Exorcised out? Can’t watch Poltergeist or The Shining again? Here are four new fear flicks

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | October 21 , 2021

It’s Halloween, and that means scary movies. Here’s a look at some new releases ranked, for a change, by scariness rather than quality.

Halloween Kills
In Theatres
Scare Level: 3 out of 5

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the David Gordon Green reinvention of the franchise (heck, I still carry a torch for Rob Zombie’s vicious, psychologically loaded remake and sequel). 2018’s Halloween tried too hard to be woke and the number of cute callbacks was rather excessive. Also, podcasters with travel expenses? Be serious.

The sequel, which has things to say about angry mobs, is more interesting. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is sidelined for most of the film in favour of the other survivors of the original Halloween, led by Tommy (Anthony Michael Hall), the kid Laurie was babysitting in the first movie. As Michael Myers all but decimates the Haddonfield population, Tommy puts together a posse to hunt him. As so often happens with angry, mindless people (see: any Trump rally), they end up targeting the wrong person and making the killer’s life easier.

While Michael’s killings are perfunctory (if gory), one must applaud David Gordon Green’s efforts to give the twelfth Halloween movie a deeper meaning (hate is the real killer, Michael just feeds on it; trauma freezes you in time). There’s only so many places you can go with a masked, merciless murderer without a personality, and they found one of them.

The Night House
On demand
Scare Level: 2 out of 5

Originally part of the Radio Silence collective, director David Bruckner made a name for himself by specializing in schlock horror: Southbound, The Ritual, the first V/H/S; all nasty fun. The Night House is Bruckner’s first attempt a prestige horror and it’s not nearly as entertaining (we don’t need another Ari Aster, less so another Robert Eggers).

Haunted by her husband Owen’s presumed suicide, Beth (Rebecca Hall, compelling as a paperweight) still feels his presence inside the house he built. All Owen left was a note suggesting his decision had to do with protecting her from something. Trying to make sense of his departure, Beth goes through his possessions and finds occult books, voodoo dolls and a photo of a much younger woman who kind of looks like her. (Pro tip: scrub Instagram.)

This rather simple story is bent into a pretzel by Bruckner. The one thing The Night House wants to make clear — time and time again — is it’s actually about depression: it surrounds, envelops and consumes you. Theatrical returns weren’t favorable, and Bruckner is now poised to revive Hellraiser. Here’s hoping for proper carnage, as opposed to a prestige Pinhead who kills you with pointed remarks.

Scare Level: 4 out of 5

The last thing I want to watch are pandemic-inspired movies. Worse, the ones that have come out in the last year started bad (Songbird) and spiralled to unwatchable (Locked Down, couldn’t even finish it and I stan Anne Hathaway).

Like with anything, there’s an exception: Host.

Hidden among the vast amounts of chintz you find on Shudder, Host is a Zoom-inspired flick that, in less than an hour, gets more mileage than all The Conjuring movies combined. A circle of friends hire a psychic to conduct a séance online and spice things up in the midst of the COVID epidemic. Like in every group, there’s a skeptic all too happy to sabotage the ceremony — only instead of poking holes, this creates a virtual vessel that allows spirits to travel to the mortal plane.

Host has no fat and makes great use of personal screens’ negative space and the social dynamics that unfold on Zoom. The jump scares are effective as is the incidental comedy. It worked so well director Rob Savage already has another quarantine flick on deck, Dashcam, currently making the film festival rounds. Dashcam follows a COVID denier-slash-influencer (Alex Jones meets Peaches) as she gets her comeuppance during an ill-advised trip to London. Saw it at TIFF and it will have you rooting for the virus.

Muppets Haunted Mansion
Scare Level: 1 out of 5

Disney took over the Jim Henson Company 17 years ago and still hasn’t figured out what to do with the Muppets. Sure, the first movie was successful (though the less said about Walter, the new Muppet they tried to shove down our throats, the better), but the sequel bombed and two TV shows didn’t make it past the first season.

Part of the problem is that Disney keeps trying to update the original formula (a talk show! a web series!) but the Muppets are eminently old fashioned (I mean, they’re puppets). Muppets Haunted Mansion works because it unfolds in the silly/absurd plane that serves Muppets comedy best. Kermit and Miss Piggy take the backseat to Gonzo and Pepé the Prawn as they spend the night at the aforementioned Haunted Mansion (yes, the Disneyworld one. Corporate synergy) for some cockamamie reason. The setup is an excuse for the expected cavalcade of cameos, dad jokes and musical numbers.

The real horror in Muppets Haunted Mansion is Kermit’s voice. Since the dismissal of the excellent Steve Whitmire in 2016 (circumstances remain unknown), Disney has failed to find a suitable replacement and now we have a strangely detached Kermit with a weird pitch. No wonder Gonzo is getting the starring roles.