My introduction to writer/director Ben Rock came when I interviewed him for his 2009 highly-underrated flick Alien Raiders, which took themes from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing and combined them with a little bit of “24” for good measure (hard not to when the film’s star is Carlos Bernard). Last year I had the opportunity to experience Rock’s work in the realm of live theatre with his twisted play Ba’al and quickly realized he’s someone who has an interesting perspective when it comes to genre-related projects.
I recently caught up with Rock, who’s been busy working on content for a recent big-name video game release, to find out what his top five independent horror films are. Check out his favorites below!
1. MIDNIGHT SON
Scott Leberecht’s debut feature about a young man turning into something he doesn’t want to understand brings me back to hanging out at a record store, trying to find a band that scratched an itch I couldn’t get anywhere else. It’s that indie film, the one you want all your friends to see. It proves that great movies are about ideas, not big-budget spectacle. After several years of crappy Twilight-isized vampires, it’s nice to see a stripped-down film with real characters and a strong story.
Sometimes reality is scarier than anything any of us could invent. Such is the case with Cropsey, Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman’s exploration of an urban legend of their local bogeyman, but revealing a darker true story than either of them would have believed.
3. THE REVENANT
Some movies are just willing to go to places where no other film has the balls to tread. This is that film. I hope I’m not overstating it to call this film the Re-Animator of its generation. Director/writer D. Kerry Prior fills this movie with dark, twisted, funny imagery that re-imagines some solid horror tropes while pulling out some big-gun new ideas that will stick in your subconscious. All with great acting, great camerawork, and a smart production all around.
4. THE BURROWERS
J.T. Petty is a phenomenally intriguing filmmaker ever since 2001’s micro-budget breakout Soft for Digging. The Burrowers is an amazing bit of misdirection – Petty makes a perfectly-satisfying western, then adds monstrous giant man-eating worms into the mix. It’s like if the heroes of The Searchers or True Grit suddenly found themselves fighting something a little more fearsome than pissed-off natives or Tom Chaney. The acting, cinematography, and monster FX are top-notch, keeping this film grounded in reality and never singing the siren song of the B-movie which many lesser directors would crash right into. One scene in particular made me shriek like a little girl right in the movie theater.
5. THEY CAME BACK (LES REVENANTS)
As the DVD store dies off, this kind of discovery will be the casualty. I found this 2004 gem (directed by Robin Campillo) at a video store, bought it on an impulse buy, and it sat on my shelf for over a year. Then one day my wife and I popped it in and found ourselves truly absorbed in probably the most unique take on the zombie genre I could imagine. One day in a small town in France, all the recently-dead just walk out of the graveyard and back into their own lives. There’s no brain-eating and no debate between running or lumbering; these are just the people we’ve moved on from demanding to be allowed back into our lives. The film plays out like the creepiest allegory, shot beautifully and simply and filled with quiet lyricism. There are few (or zero, even) jump-type scares as that’s not the point here. The point is to let the discomfort and darkness live with the audience.
GRAPHIC SEXUAL HORROR
Yes, a second documentary. This one, directed by Barbara Bell and Anna Lorentzon is possibly the most disturbing film I’ve sat through in recent years. It covers the rise and fall of insex.com, a bondage/fetish website where women were paid handsomely to be ACTUALLY tortured. Geneva-Convention-be-damned, some of this makes waterboarding look like Chutes and Ladders. Every single character in this film gives me the creeps (especially the former art professor who runs the website and does some extremely creative torturing), as does anyone who would have frequented insex.com for its intended purposes. So show it to your grandmother.
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