Updated: Feb 14
We all know the routine: the watchlist seems eternally too long and nothing quite fits the spooky mood of the moment, so we scour the internet for a random find that might just tickle that certain sweet spot. Even better if it’s a movie we may have overlooked outside the popular stream of studio horrors. Whether you’re a horror aficionado like me or only just dipping your toe into the genre, one of these six newer films, ranging from domestic comedy horror to foreign slashers, might just satisfy your adrenaline fix.
Blood Quantum (2019)
dir. Jeff Barnaby
To kick things off, let’s start in an all too familiar genre: the zombie movie. Seemingly done to death (hah) and every which way from Night of the Living Dead (1968) to Zombieland (2009), there exists a certain fatigue around the undead apocalypse. That’s not so with Blood Quantum (2019), which puts a post-colonial twist on the well-established zombie lore. The title refers to the 18th century blood quantum laws under which the Native American population of the United States has been legally defined through ancestral percentage, and which are still in place today. In Jeff Barnaby’s 2019 movie, only white people are affected by a resurrection plague which emerges in the Quebecoise Red Crow reservation, while everyone of indigenous heritage remains immune. As such, the director cynically reclaims history in this socio-political commentary and turns the tables on the prominent narrative.
Fear the Walking Dead alum Michael Greyeyes leads the gruesome guts-and-gore exploration in the role of divorced sheriff and struggling father Traylor, fighting to keep his loved ones safe as the so-called “zeds” close in. Despite suffering from a heavy-handed script, this movie succeeds in drawing together the indigenous experience with a brutal rollercoaster ride through the end of the world. It’s a no-brainer for anyone looking for a fresh take on the subgenre, so don’t miss it!
Streaming on Shudder
Satanic Panic (2019)
dir. Chelsea Stardust
Not only do I envy the director for her fabulous last name, but I am also jealous that I did not come up with the idea for this particular movie myself. Based on a screenplay by horror author Grady Hendrix (Horrorstör, Paperbacks from Hell etc.), Chelsea Stardust’s feature debut follows pizza girl Sam as she becomes wrapped up in a plot of satanic ritualism on one of her delivery tours through the wealthiest neighborhood of her suburban hometown. After all, being a teenage virgin in the vicinity of devil worshippers never bodes well for you in a horror movie now, does it?
Drawing on the 80s paranoia surrounding bougie sacrificial cults, this one serves as an homage to Fangoria’s pulp cinema from way back when and elevates it with impressive practical effects, resulting in plenty of violent theatricalities. Newcomer Hayley Griffith adds heart and spunk to the mix and makes it easy to root for her survival against the rich. If you liked Ready or Not (2019), make sure to give this campy class commentary a watch as well. Best enjoyed with a hot slice of pizza, and don’t forget to tip your delivery person! They might just kick your ass for it later if you don’t.
Streaming now on Hoopla and Shudder
dir. Stephen Cedars & Benji Kleiman
Continuing with another female-led comedy horror, 2020 brought us the kooky monster pregnancy flick Snatchers. After premiering at SXSW in early 2019, this indie finally got its official digital release roughly a year later. It was conceived through 25 short webisodes, which is occasionally obvious in the film’s structure. However, it rarely detracts from the unfolding feature narrative.
When high schooler Sara (played by the delightful Mary Nepi) loses her virginity, she wakes up the next morning nine months pregnant with what is clearly not a human fetus. Sure enough, the panicked visit to the hospital reveals that she’s about to give birth to a body-possessing alien who will soon threaten her entire smalltown. This low-budget creature feature tackles coming-of-age themes such as teenage pregnancy, abortion, and STDs with over-the-top splatter, often spinning familiar tropes around through its goofy dark humor.
Directors Cedars and Kleiman pay their respects to the long line of similar teenage horrors that have come before with plenty of homage to the greats.The practical effects not only look fantastic but further add to its nostalgic charm. While the cast describes the story as “Mean Girls meets Alien” I’d wager the even better comparison (and possibility for an off-beat double or triple feature) can be made with Juno meets Gremlins. “They’re inside!” Of her!
For rent on Apple TV and Amazon Prime
dir. Egor Abramenko
This is likely the most popular film on the list and thus one you may have already seen if you follow horror releases a bit more closely. Still, I’d like to shout out the suspenseful cold war inspired horror of Sputnik for those who are looking for a contained alien thriller that will leave you chilled to the bone. After encountering an unknown life form during his return to earth, cosmonaut Konstantin is quarantined in an isolated military facility where psychiatrist Dr. Tatyana Klimova arrives to treat him. Both characters bring their individual baggage into the drawn-out confrontation, although Konstantin also turns out to be carrying something quite tangible within him: the alien creature. And it keeps growing.
This Russian film engages body horror elements similar to the previously recommended Snatchers with its notions of extraterrestrial violation and male pregnancy. However, it also draws on the unforgiving concrete setting for a greater sense of animosity and suppressed emotional currents. Thanks to the distinct surroundings, as well as a sometimes overbearingly emphatic musical score, the film takes on a very different tone. Somber and slow-burning, it gradually becomes less focused on the alien threat and more on the human counterparts, smartly complemented by the two stellar lead performances. It’s quite the thought-provoking nightcap if you do feel so inclined.
Streaming now on Hulu
Shadow in the Cloud (2021)
dir. Roseanne Liang
For those who love synth scores, there is 2021’s Chloë Grace Moretz WWII horror vehicle helmed by Chinese-New Zealand filmmaker Roseanne Liang. Despite winning the Midnight Madness Award at TIFF last year, critical reception has made rather short shrift of it since. Do not let that fool you! Blending multiple different genres, the action-laden sky chaser Shadow in the Cloud begins with Pilot Officer Maude Garrett boarding a bomber plane. Before long, she is confronted with not only the misogyny of her crewmates but also a flock of gremlins who are ready for a snack. Claustrophobia is imminent in this flying tin can under attack. Drenched in fuel and grease and further suffocated by sexism, Moretz demonstrates feminine resilience on multiple levels during the grimey affair and admirably commits to the wacky message of empowerment.
In true B-movie manner, the fast-paced thrills and survivalism make up for many of the film’s script-related shortcomings (“Is that a broad… on board?”), ridiculous twists, and rough CGI. Don’t think about the physics or logic too hard; suspend your disbelief instead to enjoy an engaging 83 minutes of full-throttle action for its entertaining punches against monsters and the patriarchy.
Streaming now on Hulu and Hoopla
A Classic Horror Story (2021)
dir. Roberto de Feo & Paolo Strippoli
The most recent film on this list, A Classic Horror Story is one of this summer’s Netflix productions that seems to have flown under the radar despite its intriguing premise. Starring Revenge (2017) lead Matilda Lutz, this Italian slasher follows a group of strangers as they embark on a rideshare together to the south of the country. Be warned, however, it is not for the faint of heart, as the film is often gratuitously violent and rarely shows any of its characters mercy. What starts as an uncomfortable road trip quickly turns into a brutal fight for survival when a fatal accident leads them to a strange cabin in the woods where they are evidently not alone.
Sound familiar? Indeed, if you’re a hardcore Cabin in the Woods (2012) fan like me, this is already a must-see for its unique and more contemporary folk horror take on the human deconstruction schtick. For horror newbies it holds just as much value: it captures the zeitgeist of the genre with a sardonic self-awareness that - albeit a tad overconfident during the last act - conjures an overarching feel for the different machinations of horror. It’s as atmospheric and scary as it is smart and funny. If you can stomach a certain amount of prolonged torture, give this one a go during the fall.
Streaming now on Netflix