Big Picture Big Sound

Halloween Horror Picks from the BPBS Movie Review Crew

By Joe Lozito, Matthew Passantino, Lora Grady, David Kempler, Chris Boylan

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Editor's note: I got my start writing for Big Picture Big Sound back in 2009, when I cheerfully volunteered to review the "often-histrionic, quasi-Gothic" evil-child horror pic "Orphan." I've always loved horror movies, and BPBS's Film Guru (aka Movies Editor) Joe Lozito subsequently let me go to town on those: I reviewed the good ("Devil" - though in retrospect my 3.5 star rating may have been a touch over the top), the bad ("My Soul to Take" - yech), and the ugly (the remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" - Just. Awful.). And then I got ambitious.

In 2012 I took a deep breath and put together "31 Days of Halloween," a five-part series calling out a horror movie for every day in October. (We're currently republishing it, so be on the lookout!). "31 Days" covered a lot of ground - but of course it only included movies produced before that year. Well, it's time to fix that.

This year as Halloween rolls around, BPBS is providing a look at some of the best horror movies of the past five years, along with shout-outs to a few older classics that are too good to be forgotten. You'll hear from our regular reviewers, and a few special guests. Hope you enjoy this special seasonal treat!

-Lora

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Loyal BPBS readers have no doubt missed hearing from co-founder & former Movies Editor Joe Lozito since he stepped away from the site last year, but we lured him back to kick off our Halloween retrospective with a few of his recent favorites. Joe's been reviewing movies for most of his life - this is not an exaggeration - so when he says that something's worth watching, it's time to hit the couch, grab the remote, and check it out.

Joe's picks: best four horror movies of the past five years

The Babadook (2014)

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With a lean budget of $2 million, Jennifer Kent's masterful directorial debut proves that you don't need fancy effects to get under the audience's skin. Set largely in a single location, the film follows a widow and her son dealing with the titular monster, who may or may not have escaped from a children's book. Rich in metaphors for grief, denial and mental illness, the film also deals with a mother's darkest feelings towards her child in a way that is rarely, if ever, represented. Once you see it, you'll never hear the film's title the same way again.

Get Out (2017)

Less a horror movie than a biting dissection of race-relations in America, comedian Jordan Peele's thrilling directorial debut is a slow-burn thriller that leaves you squirming on the edge of your seat for a whole variety of reasons. It's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" crossed with "The Stepford Wives" with a dash of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" thrown in for good measure. Though not traditional horror, the final plot reveal is nothing short of horrific. Plus, who knew there'd be two Bradley Whitford movies on my list?

It Follows (2014)

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Lurking beneath the surface of any great horror story is a metaphor, making the fear that much more palpable for the audience. In David Robert Mitchell's breakout, a deadly curse is transmitted via sexual intercourse. It's a premise so simple it's a miracle it hasn't been done before (not counting the post-coital death trope in slasher films). It all leads to an unforgettable ending shot that will leave you looking over your shoulder for the foreseeable future.

Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Less a straight-up horror movie than a horror-comedy (hor-com?), Drew Goddard's impressive, ultra-meta foray into feature films does for, well, cabin-in-the-woods movies what "Scream" did for slasher movies. What starts as a playful prodding of familiar tropes blows the genre wide-open with the kind of sprawling world-building typically reserved for sci-fi epics, all in a tight 95 minutes (take that, "It").  Worth it for Bradley Whitford's hysterical merman runner alone.

Next up is Matthew Passantino, who joined the BPBS team a few years back and has covered the waterfront for us, tackling films big and small from virtually every genre. Matt's got a number of horror reviews under his belt, including "10 Cloverfield Lane" (he loved it!) and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (not so much). Here, Matt fills us in on some of the horror gems we've missed lately.

Matt's picks: best four horror movies of the past five years

Goodnight Mommy (2015)

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Many probably have not seen the Austrian chiller "Goodnight Mommy" from a few years back, so I am not going to dive too much into the plot. In its most basic, surface-level sense, "Goodnight Mommy" follows brothers Lukas and Elias (Lukas Schwarz and Elias Schwarz), who await the return of their mother (Susan Wuest), who comes back from cosmetic surgery covered in bandages. Things get weird - and then they get weirder. As directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz carefully ramp up the film's strangeness, "Goodnight Mommy" continues to surprise.

