Three Frightening Movies that Aren’t Traditional Horror, or Suspense, or…

Well, Halloween is over, but who cares? You can still keep on scaring yourself, right? Only, rather than the usual gore and mayhem, how about some unsettling horror, the kind that makes you question the reality of the movie, it’s characters, and your own thought processes?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the traditional monsters-and-bogeymen (bogeypeople?) style of horror. But sometimes it’s good to be scared by things that aren’t quite so over-the-top. And speaking of over-the-top, you’re probably already irritated with all the ‘Early Black Friday’ specials and the ‘Holiday’ ads anyway.

The movies listed here also get at some small bit of what it is/might be to cope with various forms of mental illness, or to deal with others who are struggling with it. They spotlight what it is like to be unsure about what is happening, and to have a difficult time understanding what constitutes legitimate forms of support. These are movies that cause a tightness in your chest, and not the kind that is alleviated by the next hissing cat springing out of a cabinet, or garden tool splitting open some body part or other.  They carry with them the kind of dread that has a real impact.

And I’m going to say there’s probably a good chance that these movies should come with some trigger warnings, in case that’s not obvious from the descriptions.

Safe (1995): From Todd Haynes, writer/director of Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There, and Far From Heaven, Safe sees Julianne Moore as Carol White, a woman who, after much confusion from a wide range of medical, mental health, and ‘other’ providers, is diagnosed with Environmental Illness, a disease that makes her hypersensitive to various chemical agents that are common in everyday life in modern America.

But is she really suffering from anything, or is the disease a physical manifestation of the sheltered nothingness her life has become? The only people who claim to understand her and her disease have clear motivations for convincing her she’s sick, while those who tell her she’s fine seem to lack any concern for her whatsoever.

As much an indictment of the “American Dream” of being completely carefree (there’s no such thing as “safe”), as it is of various forms of mental and physical healthcare, and the lack of clear, irrefutable knowledge to address all maladies (despite ‘professional’ claims to the contrary) Safe will have you clearing your throat, checking your temperature, wondering just what that smell is, and…wait, that’s probably not the best way to encourage anybody to watch a movie.

Safe is a bit difficult to track down. They don’t have it available on Netflix in any format, and Amazon only has it for sale as a DVD or Blu-Ray. Here’s a trailer (that kinda sucks)…

Affliction (1997): Written and directed by Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, and writer and/or director of numerous other impressive works), based on a novel by Russell Banks, Affliction sees Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) descending into unreality, or perhaps hyper-reality, during what should be the routine investigation of a hunting accident. Having grown up in the shadow of an abusive father, played in frightening fashion by James Coburn, Wade never quite makes it out into the light that might help him establish some reliable sense of self.

An occasionally brutal meditation on familial abuse, PTSD, and other forms of trauma, this one is a slow crawl over gravel, peppered with the occasional hot coal. It’s available right now streaming or by disc on Netflix, as well as on Amazon Prime.

Here’s a trailer (that isn’t all that bad…)

Take Shelter (2011): From Jeff Nichols, also writer/director of Mud, Take Shelter stars Michael Shannon, aka General Zod and numerous other amazing roles, as Curtis, a man convinced that tornado season is bringing something much more sinister than twisters. Curtis jeopardizes his job, his financial security (including money saved for a cochlear implant for his daughter), his friendships, and his marriage to Samantha, played by Jessica Chastain, to build a storm shelter that can keep his family safe from not only storms, but perhaps the end of the world.

Nichols keeps the audience off balance by providing plenty of information that is clearly accurate, or at least witnessed by people other than Curtis, and also including a number of elements we can’t be so sure of. Is Curtis the only one alert to the signs of danger all around? Or is he suffering a breakdown of some kind?

Take Shelter is currently available via disc on Netflix, via Amazon or AmazonPrime in multiple formats, and on Starz—both on-demand and in the regular schedule.

Here’s a trailer (which is pretty darn good)…

So, happy no-longer-Halloween season. And remember, Thanksgiving and Christmas are still a good, long way off…as well as being great times to share disturbing films with family and friends.

