Topic: Ten Horror Films Which Deserve More Attention, PART I
Some you've probably heard of, some you probably haven't, but here are ten lesser-known horror films I think every dedicated horror fan should see. While some are more polished than others, each has something which makes it worth viewing. And away we go...
10. Night of the Creeps (1986)
Alien slugs. Zombified frat boys. Shotguns. Flamethrowers. Zany one-liners. Night of the Creeps is a mish-mash of genres, an amalgamation of 50s sci-fi and bloody 80s horror that has a little bit of something for everybody. The story centers around a collegiate nobody and his best friend attempting to steal a corpse from the local science lab as part of pledging a fraternity. What they don't know is that the body, cryogenically frozen for thirty years, hosts a species of alien slugs which turn their hosts into mindless, drooling zombies. Loaded with humor and ample helpings of splat, Night of the Creeps is a party movie from start to finish.
Why it's worth it: Aside from the splattery fun there's also a typically excellent character performance by the great Tom Atkins as a hard boiled, cigar chomping detective with a death wish to beat the band.
9. Blood Diner (1987)
What was initially conceived as a sequel/remake of Hershell Gordon Lewis' pioneering gore film, Blood Feast, but which failed to earn the director's copyright approval, becomes instead a sloppy, poorly-acted and -directed howler whose bad points are what make it such a hoot. Two brothers dig up the brain (with attached eyeballs) of their late Uncle Anwar, who was shot down by police perpetrating the Happy Valley All-Girl Glee Club Massacre. But Uncle Anwar wasn't just some random mass murderer; his goal was to appropriate body parts for a ceremonial feast necessary to conjur the demon goddess Sheetar -- a task his dimwitted nephews are all too eager to help him complete. If topless aerobics, full-frontal kung fu, broomstick decapitation and low brow splat-stick are your cup of grue -- er, tea -- then this one's for you.
Why it's worth it: What, all that stuff isn't enough?
8. Shatter Dead (1993)
Director Scooter McRae's shot-on-video existential zombie film is a treat for those who like a little philosophizing with their splatter. McRae's real life girlfriend (under the stage name Stark Raven) is Susan, a lonely traveler in a world overcome with the walking dead whose only goal is to make it home to her boyfriend. But this isn't your typical, flesh-eating zombie film; the undead in this film are basically people who have died but whose souls are not being allowed into heaven, so they're stuck in their own rotting bodies. Why? Because an angel mated with a human, which pissed God off something awful, and now He hates us. During her travels Susan crosses paths with zombies begging for spare change, a death cult ran by a Howard Stern look-alike and a religious fanatic who actually enjoys the living horror that has taken over the world. If you can overlook the cheap FX, amateur acting and stiff direction, you'll see a gem of trippy, independent genre filmmaking.
Why it's worth it: Susan's homecoming scene. But beware, this one features an explicit sex scene involving our heroine's mommy mound and a pistol (!) so it's definitely not for the kiddies.
7. Death Dream (aka The Night Andy Came Home, aka Dead of Night, 1972)
A couple years before Canadian filmmaker Bob Clark all but established the slasher film formula with the film Black Christmas, he gave us this -- a chilling variation on the classic "careful what you wish for" story The Monkey's Paw, involving a mother who wishes for the return of her son who died in Viet Nam, only to ultimately regret having done so. Richard Backus is highly effective as Andy, who surprises his parents by suddenly appearing on their doorstep, then surprises them even further when his appetite grows to include small animals and other people. A metaphor for the effects of the Viet Nam War on the soldiers who survived it and their families, Death Dream is the kind of allegorical horror film you don't usually see without the name "Romero" attached.
Why it's worth it: Tom Savini's first feature as lead make-up FX artist.
6. Dead & Buried (1981)
Before Dan O'Bannon made a name for himself as a director with Return of the Living Dead, he was a screenwriter. Among his writing output were co-scripting chores on the John Carpenter film Dark Star, two segments of the animated classic Heavy Metal and this, a creepy tale about a small-town sheriff who uncovers a ghastly secret involving the local recently deceased. Dead & Buried oozes atmosphere to rival Carpenter's The Fog and the cast, including pre-Freddy Kruger Robert England and the late but ever-lovely Lisa Blount, are all convincing in their performances. Low in budget but high on uneasiness, this overlooked pearl is well worth the watch.
Why it's worth it: Creepy cinematography and stellar early FX work by the sadly departed master, Stan Winston.
5. Phenomena (1985)
There was a time during Dario Argento's career when he could do no wrong. After no less than four back-to-back, certifiably classic genre outings (Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno and Tenebrae) he decided to mix the supernatural elements of the middle two with the giallo aspects of the others, and voila, Phenomena was born. Jennifer Connelly stars as, well, Jennifer, daughter of a popular actor who is filming on location while Jennifer starts at a new boarding school. But Jennifer's not your typical teenager; she has the bizarre ability to communicate empathically with insects. When her fellow students start disappearing courtesy of the local mad slasher, Jennifer teams with paraplegic entymologist Donald Pleasence in order to use her gift to track down the madman. Every bit as far-fetched as it sounds, Phenomena is an example of "kitchen sink" filmmaking in which Argento throws everything he can think of at the screen in order to see what sticks, and what sticks is a wild, trippy, maddening but oh-so-sublime splat-classic.
