For your viewing pleasure in horror, here are my favorite horror films (Arranged by date)
Posle smerti aka After Death (Yevgeni Bauer, 1915) Yevgeni Bauer is closes to Chekhov of all the silent Russian filmmaker, for his stories are about characters with little dilemmas, they are sincere creation on the screen, take the character of Andrei Bagrov in After Death, an idealist who is in seclusion after the death of his Mother, rejecting the life of society, he live in solitude, away from attachment, until he meet a girl that dazzle him with her big black eyes, but even then, he goes back to his room, back to his solitude, when the girl stalk him into he temptation of romance, he refuse, her sudden death of suicide become a guilt of conscience that he takes upon himself as he becomes obsessed at recalling her imagery. After Death is a film about the obsessions with the image, of memory, recalling that short acquaintance with her, regretting decision he had made, and living with regret is unbearable to him, it drive him to death. I can’t recall an earlier silent film than After Death with its obsessions with memory, neurotics, sub-conscience, dreams, the supernatural and imagery, it has to be among the first. Bauer was the most artistic of the early Russian silent filmmaker, simple, but masterful use of style, with long takes and camera movements, and little dependency on inter-titles. I don’t if Manoel de Oliveira has ever scene this film, for it shows a clear influence on his film, The Strange Case of Angelica, for both characters are in love with a dead woman, or the image of a dead woman. Magical.
Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade, 1916)
Satana likuyushchiy aka Satan Triumphant (Yakov Protazanov, 1917) Before there was Ingmar Bergman and his masterpiece, Winter Light, the inability of conquering temptation in time of spiritual crisis, there was Protazanov’s Satan Triumphant, the story of a preacher, Talnoks, he is on strict religious meditation, reject the basic pleasure of life, even when he listen to music, he despise the temptation of listening to sound and seeing the beauty of nature, the pleasure of eating, reject the pleasure of love, preach to others to be like brothers and sisters rather than wives and husbands, his dry emotion make him ruthless toward others when they seem to be enjoying life, he reject everything, believe that love is in God, but welcome his rage, he closes his window to the sunset, but welcome the storm and thunderous as anger of God, he deem the world as full of sin, shouting, “Look! It seems that God himself is going to visit our world, we are lost in sin”, his wishes comes true, but it is not God, but Satan that turns his world upside down. What a charming Satan, witty and always with a smile, lurking into tempting poor Father and his congregation into temptations, he is perfect at everything he does, rather masterfully and all powerfully, he play piano like no others, driving everyone into temptation of believing the sincerity of its emotion, he uses the convincing argument of Nature’s creation of beauty and God’s creation of ugliness, tempting the Father into taking the wife of a Hunchback for the sake of the argument of beauty should not belong to beast, “Should that beautiful woman, her neck, her eyes, really belong to a Hunchback? Is this what nature has wanted?”, rarely one could find such sensuality in a silent film as is in Satan Triumphant, Protazanov made the film in the same year as his adaptation of Tolstoy’s Father Sergius, one’s man fight of temptations, one against the world, in Satan Triumphant, it is one man’s fight to spread the temptation, to give in, to have, to own, to love, the right to have everything for oneself, the first part of the film end with the downfall and death of Talnoks, the second part began with the rise of his son as pianist, Sandro, but Satan does not leave him alone neither, when he is not present, it is his music and painting, sound and vision that drive him into temptations and vices, can her mother save him? She beg him to find himself again, “You have ruined yourself, your talent, your future”, he answers, “But that is life”, she try harder, “That is a distorted picture of life”, he goes into rage, “All joy is based on evil” Can she save him? Watch it to know it. Despite the fact that most of the ending of the first part and second is lost forever, Satan Triumphant is a timeless epic of early Russian silent cinema.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919)
The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström, 1921) It could be argued how much of an influence The Phantom Carriage must have had on Bergman while making The Seventh Seal, one thing is clear, this film and the cinema of Victor Sjöström had a definite influence on Bergman’s cinema, take the opening scenes of Cries and Whispers, it is right out of the opening sequence of The Phantom Carriage. The story of guilt and redemption, told in the style of Dickens’s Christmas Carol, in a style that make use of special effect to its perfection, with an ending that is right out of a D.W. Griffith film, all combined, makes a classic of silent cinema to watch.
Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
Faust (F.W. Murnau, 1926)
Le chute de la maison Usher (Jean Epstein, 1928)
Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931)
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1932) I was in the mood to watch Dr. Mabuse again tonight. Much have been said that Lang’s Dr. Mabuse was about the Nazi Germany, as true as that statement is, the film is also about Lang’s experiment with sound cinema, for what is Dr. Mabuse but a sound? We never see him, we only hear him, and when our curiosity is finally fulfilled, we see the face of the sound behind the curtain, what do we see? We see a megaphone, a little machine, and we feel tricked at first, but then realize how well crafted trick it was by Lang, he uses the new technology of sound to trick us into using our ears in creating images, rather than just our eyes being the observing machine of images. Sound equally create images in our mind in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, at the hands of Lang, cinema make a masterful transition from silent into sound.
Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932) Karl Freund was the eyes and the cinematographer on F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh, the only film in the history of cinema that is one 100% pure visuals. After leaving Germany for the States, on his first directional debts he made The Mummy. Universal Studio, taking advantages of the popularity of Frankenstein, they combined him with Boris Karloff to make the film. Watching it today, it is outdated, you get more of laugh than horror, and the film is shot like a stage play, lacking any visual that made the cinematography of Freund so rich. There are some good moments involving Karloff, the first times when he comes alive and his zombie like walking and talking. Worth Watching.
The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932) Boris Karloff seems to duplicate his character of Frankenstein a year after the popular success of the film, in this marvelous horror/comedy film which represent the pre-code Hollywood and a good example of Universal’s horror genre. It has a brilliant script with a humorous dialogue and a horror plot that was way ahead of its time, and let us not forget a marvelous cast and a great cinematography. It openly criticizes the fundamentalism of religions by representing a crazy family in a house that put to shame even the Adams Family. There are characters that are insane, Karloff is nothing compared to their locked brother, Saul, who appears toward at the end of the film, what an appearance, he steals the show. The films is hilarious, it could be a radio play, one could listen to it and enjoy it. Eva Moore play Rebecca Femm, a religious and half deaf sister of the family who preaches destruction and nihilist notions all the time to a new group of guests trying to get shelter from a storm and end up in a nightmarish house. Among Whale’s best.
Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932) You got love the old horror films; with a plastic model for a tree and set or two filled with the fake rocks, you are convinced to be on the island of Dr. Moreau in Island of Lost Souls. Based on H.G Well’s famed novel, Charles Laughton is marvelous as Dr. Moreau and Bela Lugosi as the leader of the Apemen as they shout to each other “What is the law?” There have been many film version of Well’s novel, but this one stand out above all for it is raw and still has the power to provoke you. One of the great early classic of horror cinema, forget all the bad set designs.
Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)
The Most Dangerous Game (Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1932)
The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1934)
The Scoundrel (Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, 1935) Forget Tony Montana and come see Noell Coward play Tony Mallare in Ben Hecht’s The Scoundrel then you see that Tony Montana is not that bad after all compared to Tony Mallare. This Tony is more cold blooded, he himself know that, for he love nothing but himself and he destroy everything that he touches,a Players who play with Women as if they were another pastime he could afford, that is until he meets his ends in a freaky incident, that is when the film comes to live, we are taken into the world of the supernatural and horror and what a surprise and twist in the plot, the film soon becomes the tale of redemption. An early masterpiece that is now forgotten, but you should remember it. Watch The Scoundrel for it is different from any other American film of the 30s.
