While slashers, J-horror and remakes have had their time in the spotlight, these days supernatural horror – with its hauntings and demons – is king.
Need proof? Look no further than the three major horror films that arrived in theaters last weekend: "Crimson Peak," "The Last Witch Hunter" and "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension." Even "Goosebumps" and "Hotel Transylvania 2" feature supernatural characters.
But, as always, there are countless other horror offerings available thanks to streaming and rental services. To help usher in Halloween, we’ve selected six recent supernatural-horror films that are sure to scare up the holiday spirit.
It Follows (2014)
We've all had those dreams where we're running from someone (or something), frantically looking for a means of escape, usually falling prey to the stalker or waking up in a cold sweat. David Robert Mitchell's "It Follows" brings that nightmare to life with its basic concept of an unstoppable supernatural force slowly trailing its victims.
In the film, Jay (Maika Monroe) becomes It’s next target after having sex with a boy she likes. Afterward, he explains to her that It will take any form to get at her and that the best thing to do is have sex with someone else to pass on the curse. Not sure what to believe, Jay winds up fleeing with her sister and a group of friends from the neighborhood.
While some wish that Mitchell more fully stuck to the rules he established, it's undeniable that he and the cast build an atmospherically odd movie based around a mysterious creature that could attack at any time.
The Lazarus Effect (2015)
Of these films, "The Lazarus Effect" boasts the best-known cast, with Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters and Donald Glover playing a group of scientists searching for a way to bring people back from the dead.
Just as the group experiences a major breakthrough in resurrecting a dog, their funding is shut down and their research seized. Not content to let someone else to take credit for what they’ve accomplished, the group breaks into the lab after hours to recreate the experiment. In the process, Wilde's character gets electrocuted, killing her instantly. Driven a bit mad, her boyfriend (Duplass) puts her on the table and brings her back.
But she's not quite the person she was before, as she now possesses telepathic and telekinetic abilities. However, it’s her increasing craziness that causes the most concern among her colleagues. Without giving too much away, you eventually learn why Wilde's character might not have gone to the happy place when she died, and why she definitely doesn't deserve to go back.
From writers Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater and director David Gelb, "The Lazarus Effect" features demonic elements currently popular, but it’s also a nice throwback to the heyday of mad-scientist films.
"Mercy" comes from the mind of Stephen King by way of director Peter Cornwell and screenwriter Matt Greenberg. Based on the short story "Gramma," the film hinges on the relationship between a boy named George (“The Walking Dead’s” Chandler Riggs) and his grandmother Mercy (Shirley Knight). As he explains in the opening narration, she's his best friend, which makes her eventual catatonic state all the more difficult for him to handle.
Unknown to George, Mercy has a history of flying off the handle, making it difficult for people to take care of her. So his mother (Frances O'Connor) moves George and his brother Buddy (Joel Courtney) into Mercy's remote farmhouse so they can care for the matriarch in what they assume will be her final days. Instead, they find themselves in a house besieged by evil forces and a mysterious book that only reveals its contents when wept upon.
Revolving around the strength of familial bonds, "Mercy" does everything it can to put those relationships to the test by pitting family members against one another and shining light on sins of the past in such a way that you can't look away from the impending doom.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)
From its debut in 2009 as a micro-budget thriller, "Paranormal Activity" spawned a series of films that delights and terrifies audiences just about every year around this time (the latest chapter, "The Ghost Dimension Sequel,” was just released). The found-footage franchise hit a bit of a rut, though, until last year with Christopher Landon's "The Marked Ones.”
With that fifth film, the “Paranormal Activity” continued with seemingly unrelated characters Jesse, Hector and Marisol all living in that same Oxnard neighborhood. Jesse gets a camera from a pawn shop and uses it to film his daily life. Unfortunately, life gets a lot more complicated after his creepy downstairs neighbor is killed by a kid he went to high school with. As the three kids investigate what happened, they discover a world of witchcraft, demons and pledged children all related to one of them.
As the evil elements come to the fore, characters from the other films start to reveal themselves, tying in directly by the very end. However, you can still watch this tight, fast-paced thriller without any knowledge of the other movies in the series.
Like "The Lazarus Effect," "Oculus" features a solid cast, including Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sachhoff and Rory Cochrane. Gillan and Thwaites play Kaylie and Tim, siblings who experienced intense trauma as children when their father (Cochran) tortured and killed their mother (Sackhoff).
Believing a mirror in their father's office to be the source of his madness, Kaylie acquires the supposedly demonic item, places it in their childhood home and brings Tim along after his release from an asylum. She has a variety of scientific tests in place to prove the mirror is actually evil, but something starts to play with their perceptions and memories, making concrete facts seem less than likely.
Told in a series of interweaving present-day and flashback scenes, "Oculus" presents the viewer with just the right information at the exact right time to add fuel to the continually raging fire that is its plot. As timelines intersect and the past comes alive with deadly realism, Tim and Kaylie do their best to remain sane in an increasingly demented reality that includes their mother being chained in a bedroom and their father's slow descent into madness.
With the amazing cast, the winding timelines and non-stop questioning of reality, this Mike Flanagan film delivers everything you want in a supernatural thriller, including a jaw-dropping ending.
The Babadook (2014)
Parenting is difficult; no matter how much you love your children, there's still a part of them that can drive you crazy. "The Babadook" revolves around that concept as single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) does her best to raise her increasingly difficult son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Amelia tries to reason with Samuel, but the boy constantly talks about fighting monsters and even builds weapons to defend their home against them.
That all seems like a walk in the park compared to the insanity that follows the discovery of a mysterious pop-up book about a boogeyman called "The Babadook" that begins to terrorize them. As Samuel's antics wear down Amelia, she begins to sense something supernatural in the works as well, but will she be able to save Samuel — or herself — from it?
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, "The Babadook" does an amazing job of showing Amelia's loosening grip on her sanity as she keeps trying to give her son the love he needs. The film also utilizes heart-stopping haunted house tricks and a creature owing some of its looks to the ghosts and goblins of the German Expressionists. That mix comes together to form a movie that will leave your stomach in knots and your hair standing on end.