Sunday, October 31, 2010
Got a list here from my good friend Large William of GGTMC fame! GGTMC is my favorite podcast and one that I am honored to be a part of. Check it out!
When good friend, and fellow GGtMC'er Rupert Pupkin asked me to come up with a list of "underrated Horror films" I was apprehensive, despite being enthusiastic. I love lists, but I dread the thought of a given list being my definitive word on a given subject, so I'll present my list with the caveat that come next year, I'll present 13 more films. To be clear, I find the term underrated or under-appreciated to be subjective, certainly, but to me, the films below fall into just that: films that MOST horror or genre fans haven't talked about enough or seen. Without further fanfare, here goes:
13. Edge of the Axe(Larraz, 1988) While not the most original or groundbreaking ever made, it does feature a few fantastic kills, including a wonderful one in a car wash. It also has a pretty decent twist, which harkens to another film in the fraternity from around the same time. Also there is spooky instant chat angle STRAIGHT FROM THE FUTURE.
12. Rogue(Mclean, 2007) Sadly, this one got lost in the inexplicable myriad of croc/gator films that flooded the market around this time. It's got a solid cast(Radha Mitchell, , Sam Worthington, and genre fave John Jarratt),and a director who had a first rate debut film(Wolf Creek, more Jarratt goodness) and truly features some fantastic dread/suspense in that man vs. nature vein. It does get a bit Kaiju-y ridiculous near the end, but certainly not enough to sour me on it.
11. Deadline(Azzopardi, 1981) I would be remiss if I didn't include at least one Canadian film on here(and et. al don't count; he's gets much love as a master filmmaker at this point). This film, made under the great tax shelter years of the 70's and 80's, was also a debut film for the Maltese, workman-like Azzopardi. It's got a fantastic cover, and despite some REALLY clumsy filler, features some wonderfully, almost Italian feeling surreal horror dream sequences that work surprisingly well, not to mention some Canadian "pelts" thrown in for good measure.
10.Paperhouse(Rose, 1988) This is one of 2 on my list that I've seen in the past few days for the first time. In fact, this was a recommend from good friend, Brian, of the shiny, new Hammicus film podcast. I'd never even heard of it before he'd begun singing it's praises. I'd classify it more of a dark fairy tale, than anything, but it's a nice palate cleanser for us gorehounds this time of year. It's very apparent that Henry Selick, Wolfgang Petersen, , and were all heavily influenced by this film when making Coraline, The Neverending story, Pan's Labryinth, and The Fall, respectively. It even features a few really solid jump scares and creepy moments, and was excellently shot with a great minimal, imaginative set. Need more proof? Rose went on to direct the genre classic Candyman a few years later
9. Let's Scare Jessica to Death(Hancock, 1971) I really dig films with an unreliable narrator, and in this one, the titular Jessica has just returned home from the "hospital" and seems on the verge of an absolute meltdown at any moment, not to mention the wet ghosts and frightening, surreal things she's seeing. Are they real? will her illness and paranoia override all? This film has a knockout performance from , and if I had to sum it up, it's the shaggy hippy cousin of another low budget, amateur classic, that makes the most of it's atmosphere and setting,
8. Bad Dreams(Fleming, 1988) cute 80's + not-so-cute super duper iconic face and hall of fame bad guy Richard Lynch+cult favorite Dean Cameron+industrial size fan=win. Need I say more? If I must, timing is what did this one in. It happened to be comparable to a certain franchise that dealt with sleeping teenagers that was at it's height at the time, and even featured Rubin in part 3.
7. Horrors of Malformed Men(Ishii, 1969) banned at home for DECADES due to the heavy emphiasis on it's disfigured actors and directed by one of the finest genre directors of all time, this one is a really doozy. I had the pleasure of buying it's upon it's release, and was supremely happy I did so. Part grotesque surreal theatre, part post-war trauma, part Island of Dr.Moreau, all PLATINUM. It really should be mentioned alongside the Jigoku's, Onibaba's, and Kwaidan's of the world.
