Each month, we’ll take you on a trip down the proverbial video aisle to look at some of the latest and best indie horror releases you need to check out.
For a lot of us, November always has that Halloween hangover feel to it. No more “scariest movies” lists, no more Halloween episodes of TV shows, and no more spooky-cool, orange, purple, and black seasonal sections in just about every store. But November has always had a special place in my horror loving heart. With the bright Autumn colors of the trees quickly draining to a lifeless brown, the skies taking on a lonely gray, and the air cooling faster than a fresh corpse, November seems like the best month of the year to watch horror films.
So let’s roll like a severed head with the Halloween spirit, revel in the tomb-like atmosphere that is November, and take a stroll down the video aisle to pick out some movies to watch because there are some good ones this month!
Red Letter Day
(In select theaters 11/1, Available 11/5 on VOD and Blu-ray)
The introduction to the main characters is a refreshing sequence showing Melanie, a mother with her teenage son and daughter actually getting along as they eat breakfast and start their day. Once the red letters arrive in the mail, the survivalist aspect of the story kicks in to high gear and we immediately feel a bond with these characters. The stakes are raised, the tension is established, and their survival becomes ours in the ultimate nightmare scenario. Because on Red Letter Day, neighbors are enemies and no one can be trusted.
Dawn Van de Schoot as Melanie steals the show. Her performance is incredibly charismatic and genuine. She’s a mom whose kids are threatened. Once that happens, Van de Schoot turns Melanie into a reluctant warrior who knows she’s stuck in a game she didn’t start, but knows she has to finish. The character of Melanie also makes a hero out of a parent, a title in film that lately has been monopolized by people in goofy costumes with magic shields and hammers.
At a speedy 75 minutes and operating in real time, Red Letter Day is brief window into an alternate world where the anger and violence brewing inside of people takes over in a scary way. What’s scarier is that this mentality and practice feels closer than we pretend it is. It’s a crazy world out there, and Red Letter Day tweaks it a little bit to show us just how scary it can become if we let it. It also shows us what really matters in life, regardless of what a piece of paper says. (4/5 Butterflies)
“While adjusting to a new life in a quiet suburban community, a recently divorced mother and her two teens receive mysterious red letters instructing them each to kill or be killed.”
FIRST LOOK: THE TOP OF THE RELEASE PILE
Every anthology movie needs strong wraparound sequences and/or a strong presenter of each story, and Jeffery Combs provides both in Holiday Hell. His curiosity shop is a treasure trove of cool, freaky knick knacks and Combs has always been an interesting actor.
The first story is a promising one featuring a pretty creepy masked killer and some good old fashioned slasher fun. The next 2 are just as good with one about a killer doll and the other about a pushover office worker who’s had enough. The 4th installment is the most different of the bunch in terms of tone and at first seems a little out of place. But it’s pretty damn good so the difference in tone is quickly forgotten.
Most of the characters in these stories are run of the mill assholes, and when one yells to another, “I hope you fucking die,” you couldn’t agree with her more. But the cast is so damn good at playing these assholes that Holiday Hell is a really fun time. Not to mention the stories are pretty great with not a weak one in the bunch, and I was more than impressed with each segment.
This is a stellar anthology movie where the wraparound segment and stories in between are all equally great and play as a surprisingly strong cohesive tale. Put Holiday Hell on your watch list this season, it’ll leave your horror heart merry and bright. (4/5 butterflies)
“A mysterious shopkeeper narrates four horror tales, each set during a different holiday.”
Animal Among Us
Animal Among Us nails the feel of a classic slasher/monster flick and successfully balances the mystery of a murderous monster with interesting and complicated characters. Larisa Oleynik is razor sharp here, playful when she wants to be, and no nonsense when she needs to be. She plays her character with wonderful awareness, hinting at something hidden below the surface, simultaneously pulling the viewer in and pushing them away. This is the distant yet charismatic ability Oleynik has possessed her whole career, and it serves her character and the film well.
I was really surprised by how layered the characters were and how entertained I was by the film. The script unfolds beautifully, showing just enough glimpses of the monster and kills to keep us interested, while at the same time opening the lives of the characters showing their dark sides, vulnerability, and adding depth to the story. It’s also subtly very funny at times.
One male character in the film doing research for his blog on the legendary monster of Merrymaker Campground is even wearing short, Sleepaway Camp style shorts. Details like that make me smile. Animal Among Us is a solid slasher mystery with impressive work from Larisa Oleynik, I recommend it! (4/5 butterflies)
“Fifteen years ago, two teenage girls were murdered at Merrymaker Campgrounds. The case was filed an animal attack, the camp was condemned and the killer never found – but something horrific still waits in those woods.”
This one grabs you by the throat right away with a gory and horrific, backwoods ritualistic killing. The tree where the killings take place is used to make a giant bed frame, and this is where the fun begins. When 2 guys and 2 girls rent the room with the cursed bed for a night of hanky-panky, they get more than they bargained for when they find out whoever gets off the bed dies.
