Do you remember your first dream job? Not the one that you wanted when you were four and the only careers you knew were doctor, artist and airplane pilot, but the one you had your heart set on after discovering your first real passion.
When I was about nine or 10, I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime on Wednesday nights to watch “Face Off” — a now-defunct game show centered around competing special effects makeup artists. These contestants were my rock stars; they could make anything the judges asked for, from zombies to aliens to demons — and they looked cool doing it; this is how being a special effects makeup artist became my first dream job.
Up until the end of middle school, I would raid my local costume shop’s makeup section to buy prosthetics, liquid latex and fake blood, just so I could go home and practice on myself. And as a pre-teen girl, I proudly claimed special effects legend Greg Nicotero — of “The Walking Dead” — as my personal idol.
Out of all the careers I dreamed of as a kid, this one is by far my favorite unsung fantasy. Because of my love for special effects makeup, horror movies hold a very special place in my heart. Here are three horror movies guaranteed to make you hide under the blankets, scream in fear — or maybe even laugh.
1. Creepshow (Rent on Amazon)
When I made this list, I was really struggling with what movies to choose. Horror comes in many shapes and sizes, often dipping into different genres like drama, thriller and even comedy. But I didn’t want to make a list filled only with “high-brow” horror — as good as many of those films are. The answer to my problem: Stephen King and George Romero’s “Creepshow”
Is the acting great? No. Are the circumstances believable? Not really. But is it good fun? Absolutely.
“Creepshow” is a horror anthology consisting of five vignettes inspired by the EC Comics of the 1950s, but you don’t have to be a total nerd to recognize the resemblance between the movie and its origin: It looks and sounds the way you think a graphic novel would if it came to life. The camera angles clearly mimic frames from comics such as “Tales from the Crypt” and the colors, props and settings are overtly zany — almost resembling illustrations.
The characters simultaneously have ridiculous personalities but remain shallow — much like their 2D comic counterparts. Like modern-day parables, their stories are less about the characters themselves and more about the cautionary tales they tell. It’s an interesting spin, considering horror movies typically garner a bad reputation for normalizing violent behavior.
Although it is goofy, Creepshow still manages to be chilling through its examination of what people fear and why. One minute you’re amused — laughing at the ridiculous characters — and the next you turn white at the thought of swarming cockroaches, undead lovers and alien pathogens. It’s the apex representation of the duality of horror: That menacing shadow outside your window could be something sinister — or it may just be a mere tree branch that you laugh off before lulling back to sleep.
2. Cure (Criterion Channel)
I’m breaking some rules this time. While I told myself I would stay away from movies on the Criterion Channel — the arthouse misfit of streaming services — to make my recommendations more accessible, I also said I wouldn’t include serial killer movies on this list because you could define that as its own genre. But you break the rules for the things that are extraordinary, that lay beyond statutes, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Cure” (1997) is certainly that.
The film follows a detective named Takabe and psychologist Sakuma who are perplexed by a string of brutal, identical murders. This may seem simple, but there’s a twist: Each killing was committed by a different, seemingly normal person — and each have no recollection of the events or the motivation behind their actions. The pair soon discovers, however, that there is one man, Mamiya, who encountered the killers before each of their respective murders, but he too suffers from memory loss.
Kurosawa expertly crafts a masterwork in suspense, in which the spilling of a glass of water or the flick of a lighter will have you jumping out of your seat. For being such a violent movie, it is also still and calm, like a calculated killer. Kurosawa toys with the audience through his use of static long shots, which are typically utilized to capture a large event, but he uses them so often that the audience is left holding their breath and startled at the smallest bit of action.
Furthermore, the audience itself is then implicated in these events – if any person could randomly be driven to kill, why couldn’t we? This question is thematically represented by Takabe’s slow psychological implosion. In several scenes Takabe, and thus the audience, witnesses something he believes to be real, but is later revealed to have never happened. What can we trust if we can no longer trust ourselves?
3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Free on YouTube from Kino Lorber, Criterion Channel)
Many of you may have never seen a movie from the Middle East before, and I’m sure even less of you have seen a vampire movie from the same region. It's a pretty niche genre, so don’t worry — I won’t hold it against you.
In “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” an unnamed vampire stalks a ghost town in Iran filled with delinquents, drug addicts and other lost souls. Drawing from so many genres — Spaghetti Western, greaser films and Iranian New Wave — it seems like a movie that is set up to fail, but director Ana Lily Amirpour ties it together in a fantastic black and white dreamscape.
Outside of the subject matter, cinematography and setting contribute to the haunting, eerie nature of the film. Shots are typically barren, save for one or two characters — giving the audience the feeling that we’re watching something we shouldn’t be.
What makes “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” so powerful is its ability to provoke fear without losing its core metaphor. Whilst keeping the audience on edge, the film begs the question: Who is the real vampire?