The Bride Of Frankenstein (James Whale , 1935) “The Brrrrrrride of Frrrrrrrankestein” is a comedy/horror viewed in 1935, but 75 years later, it is just a comedy for there is no horror in it for a modern audience. An enjoyable watch with a dark comic undertone that one find in all of Whales’ films. The best of James Whales and Boris Karloff is not Frankenstein nor The Bride of Frankenstein but The Old Dark House, made in 1932 in which Whales mixes dark humor with psychotic characters to create one of the most memorable film of the Universal era.
Mad Love (Karl Freund, 1935)
The Devil Doll (Tod Browning, 1936)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Victor Fleming, 1941) Spencer Tracy is brilliant as he play the dual rule of the same man and he struggle in the battle of Good vs Evil.
Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)
The Ghost Ship (Mark Robson, 1943)
I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
The Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
La main du diable aka The Hand of the Devil (Maurice Tourneur, 1943) While his son was in American making horror films with Val Lewton, the father was making his own horror films in France. The Hand of the Devil may not be as stylistic and thrilling as Cat People and I Walked with the Zombies, but there are a few similarity, both films deals with supernatural power and has an element of folk tale to them. Take the story of The Hand of the Devil, it is the remake of the old tale of a man selling his soul the devil in order to get fame and fortunes but soon regret his mistake, for he is doomed forever. Enjoyed watching the film, stylistically and acting could had been better, but the French industry in 1943 was not on top of its game. The film is dark in theme and could be compared to Le Corebau.
Le Corbeau (H.G. Clouzot, 1943)
The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson, 1943)
Curse Of The Cat People (Rober Wise, 1944)
Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, 1945)
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1947) Before watching it again, I always had a profound memory of remembering that lyrical score of Bernard Hermann for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, for I watched the film for the first time seven years ago, and now looking back to it again, I could not help but consider the genius of Mankiewicz as being the soul ruler of the film, truly, a forgotten great director, as Godard once said about him, “Joseph Mankiewicz, one of the most brilliant of American directors. I have no hesitation in placing him on the same level of importance as that held by Alberto Moravia of European literature”, he was right, true master filmmaker.
Secret Beyond The Door (Fritz Lang, 1948) The Room is the mind, the Door represent the unconscious, and the Secret is that unconscious element that is suppressed in the mind of our protagonist, Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave); a childhood incident of being locked in a room alone that has stayed in his unconscious, drive him to commit murder. The most Freudian of all Lang’s film, Secret Beyond The Door is a trip into the unconsciousness of a mind that is incapable of a continues love toward a woman, with the fear of losing one’s independent, erotic and danger walk side by side. It is no wonder that Mark is a room collector, indeed, he collect rooms that once a murder were committed in, with all its furniture and props of the murder, the furniture and the room itself become characters to be feared in the film, all the fear in the film is inside the house, outside seem to be peaceful, it is the home that death is awaiting, it is Lang’s twist on the noir genre. Masterful use of Voice-over and Stanley Cortez’s chiaroscuro cinematography highlight the film.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951) “Klaatu barada nikto”, that is all you have to say to save earth from humanity destroying it, and it takes an alien to save it. Bernard Herman’s electronic music is half the film, a noir/horror film of a scifi, unlike the crispy clean science-fiction films that we are familiar with, you got realism here with its location shooting and stylish cinematography. The fear of the atomic age is ever present. Masterpiece.
The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks, 1951)
Invaders from Mars (William Cameron Menzies, 1953) “Did the ground swallow him?”, so goes the saying when something goes missing, and in the opening scenes of Invaders from Mars, the word is taking literary; as a young boy sees an alien ship land in his backyard, he inform his father, only for the father to vanish in the backyard of a sand pit, and follows with him two police officers, as the invaders from Mars open up the ground, and swallow anything they desire, only to spit them up back into the surface, with a new mind, that of an invader, and it is for the little kid to save the world by informing others of the invaders, only for the Cops to the Generals, all become Martians, and like the little kids imagination, the film shoots off in all directions, even the army is called in to get their own generals, now a Martian, and from our hero, the little kid, to a cop on duty, everyone is fluid in the science of astronomy, radiation, and laser technology. Worth Watching.
