Bryan Bertino scored a genre hit with his feature directing debut The Strangers in 2008, but he’s been mostly quiet since then. His follow-up Mockingbird (2014) went more or less straight to video, but his latest film was picked up by indie distributor A24 for a brief theatrical release this year. A24 had a great year in 2016 (including releasing Green Room and The Witch), and The Monster was a great way to cap it off. Young mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) is driving her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballantine) to stay with her father, but on an isolated stretch of road she nearly runs over a dog and totals her car. While the rain pours down, something in the woods watches and waits. The Monster has a deceptively simple creature feature setup, but the excellent performances by Kazan and Ballantine and some perceptive writing by Bertino help make it a monster movie that will linger in the memory long after the credits roll. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there’s also an awesome monster largely depicted with great practical effects. The Monster is available now on various VOD platforms.
Spanish-language film distributor Pantelion isn’t known for horror movies, but they did release Más negro que la noche (a fun 3D haunted house movie) in some U.S. theaters in 2014 and dipped their toes into English-language genre fare with The Vatican Tapes the following year. In 2016, they quietly released Summer Camp in a handful of theaters in the States before it hit home video. Most of the time when that happens, it’s a sure sign that the film in question is not that great. This time, it’s entirely possible the movie was mostly hamstrung by its painfully generic title, because it’s a surprisingly fun and inventive take on some very familiar territory. Four American college students arrive at a remote Summer camp in Spain and get more than they bargained for when something starts turning them into rampaging killers. Can they stop this mysterious outbreak before the campers show up tomorrow? On paper this sounds like the setup for another tired zombie/infection movie, but writer Danielle Schleif and director/co-writer Alberto Marini throw in some highly unexpected twists to the formula that elevate Summer Camp above the crowd. The movie also features a pair of fantastic lead performances by Jocelin Donahue (The House of the Devil, Insidious: Chapter 2) and Maiara Walsh, and it’s just fun as hell. Summer Camp is available on DVD as well as VOD platforms from Lionsgate.
Beyond the Gates
Cursed and haunted objects are the center of many horror films, but Beyond the Gates may be the first horror movie whose plot is set in motion by an evil VCR board game. Estranged brothers John (Chase Williamson, John Dies at the End) and Gordon (Graham Skipper, The Mind’s Eye) are forced to spend time together when their alcoholic father disappears and leaves them his old video store. While packing up the shop, they discover a VCR game called Beyond the Gates. When they take it back to their father’s house and pop in the tape they’re greeted by the mysterious Evelyn (the legendary Barbara Crampton, who had a great 2016 including a fantastic turn in Zach Clark’s Little Sister), who seems to be watching them as they struggle to figure out how to play the game. After they play, bodies start piling up around town and the brothers discover they have to win the game before things get much, much worse for everyone. Bathed in neon colors that strongly call to mind Stuart Gordon‘s From Beyond (starring Crampton) and propelled by a driving synth score by Wojciech Golczewski (Late Phases, We Are Still Here), Beyond the Gates is a fast-paced, gory love letter to 80s horror. Beyond the Gates has played a few big-screen dates around the U.S. since its festival premiere earlier this year, and it’s currently available on VOD from IFC Midnight.
They Look Like People
Some of the scariest films ever made are those that closely examine the mental state of deeply troubled characters. Lodge H. Kerrigan’s classic arthouse horror film Clean, Shaven (1993) used disorienting cinematic techniques to mimic the way a schizophrenic character sees the world as he tries to find where his ex-wife has taken their daughter. It’s a profoundly unsettling film made with very limited resources, and Perry Blackshear’s feature directorial debut They Look Like People is a worthy modern successor to that film. Wyatt (McLeod Andrews) travels to New York to see his old friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel), but while Wyatt tries to keep things normal it’s not just a friendly visit. Wyatt receives phone calls from unknown parties who warn him demonic forces are about to take over the world, and they infiltrate the ranks of humanity by taking the guise of normal people. While Wyatt desperately tries to save Christian and prepare for the imminent war Christian struggles to succeed at his competitive job and figure out his relationship with co-worker Mara (Margaret Ying Drake). They Look Like People is a deft hybrid of low-key indie relationship drama and psychological horror, with a sense of humor that helps relieve what would otherwise be unbearable claustrophobic tension. Lead actors Andrews and Dumouchel are great and absolutely convincing as longtime friends, and that relationship drives a film that is funny, scary, and moving. They Look Like People is available on Netflix as well as VOD from Gravitas Ventures.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
In both of the years 2015 and 2016 Osgood Perkins, son of late horror icon Anthony Perkins, has directed one of the best horror films of the year. In 2015, his debut feature February played a number of festivals and was picked up for distribution by A24. Before that film even sees a release in the States (A24 is releasing in January 2017 under its new title The Blackcoat’s Daughter), his second film I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House was picked up by Netflix where it appropriately premiered the Friday before Halloween. This is a “haunted house” story pared down to the bone and then some, damned close to the marrow. Lily (Ruth Wilson) is an in-home caretaker hired to live with reclusive author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). The old 19th-century house is creepy enough, but Lily tries to read one of her charge’s best-known books–The Woman in the Walls, supposedly dictated to Iris by the ghost of a young woman murdered in the house–and her already fraying nerves begin tightening toward an imminent, inevitable breaking point. This is not a horror movie about thrills and scares, but one about creating an overwhelming atmosphere of oppressive dread. In that, it succeeds tremendously. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is available for streaming on Netflix.