Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horror without Borders: 5 Movies, 5 Countries

Fright doesn't need a passport.

In the spirit of Halloween, here are a handful of notable horror films streaming on Netflix, from places other than the United States. All but one of these has subtitles, but that shouldn't deter true horror buffs (most of whom I assume can read). Arranged in order from Artfully Serious to Disgustingly Funny, these are my picks for a horrific, internationally themed All Hallow's Eve...

Let the Right One In (2008)

(Sweden) The justly celebrated Let the Right One In may be the most low-key horror film ever made. It doesn't frighten so much as slowly seep into your skin, like a stealth transfusion that uses the wrong type of blood so your body has no choice but to reject it. Resembling a low-budget European art film (which in many ways it is), Let the Right One In keeps the big shocks and scares to a minimum, calibrating them for maximum intensity as director Tomas Alfredson's observational camera records the film's acts of violence with a contemplative, almost mournful gaze—until you're so invested in the characters, every subtle shift in tension leaves you gnawing a knuckle. Shaped as much by mood and silence as emotion and sensation, the film can be viewed as a touching story of friendship between sensitive, introspective 12-year-olds—except when it isn't—making it one of the more unusual, artful, and disturbing vampire movies you're likely to see.

The Horde (2009)

(France) This is one seriously hardcore zombie flick. If Let the Right One In sneaks up and whispers a strangely tender darkness into your soul, then The Horde jams a grenade in your mouth and pulls the pin. The zombies in this movie make those in the Living Dead films—and even 28 Days Later—look like a group of plucky Mormons roasting marshmallows on the doorstep. It's as if the French said, "You silly Americains! You theenk you have zee scary zombies? We will show you zee scary zombies! Ptui!" The characters in this film, from the crooked cops to the cutthroat gangsters holed up in a condemned high-rise, are a singularly tough crowd. But as they find themselves under siege by an inexplicable rash of the raging undead, they're forced to uncover layers of toughness no dictionary—French or otherwise—has yet to define. I haven't seen World War Z (it's in my queue), but based on the previews I'm pretty sure Brad Pitt wouldn't last ten minutes against the non-computer-generated zombies of The Horde. And if he did, he'd surely die of shame at the (computer-generated) stains soiling his Levi 501s. Vive les morts!

Trollhunter (2010)

(Norway) Trollhunter manages to be a sendup of horror's found-footage subgenre while remaining an imaginative and satisfying monster movie in its own right. Following a group of student documentary filmmakers out to expose a bear poacher who turns out to be a hunter of slightly bigger, weirder game, the film finds wit in its premise and mythology while conjuring a (mostly) believable reality. In this world, the Norwegian government runs a secret program to keep the country's trolls hidden from the public. But these aren't garden-variety, living-under-a-bridge and quizzing-passersby trolls, these guys are big and scary and come in all shapes and sizes. They're also dumb as posts, so armed with the right skills and equipment, the film's intrepid hunter can usually dispense with them without breaking a sweat. That is, until they start behaving erratically and take to wandering outside their usual territories. Mix in the inquisitive, camera-wielding students and one increasingly disgruntled employee, and the government's big cover-up is soon in danger of being compromised. The film's witty special effects are matched nicely with the POV camerawork—you haven't lived till you've been stared down by a troll with three heads. Even if one unavoidable side effect of the format is the endlessly shaky shots of the cameraman running through the dark, this is still one trip to the Scandinavian woods worth taking. Just bring a strong flashlight, preferably with a UV setting.

Grabbers (2012)

(Ireland) Trollhunter may wink slyly at the tropes of its genre, but Grabbers gets flat-out shitfaced on them. Literally, in this case, since the movie's eponymous monsters (which arrive by way of a mysterious comet) turn out to have a fatal intolerance to alcohol—something the residents of a seaside Irish town discover only after its fishermen begin getting devoured by the slimy, toothy, tentacled creatures. The town's temporary sheriff, played likably by Coupling's Richard Coyle, is more than intimate with the bottle himself—much to his new female partner's chagrin—so it's natural he would recognize the connection between blood alcohol level and its toxicity to the invading creatures. Knowing this is one thing; actually getting the entire town drunk enough to be unappetizing to the monsters until help arrives—while staying alive in the process—is a whole other bucket of fish. But the movie is far more than an extended Irish drinking joke, and with its genuinely scary monsters and clever visual gags, it's reminiscent of Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead or The World's End (minus Wright's inimitable camera flourishes). Grabbers' more traditional techniques still keep the action moving nicely, though, while always keeping us invested in its characters, who are quirky and likable in that small-town, eccentric way popularized in Bill Forsyth's Scottish films. Except Local Hero didn't feature monsters that ate you whole and spit out your head.

Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead (2011)

(Japan) I claim no vast knowledge of Japanese horror, anime, hentai, or other films in the genre of schoolgirls-in-distress forced to fight evil-tentacled-creatures. But I can safely say there's nowhere to go but up (or is it down?) when you start with a title like Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead. This one's got it all: Projectile vomiting. Severed body parts. Exploding heads. Shit-hurling zombies. Gratuitously naked butt cracks. Low-rent special effects. Kung-fu knife fights. Geysers of gore. Deadly, colon-inhabiting parasites. Oh, and fart-propelled Japanese schoolgirls. There are a number of other inventively gruesome gags on display (can you say, "anal volcano"?), but I'll leave those for you to discover—and delight in—on your own. It goes without saying that all of this is leavened by an obvious sense of (very twisted) humor, but there's also a heartwarming lesson about facing the shame of one's bodily functions. That's right, kids, everyone farts, even pretty little girls! (And zombies.) Probably not a good idea to watch this one right after—or especially during—a meal. Maybe not before, either. Or, really, if you have any sense of decency (which I obviously don't).

BONUS: Cabin in the Woods (2011) - EXPIRED 11/2

(American) Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's sly, funny, and genuinely scary inversion of the teens-getting-slaughtered in the woods storyline was pretty much instantly declared a modern classic. This is a horror movie that brims with narrative confidence, seeming to lay its cards on the table right from the get-go. And yet it doesn't take long for you to realize that any sense of superiority you might feel over the blithely unaware teens is only temporary, and that something deeper might be going on—something so darkly subterranean that after a while you're not sure you really want to know what's lurking at the bottom of it...


Kirby said...

"Let the Right One In" is absolutely brilliant. Another fascinating aspect of it is (not to get spoiler-y) the ambiguous true identities of certain characters. And it goes without saying to avoid the US remake by all means.

"Zombie Ass" sounds absolutely crass and despicable, so of course I must watch it immediately.

Also, I think you mean 11/2 as the expiration date for "Cabin in the Woods", not 10/2.

David Speranza said...

Thanks for the comments, Kirby--and the correction (argh). And while I didn't mention the 2010 remake, called Let Me In, everything I've read says it was a pretty good film in its own right. Even the original author (of the book) apparently approved.

I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Zombie Ass--once you've recovered from the intestinal assault, of course.

Kirby said...

"Let Me In" is just another of the many unnecessary remakes of late, lacking all of the original's underlying dread and sadness. Even if the original didn't exist, it would still be pretty unremarkable.