My first horror film was “It”, an ultimately terrible film for a 6-year-old child’s personal development, but I survived the fear of clowns beyond my adolescence. The 90’s horror films that I grew up with had such an eerie playfulness to them; dolls and children’s toys coming to life (Chuckie), little girls falling in love with boy ghosts (Casper), and teenagers taking sordid revenge on each other (Scream) that now as an adult, I crave a slight blend of all those movies in the form of campy concepts, retro soundtracks, and solid metaphors. This month I went to Netflix to check out the latest films— their selection has grown substantially over the years— and narrow it down to three modern films that speak to my spooky needs while offering unique perspectives on some classic themes.
In 1992, Madrid police investigated the mysterious death of a 15-year-old girl who passed away in a hospital shortly after meddling with a Ouija board. The case was never really solved and remains “unexplained” to this day. Veronica is a responsible student and caretaker of her 3 younger siblings while her mother is away at work. After using the ouija board to contact a deceased boyfriend, a demon answers instead and takes over Veronica, wreaking havoc on her health and social life. Part of what makes Veronica so terrifying is its basis on a true story. While that thought alone is creepy enough, it’s the genius 90s tone of the film that I couldn’t help but love: the capitalist convenience of buying a seance kit from a magazine kiosk, wearing 80s oversized baggy t-shirts for comfort, listening to rock music on foam headphones to drown the voices out. Veronica is a film that takes you into early 90s Spain riddled with sunshine, grunge, adorable children and chain smoking blind nuns.
The Boy (2016)
This film tells the tale of a seemingly sentient doll named Brahms who’s in dire need of a new nanny. His parents, the wealthy elderly Heelshires, live in a mansion in a secluded unnamed town in England. They care for the doll as if it was human, which serves as a coping mechanism for the death of their own son 20 years earlier. When the new nanny Greta violates a list of strict rules, a series of disturbing and inexplicable events bring her worst fears to life, leading her to believe that the doll is alive (let’s cue my childhood Chuckie trauma right there.) With that in mind, a horror movie is never complete without a good twist, and I have to say, the surprise at the end of The Boy is one of the most insane reveals I’ve experienced in a long, long time. This film will test your best guesses while putting you in a strange opinion of playing with dolls as an adult. I advise watching this with a group so you can play a game of “what would you do in that situation?”
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Hill House, “not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more”, is a new episodic Netflix show that tells the story of the fractured 7-member Crain family confronting haunting memories of their old home and the terrifying events that drove them from it. Flashing between past and present over 10 episodes, it delicately weaves a sense of family trauma, grief, and regret as they deal the the loss of another family suicide at Hill House. I saw the trailer for this show and initially had doubts that I would like another haunted house story, but this script really took its time establishing relationships between its characters as the horror crept up (meaning I was too emotionally involved with this show to stop watching it… it takes a while for the horror to kick in.) There are a solid 5-7 episodes that stand alone as creepy vignettes or short films, cleverly linking overlapping story lines and hauntings. If you’re a fan of complex timelines, character drama, and vulnerable ghosts then this is the series for you.