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Legal Download: Spooky apartments on demand

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in Watch This Now, we survey the landscape online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, we lose control of our minds and our rent, as we watch some horror movies set in terrifying apartment buildings.

THIS WEEK’S THEME: Spooky Apartments

What kind of a lock do you have on your door? A chain? Make sure it’s on. A deadbolt? You’re gonna want to double-check that it’s flipped. Because this week we’re listing movies about people trapped in some very imposing apartment buildings. In some cases, intruders force them inside. In others, their own damaged minds refuse to let them out. But whatever the reason, they’re stuck, and that’s when things go from bad (as in I’m paying $2300 a month for a basement studio) to worse (as in a bunch of infected zombies are trying to eat my brain). You are about to regret not buying that high alert alarm system when you had the chance.

On SundanceNow
PENUMBRA (2012)
Directed Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano
$6.99 to rent or stream

A Spanish businesswoman (Cristina Brondo) is in Buenos Aires to do some work for her employer. She’s trying to rent out her family’s apartment, and she’s so distracted by other matters she doesn’t think anything of the fact that her potential lessee is willing to pay a lot more than the flat is worth, as long as they can get the deal done quickly, right on the cusp of a solar eclipse. You can probably imagine where the story goes next. If you can’t, here’s a hint: the buyer does not want the apartment because of a casual interest in astronomy. This Fantastic Fest 2011 favorite comes from Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano, whose previous film, COLD SWEAT, was another Fantastic Fest favorite a few years ago. Actually, cold sweat inducement is a nice way to describe their whole aesthetic of nerve-jangling horror.

On iTunes
[REC] (2007)
Directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase in SD; $3.99 to rent, $17.99 to purchase in HD

More Spanish language apartment building horror! Someone remind me never to rent a flat in Barcelona. That’s where [REC], a terrifying horror film — maybe the scariest found footage movie to date — is set. It’s presented as the raw footage from a broadcast journalist’s camera. The host of a TV series on late night jobs tags along with some firefighters on a seemingly innocuous call and winds up locked inside a building with the first carriers of a virulent new infection that turns people into bloodthirsty zombies. Directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza utilize the found footage gimmick brilliantly and effectively, and the single location, full of forebodingly dark apartments and creepily antiseptic basements, is pure, claustrophobic nightmare fuel. The first [REC] spawned two foreign language sequels (with a third coming soon) plus a nearly shot-for-shot American remake called QUARANTINE. If you’re too lazy to read subtitles — and there ain’t many because you don’t need to subtitle bloodcurdling screams — it’s also available for purchase on iTunes.

On Vudu
REAR WINDOW (1954)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
$2.99 to rent in SD, $3.99 to rent in HD; $9.99 to purchase

You’re an award winning photographer. Your leg is broken. You’re stuck in a wheelchair. This is 1954, so there’s no Internet cat videos to keep you entertained. You don’t even own a television. All there is for you to do is to sit and stare out your window and watch your neighbors. That seems mildly diverting at first — the Internet cat videos of the pre-Internet age — but then you notice one neighbor seems to be acting odd. His wife’s gone missing and you suspect he might have buried something in the courtyard below. Suddenly it’s not all fun, games, and lolcats — this is a life and death struggle. Everyone can relate to Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant suspense film REAR WINDOW. Even if you’ve never watched Raymond Burr dispose of a body, you know what it’s like to be in a situation where you’re helpless to stop something — maybe it was a car accident, maybe it was a bar fight, maybe it was the making of the film GIGLI — and all you can do is stand there and watch. As REAR WINDOW shows better than any other film in history, in those sorts of situations, it’s impossible to look away.

On Amazon Instant Video
WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967)
Directed by Terence Young
Free to stream for Amazon Prime members; $2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase for non-members

The resident of the apartment in WAIT UNTIL DARK, Susy (Audrey Hepburn) has her own disability to contend with. She can walk just fine, but she’s blind, which means she can’t immediately tell that a trio of criminals (including a young Alan Arkin) are lying to her when they enter her home, posing as a friend of her husband and a policeman and an old man as they search for a stash of heroin they think she’s got. Eventually Suzy uncovers their deception, leading to the film’s most famous scene: to even the playing field, Suzy breaks all the lights in her apartment, plunging the room — and the entire movie screen — in total darkness. WAIT UNTIL DARK is arguably more of a thriller than a true horror film. But the final scenes in that dark apartment achieve a level of heart-pumping suspense that few “true” horror films have ever achieved.

REPULSION (1965)
Directed by Roman Polanski
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase

You could easily make a list of spooky apartment movies comprised solely of the films of Roman Polanski. ROSEMARY’S BABY. THE TENANT. Even the recent THE GHOST WRITER (in a spooky beach house instead of an apartment, but it’s pretty close). But let’s go with just the first, and perhaps the best, of Polanski’s so-called Apartment Trilogy: REPULSION, featuring the luminous Catherine Deneuve. She plays Carole, a woman living with her sister in swinging London. When the sister and her boyfriend leave for a vacation, the emotionally fragile Carole begins to lose her mind. She stops leaving her apartment and imagines hands reaching out from the walls to attack her. She hallucinates a sexual assault, then actually assaults a man who pays her a visit. Pauline Kael once described REPULSION as “clinical Grand Guinol” that was “excruciatingly tense and frightening,” before adding that “you have to be a hardcore horror-movie lover to enjoy this one.” Well, yeah. Isn’t that the point?