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Going Bump In The Night: Six Movies For Your Hallowe'en Viewing Pleasure

The_Orphanage  In a stunning piece of news that might've slipped beneath your usually impeccable radar, it's October. I'm not even kidding — you could look it up. In even more stunning news, the end of October means Hallowe'en, a night of trick-or-treating fun and stupid-ass parents who like to pretend they're stuffed scarecrows sitting in a chair next to the front steps until some cute little kid comes along and suddenly they jump up and scream bloody terrifying murder and scare the living bejeezus out of some sweet boy or girl who's been waiting all year to go out as a fairy princess or Superman. I fucking hate those parents.

What were we talking about? Oh, right... Hallowe'en, October... blah blah blah. More pertinently, October is the month where all right-thinking Americans (and the occasional right-thinking Canadian) choose to celebrate the dimming of the day and the fleeting popular embrace of ghosts, witches, demonic were-creatures and other critters not usually welcomed into genteel society by engaging in the time-honored tradition of watching lots and lots of horror movies. Why? Because, unlike children, we can make the conscious choice to be scared — because we understand and experience it as entertainment, as 90 minutes of escapist fun that frees us from the dreary bonds of our day-to-day and provides us with the vicarious thrill of gambling with our lives.

With that in mind, the good people of MamaPop hereby present you with a half-dozen fine and fearsome representations of the genre that might have previously escaped your notice. Each and every one of them offers something grotesque, rewarding and highly entertaining. Proceed without caution, friends: we would not steer you wrong.

1. The Orphanage
Odds are you saw Pan's Labyrinth, or were deluged by friends who couldn't stop raving about what a remarkable film it was — a movie that reminded you of the power of film as art without sacrificing a single iota of the medium's ability to horrify, entertain, dazzle with wonder or break your heart. It was created by the extraordinary Guillermo del Toro, the man behind the deliriously fun Hellboy movies and the upcoming film version of The Hobbit... and the man who  helped The Orphanage (originally El Orfanato) gain significant release in this country. del Toro produced and helped to finance the film, but it is ultimately the work of first-time director Juan Antonio Bayona. And by god, did he knock it out of the park.

The film shares some characteristics with Pan's Labyrinth - the Spanish setting, the unsettling brushes with the unnatural, the way those brushes integrate so seamlessly and believably into a world we recognize - but it's a far more quiet, deliberate and somber film. The plot follows a married couple and their young son as they move into the old orphanage where the woman had spent part of her childhood, with the hopes of bringing it back to life as a loving home for a new generation of little wanderers... and then, in the midst of a party at their new home, their son vanishes. What unfolds over the remainder of the film's 105 minutes is, by turns, frightening enough to make your skin crawl, suspenseful enough that you'll actually find yourself holding your breath for entire minutes at a time, and - at the end - sad and beautiful enough that I actually found myself weeping. A truly extraordinary film.

2. Jacob's Ladder
Do you remember this movie? Now largely forgotten, I always found it one of the more underrated films of the 90s — and while it's not a horror film in the traditional sense, there's more than enough strangeness going on to keep you deeply unsettled throughout. Directed with surprising visual elegance by Adrian Lyne, the story offers Tim Robbins as a troubled Vietnam vet whose paranoia and PTSD are escalating to the point that either he's losing his mind, or he's actually starting to see demons in the everyday world. And as the movie progresses... you find yourself growing more and more uncomfortable with the suspicion that he's not losing his mind. It's mind-bending and more than a little bleak and rife with disturbing imagery, but in the end it makes for a quite powerful viewing experience.

3. Dead Alive
To those of you who've already experienced the magic of Dead Alive, I can only say to you: lawnmower scene. To those of you who've never experienced the magic of this early film of Peter Jackson - produced in New Zealand years before he made his rightfully-acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy - I can only say: it's a touching love story that also happens to feature Sumatran Rat Monkeys, a very up-close-and-personal moment between our hero's mother and a priest, and the greatest goddamn lawnmower scene ever put on film. Bar none. A true high-water mark in the proud splatstick (see: Evil Dead 2, The Re-Animator, Zombieland, etc.) tradition.

4. The Descent
One of the worst things about horror as a genre is its predilection towards the whole damsels-in-distress thing, where women are often treated as little more than objectified targets for sex and/or murderous violence. One of the best things about horror as a genre, conversely, is those handful of films that offer strong, deep and believable female characters who take on the horrifying and unnatural and proceed to do their very best to kick its ass. From Sigourney Weaver in Alien and Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween to Mira Sorvino in Mimic (another del Toro film!) and Radha Mitchell in Pitch Black, there's a thin but vibrant line of great, memorable female characters who empower their films to stand head and shoulders above most of their genre brethren. The-descent

The Descent takes this approach to the next level by offering us an entire team of strong, believable women. The movie chronicles a group of six women as they engage in an annual bonding/thrillseeking weekend. They go spelunking in what turns out to be an unexplored cavern system and... well, the photo to the right gives you an idea of how well things go. This is easily one of the most intense horror films I've seen in years, and - as Amazon points out - is both "extremely gruesome and will induce panic attacks in anyone with even a mild fear of closed spaces." That said, it's also fast-paced, smart, well-written and directed, and - in the end - one hell of a ride.

5. Leviathan
Because no list of fun horror movies is complete without an entry from the "giant things that come outta nowhere and eat lots of people" subgenre that I know and love and - clearly - can't stop writing about, I offer you Leviathan. For all intents and purposes, it's just like The Abyss... except instead of using ye olde "what did the deep-sea drilling crew discover?" plotline as an excuse to instill people with wonder at the ephemeral loveliness of underwater aliens and blah blah blah, the underwater drilling crew comes across a mysterious something or other that turns them into something else (shades of Alien) and then they start eating each other. It's completely badass stupid awesometastic fun, plus it's got Peter "RoboCop" Weller and Daniel "Home Alone" Stern and Ernie "Ghostbusters" Hudson and Richard "Remember when I was in Rambo? That was awesome" Crenna as crew members/potential lunch items. 

