Topic: Ten Horror Films Which Deserve More Attention, PART III
These lists seem to be doing well so I figure what the hell, I'll keep making them 'til you guys get tired of them.
10. Ghost Story (1981)
Poor Craig Wasson. What does this guy have to do to get more love? He starred in one of Brian DePalma's best flicks (Body Double) and helped take down Freddy Kruger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, yet his name is scarcely mentioned when talk of veteran genre actors comes up. Whatever the reason, Wasson -- like Ghost Story -- is criminally underrated. A (then) modern, high-tech approach to classic-type ghost stories, Ghost Story features Wasson as a man who uncovers a decades-old crime while searching for the truth behind the death of his twin brother. Half paranormal thriller and half period flashback, Ghost Story may not be a great movie, but it is a very good one, thanks mostly to solid performances from the entire cast (especially the lovely and enigmatic Alice Krige), stirring moments of sexuality, jarring moments of ghostly horror and the kind of atmosphere you usually only see in a John Carpenter flick. While it may not hammer you with rapid-fire scares and thrills, Ghost Story nevertheless doesn't fail to keep you interested.
Why it's worth it: Alice Krige in one of her most hauntingly alluring performances.
9. Psycho III (1986)
Anthony Perkins returns to his signature role, but this time with a twist: he's also directing. And if the final product is any indication, Perkins must have been taking some serious notes on the sets of the previous two flicks because Psycho III is bursting with signature touches of the previous films' directors (Hitchcock and Ken Russell, respectively). But this isn't just a copy and paste job: Perkins also applies his own personal sensibilities, mostly in regards to story and character, and he's nowhere near as hesitant to pour on the ketchup as his precursors. But the biggest difference between this film and the previous two is that this time around, there's no big mystery as to who that is running around in Mama Bates drag; we know from the get-go that it's Norman Bates himself swingin' that butcher knife, and Perkins plays Norman this time as someone who is not only aware that he's insane, but who seems to have embraced the fact, however hesitantly. Thanks to a couple juicy kills, most critics accused Psycho III of being a late hopper on the slasher boom bandwagon, failing to realize that the film isn't only much smarter than it may first appear, but much funnier, as well.
Why it's worth it: "Watch the guitar..."
8. Castle Freak (1995)
Director Stuart Gordon's third and final Full Moon Video release also happens to be one of Full Moon's best. Here, accompanied by his favorite leading man and woman Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, Gordon spins the tale of a dysfunctional family who inherits an ancestor's castle in Italy. But what our couple doesn't know is that there's a deformed monstrosity running around in the cellars. As per Gordon's usual, he counterbalances the splat (and there's plenty of it here) with an involving story occupied by interesting characters. And Combs, already a certified genre treasure thanks to his performance as Herbert West in Re-Animator, is actually even better here in a drastically different, far more somber role. Unlike Gordon's other Combs & Crampton flicks, there's no campy, subversive humor here: this is a straight on horror movie, assuredly directed, nicely dramatic and convincingly acted. Not everyone in the cast is as good as C & C (with the exception of Johnathon Fuller as the titular freak, covered head-to-toe in horrific make-up) but the primaries are so strong that they make up for any shortcomings.
Why it's worth it: The rape and torture scene, which isn't really a rape and torture scene when you think about it.
7. Cherry Falls (2000)
The release of Scream in 1996 kicked off a mini-slasher flick revival that included such films as Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer and the reinvigorated Childs Play series, to name a few. And right when it seemed the new slasher boom had ran out of steam, along came Cherry Falls, the tale of a mad slasher in a small Virginia town with a very particular modus operandi -- he (or she) only preys on virgins. But what could have been a fresh and exciting twist on slasher film tropes was instead mercilessly gutted by the censorship board prior to its release until the best bits of the movie were left lying on the cutting room floor. So why am I recommending it? Because there are still bits and pieces in the film which hint at what could have been. There are plenty of clever touches, not the least of which is the title itself (which cheekily hints at the notion of "losing one's cherry," and is a fictional town in the state of "Virgin"ia). It culminates in a wild orgy orchestrated by local high schoolers desperate to remove themselves from the equations by losing their virginity, only for the slasher to show up and do some "penetrating" of their own (further indication of the film's dark sense of humor). But while the cuts resulted in the film being only average, you can't help while watching but imagine what could have been.
Why it's worth it: Strong character work from Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn and Jay Mohr.
6. Body Parts (1991)
Arguably the least film on this list, writer/director Eric Red's tale of a psychologist who undergoes experimental limb replacement following the loss of his arm during a car wreck nevertheless has plenty of things going for it -- namely strong performances and generous servings of grue. The storyline, while somewhat weak, is nevertheless intriguing, as our hero (played effectively by the underrated Jeff Fahey) begins to receive horrifying visions that could only have belonged to the arm's previous owner, who happened to be a maniacal mass murderer. Red's previous films were all unique takes on classic monster themes; Near Dark was a spin on vampires, The Hitcher was a spin on the Monster from Beyond, and, later, his film Bad Moon and its take on werewolves. This would make Body Parts his exploration of the Jekyll and Hyde theme, wherein our hero finds himself asking "Where does evil live? In the flesh, or in the soul?" Throw in some nods to Frankenstein as they pertain to the grafting of body parts and I'd say Red's pretty much managed to cover all his classic monster bases. Originally released right around the time a certain cannibal serial killer named Jeffrey Dahmer was making all the headlines, Body Parts found itself the target of misplaced animosity and was quickly pulled from theaters. And unfairly, I would say. Because while Body Parts might not be a great film, it's still quite worth a look.
