Welcome, fiends and family, to Silber Bullets! Throughout October, the Gregory Paul Silber you thought you knew is possessed by his spooky alter-ego Greg-Gory Pall Thrillber for a month of ghoulish horror content.
Almost forgot the intro!
The Beat’s Greg-Gory Pall Thrillber is a connoisseur of the dark arts who has been accused of… several crimes against God and nature. Each week in Silber Bullets, he takes a terrifying look at the spookiest, scariest, and most blood-curdling bits of suspense and horror that he refuses to let out of his head.
In all seriousness, I adore Halloween, and the horror genre in general, especially when I can share these dark delights with others. So I’m kicking off Silber Bullets alongside horror aficionado and fellow The Beat writer Ricardo Serrano Denis (who’s also a guest on my upcoming NYCC panel!), with whom I’ll team up to give personalized horror movie recommendations to the contributors and editors of The Beat.
Stately Beat Manor is home to a wide range of horror tastes, including at least one writer who doesn’t like horror at all. However you prefer your frightful flicks, there’s bound to be something in here for you, too!
Gregory Paul Silber: Hey Ricky, thanks for joining me for this special edition of Silber Linings we’re calling Silber Bullets: a month of horror content throughout October. As a horror fan, I love finding out what kind of horror people like and recommending movies based on their tastes. And since you’re one of the biggest horror fans I know, I’m thrilled that you’re here to serve as my fellow spooky sommelier!
Ricardo Serrano Denis: Thanks for having me again, Greg! I also share that same love of recommending anything horror to people either looking to break into the genre or life-long veterans on the hunt for something fresh. There’s a challenge to making recommendations that I find too sweet to pass up. Also, Silber Bullets is the perfect name for your October edition of the column! Reminds me of the werewolf movie Silver Bullet (1985), based on the Stephen King book Cycle of the Werewolf. Ever seen it?
Silber: I have not! Nor have I read that book. I’ll have to add it to the ever-growing list. But first, let’s explain what we’re doing here. We asked the editors and contributors of The Beat to briefly describe their horror tastes. What do they like in a horror film? What do they dislike? Even people who generally don’t enjoy horror were encouraged to describe their relationship with horror so we could work from there. We got a great variety of horror tastes represented here, so we’re going to give everyone who replied customized horror movie recommendations! Are you ready to get started?
Denis: Let’s begin. It’s always great to see such a wide spectrum of tastes represented. Time to dive in.
Silber: First up is The Beat‘s managing editor Joe Grunenwald, who says:
“It sounds like Greg and I have similar horror sensibilities. I’m more likely to sit down to watch a suspenseful movie than I am an outright slasher, though there is a lot of overlap there and the latter often gets the job done. I do really enjoy the few original Hammer films I’ve seen (namely the Peter Cushing-starring Frankenstein series), and when it comes to more modern horror I lean more towards weird vibes and well-developed moods than jump-scares. I also dabble in horror comedies. I contain multitudes.”
Top Five: Midsommar, Alien, The Shining, Shaun of the Dead, Annihilation
Silber: So Joe’s making it really easy for me to start here by spelling out how similar his horror tastes are to mine. So I’m going to go ahead and recommend one of my favorite horror movies, period: 2015’s The VVitch directed by Robert Eggers. It’s kind of my platonic ideal of a horror movie, and I even named it one of The Beat’s best movies of the 2010s. It’s a slow-burn with maybe two jump scares at most, but it’s absolutely thrilling to watch the lives of a Puritan family, exiled from their 17th Century New England community, slowly but surely go to hell. It’s so well-written and brilliantly executed in every conceivable way that you could strip away everything that makes it scary and still be left with a harrowing, compelling drama… but of course, the fact that it’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen only makes it better.
