TV Party is a new Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
“Sydney Briar is alive.” That sentence will mean a lot to you by the end of the criminally underseen Canadian horror gem Pontypool, and it’ll likelier than not send a chill down your spine at the recollection of it in context. But, backing up, it’s also a reference to Sydney (Lisa Houle), the head producer of an unremarkable, backwoods radio station in Ontario. Each morning she comes in to oversee the news, give the locals the weather, and corral Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), an ex-shock jock whose punishment for past on-air sins is the lead host role on a banal drive-time radio show. It’s just Sydney, Grant, and Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly), a war vet who works as an assistant, and the endless sounds of local choirs, idle town gossip, and weather updates from Ken in his news helicopter.
That is, until all hell breaks loose. Pontypool never leaves the station, but the terror of its premise doesn’t come from what may or may not be outside; other than Ken’s increasingly disturbing weather dispatches and some strange reports coming in over the news wire, it’s unknown for much of the film what’s happening outside, or its proximity to the suddenly terrified trio indoors. The film goes for a more cerebral form of terror, one that explores the idea that there’s more than one way to transmit a virus, one far more dangerous than any bite in the world. The film slowly builds to a hallucinatory, nightmarish pitch, until its feverish final scenes offer a vision of a world untethered from order and even sanity. It’s a micro-budget masterpiece of the form.
Congratulations! You’ve made it through another month of genuine terror and bad horror. Halloween is here, and you deserve to kick back for a healthy helping of House — a horror comedy that was absolutely released in 1986. As soon as the credits appear on screen, you are certain this movie came out in 1986. When the aliens come (which they will), they will find this movie in a time capsule from 1986. After working together in various capacities on The Last House on the Left and Friday the 13th, producer Sean S. Cunningham and Steve Miner (who also directed Friday’s 2 and 3) worked off a story by Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps) to create a nice little “haunted house” movie.
A struggling novelist (William Katt, aka The Greatest American Hero) moves into a creepy old house where his son disappeared years earlier. He inevitably discovers something is not quite right with his new place of residence, and the cheap jump scares land thanks to some good make-up and special effects from the film’s production team. With appearances by George “Norm” Wendt and Richard “Bull” Moll, House leans more on fun, but at times can be scary as hell.
NEW RULES: House II: The Second Story is also streaming on Netflix. I don’t recommend it, although Bill Maher himself plays a supporting role.
Night of the Living Dead
In 1968, George A. Romero’s little indie film about the living dead terrorizing strangers in an abandoned farm house brought America to its knees. The film had stumbled in at an ugly time, when the media haunted the nation with brutal images of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the tragic assassinations of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Men, women, and children were dying overseas and in the streets, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
That violence is all over Romero’s low-budget, black-and-white classic. It’s an unforgiving 95 minutes with a threat that persists despite any effort by the film’s protagonists. Watching the cannibalistic ghouls emerge from the rugged darkness is an image that sticks with you, no matter what generation you’re from, and the film’s brutal conclusion is something professors could ruminate on for years — and they have.
Almost 50 years later, Night of the Living Dead remains one of the scariest films of all time, and there’s very little about it that doesn’t resonate today, what with school shootings, police brutality, and the class warfare. So, if you’re looking for a genuine scare tonight on Halloween, pop in this macabre tale, and know that you’ll be suffering from nightmares for years to come. Maybe lock the door beforehand?