospital the night Sam was born, Amelia is left to raise Sam by herself. Her love for him is palpable, though challenged by his obnoxious and increasingly violent antics. Their relationship is further complicated by a sinister force that enters their lives, which seems to be a manifestation of the Babadook — the protagonist of a mysterious children's book they find, who looks like Jack White in a top hat, but clawed. The heavy terror and sadness of “The Babadook” is carried on the backs of Davis and Wiseman, who offer remarkable, poignant performances. Frightening, sweet and a little gay, “The Babadook” is a perennial great choice for scary movie night. The Babadook is available to stream on Kanopy.
Plus, for the faint of heart: “Clue” (1985)
I really wasn’t intending to include this one, given that a) it’s really not that scary and b) seven is the spookiest number of movies I could recommend, but here I am, yet again finding a way to sneak this cinematic triumph into conversation. You’d be hard-pressed to find a whodunnit funnier than this cult classic, which was inspired by the board game of the same name. Featuring Tim Curry, multiple divergent endings and socialism, this severely underrated masterpiece is a must-see. “Clue” is available to stream on Kanopy.
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