Now Scream This: Vampire Found Footage, Deranged Killers, And One Wacky Killer Kid Movie

(Welcome to Now Scream This, a column where horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato tell you what scary, spooky, and spine-tingling movies are streaming and where you can watch them.)

Matt: Welcome back, screamers and streamers! This week, for absolutely no other reason than morbid curiosity, I challenged myself to mine five underrated found footage nuggets. Not obvious titles like Paranormal Activity, either. I'd venture to bet there's one or two entries listed below that you either A) haven't heard of B) have sitting in a digital queue somewhere. French slasher hybrids and Japanese ghost stories about aborted fetuses and stuff. Same old, same old in the genre world.

Chris: While Matt is focusing on found footage for this installment, I'm turning towards films about deranged killers. That's a pretty broad topic, I know, but I've also limited the choices to films that are supernatural-free. These killers are grounded in reality, which makes their actions extra unsettling. You can't shrug the acts in these films off as something influenced by otherworldly forces. They are instead committed by seemingly normal individuals engaging in abnormal deeds.

Afflicted

Now Streaming on Amazon Prime

Matt: In 2014, critics hailed Afflicted as not only a gleaming found footage discovery, but one of the best horror films of the year (hell, it was my #1). Clif Prowse and Derek Lee write, direct and star in this vacation-gone-wrong buddy flick with vampiric overtones. As you can surmise, one of the two is infected with Nosferatu's curse while we watch the friends slowly handle transformation side effects without an ounce of chill. It's bloody, energetic and able to twist vampire mythologies into a singularly unique vein-sucker nightmare from two very meticulous filmmakers (goddamn, that contortion sequence). Found footage isn't a gimmick here – it's an art form. Shades of The Blair Witch Project and Hardcore Henry, brandished fangs and all.

Chris: This is one of the most clever found footage films I've ever seen. It's also one hell of a special effects test reel – there are effects here (characters jumping great heights between buildings, running up walls, engaging in huge battles, and all of it done via POV) that put most modern blockbusters to shame. Kudos to Prowse and Lee, who took the found footage ball and ran with it, making something different in the process.

Therapy

Now Streaming on Shudder

Matt: I had the pleasure of catching Nathan Ambrosioni's Therapy during the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival's inaugural year, and to this day – two years later – it remains criminally underseen. Not only does Ambrosioni toy around with slasher tropes from a teenager's perspective – imagine that Friday The 13th film David Brucker never got to make – but an age-old subgenre myth is *finally* answered. WHO WOULD EDIT DEATH FOOTAGE TOGETHER?! How about police technicians whose job is to sift through recorded evidence tapes and provide edited versions to investigators? The juxtaposition of narrative filmmaking versus POV panic plays with a maddened duality that spins out of control as mediums blur together. Translation: this ain't your grandpappy's "found footage."

Hopefully you aren't as salty as Chris, either.

Chris: I think part of the fun of this column is going to be contrasting the different tastes between Matt and myself. For instance, with Therapy, he's wrong, because this movie is baaaaaad. I will give the film credit for trying to offer an explanation, of sorts, as to why all this death footage is edited together. But that explanation goes out the window the minute the filmmaker starts throwing jump scares into the mix. Jump scares that come complete with loud, booming sound effects. When the police were piecing this footage together, did they hire a foley artist as well?  

The Den

Now Streaming on Netflix/Hulu

Matt: Before Unfriended, before Open Windows, before Cam2Cam, IFC Midnight distributed a technology-screen horror film called The Den that set an immediate quality bar. Zachary Donohue directs one woman's graduate thesis dive into the world of Chatroulette – or, for rights purposes, a knockoff Chatroulette that doubles as the film's title. Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) navigates an internet community of anonymous wankers and perverts, only to stumble upon a live snuff feed. With little evidence beyond one quick video chat, police are powerless to act on she-said paranoia – which could prove dangerous if Elizabeth's fears of being stalked are validated. Both in binary and blood.

