It’s October now, and that’s when people like myself watch more horror movies than normal (and I normally watch a lot). Everybody has his or her favorites, and most people know about the major players — your Halloweens, your Dawn of the Deads, your The Shinings. I’ve watched a ton of weird, obscure, or just plain awesome horror movies, and I’ve got five such oddities here to recommend to you for this All Hallows Eve season.
5) City of the Living Dead
Horror great Lucio Fulci made several zombie movies in the late 70s and early 80s, and probably his best known are Zombie and The Beyond, both of which are absolutely great. One that gets sort of overlooked is his 1980 outing, City of the Living Dead, very clearly named to invoke a connection to Romero. City is actually the first in a very loosely connected trilogy of films, followed by the aforementioned The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery.
Two reasons City is so awesome: First, it has one of the best premises in zombie horror, with a priest losing his faith and hanging himself in the churchyard, opening one of the fabled seven gates of hell. It’s such a neat idea and it allows for occult and pseudo-religious imagery along with the usual zombie shuffling around. The second reason is that it is incredibly, if not excessively, gory. Fulci was famous for his very graphic, lengthy gore scenes, and some of those here are among his best. You saw in the trailer the scene where a zombie squeezes the brain out of the back of somebody’s head, as well as a guy getting a power drill through his skull. (SPOILER: It’s not even a zombie who does that to him) While the movie goes super weird and ethereal the longer it goes on, it’s still one of the strongest films in Fulci’s blood-soaked canon.
4) The Devil Rides Out
I adore Hammer Films’ output in the 50s and 60s. They were a movie-making machine for a time, putting out several films a year. Though low-budget, they all had a definite style and feel that, for some reason, though the things depicted within are horrifying, put me at ease. What? I’m a weirdo. I’m aware of that.
While it’s tempting to recommend any of the Dracula or Frankenstein films for which Hammer is best known, I’ve decided to show you The Devil Rides Out, made in 1968. It’s a much more interesting film than I had initially expected. The film initially caused some controversy given its overt occult themes and depiction of the Devil. It also features Satan worshipers performing pagan rituals and sacrifices and nightmarish imagery.
Christopher Lee, known for playing villain after villain for Hammer, gets to play the hero in a role similar to Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing from the Dracula films. Charles Gray, known for playing stodgy types or Blofeld in that one crappy James Bond movie, is similarly excellent as the cult leader Mocata, clearly relishing, with sinister glee, drawing young women to the dark side. The screenplay was written by Richard Matheson of I Am Legend fame and directed by Hammer Films’ A-Number 1, Terence Fisher. An interesting and enjoyable romp into the weird.
Now, I am no fan of the torture porn genre, but I am a fan of well-made films, regardless of the subject matter. This 2008 flick could easily have been called “The France Chainsaw Massacre.” It’s the story of a bunch of punk French kids on the run from the law who end up in a rural area and cross paths with a bloodthirsty cannibal family, led by a former Nazi officer. As you can probably tell from the trailer, the deaths are gruesome and unflinching, and what happens to these kids, especially the Final Girl, is incredibly horrendous, but ultimately, Frontier(s) is worth a watch because of the relentless sense of dread and terror the film has throughout. It also ends with a Peckinpah-inspired shootout, which seems to come out of nowhere but is right in keeping with the balls-out nature of the film. If you get squeamish at scenes of torture, this might not be your cup of tea, but if you can stomach it, you’re in for a real icky-feeling treat.
Before Dawn of the Dead, George A. Romero had not yet been saddled with the King of the Zombies moniker and was trying some new and different things. His 1976 post-modern vampire film, Martin is one of his best and weirdest.
Martin is a young man who claims to be a 90-some year old vampire. Whether he is or is not, he still goes out at night and kills women with razor blades and drinks their blood. He goes to live with his elderly cousin, a priest of some sort, who tries to reform Martin and expel the evil within him. It turns the vampire genre on its ear as Martin openly mocks the traditional lore of the cross and the garlic and even the fangs. The ambiguity of the circumstances is what makes the movie so intriguing, and the differing opinions about Martin’s nature alternately appear correct. There’s a great series of scenes where he calls into a local radio station to anonymously discuss his nightly escapades and it becomes the most popular segment on the show. The film is much more reflective and contemplative than the bulk of Romero’s films, though not short on the blood, and paints a very interesting portrait of a character who is either a remorseful undead creature or a very disturbed youngster. And the biggest bonus: he doesn’t shimmer.
1) Who Can Kill a Child?
I wrote a review of this movie about a year ago, but I’m going to recommend it again. This Spanish film from 1976 is the most startling and effective horror movies I’ve seen in a very long time. The idea behind it is just so ballsy, and the way they address the subject matter is fearless. It concerns an English couple on holiday in coastal Spain who decide to get away from the crowds and rent a boat to go to a small island in the middle of the sea. The island, though there is a town, seems totally deserted. But it isn’t, of course. Some evil force (it’s never explained) has turned all the children into murderers, and they revel in chasing and trying to brutally slay any passing adult. This puts the couple, parents themselves with another on the way, in a horrific position to either allow themselves to be killed by these seemingly adorable kids or to do the unthinkable.
The film, though slow to start, keeps up the terror once it begins and does make you fear children, culminating in one of the most apocalyptic endings in all of horror. It’s surprising how chilling this movie is and even more chilling that it’s not more widely hailed. I’ll say it again: If you like horror, watch Who Can Kill a Child?
And there you have it, fans of things: five movies to send a tingle up your collective spines this scarytime season. Enjoy!
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