It gets harder every year to identify as a horror movie fan and still hold your head up in polite company. A big part of the problem is the persistence of rabid slasher films like Texas Chainsaw 3D, opening today in theaters nationwide. Now, I haven't seen Texas Chainsaw 3D,and it would be a disservice, naturally, to pre-judge the film.
And yet somehow I feel totally comfortable concluding that it's terrible.
The splatter porn genre is nothing if not predictable: There will be edged weapons and body trauma. There will be murder and cruelty played for kicks. And there will be bloodied women in sleeveless shirts. I don't know what the slasher film industry has against sleeves, but the tank top is apparently de rigueur.
The happy news is that you're free to ignore Texas Chainsaw 3D entirely. Good films are still being made in the genre we call the scary movie. Below are five recent quality horror films, all available now on DVD/Blu-ray or via digital download. Skip Chainsaw, rent one of these instead, save $40, and thank me later.
Giving Horror a Bad Name: 5 Bloody Good Alternatives To 'Texas Chainsaw 3D'
The Cabin In The Woods
The sensibilities of producer and co-screenwriter Joss Whedon are all over this playful slasher film satire, directed by Cloverfield's Drew Goddard, which manages to skewer the genre while at the same time celebrating its bloody excesses. The gist: A group of good-looking college kids heads out for vacation at a remote — yes — cabin in the woods. Meanwhile, a pair of bored functionaries appear to be watching. The cabin turns out to be something more than a cabin, and the suits something more than technicians. Oh, it's a trip, man. The film has a lot of fun playing with the horror genre's creepy Puritan subtexts, where slutty girls are punished, marijuana leads to hemorrhaging, and sex equals death.
The very scary story of a boy and a haunted house — or maybe it's a house and haunted boy — Insidious gets its thrills the old-fashioned way: It earns them. It's a ghost story, basically, with Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as parents of a child possessed by spirits of the dead. Insidious borrows some suspense tricks from Poltergeist, but the back story and mythology are compelling and original. The film has some interesting things to say about dimensional breaches and the enduring question of where we go, exactly, when we dream.
From the co-director of The Blair Witch Project, the low-budget indie Lovely Molly has its share of blood and edged weapons. But the film explores a deeper kind of darkness. When recovering addict Molly Reynolds (newcomer Gretchen Lodge) returns to her family home, she must confront some demons from her past. Unfortunately, these may be actual demons. Lodge gives a fearless performance — forget sleeveless shirts; Molly is totally naked in several scenes that are all about vulnerability and not sexy in the least. It's also good news, I guess, that the blood she's splattered with isn't hers.
Six years after a spaceship crash, massive omnivorous aliens occupy a walled-off "Infected Zone" in northern Mexico. Things get complicated when a pretty, rich girl and a jaded journalist find themselves in the wrong place at the wrongest of times. A genuinely impressive example of microbudget creature feature filmmaking, Monsters follows the less-is-more rule of special effects pioneered by Steven Spielberg with Jaws. The aliens are only seen in flashes until the climactic final scenes — and then we see them in all their tentacled, 10-story-tall, Lovecraftian glory.
Another decidedly old-fashioned ghost story, The Innkeepers chronicles the fate of two employees of the fabled Yankee Pedlar Inn in New England, said to be haunted by the vengeful ghost of a jilted bride. The film blends old-school suspense strategies with hipster banter and quickly shifts gears from funny-spooky to properly scary. Director Ti West has a real flair for this retro stuff — his terrific 2009 thriller, House of the Devil, invokes the weird satanic cult hysteria of the early 1980s. Might make a good double feature, actually.