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Thirty-One Under-the-Radar Horror Movies to Get You Ready for Halloween

(I was going to save this for PfB 850, then I realized there’s no way we hit 850 before midnight tonight, so…)

Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we? You might have noticed that I’m a hardcore horror geek (and that sentence works no matter which of those words you use “hardcore” to modify), so since we’re getting towards that time, let me give you something of a viewing calendar for October–one horror movie a day that you might well have missed the first time around, but are definitely worth your time to give a watch now.

October 1: Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012)

photo credit: alexandergordonsmith.com

One of the very few movies I have ever seen, reviewed, and then published the review all in the space of one day (less than four hours in this case), as well as one of less than fifty movies which currently have five stars on the movie spreadsheet. It’s about a British foley artist who goes to Italy in the seventies (or, perhaps, late sixties) to work on a giallo film, and Strickland shoots the movie in pitch-perfect giallo style.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Just wait until you get to the big twist. Now, this is not a Big Twist in the plot sense, but in the style in which Strickland shoots the film. Which makes it no less a Big Twist. It’s what Michele Soavi does in the very last shot of Dellamorte Dell’Amore (below), but drawn out for about ten minutes. It turns this from a very good thriller into a mind-shattering piece of brilliance that forces you to identify much more closely with the film’s protagonist.

October 2: Absentia (Mike Flanagan, 2011)

absentia-003Absentia is a movie people either love or hate (you can say that about many of the movies on this list, really); this is in no way the standard, big-budget Hollywood horror movie, and that is in large part what I love about it so. It also starts out very slowly, more Lifetime Original Movie than horror flick about an extra-dimensional underpass (no, I’m not kidding here), but trust me, all that setup is necessary for the mind-bending that follows. If you liked 2010’s The Corridor, which got (a little) more press than Absentia did, you are going to dig this hard, and for much the same reasons.
What’s especially awesome about it:
This is very much not a big-budget studio horror movie, nor is it the kind of crappy zero-budget imitation-Hollywood horror movie that so many “indie” directors in America are cranking out; this is something entirely different, almost approaching the Southeast Asian concept of the supernatural drama (see below, 4 Inyong Shiktak). It’s the same kind of ground-breaking Eli Roth did in trying to bring America up to Asian speed with Hostel back in 2006, but got way less press and is way more effective in the bargain.

October 3: Baby Blues (Lars E. Jacobsen and Amardeep Kaleka, 2008)

photo credit: doughogan.comYou’ve seen half a hundred, probably more, horror movies that involve youngsters running and hiding from slashers whose very existence is predicated on racking up bodies. Here’s a really nasty twist for you: the youngsters are really young, and the slasher in question is their mother, whose post-partum depression has turned homicidal.
What’s especially awesome about it:
There’s not much you can do to redefine the survival thriller these days, but Jacobsen and Kaleka took a shot, and as far as I’m concerned they succeeded beyond their (and my) wildest dreams. And really, is that not one of the creepiest movie posters ever?

October 4: Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)

photo credit: WikipediaWilliam Friedkin, since the spectacular (and entirely undeserved) failure of Sorcerer in 1977, has been one of Hollywood’s most underrated directors. Pretty stupid thing to say about the guy who directed The Exorcist, but come on, it took To Live and Die in L.A. almost twenty years to get a domestic DVD release. Bug suffered an even worse fate–it got zero publicity in America and was gone from theaters in four weeks, being considered another in Friedkin’s string of “failures” despite (a) making back its budget on opening weekend and (b) still being in theaters overseas by the time it got a DVD release three years after it vanished from American movie screens. It concerns a waitress, a drifter who may or may not be crazy, the waitress’ jealous husband, and miles of tinfoil.
What’s especially awesome about it:
If you don’t know the name Tracy Letts, the movie might not mean much to you (though Friedkin assembled a killer cast and got A-list performances out of the lot of them). Letts, who adapted his own play, is a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright (the play for which he won the Pulitzer, August: Osage County, is currently being adapted for film). For me, Letts is the American version of Martin McDonagh: the guy writing the country’s best plays, seemingly effortlessly, cranking out one a year to almost no fanfare whatsoever. He’s an American treasure, and Friedkin did him justice.

