Hello wonderful people of Kindertrauma!
I have some recommendations for awesome movies for you to check out. Narrowing down the list to three was a challenge. I didn’t want to pick horror-adjacent movies I feel like most people have seen already (classics like Clue or Gremlins), and there’s so many great underrated flicks out there that deserve some love like Freaked, Copycat, Mary Reilly, and Flightplan. It wasn’t an easy decision, but here’s three non-horror movies for horror fans that I think are worth a watch.
Clay Pigeons (1998).
Joaquin Phoenix plays Clay Bidwell, a genial and unmotivated average guy in a nowhere town. These themes could be the set-up for many a story, but here we watch as things spiral quickly out of control like Animal from The Muppets decided to play his drums all over Clay’s life. There’s a likable sheriff played by the great Scott Wilson, a goofy Deputy named Barney, a sarcastic and intrepid FBI agent played by Janeane Garofalo, and a mysterious but affable new stranger in town (Vince Vaughn), all of whom play important roles in Clay’s predicament. They’d fit right in with the oddball residents of Twin Peaks, although the town they live in is much brighter and dustier and doesn’t have any supernatural undertones (although someday maybe we’ll get Clay Pigeons 2: The Revenge and scary Bob will take Clay to The Black Lodge) .
Clay, like his namesake, can be molded easily depending on who he’s interacting with, coloring not only his decisions but exacerbating the multiple dilemmas he finds himself in. You’ll find yourself feeling sorry for Clay one minute and wanting to slap him for the choices he makes like Cher does Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck. The script is infused with dark humor and takes a different approach to the typical beats of a crime thriller, from the sardonic dialogue to the gray morality of the characters. The serial killer in this dead-end town isn’t an indestructible monster like Jason, Freddy, or Michael, nor is he a brilliant criminal mastermind like Hannibal Lecter. There are no outright heroes or villains or blanket judgments on right vs. wrong.
“Some people just need – need – killing,” Vince Vaughn’s Lester Long tells Clay, and even if we don’t agree with that, the movie doesn’t take sides and lets us see how Clay, Lester, and Garofalo’s strong-willed Agent Dale Shelby react to the murder and mayhem around them. While there are striking scenes of blood and violence, director David Dobkin doesn’t highlight the gore, rather the character’s reactions to the bloodshed and chaos around them. The film utilizes an idiosyncratic, unconventional blend of crime, drama, humor, and pathos to tell Clay’s story, highlighting themes like friendship, loyalty, small town life, and where the line is between the choices you can live with and those that will keep you awake at night. Hopefully horror fans looking for something unique and offbeat to watch will appreciate Clay’s bizarre world.
The House of Yes (1997).
This independent black comedy has many of the tropes that horror fans know and love—a giant mansion, a weird and bizarre (by society’s standards) family, a raging storm, an electrical outage plunging the characters into darkness, deep dark family secrets being unearthed, and taboo subjects such as incest, mental illness, classism, and murder.
The phenomenal Parker Posey plays Jackie-O, who suffers from many unspecified mental afflictions and disorders, including her obsession with the Kennedy assassination and her twin brother Marty. Marty (Josh Hamilton) is returning for Thanksgiving dinner with his new girlfriend Lesly (Tori Spelling) in tow, despite the warnings from his mother (Genevieve Bujold) that Lesly’s presence could send Jackie-O into another psychopathic spiral. Why? Let’s just say that Jackie-O and Marty have a relationship that Cersei and Jaime Lannister would throw a piñata party for.
Like an affluent version of the Sawyer family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but with much less cannibalism, the Pascals live in a bubble from the outside world and do not take kindly to intruders. Maybe there’s a crossover movie with Pascals and Sawyers waiting to happen in a shared universe.
Jackie-O is horrified that Lesly works at as a waitress and comes from poverty. Tori Spelling is outstanding as Lesly, holding her own against the formidable Posey. Lesly acts as the audience surrogate, thrust into a world of wealth, privilege, and peculiarity she has never seen before. Spelling excels in a down-to-earth role that’s light-years away from the one that made her famous, the beloved Donna Martin.
