Cabin Fever (and Streaming the Horror)
No, not Cabin Fever the film, cabin fever as in cabin fever – being locked up indoors for long periods of time without much relief from the situation. Anyone experiencing the wet cold winters in Canada (or those who have seen The Shining a thousand times) will know what I'm getting at. Many years ago, barely into my double-digits age, there was a long summer that was just as wet as any winter Vancouver had ever seen, and I'd spent my days – quite literally, every day that August month, walking back and forth to the local video store and spending a few dollars on one or two tapes at a time, trekking through the rain to bring them back to my house where I'd hole up in the basement den and watch movies like Out of Bounds and Friday the 13th Part V. The downstairs den wasn't really in a basement – not quite. We lived in one of those architecturally unique Vancouver homes where the foyer was the only part of the house that was even close to ground-level. Then you'd have to choose your destination: upstairs, a storey-and-a-half over the driveway, or downstairs, half-buried into the ground, where all the windows were half-height and set closer up to the low ceilings so that you could see over the grass on the front lawn. Anyway, it was down in that sort-of basement that I'd spent that wet summer getting an education in exploitation cinema. However, it isn't 1985 anymore, and you should consider yourself lucky if you still have an actual operating video rental store near where you live.
And now some really good horror can be found on most of the mainstream VOD streaming services now – the only problem, I find, is often how the search algorithms are set up on these platforms (not very horror-fan-friendly, in my opinion), but we'll get to that soon. For right now I thought it might be cool to feature some of the horror gens I've found streaming directly into my own home, especially for those downpouring days where you really don't want to leave the house.
Taking Netflix for a spin, while I have come across a few said gems, this is actually the streaming platform that I find the most frustration when it comes to its search options. However, the ones that I have discovered have been unexpectedly good – the Netflix “Original” slowburn gothic horror film I Am the Pretty Things that Lives in the House has a palpable Stephen King / Shirley Jackson literary-horror feel to its central ghost story and outlaying flashback scenes, making for a worthwhile entry in the haunted house canon. Another good haunting lies in the indie arthouse horror film Darling, a quick Larry Fessenden-produced romp that gives us its ghost story laced with madness and generous helpings of dark humour. The Bottom of the World, unavailable on any physical home media format in North America so there's no other choice but to stream it, stars Jenna Malone (from Neon Demon) in a similarly hallucinatory narrative as she becomes wrapped in a maze of subconscious and other-worldly realities; it's another quick arthouse genre film (around 80 minutes) that feels like an inspired collision between Twin Peaks, Psycho, and Jacob's Ladder. Bottom of the World is actually one of my favourites from Netflix, along with the weirdly erotic and murdery Sun Choke, which stars classic genre fave Barbara “Re-Animator” Crampton in what I think is one of her best screen performances ever. One of the best straight-hitting horrors on Netflix, though, in terms of sheer intensity and suspense, is Hush, which takes place all in one night when a deaf and mute woman is terrorized by a violent and clever home invader.
The streaming platform Crave TV is, as you'd probably guessed with the name, focused on television series – some old, and a lot that are very new. Here you'll find the Stephen King / JJ Abrams supernatural horror series Castle Rock, and while Stephen King did not write any of the series' episodes (it's based on a world created by King in his horror literature), the first 10-part season is, appropriately, very Stephen King in feel and atmosphere, as the 10-part story rolls out itself much like a novel. But it was David Lynch's return to Twin Peaks that really floored me – this 18-episode limited series from 2017 takes place 25 years after the last time we were invited to visit the town of Twin Peaks, and everyone one of those 18 episodes was directed by Lynch himself. This hallucinatory, genre-bending return to Twin Peaks does boast a couple of episodes that are outright horror, and horror underlies most of what's going on in a very emotional level where Lynch brings us his subconsciously deep view of loss and agony, to an ultimately haunting conclusion. One professional critic had opted to maintain that the return to Twin Peaks was some of the best “cinema” of our time, stating that in this age of digital streaming, the lines between “television” and “cinema” continue to blur closer together.
Continuing my recent TV-series obsession, Amazon Prime has the first seasons of Preacher, which I've been wholly addicted to (based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis). I have a preference to the Amazon VOD platform for two reasons: 1. Unlike most of the titles available through Netflix, there are tons of horror and giallo films that date earlier than 2015, and you can also find a slew of wild independent genre films like the over-the-top Peelers, and the giallo-inspired Glass and The Editor. And reason number 2, the search-links are similar to what we're used to seeing on Amazon's shopping website, so if you see a title that looks interesting, it's easy to open up a whole line of selections that other “Customers Who Watched This Also Watched”, and thereby accessing hundreds of titles that may have gone unrepresented in the initial homepage categories. Through this somewhat intuitive browsing mode, I found a couple of inspired independent horror films – from 2012, a German take on the cannibal subgenre titled (very appropriately) Cannibal Diner, which admittedly does not have a high rating on the imdb, but I personally found it to be fast-paced and very enjoyable with an engaging (and nearly all-female) cast of characters, and it relies so heavily on the genre's tropes that it's almost impossible not to find it bloody charming. Not a lot of violence until near the end, which I didn't mind, and what there was was fairly gory – the story is basically a young woman who finds herself lost in the woods runs afoul of a Texas Chainsaw-type of family in an abandoned chemical factory.
I feel compelled to mention that Amazon Prime is one of the only places you'll find Spike Lee's gorgeous and thoughtful vampire remake of the 70s cult film Ganja and Hess – Lee's version re-titled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Also on Amazon's streaming service we'll find another Larry Fessenden indie film (actually, we'll find a lot of things, from the films of Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci to the crazy flicks of Charles Band's Full Moon) – called Silver Bullets, and despite what Amazon will tell you, Silver Bullets was not produced in 1970; rather it's a modern low-budget erotic and existential movie from 2011 that eventually turns into a horror movie, after folding dream- and nightmare-fantasies over its own neo-realism and into the fantastic cinema of, well, werewolf films.
A lot of the independent horror films featured on these streaming services came from film festivals like SXSW, and now without the video stores of yesteryear to bring them in front of genre audiences, a lot of them are leaping directly from the festival circuit to Video-On-Demand platforms. And while it's probably abundantly clear that a large chunk of these personal horror selections lean towards the kaleidoscopic, I have found something hugely engaging and even inspiring with each of them, whether they're 75 minutes or 18 hours long. Follow this list and you'll certainly be in for a mindbending end to your winter months.
(Da Sweet Blood of Jesus)
(I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the Walls)
(Twin Peaks -- Revisited)