Welcome to Beat the Algorithm, a recurring column providing relevant and diverse streaming recommendations based on your favorite movies. This time, we’re recommending movies like the teen occult horror movie Talk to Me.
You know who should be entrusted with the power to contact the dead? Teenagers who aren’t old enough to legally rent a car, that’s who.
Directed by Danny and Michael Philippou — twin brothers who rose to fame on YouTube — Talk to Me enjoyed its world premiere at Sundance where the film impressed with its gripping modern twist on the occult horror sub-genre. The film follows Mia (Sophie Wilde) a troubled teen reeling from the recent sudden death of her mother. Feeling fragile on the one-year anniversary of her mother’s passing, Mia is presented with the opportunity to partake in a dangerous party game. Naturally, she takes the opportunity by the hand. Literally.
No one knows where the embalmed hand came from. And no one knows why it has the ability to let spirits possess the user when the right words are spoken. But it does work. And before you can say “I let you in,” Mia is losing herself in the high of possession … and it doesn’t take long for things to get out of hand, so to speak.
From staples of Ozploitation to occult-leaning classics of folk horror, there are loads of films that fans of Talk to Me would do well to check out. From bold, provocative Video Nasties to modern genre hits, here are twelve films you should seek out if you liked Talk to Me.
This is your official warning that the following contains some narrative and thematic spoilers for Talk To Me. Proceed at your own risk.
Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)
Rain beats against the window as Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) prepares to host her weekly séance. She has a gift you know. She’s different. Special. And one day, the whole world will recognize her self-professed “talent” for the miracle it is. Especially if “the plan” goes off without a hitch.
Myra and her unemployed, weak-willed husband Billy (Richard Attenborough) are going to kidnap a child: the grade school daughter of a well-to-do family. Then, Myra will use her “powers” to help the police locate both the girl and the ransom money. She’ll be famous. A star. A hero.
Written and directed by Bryan Forbes, Séance on a Wet Afternoon is a queasy nightmare grounded in two powerhouse performances from a deluded Stanley and beaten-down Attenborough. When we meet the Savages, we can tell they’re already careening towards disaster. After all, as with Talk to Me, the more destructive side of the occult tends to sniff out traumatized individuals.
The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)
Set in 18th-century England, the film begins with the accidental discovery of a mangled corpse. Is it human? Animal? Something else? No one’s sure. But ever since the rank thing was exhumed, the local children have been acting real weird. Under the precocious iron fist of willful Angel Blake (Linda Hayden) the kids have started ritualistically worshipping the body in an abandoned church in the woods. Nothing bad will come of this, surely. Teenagers famously know when they’ve gone too far, right?
Talk to Me owes a great deal to The Blood on Satan’s Claw, which stands as one of the earliest movies to posit that teens, peer pressure, and the occult are a match made in Hell. It’s a brutal, slow-burn classic. And it deserves a spot on the watchlist of any horror fan.
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972)
A number of films on this list could have been called Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Hell, Talk to Me could have been called Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. But only one film has the actual pleasure.
The feature film debut of Bob Clark (who would direct Black Christmas two years later), this 1972 film about a gaggle of theater kids who dig up a corpse to use in a fake satanic ritual is, get this, a horror-comedy. Most occult stories, Talk to Me included, involve some degree of “fuck around and find out.” So what happens when a bunch of cringy try-hards accidentally do Satanism a little too well? The dead rise, that’s what.
Don’t Go in the House (1979)
A quick history lesson: in the early 1980s, a number of provocative films exploited loopholes in the BBFC classification system and avoided censorship by being distributed on video cassettes. Many prudes got upset about this. Many horror fans now thank these prudes for compiling a helpful list of cinemas with more boundary-pushing efforts. A lot of these movies aren’t very good (looking at you, 1980’s Cannibal Terror). But a great deal of them are, in fact, genre gems that were simply too groovy for their own good.
Don’t Go In the House falls into the latter category. Cut from the same cloth as The Driller Killer or Deranged, Joseph Ellison‘s debut feature follows a traumatized young man who takes his misogyny and dwindling mental health out on innocent local women. But this traumatized young man is a pyromaniac. If you wished Maniac or Psycho had more flame throwers in them, have I got the film for you.
Like Talk to Me, when we first meet Donny (Dan Grimaldi) he’s as fragile as glass. He has a job and at least one friend. But he’s barely hanging in there. So, when his mother dies unexpectedly, he gives up and gives in. The voices are getting louder. And his defenses are limited. Good thing he has his flamethrower.
Alison’s Birthday (1981)
If you’re discussing Ozploitation and you forget to mention Alison’s Birthday, a kangaroo breaks your door down, drinks all your beer, and steals your car keys. That’s not a joke. That really happens. Would I lie to you?
