Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel SchulmanUnited States | 2011
…the feeling of watching events unfold with living presence as though we’re inseparable from the Lovecraftian otherness of those things which assault the protagonists; not that we’re holding the camera, but that we’re manipulating the substance of its gaze. This also contributes to the inescapable sense of Toby as a kind of guru for the girls, that his final ‘appearance’ is something simultaneously messianic and evil. The fact that the ending takes place at the home of the grandmother and the filmmakers don’t bother to familiarize us with its boundaries enhances the sense of dislocation; we’ve spent enough time at Julie and Dennis’ home, and especially the girls’ bedroom, to gather our bearings, but here there’s no such luxury: it’s dark and dangerous and Dennis doesn’t even know where the light-switches are.
Directed by Tom HollandUnited States | 1985
Importantly for the film’s tone the special effects really do deliver. Granted they’re heavily indebted to John Landis’ landmark An American Werewolf in London but they still impress in their own right. The comedy may take centre-stage but when characters face off against each other blood, viscera and various other forms of goop flow freely. Using all the old school effects of the day—puppets, stop-motion, super-imposition and various other forms of trick photography—the monsters here have an immediacy and physicality that unfortunately has been largely lost in today’s world of computer generated imagery. I know it sounds somewhat curmudgeonly but, as film looks best as a physical celluloid strip flickering past a light source, special effects look best with a genuine physical presence of their own.
Directed by Jack HillUnited States | 1968
One gets the feeling that if the Merryes had been left alone, they might never have been allowed to become monsters—remaining instead withering freaks in a microcosm of familial love. It’s only when the outside world comes calling that things go wrong, and it’s easy to see Spider Baby as an anti-establishment polemic, a bloody Peter Pan story aimed at keeping squares at bay. It’s a theme that would be explored and modified a few years later in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the key difference being that Leatherface’s family was a tad more proactive in procuring their meals.
Directed by Tom SixNetherlands, United Kingdom | 2011
If you’re a passive moviegoer, there’s probably no reason to watch The Human Centipede 2. You’re likely right in assuming it will be the sickest, most unconscionable thing you’ve ever seen in your life—precisely because you don’t watch enough movies to know better. But if you’re really into movies, why not watch this one? Yeah, I know there are thousands of other Important Films that “deserve your attention”, but I promise that most of them will not challenge your expectations and notions of what constitutes a solid film the way this one will. Tom Six isn’t just a cheap, freak-show huckster. He’s a genuine artist pushing the boundaries of taste while making great-looking, thought-provoking movies.
Directed by Allan HolzmanUnited States | 1982
Forbidden World itself was recycled from Corman’s Alien-cribbing sci-fi from the previous year, Galaxy of Terror, an epic by Corman standards as it cost an estimated $700,000. Of course, his most ambitious project to date had been 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars, a simultaneous ode to the Star Wars saga and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and the film that first employed a young James Cameron as part of the visual effects crew. Cameron graduated to Galaxy of Terror, his talents touching nearly everything in that film, especially the design of the sets—including the walls of the space shuttle made from fast food take-out containers—which can be seen again in Forbidden World if one looks closely. The metamorph is almost symbolic of the kind of filmmaking which Corman’s talented underlings so excelled at: taking existing paradigms and retrofitting them (inexpensively).
Directed by James WhaleUnited States | 1935
It’s easy to see why this film is so highly regarded, even today. In an era of 3D showiness and “more is more” evisceration effects, the subtle, mind-bending horrors of Bride of Frankenstein really stand out. You can call this old-fashioned filmmaking, but I’d be willing to bet this movie would be a hit if Universal pushed for a two-week, limited re-release. I realize I’m giving horror audiences way more credit than many people think they deserve, but above all, I think what draws fans to scare-shows is a desire to be wowed and creeped out. And there is plenty of unsettling weirdness to be found here.
Directed by The Vicious BrothersCanada | 2011
This leads to a dizzying foray through the labyrinthine building, a building T.C. hypothesizes as actually living, as it seems to continually change around them. They’re even foiled by a hallway map, its usually reliable ‘you are here’ marker indicating they’re on the ground floor still when everyone concurs that they’ve just traveled up at least four flights of stairs. The gutted hospital doesn’t want them to leave, it seems. The mise-en-scene is so relentless, so inherently dark and disarming that hints of lurking strangeness are hard to ignore. What Grave Encounters accomplishes here is what Session 9 accomplished with more traditional techniques, but like that film Grave Encounters uses shadow, ambient sound and even long passages of odd silences to disorient and unnerve.
