October 30, 2007

Top 15 Overlooked Horror Films for this Halloween

The last week of October often brings the question of, "what to watch on Halloween?", as a lot of people like to spend the night (or some lucky ones the whole day!) watching a scary movie or a horror classic to be "in the mood". That's why it's usual in these days for many sites about cinema to post lists of recommended horror films for the Halloween celebration, and following the tradition, I want to offer a list too. However, this is not going to be the typical list of horror classics, filled with legendary films like Carpenter's "Hallween" or Whale's "Frankenstein" in its ranks. No, W-Cinema's list presents 15 often overlooked classics that, while less known than the usual suspects, are in my opinion as interesting, fun and creepy as the typical Top 10 horror films. Here it is, W-Cinema's Top 15 Overlooked Horror Films for this Halloween!

15. Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V. Lee)
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Often overshadowed by the magnitude and fame of both "Frankenstein" (1931) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), Rowland V. Lee's entry in the saga proves that sometimes, in very rare ocassions, a second sequel can be on the level of the first two parts. With beautiful cinematography, expressionist set design, Basil Rathbone as the title character, Karloff as the monster again, and a magnificent Bela Lugosi giving one of his best performances as the sinister Ygor, "Son of Frankenstein" is a real treat for any fan of the Universal classics.

Buy "Son of Frankenstein" (1939)

14. Dust Devil (1992, Richard Stanley)
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Straight from South Africa, director Richard Stanley presents this tale about a supernatural serial killer who roams the roads of the desert looking for victims as he poses as a hitchhiker. The restored Director's Cut of "Dust Devil" finally shows what Stanley inteded with this visually amazing journey through the desert: a powerful horror tale that it's part western and part slasher, all spiced up with a good dose of South African folk lore. A wildly original and creepy movie.

Buy "Dust Devil" (1992)

13. Körkarlen (1921, Victor Sjöström)
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Victor Sjöström is probably better known for playing Dr. Isak Borg in Ingmar Bergman's famous "Smultronstället" ("Wild Strawberries", 1957), but he was also one of the most celebrated directors of the early years of the Swedish film industry. In 1921 he adapted Selma Lagerlöf's novel "Körkarlen" ("The Phantom Carriage"), the tale of a man doomed to drive Death's cart and pick up the souls of the dead because of his extremely sinful life. Less known than other silent horrors, this amazing movie mixes perfectly the supernatural with the melodrama resulting in one of the most beautiful silent films in history.

Buy "Körkarlen" (1921)

12. Cronos (1993, Guillermo del Toro)
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Nowdays, after the enormous success of both "Hellboy" (2004) and "El Laberinto del Fauno" (2006), the name of Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro is now a familiar one when discussing horror and fantasy films, however, his talent was alreay showing since the early days of his career, as his feature length debut, "Cronos", proves. a clever twists on the vampire myth, this film narrates the tale of an old antiquarian who discovers the joy of living thanks to a mysterious artifact.

Buy "Cronos" (1993)

11. Mad Love (1935, Karl Freund)
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Like Lugosi, Karloff, Price and Lee, Peter Lorre is a name forever asociated with the dark and the bizarre, from his performance in Fritz Lang's "M" to his role as Joel Cairo in "The Maltese Falcon". In Karl Freund's "Mad Love", he is definitely in his element, as a surgeon hopelessly obsessed with an actress married to a famous pianist. When her husband loses his hands in an accident, she asks the doctor to save him, but problems arise when its discovered that the doctor implanted the hands of a killer in his patient.

Buy "Mad Love" (1935)

10. Martin (1977, George A. Romero)
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While forever associated with zombies, ghouls and all kinds of living corpses, director George A. Romero has more to offer besides his now classic saga of the living dead, and "Martin" is probably his best movie out of the zombie genre. Like "Cronos", this is another clever twist on the vampire myth, with a young man named Martin claiming to be a vampire and trying to live in the city with his uncle. However, Martin is not like what movies have told us about vampires, as he has no fangs, and sunlight makes him little harm, but his uncle is decided to stop his "condition".

Buy "Martin"(1977)

9. Jacob's Ladder (1990, Adrian Lyne)
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In "Jacob's Ladder" Tim Robbins plays a Vietnam veteran who begins to experience severe hallucinations and is constantly haunted by flashbacks to his past. Sounds like a good idea for a drama, but writer Bruce Joel Rubin and director Adrian Lyne decided to give the story a twist and made one of the best and most frightening horror movies of the 90s. Like a nightmare, "Jacob's Ladder" is filled with disturbing surreal imagery and constant twists that even if one discovers how it ends, the journey is never boring. By the way, this movie was a major inspiration for the "Silent Hill" series of videogames.

Buy "Jacob's Ladder" (1990)

8. Svengali (1931, Archie Mayo)
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Usually, whenever one talks about horror from the 30s, movies like "Dracula", "Frankenstein" and the rest of Universal Studios' catalogue are the first movies that come to mind, however they weren't by any means the only brilliant horrors done in those years. Based on George du Maurier's novel, "Trilby", "Svengali" features the legendary John Barrymore as the famous musician Svengali, whom using his skills as a hypnotist can do whatever he wants with the mind of the young singer Trilby, except perhaps what he would want the most: to be loved by her. This is a real forgotten classic as good as anything Universal made in their Golden Age.

