Phantoms (1998). Directed by Joe Chappelle. Starring Peter O’Toole, Rose McGowan, Joanna Going, Ben Affleck, Nicky Katt, Liev Schreiber.
I’ve already decided to abandon my rule of only watching films I’ve never seen during the horror-a-thon. But, to be fair, it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen this particular movie, so it’s almost like it’s new to me again. Based on the Dean Koontz novel, with a screenplay also written by the author, this may not be the greatest creature feature, but it does have some genuinely great scares. And Liev Schreiber, fresh off his turn as accused serial killer Cotton Weary in the first two Scream films, gives an especially creepy performance as a sheriff’s deputy who becomes possessed by whatever the fuck these creatures are — they look kind of like giant, grotesque butterflies — after one kills the shit out of him (spoiler alert). Peter O’Toole plays the eccentric scientist on a mission to kill the beasts (of course he does) and Ben Affleck is serviceable as the baby-faced sheriff. This movie also features the creepiest use of a Patsy Cline song ever.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011). Directed by Troy Nixey. Starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison.
Boy, oh, boy. Guillermo del Toro sure does like making movies about creepy kids and scaring the shit out of them, doesn’t he? Though he didn’t direct this one, nor is the story idea his — he co-wrote the screenplay based on a 1973 TV movie that starred Kim Darby — this is unmistakably a del Toro film: big, creepy house, inattentive parents, childhood fears manifested as monsters. I didn’t really think this one was terribly scary, but it was still entertaining. Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes give yawn-worthy performances, but Bailee Madison, who plays the little girl, is terrific (I immediately recognized as a guest star from one of the best episodes of Law & Order: SVU, in which she gave a heartbreaking performance). I can see her going on to do great things — perhaps she’ll be a scream queen when she gets a little older? If you want to watch a better, scarier del Toro creature-feature, I recommend checking out Mimic.
Absentia (2011). Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Morgan Peter Brown, Justin Gordon.
It’s very rare for me to find a modern horror film that takes me by surprise and turns out to be really, really great. This is one of those films. Absentia was made on a super-low budget — it was partially funded by Kickstarter, if I’m not mistaken — and still manages to deliver a great plot, interesting characters, and well-executed special effects. This movie restores my faith in filmmakers who can make a successful horror movie that is more than just a bunch of gore and CGI effects. Of all the films I’ve watched thus far in this marathon, this is the one I have been recommending to friends, even those who don’t enjoy horror movies.