Directed by David PaulsenUnited States | 1979
When they arrive they find a dead bat nailed to the door-frame of the cabin, as if in ominous warning. They also encounter Mac (David Gale), who leers over his thick, ’70s-mustache at the women, and Otis, local handyman, weirdo, voyeur and obvious red herring. Otis, Mac tells the gang, was in love with his cousin and brutally attacked her and her lover. By the time the killer, wearing a creepy Halloween mask, shows up, Savage Weekend seems to have moved beyond Deliverance into the territory of Friday the 13th and other slasher flicks. And yet the film isn’t quite so straightforward…
Directed by Piraphan Laoyont, Thodsapol SiriwiwatThailand | 2007
As for the nurses themselves, they certainly look the part, provided you interpreted the word ‘nurse’ to mean ‘fashion model.’ The unabashed glossiness of the central cast can’t help but recall Hong Kong’s riotously awful, Chek law dak gung (aka. Naked Weapon)…each character looks like she was freshly lifted from an FHM photoshoot. Even the vengeful spirit finds the time to seductively drape herself over the furniture.
Directed by Quentin DupieuxUnited States | 2010
Had Quentin Dupieux committed to making a sincere horror movie with a ridiculous premise, or even a horror farce that played up the genre’s worst conventions, Rubber might have had a chance. Instead, his film has a cynical, grooved surface that becomes evident once the shiny novelty wears off. It’s as if he’s made the film specifically to be under appreciated when it hits theatres, so that he can claim he’s made a cult film. He likely imagines wild midnight screenings at art-house theatres nationwide, where people show up in cheesy sheriff’s costumes bearing whole turkeys to share with their friends, while dodging inflated toy tires ahead of the previews.
Directed by Ji-woon KimSouth Korea | 2010
To that end, I Saw the Devil can’t help but seem like a film full of allusion to other titles. The muted interiors of key locations and the methodology of many of the violent acts recall Saw or Hostel. The slashing of an Achilles tendon mirrors Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. As the sides of a character’s mouth split as his jaws are pulled apart, it clearly rouses images of Kakihara from Ichi the Killer…It’s not difficult to imagine that Kim, a student of cinema, has seen all these films and it seems he’s keen to top each and every one of them.
Directed by Bong Joon-hoSouth Korea | 2003
A slow-motion sequence earlier in the film highlights the absurdity of the detectives’ framing of Kwang-ho and the media frenzy that descends upon the town: Kwang-ho forgets himself and shouts of his innocence to his devastated father, leading the cops to chase him down in a field and shut him up as reporters close in like a locust swarm. Bong even finds a hint of mourning in the proceedings, turning the thick boots we saw one detective use for evil when he viciously kicked Kwang-ho used as a haunting visual cue for the same man’s foot amputation over a case of tetanus.
Directed by Conor McPhersonIreland | 2009
The concept of the supernatural, or at least of highly abstract events permeating reality, is not something new to serve as allegory for social fallout. Although grander in its designs, Victor Erice’s mesmerising El espíritu de la colmena (aka The Spirit of the Beehive) could be cited as such an example. The ghosts here signify an unease deep-rooted in the loss of a loved one and a fear of a future without them. Though it undeniably has its shocks, trying to tout The Eclipse as a horror story does it no favours.
Directed by Kaneto ShindōJapan | 1968
Shindō is decidedly more modern in his technique. His tale boasts a pared down simplicity, almost theatrical in how it focuses its expressive elements. Through long sequences, the tragic tale of the ghostly murderers and their estranged samurai companion unfold, often across various planes of the same set, divided by dynamic, theatrical lighting. More than fully realised locations, we instead have conceptual spaces, not entirely removed from the likes of the insane plastic surgeon’s amorphous clinic in Teshigahara’s Face of Another.
Directed by David LynchUnited States | 1976
Even more than the visuals—the typical crutch by which filmmakers often rise and fall when making dream movies—Lynch’s original score and the sound effects that he and Alan Splet concoct for this reality send us hurtling into the mind of Henry Spencer. The perpetual wind and rain blasting Henry’s apartment, gurgling baby sounds, and the Lady in the Radiator’s long rendition of “In Heaven Everything is Fine” make for an 88-minute off-kilter sensation. There’s as much screwy audio texture here as there are strange set pieces to ogle, and it contributes to that feeling of watching the Big Twist Reveal of every good Twilight Zone episode on a loop.