Buy "Svengali" (1931)

7. Hasta el Viento tiene Miedo (1968, Carlos Enrique Taboada)
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Often praised as the best Mexican horror movie ever made (along with "El Libro de Piedra" by the same director), this gothic tale of ghosts has been rarely seen out of its native country. Forced to spend their summer vacation at school as a punishment for disobeying orders, a group of teenage girls begin to experience supernatural events apparently related to the dark past of their school. By the way, the movie is shot in color (Taboada was greatly influenced by Italian filmmakers) but sadly I could not find a real image from the film, just this production still.

Buy "Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo" (1968)

6. The Black Cat (1934, Edgar G. Ulmer)
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Well, I couldn't help it, I had to include one film from the Golden Age of Universal Studios, however, this movie isn't the typical monster film that the studio used to make in those years, this is the best of what is now known as the "Poe Cycle", a series of films "inspired" by Edgar Allan Poe. In "The Black Cat", a couple in their honeymoon trip through Eastern Europe has an accident and is forced to stay at the house of Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), a famous engineer and architect with a somber personality. With them is Poelzig's old friend, Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), but the meeting of the old friends won't be a nice one.

Buy "The Black Cat" (1934)

5. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961, Terence Fisher)
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As in the case of Universal Studios, the famous "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" series produced by Hammer Studios in the 60s (with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) tend to overshadow most of the other classics that the legendary studio made in its time. 1961's "The Curse of the Werewolf", directed by Terence Fisher and starring Oliver Reed is sadly a prime example of this, and I say sadly as in my opinion this is the finest movie the British studio everproduced, with everything Fisher used for "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" taken to perfection. Personally, I find this movie to be superior to Universal's "The Wolf Man".

Buy "The Curse of the Werewolf" (1961)

4. El Día de la Bestia (1995, Álex De la Iglesia)
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A crazed priest, an exceptic psychic, a joyful rocker and the Antichrist, what else does one need? Spaniard director Álex De la Iglesia conceives a wildly original horror comedy that came to bring new life to Spain's horror scene back in the 90s, and proved that Spain's cinema was more than Almodovar and melodrama. With a very irreverent black humor and great style, this tale of a priest in a desperate hunt for the Antichrist is one movie that must be experienced. Whomever said that horror and comedy don't mix must check this one out.

3. Dead Ringers (1988, David Cronenberg)
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One of the most interesting directors of the modern times, David Cronenberg created some of the most fascinating horror movies during the decade of the 80s. His 1988 movie, "Dead Ringers", is probably the crowning achievement of his horror period (where he also made the masterpieces "Videodrome" and the remake of "The Fly"), as this bizarre tale about the relationship between two identical brothers (both played masterfully by Jeremy Irons) contains the best of his filmmaking style and is the bridge between his young adulthood to his mature career.

Buy "Dead Ringers" (1988)

2. The Body Snatcher (1945, Robert Wise)
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I wouldn't be lying if I said that producer Val Lewton of RKO pictures single-handedly kept the flame of high quality American horror alive during the 40s, as not only the movies produced by him were among the best, he discovered the talents of many remarkable directors such as Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. Tourneur's "Cat People" is often lauded as the best, but while its certainly the most influential, personally I find the overlooked "The Body Snatcher" to be the brightest jewel amongst the movies Lewton produced in the 40s.

Buy "The Val Lewton Horror Collection"

1. Le Locataire (1976, Roman Polanski)

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And so we have arrived to the Top spot, Roman Polanski's "Le Locataire", or as it is known in English, "The Tenant"; the surreal tal of man who begins to believe that the other tenants in the building where he lives are conspiring against him and want to kill him just as they did with the previous tenant who occupied his apartment. Part of the so called "Apartment Trilogy" (along "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby"), Polanski plays with paranoia and the surreal in a movie that probably reflects the way he saw life after the death of Sharon Tate and his posterior exile in Europe (he plays the lead role after all). Visually breathtaking, this gothic surreal trip moves slo, but is truly a disturbing and creepy experience.

Buy "Le Locataire" (1976)

UPDATE 2011: Be sure to check out these 15 overlooked horrors for Halloween as well...

October 24, 2007

Horror 101: The A-list of horror films and monster movies

As I wrote back in August, I was lucky to be invited to join a team of horror fans from around the world in the writing of a reference book about horror movies. Well, the book was finally released on August 31, but at the time it was available only via our dear publishers, Midnight Marquee. However, to those like me who live out of the USA, it is now finally available on, whom while have a slightly higher shipping cost, it's a lot safer than the normal shipping from other bookstores.

I want to thank once again to Aaron Christensen for letting me participate in this great event (as far as I know, there aren't many books written by an international team of more than 70 horror fans) and hopefully, it won't be the last time this happens.

By the way, I've added a link to get this book below the "Interesting links" sections on this humble blog.


