Bummed that there aren’t any new horror movies opening this week? Twiddling your thumbs waiting for “Bates Motel” to premiere Monday night on A & E? (Read my preview of that here: http://exm.nr/15RStoO) Then log onto your Netflix subscription and check out these terrific frighteners that you may never have even heard of. They’re not classics, and they may even be a tier or two below, but their scares are first-rate nonetheless.
“Body Parts” (1991)
Before he made a splash as a character actor on TV’s “Lost” and in the cinematic “Grindhouse” and “Machete”, Jeff Fahey was a leading man heading up genre pictures like “Lawnmower Man” and “Body Parts”. Don’t let the B movie budget fool you with “Body Parts”. It’s not filled with big CGI effects or creatures. Instead, it relies on human panic to drive its thrills. Fahey plays a prison psychiatrist who loses an arm in a traffic accident and unknowingly is given the limb of an executed mass murderer. Rehabilitation is bad enough, but then the transplanted arm seems to have a mind of its own. It turns Fahey’s mild-mannered doctor into a raging lunatic. Fahey’s bright baby blues have never been utilized better than when he’s flailing about in fear that his new appendage is getting the best of the rest of him.
Moving onto another body part, this film concerns Dawn (Jess Weixler), a teenager stuck in a sleepy town where the only distinguishing feature is its constantly humming nuclear power plant. Then one day she discovers that her vagina has teeth. Is it fallout from the toxic environment caused by the plant, or a reaction to the awful boys around her, all clamoring to get into her pants? No matter, Dawn awakens to the power of her femininity and uses her mutation to keep the predators at bay. This feminist horror comedy is a dark dissertation on the horror world’s predilection to exploit teens and sex. And the comely young Weixler handles her complex role with yes, some real biting wit.
Moving onto a collector of body parts, this one is a serious biography of Jeffrey Dahmer, Milwaukee’s infamous serial killer from the last half of the 20th century who liked cutting up and eating his victims. Jeremy Renner plays him and he’s so good, capturing the quiet and unsettling intensity of the man, that Kathryn Bigelow cast him in “The Hurt Locker” after watching his bravura performance in this. And despite its grisly plot – Dahmer was a cannibal after all – this movie never exploits or exalts the grotesque. Rather, it is a searing character study of a lost individual who tries to connect with the world around him but cannot find anything to awaken the deadness inside. Even when he pulls off some of the most fantastical murders in modern history, nothing excites Dahmer. He’s as dead inside as his victims are on the outside.
“Witchfinder General” (1968)
Vincent Price had an amazing career as the most definitive & exquisite leading man of horror (http://exm.nr/LGHgRg), but one of his greatest roles is all but forgotten by the public. It’s his turn as Matthew Hopkins, a real life persecutor of witches in the 17th century. For my money, it’s his most chilling performance ever. Hopkins is an evil and corrupt man whose sanctimony knows no bounds. He tortures his victims verbally, physically and ultimately has them executed with no real proof of any witchcraft. The chicanery is all his, as he wields his power granted to him by the church. The film is a searing thriller as well as a pungent indictment of organized religion’s tendency to do the devil’s work, rather than God’s.
“The Broken” (2008)
This film practically went straight to video in this country, not even getting a theatrical release in Chicago, and that’s a real shame. “The Broken” is a wonderfully subtle and creepy work and it contains a moody and intense performance by Lena Headey (So evil on “Game of Thrones”, so vulnerable here). In London, her character Gina is a radiologist who survives a traumatizing car accident. She struggles with her sanity and is soon seeing a woman who she thinks is her walking the streets. As Gina delves into the mystery of this doppelganger, she discovers that her family members are all acting very differently, leading her to ponder if their strange behavior is somehow connected. The final denouement is terrifying, but most of this film has an insinuating dread to it. It’s one of the more nuanced horror films in the last decade, and definitely worth a look.
My fellow horror aficionados, you now have five recommendations to help you with your need for scares. If you haven’t heard of any of these, well, now you have, so do yourself a favor and take a look at these ‘under the radar’ gems. And don’t be surprised if you give these forgotten B’s an 'A' for effort and effect as well.