One theme, five killer films. This week, we explore the terror of time warps with a look at five lesser known films you should really make time for.
One theory I’ve heard for the mayhem in 2020 is that we’re all suffering the unintended consequences of a time travel-related butterfly effect that keeps spiraling out of control. Someone went back and time and thought they could stop the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani… and, boom, corona virus. Think you can go back and stop COVID? Oops, now you’ve unleashed the murder hornets.
There is something appealing about the idea that time is malleable. At this point who wouldn’t want a complete re-do of 2020? (Or you know…just skip it all together.) Time loops are certainly all the rage these days, with Hulu’s newest romantic comedy Palm Springs and the success of the Netflix series Dark. Over the decades, there have been movies galore about every conceivable kind of time warp — time slips, time paradoxes, time loops, and so on.
Here are a few you may have missed, which will be sure to remind you that, as fun as it may sound, messing with the clock is guaranteed to come with unintended consequences.
1. Bloody New Year (1987)
Norman J. Warren’s Bloody New Year (also known as Time Warp Terror) represents the best and most ridiculous of pure 80’s camp. Drop six teenagers in a haunted hotel motif, inexplicably throw in some zombies, and set the whole thing to frantic piano music; that pretty much sums it up. Plus, it’s British, which just adds to the cheesy charm.
After fending off some angry hoodlums at a local carnival, a group of friends escape by rowboat and land on a nearby resort island. They poke around and discover that the island’s hotel appears to be completely abandoned. Even weirder, it’s filled with Christmas decorations from the 1950s, despite it being the middle of summer.
As they explore, they encounter increasingly bizarre phenomena — disembodied laughter, walls coming to life, aggressive fishing nets. Soon the strange supernatural force that inhabits the island starts picking them off one by one (and creates a zombie or two in the process).
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with time warps. Your guess is as good as mine. The writers seem to have needed an explanation for all the wackiness they cooked up. And what could tie things up with a nice little bow better than blaming it all on a time warp caused by an airplane carrying experimental time-altering technology crashing on the island in the 50s.
With cheap effects, laughable scares, and a rather unconventional take on the time warp theme, Bloody New Year is worth a watch if you think you’ve already seen everything 80’s horror has to offer. And don’t worry if you have trouble stomaching the usual over-the-top blood and guts of the era — the film spares you any particularly gruesome kills. It does however feature one of my favorite attack scenes, which involves a tablecloth coming to life.
Overall, this is a nonsensical funhouse of a film.
2. The Langoliers (1995)
The 1990’s was truly the golden age of Stephen King made-for-TV movie adaptations, starting with It in 1990 and including 1994’s The Stand and 1997’s The Shining.
A two-part miniseries based on King’s 1990 novella The Langoliers was certainly one of the less memorable of the bunch, but it will always hold a special place in my heart as one of my favorite childhood movies. Admittedly, however, the acting is hokey, the special effects are reminiscent of a Windows 98 screensaver, and even the source material is a bit derivative and outlandish.
The plot centers around a supernatural occurrence on a red eye flight in which everyone vanishes except for 10 passengers who were asleep on the plane. With the help of one of the survivors, who happens to be an off-duty pilot, the group lands the plane at the Bangor International Airport in Maine, only to discover that everyone there has disappeared as well.
As the group tries to figure out what it all means, signs start to point to the idea that they might actually be the ones who vanished, sucked into a time rift and stranded several minutes in the past. Their predicament becomes urgent when they realize that their outdated world is fading away…or more accurately, being consumed by time-eating monsters called Langoliers.
If you’re like me and caught the original airing on ABC, it’s definitely worth a revisit for some of that sweet mid-90’s nostalgia.
It’s also worth checking out if you’re a Stephen King fan, just to revel in his particular brand of oddball twists (did I mention one of the passengers is a psychic blind girl?)
3. Timecrimes (2007)
Time machines have always been one of mankind’s most daydreamed-about technologies. Going back to kill Hitler or meet Socrates is one thing, but what if you could only make it to earlier the same day? If we can learn anything from Timecrimes (or Los cronocrímenes), the danger of accidentally splitting your life into multiple simultaneous timelines should make you think twice if you ever happen across a time machine in the woods.
