Weirdest Concepts Behind Great Horror Movies
Sometimes the best horror movies, the ones that get under our skin and leave us flinching at shadows, are the ones with the strangest ideas behind them. If you do a double-take after hearing the premise of these movies, you’ll be doubly surprised at how good the films turn out to be.
A Haunted Video Tape
Let’s get this out of the way first since it’s the most obvious candidate. The Ring, and the Japanese original Ringu, became horror movie royalty with their individual releases in spite of the oddball idea at the core. A video tape (I had to dig one out to show my daughter what a VHS was…she said ‘oh, like Star-Lord uses for music’) has been haunted by the spirit of a deceased girl. Watching the spooky movie on the tape results in a death a week later.
After the initial set-up it’s easy to forget about the source of fear as we delve into the story behind. The investigation into the girl’s life and what happened to her becomes a slowly infolding thriller that easily gets its hooks into you. Personally we prefer the US version for the cultural connection, but both leave a lasting impact.
Death Holds a Grudge…and Likes Rube Goldberg
There’s few villains in horror cinema bigger than death itself. Not the Grim Reaper…the concept of death. It turns out that death has a complex plan for bumping us off one by one and gets real grumpy if some seer avoids their appointed time. If you manage to dodge death’s meticulous plan you’ll become the sole focus of death’s attention and they set up elaborate and complicated traps to kill you in a ridiculous and gory way. Sure, they could just hit you with a car…but they could orchestrate a series of coincidence that end with your spine being redirected through your eye socket.
Fake Match-Making Has Its Risks
Aoyama is a widow who hasn’t moved on from the loss of his wife. At the urging on his teenaged son, he decides it’s time to try dating again, but doesn’t know where to begin. Enter friend Yoshikawa and his scheme – set up an ‘audition’ for an upcoming film in order to find potential girlfriends. Through this set-up Aoyama meets Asami, a mysterious young woman with whom Aoyama immediately falls in love. He ignores red flags that suggest the quietly spoken woman have had some dark encounters. Eventually they get involved in a tryst and OH GOD NO WHAT THE LIVING FUCK.
Yeah, maybe vet your potential dates for their interest in horrifying torture before pledging your undying love.
A Mad Scientist Mixes His DNA With a Fly
This concept may conjure up whacky images of a lab-coated scientist buzzing incoherently with a fly’s head, and that’s what the movie looked like in 1958. It’s the version of the story that parodied in The Simpsons. It’s a creepy idea with chuckle-worthy consequences.
Then we have body-horror master David Cronenberg’s 1986 nightmare version. In this one the scientist doesn’t just swamp heads with a fly, he begins morphing into horrific creature who is actively rotting away as we watch. You may think it’s nasty when Brundlefly pukes acid on his food to suck up the corrosive mess, or when he jaws gets torn off…but consider having been impregnated by this mess.
The English Language Contains a Virus
That’s the premise on this very cool small film. The theme being explored is one of mass communication and the new risks that come with it. The action is set in a small town radio station where the news comes in that people are rioting and violent attacks are widespread. As the situation escalates they theorise that the virus driving people to madness is being spread through ‘infected words’, where using the English language itself comes with a deadly risk.
It sounds like a goofy idea, but it’s an excellent film that takes the premise into fascinating territory.
Sexually Transmitted Curses
Imagine this: there’s an evil spirit out to get you. No matter where you run or how far you go it will keep coming after you. It will take any form and can’t be stopped…it will just keep following you. How do you escape from this curse? Bang.
As in, bang someone. The only way to get rid of this thing us to pass it on to someone else through sexual intercourse. Then it will tire of you and start following them. And you better hope they pass it on quickly, otherwise it’s coming back for you. It Follows is an ethereal experience that is open to interpretation, a metaphor for STI’s being the most common. It’s a fantastic movie with a unique premise.
Obsessed Fan Takes Things a Bit Too Far
You’re not going to be a star in the horror genre for long before you meet a fan who’s a little too into your work. An unnerving encounter with such a fan prompted Stephen King to write Misery, which was then adapted to the highly acclaimed film starring James Caan and Kathy Bates. A popular author is involved in a car crash and rescued by a nurse who just happens to be his ‘number 1 fan’.
Cue the insanity, as Annie Wilkes takes her love of the authors work a bit far, growing furious that he’s killed off her favourite character and holding him hostage until he rewrites the story. It’s a nightmare scenario resulting is some of most nerve wracking moments in cinema.
Safe Words are Important
Speaking of Stephen King…
In Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of King’s novel we join Jessie and Gerald at their isolated lake house for some kinky fun. Gerald likes restraints and Jessie agrees to be handcuffed to the bedposts. This is all fine and good until Gerald dies of a heart attack, leaving Jessie trapped. There’s no-one around to help her, no way to call for help and no way to escape from the cuffs. Well…no painless way.
