The Best of Blumhouse: 10 essential flicks from one of cinema's most forward-thinking specialists - Knotfest

The Best of Blumhouse: 10 essential flicks from one of cinema’s most forward-thinking specialists

Posted by Nicolás Delgadillo in Culture on October 14, 2021

Movie producer Jason Blum’s company has released tons of brilliant modern horror classics and more in the past decade

Blumhouse Productions has become one of biggest and most important names in Hollywood since its inception at the turn of the century in 2000. Founded by film producer Jason Blum (who is apparently a bit of a genius when it comes to picking projects), the company has created an exceptionally impressive roster of movies in the past decade. Blumhouse has overseen the creation of horror franchises like Paranormal Activity, The Purge, and Insidious in addition to plenty of other works from filmmakers like Mike Flanagan, Jordan Peele, and M. Night Shyamalan to name a few. The company has even produced Academy Award winning dramas and branched off into other platforms like television and podcasting.

In 2018, Blumhouse launched the reboot / sequel of the decades-old Halloween franchise, arguably the most iconic slasher series to ever hit the big screen. Directed by David Gordon Green, the film acted as a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic, bringing back stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle and even having Carpenter’s direct involvement. It was a roaring success that now has Blumhouse set to release Halloween Kills, the middle chapter to a supposed trilogy that will conclude with Halloween Ends.

To celebrate the new release, we’ve gone through every Blumhouse Productions project to determine the best of the best. While the company is obviously best known for horror and thus films in that genre will dominate the list, we’ve also included some other equally as thrilling choices as well. Blumhouse’s upcoming films include next year’s The Black Phone, from Sinister and Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson, as well as a new adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter. They’re showing no signs of slowing down yet, not in number of releases, and certainly not in quality.

‘Insidious’ (2011) Directed by James Wan

James Wan has been an essential provider of genre blockbusters since his debut film with frequent creative partner Leigh Whannell, 2004’s Saw, helped chart the course for the turn that horror would take. The duo teamed up once again to make a sizable impact on Hollywood with 2010’s Insidious, a seemingly standard tale of a family (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, & Ty Simpkins) haunted by sinister spirits in their home that pushes things just a bit further into demonic possessions and astral dimensions.

The film is an incredibly effective thrill ride that employs plenty of old-school scares and Wan’s skills at building dread and suspense with minimal bloodshed, launching a franchise all its own. Alongside Wan’s similar The Conjuring universe, Insidious kicked off a new wave of haunted house and paranormal flicks that would dominate the horror scene for years. It’s a modern classic.

‘The Lords of Salem’ (2013) Directed by Rob Zombie

Like pretty much all of the macabre and arguably exploitative work of monsieur Rob Zombie, his 2013 film The Lords of Salem polarizes audiences and critics almost right down the middle. Starring his wife and muse Sheri Moon Zombie as a radio DJ with a checkered past named Heidi, the film takes place in Salem, Massachusetts and is far more atmospheric than most of the shock rocker’s other projects.

Heidi receives a mysterious gift that triggers some disturbing flashbacks, and soon her life becomes entangled with a coven of malevolent witches with ominous plans. The Lords of Salem is Zombie at his most creative and unrestrained, filled to the brim with visceral and unnerving imagery, weighty ideas and of course, slamming metal tunes. 

‘Whiplash’ (2014) Directed by Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle has quickly become one of the most sought-after and acclaimed filmmakers thanks to his award winning films La La Land and First Man, but his 2014 feature Whiplash – which had the writer and director pulling from his real life experiences – is what truly launched his continuously impressive career.

The film stars Miles Teller as a young student named Andrew who begins attending the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in the hopes of becoming a famous jazz drummer. But Andrew soon discovers the ruthless competitiveness of the program as he and his fellow students are subjected to the mental and physical abuse of conductor and bandleader Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons in one of the finest performances of his career). A riveting psychological drama filled with intensity, exceptional acting from its cast, and the most metal depiction of jazz music to date, Whiplash is a work of brilliance that became Blumhouse’s first production to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

‘Happy Death Day’ (2017)  Directed by Christopher Landon

Truly great horror comedies are few and far between, but Happy Death Day stands out thanks to its premise of Groundhog Day meets Scream as well as its alarmingly wonderful lead performance from Jessica Rothe. Rothe stars are Tree Gelbman, a college student who finds herself stalked and attacked by a stranger in a creepy baby mask on her birthday. When the stranger successfully murders Tree, she finds herself waking up in bed and starting the day all over again, and is forced to relive everything again and again until she can survive and discover who the killer really is. 

Happy Death Day is nonstop fun, uproariously funny, and surprisingly heartfelt by the film’s end. There’s plenty of slasher carnage to juxtapose with its lighter tone as well, a style that Landon would perfect with the film’s equally as brilliant sequel Happy Death Day 2U and Freaky, the filmmaker’s 2020 blend of slashers and body swap movies. If you’ve missed this hilarious and sharp surprise, now’s the time to give it a watch so we can finally get the third entry for a completed trilogy.

‘The Invisible Man’ (2020) Directed by Leigh Whannell

One of the last major theatrical releases before the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man is an expertly crafted update that successfully modernizes the classic horror story. The film follows Cecilia (an always exceptional performance from Elisabeth Moss), a woman who believes that her controlling, abusive, and wealthy boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is continuing to stalk and manipulate her even after his apparent death.

