Wondering what to watch? This week on streaming offers some preemptive counter programming to Valentine's Day, with a string of horror films emerging from the murky depths to satisfy those who don’t really feel like watching any schmaltz when the day comes.
Not that there’s no fun to be had: if there is anything you could accuse Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, it’s absolutely not that it’s joyless, as it spins goofy and gory horror comedy out of the premise of the low-budget terror of the first.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in February
The same applies to another pick of the week, Orphan: First Kill, a prequel to Orphan landing on Paramount+, in which a 30-year-old woman is mistaken for a small child and adopted by a well-meaning family.
Though that particular element of surprise is gone, First Kill has more up its sleeves, as well as the way in which it gleefully leans into its ridiculous premise.
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Evil Dead II (1987) | NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership (pick of the week)
The B-movie horror classic from Sam Raimi is the high point of a trilogy with no bad entries. Taking the vague story and more sincere terror of The Evil Dead and filtering it through demented black comedy, in the sequel the reading from The Book of the Dead leads into a much more kinetic and cartoonish film than the first.
The roots of Evil Dead II’s influence on the director’s career spread far. It’s part of why his Spider-Man films linger in the memory, why one of the second film’s most pivotal scenes feels the way it does, the moment when Doc Ock’s limbs unconsciously attack his surgeons directly lifted from Raimi’s first person camera shots used to evoke evil.
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All of this is cranked up to giddy extremes in Evil Dead II, and amidst all the in-camera tricks, the buckets of blood, dismembered limbs and deadites, Bruce Campbell feels like the film’s greatest practical effect, holding the attention and entertaining even when he’s just fighting his own (possessed) hand.
Also on NOW: Top Gun: Maverick (2022), Madness: The Get-Up! (2023), Rock Dog 3: Battle The Beat (2023)
Orphan: First Kill (2022) | Paramount+
Following on from the absurd twist of the first Orphan, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, it feels like the prequel Orphan: First Kill has the uphill task of feeling fresh for surprise an audience that already knows the score.
First Kill, though it lacks the visual elegance and confidence that Serra held behind the camera, is at least confident in its outrageous doubling down and even subversion of the first film’s wild denouement.
Watch a trailer for Orphan: First Kill
In recollection perhaps of the documentary The Imposter, in which an older man masquerades as the missing child of a couple Leena Klammer (the first film’s Isabelle Fuhrman, still utterly delightful here) escapes a psychiatric facility in Estonia and gets to America by impersonating Esther, the missing daughter of a wealthy family.
Read more: Everything new on Paramount+ in February
Aside from a slight change in perspective, so far, so similar. But the film finds an exceedingly fun and perhaps even more ludicrous way to refresh the story, through a second act twist that entirely changes the expected dynamic and brings First Kill into its own.
Also on Paramount+: At Midnight (2023), Whitney Houston & Bobbi Kristina: Didn't We Almost Have It All? (2023)
Dunkirk (2017) | BBC iPlayer
Not horror in the strictest sense of genre as in the prior two choices for this week’s streaming highlights, but Christopher Nolan’s war film Dunkirk is filled with terror regardless.
There’s claustrophobia to spare as soldiers are drowned or threatened with drowning in various horrific ways. The German army remains unseen for the entire runtime, appearing more as an existential threat just lingering beyond the boundaries of the screen.
Though Hoyte van Hoytema’s camerawork is awe-inspiring in its scale it’s the emotional intensity with which he shoots little moments of panic and collapse that makes Dunkirk convincing despite its occasional lapses into mawkishness.
Watch a trailer for Dunkirk
Set during the fall of France in 1940, Allied soldiers are forced into retreat to Dunkirk, and the film follows the multilateral efforts to evacuate them as Nolan tracks the events — in non-linear time, of course — by sky and by sea.
It’s held together by an ensemble cast of both veterans and newcomers (including one Harry Styles), though one or two monologues aside it’s not much of a capital ‘A’ “Acting” film, the actors more pieces in a puzzle slowly being put together.
Not Nolan’s best experiment with jumbled up scripting (that honour is still Memento’s) nor his most emotionally involving (that’d be Interstellar), but a fascinating project that stands out from the yearly glut of World War II films on the hunt for awards.
Also on iPlayer: Muppet’s Most Wanted (2014)