I'll put it this way: did you enjoy Deep Rising? And Deep Blue Sea? And Lake Placid? If the answer is yes... well, first: I love you. Second: get thee to a Leviathan.

6. Event Horizon
The setting is science fiction, but the story is pure haunted house: a massive spaceship that vanished seven years ago suddenly reappears in decaying orbit around Neptune... and another ship is dispatched to investigate. What follows blends hard/speculative science with more than a touch of the supernatural - in a cold, mechanical setting that chills you at first, and then becomes actively terrifying and hostile as the film goes on - to produce something of a cross between Alien, Hellraiser and The Shining. It's an odd combination, and one that virtually anyone who watches it is going to find confusing at times, stomach-turning at others, and ultimately quite unnerving. Why this film hasn't become a cult classic since its release in 1997 baffles me, because there's a lot here to get your brain churning in all kinds of strange and uncomfortable ways. I suppose, really, it's a largely a function of the gore — because, quite honestly, this is an extremely violent film, and one probably incapable of being edited into any kind of coherent TBS/TNT-friendly format for repeat viewing.

Which is a shame. And which is why it's worth checking out for yourself. Why? 'Tis the season, of course.

Don't fight it.

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I would just like to add, when reminded of Dead Alive, Bad Taste. It was Peter Jackson's first movie, and it truly lives up to its name. Brain devouring aliens + New Zealand film school students= campy good fun


Jacob's Ladder scarred me for LIFE. In the grandest of ways. Ooh! I'm shivering just thinking about it. Also, it was, I believe, the originator of the "shaky head" effect. Damn, I need to Netflix...


All I can say is Event Horizon...the only movie that ever made my husband and I scream at the same time. Freaked us the F out! Rent it and watch it in a dark room.

Oh yeah, and Descent? Seriously brought my claustrofobia to a whole new level. I had to turn it off when one of the women got stuck in a narrow tunnel. I was having a panic attack for her!


I love a good scary movie.


Event Horizon is the reason why my husband now refuses to trust my judgement when it comes to movie night. We quickly realized it was not your typical science fiction film.


Even Horizon is probably the only horror movie that has ever given me nightmares. It is pure, unadulterated awsomeness. (Non-horror movies that have give me nightmares, incidentally, include Helter Skelter, Meet the Feebles (also Peter Jackson, but horrid) and Signs (don't even ask)).

Fawn Amber

The Descent. OMG. I couldn't sleep without a light on...well since I saw it. JACKED UP STUFF THERE.


@inkypop You probably won't be surprised to learn that I saw Bad Taste. And you're right.

@missbanshee JL was almost definitely the progenitor of the 'shaky head' phenomenon. It's pretty goddamn freaky, too.

@mamapajama I actually talked my wife into seeing that in a theater with me. I still don't think she's forgiven me.

@iambellaluna As well you should.

@Erin I'm sorry you were both irrevocably scarred by Event Horizon. Unsurprised, perhaps, but sorry nonetheless.

@Jessi I remember watching Helter Skelter as a kid and being fascinated/freaked out by Steve Railsback-as-Manson. I can't imagine it holds up, but in my memory... *shudder*

@FawnAmber Seriously. That shit is intense.


LOVED Jacob's Ladder. Haven't seen it in forever, but must search out now. :)

atheists eat fish

Orphanage, The Descent, and Event Horizon are all great movies. I just saw Event Horizon recently for the first time on HBO. I was shocked at how violent it was. I don't know when it was made, but the special effects were pretty gruesome. I watched The Descent with my husband in the hospital-amazing movie. Took our minds off of everything for awhile. And yeah, Guillermo del Toro is just awesome. I don't think I breathed for the entire film. Considering how much I love the movies on your list that I've actually seen, I must go now and rent the others. Bye!!


Yes, The Orphanage! The end of that film was horrifying in a way I never would have imagined. Had me weeping too. Wonderfully made film.


The Orphanage. That film creeped me the ever-living fuck out. That whole scene with Geraldine Chaplin going through the house and listening to the voices was terrifying. And the 'Grandmother's Footsteps' game. Arrrrggghhh.


@DianaCLT It's worth a re-watch. Some parts hold up, others not quite as much... but it's still a pretty interesting film, all in all.

@athiestseatfish Allow me to just clarify here that while I'd never say that Leviathan is a great movie per se, it is great fun. Just want to make sure your expectations are realistic.

@Marika & @Palinode I'm horrified to say that The Orphanage's director - Juan Antonio Bayona - is now rumored to be a candidate to direct the 3rd movie in the Twilight series.


Indycitygirl running away screaming now!!!! The Orphanage,SCARED ME ,Event Horizon,made me pee my pants(oh yes I truely did)and The Descent was so terrifying to me I wouldnt go upstairs in my house alone without every light on.It also gave me nightmares.I LOVED Jacobs Ladder but had to rewatch it as I am older and not under the influence of bonghits.All these movies are sheer AWESOMENESS!!!


I could have written this list (except for two -- I didn't see two of them -- but I would have put them on the list anyway so way to go STEALING MY LIST BUDDY). Jacob's Ladder: highly underrated and The Descent almost killed me. I swear I almost hyperventilated when they were going through those tunnels. When medical assistance is required I cannot do anything but call it mighty fine horror movie making.


@indycitygirl Boo-ya!

@katie Stealing your list is all part of my long-term plan to go Single Whtie Female on ya.

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