The Babadook (2014) Crimson Peak (2015) and Vampyr (1932)

I have been remiss this past month in not writing about several amazing horror films that I have seen; some, old, some new. No, seriously… I have seen a heap of GREAT (read: artsy, not trashy) horror that is well-written, artful, and terrifying.

First, I had the privilege of seeing a German silent film from 1932 -Vampyr accompanied by live music (pipe organ, bass, and percussion) in a church (which is really the only way to see it) and with friends (although they were one row back since it was a packed venue). This film is sumptuous. There are some nifty camera tricks used to build a sense of the uncanny as well as some cleverly written suspense, all in a thoroughly dreamy pastoral landscape full of concealed perils. We follow a protagonist who finds himself in the midst of a small-town mystery which he cannot resist meddling in, at the risk of his very soul (oooooooooh!). A lot of the effects used in this film were appropriated in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Dracula (1992), to magnificent effect (such as dramatic lighting, varying speeds, reversed film, shadows of unknown provenance, … etc.). Finally, this is not a gruesome film and it is the eeriness of it all that stays with you.

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Not to worry, our little town is super scenic…

I also got to see The Babadook (2014), which was written and directed by Jennifer Kent. Basically, picture a Studio Ghibli creature that’s actually full-on evil and torturing a widowed mother caring for a son with a non-specific cognitive issues (although it resembles some mild form of Autism). Sounds silly, right? Nope. Nope. Nope. It’s terrifying (even listening to it on headphones and watching on a laptop on Netflix). The house the protagonists live in is all grey and black (like some sort of hyper-masculinized Ikea nightmare), while the mother shines in luminous pastels with angelic blonde waves of hair. This interplay of colour and attention to ambiance is very effective. Essie Davis, who plays the widow, gives a great performance. The camera focuses in on her face as a huge range of emotions ripple across her features -it is genuinely compelling. Sure, there are not a lot of surprises waiting in terms of plot, but nothing is over-explained, which is the film’s greatest strength.

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C’mon, guy. Let’s play.

I also got to see Crimson Peak (2015) directed by Guillermo del Toro (with friends, even… who didn’t mind my terrified squealing and twitching). I have loved his approach to horror since El espinazo del Diablo (2001), which is a must-see in my opinion. The reasons why this film is great are no surprise based on his earlier work. Each shot of this film could be a painting -his use of colour has already been compared to Mario Bava by others, and the costumes are an exaggeration of the silhouettes of the era -everything seems amped up, with colours that are almost too rich to be real and environments too intricate to exist. Del Toro is also not afraid to use existential as well as more prosaic forms of horror. The plot seems cobbled together from plots of almost any Gothic novel. Sweet girl from backwards Buffalo, smitten with charming foreign noble, weds and returned to his rambling wreck of a home… Nothing could possibly go wrong, according to every book ever written.

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I’m sure everything will work out fine… if not, at least I’m not in Buffalo.