6. Sugar Hill(Maslansky, 1974) It's a crying shame this STILL isn't on dvd or blu-ray. Although more well-known for his producing credits, Maslansky throws blaxploitation, a gorgeous Markie Bey, voodoo, revenge,polyester, and zombies in a stew and comes up with a well made, pacey, fun film.
5. Mulberry Street(Mickle, 2006) Remember the name Jim Mickle. Trust me. His newest film, Stakeland is getting compared favorably in grit and tone to genre classic Near Dark, and if memory serves me correctly, won the audience choice award at Midnight Madness at tiff this year. But we're not here to talk about that, we're here to discuss Mulberry Street, and if I were a film professor and wanted to show the class the best example of a talented filmmaker making the most of limited budget and resources, and getting maximum pay off from it, I'd show them this film. Wonderfully well written, with fleshed out, 3 dimensional characters and a fantastic, run down slummy building as it's claustrophobic backdrop, Mulberry Street definitely delivers.
4. Nightmare City(Lenzi, 1980) While I love him far more for his best work in the Polizia/Euro-Crime genre, where he's an absolute master, I cannot deny the rompy fun of Nightmare City. We gut mud-faced zombies using machine guns, breasts being torn off during an aerobics class, and the ORIGINAL zombie theme park showdown, not to mention cashing a cheque, and the crown prince of wooden Mexican actors, Hugo Stiglitz rocking a beard and elbow pads on his blazer like it's nobodies business.
3. Black Belly of the Tarantula(Cavara, 1971) Paolo Cavara should have spent more time making genre films and less time stirring up shit as one of the men behind the series of films. I didn't want to include a film we've reviewed on the show(that's what honorable mentions are for), but couldn't resist. Amongst the best Gialli's out there, it features a breathy, sexy score from Ennio Morricone, features 3 Bond girls getting killed, a boat load of dizzying, stylish kills, and most importantly, Giancarlo Gianninni as a burned out(but fully fleshed out) detective who's job has him run down to near collapse. The cherry on top is as his warm, loving wife. It could've been a throwaway role, but she fully embodies it and we understand why Inspector Tellini keeps coming home at night. A must-see
2. La Residencia(Serrador, 1969)Serrador made one of the best, most thought provoking films the genre had to offer a few years later, when he asked, "Who can kill a child?", but this film can run with it any day. If I had to summarize it, I'd say it's Suspiria, but far less fantastical, much more gothic, turn of the century Giallo-y, a sprinkle of , and with more solid performances and gorgeous pan-European women than you could shake a/your stick at. Anchored by the breathtaking Cristina Galbo(who was in my favorite Gialli, What have they done to Solange? as well as Let sleeping corpses lie, perhaps the most underappreciated zombie film out there), and German born actress Lilli Palmer who's featured as the Housemother who rules with a firm fist. The film has a terrific locale, and several twists and turns that harken to the master of suspense, Hitchcock. I was truly surprised with a few twists the film took. A slow burn to be sure, but a very high recommend from me.
1. Angst(Kargl, 1983) cited this film as the primary influence for his knockout punch debut feature length film, I stand alone. Pascal Laugier, director of Martyrs, was very clearly influenced by it. Ladies and gentlemen, let the Maniac's and Henry: Portrait of a serial killer's of the world swing their dicks around all they want. Angst is an Austrian John Holmes tree trunk in comparison. This film is serious as fuck and equally as nasty. Even better, it's incredibly well-shot, perhaps one of the best of it's time, and is so clinical and harsh in it's lighting, that I promise you, there will be queasiness in le tummy. I've seen a lot of transgressive, brutal cinema, but because of the extremely high end technical aspects of this film, in tandem with stomach churning effects, and unbelievable central performance from Erwin Leder(a more sickly, yuppie ), I just can't put this one out of my head. IT IS ABSOLUTELY CRIMINAL THAT THIS ISN'T ON DVD. Is anyone out there? PLEASE let everyone feel as queasy and respectful towards this film as I am.
Honorable mentions: , Amsterdamned, Targets, Torso, Hausu, Possession, Alice sweet Alice, Stagefright, Let Cleeping Corpses lie.
