Just in time for Halloween! My top cosmic horror films!
What does make a movie Cosmic Horror (aka Lovecraftian Horror)? Wikipedia writes that “the hallmark of Lovecraft’s work was the sense that ordinary life was a thin shell over a reality which was so alien and abstract in comparison that merely contemplating it would damage the sanity of the ordinary person.” and also“The philosophy of cosmicism states that there is no recognizable divine presence, such as a god, in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence, and perhaps are just a small species projecting their own mental idolatries onto the vast cosmos. This also suggests that the majority of undiscerning humanity are creatures with the relative significance of insects and plants, when compared to the universe.”
I put together this movie list with those things in mind. I also tried to think about films I have seen more than once and/or I wouldn’t mind watching again. My list is in alphabetical order, because if it is on this list, I loved the film.
Tricia’s (played by Courtney Bell) husband has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister Callie (played by Catherine Parker) comes to live with her as the pressure mounts to finally declare him ‘dead in absentia.’ As Tricia sifts through the wreckage and tries to move on with her life, Callie finds herself drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house. As she begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances, she comes to the realization that his presumed death might be anything but ‘natural.’ Soon it becomes clear that the ghostly force at work in the tunnel might have set its sights on Callie and Tricia too.
I love this movie because the relationship–both as solid support for each other, but at times tense–between the two sisters. Both women have pasts. Both women have made mistakes. Tricia is pregnant with the child of the detective who followed her husband’s case. The tension throughout this movie is so thick at times the horror aspects feel like relief.
Cabin in the Woods:
A rambunctious group of five college friends Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, and Jesse Williams steal away for a weekend of debauchery in an isolated country cabin, only to be attacked by horrific supernatural creatures in a night of endless terror and bloodshed. Sound familiar? Just wait. As the teens begin to exhibit standard horror movie behavior, a group of technicians in a control room are scrutinizing, and sometimes even controlling, every move the terrified kids make! With their efforts continually thwarted by the all powerful eye in the sky, do they have any chance of escape.
If people haven’t seen this film, I don’t want to say to much, because part of the fun of this film is the surprises. This is probably the funniest film on this list. Following two seperate and intertwining storylines, the film makes fun of horror tropes: the girl who drops the knife for example. So five college students go to the cabin in the woods. When the cellar door swings open, they find a pile of old curios. Each one a little creepier. Then they choose…
A Seattle history professor (Jason Cottle) drawn back to his estranged family on the Oregon coast to execute his late mother’s estate, is reaquainted with his best friend from childhood, with whom he has a long-awaited tryst. Caught in an accelerating series of events, he discovers aspects of his father’s New Age cult which take on a dangerous and apocalyptic significance.
This is the most lovecraftian on my list as it follows one of the Lovecraft’s stories. This film starts off showing the mundane life of Russell Marsh who is a single gay man in Seattle and then has a slow build. Once the world has twisted, the danger feels completely real. It is visceral and yet mysterious.
A pioneering research spacecraft mysteriously vanished, without a trace, on its maiden voyage. Seven years later, a weak, persistent signal from the long-missing craft prompts a rescue team, headed by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) to find and salvage the EVENT HORIZON. Accompanying him is his crew (including Kathleen Quinlan, Richard T. Jones) and the designer of the ship, Dr. Weir (Sam Neill)
Peeling back layers of science fiction, we witness to flat out horror. The film forces you to witness the horror of a woman’s sucicide because her husband loved his ship more than her. The horror of a mother being called away from her sick child. And a brilliant man descending into madness.
I admit there are some continuity issues such as Miller commenting on how the ship is a “deep freeze” and how there are ice crystals everywhere. Then a water bottle floats around with liquid sloshing inside it. But this is a tense and sinister movie that gets more twisted with every passing minute.
In the Mouth of Madness: Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to investigate horror writer Sutter Cane’s (Jürgen Prochnow) mysterious disappearance.
He and Cane’s editor Julie Carmen end up in the sleepy little East Coast town of Hobb’s End. The fact that this town exists as a figment of Cane’s twisted imagination is only the beginning of Trent’s problems.
Another film that Sam Neill stars in. This starts almost as a film Noir with its dark lighting and hardbitten investigator, but we quickly start to see things going wrong. People changing. And hey we get to watch Sam Neill go crazy in a brand new way this time!
Mr. Jones: A young married couple trying to create a nature documentary rents a house in the woods and realizes a reclusive and strange artist is also there.
During the film I felt I was sensing a memory of a short story that I heard on Pseudopod a long time ago.(Sorry, I wish I could remember the title or author!) There is very little gore, just lots of weird imagery. Only disappointment is the film’s lighting is very dark and sometimes the scenes were hard to see. Is it scary? I can’t even answer that. I will say it is tense and suspenseful.
Prince of Darkness:
A group of graduate students (including Lisa Blount,Dennis Dun, Jameson Parker) scientists (including Peter Jason and Victor Wong), and a priest (played by Donald Pleasence) uncover an ancient canister in an abandoned church, but when they open it, they inadvertently unleash a strange liquid. As the liquid turns their co-workers into zombies, the remaining members realize they have released the most unspeakable horror of them all. Terror mounts as the team must fight to save the world from a devilish fury that has been contained for over seven million years.
Though many people won’t agree with me, this is my favorite John Carpenter film. Dennis Dun has some of the best lines as the grad student who is missing his weekend plans unwillingly. His performance as Walter makes me smile. It asks questions about the nature of religion and god/anti-god. It delves into quantum physics. Fianlly, for an 80’s movie it has a diverse cast (Which unfortunately you can’t see from the bluray cover image) –and everyone is freaking scientist or grad student! No token characters. We know enough about each character to care about them as they try to stop the end of the world. Even though I’ve seen this movie at least twenty times, I still get excited about the climax.
After a young American backpacker vanishes in Europe, three journalists (Aaron Ashmore, Cindy Sampson, Meghan Heffern) trace his disappearance to a mysterious Polish village. They travel there hoping to get the story, but instead find a grotesque, fog-shrouded shrine and hostile locals hell-bent on serving up for their next ritualistic sacrifice.
This film has some horrific and gory imagery that made me want to clench my eyes shut. Due to the twist in the plot, some folks find this film is not as rewatchable. But I loved the beauty of the cinematography, the misty mood of the location, and the acting was solid.
Yellow Brick Road:
In the fall of 1940, the entire population of Friar, NH abandoned their homes and walked up an ancient trail, never to be seen alive again. Their fates have remained a mystery for over 70 years; until a team of researchers (including Cassidy Freeman Clark Freeman Anessa Ramsey) discover the trailhead and attempt to track the path the doomed citizens of Friar took.
This is the film that I think is the scariest on my list. (Maybe its because I wander the wilds myself so often.) It is a creepy and unsettling film about the descent into madness as the team of researchers go down the Yellow Brick Road. Each member is effected differently, but all lose themselves.
So that’s my seven, do you agree or disagree? What’s your favorite cosmic horror films?