The scares and technical work behind the film are strong enough on their own, but the narrative also reveals the way people – especially women – are harmed by gaslighting and dismissed by others when trapped in a toxic relationship. It’s smart, thrilling, and of course, scary as hell. One particular scene set during a nice dinner is still one of the most shocking of the past few years. Whannel’s take on The Invisible Man is a must-watch, and a strong example of how the endless cycle of reboots and remakes can occasionally still deliver something genuinely masterful.

‘Get Out’ (2017) Directed by Jordan Peele

For those who were paying close attention during the days of Key and Peele, Jordan Peele’s pivot to full-blown horror might not have been completely out of left field, but what was unexpected was just how masterful that shift was. 2017’s Get Out was an instant horror and cultural landmark, propelling Peele – and the film’s star, Daniel Kaluuya – to stardom. It garnered critical acclaim, several award nominations (including Best Picture at the Oscars), and lots of box office cash.

The film follows a young Black man named Chris (Kaluuya) visiting the family of his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), for the first time. Disturbing secrets are revealed, and the film dives deep into the unnerving and often horror-tinged realities of the Black experience in America. Powerfully resonant in a way that’s purposefully on-the-nose yet still artful, Peele’s film undeniably changed the game and helped push vital conversations about race in America even further. We’re still seeing the effects of it to this day, but for as many movies and series we’ve now seen that tackle similar topics, none have managed to surpass Get Out quite yet.

‘Paranormal Activity’ (2009) Directed by Oren Peli

1999’s The Blair Witch Project was what put the found footage genre on the map in addition to changing the landscape of horror at the time. It paved the way for Oren Peli, who wrote, directed, photographed, edited, and produced the first and probably forever best Paranormal Activity, to change the game once again. Peli’s film employs much of the same power as its ’99 predecessor, using minimalist handheld video cameras to capture the story of a couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) who are haunted by a malevolent supernatural entity in their house.

It’s the increasingly eerie way the film builds suspense, combining the use of the performances, the sound design, the way its cameras are staged, and the power in scaring you with everything you don’t see that makes it such an effectively chilling movie. Made on a minuscule budget and turned into Blumhouse’s first box office smash thanks in part to a genius viral marketing campaign, Paranormal Activity is a pretty perfect horror flick that almost instantly got swept up in the shadow of its immediate and numerous sequels and the many, many copycat movies that followed. But Peli’s original is just as genuinely scary as it ever was.

‘Split’ (2017) Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

2017 sure was quite a year for Blumhouse, wasn’t it? They kicked off that year in January with what would become the comeback of M. Night Shyamalan, the psychological nightmare that is Split. Shyamalan has dipped his toes into the realm of horror time and time again throughout his eclectic career, but Split is undoubtedly one of his most terrifying outings to date. The film stars James McAvoy (in a daunting and amazing performance) as a mentally ill man with various personalities named Kevin Wendell Crumb who abducts three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson & Jessica Sula) and holds them prisoner.

Split is Shyamalan’s most immediately intense filled with incredibly effective moments of terror and is yet another showcase of the filmmaker’s direct influences from Alfred Hitchcock. While plenty great on its own, the film’s true surprise that linked it back to a previous Shyamalan movie is what shook the world upon its initial release. It’s a truly wild ride start to finish.

‘Upgrade’ (2018) Directed by Leigh Whannell

Before The Invisible Man, Leigh Whannell teamed with Blumhouse for a low budget B-movie of sorts decidedly not in the horror genre. Upgrade, which Whannell began writing several years before filming ever began, is more action than anything, but it also bends genre to its will at times with gritty cyberpunk and sci-fi elements and even a fair dose of dark humor. It’s a nasty little piece of work that’s far more entertaining than anyone might’ve guessed considering it’s Whannell’s first true solo outing, but that just makes it all the more impressive.

The film follows a man named Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) who suffers a tragic incident that leaves him alone and severely paralyzed. Grey is offered a chance at walking once again with a new and experimental implant, which ends up giving him near-superpowered strength and skills. There’s one problem though: Grey is adamantly against technology, something that’s become more and more difficult to avoid as it’s seeped into every aspect of life. Upgrade is delirious and messy fun with a sharp sense of wit and theme. Don’t sleep on it any longer.

‘BlacKkKlansman’ (2018) Directed by Spike Lee

Spike Lee has been one of the most vital contributors to American cinema for decades now, but it wasn’t until 2018 that the iconic filmmaker was finally nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards with BlacKkKlansman. The film, based on the memoir of Colorado Springs police officer Ron Stallworth, details Stallworth’s historic turn as the first Black officer to join the city’s police department and his attempts to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan chapter.

Lee would take home the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the first time thanks to the film, which featured fantastic performances from stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Herrier and Topher Grace. It’s Lee at his absolute best, firing on all fronts to create something gripping, moving, hilarious, important, poignant, and tragically relevant. Absolutely required viewing.

Knotfest 2021 Halloween Horror Coverage:

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The Best of Blumhouse: 10 essential flicks from one of cinema’s most forward-thinking specialists

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