Denis: I see The VVitch is already a favorite among Beat contributors, and it’s easy to see why. It has this very nuanced but deeply unsettling pacing that thrives on dread, with a hint of madness thrown in for good measure. Along those lines, I’m going to dig deeper into the horror vault for a movie that certainly captures that slow burn horror Joe prefers and adds a bit more of the macabre to it with the 1966 Hammer Film The Plague of the Zombie. The word zombie will immediately bring up images of shambling corpses looking for a night of blood and gore, but this film is quite the opposite. in Plague, a mysterious illness is killing people in a small village and there are claims of those infected rising up from their graves. What’s interesting here is how director John Gilling opted to treat the story more as a procedural/horror affair than a straight up horror one. The movie is credited with being a very, very strong influence for future zombie movies based on how ghoulish the creatures looked on screen, even influencing George Romero.
Silber: Ooh, that sounds like something I’ll have to watch too! In the meantime, here’s what The Beat’s features editor Avery Kaplan is looking for:
“When I wrote a recent article about Jennifer’s Body, Ginger Snaps, and Tragedy Girls for NeoText, some rando quote retweeted it saying he had “never thought this hard about a horror movie.” My approach to horror is apparently the antithesis of that rando’s, because I like to think about my horror movies a lot. For this reason, George A. Romeo’s movies (especially the 6 that comprise the Cycle of the Dead) are intrinsic not just to my genre sensibilities, but to my sensibilities in general. I am very interested in horror as a tool for queer and femme empowerment. And as for comedy, I think it has a place in even the grisliest of horror flicks: after all, nothing lowers your defenses like a good laugh…”
Top Five: Jennifer’s Body; Day of the Dead; Evil Dead 2; Misery; Alien
Ricky, what would you recommend to Avery?
Denis: Avery, like me, has a very inclusive love of horror. In our conversations, I think we find that one’s recommendations will surely ring true with the other’s and vice versa. This makes things both easy and hard! I want to get something that truly doesn’t disappoint. So, I’m going for a double-feature. First up is Near Dark, a 1987 neo-western vampire movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow that follows a group of ‘outlaw’ vampires tearing up the Midwest with a recently turned cowboy vamp that’s not entirely sure if the new night life is for him. It’s shares some of that same self-destructive attitude Lost Boys also relishes on, but the vampires in this movie are a special kind of bad that make the experience entirely different. The second feature is Mohawk (2017) by Ted Geoghehan, set in the War of 1812. Two Mohawk warriors and a British companion who are sharing a romantic relationship are hunted down by soldiers that represent the very opposite of what their very union represents. It becomes a kind of action-horror story after things start getting more tense, but the performances are top-notch and the violence is righteously gratifying.
Silber: Near Dark has been on my list for the longest time, but I second the Mohawk recommendation. There’s really not much else like it out there. As for me, I’ve recommended What Keeps You Alive in private conversations with Avery, but since I’m pretty sure she still hasn’t seen it, I’m going to push it again here for that “queer and femme empowerment” theme she likes. It stars a lesbian married couple who go to a cabin in the woods for a honeymoon retreat and… well, I don’t want to give anything else away. It walks that line between thriller and horror, but it’s terrifying enough to count here. I’m also going to throw in Mayhem, an anti-corporate horror comedy with strong Romero echoes. I think it’ll be right up Avery’s alley.
Next up we have A.J. Frost, who writes:
“Before I met my wife, I was NOT a horror fan. Didn’t touch the stuff. When I was a kid, I watched AFI’s “100 Top Thrills” on some channel, and when they showed the portrait from The Portrait of Dorian Gray, it freaked me out so much that I had to sleep with the lights on! For days! So, I’ve stayed away from horror for decades. Heck, the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland was my bête noire for years, until my late teens, I’d say! My attitude towards horror now has substantially softened and I am more than happy to check out new flicks that titillate and enhance neurological activity in the ol’ noggin. I think what started me down my recent horror kick wasn’t a movie, but a game. Not even a game… a game trailer (for a game that was never released): P.T. Watching the footage terrified me, but also intrigued me. Then, when my now-wife started encouraging us to watch scary flicks, she introduced me to great contemporary horror, especially supernatural psychological horror, which has become my favorite subgenre. Now, I’m the one who usually is game to check out the latest in spine-chilling cinema/television!”
