Film Focus: Horror Movies


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It’s October yet again, making it the perfect time to indulge in horror movies in the wee small hours of the morning, long past when you should’ve gone to bed. Here are a handful of my personal favorites that are sure to leave you with a nice lingering sense of dread and despair.

Jacob’s Ladder

Adrian Lyne’s 1990 film, Jacob’s Ladder, stars Tim Robbins as the eponymous Jacob, a Vietnam War vet suffering from hallucinations, flashbacks, and a rapidly deteriorating personal life. While it’s most famous for the incredibly influential “hospital scene” that directly inspired the Silent Hill video games, it’s Jacob’s emotional journey that leaves the greatest impact. Haunted by the death of his son, Jacob struggles to accept it and move on, culminating in a powerful ending that recasts the film in a whole new light. The characters, script, and plot are all a cut above your average horror film and will leave you with plenty to think about long after the credits roll. The technical side of the film is impressive as well, as not only are the monsters scary and creative, but they don’t look fake or take you out of the experience. At lot of horror movies from the 90s rely on bad special effects or cheap jump scares, but Jacob’s Ladder still holds up as a genuine horror classic. It can currently be streamed for free on Cinemax or rented for a few dollars on any of the leading services.

In the Mouth of Madness

In the Mouth of Madness stars Sam Neill as John Trent, an insurance investigator sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of pulp horror writer Sutter Cane. Events in Cane’s book begin to manifest, causing John to question his sanity and whether what’s happening to him is a strange publicity stunt, a figment of his imagination, or his frightening new reality.

Directed by horror auteur John Carpenter and inspired by the many works of Stephen King, In the Mouth of Madness is a unique horror film that truly explores what it means to go insane. It’s one of those movies that you need to watch with as few spoilers as possible, as saying anything else will spoil the fun. While not incredibly scary, it’s immensely entertaining to follow the many twists and turns the story takes. The technical side of the film is great as well, though that’s to be expected from John Carpenter. The cinematography is consistently creative and the score, done by Carpenter himself, is also fantastic. Sam Neill always excels in any film he’s in, but this is probably his best performance as his character’s deterioration is both believable and disturbing. In the Mouth of Madness is not currently on any streaming service, but it can be rented for only $1.99 on Amazon.

The Host

While now he’s best known for the 2019 Oscar Winner Parasite, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho has a distinguished filmography that houses a number of classics including Snowpiercer, Memories of Murder, and the subject of today’s article, the 2006 film The Host.

Song Kang-ho (who also had a leading role in Parasite) plays Gang-du, a pretty stupid, though well-meaning, father working at a snack bar along the Han River. Following the dumping of toxic waste in the river, a giant tentacle monster emerges and begins to attack the city. Gang-du’s daughter, Hyun-seo, is kidnapped by the monster, and Gang-du and his family are taken into custody by the military, who fear a virus is being spread by the monster. Gang-du sets off on a quest to save his daughter from the monster’s clutches and restore order to his family

While it’s undeniably a horror movie, The Host doesn’t play by the conventions of the genre. It’s less concerned with scaring us with the monster than it is with getting the audience to care about the characters. Consequently, the film reads more as a tragic black comedy attempting to comment on American involvement in South Korea. While it’s not always funny or as subtle as it thinks it is, The Host largely succeeds as an enjoyable story of a father trying to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t always do so. If you enjoyed Parasite, you’ll likely enjoy this one as well. It can currently be streamed on Hulu and the Criterion Channel or be rented on other services for a few dollars.