October 5: Lockout (Ricardo Islas, 2006)

photo credit: onlinewatchmovies.tvI have made it my life’s work, at least in part, to evangelize the no-budget movie career of Chicago filmmaker Ricardo Islas, who has a thing for taking horror conventions and laying them over social-consciousness themes to create some of America’s more interesting recent celluloid output. Like a number of the films on this list, Lockout is less a traditional horror movie than it is a supernatural drama; there is some witchiness to be found and all that sort of thing, but Islas’ real subject here is white flight, with a heaping side dish of racism.
What’s especially awesome about it:
I have no idea where Ricardo Islas comes up with his characters, but he always makes sure to back his shit up. I mean, who comes up with a character like Dan, a crazy racist dude who just happens to be married to an African-American? But if you think about it, it’s the logical conclusion of “some of my best friends are…”, and it’s obvious Islas spent a lot of time thinking about the repercussions of same; he puts that same care into everything he does, and his movies are endlessly fascinating to me for it.

October 6: Sheitan (Kim Chapiron, 2006)

photo credit: WikipediaI have held an hypothesis firmly in place since I was first subjected to the piece of crap that is Haute Tension: the less press a French horror movie gets in the United States, the better it is. I know of a single exception to this rule (Ils), but of the three cornerstones on the no-press-great-movie side of the argument, two of them showed up on this list (and the third, Fabrice du Welz’ Calvaire, was under consideration until about ten minutes before I started writing this). Sheitan shares a number of facets with its I-got-way-more-press contemporary Frontier(s), but it does every last one of them much, much better.
What’s especially awesome about it:If you don’t know by now that Vincent Cassel is the bees’ knees, I can’t help you. He almost made Derailed worth watching. (Almost.) Give him a role that the rest of the world refuses to take on and he will make it into something they’re all wishing they’d jumped on when they had the chance.

October 7: Sick Girl (Lucky McKee, 2006)

photo credit: WikipediaShowtime’s late and much-lamented series Masters of Horror was equally adept at getting excellent work out of directors who were at the heights of their careers (as with McKee) and getting directors who hadn’t turned in a decent movie in decades to come up with something so good you couldn’t believe they weren’t still at the top of their careers (John Carptenter’s Cigarette Burns is the best thing he’s done since They Live). The combination of Lucky McKee and Angela Bettis is a no-brainer every time it appears, and then you add Erin Brown into the mix. If you don’t know the name Erin Brown, perhaps you’re more familiar with her as Misty Mundae, one of the few actresses capable of traipsing between hardcore, softcore, and “straight” moviemaking with abandon.
What’s especially awesome about it:
McKee is very good at directing straight drama (he directed about 90% of Red, the Jack Ketchum adaptation starring Brian Cox that was released as being directed by Trygve Allister Diesen), but when you start putting in the weird is when McKee really shines. And Bettis was made to act in Lucky McKee movies, as anyone who has seen May is well aware. And then there’s the kiss. Just trust me on this one.

October 8: El Maquinista (The Machinist) (Brad Anderson, 2004)

photo credit: www.cinelandia.netau.netSession 9 was my original Brad Anderson pick for this list, but instead I ended up going with El Maquinista because Session 9 was panned so badly in America (incorrectly, mind you; it is one of the best haunted-house movies of the past fifteen years) that Anderson had to leave the country to get funding for his second film. El Maquinista is nothing you haven’t seen before, but Anderson’s distinct visual style (which got him a regular job directing episodes of Fringe; unfortunately, since he started that gig, the quality of his features has markedly declined) turns it into something excellent indeed. A Jacob’s Ladder for the next generation.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Christian Bale believed in this movie enough that he was willing to take on the almost unconscionable task, given that he’s already a beanpole, of losing seventy pounds to play the main character. That’s the kind of loyalty this script inspired. And how did it turn out? I was halfway through this movie when we had a party at my house…and I ignored everyone around me until I was finished watching it, because it’s that absorbing. Bonus points for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s nobody-knows-the-trouble-I’ve-seen performance.

