Tag: horror movies (Page 1 of 3)

The Offering

5 Short Horror Films that Really Freak You Out

Even though I watch and enjoy horror year round, in light of the Hallowe’en season, I thought I’d share some of my favorite short horror films. Each of these films runs under 15 minutes, so they’re good when you just have a little time and don’t want to sit through a whole feature.

Don’t let their short length lull you into complacency, though—these will haunt you. They are available to watch through You Tube and Vimeo. For better viewing, watch with the lights off. For piece of mind, watch them with the lights on.

 The Captured Bird, 2013, 7 minutes

If you like your horror films surreal, this Canadian entry is for you. A young girl wanders into a Gothic house—what could possibly go wrong there? She finds otherworldly beasts and may or may not have unleashed them on the world . . .

The cinematography is gorgeous in this one. The colors are rich but muted, but that in no way detracts from the piece. It inhances the ethereal feel of it all, and sharply contrasts with the horror she discovers. The CGI used is good for a movie with a lower budget than the latest Hollywood drivel.

Directed and written by Jovanka Vuckovic.

[button size=medium style=less_round color=green align=none url=http://youtu.be/5MbsPRxNFwE]Watch on YouTube[/button]


The Offering, 2013, 8 minutes

Families. Idyllic or dysfunctional, we can all relate to the fact that each and every family has their own traditions that may seem outlandish or just plain bizarre to outsiders. That’s what binds families together: A common, shared history. When that history, that tradition, is making offerings to an unseen evil being, it helps to be on the same page with what needs to happen. It helps even more to not forget a vital component of the offering.

This is a tightly woven slice of life. It is the only one with dialogue, and the conversation is both familiar irritated banter between a father and son, and unsettling in what they leave unsaid.

Directed by Ryan Patch. Written by Michael Koehler.

[button size=medium style=less_round color=green align=none url=http://youtu.be/Wpov7iKacNo]Watch on YouTube[/button]

Lights Out, 2013, 3 minutes

I believe this short film has been seen more frequently than the others, but it still deserves a mention if you haven’t been exposed to it yet. A primal fear—being afraid of unknown things lurking in the dark—has rarely been so carefully crafted and done as this movie. Its looming sense of horror comes from the fact that we’ve all been in the position the protagonist is in, seeing something not quite right out of the corner of our eye in the dark. As adults, we can rationalize through it, but what if all our reasonings fail, we try to allay our fears with countermeasures, and none of that works? Then we learn there are things that go bump in the night, and we’re right to be fearful of them. Directed by David Sandberg. [button size=medium style=less_round color=green align=none url=http://youtu.be/HmqPdXOczrw]Watch on YouTube[/button]

Fantasy, 2011, 3 minutes

THIS FILM IS NSFW AND NSFKs. I love Lovecraftian short stories and novels. Lovecraftian movies, however, can leave much to be desired. This short animated film (it is technically a music video) is an excellent example of taking the themes Mr. Lovecraft spouted and making them work visually. No dialogue in this one, it’s just the story of four teenagers who break into an indoor swimming pool for some naughty fun. They’re beset by an unearthly horror that invades and transforms three of them; the fourth, the virginal girl, makes her escape. At least, that’s what is supposed to happen in hackneyed tropes, isn’t it? She makes her escape, yes, but ends up even further into the nightmare than she could ever imagine. This is the most visceral, goriest short film of the ones listed here. That’s not what makes it good horror. There is no explanation as to why any of it is happening, and that’s what makes it so effective. It’s just the wrong place at the wrong time, and exposure to something beyond the comprehension of the frail human mind. It is truly one of the best Lovecraftian short films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.

Directed by Jérémie Périn. Written by Laurent Sarfati & Jérémie Périn.