Directed by Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, Takashi MiikeHong Kong, South Korea, Japan | 2004
Filled with venomous humour, combining high violence with wildly inappropriate demonstrations of song and dance, Cut is like a playful experiment to occupy time between grander projects. Thematically it bears resemblance to some of Park’s earlier work, particularly Oldboy which, with the character of Woo-jin, also ticks along thanks to the malevolent mind of an unqualified judge.
Directed by Lucio FulciItaly | 1980
Working with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, Fulci injects his story with a supernatural angle that defies convention. Most zombie movies—whether they acknowledge it or not—have an underlying theme of the dead returning to life as a precursor to judgment day (as with the famous Romero tagline, “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead shall walk the Earth”). These inevitably turn into simple survival movies—numbers games where a small band of heroes locks themselves in a house/mall/underground cave and fends off slow-moving, stupid monsters. In City of the Living Dead, the zombies are still dumb, but they’re the puppet-agents of the evil priest, whose dark powers allow the creatures to teleport and play mind-games with their victims.
Directed by Alexandro JodorowskyMexico, Italy | 1989
Jodorowsky revels in the terrain of baroque overstatement; when his characters are angry, they get very angry, and the same goes for sensations of happiness, sexual excitement and horror. All these elemental emotions are in feisty competition in Jodorowsky’s work, making them rather turbulent experiences that are difficult to engage with emotionally. But Santa Sangre includes exalted occasions when the kaleidoscopic tone collage comes to a steady halt, leaving in its wake scenes of rich emotional poetry, such as the harrowing devastation of Goncha after her Church is bulldozed and Fenix comforts her, or the plaintive and inevitable farewell of Fenix and Alma, which feels like a missed opportunity until the two reunite later in an equally lovely scene of romantic swooning.
Directed by Giorgos LanthimosGreece | 2009
From the awkwardness of Son’s test of his sisters’ virility in a bathtub three-shot, to a beautiful metal sink full of blood and tooth fragments, there are few frames in Dogtooth that couldn’t be ripped out and hung in a gallery. I also loved the early scenes—in retrospect, not so much as they were happening—where we see the characters at strange, cropped angles, acting in a monotone that’s cloying until the story helps us understand why no one in the film is particularly expressive. The camera joins in the dysfunction by showing us unsettling subject matter in ways that tell the brain things aren’t quite right.
Directed by George A. RomeroUnited States, Canada | 2009
The film hardly goes a few minutes before a gun battle erupts and a random troupe of zombies have their brains splattered all over the place. The problem is that due to the exceedingly poor special effects and the overexposure to such occurrences, the violence becomes tedious almost as soon as it begins. It doesn’t help matters that, lacking any convincing or useful characters, it’s impossible to be bothered when one of the living succumb to the dead either. As an exercise in violence Survival of the Dead succeeds in the basest conceivable manner and is, at all times, utterly bereft of even the vaguest sense of suspense or intrigue.
Directed by Matt ReevesUnited States, United Kingdom | 2010
With a somewhat troubling dependence on sinister music, awkward tension-building exercises and exceedingly poorly realised special effects, the film tries to pull the audience in rather than letting them naturally sink into proceedings. It’s really only when we get past the event that opened the film that everything settles down and really reflects the more successful tone the Swedish film managed from its very first frame.
Directed by Gary ShermanUnited States | 1990
A great deal of the film will revolve around Lisa’s playing-hard-to-get telephone conversations with Richard, the handsome, beguiling killer. Of course, Richard wants to know who’s calling him at all hours and disguising her voice so he’s always trying to get information out of her. The astute teenager resists, but eventually she has the idea of pretending to be her mom—if mom gets laid, then maybe she’ll ease up and Lisa can go out on a date herself—but this way she gives away her mom’s identity and the shit hits the fan with about ten minutes left.
Directed by Lamberto BavaItaly | 1985
At this point, the movie and its counterpart movie-within begin to synchronize. The hooker with the oozing cut goes to the bathroom where the first transformation occurs and at the same time the murders and transformations begin in the movie-within. So old Nostradamus predicted this would happen. In other words, people become demons because there’s no way they couldn’t. It’s predestined. All of those people were fated to come to the theater that night. And the masked man, the agent of the whole scenario, was fated to screen that film.
