‘Marry My Dead Body’
There’s nothing remotely terrifying in this charming opposites-attract ghost comedy, a box office hit in Taiwan. Give it a shot if your taste in scary movies is the flavor of Horror Lite with a side of screwball romantic (ish) comedy.
When Wu Ming-han (Greg Hsu), a homophobic police officer, picks up a red envelope on the street, he gets roped into the folk ritual of a ghost marriage, a wedding to a dead person. His betrothed is Mao Mao (Austin Lin), a gay man who was killed in a hit-and-run and who still carries a torch for his ex-boyfriend. Despite their differences, the husbands agree to stay married to complete the ritual and solve Mao’s death, and in the process they forge a sweet “Odd Couple”-like companionship.
Cheng Wei-hao’s film is a comedy of many kinds — horror, queer, romantic, supernatural — that evolves from a gay panic farce into a slapsticky but heartfelt bromance about forgiveness and the singular power of coming out. Hsu and Lin are winsome leading men with a natural rapport that fuels the film’s goofy gay spirit, which lives somewhere between the endearing British comedy “Kinky Boots” and the cringey cop comedy “Partners.”
On his way to prison, Willem (a terrific Stephen Phillips) gets intercepted by a government agent who offers him the chance to be part of a secret mind-monitoring experiment instead of doing time. Willem agrees, and gets placed in cramped quarters lined with cameras.
As the film jumps between Willem’s suffocating present and his harrowing past as a drug-addicted father, it also moves between perspectives and camera styles, including surveillance, digital and even early-era video art. When a monstrous, mummy-like entity appears in an adjacent room and menacingly watches Willem through their shared window, this formally audacious film kicks into high gear as it careers toward a despairing finale.
The director Tristan Barr and the writer Vincent Befi seamlessly blend science fiction, horror and psychological thriller as they explore the horrors of addiction and the dangers of a dystopian state. As shot through a low-fi and intensely claustrophobic lens, Befi’s script is both a disorienting cautionary tale and a fever dream. Are Willem’s living nightmares real, or are we watching his life as imagined in his increasingly besieged head? I still don’t know despite a post-credit coda that tries to explain it all — and that’s what makes this one of my favorite under-the-radar horror films of the year.
Christian (Gard Lokke) leads a privileged life. He’s loaded, lives on his dead parents’ estate and is blessed with model good looks. And he’s got a cute and devoted dog named Frank. I take that back: He doesn’t have a dog, because Frank is a guy in a dog costume who Christian treats as his full-time canine companion — a hardcore manifestation of puppy play, a dom-sub scenario popular in the kink community.
Sigrid (Katrine Lovise Opstad Fredriksen), who Christian meets on Tinder, at first is weirded out by Frank. But eventually she comes around to the situation, and agrees to go with the two on a weekend getaway, where Christian convinces Sigrid to put away her phone. That’s when this Norwegian film takes a sinister twist I didn’t see coming.
The writer-director Viljar Boe doesn’t go overboard during most of his entertaining and exploitation-like parable about power, privilege and punishment. But that reserve goes out the window as the film’s enthusiastically sordid final stretch reaches its climax with a symphony of spanking, heavy metal and primal screams. It’s a hoot.
I lost count of how many conventions — haunted house, demonic possession, supernaturalism, giallo — the writer-director Calvin McCarthy packs into his low-budget meditation on grief and loss. The result is both under and over baked. But it’s also unabatingly odd and enthusiastically macabre, with a soft uncanniness akin to what made the recent weirdo thrillers “Superior” and “Outpost” so darkly entertaining.
Monica (Stephanie Leet), reeling from her father’s mysterious death, heads to his secluded cottage with her husband, Andre (Neil Green). There, she hears her father’s deathly screams, has nightmares in red and vomits up chunky blood. To get away from it all, Andre spends time jogging through the forest, where he keeps encountering a strange white-eyed woman (Chynna Rae Shurts, wonderful), whose dire warnings for Andre and Monica to leave the house he ignores with deadly consequences.
Stylistically, McCarthy’s giallo touches — frenzied zoom-ins, gasps, saturated red and purple cinematography — are delicious. Bonus: McCarthy gives a loving shout out to Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond,” one of my favorite giallo films.
‘Tell Me a Creepy Story’
Two great scares front load this anthology of four international horror shorts you can stream for free.
The best comes first and from the U.K.: Paul Holbrook and Samuel Dawe’s “Hungry Joe.” The title character, played by several actors as he ages, won’t stop eating, and his appetite tests the patience of his increasingly resentful mother (an excellent Laura Bayston). As Joe grows into a feral man-child, his hunger, and the film, take a gruesome turn that asks a difficult question: What responsibilities does a mother have to her not-so-little monster? (All this in just 22 minutes.) ASMR makes my skin crawl, so I was extra creeped out by Joe’s incessant sucking, chomping and slurping.
The second film is Félix Dobaire’s gorgeously shot evil vegetable movie “Myosotis.” In French but nearly wordless, it reiterated one of horror’s most important housekeeping life lessons: Never leave a knife in the dishwasher blade side up.