With Halloween fast approaching and moviegoers getting into the spooky season, a curated list of horror films seemed like a no-brainer. While avoiding obvious classics (1978’s Halloween, The Shining, Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead etc), I decided to shoutout a few lesser seen gems which could pair well with the lights turned down low, a bottle of witch’s brew, and eyes glued to the screen rather than sinister shapes moving around just outside the window.
Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s madcap ghost story is the kind of curio usually reserved for midnight viewing; ie. severed hands banging on a piano, clock gears spewing blood, dismembered heads, demon cats, and supernatural watermelons. Acid-fueled horror predating Sam Raimi and Adult Swim, and an absolute blast.
Dressed to Kill
Often labeled a plagiarist of 50’s/60’s cinema tropes, Brian De Palma is much more keen on transgressive antics with this Hitchcockian giallo riff in which a call girl, frustrated house wife, and creepy psychiatrist get drawn into a convoluted plot. A master class in filmmaking; lurid, funny, violent, and thrilling.
Stuart Gordon’s riotous debut took Grand Guignol horror to new levels with this satirical takedown of Reagan’s America. A scientist discovers a fluid which brings living tissue back to life, but the real aim of Gordon’s bizarro concoction is to show how gory practical effects and Jeffrey Combs’s unhinged central performance can actually derive empathy for the human race.
Anchored by Laura Dern’s extraordinary performance and filmed on grainy digital video, David Lynch’s riff on loss, confusion, and rabbits dressed in human clothes is nothing less than a waking nightmare. The horror movie as unadulterated madness.
Hour of the Wolf
A dysfunctional relationship between an artist and his long-suffering wife is at the center of Hour of the Wolf, but by investigating the unstable psychology of his characters and offering up some truly unsettling images, Ingmar Bergman gives us one of the scariest horror movies ever made by digging into the emptiness of human existence.
What We Do in the Shadows
Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s vampire mockumentary is more than simply a spoof; playing off a variety of horror tropes while endearing us to its cast of eccentric characters. There’s blood, gore, and werewolves, but What We Do in the Shadows is never less than clever about revealing how cinema has impacted horror iconography.
Carnival of Souls
Herk Harvey’s lo-fi curio about a car crash survivor is best appreciated as a precursor to the works of George A. Romero and David Lynch. The cheap production values and stilted acting deepens the film’s strangeness; conjuring an eerie feeling which permeates the startling black and white imagery and droning organ score.
Dario Argento’s last great film in the giallo mold; part The Phantom of the Opera, part Macbeth, with elaborate tracking shots, primary colors, and an obsessive killer taping pins under the eyes of our traumatized heroine. Beautiful, savage, and yes, operatic.
The Lords of Salem
Rob Zombie’s audio-visual tour de force about a dreadlocked woman falling in with some satanic happenings in Salem, Mass is like witnessing John Carpenter reimagining The Shining by way of The Wicker Man. Miraculously, Zombie pulls it off with his own unique blend of unnerving sights, sounds, and demonic umbilical cords.
The sound design is all-encompassing, the camera tracks and swirls (sometimes mounted on bodies), and the Krautrock score mounts its aural attack in Gerald Kargl’s disorienting experiment. A pure shot of anxiety-induced horror which is all the more terrifying because it refuses to offer up explanations for the unnamed psychopath’s motives.