For the horror buff, Fall is the best time of the year. The air is crisp, the leaves are falling and a feeling of death hangs on the air. Here at Sound on Sight we have some of the biggest horror fans you can find. We are continually showcasing the best of genre cinema, so we’ve decided to put our horror knowledge and passion to the test in a horror watching contest. Each week in October, Ricky D, James Merolla and Justine Smith will post a list of the horror films they have watched. By the end of the month, the person who has seen the most films wins. Prize TBD.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best horror films ever made, in competition with Possession, The Exorcist, The Birds and Suspiria. It is simple and shocking, manages to touch on a guttural nerve that for most of our lives goes completely untouched save for moments of real terror. It is an anomaly because it succeeds without much suspense. The first few instances of “violence” are almost entirely unexpected, and are shocking in their brutality. The first death in particular is not only immediate and awful, but we watch a human body convulse after death like the animals in Franju’s horrific documentary. Even for those who have never seen the inside of a house of death, the image touches a nerve. It is an image we don’t necessarily know from memory or experience, but rather a deep instinct cemented in our fear of death and suffering.
Directed by Juan Lopez Monctezuma
The film has certain campy elements, notably the almost incessent repetition of the main characters names (Alucarda and Justine), but remains one of the strangely bewitching and disturbing horror films I’ve seen. Set in a Mexican convent, two young girls fall in love and are apparently possessed by the devil. If there is any doubt that this is a strange convent, the nuns all wear white, bandaged outfits continually covered in varying degrees of blood. The explanation comes very late in the film, when it becomes apparent that they engage in extreme and consistent self-flagellation in a group setting which resembles a sadist’s violent orgy. The film pushes religious dogma in extreme directions, presenting a far more disturbing look at issues of possession then the film’s it’s most often compared to (The Devils and The Exorcist). The film has a very strong sense of imagery, and I genuinely feared for some of the performers as several scenes literally have several people completely engulfed in flames running around. This movie is a total mind-fuck, so absolutely disturbing.
Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Directed by Harry Kumel
A dreamy evocation of immortality and beauty, this is an absolutely bewitching film. A strange journey to a hotel, all but abandoned in the winter months, means trouble for two newlyweds. It is here they encounter the beautiful Countess Bathory, a woman who is a whisper of a former visitor some forty years ago. The film does not rely on gothic sensibilities as a means of creating it’s horror or style, creating instead an atmosphere on modernist aesthetics and cinematic styles. Delphine Seyrig at the center of the film seems to orchestrate every beat, every nuance. She is a force, whose performance is controlled every muscle, every minute movement. She has something of Dietrich or Helm in her, a total mastery of physicality and angles. A lot of the goings-ons don’t make too much sense, but it doesn’t matter because the film is so fucking boss.
The Tingler (1959)
Directed by William Castle
Both the image of the blood-soaked bath tub and the centipede/earwig creature are enough to give me the heebee jeebees. The premise itself is quite novel as well. For a producer/publicist so fixated on silly selling gimmicks, William Castle knew how to direct a film. Loved the climax in the theatre.
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Paranormal Activity 3 is not great cinema. I’m not going to pretend it is, though I do find the whole series very interesting. First and foremost, they have a strong form. I know some disagree, but I like the expansive mise-en-scene, wide open spaces with a lot to look at. It creates anxiety as you look and wait for something to happen. In that sense, it builds on typical horror trope, letting you in on a secret while the characters are either ignorant or helpless.
The film follows more or less the same pattern as the others, just uses some unrealistically high-end VHS tapes instead of digital and is set in 1988. Like the previous films, it also has a weak concluding act and on occasion pushes the action a little too far.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1972)
Directed by John D. Hancock
I was not very fond of this film the first time I saw it, but that appreciation has grown in my second viewing. The film is slightly off-kilter and the performances are strange, but it adds to the film. It has a great mood and creates a strong sense of an uncomfortable psychological state.
The Birthday (2004)
Directed by Eugenio Mira
A horror-comedy with a lot of bite, Corey Feldman stars as a Jerry Lewis-esque loser who has a really hot girlfriend. They are going to her father’s birthday party in an old hotel. Everything is strange, a hybrid of Lynch, Coens and classic screwball. Corey Feldman makes himself out as a dolphin expert, even when he is just a low-level employee at a pizzeria. Things starting getting weird when Feldman encounters a waiter who tells them that all the other waiters are in a cult, awaiting the birth of some kind of demon-god. He is doing all he can to prevent that happening but is going to need Feldman’s help. The film twists and turns in the most wonderful ways and is quite formally elaborate. It’s a crazy little film, a lot of fun
In My Skin (2002)
Directed by Marina de Van
This film is literally one of the most cringe inducing things I have seen. It is just so disgusting. The running length basically features a woman picking and tearing at her skin. She suffers a serious accident and won`t leaver her wounds alone. This does not seem to be the first instance of her self-destructive behavior, her boyfriend continually hinting that he doesn`t want her to be falling into the pattern again. The writer/director is also the star, and she has a skeletal look. She IS thin, but I mean more her face seem drawn more like a skull than a living, breathing face.