October 9: Saint Ange (House of Voices) (Pascal Laugier, 2004)

photo credit: WikipediaIn the nine years since Saint Ange dropped with all the gravity of dandelion fluff–this movie got zero press at all that I can discern–the brilliance of Pascal Laugier has been reiterated twice, in Martyrs and The Tall Man (one of the more underrated American horror films of the past few years). But it all started with Saint Ange, a hunted-orphanage tale that’s full of slow burn, with fantastic turns by all the principal actors and stunning cinematography.
What’s especially awesome about it:
If you’ve seen Lucio Fulci’s gore classic The Beyond, you don’t need me to introduce you to Catriona MacColl. What you may not know, however, is that MacColl’s career between these two films contains not a single horror film; after her two appearances for Fulci (the other in 1980’s House by the Cemetery), MacColl did not take another role in a horror film until Saint Ange. A welcome return it was indeed. Special mention should also be made for Lou Doillon, whose character is one of the creepiest in movies in recent memory.

October 10: Vital (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2004)

photo credit: asianmoviereviews.wordpress.comHorror fans should need no introduction to the great Shinya Tsukamoto, whose Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a bona fide gore cinema classic. As Tsukamoto got older, however, his films started getting lighter on the gore and heavier on the atmosphere (the turning point is 1999’s Gemini). Vital couples Tsukamoto with Asian superstar Tadanobu Asano (Mongol) for the story of a amnesiac med school student who gets a body for dissection and begins to believe it might be that of his girlfriend, who died in the same car accident that robbed him of his memory. As a number of Tsukamoto’s recent movies have shown, he’s just as much a master at the slow-burn thriller as he is at the gore film, and Vital is Tsukamoto at the top of his game.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Even when the movie around him is substandard (e.g., Screwed), Tadanobu Asano is well worth watching. When you put him in a movie that would have been excellent even without his performance (Rampo Noir, for example), it almost automatically becomes something transcendent. This is one of those times.

October 11: 4 Inyong Shiktak (The Uninvited) (Su-yeon Lee, 2003)

photo credit: IMDBI am doing something I get on studios and distribution houses for doing constantly: mismarketing a movie. I’m rationalizing this by telling you up front that I am making the same mistake with this movie that its American distributor did. 4 Inyong Shiktak is not a horror movie; this is the movie that caused me to coin the term “supernatural drama” to describe a raft of movies coming out of Southeast Asia, all of which have been mismarketed on this side of the Pacific as horror films. This is the best of the lot, at least of those I have seen; it’s the story of a guy whose traumatic past has caused him to repress large portions of his life, as well as tapping into his latent ability to see ghosts. When he meets someone else who can see the same ghosts, the two of them look for a way to help him come to terms with his past. It’s Lifetime Original Movie stuff, or it would be were it made in America.
What’s especially awesome about it:
It’s a movie that everyone who makes those horrible Lifetime Original Movies (and Hallmark Channel Original movies) should sit down and watch to see how to treat this sort of subject matter with sensitivity, grace, and beauty, using no emotional shortcuts or other silliness of that sort. Impeccably acted, paced, and scripted; simply put, everything about this movie is a joy to experience.

October 12: Gvozdi (Nails) (Andrey Iskanov, 2003)

photo credit: hauntedsummer.tumblr.comAndrey Iskanov got notorious very quickly a few years ago with his four-hour(!!) gore-umentary Philosophy of a Knife. And you will eventually want to watch that. But comparatively, Nails, which clocks in at just over an hour, is a short, and it’s a great, quick way to get acquainted with Iskanov’s low-budget yet effective style, not to mention his sense of the bizarre. Ostensibly, this is a movie about a hit man who discovers he can cure his chronic headaches by driving nails into his skull, but giving you a plot synopsis will not even begin to make you understand what is so crazy good about this movie.
What’s especially awesome about it:
You’ve been hearing the term “cyberpunk” for thirty-five years now, almost always attached to science fiction. You know what? That’s a very limiting idea. You can apply “cyberpunk” to pretty much anything, as long as it actually qualifies as cyberpunk, and Nails may be the most cyberpunk movie I have ever seen, if you take the “-punk” part as a certain attitude. It’s also, in my eyes, a precusor of the bizarro movement, and that can never be anything but wonderful.

