APRIL 23 ― While the pandemic may have slowed things down to almost a halt when it came to Hollywood blockbuster movies, with some films (like Top Gun: Maverick) being put on the backburner for two years now after being announced for release in 2020, the same thing cannot be said for the always exuberant indie horror scene, which has always found more of a home on the various VOD and streaming platforms out there as opposed to a wide cinema release even before the pandemic hit.
So when streaming received the unexpected boost that it needed when quarantine life appeared and watching movies from the comfort of your own home became the new norm, indie horror filled a lot of that void as it’s these smaller horror flicks that more often than not make up the bulk of the new release schedule.
As we move closer back to normal and more and more “big” movies are getting released, it also means that the “bigger” (or relatively more highly anticipated) films from the indie horror sector are starting to surface as well, some in cinemas and some direct to VOD.
I caught up with a few pretty major new indie horror releases in the last few weeks, either new films from directors I’ve long been a fan of or sequels to films I loved, and here are two highlights that should not be missed, especially if you’re a fan of indie genre flicks.
Surely the biggest indie horror flick of the year so far, thanks to the fact that not only is it an A24 film, but it’s also the latest film from Ti West, a highly respected name in the US indie horror scene responsible for such critically acclaimed titles like The House Of The Devil, The Innkeepers and The Sacrament, X is his long-awaited return to feature filmmaking after years of directing TV shows, with his last film being the delightfully violent Western In A Valley Of Violence from 2016.
Anyone familiar with West’s filmography will have noticed that in addition to having a lot of love and respect for the indie horror films of the 70s and 80s, he’s also a bit of an intellectual about it, making films that are not only carefully crafted homages to particular horror subgenres, but also carefully thought out in terms of what the films want to show and say.
In short, he’s been making “elevated horror” films way before that even became a term.
X, set in 1979, when both genre/exploitation films and porno films played at grindhouse theatres all across the USA, is his valentine to the filmmaking process.
It centres on a group of porn filmmakers (consisting of two actresses, one actor, one director, one sound technician and one executive producer) renting a bunkhouse on a farm property owned by an old couple somewhere in Texas.
It faithfully and convincingly recreates the joy and spirit of independent filmmaking, even if what the gang is trying to make is a porn movie called The Farmer’s Daughters, with tips of the hat to not only The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho, but also to those experimental techniques “the way they do in France.”
Despite its title, the film is not X-rated, so the sex and nudity are strictly of the R-rated kind, but West doesn’t skimp on the violence and gore, delivering plenty of sweet kills once the horror part of the film kicks in.
It’s the kind of love letter that adheres strictly to the pleasure principle, and if that’s your jam then this is one film you wouldn’t want to miss.
Bull is the latest film from British director Paul Andrew Williams, who first made his name with London To Brighton and whose last feature film was even further back than Ti West’s, with Song For Marion coming out in 2012.
Like West, he’s spent all those years before this working in TV, and Bull feels even more like a palate cleanser for Williams, as he gifts us with a gangland revenge tale that’s punishingly brutal, savage and laced with generous amounts of Grand Guignol that it almost feels like a true-blue horror movie.
It tells the story of Bull (an incendiary Neil Maskell), an enforcer for a criminal crew who was double crossed by his own gang, and now returns after 10 long years to mete out one brutal punishment after another on every single one of those poor souls who thought they got rid of him back then.
It’s a very simple story, made a tad more interesting by being laid out by Williams in non-linear fashion (with the revenge plot serving as story A and the double cross serving as story B), but it’s told with such propulsive fury that the film becomes frankly terrifying to watch, and it’s definitely been a while since I last saw a gangster revenge movie this raw, savage and grim.
If you think that the South Koreans have perfected the art of the violent and emotional revenge movie, think again, as Williams and his band of collaborators have managed to concoct something that feels just as fresh, and as fantastically violent as those classic South Korean revenge films like I Saw The Devil and Old Boy.
And that doesn’t even take into account the totally unexpected twist that comes at the end of this movie, which might not be to everyone’s tastes, but to me gives even more clarity to the heart of darkness that envelopes the whole film.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.