Ten Great Horror Movies (That You Probably Haven't Seen)
Horror is a favorite genre of mine but that sad part is that with so many slasher flicks and torture porn films out there real thought provoking horror seems a rarity and when it does show up it is often lost and under-appreciated. After doing a list of ten vampire movies I thought I could easily do a list of ten more horror films that I wish more people had seen. Each film on this list is a personal favorite and a genuinely great film no matter what genre it is that we are talking about. Horror is almost be definition against the mainstream, so many films that have horrified critics and audiences take time to gain respect. Hopefully these are ten films whose time has finally come.
The Black Cat (1934)
One of the few teamings of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff is this strange tale of Satanism directed by B-movie auteur Edger G. Ulmer. (Detour) Strangely, Lugosi is the hero, a psychiatrist who is traveling to meet his old friend (Karloff) and finds him involved with a number of rituals involving Satanism. One of the things that makes the film such a marvel is how subversive it manages to be even under a period of great censorship. The torture scenes alone would have shocked most viewers. Ulmer gives the film a striking visual style that makes it seem more dreamlike and surreal
This strange Japanese horror film is about a mother and daughter who kill traveling Samurai to loot their stuff. When a strange samurai with a demon mask shows up and the daughter finds herself attracted to a neighbor who has been helping them in their looting the mother-daughter relationship starts to unravel. Based on a Buddhist parable, this film is meant to be ambiguous and can be interpreted in a number of interesting ways. The gorgeous black and white cinematography contributes to the unworldly feel of the narrative and although the film limits itself to just a few characters and minimalist storytelling there is such a powerful feeling of dread generated by the film that it is as exciting as films with much more complex and fast moving plots.
Former film critic Peter Bogdanovitch directed this film for producer Roger Corman because Boris Karloff still owed him two days work. The result is one of the finest horror films of the 60s and an analysis of the changing tide of horror in general. Karloff basically plays himself, an aging horror star who wants to retire, his story is contrasted with the story of a mentally deranged man who kills his family and then goes on a seemingly random shooting spree. The two stories merge at a drive-in premiere of Karloff’s latest film where the fantasy horror star meets the real monster of our modern times.
The Wicker Man (1971)
The remake starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Neil Labute is truly awful but don’t let that stop you from appreciating Robin Hardy’s masterful original. The plot follows a devoutly Christian police officer who investigates the disappearance of a young girl on an island that is inhabited by a pagan society. Christopher Lee is wonderfully sardonic as the town magistrate and Edward Woodward gives a bold performance in the lead. What the film is really about is religious faith and dedication and its conclusion is one of the most unsettling and thought provoking in modern horror.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
A couple who have tragically lost their daughter are on a business trip to Venice and find themselves haunted by what may be the spirit of their dead daughter. A series of murders and a blind psychic are also thrown into the mix. Director Nicholas Roeg is known for his daring editing style and non-linear storytelling. This is probably his most mainstream film but it still has proven too strange to really get as big an audience as it deserves. The film is genuinely scary and unpredictable in a way that few horror films are. One of the things the film is also famous for is a long and extremely graphic love scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland where the couple expresses their grief through their love making.
The Brood (1979)
David Cronenberg’s low budget B-movie is as good as any of his later films such as The Fly and A History of Violence but still remains only well known to hardcore horror lovers. Oliver Reed gives a chilling performance as a psychiatrist who through an experimental technique allows his patients to give physical life to their pain. The result is that one of his patients gives birth to murderous children that represent the abuse that she had suffered as a child. Cronenberg himself was going through a painful divorce and custody battle at the time and as a result this may easily be his most personal work.
Santa Sangre (1989)
After practically inventing the midnight movie with El Topo, Alejandro Jodorowsky had a checkered career to say the least but he did have one more great masterpiece in him. Equal parts influenced by Tod Browning’s The Unknown and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho this film follows a young man who was raised in a circus and his armless mother who performs with him in his bizarre theater pieces. Describing the film is difficult because it seems so indescribable but the film combines the tropes of horror with the more experimental art film styles of directors like Federico Fellini and Luis Buñuel to create a completely original classic.
Cemetery Man (1995)
A failure upon its original release in Italy, this film was then packaged in the United States as a campy splatter film in the same vein as movies like The Evil Dead. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Rupert Everett stars as a cemetery caretaker whose job is to keep the dead in at night. He falls in love with a young widow and then things get bizarre as he finds himself caught in a complicated web of love and death that he cannot escape from. The film is loosely based on the Italian comic book Dylan Dog and directed by Dario Argento protégé Michele Soavi but the result is much greater than either the source material or the talents of the director would suggest.
Takeshi Miike is one of the most extreme contemporary Japanese filmmakers and for a country known for its extreme cinema that is saying a lot. In this film a widower is encouraged by his teenage son to finally start dating again and his friend finds a solution with the film that he is looking for a lead actress in. They will interview all the potential actresses and while seeking the perfect leading lady also seek out the perfect wife. You know there might be something to worry about when his choice has a strange bag in her apartment that starts to move when her telephone rings. Probably the most controversial film on the list Miike has said that no social criticism was intended but the film really gets under your skin anyway.
The first film of writer-director Lucky McKee, May is the story of a young shy veterinarian’s assistant who is just looking for somebody to connect with. Having been an outcast in her childhood due to her lazy eye, May fails to connect with a number of people becoming increasingly frustrated with each new effort. The film develops as a sly black comedy and very slowly begins to tilt toward horror. Once it gets there you get thrown another curve by a perversely moving ending that polarizes viewers with its apparent absurdity.