I can't remember the last time a horror movie actually scared me. Revolted, yes. Saddened, yes. Lately I've been thinking, Even if a movie were to scare me, it wouldn't be enough. I want art that makes me think. With that in mind, I've paired up horror movies into double features that excite my "compare 'n' contrast" tendencies. Maybe you'll find something in this list to satisfy your itch, whatever that may be.
1. Carnival of Souls (1962) and Donnie Darko (2001 but set in the '80s) -- Carnival of Souls is a black-and-white, low-budget, minimally-cast thriller starring the absolutely luminous Candace Hilligoss. Donnie Darko is a full-color, big (enough) budget spec film, with a star-studded ensemble cast and Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role. Both movies focus on a person out of synch with the rest of the world, but in Carnival the consequences are individual, insular; in Donnie Darko, everyone is affected. Both films are spookier than they are graphic, although there are some brief moments of gore in the R-rated Donnie.
2. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, set in 1900) and Here Comes the Devil (2013) -- In both of these films, children on a holiday outing explore a mountain and something goes wrong. The PG-rated Picnic is less forthcoming about what exactly happened, obscuring with ethereal atmospherics apropos for late-Victorian repression, whereas the unrated Here Comes the Devil graphically depicts sex and violence. And yet, neither really explains why the tragedy unfolds. Perhaps the characters offend the genius loci? Maybe some places are just bad? Either way, both films are unsettling in their ambiguity.
3. The Descent (2005) and The Babadook (2014) -- On the surface, these are very different movies. The Descent follows women on a spelunking adventure who get lost in an unexplored series of tunnels. The tunnels are inhabited by humanoid cryptids and as the women fight to get back to the surface, they die in various brutal, bloody ways. The Babadook is about a grieving woman trying to survive daily life with her acutely sensitive child, who finds a book about a bogeyman-type monster that he thereafter insists is threatening their tiny, broken family. The Descent is a hard-R, with monsters and gore, while The Babadook works up to its R rating with psychological, real-world horror. But both movies are woman-centered explorations of grief in a world where bad things happen to good people, and they keep on happening.
4. Somos Lo Que Hay (2010) and We Are What We Are (2013) -- The connection between these two flicks is clear: The latter is an American remake of the former, which is Mexican. And I'm going to have to spoil it for you, because I don't think it's fair to send you into a movie and not warn you that it depicts
5. Pontypool (2008) and Berberian Sound Studio (2012) -- I love both these stories because they are obsessed with sound in a highly-visual medium. Former radio shock jock Grant Mazzy hates his new assignment in Pontypool, a small rural Canadian community. A mild-mannered sound engineer, Gilderoy hates his new job creating the sound effects for The Equestrian Vortex, which is not a movie about horses, as he imagined, but a gruesome giallo flick. In Pontypool, a bizarre virus infects the town and Mazzy and the other employees of the local radio station must piece together the truth from conflicting reports, incoherent witnesses, and mysterious military injunctions. In Berberian Sound Studio, Gilderoy is an innocent adrift, desperately trying to hold together his reality even as it merges with the grisly fantasy he's forced to help create. Both films interrogate the gaps between sounds and meaning, facsimiles and reality, consensus/objectivity and dissent/subjectivity.
So there you have it: some brain candy to accompany your Halloween candy. I wish you a pleasant mix of tricks and treats. Happy Halloween!