With the arrival of Halloween, it's time to plop down in front of the television with a stack -- or queue! -- of horror movies and see how many you can handle before you turn on the lights, fall asleep or turn to Cheers reruns.
Although a lot of adult, fairly casual fans of horror stick to old favorites or genre classics they haven't seen yet, SPINOFF decided this year to focus its efforts on consuming as many new scary movies as possible. That means films from the past few years, specifically, one that didn't receive wide release or big budgets -- and all of which also happen to be available on Netflix.
As it turns out, a lot of these films fall into the supernatural-horror category, but if you're expecting a lot of Paranormal Activity or Conjuring-esque stories, you're in the wrong haunted house. The following five films run the gamut from paranormal detectives to old-school hauntings to modern super-witches.
5. Odd Thomas (2013)
Did you know that Stephen Sommers of G.I. Joe fame made a movie based on a Dean Koontz novel filled with death, super-powers and monsters? Neither did I until I stumbled upon Odd Thomas, which stars Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) as the title character. Odd can see, but not hear, the spirits of the dead, and uses that ability to help them. He can also see creatures called bodachs that are drawn to impending death like flies to roadkill.
Unlike your average superhero, Odd doesn't hide his ability from the people in his life, specifically his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) and police chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe). This allows for some snappy banter, even as more and more bodachs appear, hinting at a huge, devastating event that Odd tasks himself with stopping.
Odd Thomas balances solid special effects -- the CG bodachs and seemingly practical dead effects work really well together -- with a mix of horror, comic-book and detective elements that come together for a fun movie. Be warned, though, it's not all lighthearted; there are some gut-punch moments.
4. All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
You might not be able to tell from the title, but All Cheerleaders Die falls into that witchcraft subgenre. Like a modern version of The Craft, this Lucky McKee/Chris Sivertson film starts off with a bang -- or rather a crack -- and keeps right on going at a breakneck pace.
The film follows Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) as she infiltrates her school's cheerleading squad for vengeful reasons. What seems like a showcase of vapid cheerleader tropes mixed with misogynistic football-player grossness turns into something much more as a car accident leads outcast Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) to use spells and magic stones to bring Maddy and her new cohorts back to life. Unfortunately, once they return, they have a wicked craving for blood. Although they seem pretty content with their new leases on life, the girls still have to contend with high-school sociopath Terry (Tom Williamson), who turns from an awful person into ... an awful person with supernatural abilities.
With the high-school setting and focus on cheerleader-football player relationships comes the casual usage of "bitch," MTV-like editing and all the dub step you can handle. I'm not sure whether this was intentional, but due to the way the characters act and how the film is presented -- all fast and kinetic and bright and loud -- I assumed it would be silly, dumb or immature. While there certainly are some of those elements, there's much more to thrill and chill underneath that gloss. Plus, how often do you get to see a super-powered battle between cheerleaders and a psychologically imbalanced football player?
3. The Innkeepers (2011)
Writer-director Ti West burst onto the scene with his 2009 cult movie House of the Devil, but he really hit his stride with The Innkeepers, a slow-burn haunting movie set in a New England hotel called the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Clerks Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) double as amateur paranormal investigators, but their time is running out because the hotel is shutting down soon. Over the course of those final few days, some strange guests check in, but that's the least of Claire's problems as supernatural forces point to the existence of their ghostly prey Madeline O'Malley.
Thanks to her familiar, cool and somewhat-goofy demeanor, Claire instantly won me over, as did the mystery of an old house with secrets. Lucas also exudes a geeky, beleaguered vibe that hides a few secrets of his own. As they walk around the Yankee Pedlar, the building's somewhat-hypnotic designs drew my eye, reminding me of the classic The Shining.
While The Innkeepers doesn't go for the cheap scares employed by so many other films, but still I found myself expecting them, which increased my stress level. To be honest, between the actual on-screen scares and my expectation for even more, I was exhausted by the end of this movie, but also thoroughly satisfied with the experience.
2. Resolution (2012)
The less you know about Resolution before viewing, the better. But, if you're not willing to take one person's recommendation as a reason to immediately stop what you're doing and watch this film, I understand.
Co-directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead from Benson's script, the film kicks off with Mike (Peter Cilella) traveling to save his lifelong friend Chris (Vinny Curran) from drug addiction. Mike's plan is simple: Knock Chris out, chain him up and take care of him for a week while he detoxes. Of course, things don't always go as planned, as local drug dealers appear and mysterious objects pop up in the house, which happens to be on Native American land. Without spoiling too much, Mike and Chris get sucked into an unnerving mystery with roots going back many years.
That mystery is compelling and creepy, but the real magic of Resolution is how fascinating Mike and Chris are as friends. You might not always like them or agree with their actions, but it's hard not to enjoy watching them.
1. John Dies at the End (2012)
If you want to watch a movie that's unlike anything you've ever seen before, then sit down immediately for Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End. To give you an idea of what I mean, the first 12 minutes not only feature a woman bursting into snakes and a door handle turning into male genitalia, but also a demon made out of assorted frozen meat products. And it gets weirder from there ... so much weirder.
Based on David Wong's novel of the same name, this film tells the story of Dave (Chase Williamson) and his friend John (Rob Mayes), who take a drug called Soy Sauce that allows them to tamper with time, read minds, know the unknowable and see monsters and other things that normal people can't. And, really, that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this amazingly odd movie from the man who brought us the Phantasm movies and Bubba Ho-Tep.
In addition to creating new, interesting and bug-nutty imagery you're not likely to find anywhere else, John Dies at the End also offers up a pair of surprisingly entertaining leads in Dave and John. The movie scores even more points with its inclusion of genre favorites and all-around great actors like Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Doug Jones and Glynn Turman. Pour all of these bits of liquid gold into a cocktail shaker, give a few over-the-shoulder thrusts and out pours something you unfortunately don't see at the movies very often: a unique film that just might make your skin crawl.