Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Guest List: Jeremy Kirk's Underrated Horror Films

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Guest List: Jeremy Kirk's Underrated Horror Films

This list was kindly supplied to me by Jeremy Kirk, the esteemed critic and writer for both Film School Rejects and FirstShowing.Net. He is also one of the hosts of the Golden Briefcase Podcast, which is a show I enjoy.


1. BLACK WATER(2007)
2007 was a banner year for killer croc movies. However, while films like Rogue and Primeval were making their own waves elsewhere in the film industry, the Australian film Black Water was slowly creeping up as the best of the bunch. Written and directed by Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich, the film centers on three vacationers in the mangrove sea. There, they are attacked by a crocodile and make their way up a tree. Black Water is extremely effective in the way Traucki and Nerlich build the tension as the three attempt to find a way out of the tree and to safety. The utilization of real crocodiles mapped over the shot makes the threat even more evident. Black Water, the lowest budgeted of the 2007 group of killer crocodile movies, is easily the scariest and most memorable.


2. THE BODY SNATCHER(1945)
Based on the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, this 1945 film is arguably the best horror film produced by Val Lewton. It was the collaboration between Lewton as a producer and director Robert Wise, who had directed The Curse of the Cat People for Lewton before. Horror legend Boris Karloff plays a cabman hired by a surgeon to dig up dead bodies for the surgeon’s research in anatomy. As the grave robberies become public knowledge, the cabman turns to murder to provide for the surgeon. Based on the Burke and Hare murders, The Body Snatcher is a prime example of classic horror with Karloff and co-star Bela Lugosi turning in excellent performances.


3. GOTHIC(1986)
Oh, Ken Russell and your provocative horror. You know just how to unnerve and distress even the most veteran of horror movie watchers.With Gothic, Russell shows us a tale of Lord Byron, played by Gabriel Byrne, and Mary Shelley, played by Natasha Richardson, and the fateful evening of drink, drugs, and debaucherty that gave birth to the legend of Frankenstein. Of course, the story that unfolds in Gothic is fiction, but the film builds on the surrealism and chaotic nature of human sexuality. Gothic is truly a bizarrely crafted and visually awesome film that delivers on the atmosphere as much as it does on the context of its story. It’s one that should be ingested by someone that enjoys the outside-the-norm thematics at play, but the absolute last thing you will find here is customary or vanilla bland.


4. HUSH (2009)
The story told in Hush isn’t really anything new. A couple driving home on a rainy night believe they see someone kidnapped in the back of a semi truck. From there, the paranoia and tension grows to violence results. What Hush does so well with its standard plot is found in the character choices. The couple does all the right things, anything you might expect them to do in such a situation, and writer/director Mark Tonderai never allows his film to fall into the conventional trappings the genre is most known for. What starts as been-there-done-that and somewhat predictable quickly evolves into full-blown suspense. Hush is a fast-paced and clean thriller that is absolutely worth seeking out.


5. THE KEEP(1983)
Before Public Enemies and Collateral, before The Insider and The Last of the Mohicans, even before Miami Vice, director Michael Mann helmed this strange film about a group of German soldiers during World War II who are sent to guard a castle in Romania. There, they discover a supernatural force that has been locked away for centuries. The Keep is not a film for everyone. It is very near incomprehensible in the way the narrative plays out. You can even tell the people in the film weren’t sure what the hell was going on in the film as they were shooting it. Nonetheless, The Keep is visually engaging and should be experienced for any Mann completists. Just don’t expect to know what’s going on in it.


6. MISTER FROST(1990)
Jeff Goldblum isn’t best known for playing villains (Seth Brundle was just misunderstood), so the idea of him playing a murderer in a mental institution who claims to be the devil incarnate should be enough to pique your interest. Mister Frost is a slow burn thriller, subtle in the way it unnerves the audience and in the way it keeps you guessing from beginning to end on whether the titular character is or isn’t who he claims to be. Kathy Baker and Alan Bates turn in solid supporting performances, but Goldblum is the real star here. With effortless, simple glances, he jostles your senses and pulls you into the film’s narrative. Director Philippe Setbon keeps the production clean, never forcing the horror or getting in the way of the lead performance. Mister Frost is a quiet thriller that should be right up anyone’s alley who wants their scares more of the hushed kind than the jump kind.


7. THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)
Produced just one year after James Whale made Frankenstein, The Old Dark House is a classic horror comedy that stars such legendary actors as Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, and Charles Laughton. It is the first entry into the subgenre of films about a group of people who seek shelter at an old mansion in the woods and the horrors they stumble upon once there. Creepy, atmospheric, and humorous in their own, respective ways, The Old Dark House is yet another piece of evidence that Whale is one of the true masters of classic, black and white horror. It is a fine piece of film making and an essential for anyone who claims to be a fan of the horror genre.


8. ONIBABA(1964)
Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba, is a visual masterpiece, striking in way the director shoots the scenery and the characters there within. Buried deep within the tall reeds of a grass swamp, two women, a mother and daughter, go about their daily lives killing wandering samurai and selling their armor and weapons. All is going swimmingly for the mother and daughter until one particular samurai wearing a demon mask ventures into their area of the swamp. Shinod’s film is a classic example of atmospheric film making, as his stark black and white photography brings to life the reality of the horrors that befalls these two women. Onibaba plays on the uneasiness drawn by its atmosphere, and the unnerving imagery found within, imagery that will absolutely stay with you long after it is over.


9. PONTYPOOL(2008)
Anything but a typical zombie flick, Pontypool makes every attempt at eschewing conventions and creating an intelligent yet scary film. It is essentially a zombie apocalypse film told from the vantage point of a radio show host, and his two producers as they are trapped inside their studio. Director Bruce McDonald never cuts away to show the masses of zombies raging through the area, and much is left to our own imagination. As if that weren’t creative enough, the concept of where the zombie plague began and how it is spread takes its own approach, as well. Stephen McHattie as the radio show host gives a phenomenal performance, and Pontypool ends up being one of the more smartly written and cleanly executed zombie films in recent memory.


10. TORSO(1973)
Released in 1973, Torso, directed by Sergio Martino, is a nearly forgotten giallo that is arguably the greatest example of the three Bs (boobs, blood, and black gloves) directed by anyone not named Dario Argento. The film centers on four college students who, after a series of brutal murders rock their campus, flee to the countryside to get away from it. Death follows with them. Martino does a fine job building the tension while also providing all the goodies, both sexual and violent, one would want from this type of film. Even Torso’s native, Italian title, Bodies that Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, screams giallo, and it’s certainly one to seek out when you’ve already checked out all the ones directed by that Argento guy.

1 comment:

Colonel Mortimer said...

Hey Rupert--just wanted to say I've been enjoying all these list this month, thanks for compiling them. Just when you think you have a knowledge on a subject, you find all these new films that remain undiscovered.

Inspired by these posts, I did my own list of underrated films at my blog, hope you check it out when you have the time:

http://colonelmortimer.blogspot.com/2010/10/top-10ish-underrated-ish-horror-ish.html

thanks again!

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