Green Room (2016)

Jeremy Saulnier's "Green Room," the follow-up to his acclaimed "Blue Ruin," features head-banging punk rockers and skinheads. The late Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, and Callum Turner play friends in a band. They go to a gig in a dark, grungy bar, where the clientele is entirely made up of skinheads. As you could imagine, things go awry, and the friends end up having to fight for their lives to get out safe. Matters get more complicated when the leader of the skinheads (played by a chilling Patrick Stewart) gets involved. "Green Room" is weird, twisted, bloody, gnarly as hell - and it's a pretty great.

The Invitation (2016)

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Rising tension, ancient history, and devastation take center stage in "The Invitation" - must be a movie about a dinner party! Director Karyn Kusama ("Aeon Flux," "Jennifer's Body," and "Girlfight") has crafted an unnerving horror-thriller that skillfully and carefully ratchets up the tension from the first frame on. Will (Logan-Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) attend a dinner at Eden's (Tammy Blanchard) house and things aren't all small talk and sipping red wine. "The Invitation" will keep you invested with its palpable discomfort.

The Guest (2014)

Adam Wingard's "The Guest" is more of a mystery-thriller than straight horror film but there is plenty of shocking violence that might make you think otherwise. One day, ex-soldier David (Dan Stevens) knocks on the door of the family of one of his fallen comrades to offer his condolences. They find David's pleasant demeanor appealing and he ends up staying with them for a few days. To know what happens next, you just are going to have to seek out this gritty, propulsive, and immensely entertaining movie, which simmers with tension and explodes with style. "The Guest," through all of its blood splatter, is a retro action flick that oozes with cool.

You've already heard Lora Grady's story and have likely read some of her horror reviews, so on to her recent picks.

Lora's picks: a few favorite horror movies from the past five years

The Invitation (2016)

I'm in total agreement with Matt on this one, adding only that the film's final shot is one of the great payoffs among recent horror/thriller offerings. It shifts the entire story up to that point into a whole other territory, and you will never see it coming. Whew.

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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S. Craig Zahler's "Bone Tomahawk" is such an odd movie that you may think twice about recommending it - but you will, because you'll want somebody else to experience it just to compare notes. I may be guilty of overplaying the word "visceral" in my reviews but lord, "Bone Tomahawk" earns it. This western-horror hybrid is long on atmosphere and peppered with grisly scares that will unsettle even jaded viewers. Kurt Russell headlines as a seasoned sheriff leading a motley posse of men in search of a pack of cannibals who have kidnapped some of the townsfolk. Mr. Zahler maintains firm control of a concept that could easily go off the rails, and the result is a tense tale that will have you looking over your shoulder the next time you find yourself in open country. A word of caution: given what Mr. Zahler puts his characters through, this one's not for the squeamish. (And according to IMDb, the director's next project is colorfully titled "Dragged Across Concrete" - so viewers who belly up for that outing can't say they weren't warned.)

Warm Bodies (2013)

How often are you tempted to use the word "sweet" when describing a zombie flick? Well, this one fits the bill: it's a horror homage to "Romeo and Juliet" that's scary, funny, and yes, sweet. Versatile charmer Nicholas Hoult stars as "R," a zombie who falls in love with Julie (Teresa Palmer) and battles great odds - starting with the fact that she's alive and he's, well, undead - to win her heart (no, not literally). Director Jonathan Levine had lots of fun with this one, and you will too. Funnyman Rob Corddry stands out as R's sidekick in a role that has more depth than the usual second banana bit. The solid mix of action, physical comedy, and romance makes this a fun option if you're looking to leaven the heavy scares during a Halloween movie marathon.

