Most ‘sci fi/action brom-coms’ get hung up on dick jokes, but if you’re too cool for that stuff then like me you just try to keep calm and look as good as you can when giant bugs, bats, and serpents slither towards you through each passing pedestrian’s shadow. Eight hours of applause to the wildly underrated auteur Don Coscarelli for being alone with David Cronenberg as far as making third eye hallucinations real instead of just dreams. Like Naked Lunch, Fear and Loathing or Buckaroo Banzai, this great film exists totally on the hallucinatory level, so there’s no need to demarcate lines between levels of consciousness. It’s never ‘just’ a dream. I’ll follow Coscarelli and Co. through the Lovecraftian looking glass any time, though John’s buddy, the narrator, is a bit of a prude when it comes to diving into the giddy terror of the ‘soy sauce.’ (pair with Cabin in the Woods and/or Iron Sky)
3. Valkoinen Peura (The White Reindeer)
I’ve been wanting to see this weird Finnish horror film for a long time, having read glowing ember praise for its desolate ‘midnight sun’ eerieness. It’s been unavailable on DVD here in the States forever but there’s a relatively crisp print up on youtube (above). It’s a tale of a modern day sled-skilled woman suffering from an old witch’s curse and thus becoming a vampire when a shaman tries to help her through a love spell. Fans of Nanook of the North, Vampyr, Beast of the Midnight Sun, and The Seventh Seal, Hour of the Wolf…
“Veteran cinematographer Blomberg made his directing debut with this unusual film, which unfolds against a backdrop of glittering snow drifts and spindly trees so weighted down with snow that they look like Dr. Suess drawings. Though often awkward, the film includes a handful of images so haunting that they linger long after the film is over, including the eerie reindeer cemetery, a forest of forlorn antlers poking up through the snow, or the moment when Pirita glimpses herself in a mirror, her teeth transformed into wolfish fangs. A must-see for horror completists, and one of the few films to explore Sami folkloric traditions. — Miss ChickFlick
What really makes this tale of a day in the life of frozen Canadian morning talk radio host so mesmerizing is he’s never getting the complete story either. It’s almost too post-structuralist for its own good at times but it makes terrific use of uncertainty–are these reports just drunk ice fishermen raising hell?– and trenchantly delves deep into the way imperiled people instinctively turn to the media to provide a narrative structure for the chaos around them, and the way sometimes it’s all bluff, guesswork, and gallows’ humor on the part of the structurers. (more)
Mario Bava’s quintessetial Victorian Gothic Italian rural villa ghost story takes a few viewings to really appreciate, but until then just admire the painterly photography. It’s not as highly regarded as some of director Mario Bava’s other work thanks to a history of bad prints and title changes. But it’s hands down my favorite, with beautiful ‘old master lighted’ bowls of fruit, great wind effects, sedatives (“give her 20 drops”), and an array of strange and wonderful women, including a good witch (Fabienne Dali), a terrified innkeeper’s daughter (Micaela Esdra), a stylish and terrified med student (Erika Blanc), and Melissa Graps, a ghost girl with blonde hair (to tie the film even deeper into RIGHT ONE, she’s played by a very spooky boy, Velerio Valeri).
Universal never seemed to care much about their Mummy series, and horror fans seemed to agree with them but this entry, The Mummy’s Curse (1944) has a special magic, due in large part to the weirdly modern bangs and cat woman litheness of Virginia Christine as the long-dead-presumably Princess Anaka. Picking up, vaguely, from where the last in the series ended, the scene is the bayou where an unlucky irrigation project is underway, and mostly Italian stereotype-a workers are disappearing-a. Anaka is unearthed one morning and has a great scene rising up out of the mud and basking in the sun while the workers and animals go about their day. There’s a cozy tavern where the landlady sings and tries to help the princess work through her amnesia. She better hurry, because her mummy is coming, along with his fez-sporting tanna leaf burner, and no matter how slow and shambling his gait, he always gets his prey. Played by Lon Chaney Jr. the cast seems to have been chosen to make the miimmy look like a giant, and the effect is genuinely scary at times, almost.