October 13: Wendigo (Larry Fessenden, 2001)

photo credit: WikipediaLarry Fessenden is probably best-known for his career in front of the camera–he turns up in small roles on a regular basis in the work of other, better-known, directors–but he’s also been a director for a couple of decades now, specializing in very slow-paced intellectual horror movies that are the antithesis of the stuff coming out of Hollywood that’s all about the special effects. 2001’s Wendigo is my favorite of them, the story of a dysfunctional family who heads off to a remote woodland cabin to try and work out their family differences and discover that something is out there in the woods…or, perhaps, all in their minds, which may or may not be slowly coming apart.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Fessenden’s directorial style is infused with creepy; his best camerawork always has some sort of dark in it, whether it’s outside the windows of a fire-lit living room (and let it be known that this is one of the last movies in which that clause I long suspected Patricia Clarkson had in her contract mandating she be topless at least once per movie came into play, more’s the pity) or in the woods behind the characters or whatever. There are no bright, sunny days in Larry Fessenden’s world.

October 14: Otesánek (Little Otik, aka Greedy Guts) (Jan Svankmajer, 2000)

photo credit: WikipediaIf you have not yet been introduced to the wild world of Jan Svankmajer, prepare to say WHAT THE FUCK at least a dozen times whilst watching this masterpiece of stop-motion psychosis based on an Eastern European folktale. A couple cannot have children, and the wife becomes extremely depressed, so the husband goes and finds her a bit of tree to take care of that becomes sentient and ends up eating the entire city.
What’s especially awesome about it:
No, I’m not joking, and I’m exaggerating far less than you suspect I am.

October 15: The Wisdom of Crocodiles (aka Immortality) (Po-chih Leong, 1998)

photo credit: fanpop.comThere was a time in his career when Jude Law, who at the time I thought of as being one of a triumvirate of young British actors on whom one could bank at all times (the others being Rupert Everett and Jonathan Rhys-Myers), would take pretty much anything that came his way, and the more bizarre the better. As a result, Law’s resume in the nineties is full of little gems that went unrecognized by the public at large, from biopics (Wilde) to NC-17-rated homoerotic concentration camp romances (Bent) to the odd horror film (The Wisdom of Crocodiles). Law’s character here, Steven Grlscz, is so much the hip, urbane vampire that he may well have been a template for Edward Cullen, but (a) Steven is not at all afraid to get a little bloody, and (b) Elina Lowensohn is ten times the girlfriend Kristen Stewart could ever dream of being.
What’s especially awesome about it:
The cops are looking into the death of Steven’s last paramour, and one of them is one of Britain’s finest character actors, Timothy Spall. Inspector and vampire form an uneasy, and uncomfortable, bond in scenes that, given a shift in locale, would probably not have been out of place in Bent. (Also, Spall’s partner is played by a young Jack Davenport, who would go on to fame and fortune in another vampire-themed project, Ultraviolet, before hitting the big time as the male lead in one of the most successful Britcoms of all time, Coupling.)

