Intellectual horror movies are hard to come by sometimes. Usually they tend to feature the big-breasted blonde running up the stairs instead of out the door, and the teenage kids keeping their accidental murder a secret cover up. Sometimes it features ridiculous looking characters on murder sprees (hello Chucky!) and the story line can be so easily followed that the anatomy of a horror film is just as forseeable as the big breasted bimbo's ripped open rib cage.
Sometimes, writers and directors try to move into the intellectual storytelling to raise the stakes, and unfortunately most of them tend to fall short in that regard (think of the racism and homelessness narrative in Candyman, or the way-too-meta Us) but luckily for us there are three horror movies that not only scare us, but make us think too. Here are my favourite intellectual horror movies and please note, this does contains spoilers.
Remember in the making of The Cabin in the Woods the final fight scenes were referred to as "chaos erupts on every screen?" well this is exactly what happens in 2017's Mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. This drama/horror is a retelling of Christianity's the Bible in the form of people and characters who come in and out of a beautiful home that has been lovingly restored by Lawrence's character while her husband Bardem suffers deep creative writing block on his ultimate masterpiece. One night, Bardem invites in a cryptic late-night visitor and his intrusive wife in a hope that it will get his creative juices flowing, but chaos starts to disrupts Lawrence's perfectly secluded life as events of the Bible begin to puncture her sanity.
The way the Bible is rewritten in the form of the characters and the series of events in the house are so intellectually astounding and thoroughly groundbreaking in the form of the beautiful cinematography. What starts out as God (Bardem) being ill-content with his writing and his life turns into the creation of Adam and Eve (Harris and Pfeiffer) who follows the events of the bible in their unique way, with the curious Eve breaking Bardem's most precious possession and causing him to lock away his "paradise" of his study forever. When their angry children who depict Cain and Abel arrive to seal humanity's fate, what follows is an out-of-control wake that leads to the great flood, shown in the movie by the breaking of a sink.
As time moves on, with humanity essentially "killed" and run out of the earth by the great flood, Mother (Lawrence) ends up pregnant with God's son (essentially Jesus) as God finishes writing the Bible, which turns into such a masterpiece that he is approached by adoring fans who mob the house. Loving the attention, the people are invited to share in God's home despite Mother's protests, and the mob end up stealing things and destroying the house in order to "say they were here" (in much the same way humanity must build to say they were there, but in reality they are one of many faceless nameless people destroying the earth). The mob runs riot in the house, destroying everything that Mother has created, and what follows is absolute chaos that so clearly depicts this world.
The movie itself is not terrifying in the way characters are stalked and killed, but more so horrifying through the mindset of Mother, who is chased from room to room looking for escape from the horrors of the mob, who are now conducting seances and prayers, are shoving women into cages to traffick, are murdering and killing others, destroying the world. There are one or two people who help Mother - depictions of environmentalists and the fact there are good people in the world - but they are somewhat killed during the events of the wars breaking out around her.
The most horrific part - and the part that almost caused the movie not to be made - is the graphic depiction of Mother having her newborn baby stolen from her, it's neck snapping as it is passed around the mob and killed before she rushes forward, discovering the mob eating its remains ("Drink of this wine, I give unto you"). This depiction, and the following beat down Mother receives is what makes this movie absolutely horrific.
Overall, the depiction of the bible was cleverly done, and blended the intellectual and the emotional horror perfectly. It's one of the smartest and most well-though out plots I've ever seen.
Hereditary is the 2018 horror movie starring Toni Colette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Ann Dowd that takes so many twists and turns it can be hard to keep up, but the intelligent writing of Ari Aster and the beautiful cinematography takes the movie from a classic haunting story line to something much much more.
The movie starts after the death of Grandma Leigh, Toni Colette's estranged mother who - unbeknownst to her at the time - is a powerful cult leader that worships a demon called Paimon, who is one of the Kings of Hell. He needs a suitable human to possess for a resurrection and the Leigh's are of direct bloodline for this occurrence. Because of the tragedies that Grandma Leigh put her family through she sets her sights on her daughter's children, but this is really only the background to the story.
Clearly haunted by her upbringing, Annie (Colette) has been seen sleepwalking and been known to throw paint thinner on her kids to set them alight, suggesting a sub-conscious need to protect them from Paimon, but only sets about causing rifts between her family. She starts to feel like her grandmother is haunting her and we are set up for a classic haunting tale - but then the film takes a horrific turn in the terrifying decapitation of the special needs sister Charlie, who in an prophylactic shock sticks her head out of the car and is killed. It's a harrowing scene, especially as we follow older brother Peter who goes into a deep state of shock.
Still haunted by tragedy (in some of the best acting I have ever seen) Annie tries to make sense of seeing the apparition of her mother and the traumas of her path and ends up conducting a seance to try and speak to Charlie, only to unwittingly be tricked into summoning Paimon instead, who takes control of Peter's body in a terrifying ritual that smacks of classic horror movie endings.
Get Out is the perfect social commentary for racism with a horror twist. This 2017 movie created by Jordan Peele put Peele on the map when it came to horror, but it also turned the classic horror trope of the "black character" always getting killed off first. Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, the hard-working and quite wholesome main character who just happens to be dating white girl Rose (Played by Allison Williams). Their relationship has progressed enough that Rose takes Chris home to meet her extremely accommodating parents (played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) who Chris takes to be simply nervous about their daughter's inter-racial relationship.
The real villain of this story isn't a knife wielding maniac, but actually the systematic racism behind the white characters who attempt to appear "woke" in a time that people have actually woken up to racism, but are simply not. As the story progresses, Chris ultimately gets hypnotised by Rose's mother into what is referred to as "The Sunken Place", which while being horrifically trapping in horror movie overtones, also serves as a metaphor for the "state of marginalisation" that the African-American community faces. Peele said of "The Sunken Place"; "No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us".
As Peele starts to feel uneasy about the hypnotherapy he soon discovers that the African-American housekeepers and gardeners seem to have also have been under her spell, being more so compliant than they should be in 2017. Chris soon discovers that his fellow peers have all been brought to the affluent suburb for the elderly group of white liberals who refer to themselves as The Order of The Coagula, a mad scientist like cult that has discovered the secret of extended-life through brain-transplantation, and the forcing of the original hosts into "The Sunken Place" forever.
The film's real horror is the constant anxiety that is portrayed through Chris' eyes, which is something that the black community face every day - the idea that something isn't quite right, and it turning out to be the case. This intricate layering makes the film extremely thought-provoking, and as one of the most profitable movies ever made in 2017, there is a reason that real human emotion is the scariest.