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.
Justine Smith (11 viewings)
Total of 31 viewings
Spider Baby or The Maddest Story Ever Told
Directed by Jack Jill
This movie is very fun, not so much scary as gleefully depraved. The film revels in it’s childhood attitude, completely in tune with the film’s fictional “merry disease” which sees people regress in age to the point where they come to a pre-natal point, which apparently results in becoming a cannibal. It’s interesting how horrific childhood morality can be presented as being, i don’t think the film is necessarily outlandish considering how faithful the filmmakers are to it’s absurd premise. It’s like a happy-go-lucky Texas Chainsaw Massacre but with a few pompous rich people thrown into the mix. One of my biggest complaints is that there is not enough of the “spider game” arguably the greatest game EVER invented. And the girls who play it are the cutest. It’s such a fun-ridiculous film, “Are you a Wolf Man fan?”, “Oh yea, I think that’s what all men should be, BEASTS”.
Directed by John Carpenter
Alien or not, it is paranoia that destroys the film. The characters are put between a rock and a hard place as there is a logical reason not to trust each other, which makes the film feel all the more fatalist. The final sequence is exhausting and loaded, with four possible outcomes, each seems worse than the last. The Thing succeeds largely because when confronted with such an alien situation, social and cultural mores would likely dissolve in this way. Lovecraft evoked a horrified awe in his work, he would painstakingly create a sense of scientific detachment and rationality and then shatter it in a moment with a single phrase that suggests a uniform alien-ness that the human mind cannot comprehend. I think the difficulty in adapting Lovecraft lies in the difficulty in suggesting how horrific the unseen is. We all understand that in horror less is often more, but this case is different. Carpenter plays instead off how these situations toy and ultimately destroy psychology and morality, to incredible effect.
Mystery of the Wax Museum
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Certainly the best of the House of Wax films, Curtiz brings screwball angst and eerie visuals to a familiar tale. The film is shot with an early form of Technicolor (often innappropriately called two-strip Technicolor) which fails to create a full spectrum of colour. It works especially well in this film, lending an otherwordliness to the preceedings. The decision to use actors as the wax figures similarly adds an interesting visual element to this film. Easily one of my favourite horrors from the 1930s, it is also one of the most underseen.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror
Directed by F.W. Murnau
I find this film to be surprisingly effective, especially the scenes with Nosferatu himself. Schrek’s performance is heavily mannered but the sheer ugliness o strangeness of his demeanor makes him a threat. Combined with Murnau’s beautifully textured lightning scheme makes for a wonderful horror experience. My sole complaints with the film lie in the disjointed nature of the narrative, something that comes with Stoker’s novel. Murnau’s gifts as a filmmaker turn what I’d personally call the “diversion sequences” into an interesting emotional ballet. His edits raising D.W. Griffith’s parallel editing techniques to new and perhaps unbeaten heights, create an incredible sense of suspense and mood.
The Omega Man
Directed by Boris Sagal, 1971
The horror elements of this film are admittingly downplayed in spite of the zombie-like creatures who now seem to have a hold on our post-apocalyptic world. The film is so typically 70s in it’s style, with extensive use of zoom, superimposition and all around revellery in 1970s fashion, ideology, funky music and free-love. It makes for a wholly idiosyncratic viewing experience and the film’s disjointedness only adds to it’s excited aesthetic tone. This film is infectiously watchable, one of the most gloriously “period” films I’ve seen.
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001
The first half of this film is genuinely scary, however as is the case in all too many ghost films, the more is revealed to us the less momentum the scares and narrative seem to have. The film is still remarkable in many ways, I love its rainy day aesthetic, which seems to be very much in tune with the state of mind of the characters. The film seems to borrow heavily from Romero’s vision of zombies, embodying the phrase “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth,” but with more ghosties. The second half is almost outright dull, and the film’s mood is all but destroyed by the weird anime-school girl style closing credits.
House on Haunted Hill
Directed by William Castle
The film is a thesis on greed, and the party’s host, played with effortless and mean-spirited grace by Vincent Price, embodies the possessive megalomania-cal virtues that guarantee success. He is the eccentric millionaire who offers his cash-starved guests $10,000 to spend the night in a haunted house. Things turn sour almost immediately and people are at each other’s throats, caught by paranoia and greed. It doesn’t even matter that anyone and everyone who survives the night wins the prize, people turn against each other instead of co-operating.
Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa
The film’s first half using an extensive use of red and extreme dutch angles creates a sense of doom. There is a lot of discomfort in this chapter as darkness looms over every frame. The fatalism of obscured morality, failed responsabilities and “reasoned” violence propels the story forward (or more accurately, downward). The sequences re-creating hell are innovative and desperate, the film pulls no punches and creates a sickly underworld.