(see after The Wolf Man, or The Mummy, both on Netflix, or something from your John Carpenter stash, but skip The Mummy’s Hand –unless you like lame comedy relief)
7. The Terror Within
(Netflix Streaming, also Youtube)
There’s something real horror show about an isolated underground research facility with an evenly matched co-ed team unapologetically riffing off Alien where it all boils down to a pair of wounded terrified people, a two-way intercom, and a seemingly indestructible monster mutant who heals way faster from the last battle than they do. Sure the mutant costume is a bit goofy, and the uniforms are way too similar to Alien (there’s even a Yaphet Koto-Harry Dean Stanton-esque pair of shiftless ensigns, drinking homemade ‘shine between grumbling about pay raises for “this kind of duty.” You think this must be the Nostromo’s landing dock, if the Corporation out of money, but since when are any of those things bad? Big props that there’s a dog in the film who ably helps out in cool ways (he’s their tracker and early warning system) and a reasonably clear idea of where each person is in the shelter compound at any given time, so it seems to be trying to do a good job despite the Ripley rip off vibe.
Other plusses: the acting is B-movie level good and the last 1/3 is just a long crazy battle for survival. The hero has pouffy 80s hair and a crossbow (he played Kirk Douglas’s telekinetic son in The Fury), and the women are gorgeous, especially the amazingly named Starr Andreef. Sure it’s nothing great, but it’s great when you’re in the mood for nothing great, and it has that Corman production team stamp of being able to be witty, wry, and exciting with a low budget and copycat style. Be warned of some sexual monster impregnation…
(double feature this with Forbidden World)
This movie came and went with nary a “spelunk” and is easy to overlook, awash as Netflix is in dumped-to-video teen horror films with similar ‘say nothing’ titles. But I saw this in the theater (while getting sober!) and appreciated its keen sympathy for abused nerds, mean girls, and even popular kid meth chemists. It makes the best use of getting called into the principal’s office as a cause for terror, and provides a keenly-felt amount of dread and frustration with parents that don’t believe you, just tear apart your room looking for drugs the minute you act at all stressed. In the words of the immortal Bushwick Bill: Fuck parents, fuck school, fuck homework!
The all star cast includes: John Stewart as the science teacher; Terminator 2‘s Robert Patrick as the gym coach; Selma Hayek as the nurse; Bebe Neuwirth and Piper Laurie as the principal; two of the Scream jocks (in case you didn’t make the Scream connection); Clea Duvall as the Aly Sheedy; Jordanna Brewster as a bitchy school newspaper reporter cheerleader bemused by photographer Elija Wood’s infatuation.
The attempts of the new student (a touching Laura Harris) to connect are pretty sweet; she’s almost the only human there, aside from stoner crank dealer Josh Hartnett, who gets harassed by hottie teacher Famke Janssen, and hey, it’s Usher! Marilyn Manson sings a memorable “We Don’t Need No Education” over an ultra-violent football game. Kevin Williamson did the script, but keeps the film references in check, focusing instead on sci fi novel sources (Duvall explains that Finney’s Body Snatchers was a rip-off of Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, and Wood theorizes aliens promoted these themes so that no one would believe them later, ala Bruce Rux, etc.)
Best of all is how fast the heroes fall prey to the take-over, romances flare up and fade, and it all moves inexorably onwards. Roberto Rodriguez’s direction is tight, as it often is when he’s not trying to make a ‘great’ film, Planet Terror and Machete, for example are way better than Sin City and Desperado). This was overlooked in the Kevin Williamson post-Scream gold rush (i.e. I know What You Did Last Summer) that ended more or less with that werewolf movie, Cursed. But by then, horror had moved on from metatextuality…and onto Blair Witches.