Netflix horror worth your time

This is a public service, or at least aims to be.

If you have Netflix, you know the lost and desperate feeling that comes when flipping through the hundreds of offerings, hoping to find the perfect movie, or at least one that won’t make you feel like you’ve wasted 90 minutes.

I’ve lost hours that way. Even days.

And if you’re one of those people who ignores anything Horror until October, this is for you, too.

The goal here this Halloween season is to give you the top 5 best horror movies currently on Netflix that you probably haven’t heard of. (Because I could tell you, hey, go watch “The Omen” of  “Candyman.”  But if you haven’t already watched them, here’s hoping you’ve at least heard of them. And in that case, what kind of public service would that be? Sure, more lists may follow, but now’s not the time for promises.)

So without further ado, let’s begin with the best, because if the others wanted to be mentioned first, they should have made better movies.

1. Pontypool

We know to be afraid of coughing strangers; door knobs, railings, and public restrooms; the saliva and bites of men, animals and the undead.

But what about words? Language. Can you get the bug from a friendly conversation?

In Pontypool you can.

Pontypool, Ontario, where former shock jock Grant Mazzy has been marooned to the world of school closings, missing cats and weather reports, which come from Ken in the Sunshine Chopper, who is actually Ken in a Dodge Dart with a helicopter soundtrack playing into a cell phone.

It’s a little low-key for Mazzy, that is until a code 48 comes over the police scanner. A hostage situation. Two men holding a van at gunpoint, the van towing an ice house. And soon after, Ken – talking over the whop, whop, whop of his imaginary chopper – describes the crowd that has gathered around Dr. Mendez’s office, the explosion of people that follows, the people that are trampled.

We don’t see that scene. What the camera shows is us is claustrophobic. Outside there is a blizzard raging in the dark and what the camera shows us is the studio, which is in a basement. Everything coming in over cell phones, over radio signals.  It’s like shooting footage of the studio as Orson Welles delivered War of the Worlds. If the world really was ending.

A constable calls in. 75 dead so far. No one knows what’s going on.

Mazzy’s producer patches in the BBC trying to confirm reports that French Canadian troops are setting up road blocks and that the insanity outside is being perpetrated by separatist terrorists.

Then the BBC is gone and Ken, once in the Sunshine Chopper, now grounded and watching and hiding from the sick, whimpers: “I have just seen things that are going to ruin the rest of my natural life.”

An official French radio channel breaks in through Ken’s call: “For your safety please avoid contact with close family members … For greater safety please avoid the English language,” in the odd babble that is the French language of course.

And then Ken is back. He’s with a local teenager, whose, “body has been broken to pieces,” Ken explains.

Over the cell connection we hear the babbling but it’s not of the voice of a boy. As Ken describes it, the teenager “sounds like there’s a child screaming inside his breath.”

And at that point our hero Mazzy leans into the microphone, his eyes wide with panic, and he yells, “is this actually happening, Ken?”

In Mazzy’s eyes, you can see it. He’s got the bug.

Director Bruce McDonald asks us not to call them zombies. But like with anything else, we’re limited by language. When we see the film’s sick, they’re moving like they haven’t consulted their brains, there’s blood around their mouths, and they’re killing and eating their once fellow men.

And Mazzy is about to join them. But how’d he get the bug? How, locked in the sound proof booth, safe from saliva, bites and coughs, did he catch the bug?

As the conversation continues, Dr. Mendez, who has survived the people explosion at his office, slips through a window, like Doctors are want to do. And the good doctor is there to listen to Ken, who, after describing mass acts of cannibalism, dissolves into madness.

“This is what he is now,” Dr. Mendez says pointing to the microphone as Ken repeats the words ‘simple’ and ‘sample’ over and over. “Just a crude radio signal.

“It’s viral but that much is clear,” he explains. “It’s not of the blood … it is here, it is in words. Not all words. Not all speaking. But some. Some words are infected and it spreads out when the contaminated word is spoken. … a new form of life. It enters us when we hear the word and understand.”

And why is “Pontypool” number one?

Although the true originator and standard-bearer of the zombies we know and love, George Romero, never spends much time talking about what created the zombies in his universe and, for all intents and purposes, “Pontypool” is a 90 minute-origin story of a new kind of madness, “Pontypool” elevates the sub-genre.

Romero will always be first in my heart, but of the thousands of moviemakers that have followed him, many are lazy and uninspired. The zombie is merely cannon fodder for them. Romero uses his films to discuss social issues, consumerism, distrust of government. You can have a discussion after a Romero film, whereas other undead filmmakers present a product that oftentimes reduces the brain activity levels of its viewers to that of the film’s creatures.

To be sure, “Pontypool,” is not “Citizen Kane” or “Synecdoche, New York,” but after watching it there are obvious discussions to be had about language.

Being thought provoking is all well and good, but that in and of itself doesn’t make anything a good movie, let alone a good horror movie. But this is number one because above all else it’s just a good horror movie. Although we see very few of them, there is a high body count; we hold our breath as our protagonists get surrounded and have to think their way out; and it all happens in Canada, which is inherently just scarier. “Pontypool” has it all.


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