Michael Curtiz, The Unsuspected (1947)My first stop was the past, where all kinds of crazy horror is hiding out. We've all heard and seen the classics, Nosferatu, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I had to dig deeper. I thought to myself, what if that guy who directed Casablanca also directed some strangely cerebral murder mystery starring the villain from Notorious. Not at all surprised, I was absolutely right. Three minutes later, I was watching a hidden gem known as The Unsuspected. The story centers around a famous radio host Victor Grandison who opens up unsolved police files and shares them with his audience. Of course, its not too long before they begin to come true just in time for his daughter Althea to show up with a small dose of amnesia and a world of questions. Althea's husband is suspicious of Victor and his intentions, but is he close to the truth or stuck in a web of lies? The film is filled with twists and turns that you might just never see coming. Curtiz is especially good at toying with your expectations, undermining everything you think you know. Its a thinking movie for sure, but with crazy payoff at the end.
Fred F. Sears, Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)I thought I might try a title a little more painfully obvious for my next pick, so my eye was of course drawn to this film. I don't want to give away too much, but basically, some aliens come down in flying saucers and challenge Earth to an intergalactic pissing contest. They say at first that they come in piece, but are real dicks, change their minds, and give the people of Earth 60 days to get in their last rites. Never mind the fact that it's never actually explained why the aliens give the humans two months to live, which as it turns out, is exactly the amount of time needed to make a giant superweapon that could be catastrophic if in the wrong hands. You know, in case the whole Cold War theme wasn't clear enough. The film's been sampled by and influenced many different directors, including Tim Burton, Ed Wood, C. Thomas Howell and even Orson Welles who used a piece of it for his film F is For Fake. Still, this was the B-movie before exploitation films. That means it blends in moments of melodrama and horror in 83 minutes of comical bliss. The movie takes itself so seriously, and ends up so utterly hilarious, that I just had to share it with you.
Bob Clark, Black Christmas (1974)I thought I might next try out something a little more classic horro. Many of you are most likely fans of the all important slasher films of the 80's like Friday the 13th, but those would be nothing without the early work of Bob Clark. Black Christmas can best be described as a slasher film on speed. The conventions weren't quite established when the film was made so Clark had no problem going batshit insane with the formula and turning some heads. The film follows a group of sorority girls just before Christmas as a serial killer slowly closes in on the lot of them. He makes strange (read: absolutely terrifying) phone calls and corners them right in the middle of their delightful little party. The films got gore, hot chicks and one of the creepiest endings ever. Bob Clark actually had a sequel in mind for the film before he went on to make his true hit Porky's (yes, that Porky's). Instead of pursuing it himself, he handed the idea over to a director he was particularly fond of. Instead of Christmas, this film would focus on a more horror centric October holiday. That's right, Bob Clark handed the idea of his sequel to John Carpenter, who made Halloween, and the rest is history. If you're looking to get in touch with your roots, check this one out.
Shinya Tsukamoto, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)My next stop was Japan, the land of the absolutely out of control. Japan has amde plenty of additions to the horror genre which border on the sociopathic, so I knew I really had to push the envelope. I scoured the fringes of Japan's uncomfortable additions and I'm proud to say I found it. The most outrageous and thoroughly bizarre horror film to come out of Japan, or the world for that matter. Tetsuo: The Iron Man strings together a series of events all of which follow the birth of the "Iron Man," whose body is slowly consumed by, you guessed it, the iron crawling around inside of him. Featuring a strange cast of characters like the "Metal Fetishist," the whole thing was on a shoestring budget rather haphazardly, cutting at really any moment it feels like and propelled by the momentum of insanity. The film stitches together vignettes, dream sequences, fight scenes and a whole lot of wonderfully demented plot points to give meaning to the dark side of horror. The film has less of a "style" and more of a "screw it" kind of approach, which is surprisingly effective at communication the film's central theme: the world is stark raving mad and so is everyone in it.
The Ramsay Brothers, Purana Mandir (1984)Not yet satisfied with my Asian excursion, I hopped over to India. I was hoping to find what we all love about horror mixed in with that Indian edge. As it turns out, that edge is called Bollywood. Enter the Ramsay brothers, five brothers who geuinely believe that the only thing missing from the horror genre is unprecedented low budgets, intensely long run times and the occasional song and dance. Purana Mandir is a perfect example of this, following the undead demon Samir as he hunts down the ancestral line of the royal family who imprisoned him 200 years ago. The Ramsay Brothers are extremely good at taking the term "low-fi" to a whole new level. The whole thing is shot on what I can only imagine is a VCR camera, in locations that look like they were made out of paper mache and performances so campy they make Bruce Campbell look like Laurence Olivier. Yet, they really stumbled on to something. That's part of what makes the horror genre so great, it appeals to our carnal side, our raw sensibility. The film has a quiet charm about it, and besides, there's blood and partial nudity, so why not give it a watch.
Kim Chaprion, Shaitan (2006)So you want something a little more recent, do you? Well Sheitan was released in 2006, co-produced by and starring Vincent Cassel of recent Black Swan fame. In case your not following the general theme of this list, it focuses on a Satan worshipping psychopath who torments a group of girls coming back from Paris to the countryside. The film is delightfully indulgent, playfully twisting the conventions of the Hollywood redneck horror, similar to the way Funny Games did, but without its nose in the air. Vincent Cassel plays his usual repressed role, but with no boundaries and some really terrifying sequences. There are parts in it which are way over the top, but its always with a little wink to the true horror aficionado and isn't that all part of it. It's brutal, it's raw, it's got plenty of gore and the critics (the few of them that saw it) absolutely hated it. Can you think of a better combination?
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