Q: Even though I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to blood ’n’ guts on screen, I have a long-standing tradition of watching horror movies around Halloween. (Other times of the year it’s strictly rom-coms and anything and everything Clive Owen.) This Halloween, I’m on the hunt for a movie that doesn’t involve human slaughter via pickaxes, chainsaws and Rube Goldberg-inspired torture devices and that, well, has an environmental message buried in it somewhere … a little green to balance out all that red, if you know what I mean. I’m not looking for a gross-out fest that will keep me up all night worrying about toxic waste zombies and rabid sheep, but something to get me thinking. Do you have any suggestions for an eco fright-fest?
-- Laurie, Haddonfield, Ill.
A. First off, I have to say that there are plenty of romantic comedies out there that are a heck of a lot scarier than anything involving pickax-wielding crazies. Seriously, Wes Craven and Nora Ephron work in the same genre as far as I’m concerned.
Secondly, you’re in luck. There are tons of eco-horror films out there that hopefully won’t make your stomach churn or leave you too scared to take out the recycling after 10 p.m. A warning: You won’t find any deep environmental messages aside from "be nice to Mother Nature or else …" in these movies although some are more serious than others. I’m a bit of a scary movie nut myself so I’m glad to make a few recommendations.
“Animals gone bad” films may be a good place to start if you’re weary of anything involving the supernatural or serial killers. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is a staple in the genre and still flat-out terrifying. I saw it at a young age and it stayed with me. So long in fact, that last year when I was on a road trip along the California coast with friends, we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break in Bodega Bay and I refused to get out of the car in fear of an avian attack. Arachnophobia is also a classic sure to make your skin crawl and we mustn’t forget Jaws although a more recent scary shark flick, Open Water, gave me an in-theater panic attack. One of the better murderous animal films I’ve seen recently was Rogue about a bloodthirsty Aussie croc, but if you’re looking for old-school camp, try Day of the Animals. And if you’re curious about the dangers of genetic engineering, watch Jurassic Park.
Moving on from fauna to flora, murderous, possessed trees always give me the chills because, well, I don’t really expect it. Watch The Evil Dead or Poltergeist if you want to have nightmares about Douglas firs. And while we’re on the homicidal plant tip, two films, The Ruins and The Happening, will have you keeping a distance from your houseplants for at least a week.
On the more-creepy-than-scary list is one of my favorite cult flicks, The Wicker Man (the original, not the so-bad-it’s-funny Nic Cage remake). In short, it’s about what happens when a group of sexed-up Scottish pagans are let down by Mother Nature. What happens? Well, I’ll let you find out.
Two more cult classics from yesteryear (well, from before 1990) are The Prophecy (about industrial waste, logging and killer bear-monsters) and Dario Argento’s Phenomena (about mutant children, insects and telekinesis). And a sure to be cult classic eco-horror film that was just released on DVD? Try the Val Kilmer flick, The Thaw, about a deadly parasite unearthed by a melting polar ice cap.
I could go on and on and I haven’t even gotten to natural disaster movies or “vegan horror films” but I’m guessing that there’s something here that will give the chills. Or you could just whip up some popcorn, turn the lights off, and rent An Inconvenient Truth.