As we stand on the precipice of October, it’s time to begin thinking about Halloween in earnest. For many, this means ghouls, goblins, and nightmares of all kinds come out of the shadows to play in the light of day. That applies to exactly half of EOM. The other half curls into a ball, rocking slowly, waiting for it to become November. Creating a new challenge for EOM’s third annual FrightFest is a toddler who can’t yet stay up for the true features, but doesn’t want to be left out of the fun. Inspired by the varying levels of acceptable frights, EOM presents a list of films across subgenres within Halloween films that will delight old and young viewers, while still providing the essence of Halloween we crave from our cinematic entertainment.
This 2014 under-seen Spierig Brothers picture features Ethan Hawke as a temporal agent who is bent on tracking down the one criminal that has evaded him his entire career. Though the concept is linear, the tale is anything but in a story that examines love and identity through the use of time travel.
Multihyphenate Shaun Carruth’s 2004 indie film uses time travel to take a closer look at what happens when knowing the future becomes a reality in the present. Four friends build a time machine in their garage, but don’t fully understand the responsibility until it’s too late. As a warning, there is a lot of science and equations in this film, so if jargon isn’t your thing, just let it wash over you. By the time you get to the end, you’ll need at least one more watch to see everything you missed.
Meet The Robinsons
This 2007 Disney picture came and went, but for some it made a mighty impression. Featuring an oddball cast of characters, Meet The Robinsons is the story of orphaned Lewis, a genius inventor whose creations have a tendency to explode when they malfunction. After his latest debacle, Lewis swears off inventing, until a mysterious boy named Wilbur Robinson arrives to convince Lewis otherwise….and fix his time machine. What happens next is an uplifting story of how family comes from the most unlikely places, while reminding us that our actions – no matter how well meaning – can have enormous consequences.
End of the World/Apocalypse
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
What would you do if life as we know it would end in three weeks? Writer/director Lorene Scafaria wonders this very thing in the 2012 dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, featuring Steve Carell and Kiera Knightley in the lead roles. The concept is heavy, but well handled by Scafaria who wisely cast comedians big and small to help lighten a story about two people that find themselves on journey to find inner peace before a literal deadline. You may know the ending, but the trip you take to get there will leave a mighty impression.
Humanity, it seems, is always destined to be destroyed by the things it creates. In the case of Shane Acker’s 9, it’s the machines we build to help us run the world that inevitably annihilate us all. This animated feature ponders what might happen if humanities only salvation comes from pint-sized rag dolls imbued with the soul energy of the very scientist that doomed us. Though animated, this one may not be save for all kids, but certainly the kid at heart.
Another Disney film made this list and not because of that one theory that suggests the benign Wall*E is actually a psychotic killer robot. Most apocalypse movies are dour in nature, so it seems fitting to explore the nature of our planetary extinction from a different perspective and the 2008 Wall*E does a great job of this. Mostly lacking in dialogue, you’ll watch the titular Wall*E explore our abandoned home planet as he tries to clean it up in hopes that humanity will one day return. It’s a gorgeous, adventurous tale with a strong message behind it.
Hack & Slash
Grindhouse: Death Proof
Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to violence and murder, but this 2007 second-half to the Grindhouse series dares to go further than even Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight. Starring Kurt Russell as the charismatic Stuntman Mike, Death Proof is a slasher flick with an automotive twist. Mike spends his days stalking women, only to find inventive ways to murder them using his “death proof” car. The story is straight out of the 60s-70s bloody camp variety, yet the violence is horrific and cruel, making for an uncomfortable time.
The Final Girls
The “Hack & Slash” genre is so common place that sometimes the better stories are the ones that subvert and manipulate expectations. The 2015 Todd Strauss-Schulson picture The Final Girls does exactly this in a way that pokes fun at the tropes we know, while also paying them great honor. Here, Taissa Farmiga stars as Max Cartwright, a young girl still dealing with the loss of her mother (Malin Akerman) who died tragically in a car accident. When an opportunity to honor her late mother’s scream queen status at a theater screening of the movie that made her mom famous, Max finds herself and her friends sucked into the world of the movie. Though it reunites the mother and daughter, it also means that they have to face-down the killer on the loose.
The Cabin in the Woods
Speaking of movies that use tropes to subvert expectations, 2012 brought the release of The Cabin in the Woods: a horror-comedy brought forth from the power combo of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. Focused on five college friends who take a trip to the woods for a weekend getaway, they quickly find themselves being picked off, one by one, with escape being impossible. While this sounds like nearly every other horror film in the “Hack & Slash” subgenre, Goddard and Whedon provide a second story that not only provides a real reason for the deaths of the five kids, but puts their deaths in a “for the greater good” perspective. With this and other twists, The Cabin in the Woods is an excellent way to get your scares with some laughs, too.
This 2015 Guillermo del Toro gothic horror isn’t land with audiences as much as expected, which possibly was due to the marketing. This isn’t a horror story, but a ghost story in the most classic of senses. There is blood, there is terror, there is murder, but the frights are more based in human need and desire than evil spirits. Crimson Peak tells the story of a Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring author whose life takes a terrible turn that begins with the horrific, mysterious death of her father. Swept away from home and friends, Edith soon realizes that there is more to fear in the isolation of a foreign land than just the spirits that haunt your home.
To balance out the terror, how about some balls-out camp? This 2011 action-fantasy starring Nicolas Cage and Amber Heard is about as ridiculous as it gets, and it knows it. Cage is Milton, a man on a mission to hunt down the cult leader who killed his daughter and kidnapped his infant granddaughter, who is also an escaped soul from Hell. It’s fairly a straight-forward plot and they do so much with it. Cage gets to kick some ass like he used to and take some serious punishment (being dead has its privileges), while Heard gets a small, yet important redemption story that enables her character to never be just eye candy. Two other bonuses: (1) William Fichtner as The Accountant – a prison guard from Hell, if you will – channels his cool calm to maximum comedic affect. (2) The whole thing was shot for 3D. Makes watching it in 2D even more campy and ridiculous.
The Book of Life
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, this 2014 animated musical is a heart-warming take on life and death. Told as a story within a story, The Book of Life centers on a love triangle between childhood friends Manolo, Joaquin, and Maria and the gamble made between the deities Xibalba, ruler of the Forgotten, and La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, over who will end up with who. The Book of Life entreats audiences to open themselves up and realize that life on this planet is not the only journey our souls may take. That the stories we create today will keep us alive as long as those stories are told. Though not filled with scares and frights, it’s an excellent way to celebrate Halloween from a different perspective.
Look for FrightFest 2016 Recommendation List, Part 2 next Friday when we tackle World Invasion, Body Snatchers, Home Invasion, and Psychological films!