“Crimson Peak” (now playing)
Director Guillermo del Toro’s violent, lushly appointed Gothic romance/horror hybrid—starring Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska as newlyweds who move into the titular English manse with the groom’s wicked sister (Jessica Chastain)—may not be the scariest film in theaters this Halloween, but it’s certainly among the best. With del Toro’s usual artistry on full display, most especially in the period sets, “Crimson Peak” is the cinephile’s refuge from the season’s usual horror schlock.
“The Last Witch Hunter” (now playing)
Vin Diesel stars as Kaulder, an immortal witch-hunter who must face his old rival, the Queen Witch, in order to protect the human race. A critical failure (only 14% “fresh,” per Rotten Tomatoes) and commercial disappointment.
“Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” (now playing)
The sixth film in the pioneering found-footage horror franchise, about a family that discovers a camcorder capable of capturing supernatural occurrences, landed with a bit of a thud at the box office after three of the four largest theater chains in the U.S. declined to exhibit the film, which hits VOD just 17 days after wide release ends. (The exception is AMC, which struck a deal with Paramount to exhibit “Ghost Dimension” and fellow Halloween release “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.”) Reviews have been nearly as bad as those for “The Last Witch Hunter.”
“Halloween” (Oct. 29)
John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic, starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut, returns to theaters for one night only—with an exclusive introduction by Carpenter himself—thanks to SpectiCast and Fathom Events. The first installment in the now-iconic franchise, which added the name Michael Myers to the list of unforgettable Hollywood villains, earned $47 million at the box office from a measly $325,000 budget, turning the slasher film into a mainstay of the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond. Still, Carpenter’s ruthlessly tense, skillful construction makes “Halloween” the genre’s standard bearer and, as Roger Ebert himself once wrote, a worthy heir to Psycho. Find screenings near you and buy tickets here.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
Ana Lily Amanpour’s subversive, darkly witty black-and-white debut, set in an Iranian ghost town named Bad City, is a vampire love story worth catching up with this weekend if you haven’t seen it yet. The Persian-language genre hybrid and Gotham Award winner, which debuted to mostly rave reviews at Sundance in 2014, was produced by Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision. (Available via Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.)
In Jennifer Kent’s nerve-wracking haunted house tale by way of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” Essie Davis gives a breakthrough performance as a woman struggling to cope with—and even love—her disturbed six-year-old son. What begins as a gloomy mother-son drama with etchings of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” goes horrifically bat-shit after he opens a creepy children’s book portending doom and bloodshed for both of them. (Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play)
Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, starring Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, is not exactly horror, but as our own Ryan Lattanzio wrote earlier this year, it contains echoes of Michael Haneke’s chilling 2005 film “Cache.” When Edgerton appears on screen, as a man claiming to be a high-school friend of Bateman’s character, the protagonists’ glass house becomes ever more vulnerable to the proverbial throwing of stones, and “The Gift” emerges as an uneasy, morally ambiguous treat. (Vudu, Blu-ray)
In “It Follows,” director David Robert Mitchell (“The Myth of the American Sleepover”) turns the 1980s sex-gets-punished trope on its ear. After Jay (20-year-old breakout Maika Monroe) sleeps with her new boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), for the first time, she learns that she is the recipient of a fatal, sexually transmitted curse. As our own Anne Thompson wrote in March, “Mitchell wants to scare us, pulling us into his likable characters’ romantic entanglements and then puts us on edge as we wonder who’s following who. His greatest skill as a filmmaker is immersing us in his characters’ points-of-view—we’re bobbing in a backyard pool, watching an ant crawl on a wet arm. And we’re scared.” (Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play)
“Under the Skin”
Jonathan Glazer’s startling third feature, one of the best films of last year, is an otherworldly
communication built from worrisome noises and pinpricks of light. Starring Scarlet
Johansson as a woman who turns out to be something other than what she seems,
the narrative proceeds in much the same way that skin crawls or a shiver
travels up the spine, in tingling bursts of dark energy. I cannot tell you what
it means, nor even adequately describe what happens, but the film leaves an
indelible impression. “Under the Skin” confirms Glazer as a chronicler of desire’s inexplicable recesses, and as a
filmmaker of the first order. (Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play)
This unexpectedly effective social media twist on the found-footage horror movie, from Blumhouse Productions, follows a teenager and her friends as they’re stalked by a shadowy figure in search of vengeance after a video led a bully to kill herself a year earlier. Slim and clever, “Unfriended” isn’t very convincing as a statement on digital-age morality—nor, for that matter, a particularly terrifying one—but it approaches the allure of connection and disconnection online with far more vigor than better-funded entries in the emerging subgenre, like the Apple product-focused episode of “Modern Family” or Jason Reitman’s scolding “Men, Women, and Children.” (Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play)
“The Returned” (SundanceTV, Oct. 31, 10 p.m.)
Season 2 of this chilling French series, unsuccessfully remade by A&E earlier this year, picks up six months after the conclusion of Season 1—in which a group of long-dead residents of an idyllic mountain town return home and struggle to reintegrate with their families and former lovers. Winner of the International Emmy and the Peabody Award, the acclaimed series, along with German-language Cold War thriller “Deutschland 83” and forthcoming crime drama “The Last Panthers,” signals SundanceTV’s continued commitment to bringing global TV to American audiences—and it’s a gorgeous, creepy update of supernatural suspense to boot.