Clicking and Streaming: 'Messiah of Evil,' 'Dark Mountain,' and 23 other horror movies you probably haven't seen
By CITY PAPER
Oct 30, 2014 | 2:37 PM
For this Halloween edition of 'Clicking and Streaming' we reviewed two rather slept-on horror flicks that don't exactly play the scary-movie game and offer up a list of 23 others in a similar vein. Here's why we've gone that route: This is Baltimore, the resting place of Edgar Allan Poe, which means we should do horror right, which means less spooky-ooky junk and scary monsters stuff and torture porn and more the hard-to-shake horror that Poe pretty much created—stuff that grabs on in weird and confusing ways, often veering on the absurd and nonsensical, and doesn't let go.
See, horror is an aesthetic experience with its roots in the sublime (Kant talked about the idea of "the terrifying sublime" for example; I'd also encourage you to check out Comaroff and Ker-Shing's book "Horror In Architecture" from last year if you want a fun yet academic conversation about horror) but too often it's reduced to "creepy" signs and signifiers. Nerd culture ruins everything, so it has also ruined horror. Dumb, obvious things like "believability" and "realism" and other cinematic elements that are easy to pick apart and explain have taken over the genre and sucked all the fun and dread out of it. Plus last week, I traced the social-protest roots of the genre via "Night of the Living Dead" and made the point that stuff like "The Walking Dead" has violated the subgenre's central politicized tenets by playing it safe and often, being downright conservative.
In an ongoing effort to remind you what horror's really about and invoke its potential, the movies below continue in the spirit of Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, where atmosphere and the surreal matter more than "believability." Some of them are clever genre deconstructions, a few are avant-garde masterpieces, plenty are grimy grindhouse fare, some are staggering hot messes, but all of them will challenge you and freak you the fuck out. (Brandon Soderberg)
How have the midnight movie masses missed this fucker? Written and directed by the couple who wrote "American Graffitti," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and "Howard The Duck" (which they also directed, which explains a lot actually), 1973's "Messiah Of Evil" only sort of has a story (something or other about how the moon on a certain night turns people into meat-craving monsters every 100 years because of a magic "Dark Stranger" who survived the Donner Party). It's all about stacking batshit-crazy set pieces on top of one another, accumulating sheer Poe-like terror. Some of the most inexplicably horrifying shit you've ever seen in a movie appears here: A tall swinger with a pretentious speech pattern hangs out with two women in a skeezy motel room while a rambling grimy homeless drunk blathers on about "the blood moon"; an albino picks up a woman at a gas station and blasts Richard Wagner during their ride through pitch-black night, asking her if she likes Wagner, pronouncing his name, "Wagg-nerr"; a movie theater painted blood-red slowly fills up with ghouls as a western starring Sammy Davis Jr. indifferently plays on the screen; a woman in the process of turning into a zombie cries blood, pokes her skin with a needle over and over yet feels no pain, and then vomits bugs, maggots, and a lizard into a sink. Think "Gummo" scripted by H.P. Lovecraft with a soundtrack full of Hawkwind-like synth squiggles and you're close to grasping the mood and tenor of this nightmare-logic zombie flick full of '60s hippy-dippy fall-out vibes and creeping dread. (Brandon Soderberg)
"Dark Mountain" (2013)
Directed by Tara Anaïse
Available for streaming on Amazon
Although couched in the found-footage tradition and taking many of its cues from "The Blair Witch Project," the cornerstone of that subgenre, "Dark Mountain" is a worthwhile journey into the often-risky world of low-budget horror. Its set-up should sound familiar: Three documentary filmmakers enter an intimidating wilderness in search of answers to an urban legend. The characters underestimate the wilderness, get lost, and begin experiencing unexplained phenomena. Pretty soon, tensions arise, and the filmmakers turn on one another. There's even a tribute to the infamous snot-filled confessional scene from "Blair Witch." But where "Dark Mountain" breaks from "Blair Witch" is in its abundance of ideas. While it has its fair share of ghosts and spooky terrain, "Dark Mountain" also hints at time travel and possession—and we're never quite sure if the explanation is supernatural, extra-terrestrial, or interdimensional. Leaving events unexplained not only makes them inherently more interesting, but also more frightening: Three small lights that appear above the crew's campsite are particularly effective for their unnerving subtlety. The film boldly breaks some conventions of the found-footage genre as well. Guitar and drum machine music from the band Filthy Huns scores the movie and their muddied vocals and slow, reverb-heavy guitar lines add to the sense of unease and apprehension that accompanies the haunting footage of the Superstition Mountains. What makes a modern-day B-movie horror so effective is the shameless way it can just go for it. And "Dark Mountain" certainly goes for it. (Jeff Miller)