October 16: Lord of Illusions (Clive Barker, 1995)

photo credit: WikipediaClive Barker has directed three films based on his own material. Of the three, Lord of Illusions is generally regarded as the weakest by fans (though critically, it should be noted, it has the strongest reception at Rotten Tomatoes, with a 68%). Me, I think it’s the best of them. Yes, including Hellraiser. I love everything about this movie, from Famke Janssen’s vamping to Kevin O’Connell’s scenery-chewing to the often ridiculous, but always effective, special effects.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Butterfield. Oh my god, Butterfield. Barry del Sherman took on a character who, in the final analysis, should have been a piece of set decoration and turned him into the role of a lifetime. “Creeptastic” doesn’t even begin to describe it, everything from the inhuman amount of Brylcreem the make-up artists must have sprung for to the reptilian look in del Sherman’s eyes every time he pops up onscreen. It’s one of the great performances in modern horror cinema.

October 17: Dellamorte Dell’Amore (Cemetery Man) (Michele Soavi, 1994)

photo credit: doctorcarnage.blogspot.comLike a few of the other movies on this list, Dellamorte Dell’Amore is not really a horror film; it’s a comedy about a guy whose profession is the extermination of zombies coming out of a particular Italian cemetery who is, perhaps, too good at his job–until he falls in love with one of his proposed victims. Michele Soavi started out as an apprentice to Dario Argento, and in his first few films, it showed; this, based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi (who was also responsible for Dylan Dog, the film adaptation of which was bad, but not as bad as you heard it was), is the first movie Soavi directed that didn’t look like a carbon copy of an Argento flick, and it’s better than anything Argento’s done since the mid-eighties or so.
What’s especially awesome about it:
The very final shot of the film. There’s something in it that’s so subtle most people miss it until it’s pointed out to them, unless they know something is there (no, I’m not going to tell you what). Once you notice it, it’s mind-shattering and completely changes the movie. It’s one of those endings, like in Ocean’s Eleven or The Usual Suspects, but done with such subtlety and aplomb that you will need to pick your jaw up off the floor. One of the five or so best final shots in film history.

October 18: Begotten (Edmund Elias Merhige, 1991)

photo credit: IMDBSusan Sontag famously said of Begotten that you may love it or you may hate it, but you will not leave the theater unchanged. I have found this to be true, since after I first saw it (Schloss Tegal used it as backing video for a 1999 show; I went and got a copy of the VHS on ebay the next day) I have pressed it on pretty much everyone I know. You might be able to tell which side of that divide I fall on. But just in case it isn’t obvious, on my list of the top 1000 movies of all time, it sits at #6.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Begotten is not a horror film–it is a creation myth, which I guess in strict terms would make it a fantasy film–but in part because of its style and in part because of Merhige’s unwillingness to avert the camera during the more brutal portions of the film, it still ends up being one of the more horrific things I have ever encountered on celluloid. Merhige shot the entire thing on intentionally-overexposed Super-8 film, as well, so to make out what’s going on in some scenes, you are forced to watch them over and over again. Begotten is very much of the “endurance test” school of filmmaking–but if it is up your alley, you will immediately become a lifelong fan.

October 19: Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)

photo credit: reflectionsonwire.blogspot.com

To say there is nothing quite like Santa Sangre is not technically correct; it is, in fact, a remake of a Hitchcock film, though telling you which one would give the game away. But if you’re familiar with the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky–and if you’re not, you should be–you know that he’s as incapable of producing a faithful remake as he is of producing a Michael Bay-style action thriller. Carnivals, crazy religious cults, elaborate dream sequences, taking the skinheads bowling, a mute girlfriend… about the only thing Jodorowsky did not throw into this movie is a sequence with a bunch of zombies rising from their graves to eat the protagonist.
…oh, wait.
What’s especially awesome about it:
As is usually the case, Jodorowsky aggressively cast non-actors in most of the roles; the male lead is played by one of Jodorowsky’s sons, Axel. The female lead is played by a young lass named Sabrina Dennison, and once you have seen her act in this movie, you will wonder why filmmakers the workd over were not breaking down her door begging her to be in every movie ever made. She is luminous. Also: this is one of the two movies Roger Ebert felt so strongly about that he posted a review on IMDB.