Gojira aka Godzilla (Ishirô Honda, 1954) I have to say I loved this film. The father of all the Godzilla/disaster films that followed, Ishirô Honda’s film is a timeless classic that has a moral to teach us, that weapon of mass destruction and especially Nuclear bomb is not the answer, it is no wonder that Godzilla is the creation of the Atomic age, it only know to destroy. A collaborator to Kurosawa, Honda’s film is almost a re-telling of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s atomic explosion and its aftermath. I was thrilled, laughed, got scared, in a word I went through every emotional stage that one should go thorough when one sees a great film. It is a pity that due to its story line and the cheap special effect, the film had not gained any critical following, for it is a masterpiece and need more recognition.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954) There is a deadly silence of pure suspense while watching Creature from the Black Lagoon, what is unpredictable about the silence is what follows, one predict the creature, or a horror scene to follow, but Arnold hold into it, at times, as nothing happens, and that only make the viewer to be more on the edge of suspense. As for the Monster, it takes only a glimpse of his hand to create the illusion of fear, why show the whole create from the beginning, when you could let the imagination of the audience take over the task, and when it appear, Gill-man take over the film, as for our the leading lady, all she is there for is to shout whenever she see him, and ironically, she is always the first to see him, some eye popping underwater shots highlight the film.
Them! (Gordon Douglas, 1954) Them! came out the same year as Ishirô Honda’s Godzilla, two film from two different country yet both about the aftermath of the Atomic bomb, instead of a giant Godzilla, in Them! we have a giant ant that is set to destroy mankind. More than half a century has passed since these two films, yet still they are the resume of every disaster/end of the world film that is coming out even today. A marvelous B film and an entertaining watch.
The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) The first time I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I admired the film, now, watching it again, it felt flat, rather outdated in style and form, but the story, Jack Finney’s classic science fiction is a perfect reflection of the American society in the 50s, and that might been have one reason I regarded the film to such a high degree.
It Conquered the World (Roger Corman, 1956) With its low budget sets, black and white cinematography that resemble documentaries, and a Venusian monster that cripple planet earth, It Conquered the World could have been an episode of the Twilight Zone, it mashes the genre of science fiction and horror into its limit, with Dr. Tom Anderson (Van Cleef), the mad scientist, in his little room with his little radio transmitter bringing his friend, a Venusian monster on a man made satellite into the planet Earth. What follows is their attempt not only to control the planet, but also the mind of its inhabitants. Wonderful bad film.
Night Of The Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) It has been ages since I have been this scared, my return to a film that had hunted me since I saw it the first time, it was a great experience, here is a horror film that is both philosophical and a thriller at the same time. It is a subconscious film about death, the unknown, no wonder the hero is a psychiatric played by a Dana Andrews which bring the aspect of the noir to the film. Power of cinema has never been more powerful in moving the mind and creating illusions that only your imagination seems to register it, half of what is on the screen is created by us, we are the co-director of the film, it is masterfully directed, beautiful cinematography and a great score that scare the mind out of the brain. It is a film about the subconscious, the world that is hidden in our mind, perhaps that is the reason why some of the images had stayed with and I kept going back to it. There is a deeper meaning to this film, Death, it is about death and the world of the unknown and that is why it is a scary film, it is no doubt, the scariest film I had even seen, and a favorite of mine, viewing it a second time, there is no doubt about it, it is a masterpiece, “but where does the imagination end and the reality begins!”, here is a film that is between those two world, cinema at its best.