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon
This film is quite funny, because it’s outlandish and poorly put together. It’s obviously inspired by giallo films, and on rare occassion creates a memorable image or scene. It’s mostly awful enough to include random cameos of Bruce Lee impersonators and a lot of naked puzzle making. It is not really among the best “so-bad-it’s good” horror films but if you’re a fan of bad film, you might enjoy those.
Essential Horror Viewing
Don’t Torture a Duckling (Fulci, 1972) This was the first Fulci film I’ve seen that I liked, and I really liked it. It is an unflinching look at the loss of human innocence through the collision of old world and modern sensibilities.
Exte: Hair Extensions (Sono, 2007) A fun and wild modern day monster film. It also stars the hypnotically beautiful Chiaki Kuriyama.
House (Ohbayashi, 1977) It’s difficult to put into worlds exactly how one can feel about a film like this. It is very much a horrific tail told through the eyes of a child, so it is inherently silly, but the film never shies away from that, it, in fact, embraces it. The embracing of this childish horror gives the film an underlying uneasiness.
Carnival of Souls (Harvey, 1962) It has its weak points, but it does manage to maintain a nightmarish mood and atmosphere through much of it.
Antichrist (Von Trier, 2009) An absolutely heart breaking look at the horrors of grief, guilt, and pain, as the main characters discover how unforgiving human nature truly is.
Crucible of Horror (Ritelis, 1971) Very little of this film actually makes sense, and it sloppily borrows from better films, but the performance of Michael Gough is cold and intimidating.
Madhouse (Clark 1974) Many classic horror fans, including myself, will love watching Vincent Price and Peter Cushing working alongside each other, but it feels as though Jim Clark relies on that meeting of the horror icons to carry the film, and forgot to have a decent script.
The Devil Within Her (Sasdy, 1974) It actually pains me a little to tell people to skip this film because it is so outrageously hilarious in a completely unintentional way. But, judging it as a horror movie it is terrible.
The Birthday (2004)
Directed by Eugenio Mira
A young man attends his girlfriend’s father’s birthday party held at a luxury hotel. Just as they arrive, weird things start to happen and guests and hosts alike become exceptionally aggressive. Shot in real time (a la Hitchcock’s Rope), The Birthday begins as an extremely unusual black comedy only to slowly unravel into a horror film reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby. Director Eugenio Mira quietly introduces its horror aspects with a deliberately campy approach at the half-way mark then tears through the roof with an unforgettable climax of complete terror. From its opening titles to the abrupt ending, The Birthday is a gem waiting to be discovered. A slick, good-looking picture beautifully photographed in cinemascope with award-winning art direction and ingenious sound design geared for maximum discomfort. This Spanish horror film, shot in English stars an international cast and at the center is none other than Corey Feldman doing an odd, feature-length Jerry Lewis impersonation (a la The Bellhop). Feldman’s performance, easily the strangest in his career, reaches surprising (even cartoonish) levels of intensity. This film is quirky, campy and carries a hypnotic and seriously creepy atmosphere. One of the most unique and refreshingly inventive genre films. Director Eugenio Mira put it best at the 2004 screening at the Fantasia Film Festival when he quoted Back to the Future and said, “You may not like it but your kids are going to love it.”
Directed by Ti West
Put aside the bad acting and take into consideration the budget, and Roost is one hell of a directorial debut for Ti West. One could easily see at the time of it’s release that West would be a director to look out for. This independently produced horror flick that was picked up by director Doug Liman’s distribution company, Hypnotic, follows four students, who on the way to a wedding take the wrong road at night and end up the prey of carnivorous vampire bats. West makes the most of the slow burn, with excellent compositions, aided by the incredible score from composer Jeff Grace. This homage to low-budget ’70s horror movies, places an emphases on atmosphere while taking a bite out of the vampire mythology. Simple and stripped down, West realizes his limitations and does more than most Hollywood productions, with so little to work with.
