Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
Mixtape Macabre: “Revenge of The Host” Double FeatureColumns,Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome to Mixtape Macabre, an ongoing column in which FANGORIA examines and recommend cinematic soulmates to horror fans, whether it be through anthology mixes, double features, or other fun moviewatching experiments. In doing so, we hope to give horror fans a new reason to revisit our favorite frighteners, and perhaps even make a macabre mixtape of their own.
While the boundaries and definitions of horror are often debated, there’s little arguing about how important the revenge subgenre is to genre as a whole. Whether it’s adopting the format of a slasher for rape-revenge, or using the supernatural as a platform for revenge in the narrative, the mechanisms driving horror are often the same as revenge thrillers or dramas. Considering just how brutal some revenge films can go in terms of gore, there’s little wonder as to why horror fans so frequently find themselves revisiting the subgenre.
And even though revenge anchors this week’s Mixtape Macabre, the two films in question compliment each other in different ways, as well. While one tends to go further in terms of viscera and the is more surreal, both almost entirely take place in a single location with a set group of characters against an otherworldly force, and each hinge on the concept of facing the demons of one’s past.
For those unfamiliar, Eduardo Sanchez’s ALTERED is a literal Alien Abduction story. A group of men kidnap the extraterrestrial which had abducted and experimented on them (and their presumed dead friend) years before. Similarly, Mike Flanagan’s OCULUS follows a pair of siblings who look to get revenge on and destroy a supernatural mirror that ruined their childhood and sent one member into a mental institution.
The connective tissue between ALTERED and OCULUS is the nature of the horror: often times, both films are reliant on the tension between protagonist and antagonist within close quarters. In this sense, much of the suspense comes from a clever divide between what the characters (and supernatural forces) know and what the audience does not. When there’s a clear depiction of established animosity, the film builds in excitement as we wait to see what tricks both parties have up their respective sleeves.
Now, between the pair, I would likely choose to watch ALTERED before OCULUS just in terms of the dynamic of each film. For all of the interesting interactions and twists that ALTERED has to offer, the level of empathy associated with watching estranged friends taking on a threat is naturally less than watching family in danger. ALTERED also carries a more fun tone than OCULUS, which heads into darker and more tragic territory over the course of the narrative.
It also makes sense to approach ALTERED before OCULUS as the former’s mythos and timeline is much simpler. Conversely, OCULUS has many layers to the narrative and the antagonist defends itself using otherworldly tactics. In this sense, ALTERED compliments OCULUS by offering a revenge tale that’s atmospheric yet rudimentary in design, making the clever approach of OCULUS more unexpected and creepy.
Thematically speaking, ALTERED and OCULUS play to each other’s strengths perfectly as they both deal with facing inner demons. With the antagonists largely representing their own past guilt and fears, ALTERED and OCULUS both present characters who are dealing with unexplainable and irrational trauma in their own ways. While ALTERED offers a greater sense of camaraderie and righteousness in revenge, OCULUS is way more divisive considering the skepticism within the beginning. In that sense, OCULUS and ALTERED offer horror fans both sides of the revenge subgenre coin, with the former offering intense psychological terror as opposed to the latter’s penchant for brutal physical horror.
The films also mesh thanks to the similar cinematic voices of Flanagan and Sanchez. Both filmmakers understand just how strong horror can be when intimate tales flirt with ambition, especially when these stories limit their scope to few locations. Flanagan and Sanchez sell the claustrophobia of each tale by hinting at just how dangerous the antagonists can be when unleashed, and both use the power of darkness to their aesthetic gain. Yet Flanagan and Sanchez also represent directors whose previous films received enough attention that they learned what worked and what didn’t about working on a budget, which makes these follow-up efforts stronger in concept and execution.
Overall, the “Revenge of the Host” Double Feature works best with a little patience and a dark, stormy night, but should be effective nonetheless. With ALTERED serving as a thematic and tonal precursor, the narrative complexities of OCULUS feel more palatable and more plausibly scary. Above all, the atmosphere carrying over from ALTERED into OCULUS ramps up the tension, which makes the gut-punch ending of the latter all the more earned.