Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Horror - Josh Johnson ""

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson directed a wonderful documentary all about VHS called REWIND THIS! and it is available digitally with extras here(including the soundtrack which is awesome):
It will also be available on home video soon!
Follow Josh's exploits on twitter here: 


Horror anthologies have been a staple of the genre for many decades, and more often than not they provide a fairly mixed bag as far as entertainment goes. This British shocker satisfies from start to finish, with a solid wraparound device to facilitate the individual stories.

The stage is set in a very simple way. An architect arrives at a large house during a party, and informs the other guests that he has had a dream about them all. He seems to be capable of predicting future events as though he has already seen them. This triggers conversations about the nature of his claims from the party guests, who then share supernatural tales of their own. 

All of the short films contained are satisfying, but one segment about a possessed ventriloquist dummy is among the most chilling film experiences I've ever sat through. Truly frightening and completely unforgettable. This portion of the film alone earns it a place on any list of underrated horror films.

This Hammer Films production stands as one of the most effective uses of black and white cinemascope photography I've ever seen. Every inch of the frame is used to alternately convey a sense of mountainous grandeur or claustrophobic intimacy. The atmosphere is thick and heavy. The imagery is occasionally unsettling, but always beautiful. The whole project feels like a cross between a nature documentary and an old-fashioned ghost story.

On the surface, this is the tale of a Himalayan expedition to find the Yeti, but screenwriter Nigel Neale is more interested in investigating the dark side of humanity. The drama within the plot always grows out of human decisions more than the threat of the creature. One of the most rewarding aspects of the production is that it not only gets under your skin, it also dares to ask uncomfortable questions without easy answers. This introspective quality causes the impact to last long after the credits roll.

Christopher Lee was already an icon within the Hammer Films universe by the time this picture was produced, having played both Dracula and Frankenstein's monster in a few of their most successful releases. Here he plays a more heroic figure forced to deal with occult forces beyond our rational world. Satan himself is in the mix, and the ol' guy is none too friendly. 

You can see the early influence of psychedelic culture onscreen, with many of the satanist rituals having a druggy vibe. There is the feeling that something subversive is being created with the confines of a British cultural institution. Few of the Hammer titles can be described as hip, but  this one feels plugged into the popular consciousness more than anything else in their catalog. It is also executed with tremendous efficiency and perfect pacing. 

For the first 30 minutes, I didn't care for the central character in this movie. Enrico Rosseni,  a school teacher played by Fabio Testi,  is unfaithful to his wife and having an affair with a student.  These are not the activities of a respectable man. Nevertheless, about 40 minutes into the film I began to realize I had developed an active interest in what would happen to him. During the final 30 minutes, I watched  on the edge of my seat with a deep interest in how the story would resolve itself for Rosseni and the surrounding characters. It is a testament to the intelligence of this film that it creates a mystery plot around a potentially repulsive character, and trusts that the details of its story will draw you in and change your mind.

One of the highlights of the giallo boom in Italy, there is a delicate blend of beauty and brutality at the heart of SOLANGE. Elaborate murder set-pieces brush up against striking shots of the Italian countryside, with a haunting score by Ennio Morricone to hold it all together. Shocking images and revelations of pure ugliness are followed by hypnotic stretches of wordless cinematic expressionism. This is without a doubt the most lyrical and poetic film to feature a teenage girl being stabbed in the vagina. 

Probably the least seen film on this list, I've been struggling for years to understand why this isn't a cult classic. It follows the daily life of a Sunday School teacher as he goes about his unconventional hobby of serial murder. The fly-on-the-wall, observational approach of the film allows the tension of the scenes to develop naturally and often unpredictably. The film never comments on its protagonist, it simply shows you his actions.

MURDERLUST isn't as over the top as other serial killer pictures, but it is more disturbing as a result. The simplicity and directness of the killers actions make them seem almost commonplace, as though everyone you know could be strangling an innocent person behind closed doors. There is no gore to placate the audience, or jump scares to create cheap thrills. There is nothing but a human monster going about his business in private, beyond our ability to intervene. One of the very best films ever made about our darkest impulses.

HABIT (1995)
Larry Fessenden burst onto the indie film scene with this incredibly personal slice-of-life take on vampire mythology. Set in a variety of NYC locations that don't ordinarily make it onto a movie screen, there is a vitality pulsating through the celluloid that injects an anxious energy into all the scenes. The gothic confines of most bloodsucker stories are exchanged for dive bars and cheap apartments. You can tell it is made on a small budget, but rather than see that as a negative, Fessenden take advantage of the smallness to fashion something akin to a genre film as made by John Cassavetes.

Fessenden himself takes the lead as Sam, a drunken, depressive sort who throws his sorrows into a relationship with a mysterious woman named Anna. The story develops from there in many of the ways you'd expect, but each scene is treated with authenticity rather than played for shock value. This is a serious attempt to explore how a person in a large city might deal with the fear and paranoia that arises from an unexpected transformation. It is something of a slow burn, but the payoff is more than worth it.

This Canadian psychological thriller fell between the cracks upon release, but is deserving of wider exposure. It sets up a fairly standard home invasion scenario, but it sets itself apart from the pack by developing both the hostages and the perpetrators into dimensional characters with unique perspectives. It also excels where a lot of similar films fall apart, which is in the way it has the characters communicate with one another. There is a lot of talking in the film, between equally articulate but morally opposed forces. It is in these conversations that the film becomes unnerving. 

There are also wonderfully clever visual cues used throughout the film to suggest the mental state of our lead character, These creative design elements help to break up what is otherwise a chamber piece. The combination of inspired camera work, smart scripting, and intense performances make this an overlooked Canuxploitation gem. Hopefully it will develop a reputation in the coming years, as it remains one of the best thrillers of the past decade. 

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