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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five horror movies to stream now


Angèle Mac in “Lockdown Tower.”

By Erik Piepenburg


This month’s picks include an evil void, an unshakable sniper and a delightfully demonic cable box.



‘Lockdown Tower’


Oh, man, how to describe Guillaume Nicloux’s profoundly despairing film. “The Mist” meets “Yellowjackets”? Close, but not sinister enough. I’ll just say this: The movie crushed me.


The premise is sinister and simple: One night, the mostly working-class and immigrant residents of a Paris high-rise discover that it’s not just dark outside. There is no longer an outside outside. And the void they see from their windows is lethal: When two men fall into it, what’s left is only part of a leg cut clean at the shin. Nicloux uses the threat of this horrifying abyss in what gets my vote for the most barbaric scene of the year.


As time passes — the film monstrously skips through years, not days — residents divide themselves on floors by race. (“The whites banded together long ago,” one character says.) Food, sex, an apartment: Almost everything is negotiated for survival. You don’t need me to tell you that once tribalism takes over, the downward spiral quickens. There are allegories here, to COVID-19 and to economic inequality. There’s also a bedtime story that offers, just maybe, a crumb of hope.


Stream it on Shudder.



‘Night of the Hunted’


Franck Khalfoun’s single location survival thriller, based on David R. Losada’s Spanish-language “Night of the Rat,” is a throat-grabbing and gruesome exploration of toxic masculinity and American violence.


Alice (Camille Rowe) has an early-morning flight to meet her husband. The couple’s friend John (Jeremy Scippio), with whom she’s having an affair, stops at a gas station on the way to take her to the airport. Inside the store, Alice notices there’s no cashier but blood is splattered on the wall. As she rushes for the door, an unseen gunman shoots her in the arm, disabling her and trapping her there. That’s just the first 15 minutes.


As the gunman kills unsuspecting customers who show up at the gas station, Alice learns her assailant is a veteran aggrieved over “fake news and forced mandates.” A church billboard across from the gas station that says simply GODISNOWHERE — a message of hope or hopelessness, depending on how you parse it. An indictment as much as it is a sniper drama, the film feels ripped from America’s ugliest headlines.


Stream it on Shudder.



‘Mercy Road’


“The following is taken from only the first 30 minutes of ‘Mercy Road.’”


That’s the tease in the trailer for John Curran’s thriller, as if 1950s schlock-horror impresario William Castle were in charge of its marketing campaign. But Curran’s propulsive film — set one night almost entirely inside a vehicle — is no joke. It’s a rush that never lets up.


The action kicks off as Tom (a commanding Luke Bracey) jumps into his truck and calls his 12-year-old daughter, Ruby. “Please, don’t go home,” he pleads in a voice message. As he speeds down a darkened road somewhere in Australia, he gets calls from a mysterious stranger who says he has kidnapped Ruby from the man whose blood is splattered across Tom’s work shirt. Curran puts cameras on the driver’s seat, floor and windshield, providing a 360-degree view of Tom’s race to save both Ruby and his sanity, a quest that culminates in an emotional (and paranormal) finish.


Curran sustains a high-energy momentum — think “Speed” + “Phone Booth” + “Locke” — with incredible precision, like a world-class conductor cruising through a tricky symphony. Curran’s score of tinkling piano — did I hear the 1010 WINS news cue? — and rat-a-tat percussion make the film as thrilling to listen to as it is to watch.


Rent or buy it on major platforms.



‘Cobweb’


If there’s one movie that has divided horror fans this year, it’s Samuel Bodin’s haunted-house fairy tale. It’s about a bullied young boy (Woody Norman) who strikes up a friendship with a creepy voice from behind his bedroom walls who tells him that his parents (Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr) are evil secret-keepers up to no good.


I almost gave up on it. The acting felt mannered, and the unreliable ghost narrator stuff was conveyed with a hammer. “All those scary things, they’re just in your head,” the mother says to Peter before banishing him to the basement.


But about halfway through, the film takes an uncomfortably dark yet surprisingly moving turn in which the sinister goings-on are revealed to be less about a spirit driving the living nuts and more about how blood ties can bind and strangle. Bodin builds suspense with restraint; his still, cinematic tableaus disorient and please the eye in equal measure. I want Debra Wilson, who’s exceptional as the voice of the stuff-of-nightmares monster, to read me everything.


Stream it on Hulu.



‘HeBGB TV’


I don’t think I’ve had more fun this year than with this low-budget horror-comedy oddity from writer-directors Adam Lenhart, Eric Griffin and Jake McClellan.


It’s about HeBGB TV, a cable box that looks like an exposed brain. It mysteriously shows up at your door, and when you plug it into your television, the Purple Guy, who looks like the spawn of Randy Rainbow and Nosferatu, guides you through weird videos with ketchup-puking monsters, singing candy corn and boob jokes.


Told in a “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” meets “Videodrome”-like newsmagazine style, the film incorporates puppetry, animation, live action and musical numbers that are delightfully juvenile and subversively queer. There are even commercials; I would totally eat Fang’s Breakfast Bites, a cereal with chopped-up thumbs as prizes.


My favorite section was the call-in sex hotline show hosted by foxy Monster Girl, played by radiantly glam-freak performer Knucklehead, who also plays the Purple Guy. When “bonely” borscht belt skeleton-comedian Rib Tickla (Michael Garland) calls in to impress her with a joke using the word coccyx. I thought: Now, that’s humerus.


Stream it on Screambox.



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