October 20: Night of the Creeps (Fred Dekker, 1986)

photo credit: geek-legacy.comNight of the Creeps, I realized last year, is a bona fide cult sensation. I thought I was one of the very few who had ever seen this movie; 90% of the time when I bring it up, I get blank stares. (That happened a lot more after Slither, released in 2006, borrowed some major plot points from it.) But the Capitol Theater showed it as part of their 12 Hours of Terror festival in 2012, and it seemed like at least half the capacity crowd had come specifically to see Night of the Creeps. When it came on, the roar of approval was so loud it was impossible to hear the first five minutes of the movie. What more do you need to know?
What’s especially awesome about it:
This was one of the movies that started geek-chic as far as male movie leads go; Jason Lively plays a character who is, not to put too fine a point on it, a nerd. More importantly, he plays a nerd who doesn’t magically transform into an extroverted social butterfly over the course of the movie. Every time you see a movie that prominently features a character with tape on his glasses, you should thank Night of the Creeps.

October 21: The Stuff (Larry Cohen, 1985)

photo credit: filmsthatwitnessmadness.comTake The Blob and turn it into a tasty dessert treat, and you’ve got the premise behind one of the eighties’ zaniest horror-comedies. Larry Cohen (best-known for the It’s Alive trilogy) put together a top-notch cast–how the hell did he convince most of these people to be in this movie?–and turned out a corker, but one which, for some reason I have never understood, was mostly ignored upon its release and has since become woefully obscure.
What’s especially awesome about it:
The cast list. Garrett Morris is the best comic ever spat out by the innards of Saturday Night Live. Michael Moriarty and Paul Sorvino would team up again five years later as charter members of one of the most successful TV dramas of all time, Law and Order. DANNY AIELLO. Come on, admit it, you love this movie. If you haven’t seen it, you just don’t know that yet.

October 22: XTRO (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1983)

photo credit: tracker.zaerc.com

XTRO is Harry Bromley Davenport’s savage, no-holds-barred, semi-psychedelic satire of Steven Spielberg’s cheesefest E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. It’s a better film in every regard, especially given that it was made on about one-tenth of one percent of the budget of E. T. and all of that budget went to pay for the movie’s utterly disgusting palette of special effects. I imagine if you’ve never seen the film before and you’re coming to it in 2013, a lot of what seemed scandalous in 1983 is going to seem a lot less so, but give it a whack anyway. It’s pretty rare to see a woman giving birth to a full-grown man (even if he is rather slim), or another being used as an egg dispenser.
What’s especially awesome about it:
There were gore films before XTRO, but none of them were quite so gleeful in their application of general nastiness. (Odd trivia fact: XTRO was not one of the films on the infamous British “video nasty” list. Perhaps because it was domestic?) Much of the horror underlying this movie comes from the psyche of its young protagonist, who is being tutored in his extraordinary powers as the film progresses; Davenport (who later in his career would go on to make the Lifetime Original Movie Mockingbird Don’t Sing…) does an exceptional job at coming up with the sorts of inventive things a tween would invent out of whole cloth, if he could, to terrorize others living in his apartment building.

October 23: Possession (Adrzej Zulawski, 1981)

photo credit: fantasticvoyages.wordpress.com

So what do you do when your wife loses her mind and starts believing she’s fucking a demon? This is the question facing Sam Neill’s character in Possession. Andrzej Zulawski took that off-the-wall approach to filmmaking relatively common in sixties and seventies Eastern Europe (think Dusan Makavejev here) and applied it to the horror genre. Zulawski, who was responsible for a string of successful horror films in his native Czechoslovakia in the seventies (I have seen only one, the similarly demented 1972 film Diabel), jumped ship to France in the eighties, and this was his first release in western Europe. Kind of amazing he ever worked again; this was well beyond the pale for European art film at the time. It’s got a lot more in common with giallo than it does with art cinema, and it has only been in the last few years that Possession has started to take its rightful place in critical approaches to European film. It’s a great movie that just happens to be twisted, gory, and traumatic to watch.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani in a horror movie. What more do you need to know?