During the days that follow Jessie experiences hallucinations, nightmares and the emergence of suppressed memories. Mike Flanagan demonstrates a deft hand with this restrictive story, cementing him as one of the best horror film-makers of the modern age. It’s such a simple concept stretched out to horrifying levels.
Ready Or Not
We absolutely loved this movie when it came out last year and have watched it a couple of times since. Samara Weaving is an absolute delight as the hard-edged survivor who just married into a wealthy family. They believe their wealth comes from a deal with the devil, and ritualised sacrifice is needed to sustain the bargain. The ritual? A game of Hide and Seek! Our heroine must survive until dawn and her new in-laws hunt her with guns, battle-axes and crossbows in one of the funniest, most exciting romps in years.
We Found Tapes of Missing Students
The Blair Witch Project
Although I may not come down on side with this title as a horror movie, I can’t refute the impact it had. It wasn’t the first movie to use a found footage gimmick, or the first to convince people that it was a true story, but it was the one to do it the best. Utilising the emerging field of viral marketing, The Blair Witch Project had people convinced that it was authentic long after they saw it. They built a lore around the events of the movie that remain more interesting than the original cinematic release. Even the concept still sounds intriguing – a group of film students went missing and we have their final days on tape.
An Urban Legend Happens to True
This almost feels like old hat in the horror genre. A spooky story that turns out to be true is the synopsis for a significant part of the horror canon. Candyman takes a real life myth – speaking a spectres name into a mirror X number of times to summon them – and follows a journalist who discovers there’s more truth to it than you’d expect. What makes this a particularly excellent film is the examination of racial and class divisions in the USA, and the role that mythologising plays into culture. The more Candyman’s legends unfolds the more it intrigues. Plus Tony Todd is awesome in the title role.
Everything the Horror Author Writes is Coming True
In the Mouth of Madness
This concept is so simple it sounds like a ‘Goosebumps’ story (actually, isn’t that the plot of the movie?). The ‘hero’ of this story is an insurance investigator hired to track down the elusive yet best-selling Sutter Cane. Readers of Cane’s books have shown a tendency to suffer paranoia and, on occasion, murder their families. Upon discovering the fictional location of Cane’s story is a real town and heading there he discovers the other-wordly horror’s from the stories come to life. Furthermore, it would appear that Cane is a conduit for interdimensional elder-gods looking to create a doorway through to our world.
Cane has a dash of King in his design, but it’s H.P. Lovecraft that forms the basis for this fictional author. What makes this a great film is the way it lays the foundation for a world dominated by the Cthulhu mythos. For fans of Lovecraft this is a roundabout best entry point for his particular brand of horror.
White People are Evil
One of the best thrillers of the past decade, cementing Jordan Peele as one to watch in this new field, Get Out cast a blinding light on the issue of race and depicts people who are forcibly not racist as being as problematic than anyone. A young black man is travelling with his girlfriend to meet her white family for the first time. Although they go out of the way to make him feel at home, our hero can’t seem to find himself at ease. As the movie goes on we also get the feeling that there’s more afoot then feeling like an outsider. This is one of the most important horror films of the modern age, being packed with symbolism, amazing performances from a stacked cast and sharp writing.
A Seven Deadly Sins Themed Murderer
If you’ve seen Spike Jonze’s excellent Adaptation then you’ll know where this is going. If you haven’t seen it then you should stop reading and go and do that because it’s one of the most brilliant pieces of cinema you’ll ever see. After that make sure you watch Se7en.
Anyway, in Adaptation a wannabe screenwriter pitches a script for a movie about a cop, a serial killer and their hostage all of whom turn out to be the same person. This was satirising the trend of gimmicky, insane killers that end with a big twist. This entire sub-genre of thrillers was started with David Fincher’s phenomenal Se7en, a dark neo-noir story about an old cop and a young cop hunting a murderer obsessed with the seven deadly sins. Each victim has been deemed guilty of a sin and their method of execution takes the form of an ironic punishment that remain some of the most haunting images you’ll ever see. The premise sounds like schlock (and much of the films that imitated it were schlock) but Fincher turns it into a work of blood soaked art.
Speaking of trends…
You Can’t Use One of Your Senses
A Quiet Place and Hush and Birdbox and Don’t Breath and Light’s Out
This has become a bit of a thing lately. Our hero has to avoid a dangerous foe by suppressing the noise they make, or blinding themselves in some way. When it works, it really works. Our favourite of the bunch is Hush, another by Mike Flanagan, involving a deaf woman defending against a psychopathic home invader. Let’s enjoy this fad before it turns to crap.