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)
Directed by Brian Clemens
A late entry from the foundering Hammer Studios, this intriguing twist on the vampire motif is one of the studio’s best and most original concoctions. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (also known as Kronos) is equal parts gothic vampiric horror, satire and semi Errol Flynn-type swashbuckling adventure. Writer/director Brian Clemens seems set on desexualizing his vampires as their quest for blood is driven by a pervasive narcissism instead. As seen with Daughters of Darkness, the mythology here is that by drinking the victim’s blood, one can retain their youthful appearance. Kronos is notable mainly for its tongue-in-cheek approach. Clemens infuses the film with striking imagery; most memorable, a scene featuring a sword smelted out of a crucifix. Clemens’s direction is often uneven and but the fabulous cast all deliver well. Kronos is is anything, a fascinating effort to emerge from the latter days of the Hammer studio.
Blood And Black Lace / Six Women for the Murderer (1964)
Sei donne per l’assassino
Directed by Mario Bava
Blood and Black Lace is light on story but rich in style. One of Bava’s most accomplished works, Lace is a beautiful piece of workmanship executed with dazzling, unparalleled use of bright colours and deep shadows. Choreographed with cruel precision, with an always mobile camera (mounted on a child’s wagon due to a lack of budget), Lace is a web of murder and intrigue, elevated to a higher level through Bava’s visual style.
Bay Of Blood / Twitch Of The Death Nerve (1972)
Reazione a catena
Directed by Mario Bava
In 1971, Mario Bava unleashed Bay Of Blood, a film that pushed beyond the levels of gore that had yet been seen in a murder mystery thriller. Blood has a body count of 13, spread across multiple killers – that is more dead bodies than the total of victims in the first Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th movies combined. In place of a single psycho, Bay Of Blood hosts a cast of characters, all related (and all insane), and all after the property of a deceased Countess and her lofty inheritance. It was by far Bava’s goriest film, soaked in top-of-the line practical effects, dripping in blood and featuring the most innovative kill sequences for its time. Bava was a cinematographer-turned-director, and Bay was the first film since 1962’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much for which he took credit in both capacities. Released as Twitch of the Death Nerve, the film would become a predecessor to the slasher sub-genre, and said to have heavily influenced Friday the 13th.
The House with Laughing Windows (1976)
La casa dalle finestre che ridono
Directed by Pupi Avati
The House With Laughing Windows opens and ends as a deathly serious meditation on suffering and art. This sense of dread begins with a series of highly disturbing images that play out in sepia tones, juxtaposed with the opening title cards – a man is chained, tortured and repeatedly stabbed by two hooded figures. Tormented cries of pain give forth amidst the blurry imagery, and a grating voiceover speaks: “colours, my colours, they run from my veins, colours, sweet colours.” Although this film doesn’t conform to some conventions of the genre, it does feed into a familiar meta-narrative: a mystery killer abounds, a homicidal maniac stalking in the night, and a half dozen or so suspects at large. Director Avati reveals a small town full of secrets and superstition and much like H.G. Lewis’s Bloodfeast or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, Laughing Windows explores a dichotomy between art and death. The artist at hand, Legnani, is obsessed with capturing on canvas the reactions of people at the precise moment of their death. The film is deliberately paced, and suffers from a middle section rooted too deeply in an unconvincing love interest. But it’s the book-ends that make this picture great. While the intricate plot will keep you guessing until the very end, it is the shocking conclusion (and I do mean shocking), that will burn in your memory for a very, very, long time.
The Girl Who Knew Too Much / The Evil Eye (1963)
La ragazza che sapeva troppo
Directed by Mario Bava
Mario Bava’s final black and white production is regarded as the seminal work in what would become known as the Giallo genre. Much Like Brian De Palma, Bava was very influenced by the master of suspense and borrowed heavily from Alfred Hitchcock over the years. The title itself spoofs The Man Who Knew Too Much, a story Hitchcock adapted twice to the big screen. The Girl Who Knew Too Much helped kick-start a whole school of Italian thrillers, but only a few were able to surpass the genius of Bava. The Girl Who Knew Too Much is beautifully shot, composed of pristine blocking, framing, pans, dollys, and sharp edits, creating suspense amid all the shadowy photography. Bava’s films might not always make a lick of sense, but as a former cinematographer working for directors such as Roberto Rossellini, his movies always looked better than other Giallos. With a a solid performance from the always reliable John Saxon, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is incredibly entertaining, with a few twists and a surprise ending as to “whodunit” and why. Part mystery, part horror, part comedy, part romance, The Girl Who Knew Too Much ends seemingly as an anti-drug/anti-smoking feature length film. Essential viewing for any horror aficionado.
