Remember when you used to go to the Old Country Buffet and load up on lasagna and tater tots and brownies, but it was mean and then you were like, maybe I should have had the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and trifle? That’s what it feels like to be a horror movie fan now that streaming is a new standard. The choices are vast, the quality varies and the choice is overwhelming.
This is where I come in. In this column, I’m going to provide a fan’s horror movie recommendations for people who want to discern the terrifying from the terrible. First up: demonic possession, traumatic dreams, and killer jeans.
‘To come true’
Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu.
I swear I saw David Cronenberg peek behind a door in this’ 80s-inspired sci-fi horror mix from writer-director Anthony Scott Burns. Like Cronenberg, Burns is Canadian, and like one of my favorite Cronenberg films – “Rabid” (1977) – “Come True” uses grim storytelling and offbeat production design to quell the threat of the screen.
Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), a troubled young woman far from her mother, embarks on a summary sleep study conducted by researchers who ignore their goals. As the experiment continues, large menacing figures who haunt Sarah’s nightmares reach the real world, threatening her waking hours and leading her into the arms of one of her researchers (Landon Liboiron) for added comfort. . The story ends with more questions than answers about Sarah’s terrors, but it’s this mystery that makes the movie so unnerving.
There’s definitely some substance here, but the movie has style to spare. The thrilling synth score, spooky institutional venues (fine work, Edmonton), and rooms lit in vibrant jewel tones are what I would call dreamy.
‘Darkness and the wicked’
Stream it on Shudder.
A demonic presence torments an isolated farmhouse in this macabre film written and directed by Bryan Bertino (“The Strangers”). Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. play siblings who return home to say goodbye to their dying father. When tragedy strikes their mother, it sets off a chain of supernatural events that suggest something far more malicious than a dusty wind has blown through the windows.
Bertino nails what too many directors do not do: that terror always is a powerful terror. The scene that I can’t get out of my head features a demonic spirit silently floating around the yard, a much scarier image than a growling monster in running shoes. Later, when a girl shows up at the front door and asks quietly, “Can you feel it?” It ruined my night. It was paradise.
Bertino evacuates the fear of those moments even more by filming many of them from below, adding to the perception that invisible evil is lurking everywhere. Then comes the coda, and it paints a horrible, heartbreaking picture.
“ The Sound of Block Island ”
Stream it on Netflix.
Sometimes a monster and a whole shape change movie. That’s the case in this intense horror thriller that begins as an aquatic mystery and then turns into an alien abduction fever dream before ending with a heart-wrenching drama about mental illness.
Directed by brothers Kevin and Matthew McManus, the film is set on the strait between Block Island and the Rhode Island coast, where the filmmakers grew up. When dead fish start washing up on the beach, an EPA team arrives to investigate. But then a local fisherman, Tom (Neville Archambault), dies under strange and mind-blowing circumstances, and his son, Harry (a formidable Chris Sheffield), begins to lose his own grip on reality. Soon it becomes clear that science doesn’t stand a chance against the supernatural forces at play in water.
Often times when a horror movie mixes up and matches subgenres, that’s a sign of a disoriented filmmaker. Not here. The McManus brothers intelligently multitask with horror conventions, ultimately delivering a heart-wrenching story about what happens when a man’s natural world and mental stability collapse in tandem.
Stream it on Shudder.
This bloody satire espouses two of my favorite horror subgenres: Killer Object (“Rubber”) and Single Wicked Location (“ATM”). The film takes place in a Uniqlo-type fast fashion store, where a new line of denim that adapts to each wearer’s contours is to be stored overnight. But the Possessed Pants have their own nefarious plans: to scare the employees and knock them out in spectacularly bloody ways. I’m not exaggerating when I say jeans are so tight they kill.
The special effects, especially the dancing jeans, are ridiculous. But Canadian director Elza Kephart gets smart with cuts and squirts that splash fans will find hilarious.
Kephart and his co-writer, Patricia Gomez, are not just laughs. They also ask viewers to think – as deeply as they can in a 77-minute film – about conspicuous consumption, the exploitation of child labor, and the hypocrisy of corporate welfare. Their chaos has a message.
‘Moon of blood’
Stream it on Hulu.
When a movie mom locks her child in a cage, it’s usually a sign that her maternal instinct is adrift. That’s not the case in Emma Tammi’s creepy yet surprisingly tender film, the season two finale of Into the Dark, the Hulu and Blumhouse Television anthology series.
Esme (Megalyn Echikunwoke) is a single mother who moves to a small town with her young son, Luna (Yonas Kibreab), after a monstrous incident forced them to flee. They stick to themselves, and for good reason – there’s a clue in the circles that mark every full moon on their calendar.
The film is stingy with straightforward answers about the affliction that causes Luna to develop a vicious bite and a taste of the flesh. But there is no doubt why his mother is hiding it.
Some fans might be disappointed at the modesty with which the monster manifests itself in the dying moments. I thought such restraint was a clever and visually refreshing departure from the typical tale of the evil changeling. It’s a pleasure to see a film that is more interested in a human story than a showy story.