You may have noticed that Halloween falls on a Friday this year, and you may also have noticed that this would be a way bigger deal if you were still in college. But you do live in New York, at least, so you can probably find something to do. If you're strapped for ideas and sure as hell don't feel like dressing up, though, there's always this year's bumper crop of horror movies. Like the ad campaign says: if it's around Halloween, it must be a melee over excitement to see Saw. Luckily, I spent last weekend sussing out most of the horror movies now playing (even more luckily, I didn't go to Times Square). Here's a quick rundown of your spooking options:
Saw V: I've gotten all sorts of weird/disgusted/pitying looks from admitting this to people: I have seen all five Saw movies. In the theaters. Mostly on opening weekends. A friend of mine looks forward to them with a joy I usually associate with birthdays, Star Wars, or Radiohead albums, which makes going to see them a lot of fun, especially since the "versus" trend in horror movies ground to a halt. This friend is out of the country for the rest of the year (and, I assume, patiently awaiting Saw V's entry into the Hong Kong bootleg market) but that didn't stop my special lady friend and I from trekking out to catch Jigsaw's latest adventures this past weekend. Having seen all of these movies, I can say with authority that the Saw series has always been at war with itself: surprisingly intricate (or convoluted) plotting punctuated by obligatory, gory set pieces; an ongoing story undermined by lousy screenwriting and histrionic acting. I give the filmmakers a lot of credit not just for cranking out this junk with clockwork, resetting regularity, but for actually thinking about their ongoing story, no matter how similar its twists and turns begin to look. The downside to this adherence to (or even the existence of) a Saw canon is the sinking feeling you might get, as I did last year during Saw IV, that this boredom you're feeling is supposed to be seat-edged excitement over the fact that the hero and villain are now the cop from that one part of Saw III and that other cop from that other part of Saw III, or Saw II, but probably not Saw I because that's the one with a couple of recognizable actors, and this is all taking place at the same time as the events of part of Saw II and all of Saw III. I guess it's fair to assume that the previous movies are fresh in the audience's mind when they've never come out more than a year apart, but that doesn't make Saw IV make any more sense. Saw V backs away from that abyss; it continues directly from the previous movie, yes, but it also allows that movie to function as basically "previously on Saw" and not the dramatic lynchpin that you strain to remember for most of the new one's ninety minutes. Regardless, this fifth entry is minor Saw: competent (by the series standards, which is to say it's pretty entertaining for something that seems to have been produced and probably written entirely in an abandoned warehouse). More to the point, these movies aren't scary at all. They halfheartedly offer a couple of jump scares per movie, but mostly they're gothic mutilation freakshows with a creepy quasi-moral undercurrent. At this point, even losery horror fans like me can do better.
Quarantine: We snuck into this one after Saw V, and I'm kinda sorry it didn't get my money. Coming on the heels of Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, and well behind the heels of The Blair Witch Project, and a year after the Spanish film [REC] on which it's actually based, Quarantine's first-person-horror gimmick isn't much of one. But it's fairly well-executed, with a nice lead performance from Jennifer Carpenter, as the TV host who gets trapped in a zombie-infected apartment building while tailing a crew of firemen. Carpenter and the filmmakers avoid casting the reporter as a ruthless bitch; she's assertive, yes, but also playful and funny, and she makes the traditionally dull set-up breeze by. When full-fledged pandemonium breaks out, the movie eventually reduces her, not kindly but probably not unrealistically either, to a bit of a screaming mess, in a bid to make the movie seem all the more intense (it gets there when the camera finally switches to night vision, and, with its evocation of the blurry, hard-to-see, and terrifying, hews even closer to the Blair Witch model). Quarantine is far from essential (and fast-disappearing from theaters) but as far as a Halloween time-killer or bar-avoider, you could do a lot worse.
Let the Right One In: This Swedish horror picture is now playing at the Angelika, and it has a certain deliberate, wintry stillness that would doubtless confuse and enrage many Saw fans (though whether it would incite them to melee is still up in the air). Despite the fancy indie pedigree, this movie, about a lonely twelve-year-old boy who befriends the little vampire next door, is also bloody fun, albeit of the more contemplative variety (and despite sounding suspiciously like The Littlest Vampire and/or this Twilight nonsense that gives YAmerica the yapors). Director Tomas Alfredson uses a lot of eerily composed long shots, keeping the audience at a distance where a lot of horror directors would go for an easy smash-cut-close-up and accompanying cheap scare. Admittedly, Right One is more creepy than truly frightening, but much of it is also weirdly mesmerizing (and sometimes gorgeous), a portrait of childhood horrors that never lays it on too thick. It adds up to the best horror-ish movie I've seen in ages — character-and-idea-driven creepiness roughly on par with May or 28 Days Later, two my recent favorites. This should be your Halloween movie priority; it should work equally well as a date movie and one to attend alone, occasionally shivering.
The Haunting of Molly Hartley: I haven't seen this one yet, because it opens on, hey, Halloween, using a marketing strategy last employed when the Omen remake opened on 6/6/06: the bid for a sixty percent drop in second-day sales. Apparently it stars some dude from Gossip Girl, and isn't that like saying "hey, it stars some guy who played a boyfriend on Sex and the City"? Or am I off-base about that? I may have to take my horror-loving lady to see this, so I'm just hoping it's as okay as its obvious unofficial namesake, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Can't wait for The Ghosting of Shenae Grimes!
Fear(s) of the Dark: I haven't seen this either, but it's a mostly-French animation anthology of horrors (Paris, je suis effrayé?) and my upstairs neighbor said it was pretty good.
Nights in Rodanthe: Brrr. They're middle-aged, in love, and at the mercy of Nicholas Sparks. And here you thought I was going to say Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Boo!