M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! Every day in this glorious month of October I’ll be counting down the best in horror, culminating with the best horror film since last Halloween! With theaters closed for the bulk of this shitty, shitty year, much of the countdown comes from alternative sources like streaming services, digital download, and On Demand. Plus, we saw the return of the drive-in theater, which is awesome! This list compiles the best horror films released beginning on October 1, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. No elitism here—only films released to the public on this list which rules out haughty festival flicks that only esteemed reviewers get to see. If it played on a public screen this year, it’s fair game to be on the list. Here we go!
Released on October 11, 2019. Available on digital download, On Demand, and Blu-ray from Arrow Films!
THE DEAD CENTER (2018)
Directed by Billy Senese
Written by Billy Senese
Starring Shane Carruth, Poorna Jagannathan, Jeremy Childs, Bill Feehely, Andy McPhee, Rachel Agee, Jackie Welch, J. Thomas Bailey, Shelean Newman, Dean Hall, Darius Willis, Bridget Berger, Felix Eckhardt, Josh Raby, Brandon Hirsch, Maureen Wildman, Denice Hicks, John Michael Weatherly, Elliot Meyer, Reegus Flenory, Wrigley Mandile, Jessejames Locorriere, Heather Le Roy, Cinda McCain, Travis Nicholson, Ted Welch, Aleta Myles, Quinn Cooke, Brian Russell, Tamiko Robinson Steele, Aaron Crossley
Combining subtle thrills with one of the most genuine depictions of the sterile and soul-crushing environment of a hospital mental ward I’ve ever seen, THE DEAD CENTER is a truly rattling psychological horror that you’ll never forget.
An overworked doctor, Daniel Forrester (played by Shane Carruth) is perplexed by a new patient John Doe (Jeremy Childs), who showed up in an unregistered hospital bed and was recently admitted to his psych unit. Meanwhile, the county coroner Edward Graham (Bill Feehely) is in search of the body that disappeared from his morgue and Daniel is trying to get to the bottom of who this strange man is. Soon people start dying and both Daniel and Edward are inching closer and closer to the truth; that John actually somehow woke up in the morgue after being declared dead and may actually be a conduit to a dark and evil dimension.
Playing off as a hospital thriller and a police procedural mystery, THE DEAD CENTER is a riveting film about indescribable horrors. The attention to detail in making psych ward look and feel real impressed the hell out of me here as we go through the tumultuous day-to-day of Dr. Forrester as he meets with upset and unhinged patients and deals with the chaotic environment with a patient and collected demeanor. The film also shows how much facing that sort of chaos on a regular basis wears away at Forrester’s own mental health as he copes with alcohol and throwing his all into this new John Doe patient. The filmmakers behind this film, along with the exquisite and on-point acting of Shane Carruth really do nail the way the hallways of a mental hospital can be a salvation and a hell all at once.
Playing alongside the hospital weirdness is a restrained, yet fascinating performance from Bill Feehely as a coroner on the trail of John Doe’s body. He’s full of questions, but unlike Carruth’s Forrester who verbalizes these questions at the hospital, Feehely communicates them silently through the strange details he is picking up on his investigations. Seeing these two ends of the mystery getting closer and closer makes for some absolutely riveting cinema.
Without all of the flash and luster of a big Hollywood film, THE DEAD CENTER really delivers with the scares. These are unnerving moments of unease punctuated by the deaths caused by John Doe’s bizarre connection with a dark force that his body has tapped into. All of the acting is top notch, but because they are not big stars, you simple see the mystery and story unfold rather than stars speaking lines. Jeremy Childs is uncanny as John Doe. He looks odd and acts odd. He’s someone you might see on the street and move away from in the alien manner he does everything. Everything in THE DEAD CENTER is about the subtlety of the unease and thrill. It is the opposite of a Hollywood blockbuster, relying on subdued performances, under the radar scares, and shocking revelations.
In the end, THE DEAD CENTER is a film that will surprise you. It feels absolutely authentic, yet it deals with all kinds of other-worldly phenomenon. This one flew under my radar for too long and now that I’ve seen it, I want others to discover this grim and grotesque psychological terror trip.
THE 2019-2020 COUNTDOWN!
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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