The Fly (Kurt Neumann, 1958) One thing is for sure in The Fly, the sound design is perfect, even the silent work to irritate, and the sound of buzzing of the fly make the film a perfect for imaging a horror that target the subconscious. It is strange, but as a child; I always had this notion of desegregation and then reintegration of atomic particles, which make any object change shape, size and even transfer in space and time, it was always a childhood fantasy, and watching The Fly, brought it all back into my consciences. Everything goes fine with our young scientist until he start experimenting with the profound elements of nature, to fulfill his curiosity in the name of progress and scientific achievement, and he has a price to pay. The Fly walk a fine line between science fiction and horror. A Masterpiece.
The Mummy (Terence Fisher, 1959) They say that museums are gathering places for nation and culture’s collective heritage, but antiques shop are gathering places for the mass’s junk, but I have to say that the many antique shops that I have been too, I have found many items that are worth of museums, but also much junks in museums. What are the museums but a looting of other people’s treasures? Call The Mummy an item from an antique shop, looking at it, with its imaginary recreation of Pharaohs and Mummies, it is an exotic watch, but the story, and the execution of it, is pure junk, you always got to have a scene of shooting a living dead mummy with a pistol, and keep repeating it. Worth Watching.
La tete contre les murs (Georges Franju, 1959) Georges Franju’s film this time was a little disappointment, this is no Eyes without Face. There were some good moment in the film, some masterful scenes, but beyond that, the film was plot driven, could Franju had done a better job? Yes. The story seems somewhat unbelievable also, how could one imprison a sane man into an asylum? There seem to be no evil character in the film, even the father and the doctor seems nice at times, and the poor guy seems to be a victim of circumstances, his only fight is to escape, only to be captured. Then there are character changes that is also questionable, the script is the poorest part of the film and it shows.
Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1959)
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1960) If The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was about the art of hearing, then 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is a film on the art of seeing, rather, on the art of observing, for what is the film made off? A serious of incidents that happens to characters, all seeing by us, the viewer, but also, by the characters themselves. Each character spy on the other, they are being observed by technical means (spy camera) by Dr. Mabuse, we, as the viewer, are the all observing eyes, we observe all, even Dr. Mabuse. What you get, is observation in three different layers; normal natural observation, mechanical one, and one that is manipulative, for in the end, we as the viewer, also get manipulated by no other than the filmmaker and the camera that we trust to be our eyes, that is the masterful tricks of Lang; he manages to manipulate the viewer in multiple layers. 1000 Eyes of Lang is at work, at times lending some of them to the viewer in the process of observing. Among Lang’s forgotten works, but a masterful one.
The Fall of the House of Usher (Roger Corman, 1960) Vincent Price is priceless in the role of Roderick, with his whispering soft voice, he tiptoe across the screen, in Corman’s House of Usher, a faithful adaptation of Poe’s timeless short story of a tormented soul obsessed with death, the supernatural and the metaphysical aspect of every little details of life that exist in the world of Roderick, like the story, the film slowly creep its way into the viewer’s mind, with its care of utmost detail of set and costume design, the dialogues are delivered to utmost simplicity in modifying Poe’s words. The house, the brother and the sister, all live and die at the same time, they share a common theme, they rise, tremble and fall together. Masterpiece.
The Pit and the Pendulum (Roger Corman, 1961) The stranger walk into a mansion, inquire about a missing girl, only to run into the hostile Vincent Price. Similar in structure and style to House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum is Roger Corman’s second in Corman-Poe films, indeed many theme from Usher leak into the film; the obsession of the past, the sister’s never ending influence, the house, the painting, etc. The film’s final scenes is the only ones faithful to Poe’s short story, the rest is taking from many of Poe’s stories, mashed together into the film. Worth Watching.