[button size=medium style=less_round color=green align=none url=http://vimeo.com/30798517]Watch on Vimeo[/button]

The Gibbering Horror of Howard Ghormley, 2005, 12 minutes

Hands down, this is my favorite short horror film. Ever. I’m going to throw some buzzwords at you: Atmospheric. Claustrophobic. Relentless. And now some words that aren’t quite as cliqued, but sum it up perfectly: Uncompromising. Sly. Gibbering. (Don’t fault me for using a word in the title as a word to describe this movie. It is, eloquently, gibbering.) No dialogue here; no dialogue needed. The actor in this piece says more with his expressions and his increasingly frantic actions than some actors do with a full range of vocalizations. You can see his frustrations. You can feel his confusion and mounting terror. Watching his descent into madness—or is it simply his daily tribulations?—is a harrowing experience. I’ve watched this film multiple times. The musical score is spot on perfect, driving the tension. The occasional cacophonies are stark and jarring, and fit with the unsettling smash cut edits of bicycle gears and chains. Those shots of bicycle chains fascinated me, because on first viewing I thought they were nothing more than filler bits. I’ve since come to realize those bicycle chains are a visual analogy of Mr. Ghormley: they are endless, repeating loops, just as he is in his situation. To have such an unexpected deepness to a short film puts many commercial, big budget productions to shame. Directed and written by Steve Daniels. [button size=medium style=less_round color=green align=none url=http://vimeo.com/4593544]Watch on Vimeo[/button] People say there are no original ideas in Hollywood; that everything is simply recycled and overdone. To that I reply that you need to turn your attention away from Hollywood and look for these and other gems done by independent filmmakers not under the pressure to spoon-feed the average audience and make millions and millions of dollars. Original ideas are out there! These short films, and many others, are available if you look for them.


5 Short Horror Films that will really freak you out!

12 Monster Movies for Halloween

So, it is that time of the year again, when ghosts, ghouls, and assorted goblins make an appearance. In spooky tales told in front of an open fire, on TV, or darkening your footstep with the time-honoured incantation “Trick or tree-heat!” Yup, you guessed it by now, Halloween season (though I, of all people, should really call it Samhain). And while the shelves are full of slasher movies and cheap thrills, I always come back to the spooky classics that have provided reliable thrills over the decades. Plus some more modern offerings. And some movies that play classic themes for a laugh.

I invite you to join me for a round-up of four monster movie classics, more modern takes on the same story, and even the inevitable spoofs (or at least light-hearted treatments) they spawned.

Fangs for the Memories – Dracula

Written by Irishman Bram Stoker, the story of Dracula is not a Gaelic fantasy, but a dark tale of Transylvanian terror. Jonathan Harker operates as an international estate agent for a mysterious Count Dracula from the bank of beyond, enabling the latter to relocate to Merry Old England and doing what certain xenophobes still expect from foreigners … bringing ruin and defiling virgins. Only a plucky band of vampire fighters can stop them, including the academic van Helsing. Cue crucifixes, holy water, and pointy sticks.


Bela Lugosi was not the first man donning Dracula’s cape, but his appearance in the role was genre-defining. In costume as well as in some mannerisms. While the monochrome movie is nothing but dated these days, and the acting is just short of atrocious, it still can evoke a pleasurable shiver down the spine. Or just play it for laughs, comparing Lugosi to Count Count. You can get Bela Lugosi’s classic Dracula at Amazon.com.

Now Gary Oldman’s Dracula was a very different cattle of undead fish – here the classic tale was played with a definite erotic subplot (witness Monica Belluci seducing Keanu Reaves, so memorably re-filmed in Meat Loaf video), as Stoker intended (though probably never would have admitted). The star-studded cast and keeping near to the book make it a memorable offering. You can get Bram Stoker’s Dracula at Amazon.com.

And then there is Leslie Nielsen, who became Dracula in an attempt to cash in on his Naked Gun fame, and in keeping with the then revived tradition of offering movie spoofs. Not for the faint-hearted, as some of the humour can be a bit heavy-handed, but if you have enjoyed “serious” Dracula movies, his take on the genre will at least elicit a wry smile from you. You can get Dracula – Dead and Loving It at Amazon.com.