When A Stranger Calls (1979)
Directed by Fred Walton
This film really doesn’t get enough respect. One of the first slasher films to follow on from the massive success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, When a Stranger Calls originally started out as The Sitter, a short film made by director Fred Walton, expanded out to form the basis of a feature. The slow-burn approach is book-ended by some truly excellent classic horror movie moments – the opening alone serves as the entire basis for Wes Craven’s Scream. Walton does an incredible job of mounting the tension almost entirely using sound – the constant phone ringing, the killer’s creepy voice and the powerhouse score. The biggest challenge by Walton was surprisingly portraying a sympathetic portrait of the psycho. Charles Durning gives a more than capable performance – he gets the most memorable scene, in which he breaks down, completely nude, in front of his reflection in the washroom mirror. Highly recommended.
Frightmare/ Cover Up (1974)
Directed by Peter Walker
Genre director Pete Walker (The Flesh, Blood Show, House Of Whipcord, and The Confessional, among others) gives us one of the my personal favourite British horror films ever made. Apart from border-lining the slasher genre, Frightmare displays an overwhelming distrust of psychiatry and related professions and examines the idea of nature vs. nurture. There’s an artistry to Peter Walker’s work; his fluid, studied camera movements, intentionally abrupt edits, project the gore and provide a a disarming atmosphere. The cast all around delivers superb performances but this is Sheila Keith’s show. Her Dorothy is the epitome of the passive-aggressive mother – alternating between smart and feeble-minded, attentive and disoriented and so on. But it is all for show, as she makes it very clear to the audience that above all else, it is her character who is always in control of every situation. Frightmare is a marvel, a genuinely shocking film that features a fabulous ending.
Just Before Dawn (1981)
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
From the director of Squirm and Blue Sunshine, Just Before Dawn doesn’t do anything new in terms of backwoods horror slashers, but fuck is it ever good. Beautifully shot and competently acted, it features great locations, a brooding atmosphere, and realistic dialogue. It’s also deeply unsettling, and the twist ending is surprisingly effective. Just Before Dawn also carefully plays with gender roles and queer stereotypes. It featured early performances from actors Chris Lemmon (Jack Lemmon’s son) and Gregg Henry (Slither), as well as early work from music composer Brad Fiedel, who wrote and performed the films eerie score. Lieberman cites the 1972 film Deliverance as the main influence, and c
I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale
Directed by Sergio Martino
Torso pales next to director Martino’s more inventive Giallos (see below), but there is still a lot to love about the film. The movie definitely improves in the second half, when it switches focus from being a broad murder mystery to more of a suspense thriller. The plot of the killer terrorizing Rome’s college students is hardly new (even for the time) but the murder sequences are artfully staged and strangely beautiful to watch: most notable is the one in which the killer stalks his victim through a muddy field. Torso is overloaded with red herrings and doesn’t feature the most complicated of whodunits, but Martino has his fun getting to the conclusion.
Directed by Dario Argento
Asia Argento stars in Trauma, Argento’s first production on American soil. Although it doesn’t quite match the mastery of his previous work, Trauma is stuffed full of wild bursts of imagination. On American turf, Argento’s distinctly European sensibility is missed, but Trauma does feature some bizarre plot twists, a strange séance, and a dozen or so ways to creatively decapitate a human being. Lizards appear throughout the film, intercut with the killings as a motif, and much like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Trauma toys with perception and the idea of how our eyes can play tricks on us. Trauma showcase Argento’s funny bone moreso than any of his other films; note the strange closing credits, with Asia Argento dancing around a Reggae band and a few talking decapitated heads.
The Killer Must Kill Again / The Killer Must Strike Again (1975)
L’assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora
Directed by Luigi Cozzi
Director Cozzi crafted a suspenseful thriller with The Killer Must Kill Again. Most notable about the film is the music, an early Italian progressive jazz score by Nando De Luca, and also the cast. The beautiful Christina Galbo does stellar work here, and George Hilton plays the shady rich guy perfectly. The film is visually striking, mostly shot at night, punctuated with vivid bursts of colour, and benefits from a striking, satisfying climax. Indebted to Alfred Hitchcock (like most Giallos), The Killer Must Kill Again plays like a twisted hybrid of Strangers on a Train (two protagonists who swap murders along with a vital cigarette lighter which plays a key role in the conclusion) and Dial M for Murder (with the cunning rich man who arranges his wife’s murder).
