NOVEMBER 2 ― It's taken until November, but I may have finally found some true horror films that have a shot at making my favourite films of 2019 list later this year.
The only genre films that I've been seriously considering so far have been Dragged Across Concrete and Happy Death Day 2U, but with festival films and Oscar bait films expected to come in thick and fast as we approach the end of the year, that list is definitely going to change shape in the weeks to come.
But this has been a hell of a week for my horror movie diet, as I just did not expect to encounter this much excellence just a few days apart.
And not just typical excellence either, these are truly year-defining horror excellence, ones that leave an indelible impression on viewers.
Only one of these is a major studio release, which means you can catch it in Malaysian cinemas.
The other two are indie flicks that you'll most probably have to catch on home video, whether on VOD or their eventual Blu-ray or DVD release.
But if horror's your game, you really do need to seek these out pronto!
As a long-time champion of horror auteur Mike Flanagan, it's a huge pleasure to see him playing in the big leagues now, especially after the huge success of his Netflix series The Haunting Of Hill House, which surely made this film, an official sequel to The Shining (whether it's a sequel to Stephen King's novel or Stanley Kubrick's movie adaptation, well that's another debate altogether), possible.
A little bit of back story though; Doctor Sleep, the novel, was first published in 2013 and is King's direct sequel to his novel The Shining and King's dislike of Kubrick's movie adaptation of The Shining is well known, with parts of Doctor Sleep (the novel) seemingly written to contradict Kubrick's movie.
So anyone thinking of making a movie adaptation of Doctor Sleep faces the dilemma of staying true to two very different visions of two very different masters, King and Kubrick.
Miraculously, I think Flanagan has managed to pull off both. Doctor Sleep is not really The Shining 2, but it's a magnificent movie in its own right, full of Flanagan's signature themes of trauma and recovery and his often ingenious way of conveying it visually, and a more than worthy sequel to Kubrick's vision of The Shining in his elegant callbacks to things in the first film, and the faithful way he continues little Danny's story, now an adult played by Ewan McGregor.
A scary, suspenseful and often thrilling fantasy, Doctor Sleep is not only one of the year's best commercial horror films, it's also one of the year's most satisfying cinematic experiences so far; deeply pleasurable visually, aurally, intellectually and emotionally.
The way the US indie horror scene is set out, there's never a shortage of new, up and coming horror auteurs paying their dues making films that initially play at smaller festivals, and thereafter graduating to premiering at bigger and bigger ones as their career progresses.
Even the aforementioned Mike Flanagan toiled for years in obscurity before his direct to video second film Absentia made people sit up and take notice and gave him the chance to make his breakthrough Oculus.
Of all the people on that neverending list of up and coming horror auteurs which include names like Mickey Keating (five films in and still not famous) and Joe Lynch (seven films in and still quite obscure), Joe Begos has been the one to really catch my eye with how quickly his craft has developed, from his decent first film Almost Human to his literally mind-blowing second film The Mind's Eye, which was on my list of favourite horror films of 2016.
And now he's back with his third film Bliss, a very Begos take on the drug/vampire film that's quite simply one of the most outstanding genre films of 2019 so far.
A simple narrative about a painter with a serious case of painter's block resorting to drugs to inspire herself to finish her painting, with increasingly unhinged results, Bliss is quite simply a horror film that terrorises you not with jump scares or suspense, but with pure aural and visual assault.
Imagine a drug/vampire film made by Gaspar Noe AND Abel Ferrara AND Panos Cosmatos, then you'd probably get the unforgettable results here.
With a soundtrack that counts Electric Wizard, Isis and Doomriders as some of its stars, if you thought Mandy was metal, wait till you see what Bliss has in store for you.
Girl On The Third Floor
What is it with experienced indie horror producers making the jump into directing and then delivering a film that marks them as an exciting talent to watch in the future?
It happened before with Alberto Marini, producer of films like [REC] and Sleep Tight, who made a cracking directing debut with Summer Camp back in 2015, and it's happening again with Travis Stevens, producer of indie faves like Cheap Thrills, Starry Eyes, 68 Kill and We Are Still Here, who's made a cracking directing debut with Girl On The Third Floor.
A haunted house renovation flick (which is starting to feel like its own horror sub-genre with The Haunting Of Hill House and The Witch In The Window mining the same premise just last year) starring former wrestler CM Punk (real name Phillip Jack Brooks) as a classic alpha male douchebag type trying to keep it in his pants and be the good husband (and future dad) by renovating a newly acquired old house, Stevens has fashioned a film that's part haunted house flick and part Cronenberg-ian body horror in ways that feel fresh and new, even if the parts are old.
A darkly funny thesis on toxic masculinity that's more than happy to play the unpretentious, gory B-movie card with both a straight face and a wink, Girl On The Third Floor is pretty damn good fun!
And did I tell you that Steve Albini is one of the composers of the film's soundtrack?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.