Our partner organization, Films from the Margin, operates to put on display a showcasing of films “from the margin,” often works that are difficult to find, lesser known, and considered hidden gems. From world-famous filmmakers’ smaller, maybe earlier work to a surprising foreign marvel, Films from the Margin aspires to educate and inform viewers of cinematic treasures otherwise hidden by an immeasurable sea of content, while providing hours of gutsy, unique, unforgettable entertainment. This column will feature recommendations of films otherwise considered to be “from the margin,” as well as where one can locate them. For more information on Films from the Margin and how to get involved, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
With Halloween around the corner, we asked members of the Latent Images team to submit their recommendations for the most terrifying treasures and gory gems within the margin. See what they have to say, if you dare…
Sorority Row (2009, Stewart Hendler, USA)
The five tenets of sisterhood are trust, respect, honor, secrecy and solidarity. To what extreme, possibly deadly, lengths are five sorority sisters willing to go in order to uphold these principles? Eight months after covering up a murder in a prank gone disastrously wrong, the girls of Theta Pi are harassed by an anonymous killer who knows their secret and is hellbent on exacting revenge. A loose reimagining of Mark Rosman’s 1982 slasher The House on Sorority Row, Stewart Hendler’s Sorority Row stands out not only as one of the better horror remakes of the aughts, but also as one of the last authentic and genuinely fun slashers of the post-Scream era. With a plot that is equal parts I Know What You Did Last Summer and Pretty Little Liars, a cast that includes everyone from Audrina Patridge of The Hills fame to Carrie Fisher as a shotgun-brandishing housemother, and a smattering of brutal and inventive deaths (one of which involves both a jacuzzi and a flare gun), Sorority Row is pure B-horror sleaze in a refreshingly modern context. The undeniable highlight, Leah Pipes, steals each scene with her brilliant performance as Jessica, an alpha queenie equipped with enough sharp insults and one-liners to rival one Regina George. Sorority Row deliberately positions itself as a guilty pleasure, but is, deep down, a masterfully crafted slasher with enough twists and turns to keep viewers guessing until the very end. Theta Pi, we honor thee. From life to death, sorority. –Kyle Woolery, staff writer.
Sorority Row can be digitally rented and/or purchased on Amazon Instant Video, as well as other major streaming platforms. Summit Entertainment’s Blu-Ray and DVD editions of the film are available wherever home media can be purchased.
Trick’r’Treat (2007, Michael Dougherty, USA)
Michael Dougherty’s direct-to-dvd film debut is a joyous celebration of the tropes that make the season so noteworthy to film lovers. Trick’r’Treat is a horror-comedy anthology that tells a few loosely connected stories that take place on or around halloween night. It’s like Halloween and Halloween III: Season of the Witch by way of Short Cuts. The story consists of short sections that reinforce a key theme of the holiday while all being tied together by the specter of a trick-or-treater named Sam. There are plenty of great scares and just as many funny moments. The film has so much to offer both generic filmgoers and genre aficionados. All the while, Trick’r’Treat features great performances, especially those of screen legends Brian Cox and Anna Paquin. Coming in at a palatable 82 minutes, Trick’r’Treat’s six plentiful fables provide the perfect amount of frights and fun for your Halloween festivities. –James Scott, staff writer.
Trick’r’Treat is available to stream on FuboTV, and is digitally rentable/purchasable on most major streaming platforms. Shout Factory recently unveiled a collector’s edition Blu-Ray, featuring endless special features and a new 2K scan.
Cure (1997, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
Released in the twilight of the 20th century, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure weaves the anxieties of a burgeoning digital age together into one of the most magnificently creepy chillers captured on film, pioneering horror aesthetics and thematic concerns that would dominate the genre for years to come. Cure follows detective Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) and his psychologist partner Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) as they investigate a bizarre series of seemingly unrelated murders in which each new perpetrator can’t remember committing the crime. The only connection between the deaths? An ‘X’ symbol carved into each victim’s neck. Cure, like many of Kurosawa’s films, is a work that echoes through the hollow of your bones. It needled its way into the back of my brain long ago and I don’t think it’ll be leaving anytime soon. Follow Kurosawa down the rabbit hole and you’ll find that nothing is quite as it seems in this brilliantly existential pressure cooker of a film. Cure is a masterpiece plain and simple, and I don’t use that word lightly. –Matt Pifko, co-editor-in-chief.
