Everyone has their staples for Halloween watching, like John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and “Nightmare Before Christmas.” But be forewarned, gentle reader, because your master of Scarimonies (God, I sound like the Crypt Keeper), Dukey Flyswatter, will suggest some gems and themes that may have flown drastically under your radar, like a schizophrenic Vampire Bat. Week four, we focus on movies that defy categorization, but are just plain creepy.
The Descent (2005)
Director: Neil Marshall. Stars: Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder.
Writer, producer and director Marshall keeps his cast running from what lurks in the shadows in several of his projects, but in this film he plunges them (and us) into pitch black for long periods of time, keeping us so intensely and precariously on the edge of our seats that many of us fall over from the first jump scare, of which there are many. This monster movie has some serious teeth.
Six women with a solid friendship and yearning for adventure reunite each year for a weekend with just the girls. Their activities include skydiving, white water rafting, and this year–spelunking inside a deep cave. Sarah has been coaxed back by group pressure to get her out of isolation and guilt for not being present when her husband and daughter died in a car crash as she was coming back from a vacation with her sister-like crew. Juno, the strong leader of the group hopes to snap her out of it in the most insipid plot twist contrived, by leading them into an unexplored cave with no word of their location. She hopes that discovering a new cave system and naming it after Sarah will shatter her fugue and bring her back to the world of the emotionally present. It’s a stupid move, but if people didn’t go into the dark basement you wouldn’t have a movie, so in this case the end justifies the means to a great roller coaster ride.
Once they are dug deep, the shit his the fan. First a cave-in prevents them from retracing their steps, then they get stuck in a crawlspace. Gradually, their resolve is ground down to a paper thin state and they all begin to melt down in the claustrophobic hell hole. After the group newcomer falls and breaks her leg, we get to the real stars of the show–predatory, humanoid bat creatures. These non CGI critters are no joke, and pursue the remaining survivors relentlessly through crannies they know by heart and not sight.
Aside from the ridiculous plot device to get to the cave creatures, Neil Marshall plays the audience like a violin on crystal meth. If you watch the “making of” features on the disc, you can see how the sets were made to create illusions of claustrophobia and authenticity. When groups or single cavers are separated in the dark, he uses different forms of light like glow sticks, dying battery light and infra red cams so you immediately know which temporary survivor you are focusing on. The close-ups of the monsters are guaranteed to scare the shit out of most people. I must admit I jumped a few times. This movie is starting to gain a reputation as a satisfying cult thriller, but I haven’t seen it on anyone’s list or on TV. But you can rent The Descent on Amazon or pick up the Blu Ray for a mere ten dollars.
BTW, the sequel Descent 2 puts it’s money where it’s bloody mouth is and is almost as good as its predecessor.