Chris: This is one of those under-the-radar horror films that makes for a great late-night discovery. That said, while The Den is well crafted, I also think it never quite capitalizes on its set-up, and too quickly descends into slasher movie territory. Not that there's anything wrong with slasher movie territory, of course. I just think there's a much better, much smarter movie buried in here. Still, for what it is, The Den is worth watching.

V/H/S/2

Now Streaming on Netflix/Hulu

Matt: Each V/H/S anthology has strengths to show off, but V/H/S/2 stands a few heads taller than its siblings. Adam Wingard's "Phase I Clinical Trials," a bioengineered ghost story thanks to one man's new-and-improved eyeball implant. Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez's "A Ride In The Park," which proves that it's much safer for children to play *inside* where zombies aren't. Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto's "Safe Haven," the pinnacle of cult exploitation and summoned hell on Earth. Jason Eisener's "Slumber Party Alien Abduction," AKA the one that straps a GoPro to a puppy during – yes – an overnight alien invasion. Put 'em all together and what do you get? A collection of horror "shorts" that Rex Reed dubbed "Unwatchable From Start to Finish" – even though he tripped over my foot while fleeing the screening before Wingard's inaugural entry even ended.

Psst, that's, like, not even 15 minutes in for the record. Don't make the same mistake.

Chris: The V/H/S movies, like most anthology films, are hit or miss. Some stories are a delight while others deserve to be buried in the same landfill where Atari disposed of all the unsold E.T. games. While not all the segments in V/H/S 2 work, the film does house one of the best entries in V/H/S history: Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto's "Safe Haven". This genuinely unnerving story about a news team infiltrating a cult builds and builds until it reaches a jarring climax that will stick with you.

Noroi: The Curse

Now Streaming on Shudder

Matt: Kôji Shiraishi's Noroi: The Curse is a 2005 throwback that never saw US release until Shudder acquired the rights for an exclusive 2017 premiere. It's a slow, SLOW burn at just south of two hours, but makes use of documentary detective work to tell a sinister, sanctimonious paranormal tale. You won't be bludgeoned by cheap jump scares – Shiraishi crafts a fantastical native fable that achieves terror through woven mythos. Time is milked, atmosphere thickened and dread a constant state once our cameraman realizes the hole he's dug himself into.

Chris: Pacing is important, and can make or break a film. As Matt points out, Noroi is a slow burn; really sloooooww, but that works to the film's favor. It's building atmosphere at every turn, and it's one of the rare modern found footage films that feels like it could be real. Almost. Maybe. Sort of. The bulk of 21st century found footage is slick and polished to the extreme, but Noroi has the distinction of feeling like it's real amature footage we're witnessing, and that makes the whole affair extra unsettling.

The Invitation

Now Streaming on Netflix

Chris: Karyn Kusama's slow-burn nightmare unfolds over a period of one long, uncomfortable dinner party. The Invitation plays upon social awkwardness. I feel like we've all been in a situation at least once where someone was acting, well, strange, but we kept quiet because we didn't want to seem impolite. That fear of impoliteness and causing a scene is at the heart of The Invitation, which finds a man (Logan Marshall-Green, sporting one killer beard) reuniting with old friends at the house of his ex-wife. It becomes very clear, very quickly that the ex and her new husband are up to something, although Marshall-Green's character can't quite put his finger on it. Everyone at the party knows each other, save for one individual: an outsider, played with delicious menace by Zodiac's John Carroll Lynch. The party goes from strange to terrifying after Lynch decides to confess to an unpleasant act from his past. To say more would spoil the fun, but let's just say that by the end of The Invitation, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack, and I mean that as a compliment.

Matt: As Chris mentioned in his Therapy comments, we're not always going to agree – case and point. Kusama's toxic dinner party burns at a sluggish rate and dries this methodical (read: robotic) thriller leather-dry. Heavy emotional weights anchor early building blocks only to be rendered inconsequential after climactic twists. Different strokes for different folks and all, but The Invitation left me feeling unfulfilled by a too-little-too-late payoff.