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Happy Halloween! The New Decorations

October has been a strange and busy month.  I trust I’ll recover soon.  Still, I got these done and added to the Halloween display.  With special thanks to a good friend over at chucklingdog for the initial design/inspiration.

bunnies in the woods

MY DOWN-TIME IS TOO GOAL-ORIENTED, PART I: HALLOWEEN

So, when I started this blog, the idea was that I would post a minimum of once per week, more if possible.  And I would keep the posts to roughly 500 words or less, so they’d all be punchy and fun, and not take up too much of anybody’s time.  Well, none of those goals have been achieved, but I’m okay with that.

Right now, the big obstacle to me posting anything, aside from my two jobs, the general stuff of life, and having started several posts that I couldn’t work out the way I wanted, is that I am deeply involved in my annual race to make a mess of the house and yard before Halloween.  Yes, I’m one of those people–well, one of those make-a-mess-with-a-Halloween-display people, not one of those, run-a-highly-involved-haunted-house people, although I’ve come close to that in the past.

Immediately prior to our current home, we lived in a house that was perfect for a tour around the yard, and I knew all the neighbors and most of the kids who came around.  But the first year after we moved, I tried to carry on that tradition by setting up part of our display around back in the fenced-in part of the yard.  Let’s just say that when I opened the gate to the backyard for the first two girls who came trick or treating, the fear was palpable—and not in a fun, trick-or-treat kind of way, but in an “I’m-sure-mom-told-us-not-to-follow-any-creeps-into-their-backyards-oh-god-I-hope-we-don’t-get-murdered” kind of way.  It didn’t help that my daughter had disappeared right before the girls rang the doorbell, truly making me look like some lone weirdo.  And I think I was wearing butterfly wings and antennae that year—leftovers from my wife’s costume the year before.  I didn’t, ahem, lead any more kids into the backyard that night, or ever again.

At any rate, I’ve been doing some version of Halloween mess-making since my high school years, a legacy from my older brothers, although my college and early-20s versions were a much different variety of mess.  Now, along with the help of my daughter, and the tolerance of my wife, I have been converting over to entirely homemade decorations.  And not just homemade, but old-school, paint-on-plywood, 2-D creations designed by my daughter and me.

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We’ve been angling away from the hyper-realistic latex-and-gore stuff that is everywhere these days, and toward more cartoonishly creepy decorations.  The other day I mentioned to my daughter that I was going to get rid of one of our old, store-bought decorations, “Stillborn Evil”—a weird baby-in-a-jar with horns, hair, and a tail, which we’ve had since 1996 or so.  When she asked why, I emoted, “Tracking down this kind of stuff used to MEAN something, man!  You had to know the cool stores, and the cool companies to order from!  Now any knob can walk into a Spirit Halloween Store, or go on eBay and find this kind of stuff without even trying!!”  I added that I really didn’t have anywhere to display it properly, and it didn’t fit in with the decorations we were making.

In typical fashion, my daughter nodded, continued applying primer to a sheet of plywood and said drily, “We could keep it in the kitchen.”  She also suggested leaving a latex severed head in a random person’s front yard rather than trying to unload it on Craigslist—not a bad idea, although she decided it would be better to leave it in one of her friends’ yards.  I may just give it to one of the teens who come by trick-or-treating.

As for the mental health component of this post…it’s important to have projects and traditions and things to look forward to, and to find some way to be engaged in the community.  Such elements of life can make you feel good, too, so long as you don’t get too frantic with trying to meet obligations that nobody is really putting on you but yourself.  I’d go into more detail, but I’ve got too much work to do.

So, anyway, the whole Halloween thing is just one more eternal project, never finished, always evolving, only with a built-in yearly deadline.  Every year I imagine I’m going to get out ahead of all the projects and have things done weeks in advance, as if I would ever stop tinkering with and trying to expand the display until the last minute.  And every year I mess around with trying to decide on designs until two weeks before Halloween, when I frantically try to plough through more work than I can possibly finish.  But the impending holiday forces decisions, and sets a stopping point.  Occasionally, the unfinished projects of one year yield a design that I can start with the following year…two weeks before Halloween when I finally make myself get down to it.

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