It’s hard enough to meet your significant other’s family for the first time, and the Pascals aren’t Kardashian-level rich/crazy, or even Elon Musk-level rich/crazy; theirs is on a whole different level. Lesly is the outsider penetrating the bubble of abnormality the Pascals have fostered; she is our proxy to Sally Hardesty entering the Sawyer’s house. This is not a movie filled with action sequences or loud explosions. The emphasis is on characterization and the quick, witty dialogue from a smart script, as every conversation reveals another layer to each of the roles. The words spoken say several things at once, on many levels; while at the same time, it hinges on the things unspoken to drive the plot and interactions.
Lesly: I don’t think you’re insane.
Jackie-O: You don’t?
Jackie-O: You don’t think I’m an eensie-weensie bit insane?
Lesly: I don’t think you’re insane. I think you’re spoiled.
Jackie-O: Oh please. If everyone around here is going to start telling the truth, I’m going to bed.
Jackie-O is at once the most feared and loved member of the family. Her family’s money has made it so she is never held accountable for anything she does. It’s a razor-sharp look at how money guarantees privilege and success even when it’s not hard-earned. She disregards all others for her own feelings and manipulates those around her. Parker Posey is mesmerizing as Jackie-O, never playing her as a villain but as a pampered, damaged soul who can justify going against any societal norm for her own benefit.
The House of Yes takes on topics people don’t discuss in polite society and brings them to light. While it never mocks its characters or their suffering, it uses its humor to underscore the tense atmosphere and familial conflict. It would make an amazing horror film because its themes are horrific.
The Opposite of Sex (1998).
The always-incredible Christina Ricci plays the acerbic, amoral Dedee Truitt, who moves in with her well-off half-brother in Indiana and wreaks havoc on his life. She’s the human equivalent of a twister. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton could chase Dedee down by following her trail of destruction. From murder, unwanted pregnancy, seduction, thievery, manipulation, and the lies she spins, Dedee is the villain of the ultimate Lifetime t.v.-movie come to life. However, she’s also a smart and interesting lead character, never afraid to speak her mind or share her thoughts. Like Sophia from The Golden Girls, she does not care what you think or if you like her. She is who she is.
The bright script is whip-smart, insightful, and politically incorrect without devolving into maudlin sentimentality or providing trite resolutions. “If you think I’m just plucky and scrappy and all I need is love, you’re in over your heads,” Dedee tells the audience right away in a voiceover. “I don’t have a heart of gold and I don’t grow one later, okay? But relax. There’s other people a lot nicer coming up – we call them ‘losers.’” The movie tackles themes like rejection, isolation, love, longing, sexuality, sex, and the family that you’re born into vs. the family you make.
Those of us who grew up with their parents telling them that watching horror movies would “turn you into a serial killer” (wait, am I the only one whose folks said that?) can relate to the movie’s themes of being an outsider. Each character is on the fringe of judgmental genteel society in their own way. Every person in the movie is searching for something, somewhere, that gives them the feeling of belonging or acceptance. The greatest example of this comes from Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), the frumpy, bitter best friend of Dedee’s stepbrother Bill. Lucia is the complete inverse of the character Kudrow played on Friends. Her character is the most interesting in a movie filled with complex and layered roles, and she thoroughly deserved a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance here.
Having been relegated to the Judy Greer-best-friend-role even in her own life, Lucia is the observer and truth-teller of the movie, though no one really listens to her. “Do you know what my Mom said when she found out Tom was gay?” Lucia asks Bill (Dedee’s stepbrother). “She said ‘It’s such a lonely life.’ She said that to the single straight girl. Isn’t that funny?” Lucia represents the loneliness the characters – and people everywhere – feel; the sense of being an outcast, the knowledge that there’s billions of people in the world but sometimes you can’t find your peeps.
Side note: I never did turn into a serial killer. I didn’t even try. Sorry Mom and Dad.
Thanks for reading, Kindertrauma! Stay safe out there.