The Exorcist III
Directed by William Peter Blatty
This film makes due with its b-movie aesthetics and creates a rather striking visual atmosphere. Many sequences are built entirely on the strength of their concept. In many ways, the film’s build up is far more effective than it’s second half, but the film nonetheless works as an all around effective horror film built around three great performances.
Guilty of Romance
Directed by Sion Sono
As can be expected from the most unexpected wacky mind of Sion Sono, Guilty of Romance evokes some disturbing and haunting images of the macabre. The opening few scenes in particular create some of the most unsettling images I could have imagined, to the point where i am not sure how much of it is constructed in my mind rather than depicted on the screen. A young and beautiful homicide investigator is guided through an apartment complex, she is shown a “body”. It is a mannequin lying on the floor dressed in a school girl’s uniform. She’s puzzled. The CSI guy explains: “her arms, legs and head are a mannequin, they have been attached to an unidentified torso.” Histrionic performances and schizophrenic emotions make for a more “classic’ Sono and is a strong improvement over his unbearably awful Cold Fish.
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
It fails to create a real sense of paranoia, probably because a sense of community, flawed or otherwise, is never properly established as there are too many “newcomers’ and cliques. Also, too much focus on the alien itself. They seem to think that what as scary about The Thing was the monster while it was partially human or totally monstrous rather than an invisible threat.
James (7 viewings)
Total of 29 viewings
Essential Horror Viewing
Deep Red (Argento, 1975) I wouldn’t consider this among Argento’s best, but it is still a clever precursor to his more surrealistic mysteries of the late 70’s and 80’s.
The Curse of The Cat People (Fritsch, Wise, 1944) This film distances itself from the classic original, but it is a beautiful, and somewhat disturbing portrayal of childhood loneliness.
Daughters of Darkness (Kumel, 1971) Delphine Seyrig is absolutely magnetic from the moment she steps onto the screen, in this vampire tale that cleverly explores the nature of subservience and dominance. This was the best film I’ve seen so far for this contest.
The Thing from Another World (Nyby, Hawks, 1951) This film is a lot of fun, and has Howard Hawkes knack for snappy dialogue and witty characterization. However, it does fall a bit short as a horror movie.
Book of Blood (Harrison, 2009) Based on a short story by Clive Barker, I couldn’t help but think this film fell woefully short of Barker’s vision.
The Thing (Van Heijningen Jr. 2011) It would seem as though the makers of this film didn’t even pay attention to John Carpenter’s great film. This film lacks tension, character focus, and at times, doesn’t make much sense at all.
The Treasure of The Living Dead (Franco, 1981) If you’ve never seen a film that is so poorly scripted, paced, and directed that when it’s over you felt like you slept through half of it, than you should watch this.
Ricky D (19 viewings)
Total of 48 viewings
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
An homage to Italian giallo horror films of the 1960s and ’70s, Amer is a gorgeous, smart, and visceral experience that is almost exclusively aesthetic but still incredibly powerful. The film is split into three acts, following protagonist Ana as a young girl, a precocious teen, and finally as a troubled woman, played brilliantly by three different actresses. Simply put, Amer is a masterpiece of the genre, and regardless of the strong influence of classic Giallo film of the past, Amer stands as a superbly crafted work of art in its own right.
Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970)
Il rosso segno della follia
Directed by Mario Bava
The general consensus on Hatchet For The Honeymoon, is that it’s a departure from the traditional Giallo formula and not one of Bava’s best – but I wholeheartedly disagree. Hatchet is further evidence of the legendary director’s brilliance. The film held a special place in Bava’s heart since his own marriage, like the protagonists’, was quickly coming to an end at the time. On the opening scene, John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) announces in his narration that he’s mad, channelling the best of Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hatchet is a clever mix of style and tone. The murder sequences are directed with the panache – shy on blood but ratcheting up the tension to the max. The standout scene is the killing of Mildred, interrupted halfway through by the arrival of the film’s sleuth, but the most peculiar aspect is the introduction of the ‘Mildred as ghost’ plot. One would think that this idea perhaps inspired John Landis when writing American Werewolf In london. The film is beautifully shot, well acted and features well written dialogue – something usually lacking in giallo films. By the time we see Forsynth decked out in a wedding gown wielding a knife, we quickly come to realize that Hatchet for the Honeymoon is another Bava masterpiece.
Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1970)
A.K.A. Blade of the Ripper
Directed by Sergio Martino
Inspired by the often-imitated Les Diaboliques, director Sergio Martino (also known as Italy’s Roger Corman) proves once again why he does giallo better than most. Starring giallo queen Edwige Fenech (What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body, The Case of the Bloody Iris, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, and many more) and George Hilton (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, The West Is Tough, Amigo), the film is a fashioned and engrossing intricate thriller with impressive Italian locations, beautiful authentic interiors, awe-inspiring cinematography (by Emilio Foriscot and Floriano Trenker) and excellent sound design (Note the use of a heartbeat effect during a tense life-or-death scene is fantastic). A number of elements have been lifted in later films: You may recognize Nora Orlandi’s wailing theme music recycled in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. A murder in a public park provides the blueprint for a similar scene in Four Flies on Grey Velvet, by director Dario Argento, and a pair of shoes poking out from behind a curtain, was also seen in The Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (the same year) and later duplicated in Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill. But Strage Vice also takes a page from classic films including The Wages of Fear and Diabolique.
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is a slow burn for the ever popular sub-genre, but it is every bit as memorable and thrilling than Argento’s best work. Double cross tactics and red herrings are all present as is a twist-upon-twist ending – that while doesn’t make much sense, is entirely unpredictable. Strange Vice also features one slick scene showing us the most clever way to use ice cubes.
Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)
Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave
Directed by Sergio Martino
The title is a reference to Sergio Martino’s earlier giallo Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh), in which the same phrase appears in a mysterious note apparently sent by a killer. Better known under its export title Gently Before She Dies, the film stars Edwige Fenech, Luigi Pistilli, and Anita Strindberg and uses many elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Black Cat (acknowledging this influence in the film’s opening credits). It marks Martino’s fourth of six giallo films that he directed.
Giallo films usually don’t feature great acting, but those of Sergio Martino, do. Giancarlo Ferrando’s budding cinematography, the catchy score and the colourful art direction are also noteworthy. While most horror aficionados always praise Argento, many are unfamiliar with the work of Sergio Martino – an under-rated talent who while paying homage to the established stalk-and-kill approach of early Giallo, revitalizing the genre in new and interesting ways each time. What Martino did better than most was emphasize the complex motivations of all his characters and find ways for the audience to understand their motives clearly.
Directed by John Carpenter
This was John Carpenter’s first theatrical film for a major studio (Universal). Although it has developed a cult reputation among Carpenter fans, the movie was a box office flop during its initial release. The Thing is a peerless nerve-shredding masterpiece of suspense, paranoia and astonishing special effects.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo
Directed by Dario Argento
One of the most self-assured directorial debuts of the decade, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was a box office hit and breakthrough film for the master of giallo. Here Argento is more interested in building supsense in tense but clever plot twists, and focused less on gore. The acting is all around excellent, the camera work fluid – Vittorio Storaro’s stylish widescreen photography is ambitious, and the score by Ennio Morricone is superb. Bird layed down the groundwork for later classics like Deep Red and stil remains one of Argento’s finest. It also features one of the best twist endings of all time.
The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971)
La coda dello scorpione
Directed by Sergio Martino
Like all of Martino’s films, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale is a visual treat. Martino always endeavours to do something interesting visually – here is uses an excessive amount of zooms, a plethora of unconventional angles, strange compositions, and fluid camera work to help escalate the tension. Martino also uses a chock full colour gels to maximum effect here, more-so than in his previous work, and the score is truly mesmerizing, especially the main theme. There are enough devilish plot twists to keep viewers on their toes and guessing the identity of the killer right until the very end. There is a fantastic scene in which the killer tries to break into the hotel room. The scene features some great blocking,
Daughter of Darkness
Les lèvres rouges
Directed by Harry Kümel
Belgium’s premier horror filmmaker Harry Kümel directs this lesbian-themed vintage vampire flick heightened by a stunning performance from Delphine Seyrig. I’m not a huge fan of lesbian vampire films but Daughter of Darkness is subdued rather than exploitative. Best described as a European art-house flick that sways far away from the traditional vampire movie, the film excels with the brush strokes of atmosphere and psycho-sexuality. Cinematographer Eduard van der Enden, who shot Jacques Tati’s Trafic infuses the film’s imagery with a pervading sense of the modern gothic. Unlike most lesbian vampire films, Daughters of Darkness is worth watching, worth recommending and worth buying.
