Recent Video-on-Demand Offerings in Horror and Horror-Related Cinema
The cream of contemporary feature-length cinema isn’t always found in theaters. These days, smaller and more niche films often have a ‘same-day’ limited theatrical opening and video-on-demand (VOD) launch. Moreover, streaming services are now offering original films of their own. Given the dire and disposable state of the horror genre at the multiplex, these release strategies are particularly suited to reaching a wider, more appreciative audience for the Scary. For horror fans in a mid- to small-sized movie market like St. Louis, online streaming is an increasingly vital means of accessing noteworthy features. What follows is a brief assessment of the major new horror (and horror-adjacent) films that have premiered on VOD within the past month.
Super Dark Times
2017 / USA / 100 min. / Directed by Kevin Phillips / Opened in select cities on Sept. 29, 2017; premiered online on Oct. 3, 2017
Not so much a straight thriller or horror feature as a haunting period drama about the evil that men do, Super Dark Times concerns two high school friends (Owen Cambell and Charlie Tahan) in 1995 upstate New York. Initially, director Kevin Phillips portrays the boys’ daily lives with a stimulating gestalt of social realism and moody impressionism, but after a horrifying accident drives a wedge between the friends, the film congeals into raw psychological horror. Mashing up Sam Raimi’s wintery noir A Simple Plan (1998) and Gus Van Sant’s post-Columbine piece Elephant (2003) and then refracting the result through Stephen King, the film functions as both a vicious small-town tragedy and as an unsettling plunge into the nastier depths of the male adolescent mind. Rating: B [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]
2017 / USA / 91 min. / Directed by Alexandre O Phillippe / Opened in select cities and premiered online on Oct. 13, 2017
Films about films are a dicey documentary subgenre, but dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles will appreciate the awestruck geekery of 78/52, director Alexandre O. Philippe’s 91-minute doc about one of the most celebrated and analyzed passages of all time: Psycho’s shower scene. Touching on everything from editing to sound design, a procession of directors, writers, technicians, actors, and historians scrutinize every detail of the 45-second centerpiece to Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Enthusiastic and insightful, Philippe’s interviewees do a marvelous job of placing Marion Crane’s fateful shower into the wider context of both the director’s work and the state of cinema generally in 1960. Psycho is so deeply embedded in the cultural consciousness, it’s revelatory to watch as the enduring brilliance of its most famous sequence is meticulously unpacked. Rating: B+ [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]
2017 / USA / 78 min. / Directed by Patrick Brice / Premiered online on Oct. 24, 2017.
Writer-director Patrick Brice’s darkly comic found-footage indie Creep (2014) has been one of the pleasant surprises of horror cinema in the 2010s, while also serving as a near-perfect vehicle for actor Mark Duplass’ facility for off-putting awkwardness and eccentricity. Brice’s sequel revives the original’s conceit, trapping a filmmaker in a remote cabin with Duplass’ ingratiating, self-conscious serial killer Aaron. This time, however, the person behind the camera is Sara (Desiree Akhavan), a wannabe documentarian who harbors a fascination with the bizarre hinterlands of human behavior. She disarms Aaron by rising to the occasion, matching his escalating strangeness and aggression with curiosity and compassion (at least to his face). While Creep 2 is rarely outright scary, it’s a deliciously depraved and surprisingly melancholy exploration of middle-aged weariness, loneliness, and dissatisfaction. Rating: B- [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]
2017 / USA / 90 min. / Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury / Opened in select cities and premiered online on Oct. 20, 2017
If there is one thing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) did not need, it was a prequel about the early years of mute power tool aficionado Leatherface. It’s not surprising that co-directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury deliver a dull, sloppy feature without an ounce of the original film’s nihilistic power; that was probably a foregone conclusion. What’s unexpected is how thoroughly Leatherface manages to screw up its premise. The feature fails to answer the only potentially interesting question about Massacre’s backstory—How did the Sawyer clan first descend into cannibalism?—and inexplicably positions a sociopathic Bonnie and Clyde couple as its “real” villains. The smugness of the film’s third act fake out is just the rotten cherry on a pile of misconceived crap. Rating: D- [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]