Why it's worth it: Solid acting from a solid cast including Brad Dourif and the late, great Zakes Mokae.
5. Play Misty for Me (1971)
Clint Eastwood, for my money, is the last of old-school Hollywood auteurs; an actor, writer, director (and a talker-to of chairs) who seems to only get better with age. Not that he started his directorial career badly; on the contrary, Play Misty for Me, Eastwood's first directorial effort, is a tense thriller with the heart of a slasher flick which would serve as inspiration for a future blockbuster you may have heard of called Fatal Attraction, a film which borrows liberally from Misty in more ways than can be counted. Eastwood pulls double duty here as the film's lead as well, playing a disc jockey who has a fling with a fan named Evelyn (played with creepy, maniacal precision by Jessica Walter) while his on-and-off girlfriend (Donna Mills) is out of town. But this isn't just a fan with a crush; Evelyn is a demented stalker who turns Eastwood's life upside down, and things only get worse for Clint when the girlfriend comes back around. Smartly directed and expertly acted, Play Misty for Me may seem tame by today's standards but that in no way makes it any less effective.
Why it's worth it: Jessica Walter's frenetic babbling is sure to make you say aloud, "Damn, that bitch is crazy!"
4. Blood & Donuts (1995)
Canadian horror often gets a bad rap ( and I'm as guilty of bad-mouthing it as anybody) but The Great White North has given us its fair share of memorable horror films. My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night, Black Christmas, and the many films of David Cronenberg have shown us that Canuck carnage is nothing to sneer at. Add to the ranks director Holly Dale's quirky and humorous low-budgeter Blood & Donuts, the story of a vampire named Goya who is awoken from a twenty-five-year sleep by a stray golf ball swatted by a kooky Canadian cabby (alliteration!) named Earl. Jarred from his slumber, Goya wanders the streets until he comes upon an all-nite donut shop, and is quickly smitten with the comely cashier, Molly. But it doesn't take long before our undead hero finds himself on the bad side of a local gangster (an amusingly sinister David Cronenberg, so low key you wonder if he has a pulse), not to mention that the girlfriend he failed to "turn" twenty five years earlier has sensed his awakening, and wants him to finish the job. Deliberately paced and with a heavier emphasis on comedy than horror, Blood & Donuts is nevertheless an entertaining little oddity whose charm and humor make up for what it lacks in blood and guts.
Why it's worth it: Cronenberg's Don Corleone-lite gangster and Earl's heavily accented odd-ball dialogue.
3. Stage Fright (aka Deliria, aka Bloody Bird, 1987)
Now here's a fun little flick. Stage Fright, about a theater troupe whose egotistical director has locked them in for a night's rehearsal unaware that an escaped maniac has been locked in with them, is the kind of loopy, kinetic, stylized splatter flick that only the Italians can make, but sadly don't anymore. Everything we love about Italian horror is here; melodramatic acting, energetic soundtrack, cornball dialogue and, of course, a whole lotta splat. Director Michele Soavi, who spent the earliest part of his career as an AD for Dario Argento, shows here that he learned quite a bit from the maestro. But as with Anthony Perkins above, he didn't see fit to merely mimic his teacher; he also includes his own personal flair for Grande Guignol theatrics -- which is apt, considering the story takes place in a playhouse. Slasher flicks rarely get more entertaining than this.
Why it's worth it: "I did it. Just like I said. Right between the eyes!"
2. Street Trash (1987)
Lord have mercy, is this film a trip. The story, just to get it out of the way: a cheap-ass liquor store owner finds a case of mystery whiskey in the store basement and, thinking he can make a few quick bucks, puts it on the shelf for a dollar a bottle. What he doesn't know is that the whiskey, called Tenafly Viper, has a nasty habit of turning those who imbibe it into bubbling, melting piles of yuck. With that out of the way, what this film is really about are the copious and disgusting melting effects and heaping helpings of amusingly bad taste. We've got necrophilia, we've got gang rape, we've got a cop who likes to vomit on the heads of crooks he beats into submission, we've got a lively game of penis keep-away, and we've got a severed head enjoying an upskirt peak at a lovely passerby. And that's just for starters. One of the last of the late 80s wave of "ultraviolent" horror films, Street Trash actually isn't so much "horror" as it is a series of vignettes revolving around a community of deranged hobos, and one which just happens to really deliver the grue.
Why it's worth it: "Old wrinkled honky motherf***er!"
1. The Devil's Backbone (2001)
We all know (or at least, we all should) that Guillermo Del Toro is a legitimate genre artiste. Not content to merely show us the unimaginable, he goes out of his way to make sure it's beautiful to look at, as well. And while he's most widely known for Blade 2 and his two Hellboy films, Guillermo's best works tend to be his lower budgeted, native language efforts. Films like Cronos, Pan's Labyrinth and this film. Set during the Spanish Civil War, The Devil's Backbone concerns a young boy sent to an orphanage which not only happens to have a massive, unexploded bomb in its center court, but which also happens to be haunted by the ghost of another orphan who died there years before. A master of symbolism, Del Toro uses the threat of the unexploded bomb to mirror the threat of the ghost boy's vengeance; you never know when the brown word's gonna hit the fan. A haunting, moving, lyrical film, The Devil's Backbone may not be as highly regarded as Del Toro's better known Pan's Labyrinth, but I would wager that's only because not as many people have seen it. This is a fantastic, beautifully somber horror film.
Why it's worth it: Just take my word for it; it is.
And there you have them. As always, feel free to comment or add your own.