Creating a Monster – Frankenstein

While on a holiday with her husband, visiting Lord Byron, young Mary Shelley accepted the challenge to write a Gothic horror story – and this ultimately became known as Frankenstein, Or The New Prometheus. Dr. Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with challenging the boundaries of modern medicine, and defeating death. So he cobbles together a humanoid from body parts, applies electricity, and unleashes a monster. Which, in the book, is actually more of a vehicle to discuss medical ethics, than a homicidal giant. Though it still kills.


What Lugosi was for Dracula, Boris Karloff was for Frankenstein’s monster (often confused in name with his creator). Since his first appearance on the silver screen, his portrayal has more or less defined the classical look. Complete with thick brow and vertical forehead, a shambling walk, and those bolts in the neck. The movie can still be enjoyed, and some scenes are full of tragedy, so do not dismiss it. You can get the Boris Karloff Frankenstein movie at Amazon.com.

Kenneth Branagh, British actor and director, has been nothing but ambitious in his career … so taking on the role of Dr. Frankenstein, and making a very true visual version of Shelley’s book, was not the big surprise here. The casting of Robert de Niro as the monster was. And he really lives the role, from philosophical depth to raging, homicidal madness. Expect long passages without action scenes, though. You can get Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at Amazon.com.

On the other end of the scale we have Gene Wilder as Young Frankenstein, a Mel Brooks offering that casts swivel-eyed Marty Feldman as the bumbling assistant Igor, goes back to monochrome visuals, and packs more clichés than the real, non-spoof versions of the story. There’s subtle humour as well as laugh-out-loud slapstick, so the film is worth more than one viewing. You can get Young Frankenstein at Amazon.com.

Super Furry Animal – The Wolf Man

Now whereas the stories of the vampire count and the re-animated corpse(s) are based on classic books, the wolfman is a product of classic legend, the stuff of dark fairy tales, the fear of peasants hearing something scratch and sniff at the outside door. Werebeasts are, generally speaking, a worldwide myth … humans who can shapeshift, and wreak havoc in their non-human disguise. And wolves were the Central European predators of choice. It is an old tale of duality, Jekyll and Hyde with fur and fangs. The beast in every man.


Lon Chaney jr. lived up to the family tradition in his portrayal of The Wolf Man, in the film of the same name. It is a more straightforward monster movie than Dracula or Frankenstein could ever have yielded, mainly because there is no convoluted back-story to be taken care of. Chaney becomes a murderous beast at night, end of. Though some scenes hint at a far deeper psychological sub-stream. You can get Lon Chaney jr. as The Wolf Man at Amazon.com.

Hollywood’s main choice for really wacky characters with depth, Jack Nicholson, also dabbled in lycanthropy, together with Michelle Pfeiffer (who portrayed a were-hawk in another movie). The movie Wolf resurrects the werewolf genre by taking the old stories, but adding a few more modern twists, effectively creating a spine-chiller that will have you driving extra careful. You can get Wolf at Amazon.com.

And for a totally different kind of werewolf, Michael J. Fox’s Teen Wolf must be the spoof of all spoofs – what would happen if you are a typical all-American kid and suddenly find out that the full moon isn’t the best time to hit lovers’ lane with your girlfriend? And can you use this to your advantage, too? The movie also has one of the best “Dad knocking on the bathroom door” scenes ever. You can get Teen Wolf at Amazon.com.

Walk Like an Egyptian – The Mummy

It may surprise some readers, but the story of the resurrected mummy of Imhotep is not Egyptian legend, but British fantasy … at least the exotic plot is remarkably similar to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Ring of Thoth. Basically an ancient tomb is opened, a curse is activated, and a corpse re-animated. Add loads of pseudo-Pharaohnic mumbo-jumbo, some British (or American) archaeologists, and you are set for a scream-fest. Often including scantily dressed European maidens, and many a leering Egyptian eye.


For the genre-defining portrayal of Imhotep (or any other mummy ever resurrected, we again have to look at Boris Karloff – who goes from a shambling wreck to a mesmerising mystic. Though the early movie is deeply xenophobic (monsters often were a mere cipher for anything foreign), it still can be enjoyed both as a classic and as a reasonably spooky tale of love, hate, and revenge served very cold. You can get Boris Karloff as The Mummy at Amazon.com.

