The cream of contemporary feature-length cinema isn’t always found in theaters. These days, smaller and more niche films often implement a same-day launch, simultaneously premiering in a select-city theatrical run and on video-on-demand (VOD) services. 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 cinematic chills. For horror fans in a mid- to small-sized movie market such as St. Louis, online streaming and digital rental/purchase are 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.
2017 / Australia / 96 min. / Dir. by Chris Sun / Premiered online on June 6, 2019
Occasionally entertaining but unremittingly slipshod, writer-director Chris Sun’s Down Under creature feature Boar at least has the decency to deliver on its trashy drive-in premise. There is, in fact, a giant goddamn boar in it that kills a lot of people quite gruesomely. The problem isn’t the titular feral swine – realized via delightfully grotesque physical modeling and puppetry, combined with atrocious CGI in wide shots – but the film in which it wallows. The dusty locations and too-sprawling ensemble of outback expendables do a respectable job of conjuring a lived-in, fly-specked Oz-ploitation vibe, underlined by the presence of Aussie genre icons like John Jarratt and Nathan Jones. However, the film’s narrative is appallingly thin, bleary, and shapeless. One half-baked scene of dreadful dialogue lurches into the next, and Sun seems perpetually uncertain as to who the main characters are and where the audience’s attention should be focused. It is, quite simply, an exasperating mess, unredeemed even by the grindhouse thrill of copious gorings and disembowelments. Rating: D+ [Now available to stream on Shudder.]
2018 / USA / 119 min. / Dir. by Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Ryûhei Kitamura, and David Slade / Premiered online on June 21, 2019
Like most horror-anthology features, Nightmare Cinema – the brainchild of Masters of Horror (2005-07) creator and longtime genre journeyman Mick Garris – is a frustratingly mixed bag. The Garris-directed frame story, concerning an infernal film projectionist played by Mickey Rourke, never amounts to anything, and three of the five chapters range from pointless-if-amusing schlock (Joe Dante’s segment) to drowsy hackwork (Garris’) to hot, steaming garbage (Ryûhei Kitamura’s). Fortunately, the chapters by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead) and David Slade (30 Days of Night) manage to (barely) salvage the project. Brugués’ amusingly disgusting “The Thing in the Woods” begins in medias res with a classic slasher-movie scenario, but then turns it on its head with a left-field shift in sub-genre and audience identification. Meanwhile, Slade’s segment, “This Way to Egress,” is the standout: a surreal, black-and-white descent into literal nightmare, in which a confused woman (Elizabeth Reaser) navigates a Kafka- and Jacob’s Ladder-tinged limbo of filthy corridors, uncaring functionaries, and disturbing mutations. Rating: C- [Now available to stream on Hoopla and to rent or purchase from Amazon and Fandango.]