First, the lights start to flicker. Then, you hear a quiet tinkling of bells. You turn to find the source of the noise and find a woman hiding in the shadows. Her face is covered with long, black hair and her hands are pressed together in front of her. As she gets closer, she looks up and reveals her unnaturally large eyes. This is the last thing you see before she claims your eyes. This is Shirai-san, the ghost of Otsuichi’s newest film, Stare, which premiered this year at Fantasia.
So often, American film tropes are looked to as the golden standard, a potential guide for international filmmakers who want to make it big in Hollywood. But there is nothing more satisfying than seeing an indie horror film that is not from the U.S. utilize certain tropes in order to highlight a unique story. This is the case in Harold Hölscher’s feature film debut, 8: A South African Horror. Hölscher gives a well-tread story of worlds colliding a breath of fresh air by incorporating South African folklore, racial tensions, and beautiful visuals. 8, while not persistently scary, is a melancholy fairytale the likes of which the Grimm Brothers have never seen.
The film begins in 1977 with a downtrodden trio heading to their new home. Couple William (Garth Breytenbach) and Sarah (Inge Beckmann) have taken in his sister’s child, Mary (Keita Luna), after her parents’ deaths. Each is full of their own sadness, from mourning parents to mourning the inability to become pregnant. But this farm will be a fresh start for them, a place where they’ll come together as a family. Then, they meet Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe), a mysterious man who lives in the woods surrounding the farm who carries a suspiciously large bag. He asks William for a job, explaining that he once worked for William’s father and would love to help in anyway he can. Mary and Lazarus strike up a friendship, finding understanding and compassion in one another. Yet, he is not what he seems.
It all starts with a harpoon, a spear-like weapon used for fishing that can pierce flesh at astonishing speeds. So it makes sense to gift a harpoon to your friend with anger management issues, right? This is how Rob Grant’s newest film, Harpoon, opens, with a simple gift to an angry man. What ensues is a tale of resentment, friendship, and toxic masculinity on the open sea.
Richard (Christopher Gray), Jonah (Munro Chambers), and Sasha (Emily Tyra) are a trio of misfit friends with a rocky history. Richard is wealthy and has an extremely short temper, which was inherited from his father. Jonah is mopey and was constantly berated by his parents, until they died. Sasha, Richard’s girlfriend, is their reluctant caretaker who must play the referee between their antics. And we are introduced to this strange trio in a moment of violence: Richard beating Jonah’s face in while Sasha screams for him to stop all over a misunderstood text message. They explain they were texting about Richard’s birthday present, a harpoon with a mahogany handle.
We all know what a possession film entails. It’s usually a lot of holy water, jaded priests, screaming, vomiting, and praying. Frankly, they’ve been getting a little boring with their predictable narrative arcs and attempts to grapple with religion. However, director Tilman Singer aims to work against the well-tread possession story in his feature film debut, Luz. There are no priests, no attempts to exorcise demons, no holy water. Instead, this is a film about the act of possession itself and passing a demon into several bodies until it reaches its ideal host.
The film opens with the backwards-baseball-hat-wearing cabbie, Luz (Luana Velis), walking into a police station in a daze. She slowly walks to a vending machine, takes a long sip of Coke, then begins to scream, “is this how you want to live your life?” After this unsettling opening, we learn that Luz is a Chilean cab driver who works in Berlin with a dark secret: there’s a demon looking for her. She has stumbled into the station after leaping from her taxi to escape the demon’s grasp. Meanwhile, the demon is possessing people across the city to try and get to Luz.
Last year, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD as many of us know it. While the label was slapped on me at 25, I think I’ve been dealing with it in at least some form for most of my life. Simply put, it is a disorder where people have obsessions and compulsions. It can be quite nebulous in its manifestations, but when it comes to onscreen depictions, OCD is seen as a fear of contamination and a need for cleanliness. Characters such as Tony Sheloub’s Monk from Monk or Jack Nicholson’s Melvin from As Good As It Gets are prime examples of stereotypical representations of OCD; they must wash their hands constantly, they obsessively count, they can’t step on cracks in the sidewalk, they are afraid of everything. These rituals and fears then make them weird and their OCD makes them unrelatable. But that’s not how OCD manifests for everyone; for some people, contamination fears are a large part of their compulsion. That’s not the case for me. If I never have to hear someone say to me, “but you’re messy, you can’t be OCD,” I’d be so elated. My OCD is much more internal, meaning I don’t have many visual compulsions. My mind is constantly flooded with obsessive thoughts about harm coming to myself and others, which means I’m always trying to find ways to avoid that harm. This can manifest through planned walking routes, constantly checking the oven, counting my steps, biting my nails, the list goes on and often changes depending on my stress levels.
A large part of figuring out how to cope with my OCD has involved recognizing the deeper meaning of my personal relationship to the horror genre. Horror has always been a part of my life. I have devoured horror films and books since an inappropriate age, finding a strange solace in the violence. Slumber parties always involved horror movies. I owned almost all of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike’s books. I watched horror trailers obsessively. I dove into the world of pirated movies so I could watch the latest horror indies. It’s always just been part of who I am, so when I was diagnosed with OCD, I didn’t think at all about how this could link to my love of horror.
Animated horror is often only found in either anime series, such as Parasyte and Death Note, or children’s films, such as Coraline and Monster House. It is shocking that there aren’t more animated horror films, as the medium lends itself so well to horror as strange monsters and creatures can be more easily actualized onto the screen. Animation lends itself even better to body horror, where the human body can be warped and torn apart in even more demented ways. Director Eric Power fully taps into this potential with his animated horror feature, Attack of the Demons.
It is 1994 in Barrington, a small Colorado town known for their Halloween music festival. Hundreds of tourists flood the town, and with those tourists come a few cultists seeking humanity’s destruction. While cultists work to awaken a massive demon, three high school friends are reunited. Kevin, who has stayed in town, sees old classmate Jeff and tries to start a friendship. As they head to dinner together, they also run into another old classmate, Natalie, who’s attending the music festival. As they reconnect and reminisce, the cultist eventually gets access to a microphone and unleashes a chant, which begins the demon’s awakening. The entire town of Barrington, except these three friends, are infected. Kevin, Jeff, and Natalie must band together to fight back against the apocalypse and save the world from an icky demonic death.
We know the typical possession movie song and dance. A priest is going through a crisis of faith. He gets a call from the Catholic Church about a possession. He begrudgingly packs up the holy water and Bible and hops on a plane. After enduring an intense battle with a demon, he realizes his faith in God (unless the demon gets him first, which does happen). It all ends in a nice little package with the Devil defeated and the evil contained. The Exorcist did it first, and best, so how can the subgenre grow? Well, Emilio Portes’ Belzebuth offers a breath of fresh air to the stale possession film, weaving a new, and dark, narrative about the neverending battle between good and evil.
Belzebuth begins in Mexico with the birth of a little boy to police officer Emmanuel (Joaquín Cosio) and his wife, Marina. The two parents gush and coo over their new baby, carefully examining each of his fingers and toes. Emmanuel gets unexpectedly called into work, but promises his wife he’ll be right back. Little does he know that this is the last time he’ll see his son. As his son is laid down in the nursery, a new nurse comes in for shift change. But something doesn’t seem right as her eyes dart around the nursery and she seems extremely on edge. Suddenly, she begins massacring the nursery and kills every baby, including Emmanuel’s. It is an extremely violent way to start off such a film, but it sets Belzebuth’s tone perfectly. This isn’t going to be a cookie-cutter film that hides violence. Rather, it is going to kill as many children as possible to show what true evil can look like.