After spying a woman undressing in the forest near his house, Héctor ventures off to get a closer look. He encounters her passed out with evidence of foul play, before getting accosted by a terrifying man whose face is wrapped in pink bandages. Héctor runs for his life until he finds a research compound where he tries to seek shelter. A scientist there guides him to a nearby silo and tells him he can hide inside one of the machines.
Héctor emerges moments later to a very confused scientist, astonished that there’s suddenly a man inside his time machine. The two realize that Héctor is reliving the same day, now a few hours earlier, and must somehow merge with his previous timeline if he ever wants his life back.
Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo plays with the idea of consequence and inevitability. Every character is intertwined, each of their actions both determining and determined by the others’.
Héctor painstakingly tries to recreate the events that led him to the time machine, yet he does so in the futile hope that he can change the outcome. It also explores how a person’s morals and behavior are not as consistent as we might think, instead governed by the circumstances of any given moment. After all, who do you root for when the hero and the villain are technically the same person?
The choice to make a time travel movie is always a bold one. Inevitably you invite an army of armchair quantum physicists to find holes in your equations, and Vigalondo has clearly taken time to iron out his storyline. Still, if you think about it too hard, it’s bound to leave you with a headache — or at least a sense of relief that time paradoxes aren’t something we have to worry about…yet.
4. The House at the End of Time (2013)
Another Spanish language entry for the list, this time from Venezuela with Alejandro Hidalgo’s The House at the End of Time (or La casa del fin de los tiempos).
The film is the perfect marriage of time warp and ghost story. We meet Dulce at two different points in her life, one as a young wife and mother of two children, and one after she is finishing her 30 year sentence for murdering her family. Dulce is still intent on proving that she is innocent and that the tragic deaths of her family members were caused by a supernatural entity haunting her house, when in 1981 she woke up to find her husband murdered and watched her son get snatched away through a supernatural doorway.
Now in 2011, she meets a young priest who wants to help her vindicate herself, and together they start to unravel the mystery of her husband’s death and the disappearance of her son.
Hauntings in general come in two varieties, intelligent and residual. Intelligent hauntings are the spirits of the dead who interact with the world of the living with some level of awareness, whereas residual hauntings are caused by an enduring energy, projected onto time and space to replay like an ethereal film reel. Much like the ghosts comprised of residual energy, the house in the film is haunted by time itself, bringing with it all of its old traumas and fears and sorrows to revisit the inhabitants.
One could say any house has the power to haunt, acting as an enduring vessel for the memories that transpire within its walls. Hidalgo’s film conveys how, while time itself cannot be stopped or controlled, the power we do have is that our painful history can be either perpetuated or overcome by how we interact with it.
The film is atmospheric, moving, and most importantly, scary as hell.
5. Time Trap (2017)
Time Trap is one of those movies you might scroll past a hundred times on Netflix, but it truly is a hidden gem. You probably won’t recognize anyone in the cast except perhaps Cassidy Gifford from The Gallows or Brianne Howey from season one of the Exorcist TV series (not to mention the forgotten Wilson brother, Andrew, known for his Idiocracy cameo as Beef Supreme). But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a low budget B movie.
Time Trap offers a fresh take on time travel that brings a new gravity to the subject by rejecting the usual fantasy that time is a two-way street.
After their professor fails to return from a research expedition, archaeology students Taylor and Jackie go searching for him, bringing along their friend Cara and two kids itching for an adventure. They follow his tracks into a local cave system and venture inside hoping to find him before it’s too late. Instead, equipment failure leaves them trapped inside, and they quickly start to notice that something’s not quite right down there.
Piecing together clues from a series of strange occurrences, the group realizes that the cave exists in its own warped timeline, and that every second that passes might equate to hours, days, maybe even years back home on the surface. Once the protagonists realize they’re caught in a time warp, the terror comes from the grim realization that there is no going backward, and that their world as they know it may be vanishing with every passing moment.
At first the film seems like another generic cave thriller, but give it time and you’ll find its trove of hidden treasures.
Some of the scenery and effects are breathtaking, and the film pulls off narrative feats that seem absurd on paper without ever drifting into schlock — imagine aliens, cavemen, conquistadors, and cowboys in one movie at the same time in anything but a trashy 1960’s science fiction flick! It also pulls off blending themes without feeling forced, and you get a nice little bite of sci fi, horror, action, and mystery all rolled into one. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to even the most casual fan of any of those genres.