Retro Horror Revisited

I haven’t had a chance to write much over the last couple of weeks. I went to a festival where I was drenched in freezing cold rain, leaving me with a really bad flu. The one upside to being bedridden for a week is binging on movies guilt free. It’s September (a.k.a. Halloween season). Crisp leaves are appearing on the ground, it’s almost cold enough to start lighting the fire and I’ve already been getting stuck into a bunch of horror movies. Another great thing about Autumn is the return of lots of my favourite shows. I’m especially excited for the second season of Stranger Things, which got me in the mood for watching some retro horrors. There’s something that I find really appealing about a well-executed retro-themed horror. They make me nostalgic for horror movies I watched as a kid… before they became formulaic and predictable. They remind me of a time when horror movies were transgressive, pushed boundaries and were straight up weird. So here are my recommendations if you’re in the mood for a modern horror with a vintage twist.

The Love Witch (2016)

The Love Witch Movie Poster

Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is a unique concoction of vivid colour, gorgeous retro imagery and subtle comedy. While I would think that The Love Witch wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I really enjoyed it.  The plot involves a beautiful witch named Elaine who is desperately looking for true love. Elaine uses spells and potions to seduce men, leaving behind a trail of dead lovers.

Only for the occasional modern car in the background or say the use of a mobile phone, it is easy to become immersed in Biller’s vintage horror world, forgetting that the film is actually set in modern times.  It is an ode to the classic Hollywood Technicolor films of the 60s but challenges the gender roles typically present in those kinds of films, like say the Femme Fatale archetype. Biller explores themes of eroticism and desire through feminist perspectives while giving us lots of comedy with dramatic close-ups reminiscent of daytime television Soap Operas of the past. The Love Witch is an aesthetically brilliant film and is at times hilarious. It’s campy, it’s weird and it is quickly becoming a modern cult classic. Watch the trailer for The Love Witch here.

The Final Girls (2015)

The Final Girls Movie Poster 2015

The concept for The Final Girls was appealing to me from the get-go. Max Cartwright’s mother was a famous scream queen of the 1980s, following her death, Max goes to see one of her mother’s old films with a bunch of her friends. During the film, they are transported into the film only to be terrorized by a Michael Myers-esque psychopathic murderer and assisted by the character played by Max’s mother.

I was surprised to see that The Final Girls only scored 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. While the film had mixed reviews, I found it funny and charming. What really made it for me was the cast. It stars American Horror Story’s Taissa Farmiga, Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat, Adam Devine (Workaholics, Modern Family) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley). The Final Girls was criticised for using tired horror tropes and relying on content that we’ve seen a hundred times over. But let’s not forget, the film is a parody of a slasher film and creating any kind of parody means using existing cliches. Overall it was an original take on the slasher movie with a few good laughs. It also had some really beautiful shots, lovely use of colour and a classic neon pink, purple and blue lighting smoke machine combination in the final act of the film. Click here to check out the trailer for The Final Girls.

The House of the Devil (2009)

The House of the Devil Movie Poster

The House of the Devil is a film set during an era sometimes referred to as the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Our protagonist, Sam is a college student who’s looking to make some quick cash towards a deposit for an apartment. After being lured to the creepy Victorian house during a lunar eclipse no less, it appears there is more to the job than it seems after the couple reveals that there is no baby. Soon Sam finds herself caught up in a satanic ritual, fighting for her life.

I first saw this film around the time it came out and immediately loved it. After rewatching it I can confirm that it’s still awesome almost a decade later. Ti West focused on creating a certain atmosphere in the film similar to other vintage devil worshipping films like that of Rosemary’s Baby. As Sam makes her way through the old-fashioned house, there is a consistent sense of suspense. It’s obvious to Sam that something’s not quite right. At first, you might suspect that the house is haunted but it turns out to be something far more sinister! The House of the Devil isn’t full of cheap scares, instead, it offers us fearful anticipation and a great twist at the end. Watch the trailer for The House of the Devil here.

Beyond the Gates (2016)

Beyond the Gates (2016) movie poster

After the disappearance of their father, two estranged brothers are sifting through the remains of their father’s old video store when they come across a VCR board game. (This is a type of board game that was popular in 80s/90s America.) The pair soon realise that the game is somehow related to their father’s disappearance but by then it’s too late. They must complete the game in order to survive.

I had been looking forward to watching Beyond the Gates for a while now. I came across it through a favourite film blogger of mine, The Blogging Banshee. (Read her review here.) The film’s concept seemed really interesting to me and I liked the retro stylisation. Considering Beyond the Gates is an independent production, director Jackson Steward did an excellent job in terms of production. It’s often more challenging to produce a small budget film of this nature because of financial restrictions and a need to effects but the characters were believable and the gory scenes were fun and made good use of practical effects. The lack of effects only becomes apparent towards the end of the film. When the brothers do finally go beyond the gates (over an hour into the film) it is a bit of a letdown. I did like the use of the smoke machines and intense neon lighting. It was similar to what was used in The Final Girls but not quite as well executed. Beyond the Gates has an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the general consensus among critics seems to be that the film, as good as it is, is let down by its finale. With a dramatic synthesizer soundtrack, this horror version of Jumanji is worth a watch if looking for something uncomplicated and enjoyable. Watch the trailer for Beyond the Gates here.

If you have anything to say about this article let me know in the comments section below. I’m always open to suggestions and interested in fresh perspectives on movies. Thanks for reading!

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