Topic: Ten Horror Films Which Deserve More Attention, PART II
By request, here are ten more films I think deserve more attention than modern viewers have afforded them. Mind you this is in no way a "Best Of" list; these are just some films you might not have heard of, or may have heard of but never bothered with (and you should!).
And off we go...
10. Macabre (1980)
The first directorial effort of frequent Dario Argento collaborator Lamberto Bava (son of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava) may not be as expertly crafted as his later films but it is one of the few times an Italian genre filmmaker didn't start his career with a giallo. Instead, Macabre unfolds as a psychological thriller, revolving around a woman who spends an inordinate amount of time locking herself up in the room-for-rent she shared with her recently deceased lover. The subject matter naturally lends itself to lurid melodrama but Bava sidesteps such shallowness and instead attempts to generate real mystery and suspense. In all honesty, he's not completely successful; it's no big secret what the broad is keeping in the freezer (hell, the video box itself completely gives the surprise away) but he sure gives it the ol' college try, and does succeed in wringing out more moments of suspense than the thin storyline has any right to.
Why it's worth it: As a precursor to Bava's later film, Demoni (aka Demons, 1985), you could do a lot worse.
9. The Lamp (aka The Outing, 1987)
Raise your hand if you've ever seen a horror movie about an evil genie which isn't a Wishmaster film. Yeah, thought so. The Lamp -- better known by its edited and retitled version, The Outing -- centers around a group of kids looking to party at a museum after hours who run afoul of an evil genie. There's a bit more to the story than that but ultimately it doesn't matter, because at its heart, The Lamp is a slasher film, with a murderous genie instead of a deformed hillbilly. But while it follows the typical slasher formula almost to the letter, it also has a fun sense of humor and is fully aware that it's a cheap horror film, and makes no attempt to hide it. Okay, fine, so it isn't exactly Citizen Kane -- but you've gotta credit the filmmakers for trying something different with the tired old slasher movie formula.
Why it's worth it: Cheesy '80s horror goodness.
8. Pieces (1982)
Let's just get this out of the way right up front: Pieces is not a good movie. It's poorly acted, clumsily directed, badly written and has some of the most incompetent special FX you're likely to see this side of an SOV flick. So why do I think it deserves more attention? Simple: because it's funny. Not just funny -- hilarious. Moreso because it wasn't supposed to be! The story, about mad slasher carving up nubile young women from the local college campus in order to create a human jigsaw puzzle, is almost incidental; what matters here is how very poorly the film is made, and it's the unbelievable ineptitude which makes it such a kick to watch. As a film, Pieces would rate a flat-out zero -- but as pure entertainment, it scores off the charts.
Why it's worth it: One word: "Bastard!!!"
7. The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)
One of the lesser known films of veteran genre director Stuart Gordon, this take on the classic Poe story (with bits and pieces borrowed from other Poe works) was produced by Charles Band for his Full Moon Video label. Too bad it wasn't released theatrically, because Gordon's film has a lot going for it -- namely a memorably vicious performance by Lance Henriksen as Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, appropriately nasty gore FX, a solid lead performance by Johnathon (Castle Freak) Fuller and, as always, Gordon's go-to horror guy Jeffrey Combs in a supporting role. This is easily one of the better films in the Full Moon catalogue (though that may seem a back-handed compliment), my only complaint being that it's only available in full screen which, being a DTV production, was the only frame scale Full Moon films were ever shot on.
Why it's worth it: Wait 'til you see the lead actress, Rona De Ricci. Can you say "Giggity"?
6. Effects (1980)
What we have here is a very low-budget film made around the Pittsburgh area by a group of filmmakers who took all their cues from local hero George Romero (who provided doses of filmmaking advice behind the scenes) but whose films it doesn't bother trying to duplicate. Rather, Effects tells the story of an FX artist on the set of a film which may or may not actually be a snuff film, in which he himself may or may not be an intended victim. This film-within-a-film jumps back and forth across the "Is it real or not?" line quite capably, serving up ample servings of suspense and unease which never fail to keep the viewer guessing. Plus it stars Joe Pilato and Tom Savini. What's not to like?
Why it's worth it: Savini himself created a fake snuff reel for the film-within-a-film which, thanks to his technical know-how, is quite convincing.
