Horror is a genre that casts a wide shadow.
Here are four absolute beginners and one fairly new voice in contemporary horror cinema that you should keep your eye on. While most of these folks only have one film to their name at the moment, you should definitely watch what they've done and then weep with joy for the future of the genre.
The first director on this list is Ti West. After starting small with low-low budget films The Roost and Trigger Man, West suddenly found himself thrust into the spotlight with the subtle (to a point) horror of The House of the Devil. This eighties inspired (and set) film about a horrible night of babysitting, has a Carpenter-inspired slow build-up to a finale that will melt your brain.
Earlier that same year, Cabin Fever 2 was released after extensive interference and reshooting by the producers. West requested his name be removed, but he was denied, so there's that. Cabin Fever 2 is actually a pretty entertaining gross-out film; however, it doesn't really fit in with West's general approach to film or reach the quality of his independent work.
In 2011, The Innkeepers was released to general acclaim (see my review here) and demonstrated exactly what you can expect from a Ti West film: a tight, clever script, a masterful building of suspense, and a pretty freaked out ending that turns everything you've seen leading up to it on its head. The Innkeepers is especially effective thanks to fantastic performances by its two leads, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, plus a special appearance by Kelly McGillis.
West then provided a short piece for the horror anthology V/H/S that stands out by avoiding some of the more extreme supernatural approaches taken by other writer/directors in the piece to provide a shocking horror story of love and murder.
The ABCs of Death – "M is for Miscarriage" (2012)
The Sacrament (2013) – No details on this yet, but it is being produced by Eli Roth.
A Serbian Film (2010)
If you want to talk about a controversial film maker, then look no further. Spasojević co-wrote A Serbian Film with Aleksandar Radivojević, a well-known Serbian horror film critic, then shot it digitally with Red One cameras in order to meet their small, independently financed budget. This was kind of a big deal in Serbia, where nearly all film making is financed or co-financed through the state.
A Serbian Film tells the story of Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), a (semi-)retired porn star who finds himself in need of a paycheck. So a friend from the business introduces him to Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), a man determined to make a work of perverse art – pornographic, sure, but philosophically artistic – about victimhood. Of course, that translates into horrifyingly degrading and violent sex that Milos finds himself reacting against.
But a contract is a contract. And if Milos doesn't want to continue, Vukmir has ways of making him follow through.
This is an extremely disturbing work that many viewers will dismiss as meaningless exploitation. And sure, there's exploitation in there – it's about making violent pornography; how could there not be exploitation? – but Spasojević is making a pretty dark and nihilistic statement about the individual and the State. It's fairly specific to life in Serbia, but has a philosophical undercurrent that makes it relevant to anyone who feels used and abused by those with power.
I highly recommend this film for at least those reasons, but if you're of a more prurient nature, you do get to see an evil man get skull-fucked to death. I'd never seen that before.
The ABCs of Death – "R is for Removed" (2012)
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)
Panos Cosmatos is the son of the late George P. Cosmatos, director of Escape to Athena, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cobra, Leviathan, Tombstone, and one of my personal all-time favorites, Of Unknown Origin, and grew up on Vancouver Island in Canada. That in itself makes me want to check out his work, but luckily Panos brings a lot more to the table than a cult name.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is a mind-fuck extraordinaire, inspired and influenced by William S. Burroughs, David Cronenberg, Philip K. Dick, Stanley Kubrick, and Kenneth Anger (as well as other writers and film makers). The plot is minimalistic, centered on strange psychological experiments on a young woman (Eva Allan) by a creepy doctor (Michael Rogers) who ends up having a secret or two of his own. And that's all I'm saying about the plot.
This is something you need to experience for yourself. Perhaps with a chemical enhancement (wink wink, nudge nudge).
According to one interview, Cosmatos felt Beyond the Black Rainbow was his "experimental electronic album" and his next feature will be "more like a Black Sabbath record." Which means I can't wait to see what that means!
Inspired by David Cronenberg, Todd Solondz, John Hughes, and John Waters, Writer/Director Richard Bates Jr. burst onto the scene this year with his first feature film, Excision – an expansion of a short film of the same name that has won 24 festival awards since 2008. The feature length version tells the story of Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord), a disturbed and disturbing high school student who has a fascination with surgery and grotesque sexual fantasies involving necrophilia and lots of
McCord does an amazing job with this character, bringing Pauline to life with a sense of self-awareness that makes it difficult not to sympathize with her. She's an outcast at school and her family just doesn't understand what's going on in her head.
And that's maybe a good thing.
Traci Lords plays her under-duress mother and John Waters has a cameo as the priest given the unenviable task of providing Pauline cheap and convenient counseling. Also, Malcolm McDowell has a surprise bit part as the unsympathetic teacher, Mr. Cooper. There's a lot of John Waters in this script, before it shifts gears into something reminiscent of mid-career Cronenberg, and Bates pulls no punches when it comes to both Pauline's sick sexual fantasies and the collapse of her sanity in the real world.
The South Will Rise Again (working title) – Bates describes this in interviews as "imagine if the guy who made Incision made a Ghostbusters movie." I'm there.
This one's a bit of a wild card as I haven't actually had the opportunity to see Antiviral (because I live in the buttcrack of America), but judging from the general reaction, as well as our glowing review, I feel safe including Brandon Cronenberg as a Director to Watch. And I do love a good dystopian satire.
Shot over three weeks with a budget of around $3.2 million (a huge budget for a first time director!), the film tells the story of Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), who works harvesting diseases from celebrities and then injecting them into paying clients to foster a sense of closeness between the fan and the star. Yeah, the apple didn't fall too far from the tree here. Cronenberg's father is the man who inspired most of the other people on this list, and this sounds like exactly the sort of thing the Elder would have done in his prime (before he went mainstream and left the real insanity behind).
I have no doubt that this is one of the more disturbed films floating around the marketplace at the moment and believe with all my heart that it's something we should all be checking out and supporting.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.