October 24: The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)

photo credit: grimmfest.com

When you divorce a guy who makes movies that are obsessed with the concept of body horror, you kind of have to expect something like this. The Brood is Cronenberg’s most personal film, full of the vitriol that was boiling inside him after the breakup of his marriage to Margaret Hindson in 1977. As such, you can expect it to be a little less polished than most of his other work–but then, if you’re familiar with the early sci-fi work Cronenberg did before he hit it big with Shivers in 1975, you’re probably aware that Shivers and Rabid were both attempts to move away from that polished, detached attitude he’d taken before anyway, so The Brood was just another step in that direction. (It was with his next film, 1981’s Scanners, that Cronenberg would find the perfect balance between polish and pustulation that he would ride until 1999’s eXistenZ.) It’s an angry, ugly thing, but it is still being directed by the hand of a person for whom presentation is key; when it comes to savage cinema, it has rarely been delivered as artfully as it is here.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Those kids will give you nightmares, straight up. But even worse than that? The birth scene, where Oliver Reed finally comes to terms with what’s going on and bursts in on Samantha Eggar just as she’s popping out the newest member of the murderous clan, and then she… oh, man, see it for yourself.

October 25: Magic (Richard Attenborough, 1978)

photo credit: twentyfourframes.wordpress.comOkay, let’s recap: (a) a horror movie (b) directed by Richard Attenborough (c ) starring Anthony Hopkins and (d) a murderous, possibly sentient, ventriloquist’s dummy. Do you have any questions?
What’s especially awesome about it:
If you were alive and old enough in 1978 to remember the TV spot for this movie, I can pretty much guarantee you can recite it from memory. It was that creepy. Of course, anyone who is already terrified of ventriloquist’s dummies need not apply here.

October 26: Martin (George Romero, 1977)

photo credit: silverferox.blogspot.comGeorge A. Romero is of course best-known as “the guy who made those zombie movies”, and if you ask any casual movie fan who is not from the Pittsburgh area to name a non-zombie Romero flick, most folks are going to come up empty. (Some of those more on the ball may be able to dredge up The Crazies because it was remade in 2010.) I will be completely honest here: for the most part, I don’t blame them, because many of Romero’s non-zombie movies early in his career ranged from the mediocre (Knightriders) to the woeful (There’s Always Vanilla). Martin, on the other hand, is a barnburner that combines Romero’s love for the squishy insides of humans with the sensitive dramas that he kept attempting in the early seventies. The entire movie centers on a single question: is Martin (played by John Amplas, who would appear as one of the motorcycle gang in Dawn of the Dead and produced a number of Romero’s projects) actually a vampire, like his grandfather (played by the father of Pittsburgh Symphony conductor Lorin Maazel, no less) believes, or is he just a socially-awkward kid with a blood fetish and a crush-cum-obsession with an older neighbor?
What’s especially awesome about it:
Romero is another director who often casts non-actors, though for budgetary rather than artistic reasons. Sometimes it works a treat (viz. Night of the Living Dead), other times it’s horrific. This is closer to one of the latter times, but given the situations, it works. Martin is supposed to be that awkward, the neighbor is supposed to be a little haggard rather than a sex goddess, etc. The whole movie has the same kind of shabby feel to it as does the neighborhood where it was filmed, and it’s a sort of low-rent magic that must be seen to be appreciated.

October 27: Leptirica (The Moth) (Djordje Kadijevic, 1973)

photo credit: drugsbunny.wordpress.comI’ll tell you right up front: I have never seen the long-awaited commercial DVD release of this movie. So I have no idea if you will have the same experience with it I did. The copy I saw was ripped from a VHS that someone had taped off what was then Yugoslavian TV, which he was nice enough to fansub for us. So the subtitles I saw may be very, very different than what is on the commercial DVD. I don’t care, you need to see this movie. I have a thing for no-budget foreign monster movies–always have, since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, which is about when this movie was made. It has not aged well, but all that does is make my nostalgia for a movie I did not even know existed until 2009 all the fiercer. Terrible special effects, made-for-TV movie acting (this was, in fact, a made-for-TV affair), all of the things that normally make me say “this is a piece of crap”, but if you grew up on the same Saturday afternoon creature features I did, you’re going to love this movie. Trust me on this one, it will take you right down memory lane.
What’s especially awesome about it:
No, you’ve never seen a Yugoslavian horror movie, either. Well, now you can.