Mil gritos tiene la noche / Pieces (1982)
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon
Pieces comes from Spanish exploitation director Juan Piquer Simon, who also goes by the alias J.P. Simon and also Juan Piquer. Simon is known for his cheaply made ripoffs of American successes. Pieces is a prime example, as the VHS cover even claims that the film is from the producer of Friday the 13th – a total fabrication. Pieces is his most notorious film, a film so bad that some consider it good enough to recommend for laughs.
Directed by Richard Ciupka
Shooting of the film started in 1980, but the production was plagued with problems. It was shelved for over a year during which re-writes, re-shoots, and at least one re-casting was done. The film was finally completed and released in 1983, but almost nobody saw it. When the movie begins, it seems to borrow a bit from the plot of Samuel Fuller’s masterpiece Shock Corridor but than drastically takes a left turn and offers up an Agatha Christie type slasher film – and a Canadian one to boot. Among the cast are two actresses featured in two very popular Canadian horror films: Samantha Eggar (The Brood) and Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas). There’s something special about Curtains that would seem to set it apart from the dozens of slashers being produced during the heyday of the sub genre. Curtains is smart, well acted, and features one of the creepiest masks ever worn by a villain in a slasher flick.
The House on Sorority Row (1983)
Directed by Mark Rosman
This was Mark Rosman’s first feature after he had been an assistant to Brian De Palma. The House on Sorority Row is stylish and well crafted, if formulaic, but remains a cut above the typical slasher. It also features one hell of a jump scare in the final scene. Selected by Quentin Tarantino for the First Quentin Tarantino Film Fest in Austin, Texas, 1996.
Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Directed by Amy Holden Jones
Scripted by lesbian erotica novelist Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, Slumber Party Massacre was praised in some circles for its reputed feminist angle. Men are spineless and the women are sexually liberated, smart and usually in control of the chaos that ensues. The final confrontation culminates with symbolic imagery of castration and rape. Massacre also features one of the most underrated villains in any slasher film – the driller killer really did creep me out as a kid, especially in those final moments when he first speaks. The sequels featured copy cat killers, none of which could match the intensity of the original.
Terror Train (1980)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
A run of the mill slasher film that has the advantage of mounting its premise aboard a moving train.
Led by the confident direction by Roger Spottiswoode and pristine cinematography from John Alcott, Terror Train has plenty of atmosphere, a number of good set pieces and the killer’s reveal is quite memorable. Spottiswoode had previously worked as film editor on several Sam Peckinpah classics, including 1971′s Straw Dogs (arguably the template for another horror sub-genre: the home invasion movie), and Alcott lensed Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. The movie was shot in Montreal (home to Sound On Sight’s headquarters), on an actual reconverted train in just over a three week period. Terror Train also stars Jamie Lee Curtis, who rose to become the quintessential early 80s horror scream queen.
I, Madman / Hardcover (1989)
Directed by Tibor Takács
A second-hand bookstore clerk becomes absorbed by the book ‘I, Madman’ by Malcolm Brand. In the book, the deranged, deformed Dr Kessler is obsessed with beautiful actress Anna Templar and kills people while sewing part of each victim’s face onto his own. But as Virginia continues to read, someone starts to emulate the killings in the book, targeting the people around her.
Intruder (Night Crew)
Directed by Scott Spiegel
Here is what you have to know: This gory slasher was directed by Evil Dead co-writer Scott Spiegel. The film features cameos by Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi and Sam Raimi who also just happen to sing. The main musical theme of movie was previously used in Transformations. Are you interested? I thought so. This claustrophobic thriller is set entirely in a small supermarket, whose owner is preparing to go out of business. Intruder is extremely simple, but is nevertheless one of the best slasher films of the 80s, and uses the one location extremely well. Spiegel’s direction is solid and the small ensemble are incredibly entertaining. It also features one hell of a psycho and some showstopping, gruemsome set pieces. The film is a legendarily nasty piece of genre filmmaking. A must see!
Tourist Trap (1979)
Directed by David Schmoeller
If you ‘re like me and you find wax dummies and mannequins creepy, than this is a movie for you. Despite its cookie cutter plot of kids getting stranded and chased around in the woods, Tourist Trap is a roller-coaster ride and a truly one of a kind slasher film. The film ably blends elements from the classics such as House of Wax, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie and even Psycho. Yet regardless of its obvious influences, Tourist Trap always feels unique in its own strange way.
Directed by Tony Maylam
Many people consider this one of the best slasher films of the 80’s but I don’t see why. There is nothing new that we haven’t seen time and time again, before and after the film’s release.
Directed by William S. Hinzmann
It seems that the director wasn’t sure what sort of film he wanted to make. The whodunnit angle is poorly handled but the film is populated with some interesting and eccentric characters.