Hey, remember a few weeks ago when I said I was kicking off a series of pieces focusing on time-travel related movies? Yep, me too; like, last night.
Since today is the designated “Future Day” that takes place in “Back to the Future, Part II” and Halloween also just happens to be about a week away, it only makes sense to do one running down a few of my favorite horror films that handle the “multiple worlds” type of time travel in unique, interesting or particularly grotesque ways.
Keep in mind, I’m listing these not just because they involve time travel, but also because they’re really, really good. That being said, if stuff like brains growing out of demon hands or, I dunno, penises that look like dragons make you squeamish, you should probably just stop at this article. M-kay? M-kay.
- V/H/S Viral (“Parallel Monsters” segment)
The “V/H/S” series of films is definitely a mixed bag when it comes to quality, none more so than this third installment of the anthology-style franchise. Each film, and the series as a whole, revolves around a series of videotapes that has a sometimes-creepy, sometimes-devastating effect on whoever views it; sort of like “The Ring” if it were mostly focused on body horror.
The penultimate segment, “Parallel Monsters,” is by far the best one in “Viral,” if for no other reason than the profoundly unsettling slow-build that leads into one of the more shocking climaxes of any film, short or feature-length, I’ve ever seen. In the story, a man, ostensibly a scientist, has been building a sort of “doorway” in the basement of the home he shares with his wife, Marta. When he activates the device, we not only see that it works, but that it has opened up a portal into a near-identical parallel dimension; we can see it’s identical, because an exact copy of the man is on the other side, having built the exact same machine.
Astounded and giddy, they begin to talk to each other and find that they have everything in common: they are both married to “Marta,” have both been working on the machine for the same amount of time, and their houses are exact mirror images of each other. They agree to explore each other’s side, and to meet back at the doorway in 15 minutes. As the perspective switches back and forth between the two, they begin to discover small differences in the parallel worlds: for one, Marta is fairly meek and quiet in the original world, but vivacious and outgoing in the other. As the two men spend a few minutes with each other’s version of Marta, things begin to quickly unravel, in the weirdest, most fantastically gross ways.
Trust me: look this up on Netflix and just queue up this segment. Then, y’know, never go to sleep again, ever.
- Event Horizon
On the surface, it’s pretty simple: a spaceship, utilizing an experimental type of hyper drive (which, and this is probably bunk, scientifically speaking, creates an artificial black hole and bridges two point in space light years apart), has gone missing, and another spaceship is dispatched to go and find it. That, essentially, is the plot, though there’s plenty of between-the-lines nightmare fuel to fill in the cracks.
For one thing, when the team arrives on the now-deserted ship, they recover the video log kept by the captain. Watching the final entry, they see a visibly tormented, mutilated crew violently slaughtering one another, while the blinded captain holds his own eyeballs up the camera and says, “liberate tuteme ex infiris.” Literally, “save yourself from hell.” The rescue crew deduces that the ship’s drive ripped a hole in space-time, and was sent to an alternate dimension of “pure chaos,” and has been instilled with a malevolent sentience. Essentially, the ship has gone to hell and, as a result, now carries hell with it.
It’s a great set-up, and a great take on the nature of Hell itself. Grounding something like that, a pure, ethereal, eldritch horror, making its existence entirely possible, almost makes it more horrifying. Perhaps most effectively, the movie is masterful at only showing glimpses of what this hell actually comprises, and what goes on. You can go frame-by-frame with those scenes if you want, but… good lord, what is wrong with you?
- Dark City
Another one that might make you go, “Oh yeah, that.” This movie came around at a weird point in our popular culture: people still wore Jncos, shopped at Spencer’s Gifts and snowboarder goggles were popular with non-snowboarders. Also, it had a similar look to, and was released around the same time as, the Matrix trilogy, so you can imagine it kind of got lost in the shuffle. That said, it’s a really unique take on the parallel universes motif.
A man, played by Rufus Sewell (truly our finest lazy-eyed thespian), awakens in a bathtub, having apparently been framed for the ritualistic murder of a woman. He makes it out of the apartment, and is soon on the run from both the city’s police and from “The Strangers,” terrifying, vaguely human authority figures who are able to stop time each night at midnight, and rearrange the city (the configuration, the details of its inhabitants’ lives, everything). The explanation for the presence and abilities of The Strangers is a little bit of a letdown (it’s aliens; of course it’s aliens), but it’s the atmosphere of the city itself, not to mention the pervasive sense of paranoia and oppression that the film executes so brilliantly, that makes you keep watching. If you like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” this is the one for you.