5. El Dia de la Bestia (aka Day of the Beast, 1995)
Director Álex de la Iglesia's follow up to his cult favorite debut film Accion Mutante is a gritty, wild and blasphemously humorous story about a priest who has discovered the exact date that the Anti-Christ is to be born. With the help of a TV show host and a demented headbanger (played by the invaluable Santiago Segura), our hero sets out to commit every kind of sin he can think of in order to gain the devil's trust, so that he might be present during the birth and kill the child for the sake of humanity. That de la Iglesia is often referred to as similar to fellow Spanish filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro isn't entirely accurate; both may work primarily in the field of fantasy/horror, but de la Iglesia has a much darker, more perverse sense of humor, and it's on full display in this flick. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have its serious moments, and the film features one genuinely creepy bit with the devil appearing in the form of a goat that still makes my spine tingle when I see it.
Why it's worth it: Who hasn't wanted to push a mime down a flight of subway stairs?
4. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Here we have a film which is for all intents and purposes an American giallo. Equal parts stylistic, elegant, suspenseful and brutal, Alice, Sweet Alice centers around the immolation of a young girl while at Catholic mass, and the string of murders which follow. All signs appear to point to the girl's odd-duck sister Alice (an eerily convincing Paula Shephard, who would appear in only one other film after this). While Alice's family unravels, a mad slasher in a Mardi Gras mask and yellow raincoat goes about picking off anyone who gets too close to the truth. Well-acted by all concerned and capably written and directed by Alfred Sole (whose previous screen credit was an adult film), Alice, Sweet Alice -- part of a string of horror films kicked off by The Exorcist which involve heavy doses of Catholic guilt -- is about as close to a giallo as you can get without actually being Italian, but it does the sub-genre one better in that it actually has a clear and cohesive story.
Why it's worth it: Brooke Shields in her first major role.
3. Legend of Hell House (1973)
Richard Matheson may be most famous for his novel I Am Legend (which has been adapted to film three times -- and none of them have gotten it right) but his contributions to the genre have been countless. Among them are the source novels for such films as The Incredible Shrinking Man and Stir of Echoes, many episodes of the original The Outer Limits and the screenplay for the classic TV thriller Duel (directed by Stephen Spielberg). He also wrote the novel this film is based on (entitled simply "Hell House"), AND adapted it into the screenplay. And while he changed a few details from one to the other (mostly due to budgetary constraints) Legend of Hell House nevertheless lives up to its source material. The tale of four paranormal researchers hired to investigate "The Mount Everest of haunted houses" at the behest of a dying millionaire, Legend is an exercise in tact and restraint which nevertheless manages to send numerous shivers down the ol' backbone. While nearly bloodless, the film is exceedingly well-acted (particularly by co-stars Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin) and the sets are appropriately rich with detail and menace. Sometimes it's the things you don't see which scare you the most; Legend of Hell House is a film which takes that notion strongly to heart.
Why it's worth it: McDowell's precise and memorable character performance.
2. Nattevagten (aka Nightwatch, 1994)
Written and directed by Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal, Nattevagten may look, feel and play like an American-style thriller, but it's anything but. Part exploitation, part psychological thriller, part slasher and part character study, Nattevagten manages to be creepy and evocative even during its non-horror moments. The story revolves around Martin, an aspiring young man who takes on the job of morgue security guard in order to help finance his studies. But Martin's luck takes a turn for the worse when it's discovered that some of the bodies, victims of a local serial killer, have been tampered with -- and it doesn't take long before Martin himself comes under suspicion. Avoid the 1997 English-language remake which, despite Bornedol himself having written almost word-for-word and directed as well, still seems like a completely different and altogether inferior film.
Why it's worth it: Ulf Pilgaard skin-crawling performance as the police inspector.
1. Hausu (aka House, 1977)
Japanese horror films tend to be an eccentric lot, but if you're looking for crazy, look no further. Hausu is probably the single most mind-boggling, whacked-out, off-its-rocker horror film I've ever seen, and brother, I've seen a lot. I can't even begin to describe what goes on in this flick, so I'm not going to bother. I can tell you the basic idea concerns a bunch of teenage girls who go to a haunted house and experience ghosts. But if I dare to divulge even one more detail, it will only lead to me needing to give you more detail, and more detail, and more and more and more and more, and I'd be here all night. I guess the best way to describe this film would be to call it a fever dream, bouncing from one tangent to another, almost as if the filmmakers downed a dozen tabs of acid and just made it up as they went along, stream-of-conscious style. But even that wouldn't do its kaleidoscopic zaniness justice. Yeah, I think I'll just stick with "crazy."
Why it's worth it: The phrase "You have to see it to believe it" has never been more appropriate.