Directed by Michael MannUnited Kingdom | 1983
There are hints of power and beauty. Pulsations. This may be the prettiest thing Mann has ever directed, but unfortunately also the most vapid. It has everything in the world going for it. A handful of beautiful and capable male leads. Part-fantastical and nightmarish landscapes. Nazis. Occultism. The photographic talents of the prolific Alex Thomson. The presence of renowned comic book magician Enki Bilal, who contributes the look of the demon/deity Molasar…
Directed by David CronenbergCanada | 1975
No other director has so thoroughly dedicated himself to giving you the creeps… or gone about it quite the same way. Name another director who can film a hot nurse stripping out of her uniform in such a way as to freak me right the fuck out. No one—not Carpenter, not Miner, not Craven—has Cronenberg’s ability to smear the messy results of outraged biology across modern civilization’s smug, placidly domestic face… and do it all on the cheap.
Directed by Nobuhiko ObayashiJapan | 1977
There is hardly a dull moment in this film. Even outside of the carnage, every scene is dense with multiple exposures, mattes and other techniques, occurring with headache-inducing frequency. And even when this trickery is toned down in fleeting moments, single frames exude so much visual information that the viewer is forced to consider what it is they’re really experiencing. For all its weirdness, Hausu is foremost an art film, one that breaks apart and reassembles the elements of so many campy, low-budget movies to its own ends.
Directed by Neil LaButeUnited States | 2006
It’s difficult to pinpoint quite what’s so wrong here although obviously familiarity with an original always makes it a challenge to see the new version fresh. Still, the matriarchal, Luddite colony found here just doesn’t gel like the quaint, uneasy but still vaguely normal town of its predecessor. The film is also dogged by pointless and invariably trite presaging of events, most notably an intro that sees Cage witness a horrific road accident only to find out later that no bodies were recovered and the car wasn’t even registered. Visions of that accident haunt his sleeping and waking hours and, of course, bees start to appear there too.
Directed by Roman PolanskiUnited Kingdom | 1965
What marks Repulsion out as a truly superior psychological thriller/drama is the absolute refinement of Polanski’s direction. Not a shot or sequence seems out of place and the film maintains a steady, measured pace as we follow Carole’s nightmare. Polanski’s well known for using the camera as the protagonist’s eyes and, as it moves along the apartment’s surfaces, the sense of claustrophobia and of the unknown quantity that is Carole’s mental state is palpable.
Directed by Wes CravenUnited States | 1972
What to make of this film? On the one hand it’s haphazard, irresponsible and vile while on the other it’s all of these things that cement this as a leading example of a filmmaking ideology that was key in the 1970s. I know it’s terribly wrong and yet I also know it’s absolutely fascinating. Low budget and aimed firmly at the gut, the film is an obvious remaking of The Virgin Spring, but any element of subtlety and restraint Bergman might have used is violently stripped away here (and The Virgin Spring isn’t very subtle to begin with).
Directed by John McNaughtonUnited States | 1986
McNaughton doesn’t indulge in the emotional tropes of a dramatic score or confessional narration or dialogue, spoken or visual, that might convey psychological scrutiny. At the same time, McNaughton plays with these conventions, and the outcomes of his verisimilitudes are usually comic, not tragic. This approach is well-served by a screenplay that proffers two illiterate killers, one of whom, Otis, is not only stupid, but full of other disgusting predilections.
Directed by Chan-wook ParkSouth Korea | 2009
While ostensibly a vampire film, Thirst never fits neatly in to the genre, occasionally succumbing to its cliches but always just sidestepping its imperatives. It furnishes a metaphysical, even a humanist, model—provoking a more profound moral interpretation from a genre subsumed by fantastical violence. The affliction of the lead necessitates violence to be sure but fantasy, for the most part, is flatly discarded. Unconcerned with vampire lore, indicated by form and early on with a somewhat more realistic than usual cause of the disease, Thirst instead beckons our attention upon the politics of sex, violence and virtue.
Directed by Stuart GordonCanada | 2007
Unheralded by most critics and by fans of Stuart Gordon’s supernatural horrors, Stuck happens to be the director’s best work in years and one hell of an entertaining flick. The team of Gordon and writer John Strysik grafted their own thriller proclivities onto an already shocking true story. It’s funny and scary and technically accomplished in a way that few films are, and Brandi’s evolution in this film and Suvari’s performance is entirely believable, as is Stephen Rea’s effortlessly sympathetic portrayal.