‘TRAGEDY GIRLS’, and 5 other great subversive horror films

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

TRAGEDY GIRLS is out in theaters and On-Demand. What is TRAGEDY GIRLS you ask? Well, it’s a subversive horror film about two young women, Brianna Hildebrand (of DEADPOOL fame) and Alexandra Shipp (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE), who are besties that are obsessed with death. Fairly simple, except writer-director Tyler MacIntyre sends a town into a clever frenzy with snappy dialogue and dead-pan performances that make this one of the best low-key films of the year.

TRAGEDY GIRLS is brutal, funny, well directed and finely shot, but the aspect we loved most about the picture is the subversive nature. (Read Courtney Howard’s full review here.) Since we’re at the tail end of October today, horror season is in full swing. And while blood and guts are always a blast on screen, we want to turn the tables a bit and discuss five subversive horror films we are in love with right now.

GET OUT (2017)

GET OUT was only released eight months ago, but Jordan Peele’s brilliant take on the history of American race relations has a lasting effect that will be celebrated decades from now. It tells the story of an African American named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his criminally caucasian girlfriend (Allison Williams) as they go away for a weekend to meet her affluence parents.

Over time Chris notices little things from the staff of the house and odd comments townsfolk make about his “blackness.” Peele highlights the micro-aggressions seen in real world situations every day with humor and an eerie tone. (Shout out to the score and opening music, especially by Michael Abels.)

GET OUT is the film I have watched the most this year. There are nice, subtle touches to larger truths littered throughout, such as Chris covering his face with white shaving cream as he prepares to put on a face for his girlfriend’s parents; its a sense of nuance that many first-time filmmakers fail to achieve. And not to mention how the cast – including Catherine Keener, Lakeith Stanfield and Bradley Whitford – make this one of the most original films to hit theaters in years.

SCREAM (1996)

This was the first horror film I was brave enough to watch as a child. I was sold on the notion that “Trust me. You won’t be scared. It’s funny!” and the fact that I may have had a little boy crush on Drew Barrymore. Wes Craven completely took down the slasher drama with an excellent script by Kevin Williamson. This movie just screams “the 90s” in the best way imaginable. The kills are sharp and biting and the constant horror commentary from the otherwise grating Jamie Kennedy predicts who will die next with a wink and a grin.

SCREAM is undoubtedly one of Craven’s best films. Unfortunately, the titan of horror passed away recently, but the love I as well as many have for the SCREAM franchise will live on until we’re old and gray, provided I don’t succumb to murder by a masked killer. (Please, don’t get any ideas…)

THEY LIVE (1988)

After countless times on HBO repeat, THEY LIVE is permeated into my brain and will never leave. WWE Hall of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper took on one his more (now) famous roles in John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE as an unlikely science fiction hero.

In the film, a drifter, Nada (Piper), finds a pair of sunglasses one day that allow him to see people in a different light, a soul-sucking alien light. Earth has been taken over by aliens and Nada is woke to what’s going on around him, but he’s a vagabond and nobody cares about his opinion.

This is a film worth re-watching over and over. If it’s not for Carpenter’s direction, you gotta love the line “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a$$… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” I also have to mention the seven-minute, seemingly never ending fight scene between Keith David and Roddy Piper. (There, I mentioned it.)

THEY LIVE is a classic and will live on by newbies who are discovering the film and by old movie nerds who rewatch every Halloween. Sure, Carpenter’s film heyday is behind him, but this is one of many classics the director made.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI : JASON LIVES (1986)

Buy and large, the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise is one note: Brutal kills with a nudity rinse and repeat. And even though the previous installment, A NEW BEGINNING, was largely panned and didn’t feature the icon of Jason Voorhees, JASON LIVES director Tom McLoughlin inflicted the franchise with a new life. (Hence the title). McLoughlin brought a love for film and celebration of horror to a project that could have very easily been a turkey.

PART VI is by no means a perfect film, but when you have a filmmaker who so clearly is having a great time making what is essentially a “B-movie,” you can’t help but fall in love with the hockey masked killer’s plight to cause mayhem over teens who just wanna have some fun.

The infamous “Tar Man” (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

Directed by the twisted mind behind the writing of ALIEN, Dan O’Bannon’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD saw a film that has some of the most memorable makeup effects of 1980’s horror genre. (Just take a look at the character of “Tar Man” in the picture here for reference.) This was clearly a tongue-in-cheek homage to the George A. Romero films that came before with a splattering tone that will have you shrieking and laughing, often at the same time.

In the case of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, cheesy is a good thing. In fact, that’s the overall goal for O’Bannon and co. who are giving their actors very little direction, which is completely excusable as the monsters are the stars of the film. This is more than a sequel or a reboot; it’s a complete reinvention that is one of the more memorable films in horror history.

That completes our list. Check out these horror films and let us know what you think. Are there any we missed? And be sure to see TRAGEDY GIRLS at once!