Partially produced by the Australian Film Commission, Alison’s Birthday begins with a well-known inciting incident in occult horror: teenagers messing around with a Ouija board. During the session, one girl appears to become possessed by our heroine’s father, who warns young Alison that something horrifying will happen on her nineteenth birthday. The possessed girl dies, leaving Alison to ponder the mysterious warning for the next few years. And when the ominous birthday does arrive, she can’t help but notice that her adopted parents are acting … strange. And was that stone altar always in the backyard?
Next of Kin (1982)
Not to be confused with the 1989 Patrick Swayze film of the same name, Tony Williams’ Next of Kin is yet another must-watch pillar of Ozploitation. The film follows Linda (Jackie Kerin), a young woman who suddenly inherits a large estate in her hometown after the sudden death of her estranged mother. The property acts as a retirement home. And while Linda grapples with her new (and unwelcome) responsibilities, the estate’s residents begin to die … unnaturally. Could a killer be on the loose? Could the deaths have anything to do with Linda’s vivid dreams? Is her mother trying to tell her something from beyond the grave?
If Black Christmas is Canada’s answer to giallo, then Next of Kin is Australia’s. Strikingly stylish and uncompromisingly pulpy, Next of Kin is proof that the Aussies have always pushed the limit when it comes to putting their unique spin on genre fare.
The Ring (2002)
Talk to Me is the latest entry in a cozy sub-genre of horror films based on urban legends, real and imagined. Think: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Alligator, and Candyman. It’s a spooky idea: that ghoulish games and word-of-mouth myths have some basis in reality. Or: that in the process of giving your pals a scare, you might accidentally let something in.
Based on an 18th-Century Japanese folk legend, Hideo Nakata’s 1998 horror classic Ringu is a masterpiece of the sub-genre. And while the original is (obviously) well-worth seeking out, I’m recommending that Talk to Me fans check out Gore Verbinski’s frightfully faithful 2002 adaptation, which captures more of a “teenagers messing with stuff they shouldn’t mess with” vibe than its source material.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
The film that saw Sam Raimi‘s return to horror-comedy, Drag Me To Hell follows a bank worker named Christine (Alison Lohman) who refuses an elderly woman’s request for an extension on her mortgage. When the old woman brutally attacks Christine in the parking lot after work, the hag places a demonic hex on Christine who must break the curse in three days or be (say it with me) dragged to Hell.
If you like rules in your occult horror (think, Samara’s cryptic “seven days” or Talk to Me‘s 90-second possession limit), Drag Me To Hell is going to rock your world to Hell and back.
Seeing teenage partygoers whip their phones out to document possessions was, for my money, the scariest thing about Talk To Me. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the voyeuristic cruelty young people visit upon one another in their lowest moments. And seeing it in horror movies makes me want to crawl under a porch to die like a sick dog.
So, once I’d performed my obligatory prayer thanking Satan I wasn’t a teen when Snapchat was around, I immediately thought about Unfriended. One of the rare true-blue entries in the sparsely populated Screenlife format, Unfriended takes place on a Skype call between high school pals who find their group chat infiltrated by a mysterious user claiming to be Laura Barns, a classmate who committed suicide after being cyberbullied. Unable to shake the intruder, “Laura” forces the group to play a high-stakes game of Never Have I Ever … with deadly consequences for the loser.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Now you may be wondering, why am I not recommending the 2014 film Ouija? It’s simple: the prequel is way better. Then again, it benefits greatly from being written and directed by Mike Flanagan. Set in the 1960s, Ouija: Origin of Evil follows a widowed mother of two who, desperate for money, decides to add a new ingredient to their séance scam. But when you open a door to the other side, there’s no telling what might step through … or that the spirits who claim to be dead loved ones are who they say they are.
Written and directed by Paco Plaza (the guy behind scariest-movie-ever-made [REC]), Verónica loosely adapts a real-life incident that took place in Madrid in 1991, where a girl died after using a Ouija board. What is it with teenagers being so laissez-faire about contacting the dead? Surely we’ve all learned by now that when your departed parent makes themselves known through a Ouija board you’re either being scammed by a “psychic” or a malicious spirit pretending to be a loved one. Then again, maybe teens just haven’t seen enough movies to know any better.
If you’re jonesing for more rock-solid contemporary horror films like Talk to Me, then Parker Finn‘s Smile should be at the top of your list. The film follows Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a therapist who falls victim to a paranormal curse after a chilling session with one of her patients. Now, Rose is being stalked by an invisible entity that possesses people around her with a ghoulish grin. Her fiancé thinks she’s lost it. Her therapist thinks Rose’s dead mommy issues are to blame. And it’s all Rose can do to keep her head on straight. After all, smiles can be infectious.