So you want to devour more horror movies but think you've seen every ghost, every ghoul, every suspicious clown and bloodstained hockey mask? You might want to hit pause before you watch Friday the 13th for the 13th time this week (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
The brains behind Sundance Now have taken their almost paranormal ability to find binge-worthy films, TV shows, and docu-series and applied it to the horror genre, and the result is something you should leave the lights on for.
"We wanted to entertain with this collection, from real-life terrors (Rillington Place, The Snowtown Murders, the Red Riding trilogy) to classic ghost stories (The Eclipse) to '80s throwbacks (The Violence Movie and the documentaries Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories)," George Schmalz, content curator of Sundance Now's Halloween Treats collection, told SYFY WIRE. "Then you have folk horror (like the documentary Cropsey and the narrative The Tall Man) and 'It’s coming from inside the house' creep-fests like Borgman. There are also genre-defying curiosities (Go Down Death) and somber long-form storytelling (Public Enemy)."
If you think the only thing scary about documentaries is the chance of being bored to death, the bogeyman has nothing on the human monster who looms over Cropsey. Schmalz believes that every place has its own Cropsey, its own spook of urban legend, whether or not it has any basis in reality. It often does. There’s a reason the whispers of a kidnapper lurking in the shadows of New York City have entwined with Missing posters and court documents to reach urban legend status. Random children don't just disappear.
Schmalz was lured to the dark side for as many reasons as there are subspecies of vampires. Whether it's an eerie vibe, phantasmagorical effects, oddball schlock, or a story that crawls up your spine and echoes in your skull, there's always something that will jump out at you from the horror vault. He believes the films that really define his collection are the Belgian series Public Enemy and the short The Violence Movie.
Sundance Now exclusive Public Enemy examines the case of a serial child killer whose release sends shockwaves throughout the country. Even though he serves his parole in a monastery, there is a public outcry when a little girl vanishes. Brutal violence and gore splatter this twisted tale of a possibly reformed or manipulative child murderer who may be hiding something sinister behind those somber eyes. It involves mass hysteria, mob justice, mystery, and a mythical antlered wood god, all smoldering with the slow burn of dread.
"Public Enemy has a great vibe of slow building dread — an oppressive atmosphere crossed with a procedural whodunit," said Schmalz. Meaning, a must-watch for any crime thriller junkie.
The Violence Movie is a high-powered rewind to '80s VHS nostalgia. It was actually shot during the era of frighteningly big hair and shoulder pads on a rented camcorder and hasn’t been seen by many eyeballs outside the New Jersey-Philly area. Slasher fans who really have been watching Friday the 13th on repeat need to forget about chasin' Jason for a second and see this horrorshow, which had Schmalz convinced that "you can feel these guys' love of movies bleeding from every frame." Did I mention the murderer gives a party-store homage to another cinematic killer by wearing a Freddy Krueger mask? That is, until he swaps it out for Jason's.
While the collection is a mixed bowl of Halloween candy, the common veins of documentary, folklore, and atrocities that haunt our past pulse throughout. Sundance Now emerged as the Sundance Doc Club, a documentary-focused platform, and the curator's respect for documentaries is obvious in the no-brainer additions of Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories. He guarantees that you will know more about the guts of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises than you ever thought you needed to.
Decidedly more disturbing, Taxi to the Dark Side won an Academy Award for examining the beating death of an Afghani taxi driver at the hands of American soldiers as he was being interrogated in prison. Except prisoner number BT421 wasn't just beaten, but pummeled with blows while chained from the ceiling. This raises serious questions on the CIA's use of torture.
Films whose "based on a true story" tagline should not be taken lightly are a mutation of that documentary DNA. You will be unnerved by the slowly building menace of Sundance Now exclusive Rillington Place, which peers into the notorious case of serial killer John Reginald Christie after police discovered something horrid behind the wallpaper. His manipulation of everyone from his wife to the justice system saw an innocent man hanged for another’s offenses. Schmalz was particularly drawn to it because of that heavy dread, stellar performances by Tim Roth and Samantha Morton, and some unexpected perspectives on the crimes of a really deranged sociopath, which started as murder and turned to wrongful conviction long after the bodies were found.
Continuing this bloody trail, The Snowtown Murders exhumes a series of crimes from 1999 that spawned from a violent cesspool of addiction, abuse, and vigilantism that started with toxic relationships and ended in dismembered corpses. It doesn't end there. The Red Riding trilogy, which Schmalz feels "is a sorely underrated set of films that should be seen by the world," takes you on a ghoulish journey through the killing spree of the Yorkshire Ripper.
"The folklore of small towns and abandoned spaces" is another thing that inspired Schmalz when it came to deciding which Halloween treats would make it into this collection. Cropsey, The Tall Man, and Borgman are an extension of this fascination. The Tall Man sounds like an eerie echo of Slender Man and is just as nightmarish. You might be suspicious of one kid insisting that "The Tall Man" is after him, but when children have been disappearing for years with no explanation, denial will turn to terror. Borgman starts out almost comical when a strange vagrant drops in on an upper-class family and turns their posh lifestyle upside down. Of course he has ulterior motives, or how would this be a horror movie?
Borgman is actually the one film in this collection that terrifies Schmalz the most, because of that creeping feeling that there are eyes watching you even while you're sleeping. The real nightmare begins when the face with those eyes, whose owner has brainwashed your family into being smitten with him, starts replacing you.
You would think I didn't have to ask if Schmalz has a favorite horror movie, but I just had to, because there is no way someone whose horror obsession might possibly out-obsess my own can't have one film that he feels possessed to watch over and over. His response?
"The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was my gateway to the genre."