Top Five: Hereditary, The Conjuring 2, Saw, Haunting of Hill House (a TV show, not a movie, but probably one of the scariest programs I’ve even seen), It: Chapter 1
AJ is a newer horror fan learning to enjoy a good scare, and I know he recently saw and enjoyed the new Candyman sequel (which I still haven’t seen myself) despite never having seen the original. So for me, the recommendation here is obvious: the original 1992 Candyman directed by Bernard Rose. It’s a stone cold classic for a reason: nuanced themes of race and class, one of the all time great horror scores by the legendary Philip Glass, and unforgettable performances, especially from Tony Todd in the title role. It’s also just straight up terrifying. Great mix of psychological scares with no-holds-barred supernatural brutality, with some slasher elements to boot. AJ, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Denis: AJ is getting Session 9, a 2001 horror movie set in an abandoned mental hospital with a restless past that starts to reveal itself to a clean-up crew tasked with ridding the place of asbestos. Directed by Brad Anderson, this movie still stands as one of the most disturbing I’ve seen. The mental hospital’s history is ingrained with a sense of myth and lore that takes the topic’s more sensitive aspects and injects them with a formidable and smart dose of terror. Whenever I think of a movie you definitely need to watch at night with all the lights off (and a badass surround sound system), I think of Session 9. You’ll never want to go inside an abandoned building ever again. Not that this was your thing in the first place, but this movie will definitely make up your mind for you in case you enjoyed doing this.
Silber: See, this is why I wanted to have you here for my own selfish reasons: I’m learning about all kinds of great horror films, and I never even heard of Session 9!
Denis: If you haven’t seen it yet, save Session 9 for Halloween, build up to it. You won’t be disappointed.
Silber: I’m so excited. In the meantime, here’s what Arpad Okay has to say:
“My favorite kind of horror movie is “trapped in the house.” For me, emotionally intense is more powerful than physically intense, so I respond to strong ensemble casts bouncing anxiety off of each other more than gore. The place is as much a character in the group as the cast, so I’m a sucker for cool locations (and their in-camera sister arts like practical effects and costuming). I’ll go for camp before slick but favor substance to shock. Weird is nice.
Top Five: The Thing (1982), Alien, Silence of the Lambs, Come and See, The Undertaker and His Pals
I’m going to recommend Arpad watch something you actually recommended to me, Ricky: The Vigil, which just came out this year. It definitely relies more on anxiety and emotional intensity than gore, but don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you into thinking the horror presented here is tame. I also know that as a fellow Member of the Tribe, Arpad and I share a mutual appreciation for Jewish folklore, so I think he’ll get a kick out of this tale of a dybbuk haunting a man leaving his Hassidic community for a relatively secular life. Great aesthetics and effects, too!
Denis: Arpad’s got some heavy faves in his list. Come and See, for instance, is something I like to call war horror as it focuses on the atrocities of Nazi soldiers in occupied Belarus. This kind of horror puts existentialism at the very forefront of the horrible things that transpire in the story, turning the movie into an anti-war production that shows war as something so horrifying that you should be scared to wage it in the future. So, while not a war film, I’m going to recommend Arpad watch the 1981 movie Possession, directed by Andrzej Żuławski. It’s about a woman that leaves her husband and child after revealing she’s having an affair. The husband (played by Sam Neill) is a spy from West Berlin and upon learning about the affair he starts investigating it, leading to violent confrontations that reveal something sinister and not entirely of this world might’ve pushed his wife into unfaithfulness. The wife was played Isabelle Adjani, and she won the Best Actress award in Cannes when it premiered there.
You know what, The Vigil makes a good pairing with Possession, in terms of tone and how confrontational they can be. They’re wildly different movies, but there’s connective tissue there.
Silber: Well color me intrigued. I’ve also been meaning to watch Come and See, but Arpad has warned me about how hard it is to watch, and I haven’t found myself in the right state of mind yet. In the meantime, let’s try to help Taimur Dar, who says:
“I think my tastes in horror gravitate towards monster/creature movies and the body horror genre. There’s nothing more terrifying to me than your body being taken over by something outside your control, which seems quite relevant given the past year during the pandemic. One of my biggest gripes with modern horror movies (and films in general) is the over-reliance on CGI. But when you look at the amazing practical effects by makeup effects artists like Rob Bottin on The Thing or Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London, it’s phenomenal not only how well they still hold up but put to shame the effects of recent films. I also love a good monster, particularly the ones that are forced to grapple with their own humanity.”