*note - All of my "honorable mentions" films have been reviewed on the Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema by Sammy and I(with the exception of Targets and Australia's Next of kin), so I didn't want to blather on about them again, go listen to our episodes featuring them and other great films.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
10. Cat's Eye (1985)
Like most horror fans I know, nothing makes me smile more than a well-told anthology. followed up Cujo with another Stephen King adaptation, a set of three stories loosely linked by a gray feline. "Quitters, Inc." puts a meanly humorous spin on both smoking and, in a sense, laziness. "The Ledge" is a suspenseful quick tale about a jerky millionaire, but it's "The General"--starring a still warm Firestarter Drew Barrymore--that gave me nightmares. A little girl is afraid to go to sleep until she adopts a friendly stray cat...a smart move since there's a tiny evil troll hunting her breath every night. Though the stop motion goblin looks a little dated today, this segment is strangely terrifying for so many reasons: Barrymore's likable innocence, the urban legend monster-under-my-bed fear, the very idea that gross little demon is after a sweet kid, her bitchy mother. Though Cat's Eye is no Creepshow, the film is quite enjoyable in a fluffy, yet still scary way, something that's fitting of the anthology sub-genre itself.
9. Scream 2 (1997)
Let's face it: this movie didn't have to be good. Following the juggernaut success of Wes Craven's '90s-horror-saving meta slasher, anything starring pretty WB refugees in dark lighting (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Disturbing Behavior, etc.) could have been bankrolled and dropped into theaters with all the finesse of a teenager discovering what breasts feel like. Kudos to Kevin Wiliamson for crafting a screenplay that was as much an ode to '80s sequels as the first film was to slashers. The film is loaded with smart self-references that introduced a new generation to what it means to be Part 2.
The Collector (1965)
8. The Blob (1988)
Chuck Russell's 1988 remake doesn't always find its way on lists in the gutsy residue left by other titans like The Thing and , but this small town invasion easily stands as one of the very best produced in a decade rife with fluffy horror movies. Surprising plot twists (including one of the best bait & switch protagonists ever) plus an incredibly designed titular monster that's simply something else. It's not easy to be creative when remaking a popular film, but Russell (with a script co-written by ) nails it.
Based on John Fowles's haunting novel of the same name, William Wyler's The Collector tells the tale of Frederick Clegg (Terence Stamp), a lonely lottery winner obsessed with a beautiful young art student symbolically named Miranda (Oscar nominated Samantha Eggar). Clegg wants love but is smart enough to know it might never happen. Miranda, a clever woman with various tricks up her sleeve, simply wants to live. How they interact is deeply unsettling and ultimately, incredibly sad. As the tagline says, it's "almost a love story," and really, is there
6. Tourist Trap (1979)
The definition of superior PG rated horror inappropriately tagged with a PG rating (take that, ). David Schmoeller's 1979 mannequin movie is the definition of eerie, with a unique sound design that makes every noise something unearthly and terrifying. We may not see a drop of blood, but I dare anyone to watch a horrifying face plaster scene and not find it hard to breathe.
5. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
It can't be easy to sequelize a film that, by all accounts, revived the zombie genre for a whole new generation while simultaneously reinventing it with speed. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 2007 followup to Danny Boyle's nuevo-classic somehow manages to succeed in almost every possible way, particularly with one of the most intense opening scenes of the decade. A likable cast (including a pre-Hurt Locker Jeremy Renner) keeps you caring, while an incredible musical score elevates virtually everything onscreen. Like its predecessor, one can wax poetic about some of the themes regarding militarism, but for those that simply want a good horror film, 28 Weeks Later is a delicious treat.
4. End of the Line (2007)
Who says there are no new horror directors? proves such pessimists wrong with this 2008 chiller, effectively set in the subway tunnels of an unnamed city. As a crazed doomsday cult starts to stab its way through the straphangers, a few plucky survivors attempt to make it through the night. Just when you think you know where the story is going, it takes a surprise turn, saving a few more twists for savvy viewers to argue about over the end credits. Scary AND smart.