P.S. Sorry for the slow movement that has been on this blog, but personal reasons have prevented me from writing for a couple of weeks. Hopefully, I'll be back very, very soon with more.

Buy "Horror 101: The A-List of Horror Films and Monster Movies"

October 08, 2007

El Día de la Bestia (1995)

Just as it happened in the film industries of many European countries, the horror genre in Spain had a slow and difficult development until the 60s, when people like Narciso Ibanez Serrador and Amando de Ossorio added a Spaniard flavor to the Eurohorror of those years. However, Spaniard horror lost steam as the 70s ended and by the 80s it was again in a deep slumber in which only cult figures like Jess Franco and Paul Naschy kept truly working within the genre. Fortunately, the 90s brought an entirely new generation of young filmmakers who, having grown up with the films of that golden age, started to create a new series of horror films for the modern reality of Spain. Among this new generation was Álex de la Iglesia, a former comic book illustrator who seduced by cinema, took Spain by surprise in 1991 with his short film, “Mirindas Asesinas”, and with his second feature film, “El Día de la Bestia”, proved that Spaniard horror is finally back.

In “El Día de la Bestia” (literally, “The Day of the Beast”), Alex Angulo plays Father Ángel, a priest who in his work as a scholar of Theology, seems to have discovered the real message hidden in the book of Revelations: the exact date and the location where the Antichrist is going to be born. Father Ángel is sure that the son of Satan will come to the world in Madrid on the Christmas Eve of 1995, so all he needs to kill the diabolic baby is the exact location of his birth. To do this, he decides to travel to Madrid, hoping to be able of becoming a Satanist in order to discover the place where the Antichrist will be born. However, finding the Satanists proves to be a very difficult mission, specially without an idea of where to look at, so Father Ángel recruits metalhead José María (Santiago Segura) and TV psychic Professor Cavan (Armando De Razza) to aid him in his quest to kill the baby before it’s too late.

Like practically every film by De la Iglesia, “El Día de la Bestia” was written by him in collaboration with Jorge Guerricaechevarría, the writer who has been De la Iglesia’s right hand since the beginning of their careers. “El Día de la Bestia” mixes remarkably comedy with horror by adding a considerable amount of dark humor to the story without falling in common devices like parody or spoof. It is not exactly the kind of comedy that results in big laughs, but one that leaves a malicious smile of complicity due to its irreverent darkness. While “El Día de la Bestia” is mostly a black comedy, the writers do not forget that it’s also a horror film, and so themes such as the violence of the end times and the character’s feeling of impotence against an imminent apocalypse are very well used. It’s an excellent mixture of genres that certainly gets benefited by the great development of the characters and its clever use of irony.

In “El Día de la Bestia”, director Alex de la Iglesia shows that his earlier work wasn’t the result of an amateur’s lucky strike, and that he has real talent behind the camera. With frenetic rhythm and a wonderfully dark apocalyptic atmosphere, Alex de la Iglesia makes his dark tale come to life in a spectacular fashion. Giving an excellent use to Flavio Martínez Labiano’s cinematography, De la Iglesia captures the essence of the story in the bizarre beauty of the contrast between the colorful happiness of Christmas and the gritty urban violence of Madrid’s streets. Despite the low budget, the special effects look pretty good, and thanks to De la Iglesia’s great camera-work and good eye for visuals, the whole movie has the visual look of a comic book without falling in the typical silliness that tends to surround this kind of style.

Not only the writer and the director did an excellent job in the film, the cast deserves a lot of credit for the movie’s high quality. As Father Ángel, Alex Angulo is simply exceptional, carrying the film without problems thanks to his natural talent for black comedy and skill to make a very likeable character. Santiago Segura is also very good as José María, very believable in his role as the junkie metalhead willing to aid Father Ángel in his mission. However, the highlight of the film is Italian actor Armando De Razza’s perfomance as Professor Cavan, as he manages to steal every scene he is in as the hilariously skeptical TV psychic. In the supporting roles there are also excellent performances, specially Maria Grazia Cucinotta as the dumb blonde who dates Professor Cavan. Terele Pávez and Nathalie Seseña are also very good in their roles.

The mix of comedy and horror is definitely quite popular among modern directors, but often the results of such mixture of genres are sadly disappointing no matter how good the intentions or the ideas behind them are. Fortunately, “El Día de la Bestia” is an exception to this, as it moves gracefully between genres (no doubt due to its preference of smart black comedy over cheap slapstick), staying true to its roots while at the same time exploring new grounds with a witty sense of irony that makes it a breath of fresh air. Delightfully irreverent and very well-crafted, this twisted modern version of the Biblical story about the Three Wise Men is definitely a nice addition to the genre as it was only the beginning of the new generation of Spaniard horror films.

Often overlooked as a mere comedy, “El Día de la Bestia” is an excellent movie that can stand proudly as one of the best (or maybe THE best) horror movies that Spain has given to the world in a long, long time. After a troubled yet very promising debut with “Acción Mutante”, director Álex De la Iglesia proved here that his success wasn’t a lucky strike, and that he had a lot to offer to the new Spaniard cinema and the horror genre in general.