Why it's worth it: Sheet metal decapitation, monkey with a straight razor, the world's longest telephone chord, a pit of maggot-ridden corpses, a deformed mutant midget...and did I mention the monkey with the straight razor?
4. Shock (aka Beyond the Door 2, 1977)
The final directorial effort of undisputed master of Italian horror Mario Bava, Shock is an interesting little oddity; it's nowhere near as grand as Bava's previous films, and it's not quite as stylistic in direction, but it does have a surprisingly coherent narrative (not exactly Italian horror's claim to fame) and it features an excellent lead performance by Daria Nicolodi, ex-wife of Dario and mother of Asia Argento. I doubt she's ever looked as lovely as she does here, and her co-star, long-since retired John Steiner, gives one of his better performances despite his decidely less amount of screen time. The story, about a woman recently released from an insane asylum who moves back to her old home with her son and new husband, may not be much to write home about but it serves its purpose as a linchpin upon which Bava hangs heaping doses of suspense and some rather mesmerizing camera tricks, not to mention the occasional Oedipal touch.
Why it's worth it: Daria Nicolodi's performance and some tasty camera treats.
3. The Brood (1979)
If ever there was an allegorical horror film, David Cronenberg's tale about a woman who develops the ability to birth her anger in the form of demented, murderous offspring is it. A commentary on how abuse births abuse in turn, The Brood is a harrowingly bleak film featuring one of Cronenberg's hands-down greatest and most "ick"-inducing setpieces: Samantha Eggar birthing one of her offspring and then lovingly licking it clean. Eggar's performance is top-notch, the writing always on theme and the gore is nauseating in its effectiveness. Despised by most critics and mis-understood by a suprising percentage of fans, The Brood is, for my money, one of Cronenberg's absolute best films.
Why it's worth it: The climactic birthing scene. Have a bag ready.
2. The Sentinel (1977)
English director Michael Winner's biggest claim to fame may be helming all four Death Wish films with Charles Bronson, but I don't think any of the films in his extensive catalogue are as good or as genuinely chilling as The Sentinel. The absolutely gorgeous Cristina Rains stars as a fashion model haunted by a childhood of abuse who moves into a new apartment only to find the building itself serves as a gateway to hell. The cast is a virtual "Who's Who?" of character acting royalty, from Burgess Meredith to John Carradine to Ava Gardner to Chris Sarandon to Beverly D'Angelo and more. Rains may be a touch stiff here and there, but her beauty -- as well as the rest of the cast, some quease-inducing FX by the godfather of make up FX, Dick Smith, and the abundance of real-life deformities during the climax -- more than make up for it.
Why it's worth it: If everything I just said isn't enough, there's the added bonus of D'Angelo giving creepy new meaning to the term "rubbing the bean."
1. Martin (1976)
George Romero's position as one of the all-time great genre luminaries was already cemented with the release of his first film, the classic B&W ghoul-fest Night of the Living Dead. Two indifferent films and one other minor horror classic later, Romero delivered this tale of a boy, who may or may not be a vampire, who is sent off to his superstitious uncle whose traditonal family-appointed duty it is to save the boy's soul, if indeed there is a soul there to be saved. Different from Romero's other output in that it has a decidedly European feel (Romero has long referred to this as his "art film") but just as generous in its servings of both splat and allegory, Martin, like Romero's Dawn of the Dead which would come two years later, is an exploration of 70s post-Viet Nam society, this time as it pertains to the generational gap of shell-shocked post-war youth and the previous generations' sense of familial responsibility, however unwelcomed. Standing between the delusional (?) Martin and his equally delusional uncle is Martin's cousin Christina (played by Romero's future [now ex-] wife, Christine Forest), who pities Martin and despises her grandfather's warped perception, but still yearns for a life away from both. While I won't go into story detail so as not to spoil any surprises, there are moments in this fiilm which rank not merely among Romero's best, but the very best the genre itself has to offer. Moving, haunting and with a stellar lead performance by Romero stable actor John Amplas, Martin is a startlingly fresh and original work from beginning to end.
Why it's worth it: An exemplary stalking sequence, an intriguing lead character, shocking moments of violence, Tom Savini in a supporting role sans mustache (he also handled the FX), Romero in a role as a chain-smoking priest in love with the film The Exorcist, an engaging supporting performance by Christine Romero...I could go on.
And there you have them. Mind you I'm not suggesting that ALL these films are among the very best the genre has to offer, I'm simply saying they deserve more attention. Feel free to comment or add your own.