There are a lot of killer Santa Clauses slicing their way through the naughty list in holiday horror cinema, but it's Brandon Maggart's lonely Harry that gives the old man a genuine heart. The poor unappreciated factory worker just wants Christmas to mean something, so naturally, he follows the logical flow of donning a homemade Santa outfit and spreading joy, sometimes in the form of hand-crafted toys, other times through homicidal violence. Throughout all of it, there's a warm fuzzy undercurrent that makes this antihero a fascinating and tragic figure far more complex and lovable than, dare I say it, any tortured orphan in the better known Silent Night Deadly Night series.
Sure, boasts an infamous silhouette of fertile doll sex, but it's this horror comedy--the only film in the series thus far to be written AND directed by Chucky creator Don Mancini--that goes deep...Chucky psyche deep. Not only do we finally get Mr. Lee Ray's feelings on what it means to be a doll, we also get Jennifer Tilly gamely playing meta, Redman directing a biopic of the Virgin Mary, a winking cameo by camp extraordinaire John Waters, and the adorable sexual confusion of , the redheaded spawn of our favorite plastic couple. Sure, five films into the saga, most viewers are no longer terrified of Chucky's knife, but as laughs go, this film stands tall.
Underrated doesn't begin to describe novelist-turned-director William Peter Blatty's 1991 wrongfully maligned threequel to William Friedken's Oscar darling. Though the film's final act suffers from studio interference (including a forced exorcism in order to justified the film's forced title), the entire trip is rich with the pen of Blatty's novel-istic touch. As Detective Kinderman (a carryover character from the original), George C. Scott is a solid protagonist made even more interesting by his believable and amusing relationship with Ed Flanders' Father Dyer. How often do you get such playful conversations between cops and clergymen? Not to mention the film boasts one of the best 3-second jump scares ever, plus incredibly dark imagery conveyed ever so effectively through powerful dialogue. Plus, there's an old-woman-on-the-ceiling shot that makes the film actually titled Legion look even more like poo. Still need a reason to rent? The movie's so good, it rounded up cameos from Larry King, Patrick Ewing, and Fabio. Yes. THAT Fabio.
And a few honorable mentions….
It won't change your life, but this little-seen 2008 horror will make you nostalgic for practical effects done right. With a strong Stuart Gordon vibe and better-than-average performances (particularly by Boardwalk Empire's Shea Whigham), this quickie follows an unlucky couple on a failed camping trip as they get kidnapped by some drug addicts and worst of all, trapped in a gas station to fight off an invading parasite. The kind of movie that makes you look up its director (Toby Wilkins) and seek out his filmography, even if it includes 3.
It's a terrible movie. I know. But why, when so many OTHER terrible movies have been celebrated, does this awful nature-fights-Sam-Elliot laughfest not bask in midnight screenings? Between the pipe cleaner tarantulas, adorably misnamed title villains (they're toads) and grandly inappropriate "We're taking a stand together!" subplot involving African American characters whose deaths then don't even get a mention, Frogs is kind of a masterpiece of bad cinema.
Whether you were fascinated or disgusted by this 2009 indie horror, please don't deny that the filmmakers were actively exploring loneliness, loserdom, and sexual discovery in a unique and brave way. I firmly believe Deadgirl is the kind of film that will slowly develop a thoughtful audience in the next few years, an audience less interested in exploitation and zombie violence than how it's used to ask a whole lot of deep and unsettling questions.
A film FINALLY receiving its earned accolades, this Paul Verhoeven masterpiece (I mean it) is so smart, it made an entire population of snide wormy critics think it was dumb.
In this world, there is a film about a killer refrigerator that closes on its victims to death in its doors, then sends them to hell. Sometimes, I really am happy to be a member of planet earth. Sadly unavailable on DVD, The Refrigerator is a genuinely funny and odd find for the industrious VHS hunters braving the world of '80s horror.
Who Can Kill a Child?(1976)
Slowly becoming more and more celebrated in the genre community, Narciso Ibanez Serrador's terrifying evil kid horror crosses lines you didn't think possible.
Not quite horror, but truly horrifying. Michael Tolkin's 1991 doomsday drama doesn't really fit any genre, but from the cold listless life of ' empty telephone operator to the woman she becomes defiantly standing on the gates of heaven and purgatory, The Rapture is deeply unsettling, bravely daring, and an absolute must-see for viewers who appreciate the kind of cinema that won't let you go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.