Top Five: The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), An American Werewolf in London, Braindead, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Denis: Practical effect monster flicks are like the Holy Grail of fun horror movies for me. Being able to see the monster move and just be terrifying with only actual blood, sweat, and tears put into it is one of the things horror does better than any other genre. Not that there isn’t any good CGI monster flicks around, but give me someone in a suit over computer generated any day of the week. While I’m not entirely sure Taimur hasn’t seen this one, I’m recommending it just in case as it hits on all his preferences: Pumpkinhead (1988). This was legendary creature designer Stan Winston‘s directorial debut and it features the now iconic titular monster exacting revenge on a group of people that accidentally killed the son of local store owner (Lance Henriksen), who summons the demon with the help of a witch. There’s not a single shot in which the monster doesn’t look terrifying. The artistry on display is exceptional and the story does a great job of supporting the effects. As a bonus, and seeing American Werewolf in his top five, I also recommend The Howling and Bad Moon given their incredible werewolf makeup effects. The Howling is a classic, Bad Moon not so much. The latter’s story isn’t anything to write home about, but the wolf justifies a watch.
Greg, you have any favorite movie monsters? Or monster movies?
Silber: Well as you might guess if you read my minicomic with Jonah Newman, Benny Beck: Vampire Killer, my favorite monsters include golems and vampires. And while I’ve yet to see a truly great Golem movie (sorry, 2018 Israeli film The Golem, you’re just shy of greatness) since Taimur likes movies about monsters grappling with their own humanity, I’m going to recommend Cronos, the first film by Guillermo Del Toro. It’s nominally a vampire movie, but unlike any other I’ve seen. It’s about a loving grandfather who, already struggling with his own questions of mortality, unwittingly becomes a vampire. Like most Del Toro films, there’s a strong emotional core, and human cruelty, not a monster, is the real villain. The practical effects are great too, and the body horror, while not something I gravitate towards personally in horror, is top notch. Del Toro really arrived fully formed here, and it’s easy to see how he became one of the best horror directors of our time.
Next up we have Dean Simons, who says:
“My experience with horror is pretty limited. I grew up a massive scaredy cat so I usually chickened out of watching horror movies (yet still managed fine with tv series with horror elements, or horror games and comics). In more recent years I have made more attempts to experience horror cinema. I have tried The Exorcist and it just made me laugh a lot. I watched Midsommar recently and it was amusingly odd (yet very problematic). There are a handful of horror things that have stuck with me. One was the Norwegian supernatural drama Thelma which stunned me and left me thinking (a big plus with me). Likewise Valerie Valdes short prose story in anthology ‘People of Color Destroy Horror,’ A Diet of Worms, built a slow burning nightmare that still ranks as one of the best horror stories I have ever read. And the recent drama TV series Chernobyl chilled me, especially the second and third episodes.”
No Top Five (I don’t feel I have enough experience with the genre to give a top five)
Denis: Dean’s mention of Thelma makes me wants say The Vigil…and then run away and wait until Dean stops screaming to ask him if he liked it. But The Vigil‘s already been recommended here! Greg recommended it to Arpad based on my recommendation that he watch it in the first place! Horror’s grip slowly tightens as the new horror community grows. And yet, I don’t want to repeat suggestions, so I’m going with Requiem (2006) for Dean, a German possession film based on the real-life case of Anneliese Michel who died after being subjected to 67 exorcism in an attempt to get rid of the six or more demons that were “possessing” her. The movie’s directed by Hans-Christian Schmid and it stars Sandra Hüller as Michaela, the possessed college student. Her performance is what makes the movie so terrifying and unforgettable. Requiem is like the anti-Exorcist, showing just how easily ultra religious thought can blind those closest to you to the struggles of mental illness. It’s a grueling experience, but an important one. Believe me, Requiem won’t make you laugh. Fun fact: Anneliese Michel’s case also inspired the 2005 Scott Derrickson film The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Silber: Oh man, that sounds awesome. You and I have talked about this before privately, Ricky, but as good as The Exorcist is, the fact that I wasn’t raised Catholic or otherwise believing in the devil and whatnot means it’ll never be as scary to me as it is to horror fans with Christian upbringings. A possession film from a decidedly non-religious perspective sounds like it could be a recipe for terror to me!
