It’s that time of the year again. Halloween’s just around the corner and the onslaught of horror has begun – cinematically speaking, that is. Real life horrors, as we all know, have been underway for some time. Perhaps that’s why the horror genre seems to be drawing more and more from real life terror as much as fictional ones. Following are some examples of both varieties we recommend to get you in the mood for Halloween…
HIS HOUSE (2020, Netflix): Debut writer/director Remi Weekes uses the horror genre to its full advantage by attaching meaning and cultural relevance to the horrors depicted, which range from the more grounded practical nightmares of the real-life refugee experience to the metaphorical, supernatural variety. This one’s full of surprising twists and turns because, rather than taking a conventional cause and effect approach, the plot momentum is driven primarily by theme, showing us that conventional logic and morality do not always apply in a no-win situation.
DAHMER (Series, Netflix, 2022): Warning: this show is not for everybody. Frankly, I’m not even sure it’s for me. It took my partner and me three nights to get through the pilot because we couldn’t stomach more than twenty minutes at a time. It’s very upsetting. That said, given the story, it should be upsetting and the payoff was worth it. If the rest of the series upholds the same intersectional approach to this real-life travesty of justice, I believe it will help viewers better understand the devastating reality of structural violence in our society. Rather than place the focus on Dahmer himself, the pilot aligns us with not only Dahmer’s final would-be victim but also his Black neighbors in the low-income apartment building Dahmer strategically chose as his home, relying on racism to protect him. He must have known the complaints to the police about the concerning sounds and smells coming from his apartment would be ignored. We also witness how Dahmer relies on negative stereotypes about homosexuals to get others to dismiss his suspicious behavior as “gay stuff.” A truly frightening series depicting a truly frightening reality.
THE STAIRCASE (series, 2022, HBO): Inspired by the documentary of the real-life murder case, this unsettling series shows us the horrors of manipulation within our justice system and the power of the media to influence our perspectives. Though the character based on accused wife-murderer, Michael Peterson (played disturbingly effectively by Colin Firth), personally made my skin crawl, I was stunned at how every episode showed the events leading up to, during and after the murder from a new light, and how easily my own opinions about what happened could be swayed. The truth is not only much scarier than fiction, it’s often more manipulated and elusive.
These films are not traditional horror films, but explore the horrors of racism and sexual violence and how past trauma can come back to haunt its victims, and unravel their lives.
GOD’S COUNTRY (in theaters): The harsh landscape of the American West is the setting for this story of a college professor who has chosen to live in this isolated location. She soon finds herself in a dispute with some locals who are intruding upon her property in order to hunt. The situation quickly spirals out of control as issues of racism, gender and inequality assert themselves into the story and fuel the actions of the characters. Sandra, the female lead, is a native of New Orleans who left home after Hurricane Katrina to escape racism, but the film reminds us that in America no such escape exists as the threat is always present.
LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE (Playing on Netflix and select theaters): Based on the bestselling novel, Mila Kunis portrays a successful woman living in New York City who appears to have it all: a thriving career as a writer of a magazine, a fabulous wardrobe, impending nuptials to a rich fiancé, and a Manhattan apartment that exists only in movies. But underneath the glamorous façade, our heroine remains tormented by a violent gang rape she endured years earlier at the hands of classmates which then culminated in more violence. Now as an adult, a documentary film about these events threatens to destroy the carefully cultivated life she has created. This film is flawed—it features an unnecessary voice-over, and a predictable ending that feels contrived. But it’s worth viewing for its strong performances and themes of female resiliency and empowerment.
And just in case you’d prefer some lighter fare…
DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933, TCM/Criterion): Some of the most entertaining portrayals on the big screen of female empowerment come from cinema’s golden era of the 1930s. This comedic film is the story of two creative men-one a writer, the other a painter-who vie for the affection of a free-spirited woman who can’t decide between them. She agrees to live with them both but only in a platonic manner. It goes about as well as could be expected. The film was made in 1933, the last year of the pre-code era and is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest Romantic comedies ever produced by a Hollywood studio.
Enjoy a safe and happy Halloween!
~Devi & Amy
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