Arnold Vosloo, who played Imhotep in a confrontation with Brendan Fraser the double love-interest Rachel Weisz, was much more the man of action. In the Mummy franchise his role was defined by some stunning CGI work, and by an opportunity to show his body off. Making Imhotep much more of a natural ladies’ man than Karloff could ever hope to be. Though, overall, the movies tended to veer towards the spoof already. You can get the first movie in The Mummy franchise at Amazon.com

For mummy spoofs, Abbot and Costello were the go-to-guys for a long time. But the theme of ancient curses and resurrected mummies is much more cleverly done in Night at the Museum, where Ben Stiller as a hapless museum guard faces the risen Pharaoh, but also a trainable Tyrannosaurus Rex, Teddy Roosevelt, pyromaniac cavemen, and miniature cowboys and Romans. Don’t ask, just watch. You can get Night at the Museum at Amazon.com.

Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillian star in Relativity Media's OCULUS. Photo Credit: John Estes ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

‘Oculus’ is a Return to Old-Fashioned Horror

A friend who also likes horror movies asked me, “Was this movie one that made you jump, or one that was just creepy?”

I answered, “Yes.”

Oculus is a good old-fashioned horror film that relies less on gory torture and more on atmosphere and building a sense of dread.

Told in present time and flashbacks, it chronicles two siblings who, when younger, suffered through the unspeakable trauma of their father murdering their mother—after their dog disappears, a mysterious woman skulks around their house, and their mother goes crazy, no less. Not a Norman Rockwell childhood by any means. More of a Stephen King/Clive Barker situation.

Just when you think you know what’s going on… the audience is jerked back into reality

The son, Tim (Brenton Thwaites), manages to stop his father by shooting him. He is sentenced to years in a mental institution, and the film opens to him being released. His doctor says he has come to terms with the ordeal he suffered through. His doctor says he is sane and fine to re-enter society; that everything is rational and based in reality.

His sister Kaylie (played by Karen Gillan), says he is fine too, but everything they experienced was perpetrated by an antique mirror possessed by evil.

Kaylie has spent her time learning the history of the mirror she believes is the root of their parent’s demises, and guilts her brother into honoring a promise he made before the police carted him away when he was ten. She tells him he promised to help her destroy the mirror and end the evil. Her obsession with the mirror and its purported malevolence drives her to create a Rube Goldberg-esque system to ensure they’ll be safe while they prove her point.

The nice, subtle touch in this film was the effort the filmmakers made to dust everything with ambiguity. Kaylie insists Tim was brainwashed when he tells her he remembers things differently (the dog didn’t disappear in the presence of the mirror; the dog was sick and euthanized at the vet’s!). Tim tells Kaylie that all the information she’s found that she says is true is just coincidence and she never had the help she needed to understand what happened in their childhood. The movie twists back and forth: is Kaylie right? Is the mirror host to an evil spirit that drives people insane and murderous? Or is Tim the one in his right mind, and she is creating ghosts to cope?

There is an answer in the end. Kind of. Oculus heads down one path, showing us what both siblings are experiencing in horrifying, unsettling detail. The malevolent force manifests itself visually and is downright creepy. It’s manipulative. It’s insidious. And just when you think you know what’s going on, at the very end the audience is jerked back into reality—forced into an outsider’s viewpoint where things look very, very different.

The manipulation wasn’t just for the characters in the film; it was for the viewers as well. Although it seemed straight-forward at the time, the last few scenes leave a disconcerting sense of maybe what you thought is wrong. That maybe this seemingly innocuous independent horror film actually touched on some deep-rooted, primal fear of going insane, being insane, while no one around you understands. The fear of being alone in your reality, with no hope ever getting back to ‘the real world.’

Those are scary thoughts indeed, and made this movie an effective little gem.

Oculus, directed by Mike Flanagan, written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard; starring Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites. It is available through Netflix, Hulu, Amazon.

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