Denis: It has elements that can also be found in a newer film called Saint Maud that’s touches on some of the same topics, albeit with a decidedly more ambitious take. It’s also very good. Hey! I think Dean might like it as well!
Silber: Oh yeah, Saint Maud is great! Dean might want to check that out too. But I think the 2016 thriller Green Room will be particularly up his alley. Dean’s Jewish like me, and while Green Room isn’t as explicitly Jewish as The Vigil, the fact that a horde of Neo-Nazis are the villains – led by Patrick Stewart playing brilliantly against type – makes it a special kind of scary for Jewish audiences, and probably any marginalized people for that matter. It sounds to me like the inherent silliness of supernatural horror is hard for Dean to take seriously, but there’s nothing supernatural here. A hardcore punk band unwittingly plays a show at a venue run by Nazi punks (fuck off!), and what follows is a brutal fight to the death as they try to escape. I like to call it a haunted house film where the house is haunted by Nazis. It has a pitch-black sense of humor, but I suspect Dean will be screaming more than laughing.
Up next is Kyle Pinion, who says:
“Horror was always the go-to genre when I was growing up in the 80s and early 90s, especially with a mother that couldn’t get enough of stuff like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, and the like. I lived much of my early life in really rural Georgia, where access to this kind of stuff was limited to whatever was available at the local gas station that had a surprisingly massive selection of scuzzy 80s slasher/monster flicks, and my uncle would let me pick out one each time we went over there for random odds and ends. I have incredible memories of watching movies like Fright Night 2, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Waxwork, Friday the 13th Part 6, The Howling Part 3, Hellraiser 2, NOES 2 and of course my absolute favorite of that era: The Monster Squad. It goes on and on, really. Born basically from the same era as my comics taste, my horror preferences have been shaped by those years of watching terrible sequels that were like gold to me as a little guy, and really anything made between 1981-1992 or so gives me such a weird warm feeling inside. Ironically, when I make my top 5, it’s probably barely going to be represented by this, because it’s hard for me to argue any of these are better than like… Rosemary’s Baby, but when I think of horror, I think of that golden video era. We’ll never see anything like it again.”
Top 5: 1) Dawn of the Dead, 2) Rosemary’s Baby, 3) Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, 4) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), 5) Brain Damage (I really should put The Shining here, but I gotta have one really grimy movie from my favorite decade)”
Silber: Kyle being a bona fide film critic means he’s a hard guy to recommend stuff to, because chances are he’s already seen it. On the off-chance that he hasn’t seen Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, he definitely should, because that’s gotta be the best scuzzy 80s horror film I’ve seen (although anyone looking to check it out should proceed with caution, as some material may be triggering). But since that’s already a cult classic, and Kyle clearly has an appreciation for slasher films that perhaps aren’t all that… good, I’m going to recommend something a little more obscure: 1981’s The Burning. I wrote about this in my column, but The Burning has a few key attributes that help it transcend from merely being a Friday the 13th ripoff (which it still very much is). There’s a great score by Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, strong special effects as per usual by the legendary Tom Savini, and most notably (to a Seinfeld fan like me at least), a legitimately good performance by a very young Jason Alexander with a full head of hair. If you like scuzzy 80s slashers, it’s a real treat.