Cure is streaming on the Criterion Channel, and is available to own as a Region-B Blu-ray or DVD via Eureka Entertainment. The film is also streaming in fuzzy SD on YouTube, but you didn’t hear it from us.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971, John D. Hancock, USA)
There’s just a small handful of films that brilliantly capture 1970s paranoia, and John Hancock’s cult classic Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is one of the most unforgettable. The film follows Jessica (Zohra Lampert), a recently released mental patient who moves to an upstate New York farmhouse with her husband, Duncan (Barton Heyman), and close friend, Woody (Kevin O’Connor). Everything is not what it seems as they enter their new home, and when they meet Emily (Mariclare Costello), a homeless woman found in the farmhouse, it is assumed that Jessica is having another psychological episode. Jessica becomes fixated on Emily (who may or may not be a vampire), hears voices in her head, and sees things no one else sees. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a mix of multiple different types of horror stories: A classical vampire tale, a social paranoia thriller, and a psychological horror. Think Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw meets Phillip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Hancock’s film was released to little acclaim and is dated in few aspects, but has become considered one of the greatest horror films of the 1970’s. Viewers will be left questioning the film’s events and entranced by the spellbinding suspense of this surreal vampire tale. –Julian Hart, staff writer.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is streaming on Shudder, the Criterion Channel, and CBS All Access, and can be seen for free at PopcornFlix.com. It is also available to digitally purchase and rent from most major rent/buy platforms. A Blu-Ray can be purchased from Shout Factory.
Baxter (1989, Jérôme Boivin, France)
As much a ‘margin’ film as any, Jérôme Boivin’s Baxter is a sight to behold. References to Cujo are to be expected, but the two’s similarities are only skin deep. Baxter, a comically morbid treasure of late-80s French cinema, is so much more than a film about a killer dog. Call it The House that Baxter Built: Boivin’s provocative, pitch-black horror frequently pushes the envelope with Baxter’s inner monologue as narration – reminiscent of Le Boucher’s in Noé’s eerily similar I Stand Alone – which features Baxter pondering life’s greatest mysteries, only devolving into sadistic – honest – remarks regarding his very existence. When a new owner commands him to attack, Baxter ponders: “[these commands feel] like a chain tightening around my neck. It hurts, so I obey. But there’s more to it. It gives me pleasure, the greatest pleasure I’ve ever had. [The boy] commands, and I obey.” Really, Baxter exists to reflect on primal human behavior through the eyes and mind of a dog. Baxter’s thoughts dictate his actions, giving the viewer the capability to understand why he’s committing the atrocities shown. Combined with Boivin’s visual style that can only be described as the visualization of the word “damp,” Baxter stimulates profound conversation we, humans, are otherwise generally afraid to confront. Baxter is a wild rollercoaster of problematic doggery, but a ‘margin’ film through and through. Plus, Baxter is cute. Existentialist French horror for a cute dog? A win-win. –Micah Levine, editor & treasurer.
Baxter is available for purchase as a region-free DVD-R at DVDLady.com. A search on eBay will reveal out-of-print VHS copies of Baxter. This writer viewed Baxter on the Criterion Channel, where it appeared for one month as part of a program centering on cinematic canines. The film is no longer available on the platform.
Images (1971, Robert Altman, United Kingdom/USA)
Despite being most known for his sprawling ensemble dramas like Nashville and wicked satires like The Player, Robert Altman is, somehow, responsible for one of the most chilling psychological horror films of the 70’s: Images. Set amidst the gothic Irish countryside, Images follows Cathryn (Susannah York) and her husband Hugh (René Auberjonois) on a secluded retreat in hopes of patching up their crumbling marriage. As their vacation pillages on, Cathryn begins having paranoid delusions and visions of a doppelganger stalking her every move, all enthrallingly captured by legendary DP Vilmos Zsigmond. Is this all in her head, or is something more sinister afoot? Altman’s take on horror ranks among the greats, combining incredible performances, spine-tingling atmosphere, and shocking imagery to make a thriller that leaves you, like Cathryn, lost within the rift between reality and madness. –Kenneth Cox, co-editor-in-chief.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992, David Lynch, USA)
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s murder-mystery cum soap opera, Twin Peaks, proved a groundbreaking phenomenon in the 1990s. The show’s success hinged upon the tagline’s simple, enticing premise: “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a two-hour-plus, R-rated prequel, focuses on a decidedly more complicated question: Who *is* Laura Palmer? Taking place one week before her death, Lynch (without Frost, unfortunately, instead pairing with series writer Robert Engels) returns to the nightmarish realm of Twin Peaks, Washington, to transform Laura from an enigma — a plot device — to a fully-fleshed, multi-dimensional protagonist. Centered around a show-stopping performance by Sheryl Lee, Fire Walk with Me is an ingeniously-crafted character piece with a legitimate compassion for its troubled heroine. By the film’s conclusion, Laura is no longer an object of abject fascination, but a flesh-and-blood character that is never anything but beguiling. Recent reevaluation has led many to conclude that Fire Walk With Me is one of Lynch’s better works; I would take that further and suggest that it is truly his greatest offering. Each of Lynch’s key idiosyncrasies — indecipherable imagery, non-sequitur storytelling, et. al. — is present; fortunately, they never overwhelm the writer/director’s humane exploration of pain and innocence lost. Lynch’s depressing, elegiac portrait of a downwards spiral will make you dream of spending more time cracking the uncrackable: The Life and Death of Laura Palmer. –Aaron Homem, staff writer.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me can be found streaming on the Criterion Channel and HBO Max, is able to be digitally rented or purchased on all major rent/buy platforms, and is available on Blu-Ray and DVD courtesy of Criterion.
