Avant-Terror: Contemporary Art-House Horror

Programmed by Adam Hart

Essay by Adam Hart

The art house has never been far from the grindhouse. International art cinema and horror have always had a surprisingly cozy relationship, at least in American exploitation theaters where Bergman and Fellini played alongside the films of sleaze auteurs like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Andy Milligan. The past 15 years, however, has seen an unprecedented interest in the actual conventions of horror among filmmaking's art house elite. With directors like Michael Haneke, Claire Denis, Danny Boyle, and Benicio del Toro making films that utilize the genre's tropes, horror is becoming a hybrid genre that encompasses both high and low, sometimes in the same film. This selection of films attempts to cover the expanding global genre that is contemporary horror as it pushes into the art house.

Michael Haneke turns the genre on its head with an accusatory address to the audience, examining in detail the impulse to see disturbing images onscreen while retaining their power to shock. Claire Denis followed up the rapturous visuals of her masterpiece Beau Travail with Trouble Every Day, an equally elliptical narrative that introduces the sickening dread of unimaginable savagery into a film that otherwise has surprising resonances with her previous film. Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is one of the purest, and most powerful, cinematic instances of the fantastic, telling a sort of fairy tale that features perhaps the most memorable creatures in modern cinema. Danny Boyle almost single-handedly restarted the zombie film with 28 Days Later, a low-budget indie feature that takes advantage of digital video's portability to create an intimate portrait of desperate people on the run from the hordes of people infected with an apocalyptic "rage virus." Tomas Alfredson uses the figure of a vampire to explore the fragile psyche of a painfully lonely little boy in Let the Right One In, a film that manages to be simultaneously touching and terrifying.

The filmmakers in this series understand the broader expressive possibilities of the horror genre, bringing the visceral effects of shock, revulsion, and fear into their creative palette. Those – like del Toro, Tomas Alfredson, and Ti West – working more within the realm of the fantastic explore a sharp-edged wonder associated with the sublime while maintaining the urgent bodily fear essential to modern horror cinema. They approach horror not as a genre that confines or limits the kinds of films they make, but as a mode that opens up their films to new thematic, formal, and narrative opportunities.

This series is presented in conjunction with the conference "Contemporary Horror: De-Stabilizing a Cinematic Genre," taking place April 25-26 at the Logan Center. This conference will feature a keynote address from Adam Lowenstein (author of the book Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film).


2014-04-03 @ 9:00 PM

Funny Games

(Michael Haneke, 1997) · A meta-horror movie that rivals any horror film for its unyielding intensity, Funny Games follows the ever-increasing stakes of a home invasion as two cheerful preppies torture a wealthy family in their lakeside vacation home. Michael Haneke manages to create an immensely powerful portrait of emotional abjection while winking at the camera and forcing the audience to acknowledge its own complicity in the spectacle unfolding on the screen.

runtime: 108 min format: 35mm


2014-04-10 @ 9:15 PM


(Lars von Trier, 2009) · A couple who have recently lost their only son retreat to a log cabin in the woods. He begins to have strange visions and she grows increasingly violent and sadistic. Inspired by films like Ringu and Dark Water, von Trier took a stab at the horror genre. As John Waters said of the film: "If Ingmar Bergman had committed suicide, gone to hell, and come back to earth to direct an exploitation/art film for drive-ins, this is the movie he would have made."

runtime: 108 min format: 35mm


2014-04-17 @ 9:15 PM

Trouble Every Day

(Claire Denis, 2001) · Denis, after Beau Travail cemented her status as a revered director of the international art cinema, took an unexpected left turn with this film about an affliction ranging from savagery to cannibalism. Though visually rapturous and narratively enigmatic, the eroticized violence shocked viewers and critics. Later, it would be recognized as an inspiration for the "New French Extremity" movement, characterized by an intense, disturbing focus on the body.

runtime: 101 min format: 35mm


2014-04-24 @ 9:00 PM

28 Days Later

(Danny Boyle, 2002) · Much of the resurgent interest in zombies in the past decade can be attributed to this film, in which director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) relies on cheap digital cinematography to capture the urgency and panic of an apocalyptic scenario. Taking a cue from George Romero's classic Day of the Dead, Boyle is equally concerned with the horrific, brutal behavior between survivors as he is with the hordes of the infected.

runtime: 113 min format: 35mm


2014-05-01 @ 9:30 PM

The Descent

(Neil Marshall, 2005) · A year after the tragic death of her husband and child in a car accident, the still-mourning Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) reunites with an adventurous group of friends for a remote spelunking trip. Tensions quickly rise as the friends make their way into the untouched, claustrophobia-inducing tunnels, which become increasingly perilous the further underground they go. Soon they realize that they might not be alone in these isolated, uncharted caves.

runtime: 99 min format: 35mm


2014-05-08 @ 9:30 PM

Pan's Labyrinth

(Guillermo del Toro, 2006) · In his international career, Guillermo Del Toro has proven himself to be one of modern cinema's greatest visionaries. This touching story follows a young girl in fascist Spain whose imagination, full of all-too-real seeming iconic monsters that are both fearsome and sublime, provides an escape from her loneliness and cruel stepfather. A critical landmark of the '00s, Pan's Labyrinth is a work that brilliantly evokes both wonder and fear.

runtime: 118 min format: 35mm


2014-05-15 @ 9:15 PM


(Park Chan-wook, 2013) · The stylish, fiendishly brilliant English-language debut of Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), Stoker tells a twisted, Hitchcockian tale of a family that harbors a dangerous secret. After her father dies in a car accident, India is left with her bitter, jealous mother (Nicole Kidman) and long-lost uncle Charlie. Once Charlie moves into the family house, people start disappearing, and the more India learns of her uncle's dark side, the more intrigued she becomes.

runtime: 99 min format: 35mm


2014-05-22 @ 9:30 PM

Let the Right One In

(Tomas Alfredson, 2008) · A touching but twisted film about adolescence, Let the Right One In's protagonist is a lonely, isolated boy who is bullied at school and finds little solace at home. He befriends the strange girl who moves into the apartment next door, who happens to be a murderous vampire. She helps to teach him to assert himself and grow more comfortable in his own skin, but at the cost of a chilling lack of empathy toward everyone but himself and the girl he loves.

runtime: 115 min format: 35mm


2014-05-29 @ 9:30 PM


(Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009) · Sheltered inside a large, high-walled compound, three young adults live an intensely surreal existence with their endlessly controlling parents. Never even glimpsing the world beyond the perimeter fence, the children know only the bizarre rules of their own family life. When their only visitor – a prostitute brought in to service the son – brings a bit too much of the outside world home, the delicate balance is upset. An even more nightmarish turn ensues.

runtime: 97 min format: 35mm


2014-06-05 @ 10:40 PM

The House of the Devil

(Ti West, 2009) · The brightest gem of American independent horror in recent decades, House of the Devil is a slow-burning, deliberately paced film following a college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) who takes on a job as a babysitter that quickly turns ominous. With slasher film, haunted house, and "Satanic panic" elements, the film follows the endearing, complex heroine as she whiles away her time in an (almost) abandoned house and the tension slowly builds.

runtime: 95 min format: 35mm


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