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 seems a bit left behind, but Trauma does feature some bizarre plot twists, a strange seance, 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. Truama showcase Argento’s funny bone more so 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 Fifth Cord (1971)
Giornata nera per l’ariete
Directed by Luigi Bazzoni
Director Luigi Bazzoni’s beautifully crafted, nuanced Italian contribution to the endless giallo cycle, is perfectly summed up as, style over substance. With that said, the film is also highlighted by Franco Nero, starring in his one and only entry in the genre. The Fifth Cord can be difficult to get wrapped up in but the cinematography and the score by the legendary Ennio Morricone is at times brilliant, and the film features quite a few memorable moments – specifically in the suspenseful climax through the endless corridors.
Asylum (House Of The Crazies)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Known for their anthology horror flicks, Amicus Productions built-up a cult following in their attempts to overtake Hammer as the kings of horror. Asylum was written by author Robert Bloch who previously wrote their 1970 anthology, The House That Dripped Blood, and directed by Roy Ward Baker who is best known for A Night To Remember. Like most horror anthologies, not all the segments are good but out of the four short stories, three come highly recommended. Asylum features an eclectic mix of strange tales, solid direction, a unbelievable sore and a great cast.
The first segment which is by far the best story, contains some genuine shocking imagery and feels like a throwback to E.C. Comics. The second episode which leans towards something out of H.P. Lovecraft is a well-sustained moody piece that just so happens to feature Peter Cushing as the mystery man. The third episode, stars Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland who surprisingly delivers a powerful performance. The story here is fairly predictable and the twist ending is pretty obvious but still the second best of the four. Finally, the final piece and linking story ties everything together nicely and has a very memorable twist ending.
The New York Ripper (1982)
Lo squartatore di New York
Directed by Lucio Fulci
In the hierarchy of Italian horror, Lucio Fulci usually falls short of his great talent. Many place him below Argento and Bava, but I’d argue many of his films are far better. Fulci is admired for his onscreen appreciation of violence and brutality, but the man still knows how to shoot a picture. The New York Ripper has a reputation as a misogynistic slasher/giallo as Fulci relegates the detective story aspect of the film to the background, focusing more on the killer’s atrocities instead. It also features cheesy dialogue, and convoluted ‘murder mystery’ narrative, but despite all this, the film is worth a watch for its intriguing cinematography, outlandish gore, sleazy 70’s New York setting, flashy set design – not to mention two truly suspenseful scenes, and yes, the ever-present unintentional humour. The New York Ripper is Lucio’s attempt to make a Dirty Harry-esque crime thriller, albeit a highly sexualised thriller with excessive nudity and a live sex show which verges on pornography.
Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970)
Le foto proibite di una signora per bene
Directed by Luciano Ercoli
Fetishistic and dark, early giallo thriller from Italian filmmaker Luciano Ercoli prefigures various sexual themes later explored in the genre, specifically in its explicit connection between female sexuality and violence. Ercoli is a somewhat underrated Italian director that made a handful of giallo murder mysteries. Although not all of his films were memorable his two best were Death Walks at Midnight and Death Walks In High Heels. Forbidden Photos is a decent suspense thriller which features a great cast, but doesn’t quite offer enough to recommend beyond a rental on a cold winter night. Check out his other two mentioned above instead.
Directed by Van Heijningen Jr.
The makers of this film don’t seem sure if they are remaking Carpenter’s classic or making a prequel, and worse brought nothing new to the table. Apart from the incredible score by Marco Betrani, this film doesn’t have much going for it.
Do You Like Hitchcock
Directed by Dario Argento
Argento hasn’t made a good movie in decades but this is his best. Sadly it still isn’t worth a recommendation. Do You Like Hitchcock is a poor man’s scream and released two decades too late.
French Sex Murders
Directed by Ferdinando Merighi
The French Sex Murders features French people having sex and getting murdered, yet somehow it’s a total bore. Oh and nothing in this movie makes any sense. There are far too many better giallo films to recommend this one.
Slaughter Hotel (The Cold Blooded Beast)
La bestia uccide a sangue freddo
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
Perhaps the only movie which features an insanse assylum that is laden with easily accessible killing tools such as an axe, crossbow, sword, and more. There is a ton of nudity and some lesbian scenes, and not much else.
Directed by Mario Bava
The final film directed by Italian horror legend Mario Bava is sadly not a good one. The film was released in the USA as Beyond the Door II, although it has no connection with Beyond the Door.
Beyond The Darkness
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Synopsis: A young rich orphan loses his fiancée to voodoo doll mischief on the part of his housekeeper who is jealous of his attentions. He digs his girlfriend up, cleans her out, stuffs her, and puts her in bed at the mansion. Following this, he tries out and disposes of a series of young maidens, trying to find the right replacement for her, and the disapproving housekeeper helps him with the disposals.
Norman Bates meet Dexter only not very good.