‘HAPPY DEATH DAY’, and other sugary sweet horror films

James Cole Clay // Film Critic

HAPPY DEATH DAY is simple: It’s GROUNDHOG DAY with a slasher-film twist. It’s just the kind of movie that has enough sugar to skate by on an entertaining trip to the movies. It’s the type of horror PG-13 films dream of, not too risqué for the teens, but not silly enough to chase the adults away.

The Universal horror film is out today in theaters nationwide and had a really fabulous trailer that had all the gimmicks and none of the seriousness we are plagued with on a day-to-day basis; needless to say sometimes fun is what you need at the movies.

You can read Courtney Howard’s review of the film here, but mainly HAPPY DEATH DAY inspired us to compile some of our favorite horror films that are just nothing but pure fun.

RED EYE (2005)

Simple and satisfying, RED EYE was a departure for the horror legend Wes Craven. He put a then up-and-coming Rachel McAdams (SPOTLIGHT) against the icy and oddly charming stare of Cillian Murphy (DUNKIRK) as they meet on a late night flight and spark up a flirty dynamic that turns south real quick.

This isn’t a novel concept, but Craven made one of his more thrilling suspense films without a doubt. I am not sure where this one falls in the best of his filmography, but the mere mention of RED EYE sparks a reaction of “Oh, yeah! That movie was pretty GOOD!” This is a tightly wound film that does its job: You get in, get freaked out and leave immediately. Craven’s voice in horror has been sadly missed, and this is one of his finest deep-cuts.

RED EYE is available to rent on Amazon and iTunes.

THE GATE (1987)

Oh, THE GATE. This played endlessly on HBO in the ’90s and starred a very tiny Stephen Dorff (BLADE) as a little boy who finds a gate to hell located in his backyard. This is a film filled with sinister surprises that emerge from the deadly hole and director Tibot Takacs keeps the practical effects goofy enough to be unthreatening, but undoubtedly uproarious fun.

Not to mention, baby Dorff uses a metal vinyl to teach him the satanic ways of the mysterious hole. For kids who weren’t ready to graduate to John Carpenter’s brand of horror, THE GATE has an EVIL DEAD vibe mixed with the innocence of THE GOONIES. This isn’t a horror classic for a reason; however, there are many reasons aside from baby Dorff that we’re talking about this movie 30 years later.

THE GATE is available to stream FOR FREE on TubiTv.

HOUSEBOUND (2014)

New Zealand has a very specific brand of sarcastic comedy that has been shown in the works of Taika Waititi (upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK) and FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS for a decade now. HOUSEBOUND directed by Gerard Johnstone continues that tradition with a story about a woman (Morgana O’ Reilly) who is placed under house arrest at her estranged parents home only to discover that the house my be haunted.

Rima Te Wiata (HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE) gives truly one of the better comedic performances I’ve seen in years as an obliviously caring mother. This film is a sweet, not-so scary and undeniably fun film with surprisingly solid direction from Johnstone who keeps the spooky house from growing dull. Sadly, Johnstone hasn’t had any other projects come stateside, but I’m always on the lookout as this has quickly became an October favorite for me.

HOUSEBOUND is available to stream on Netflix.

RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

This is one of my personal favorite horror films. It blends comedy with sheer nastiness. The H.P. Lovecraft story is a blood-spattered version of heaven with a devilish performance by Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, a scientist who brings living tissue back to life. Accompanied by Barbara Crampton as a medical student who helps revive a dead cat, this is a grisly film that’s unethical as it is bizarre. There’s never been one like RE-ANIMATOR — well, until they made BRIDE OF THE RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND.

RE-ANIMATOR is available to buy on iTunes and rent on Google Play.

CHEAP THRILLS (2013)

This is the most effed up version of “truth or dare” you will ever seen in your life. E.L Kat’z directorial debut starts off fairly normal as Craig (Pat Healy) gets off work from his low-wage job and sits down at a bar. It’s there he meets a couple of rich and high energy weirdos Colin and Violet (Dave Koechner and Sara Paxton) who convince Craig to jump into a high-stakes game of truth or dare with an old friend Vince (Ethan Embry).

Desperate and out of money, this gives the guys an incentive to delve into the darkest part of their psyches for a little cash. Katz made an instant midnight madness classic that holds up in repeat viewings; watch it with friends and marvel in the craziness.

CHEAP THRILLS is available to stream on Netflix.

TREMORS (1990)

Gotta give it up to TREMORS, never has there been a movie starring Kevin Bacon about underground dwelling worms that made such a cultural impact. Silliness and nonsensical story outlines all done with a serious tone that made this one of the more memorable B-movies of the 90’s.

A glorious throwback to the creature features of the 50’s, Ron Underwood’s film about small town Arizona walks the tightrope between horror and comedy better than most films in history, which is why it easily achieved its cult status so quickly.

Endlessly run on cable, TREMORS dug its way into the hearts of millions of weirded-out children and teens who have since turned into adults, and hopefully will keep the tradition of the “Graboids” alive!

TREMORS is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon and included in your Cinemax subscription.

THE VISIT (2015)

M. Night Shyamalan went from directing wunderkind with THE SIXTH SENSE to laughable joke with THE LAST AIRBENDER, all in a matter of 11 years; now that’s impressive!

However, he came out of nowhere with this low-key thriller from producing juggernaut Blumhouse. THE VISIT tells the story about two tweens (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) who are sent to stay with their grandparents (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) whom they have never met, all the while very peculiar things are going on, like games of chase under a house, requests for the children to crawl into the oven, (some) body humor and things that go bump in the night.

This films shows how funny Shyamalan can truly be when he’s given the freedom to do so. The small budget allowed for creative freedom, and while this isn’t perfect, it’s a helluva lotta fun. And, of course, it has his signature twist… maybe.

THE VISIT is available to rent on Amazon and iTunes, and HAPPY DEATH DAY is now playing in theaters nationwide.

Leave a Reply