Denis: Ah, Kyle Pinion. I really had to think about this one because the film knowledge this man contains is legion. I’m going with two that I think are up Kyle’s alley and just cross my fingers he hasn’t seen them yet. The first one is The Prowler (1981), directed by Joseph Zito and featuring glorious gore effects by the legendary Tom Savini (which Greg also has in his recommendation!). The setup is as simple as it gets, a WWII veteran slays his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend after returning from the war as revenge for breaking up with him. Thirty-five years later the same guy is going at it again. Forget the story, this all about Savini’s gore and the creepily designed Prowler. The kill scenes are brutal and forced the movie into censorship in several countries. Someone gets a particularly bad kill involving a knife to the head that many consider to be among Savini’s best. The second recommendation is Race with the Devil (1975), directed by Jack Starrett and starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates. This is basically Easy Rider with devil worshippers. Two city motorcycle enthusiasts go on vacation in rural Texas only to accidentally witness a satanic ritual involving human sacrifice. The two mains are caught watching from afar, Satanists pursue, all hell breaks loose. It’s a chase/road movie with a deep look at the paranoia and division that’s always felt between city folk and country folk. A classic that I feel doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Oh, and great chase sequences.
Silber: Both extremely cool-sounding movies, and the mention of film-banning reminds me of what I’m going to recommend to you later, Ricky… but first, we have to give a hand to Kerry Vineberg, who writes:
“For someone who doesn’t consider themselves a horror movie fan, I’ve seen a decent number. Mostly because of the company I keep. When in the rare mood to select it myself, I favor horror that I don’t believe could ever happen in real life, because I want to actually sleep at night. Survival movies fascinate me, where characters have to use their wits and creativity, which draws me most to zombie movies (slow, relentless zombies are my fave, but well-written trumps speed). I also like movies where at least some of the main characters survive due to their own ingenuity. Comedy or camp is a plus. And it never hurts when the movie says something thoughtful about society or plays with the form. So… zombies, satires, vampires, sci-fi mixes? Sign me up. Serial killers, psychological horror, and human cruelty? Not so much.”
Top Five: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Cube, Daybreakers, Zombieland”
Denis: It’s possible Kerry has already seen this one since it’s fairly recent and ticks every box according to her horror tastes, but I’m recommending Werewolves Within (2021), directed by Josh Ruben and starring Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, and Harvey Guillen (Guillermo from the What We Do in the Shadows series). A new forest ranger and a postal worker are trapped in a local inn with a bunch of loud people with personalities to match as a storm rages and a werewolf (maybe) stalks them. The movie is laugh-out-loud funny, but what impresses is how each character is basically a stand-in different ideas that came straight out of Trump’s America. The group divides itself quite quickly– the things that drive them further apart are things like the creation of a pipeline or whether the town’s residents should own guns next to a pipeline. And all this as the maybe/maybe not werewolf picks them apart. It’s great horror satire that lays it on everyone, on all sides of the political spectrum. It’s based on VR game that has somewhat the same concept of the movie.
Silber: I’ve gotta see that one. I tend to like my horror on the more serious side, but I haven’t heard a bad word about that movie and it sounds just like the kind of satire horror is perfect for.
My pick for Kerry is another recent and satirical horror comedy: 2020’s Vampires vs The Bronx. I didn’t think it was scary at all, and its PG-13 rating means it’s pretty bloodless for a vampire movie, but its so smart and funny that I don’t think she’ll mind. It’s a little The Lost Boys-esque, as it’s about a group of teens who discover a vampire plot to take over their neighborhood, but with a satirical twist: the vampires are a group of shady developers buying up property to gentrify their neighborhood! The cast is great, including Mero of Desus and Mero fame as a bodega owner/father figure, and Method Man as a local priest. It’s consistently funny and delightfully affectionate towards the vampire subgenre. And I think Kerry will like the way these kids use their wits to defeat the seemingly unstoppable vampires.
Finally, we have Therese Lacson, who writes:
“As a lifelong wuss, horror was never my thing, but I was always curious about it, which lead to many of the horror movies I watched giving me nightmares. But, as I got older, I ended up embracing the a lot of supernatural horror (specifically my teenage vampire era) and that was the gateway drug to the rest of the horror world. Horror, in my opinion, is best watched with a group of people so you can experience the fear and jump scares together. I still can’t do body horror, but give me a good thriller, supernatural, or psychological terror and I’m totally on board!”