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

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In all my years of fandom I've only seen people walk out of two horror movies: the original "Saw," and "The Eyes of My Mother." That says something about the disorienting intensity of "Eyes," which tells the story of a young woman who comes to terms with her mother's murder in the most unorthodox way possible: she chains the murderer up in the barn...and relieves him of a few body parts. But it doesn't convey the counterintuitive beauty of this exquisitely staged, gorgeously photographed slice of weirdness. It pays to go into this one with as little foreknowledge as possible. So perhaps I've said too much already; but I can't resist sharing that actor Will Brill's portrayal of the giggling murderer got under my skin and stayed there. Brrrrr...

David Kempler is our indie critic: he stays on top of arthouse fare and gives us the low-down on selections from the festival circuit. David's an iconoclast who knows what he likes, and he finds modern horror a bit lacking. In his own words: "My taste runs more towards the older horror films and these four had an enormous impact on me."

David's picks: Four Horror Films That Affected Me

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

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A staple of sci-fi/horror has always been what damage humans inadvertently cause. This one, directed by Eugène Lourié, who often collaborated with Jean Renoir, is about an atomic bomb test that unleashes a previously frozen dinosaur near the North Pole. It's based on a short story by the great Ray Bradbury and features special effects by the immortal Ray Harryhausen. The dinosaur wreaks havoc as it moves south from the North Pole until it ends up cornered in the Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. This one features some great footage of 1950's New York City.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

Another example of humans causing problems by experimenting with atomic bombs, this one is perhaps the most intelligently written sci-fi horror flick I can think of, winning the BAFTA award for best screenplay. America and Russia conduct atomic tests and the result is the Earth being thrown off its axis. This causes the Earth to heat up, which results in floods and fires all over the globe. It's told from the view of a reporter for a British newspaper and the dialog and acting is near-perfect. The cliffhanger ending is chilling.

The Shining (1980)

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A horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on a story by Stephen King, and starring Jack Nicholson, is a can't-miss prospect on paper, and it's every bit as terrifying as one could have hoped for. What makes "The Shining" special is not its individually terrifying scenes, although there are a couple that are as disquieting as anything I have ever seen. What it does is get under your skin until you're on a razor's edge for almost the entire 150 minutes. To this day, whenever I look down a long, empty hallway, I see those stoic, twin girls.

David also cited The Exorcist, about which he said, "I'll never forget sitting in the audience when it came out. Early in the film, there were three kids giggling in the row behind me. I looked back at them a little while later and I've never seen three more terrified people."

But for the last word on that 1970s horror classic and perennial favorite at Big Picture Big Sound and elsewhere, we're turning to our fearless leader: BPBS co-founder and editor in chief Chris Boylan. Chris writes mostly on the tech side but by special request he's sharing his film-related thoughts for the Halloween movie season.

Chris's pick

The Exorcist (1973)

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No list of horror movies would be complete without mention of the classic, "The Exorcist." Based somewhat loosely on a true story of a reported demonic possession, William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel was expertly adapted for the screen by director William Friedkin ("The French Connection"). Rather than relying on jump scares or traditional monsters, "The Exorcist" is instead more of a psychological thriller, with a heavy dose of the supernatural. The film explores the life of Regan (Linda Blair), an innocent young girl with a normal life and a loving mother (Ellen Burstyn), as she descends into darkness. At her wit's end, with no medical diagnosis for her daughter's condition, her mother turns to the church for assistance. Enter title character Father Kerrin (Max Von Sydow), an exorcist, joined in this endeavor by young Father Karras (Jason Miller).

The priests are convinced that an evil spirit has possessed the girl, and they will do whatever it takes to rid her of the demon. The stakes go beyond life and death: for young Regan, it's salvation or eternal damnation. Her fate is in the hands of two men of faith, and it's an epic battle of good vs. evil. Without giving too much away, "The Exorcist" contains some extremely disturbing images, language, and situations, and it's definitely not suitable for young viewers. But these extremes don't feel excessive; they just help to highlight how alien - and evil - the presence is that has taken control of Regan's body. With minimal use of music, expert application of practical special effects, and standout performances by all four of the major players, "The Exorcist" holds up to the test of time. It continues to terrify a new generation of viewers more than 40 years after its release. If you haven't seen it yet, there's no time like the present. But it's likely to stick with you. You have been warned.


There you have it. We hope our picks will help you add an extra chill to this spooky season. Happy Halloween!

What did you think?