Four new genre films to freshen up your viewing schedule

OCTOBER 26 — I just realised that it’s been quite a while since I last got the chance to really sit down and binge on new genre releases, especially the indie ones that usually can only be seen on VOD as they’re thought to be too small to be released theatrically.

The cinema schedule in the last few months, even in Malaysia, has been so packed that I’ve been writing about these almost all the time since the summer movie season began in late May this year.

Watching one blockbuster after another can and does take its toll on your movie senses after a while, so I’m quite glad that I got to sit down and catch up with a bunch of new genre films that I’ve been sitting on since maybe July this year and really give them a spin, which is quite a refreshing experience for me, cinematically especially.

So without wasting much time, let’s get down to it, shall we?

Satanic Panic

A sure to be crowd favourite among genre fans this year, even by just considering its pedigree alone; it’s produced by Fangoria Presents, and ‘story by’ credits to Ted Geoghegan (of We Are Still Here and Mohawk fame) and Grady Hendrix (a long time genre film critic), Satanic Panic’s lustre is dulled a bit by its similarity to the excellent Ready Or Not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the totally fun ride that it’s meant to be taken as anyway.

Its basic set-up is really simple, it’s about a pizza delivery girl, Sam, who lucks out by having to deliver pizzas to a bunch of rich people who happen to be involved in a Satanic cult (led by the wonderfully devilish Rebecca Romijn), and who now has to fight for her life as an unfortunate incident involving the cult’s intended “sacrifice” meant that Sam, also a virgin, now has to be the sacrifice instead.

And so, like Ready Or Not, the film then becomes a frequently hilarious and funny game of cat and mouse, as Sam is caught, escapes, tries to hide, and has to kill, not exactly in that order (and with all sorts of variations) in order to save herself.

Itsy Bitsy

Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) is a pretty common thing everywhere in the world.

So it’s quite surprising that films that focus on it are not as many as we thought there’d be. The last major one that I can remember was Eight Legged Freaks, a really fun horror comedy that deserved to be a much bigger film.

So when Itsy Bitsy arrived, even if without much fanfare, I was more than intrigued to give it a spin and experience its take on mankind’s neverending fear of spiders.

This movie’s trump card, for me at least, is its very impressive use of practical effects to conjure up the spider-y nightmares that plague the movie’s main characters.

It bases its story on a folktale, that of an ancient evil entity taking the form of a giant, carnivorous spider stored inside a stolen object that resides at the very same house a new family of three (a mother, a son and a daughter) has moved into.

The slight downside is that debuting director Micah Gallo (a regular VFX presence in horror flicks like Hatchet and The Innkeepers) can’t seem to decide whether he wants to make a creature feature or family drama, which made the first two-thirds of the movie a bit uneven, but once the third act and creature showdown arrives, you’ll more than forgive him for that indecision.

Haunt

We’re in October now, and Halloween’s just around the corner, so of course a new indie horror flick about haunted houses is expected, and Haunt is one of those.

Like The Houses October Built, Hell House LLC and countless other films about the very particularly American phenomenon of teenagers or college students having fun by visiting “extreme” haunted houses (fake ones, of course, like those at fun fairs),

Haunt is also about a bunch of college students on the hunt for a good haunted house, and getting more than they bargained for when the scares and tortures they encounter turn out to be for real.

But a good horror film is often not about how original the premise or even story is, but how well the scares are set up and executed.

And it’s with these that Haunt, written by the co-writers of A Quiet Place, shows its really sharp fangs.

The scares and suspense are expertly crafted, and there are even moments aplenty when the viewers can practically feel the same pain and heart attack-inducing thrills that the characters are feeling.

It doesn’t break the mould, yes, but boy it is satisfying!

Head Count

One of the biggest horror surprises so far this year, Head Count is the feature film debut of director Elle Callahan, who I’m sure is poised for big things after this.

Its main character is Evan, spending his college break visiting his older brother Peyton who lives a New Age-y, hippie-ish life in a trailer somewhere near the Joshua Tree National Park.

A chance encounter with a bunch of young vacationers leads Evan to hang out with them instead, and he’s instantly smitten with a girl in the group named Zoe.

As they hang out and tell each other scary stories, Evan reads a poem from a website about something called “Hisji”, a vaguely vengeful thing.

To not spoil the film, I’ll just say that it’s slowly revealed that this “Hisji” is a shape-shifting creature, and that the group also slowly discovers that there are “doubles” among them.

What plays out is a sort of horror version of Coherence, a mind-bender that Callahan lays out beautifully, and one of the stand-out genre films of 2019 so far.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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