Top Five: The VVitch, The Babadook, Jennifer’s Body, Silence of the Lambs, Underworld
Silber: I went back and forth with this one because Therese mentioned nightmares and this one is one of the few horror movies in recent memory to give me a nightmare, but if she’s feeling adventurous, I think she’d appreciate the psychological horror of 2019’s The Lodge. It’s about a brother and sister forced to spend Christmas with their father’s new fiancé in a remote lodge that gets snowed in. With a setup like that you may think you know where it’s going, but I promise you do not. There are some leaps in logic and plausibility that have made The Lodge a bit divisive, but it’s so sublimely executed that Therese probably won’t mind at all (content warning for suicidal imagery, though). This is a movie you watch more for the otherwordly aesthetic and psychological mindfuckery than plot. It’s written and directed by the Austrian aunt and nephew team of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, whose previous film Goodnight Mommy is a similarly terrifying slow-burner where you’re never entirely sure what’s real or not until the bitter end.
Denis: I was actually thinking about The Lodge as well! But from my previous talks with Therese, and knowing she underwent the harrowing journey that is The Last of Us 2, I’m going to recommend a movie that shook me to the core and that I still find myself thinking about every now and then. The movie’s called The Invitation (2015) and it’s about an innocent dinner party where the main character, played by Logan Marshall-Green, starts to suspect the hosts of the event have something really, really bad planned for everyone there. It doesn’t help that the hosts are the man’s ex-wife and her new husband. The Invitation is directed by Karyn Kusama and is by far one of the best examples of psychological terror and twist-filled storytelling in recent horror cinema. The less you know about it the better as its surprises are severely hard-hitting and expertly executed. It has a tight script and Marshall-Green plays terrified dinner party goer beautifully. It’s a hard movie to forget after watching and, like The Lodge, will leave you with a ton questions about why people do the things they do without any clear answers in sight.
Silber: Oh HELL YES I’m so glad you brought up The Invitation, Ricky. It’s one of my favorite horror movies and I think Therese is going to love it. What an absolute masterclass in suspense. Therese, Ricky is right about this one. Go in as blind as possible and prepare for an unforgettable experience.
Alright Ricky, now we’ve come to the part where you and I recommend horror movies to each other. You wrote:
“I love horror in all its forms, from slashers to slow burns, from psychological terror to politically-charged dread. To that point, what I admire most about the genre is its versatility. It’s inviting in its eagerness to rip you from your comfort zone and make you feel uncomfortable for the duration of a story. It allows films like Tales from the Hood and Candyman to tackle the terrifying consequences of racism while also making audiences confront the clear and present danger of random acts of violence in films such as Halloween and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. At its core, horror finds its home in the unknown and revels in it, but its greatest films embrace all of that to reach a certain kind of understanding about any given subject, most notably human behavior. There’s a lot to learn in darkness, and horror has proven to be the greatest of teachers.”
Top Five: The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, Ringu, Fright Night, In The Mouth of Madness.”
I gave this a lot of thought, and since you’re more passionate about horror than almost anyone else I know, I wanted to recommend something that I’d have a hard time recommending to anyone but the bravest horror fans. So I have two recommendations for you. The first is 1971’s The Devils, written and directed by Ken Russell. Have you seen this one?
Denis: I have seen parts of it. But I’ve been waiting to have a good reason to see it all the way through! And now I have. I’ve read some of the books Russell used as the foundation for the film.
Silber: Okay, well it’s definitely worth watching, in its entirety. Try to find the least-censored version you can. The powers that be, especially in many parts of Europe, do NOT like this movie, and several countries have banned it. It’s easy to see why. Not only for its frank depictions of sex and violence – I believe it was rated X at the time of its release – but for its unapologetic condemnation of the way people can use religion, particularly the Catholic Church, for cruelty and deception. Much of the imagery is downright blasphemous, and 50 years later it hasn’t lost its impact. But as offensive as many people would likely still find it today, it’s all based around stuff that actually happened in 17th-century France. A Catholic priest, played here by Oliver Reed, is accused of witchcraft, and utter chaos ensues. Other than some dream sequences, there’s very little supernatural at play here, but I can’t think of many other films that play as much like an actual nightmare.