What follows is an 80 minute spook fest with very creepy imagery fused with a procedural detective story. The film offers a nice mix of characters finding out what they’re made of and a detective fighting his own inner demons. Characters are explored, fears are exposed, and blood is spilled. The story may start by circumstance, but it is smartly driven forward by character development.
The Dwelling runs psychological circles around its characters, causing them to see things that aren’t there and things that are. But what’s real and what’s not is impossible to distinguish until it’s too late. This is a perfect midnight movie to pump nightmare fuel into your head before you go to sleep. One scene has a creature slowly rising out of the bed while wrapped in a twisted, blood soaked sheet, and when it takes the life of one of the guys, it rains blood on the girls below. And with an intriguing, time bending mystery at its core,
The Dwelling is an entertaining story of horror and regrets. Just beware of that shadow in your room or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you may not survive the trip. (4/5 butterflies)
“Four twentysomethings find themselves stuck on a haunted antique bed where leaving means suffering a gruesome death. Plagued with frightening hallucinations, they must figure out the bed’s secrets before they are ultimately picked off one by one.”
TO BE WATCHED: MORE GREAT HORROR
Big Top Evil
I haven’t watched this one, but I don’t think the trailer is doing it any favors. It’s pretty uneven and slow moving, but the chick in the shower caught my attention (that’s probably why that scene’s in the trailer) and towards the end there’s a bit of a House of 1000 Corpses feel that peaked my interest (that girl with the chainsaw)! If Big Top Evil has that crazy circus of freaks feel the end of the trailer displays then this flick might be worth a watch. After all, circuses are primed for all sorts of creepy shit.
“Five disparate youths, lost on a road trip to the location of the infamous ‘mangrove slasher,’ end up being pursued by a cadre of cannibal clowns.”
Even though Sweetheart takes place on a decent sized looking island, that didn’t keep me from feeling claustrophobic while watching this trailer! Knowing that monster is out there and could pop up at any time is a terrifying minute to minute existence, and this trailer makes Sweetheart look like an intense experience. I’m not familiar with actress Kiersey Clemons, but she looks like she does some great work here and the film looks like a definite must watch for horror fans, let alone monster movie fans.
“Jenn has washed ashore a small tropical island and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s completely alone. She must spend her days not only surviving the elements, but must also fend off the malevolent force that comes out each night.”
Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge
If there’s one actor in the horror genre who is consistently impressive and brings it in every performance, it’s Bill Oberst, Jr. As if a ventriloquist and his dummy aren’t creepy enough, it looks like Oberst once again adds an element of heart racing unease to his latest film. I don’t think the exposition dump in the trailer is very necessary, or compelling for that matter, but Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge looks like it could have some fun with its evil puppet premise. But it just might be Oberst and his icy gaze that gives viewers nightmares.
“A shuttered TV studio in Detroit is haunted by a magician/ventriloquist from a 1960’s children’s show, and he’s looking for a new live (or DEAD) studio audience.”
Well…Devil’s Acid certainly looks interesting. There’s a part of me that thinks it just looks dumb, but the other part of me just watched the trailer 3 times, so there’s that. I’m getting a funky vibe from this movie that it just might be a good time in that there’s-so-many-jokes-some-of-them-have-to-land kind of way. The cast certainly looks game and I’m betting that if you smoke ’em if you got ’em, Devil’s Acid might have you cracking up in your nachos.
“A drunk father is telling his son a bedtime story about a group of people spending the night at a haunted prison, where they all take “Devil’s Acid”. They then start having problems differentiating between reality and the trip.”
Playfully billed as Carrie meets It Follows, Marla looks like a thrilling mix of mystery, science fiction, and body horror. The story seems to have some depth to and writer/director Lisa van Dam-Bates also looks good in the lead role of Marla in what appears to be a passion project from the filmmaker. She definitely doesn’t shy away from the red stuff as the trailer is pretty gory. Marla looks like it could be a good one, and I’m interested to check it out.
“When a girl goes to get an IUD implanted by a distant relative, he commits a deranged act which has deadly implications for those close to her.”
The premise for The Shed hints at a pretty interesting sounding story, and the trailer definitely looks to promise one! I’m pretty excited to check this one out, it looks like a layered coming of age movie with a rampaging monster at its center, what’s not to love about that!? It’s inevitable that things get out of hand as the 2 kids lose control of their uncontrollable monster and it certainly looks like the shit hits the fan in this one. High school, growing up, outcasts, first loves, and a monster. I’m all in on The Shed!
“Stan lives with his abusive grandfather and tries to protect his best friend from high school bullies. When he discovers a murderous creature has taken refuge inside his tool shed, he tries to battle the demon alone until his bullied friend discovers the creature and has a far more sinister plan.”