The Eyes of My Mother

Now Streaming on Netflix

Chris: Hey, do you like feature-length fever-dream-nightmares? If so, The Eyes of My Mother is for you! Nicolas Pesce's gorgeous-looking portrait of a very disturbed young woman unfolds dreamily, and becomes more and more disturbing at every turn. One day, a stranger shows up at a farmhouse where a young girl named Francesca lives with her parents. The stranger murders Francesca's mother, but before he can escape, Francesca's father returns home and imprisons the killer in the barn. That's weird enough on its own, by The Eyes of My Mother only gets weirder from here. Years later, after the death of her father, Francesca (Kika Magalhães) has grown into a strange, psychologically damaged young woman. You'd probably be psychologically damaged too if your mother's murderer was still living chained up in your barn. Director Nicolas Pesce has tapped into a coursing, nightmare pulse with this film. This is intoxicating, illuminating horror filmmaking at its finest; a movie that is somehow simultaneously achingly beautiful and repulsively unpleasant.

Matt: No argument here. The Eyes Of My Mother is a bombshell debut for Nicolas Pesce that monochromatically stitches together one nasty, pitch-black psychopath subversion. Kika Magalhães' performance is devastating, disturbing and distorted by dementia, so masterful a daughter's mental breakdown. Fantasia Fest 2016's best movie? For me, at least.

Orphan

Now Streaming on HBOGo

Chris: Style-is-substance king Jaume Collet-Serra helms this gloriously goofy and ghoulish horror flick about a couple (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) who decide to adopt a child after their new baby is stillborn. The orphan they end up taking in is Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who dresses like a long-lost member of the Addams Family and is clearly hiding a secret (or two). The marketing makes it abundantly clear that Esther is bad news, but part of the fun of Orphan is watching as Farmiga's character slowly realizes the danger and then desperately tries to make everyone else around her aware of it. There's a whopper of a twist near the end that would've been so easy to completely fuck up, but Collet-Serra manages to make it work.

Matt: Jaume Collet-Serra + premises that shouldn't work = movies that work far better than they should. Expect the unexpected, and don't let spoilers ruin this one for you. I'm shutting up now. Have a blast.

A Horrible Way To Die

Now Streaming on Shudder

Chris: A Horrible Way To Die features two narratives. One focuses on Sarah (Amy Seimetz), a troubled addict still reeling from her relationship with a serial killer. The other narrative focuses on the killer (AJ Bowen), who has just escaped from custody and is on a cross-country murder spree in order to find his way back to Sarah. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett slowly but surely bring these two narratives together, creating a mumblecore horror film that cares more about character building than it does scares. Anyone expecting a predictable hack and slash serial killer movie might be befuddled by all this, but if you're in tune to A Horrible Way To Die's wavelength, you might end up being pleasantly surprised.

Matt: As a big fan of everyone involved here (Wingard, Barrett, Seimetz, Bowen), this is a well-recognized and documented blindspot for me. I almost watched A Horrible Way To Die, but was instead looking for the Melissa George thriller A Lonely Place To Die – I then never got back around to watching my accidental rental. Time to change that?

Pieces

Now Streaming on Shudder

Chris: The tagline for J. Piquer Simon's schlocky horror film Pieces states, "IT'S EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK IT IS." And it is. There's a chainsaw-wielding killer prowling a college campus, cutting up students and assembling a human jigsaw puzzle. The only person who can stop the killer is local campus stud Kendall James (Ian Sera), who tries to catch the killer in between trips to Wendy's to pick up some Biggie fries. Pieces is so unapologetically grimy and grisly yet also somewhat cheap that you'll end up finding the whole affair rather quaint. Also, there's an incredible sequence where a character keeps screaming "BASTARD!!!" over and over again.

Matt: Pieces has "'80s slasher" written in blood on the walls of every single scene. If you're in the mood for exactly what Chris describes above, you'll be well served – if not, stay away. I'll admit, I have to be in the mood for Pieces. Proceed with situational caution.