October 28: Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967)

photo credit: WikipediaIf you are at all aware of Titicut Follies, by far the best-known work of documentarian Federick Wiseman (who is still going strong; his Crazy Horse, released in 2012, was his most critically-acclaimed film since this one), you are probably asking yourself what the hell it’s doing on a list of under-the-radar horror films. Well, pop it on the DVD player, sit back, and ninety minutes later you will understand. Sometimes the worst horrors are not found in the imagination. Titicut Follies is Wiseman’s muckraking, groundbreaking expose of Bridgewater State Mental Facility, during the filming of which guards got so used to Wiseman and his crew’s presence that they started to act the way they normally did even when being filmed–and, as a result, Wiseman got footage of terrifying patient abuse.
What’s especially awesome about it:
The film, upon its release, caused such consternation that it occasioned not only the closing of Bridgewater, but a national overhaul of care for the mentally challenged. This is the standard to which all socially-conscious documentary should be held.

October 29: Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966)

photo credit: collider.com

While Frankenheimer’s long-banned 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, finally released to the home video market in 1986, has been basking in well-deserved accolades ever since, his 1966 follow-up Seconds has been inexorably sliding into an equally undeserved obscurity. It’s kind of surprising given that the two films were critically acclaimed both upon release and in retrospect (90% for Seconds at Rotten Tomatoes compares to 98% for TMC), and that both of them feature just-enough-sci-fi-affected futures. This one features Rock Hudson as a Second–a guy fed up with his old life who pays an unscrupulous cabal an unspeakable sum of money to change his appearance and set him up with the good life in the wonderfully decadent land known as California. But things unravel when he starts regretting his decision.
What’s especially awesome about it:
John Frankenheimer directs Rock Hudson. That’s pretty close to sixties celluloid perfection right there.

October 30: Khaneh Siah Ast (The House Is Black) (Forugh Farrokhzad, 1961)

photo credit: forum.divxplanet.com

The second documentary to make the list, The House Is Black is a twenty-minute short directed by a poet examining the lives of lepers in an Iranian colony. It is a picture of bleakness the likes of which Farrokhzad’s contemporaries who were making actual horror films could never equal (I think specifically of Georges Franju and Eyes Without a Face whenever I watch this).
What’s especially awesome about it:
The soundtrack. I have sampled a number of pieces of it for various tracks over the years. Where ambient sound is concerned, this little movie is a goldmine.

October 31: The Body Snatcher (Robert Wise,1945)

photo credit: Watching Horror Films from Behind the Couch

We’ve been going in reverse chronological order (I’m sure you realized that at some point), and our journey lands us at the end of World War II. You know Robert Wise from a dozen or so of his later films, including such acknowledged classics as The Sound of MusicWest Side Story, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. But Wise, like so many other great directors from his era, started in the Val Lewton stable (his first feature was a sequel to another film directed by a Lewton protege who went on to major stardom: Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People) making low-budget horror features. The Body Snatcher may not only be Robert Wise’s best picture, it may be Val Lewton’s. Based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story that is in turn loosely based on the Burke and Hare case, the film focuses on a medical school dean and his bright student who are willing to go to any means to achieve their ends–or so they think.
What’s especially awesome about it:
Everything. An A-list cast including Karloff, Lugosi, Henry Daniell, and Edith Atwater, perfect atmosphere, and a cracking script co-written by Lewton and Philip MacDonald. One of the greatest jewels in Karloff’s filmography, all too rarely seen nowadays.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

2 responses »

  1. this is the best list!! BUT because you are just the dude version of me, ive seen all but like three movies on here!!! i was really hoping for a bunch of new stuff to watch!!! 😉

    Reply

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