Remember when you’d go to Old Country Buffet and you’d load up on lasagna, tater tots and brownies but it was nasty and then you were like, maybe I should have had the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and trifle? That’s what it’s like to be a horror movie fan now that streaming is a new normal. The choices are vast, the quality varies and the choosing is daunting.
This is where I come in. In this column, I’ll provide a fan’s scary movie recommendations for people who want to discern the terrifying from the terrible. First up: demonic possession, traumatic dreams and killer jeans.
Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu.
I swear I saw David Cronenberg peek from behind a doorway in this ’80s-inspired sci-fi horror mash-up from the writer-director Anthony Scott Burns. Like Cronenberg, Burns is Canadian, and like one of my favorite Cronenberg films — “Rabid” (1977) — “Come True” uses lurid storytelling and off-kilter production design to douse the screen in menace.
Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), a troubled young woman estranged from her mother, enlists in a sketchy sleep study led by researchers who are tight-lipped about their objectives. As the experiment continues, tall menacing figures that 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 comfort. The story ends with more questions than answers about Sarah’s terrors, but that mystery is what makes the film so unnerving.
There’s definitely substance here, but the film has style to spare. The pulsing synth score, creepy institutional locations (nice job, Edmonton) and rooms lit in vibrant jewel tones are what I’d call dreamy.
‘The Dark and the Wicked’
Stream it on Shudder.
A demonic presence torments a secluded farm 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 befalls their mother, it sets off a chain of supernatural events that suggest something far more malicious than a dusty wind has whooshed through the windows.
Bertino nails what too many directors don’t: that still terror is powerful terror. The scene I can’t get out of my head features a demonic spirit silently floating in the yard, an image far more chilling than some growling monster in running shoes. Later, when a girl shows up at the front door and softly asks, “Do you smell him?,” it ruined my night. It was heaven.
Bertino squeezes even more fright out of such moments by filming many of them from below, adding to the perception that unseen evil lurks everywhere. Then comes the coda, and he sets a gruesome, heartbreaking tableau.
‘The Block Island Sound’
Stream it on Netflix.
Sometimes a monster and a movie shape-shift together. That’s the case in this intense horror-thriller that starts off as an aquatic mystery, then morphs into an alien abduction fever dream before concluding as a harrowing drama about mental illness.
Directed by the brothers Kevin and Matthew McManus, the film is set on the strait between Block Island and the coast of Rhode Island, where the filmmakers grew up. When dead fish start washing up on the beach, a team from the E.P.A. arrives to investigate. But then a local fisherman, Tom (Neville Archambault), dies under strange, hallucinatory circumstances, and his son, Harry (a terrific Chris Sheffield), starts 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 the water.
Often when a horror film mixes and matches subgenres, it’s the sign of a disoriented moviemaker. Not here. The McManus brothers smartly multitask with horror conventions, ultimately delivering a heart-rending story about what happens when the natural world and one man’s mental stability crumble in tandem.
Stream it on Shudder.
This gory satire marries two of my favorite horror subgenres: the Killer Object (“Rubber”) and the Single Wicked Location (“ATM”). The film is set at a Uniqlo-like fast-fashion store, where a new line of denim that adjusts to each wearer’s contours is to be stocked overnight. But the possessed pants have their own nefarious plans: to frighten the employees and knock them off in spectacularly bloody ways. I’m not exaggerating when I say the jeans are so tight they slay.
The special effects, especially the dancing jeans, are low-fi silly. But the Canadian director Elza Kephart gets clever with cuts and squirts that splatter fans will find hilarious.
Kephart and her co-writer, Patricia Gomez, aren’t just out for sicko laughs. They also ask viewers to think — as deeply as possible in a 77-minute movie — about conspicuous consumption, the exploitation of child labor and the hypocrisy of corporate do-gooderism. Their mayhem has a message.
Stream it on Hulu.
When a movie mother locks her child in a cage, it’s usually a sign that her maternal instincts are on the fritz. That’s not the case in Emma Tammi’s scary but surprisingly tender film, the finale of the second season of Into the Dark, the anthology series from Hulu and Blumhouse Television.
Esme (Megalyn Echikunwoke) is a single mother who settles in a small town with her young son, Luna (Yonas Kibreab), after a monstrous incident forces them on the run. They keep 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 clear answers about the affliction that causes Luna to develop a vicious bite and a taste for flesh. But there’s no question why his mother hides him away.
Some fans might be disappointed at how modestly the monster manifests itself in the final moments. I thought such restraint was a smart and visually refreshing departure from the typical evil changeling narrative. It’s a treat to see a movie that’s more interested in a human story than a showy one.
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