One of the rare exceptions is my other recommendation, 2009’s Antichrist directed by Lars Von Trier. What about this one Ricky, are you familiar with it?
Denis: That one I saw and also keep thinking about. I think it’s very elusive for a lot of people in terms of where it goes with the subject matter. I’ve heard people say it’s offensive, others that say it has some feminist ideas at its core, and others that just say “hey, it’s a Von Trier movie, who knows?”
Silber: Yeah, I’m the same way. Tom Long of The Detroit News summed it up perfectly: “Antichrist is probably the best film ever that you’d recommend to absolutely no one.” Even if you don’t think it’s misogynist (which it might be! I honestly am not sure! It’s a very strange movie!), it’s absolutely terrifying and has some of the most disturbing imagery ever committed to film.
I’m glad I was able to recommend at least one thing you hadn’t seen. That’s why I brought a backup! Anyway, here’s what I’m looking for recommendation-wise:
“The horror films I tend to love most are atmospheric slow burns that rely more on dread and subtle spooks than jump-scares and gore. Zombie flicks, body horror, and slashers aren’t usually my speed, but there are exceptions (Train to Busan; The Thing; Halloween). I’m drawn most to folk horror (The Ritual) and psychological horror (Black Swan). Home invasion thrillers (The Strangers) tend to get under my skin, as do stories about creepy cults (Jordan Peele’s Us). And while I’m not opposed to a good smart horror comedy (American Psycho), when I watch horror, I usually want to get legitimately scared.”
Top Five: Hereditary; The Witch; Rosemary’s Baby; Jacob’s Ladder; Pan’s Labyrinth
Denis: I also have a backup just in case you know of this first one, Michael Winner‘s The Sentinel (1977). With Cristina Raines, Chris Sarandon, and John Carradine. Know about it?
Silber: I do not!
Denis: The Sentinel is a haunted apartment building affair that feels very 1970s in how it keeps the camera close to Cristina Raines‘ character, Alison Parker, a New York City model that moves into a building that only has her and a blind priest as tenants. As you can imagine, things get very strange very quickly and there’s mystery surrounding the blind priest that keeps viewers guessing as to why the guy insists on staying there. It has echoes of Rosemary’s Baby here and there in terms of how a new living space brings with it its own demons. Chris Sarandon plays a detective who is also Alison’s ex-boyfriend, and it’s great fun whenever they’re together because, for some reason, director Winner plays these scenes up with a soap opera flair that’s strange as it is magnetic. It’s strengths, though, lie in the horrors that await Alison and how each revelation pushes her deeper into the building. It also has one of the scariest scenes in the history of horror, according to many a list. I was scared when I saw it.
My other recommendation is similar to The Sentinel but you might’ve come across it before because it gets talked about more often, The Changeling (1980). This one’s a Canadian horror story set in a haunted house. A musical composer, played by George C. Scott, moves from NYC to Seattle after a tragedy leaves him desperate for change only to find the house has seen its fair share of tragedies as well. It’s considered one of the best horror movies of all time and also has one of the most iconic horror scenes in the genre. If you haven’t seen it, once you get to the scene, you’ll probably recognize it in other movies that poked fun at it or paid homage to it. This one’s a treat and perfect for Halloween.
Silber: Now that one I have seen, and I was especially impressed with Scott’s performance, much in the same way as his performance in The Exorcist III – another film I watched on your recommendation! The Sentinel I’ll definitely have to check out, though. I’m here for the Rosemary’s Baby vibes, as well as another horror performance by Chris Sarandon, who was a great mix of charming and creepy as the vampire in 1985’s Fright Night.
Well, I think that about does it! Thanks for joining me, Ricky. Our colleagues and readers have a lot of spooky fun to choose from as they gear up for Halloween. Any final thoughts before we close up shop?
Denis: This article has really made me appreciate just how community oriented horror can be. We love seeing something scary or terrifying and then telling other people to watch it. Like, “I saw something that scarred me for life! Now you watch it.” So please, don’t just watch horror movies. Recommend them! You’ll be doing the (dark) lord’s work.