The Blair Witch Project (1999, Eduardo Sánchez & Daniel Myrick, USA)
The Blair Witch Project, the godfather of found footage films, is still one of the most horrifying spectacles put to video tape. There is no CGI, no special effects, no makeup. Usurping viewer expectations left and right, it is the blueprint for what horror is today. The film opens as a documentary to research the legend of the Blair Witch in Burittsville, Maryland. The three leads, Heather, Mike, and Josh are incredibly believable as three twenty-somethings that are innocently trying to get footage in a day’s time. However, as they dive deeper and deeper into the lore, Heather decides that they should go into the forest that the Blair Witch supposedly haunts. A day turns into three and a slow burn crackles as screams, cries, and arguments culminate into the scariest ending which I have, quite possibly, ever seen. Word-of-mouth gave way to conspiracy theories as audiences believed that this film was, in fact, a real documentary, cementing the film into inarguably one of the most successful horror films of all time, with its $60,000 budget and $248.6 million return. A cautionary tale to never stir the hornet’s nest, The Blair Witch Project’s ingenuity and originality has become a staple for the horror genre in the last twenty years. The definition of a sleeper hit, this film makes you do anything but. – Annie Wojnarowski, editor & social media.
The Blair Witch Project is streaming on Sling TV, and can be digitally purchased or rented from Amazon Video and Vudu. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray and DVD editions are available wherever home media can be purchased.
Unsane (2018, Steven Soderbergh, USA)
Throughout his career, Steven Soderbergh has sought innovative, exciting ways to upend expectations of what the medium film can accomplish. The first of his “shooting feature films entirely on iPhone” experiments, Unsane throws Soderbergh’s usual criticisms of capitalism and the U.S. healthcare system into a pulpy narrative about a woman involuntarily admitted to a mental institution where she believes she is being treated by her stalker. The film utilizes its ugliness as a tool, taking the viewer into the confused, gaslit head of Claire Foy’s Sawyer, and the claustrophobic world of her prison. The grainy iPhone footage traps the viewer within the threat that terror could be around any corner. By the time the film reaches its breathless climax, Soderbergh taps into the basics of where the simplest horror comes from – the inability to escape the anxieties of our daily life – all within the tropes of the genre. Despite its poor performance during its initial theatrical run, Unsane deserves a bigger audience as a neat little thriller with interesting ideas and some incredible scares. – Owen Larkin, staff writer.
Unsane is streamable on Amazon Prime as well as on Kanopy, and can be digitally rented or purchased from most major streaming platforms. Universal Pictures has released DVD, Blu-Ray, and 4K UHD Blu-Ray editions of the film, which are available wherever home media can be purchased.
Lake Mungo (2008, Joel Anderson, Australia)
Lake Mungo was released in Australia in 2008, right at the height of the found footage craze stirred by Paranormal Activity. Framed as a documentary, the film follows a family who recently lost their daughter, Alice Palmer, in an unexpected accident. However, after seeing strange things in photos they took, the family slowly suspects that Alice isn’t really gone. From there, the plot goes in unpredictable directions as this tragic mystery nervously unravels. The acting in this film is purposefully wooden. Although most of the lines are delivered in an emotionless tone, it is clear that the family is holding back tears for the camera. It fits the found footage style perfectly as every emotion seems incredibly real. They aren’t just playing a grieving family, they are playing a grieving family being filmed. While rather slow paced — there isn’t much action, mostly just characters talking over still images as the camera slowly zooms in on something strange — Lake Mungo wears its occasional jump scares with pride. One jump scare, in particular, is such an effective use of the tool because, after the initial shock of the loud sound wears off, the scare still lingers. It plants an unpleasant thought in your head that doesn’t leave after the scene ends. I have a fairly high tolerance for scary movies, but after seeing Lake Mungo, I didn’t get much sleep. – Devin Elias, staff writer.