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October 05, 2011

Another 15 Overlooked Horror films for Halloween...

Back in 2007 (when this blog first came to life), I compiled a humble list of 15 overlooked horror films to watch in Halloween, listing 15 scary movies that could make for a nice creepy night instead of the better known film series of "Halloween", "Friday the 13th" or more recently, "Scream" or "Saw". Not that there is anything wrong with watching those movies, but certainly there is more in horror than the classic mainstream films, so those 15 films could be taken as an "alternative option" to discover (or rediscover) some gems.

Now, almost four years later, here are another 15 overlooked horror films that, in the opinion of this humble writer, deserve to be better known, not only by hardcore horror fans, but the general public as well, as there are great material to enjoy during a dark scary night of Halloween.

Enjoy!

15. Las raisins de la mort (1978, Jean Rollin)
While better known for his surreal horror films about vampires, French director Jean Rollin also tackled the subject of the living dead, and in "Las raisins de la mort" ("The Grapes of Death"), Rollin made the very first French gore film. Inspired by Romero's "Night of the Living Dead", Rollin tales the story of a young woman whom during a vacation in the French countryside, discovers that the entire population of a village has been transformed into flesh eating monsters. A blind girl, two zombie hunters and a beautiful but mysterious woman will be part of her dangerous trip into zombie madness.
Buy "Las raisins de la mort" (1978)

14. La torre de los siete jorobados (1944, Edgar Neville)
Offbeat, haunting and strangely funny, Spain's first horror film still stands as a wildly entertaining tale of fantasy and mystery in which a young man is contacted by the ghost of an archaeologist, and receives the mission of protecting the late archaeologist's beautiful daughter from a mysterious gang of hunchbacked men. The plot thickens as the underground lair of the gang is discovered. Done under Francisco Franco's regime, this fascinating film was based on a novel by Emilio Carrere and features a striking set design obviously inspired by German expressionism.

13. Der Student von Prag (1926, Henrik Galeen)
A Faustian pact in which the young student Balduin wishes to be rich in order to be able of courting a young rich lady. The devilish Scapinelli fulfills his wish, in exchange for Balduin's mirror reflection. At first Balduin enjoys his new found wealth greatly, but of course, you can't always get what you want. A remake of the 1913 film, this version of "Der Student von Prag" reunites Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt, as Scapinelli and Balduin respectively. With beautifully designed set pieces and a more decidedly expressionist style, this remake is truly a joy to watch.
Buy "Der Student Von Prag" (1926)

12. Sauna (2008, Antti-Jussi Annila)
In 2008, Swedish horror "Låt den rätte komma in" caught the spotlight everywhere, however, it wasn't the only remarkable horror film of that year. Finnish horror film "Sauna" was a low key entry that plays heavily in atmosphere and tone to tell a story of impending doom. Set in 1595 after the brutal wars between Finland and Russia, two brothers lead an expedition to chart the new borders of the country. One of them is a ruthless army man, and the other the scholarly chartographer in charge of making the new map. Their visit to a mysterious town lost in the woods will make their dark past resurface again, and the horrors of the war will prove to be no match for the horrors of the human soul. Moody, slow, yet implacably unnerving, "Sauna" is a great watch for a cold Autumn night.
Buy "Sauna" (2008)

11. Murders in the Zoo (1933, A. Edward Sutherland)
Grizzly sadism is not something one thinks when dealing with old cinema, however, before the days of the restrictive Hays Code there were horror films that truly pushed the boundaries about what could be shown in a movie. "Murders in the Zoo" is one of those films, in which Lionel Atwill, the beautiful Kathleen Burke and a quite young Randolph Scott are involved in a murder mystery in the zoo. Far from the fantasy realms of 19th century locations, "Murders in the Zoo" is a very urban horror film that is full of several brilliantly staged horror set pieces. Brutal for its time, "Murders in the Zoo" is a rarely seen gem that deserves a lot more of attention for its boldness to go further.
Buy "Murders in the Zoo" (1933)

10. Veneno para las Hadas (1984, Carlos Enrique Taboada)
Mexican director Carlos Enrique Taboada crafted a series of films through his career that earned him a reputation as master of horror. Titles like "Hasta el viento tiene miedo", "El Libro de Piedra" and "Más negro que la noche" cemented this reputation, but the fourth and last one, "Veneno para las hadas" is definitely a lesser known gem. Unlike his better known films, "Veneno para las hadas" is not a supernatural horror, but the chilling tale of a twisted friendship between two girls, a friendship grounded in fear. And yet, it carries the same Gothic style than his previous three. Certainly, this Mexican horror tale is one that can't be missed.
Buy "Veneno para las Hadas" (1984)

9. The Walking Dead (1936, Michael Curtiz)
The sole idea of Boris Karloff as a resurrected corpse looking for justice should be enough to make "The Walking Dead" an interesting flick. However, "The Walking Dead" is much more, as this classy monster movie is not only a top notch tale of revenge from beyond the grave, but also a surprisingly powerful meditation on melancholy, philosophy and justice. Directed by Michael Curtiz (of "Casablanca" fame), this forgotten gem features one of the best performances by Karloff, who truly proves that he was the king when it came to make horrible monsters with a human heart.
Buy "The Walking Dead" (1936)

8. Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma (1990, Nikos Nikolaidis)
Weird. Bizarre. Insane. Definitely unique. This Greek hybrid of film noir and horror certainly defies convention. Taking the plot of Otto Preminger's "Laura" (1944) as a basis, director Nikos Nikolaidis crafts a trip to the darker corners of the mind: torture, sex, sadism and incest are part of this mystery, all shot with a gorgeous black and white cinematography that truly captures the spirit of the film noirs that inspired it. While probably not everyone's cup of tea, "Singapore Sling" is an offbeat oddity that seems to demonstrate that even extreme films can have class.
Buy "Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma" (1990)

7. Felidae (1994, Michael Schaack)
In "Felidae" our young hero arrives to town and discovers a series of grizzly murders taking place in his new neighborhood. Decided to investigate further, he'll begin to experience terrifying visions in his nightmares as he uncovers the horrible truth. Sounds like the plot for an interesting yet typical thriller, right? However, the fact that it's animated and the characters are cats instead of humans elevates "Felidae" from a typical thriller to a masterpiece of horror in animation. Half film noir and half horror film, this tale of mystery literally believes that curiosity killed the cat. Definitely not an animation for kids.

6. Angustia (1987, Bigas Luna)
Horror receives a postmodern take in Bigas Luna's "Angustia", as the film begins following a lonely man dominated by her psychotic mother, who controls her son to use him as serial killer. However, this is a movie watched by a packed theater where a real serial killer is on the loose. To tell more would be to spoil the film, but what can be said is that the way the story is constructed, with real life intersecting "movie life", is a quite interesting narrative exercise. Taking as basis the serial killer concept that was being done to death in the 80s, Bigas Luna makes a loving homage to the experience of going to a packed theater to watch a scary movie.
Buy "Angustia" (1987)

5. Misterios de Ultratumba (1959, Fernando Méndez)
While "El Vampiro" is certainly the most famous film in director Fernando Méndez' filmography, his crowning achievement is a film unfairly less known. "Misterios de Ultratumba" (or "The Black Pit of Dr. M") is a masterful tale of Gothic horror that borrows elements from film noir to create a marvelously atmospheric story about two doctors and their bet to prove that there is life after death. With a beautiful work of cinematography and a stylish narrative, Méndez crafts a stunning film that never refrains from its atmosphere of doom. "Misterios de Ultratumba" carries a certain Lovecraftian vibe, and ranks amongst the best Mexican films ever done.
Buy "Misterios de Ultratumba (1959)

4. The Queen of Spades (1949, Thorold Dickinson)
"Beauty" is not always an element one expects from a horror film, but when it appears, it's more than welcome. British film "The Queen of Spades" is certainly a film full of beauty, from its breath-taking photography to its subtle classy style, this sadly neglected gem directed by Thorold Dickinson is one film that screams "beauty". Based on a story by Alexander Pushkin, the film is the story of a countess who has sold her soul in exchange for ability to win at cards. An officer also wants the secret, but discovering it will haunt him forever. A real jewel of Gothic horror at its best.
Buy "The Queen of Spades" (1949)

3. Captain Clegg (1962, Peter Graham Scott)
While better known for their new adaptations of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein", British company Hammer Films also ventured in different kinds of costume drama films, like pirate films. "Captain Clegg" (or "Night Creatures" as it was known in America) was an attempt to mix both genres in a pirate tale with horror elements based on the famous "Dr. Syn" novels by Russell Thorndike. Legendary Peter Cushing stars as the Rev. Dr. Blyss, the vicar of a small English coastal town where there have been reports of "Marsh Phantoms". Captain Collier is sent to investigate the mystery, but he'll discover more about the humble Reverend than what he expected.
Buy "Captain Clegg" (1962)

2. ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? (1976, Narciso Ibañez Serrador)
"Who can kill a child?" is the question that Spaniard director Narciso Ibañez Serrador poses in this deeply unnerving film based on a simple yet disturbing premise: if the children were out to get would you kill them? A British couple, Eve and Tom, are traveling through the Spanish islands and arrives to a small island, only to discover that no adult seems to be around. Only the children remain, but they don't tell anything. So, Eve and Tom suspect that something is wrong, and begin searching. They'll discover that the children have a secret plan for them. Deeply atmospheric and powerful in its delivery, "¿Quién puede matar a un niño?" is a classic of Spain's horror cinema.
Buy "Quién puede matar a un niño?" (1976)

1. Hangover Square (1945, John Brahm)
German director John Brahm is perhaps better known by his work in television, where he directed famous episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", "Thriller" and "The Twilight Zone" (notably "Time Enough at Last"). However, during the 40s Brahm directed an eerie mix of horror and noir set in Victorian London: "Hangover Square". With a marvelous work of cinematography by Joseph LaShelle, the ominous music of Bernard Herrmann, and a masterful performance by the ill-fated Laird Cregar in his last role. Subtle, classy, yet undeniably creepy, "Hangover Square" is a remarkably atmospheric tale of madness.
Buy "Hangover Square" (1944)

3 comments:

Kevin Matthews said...

I've only ever seen ONE of those and it was the most excellent Singapore Sling, which I reviewed on my blog. Twisted and dark yet still surprisingly erotic, I loved it. I've heard of a few of the other titles but, overall, this list highlights my ignorance, dammit.

J Luis Rivera said...

Well my friend, October is a great month to catch up :)

Kevin Matthews said...

I already have quite a full viewing schedule ahead but would definitely like to fit a few of these in if I can get hold of them (The Walking Dead, Captain Clegg and Who Would Kill A Child? might be the easier ones for me to get a hold of).
Cheers.