The Premature Burial (Roger Corman, 1962) Roger Corman’s Poe Cycle continues with his adaptation of The Premature Burial, fear of burial alive, or characters being buried alive is a common theme in Poe’s work, none is perhaps is as well know as in The Fall of the House of Usher, Corman also uses the theme in both his two previous adaptation of Poe. Instead of Price, in The Premature Burial, Ray Milland take over the film as Guy Gareel, and he is brilliant in the role, as man who is obsessed with death and the notion of being buried alive. Ironically, all three films has similar narrative structure, especially the opening scenes; a stranger arrive in a mansion, a butler open the door, he/she is refused at first the desired meeting, the man of the house is either busy painting abstract, showing the portrait or the coffins of his ancestors, or talking about death, only for the viewer to end up in the middle of mysterious events occurring, and we follow the adventure in metaphysical scale of an abnormal mind. Worth Watching.
Tales of Terror (Roger Corman, 1962) Roger Corman’s fourth film in the Poe Cycle is a collection of short stories from the master, from what I could pin point; Morella, Black Cat and Case of M. Valdemar are the three most present in the film. Three big shots lead the way; Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. One reason that Corman managed to produce and direct so many film is such a span of a short time is his unique ability to re-cycle sets, costumes, actors and even the themes of the stories in many of the films, a reason that one should watch the Poe/Corman Cycle films in one take. In Morella, we jump into the second part of the story, when the daughter return and the mother take her revenge on her, blaming her for her own as she give birth to her. The Black Cat is more of a comedy than horror, poor adaptation, with Peter Lorre torturing Price in his basement (out of Poe’s other story; The Cask of Amontillad), as for the the poor, helpless black cat, he comes and go amide Lorre’s hallucination. And, finally, there is The Case of M. Valdemar, get ready to be hypnotized by Basil Rathbone. Worth Watching.
Confessions of an Opium Eater (Albert Zugsmith, 1962) Here is a kind of film that one does not comes upon everyday, a B film that is a mix of Film Noir/Horror/Surrealisim/and Art film. The best part of the film is in the middle, with a weak opening, the film pick up when Vincent Price meet the little Chinese midgets, she lightens the film, then comes perhaps one of the best effect of drugs imagery ever to have been captured on the screen, Price takes opium and in a nightmarish dream, the films become a piece of art of Surrealistic imagery, a marvelous sequence that put to shame today’s over the top effects of drugs addictions on films, brilliantly executed, for that sequence alone, this film will be remembered for along time. As always, Price gives a wonderful performance as the lead character trying to solve a mystery of Women sold into slavery, for a B film, this was a brilliant experience.
Planeta Bur aka The Planet of Storms (Pavel Klushantsev, 1962) My friend, this is the film, the essential viewing of any space film of the 60s, for not only did Stanley Kubrick borrowed heavily from Klushantsev for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the likes of Lucas even borrowed some of the characters for Star Wars, the Robot characters with is brilliant mathematical analysis, yet humors mistakes that almost cost the human their mission to Venus. The landscape of Venus is pure fantasy creation, with oceans, dinosaurs, and savages, a sustainable life that support both plants and animal life, and both are hostile to the humans, there are also signs of human, or rather, an advanced living extra terrestrial life on Venus, it comes in the form of a sound, a siren sound of a woman, like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey, the last three minute of the film tells it all; An earthquake shift a sea of water toward the lunching pad of the ship, time is running out to leave Venus back to the mother ship orbiting the planet, but just them, our young, dreamer astronaut, Alyosha, find what is to become the proof of Human life on Venus, in a rock, carved out beautifully is the face of a woman, shouting with joy, he runs to the ship to tell his comrade about his discovery, “Illya Scherba”, he tries to persuade them to stay, “Wait! We Can’t leave. They resemble us” They drag him into the ship, “Wait! Where are you dragging me?”, the door is closed, the ship take off, and a second later, in the water, we see the reflection of a woman, we only see her reflection. What a great ending to a great film.
Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1962)
The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963) The name of the hunted house is “Hill House”, it might as well have been “Hell House”, for it is hell on earth for a group of paranormal investigators who set out to search for the unknown and the supernatural, what they should have known; is that one should not miss with the unknown, or else, pay the price. Wise’s use of the camera is a distorted to a disturbing effect, as are the many horror scene in the film. There are touches from Hitchcock here and there, the journey of the young woman to the house, her voice-over, and what follows next is right out of Psycho. The house is itself might as will be called the main character in the film, it is even shot like a character, giving full presentation of its many layers, even its spaces seem to move, with Wise making the best use of movement of the camera and within the frame, notice when watching it; how the use of the anamorphic lenses make the space seem to bubble, almost pop up into a different shape and forms, whenever the camera move, zoom, or changes focuses, it created an illusion as if the space is swallowing the characters. Masterpiece.
Ladybug Ladybug (Frank Perry, 1963) What a brilliant little noble film Ladybug Ladybug is, an absolute masterpiece of amateurish filmmaking, what seem to be a shattered film that is symbolic, amateurish, simple, lyrical, and small, turns little by little into a masterpiece of showing rather than telling. The essence of the film is the collective fear of individuals that is part of the American culture with its politically media frenzy campaigns of manipulating the public, what is so brilliant about Ladybug Ladybug is that we see the fear from the POV of children that are more aware of a world full of madness run by the adults, the fear of an all out nuclear attack slowly show the true characters and morality of the collective madness of a society that few left to think independently on their own, only the children seem to understand the madness, for the adults, they don’t question, they only fear. Timeless.
The Damned (Joseph Losey, 1963) The Damned ends with little children shouting “Help, Help, Please Help us”, underground in a small island as the camera pan and reveilles the normal daily life going on in a small town facing it, it is a perfect Brechitian cry directed at us the viewer, a revolutionary cry that asks the questions of the sad state of human affair in the age of Atomic bomb. Like its ending, the film opens up with burned out body laying around on top of an island, they look real until the camera reveal them and we notice they are statues. Like a puzzle, the film slowly reveal itself to us, it begin as a romantic film, turns into a thriller, then horror, and ends as a political film. There are a Marxist theme to it, beside condemning the state as brain washing the public (represented by the children), the film suggest that the only true rebellion is to escape and fight back, even thought nothing seems to come out of it at the end, everything goes back to its original state. The film was made in 1961 but due perhaps to political considerations, was not released in Britain until 1963, even by today’s standard, it is a provocative film. My first encounter with Losey, and I look forward more from him.
Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Robert Aldrich, 1964) Bette Davis is not Baby Jane, but Sweet Charlotte, her youth is lost to a peculiar circumstance of a murder, from Sweet Charlotte to Grumpy mean Charlotte, she spend her time in a mansion of memory, in a Gothic atmosphere, as the furniture and the closed spaces about to swallow the characters, add Aldrich’s dramatic use of camera, the dark theme of a lost past taking its revenge of the present, and you got in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, a thriller that could only be called a sequel to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, only, Joan Crawford is missing, but Olivia de Havilland makes sure, she get her revenge in psychological torture on Davis, on both film, it is the past that dominate the present, everyone act indifferent to the suffering of tortured woman locked indoor, only the servant seem to have a clue, but even she, cannot escape the wrath . You got some legendary actors form Hollywood’s second Gold Age roaming the screen alongside Bette Davis. You gotta feel sorry for Sweet Charlotte, as she leave her mansion with only the memory of a music box in her hands, but even that, is too much for her, she leave it all behind. Masterful.
Seance on a Wet Afternoon (Bryan Forbes, 1964) Richard Attenborough playing another role of a criminal, living in a secluded house with his wife, he is not as cold blooded as in 10 Rillington Place, this time, the mastermind of a plan in kidnapping is his wife, he is more of a coward of a character, who only knows how to follow, as is he is under her magical spell of medium that she uses to play the double role. The contrast between heavy use of sets, indoor shooting amide furniture and decorated spaces with almost documentary use of outdoor shooting, slow pace, at times the suspense drag on into eternity, everything surrounding the two become a tool of suspense knocking their nerve, but for the wife, it seem like all is fun and game, but the poor husband, he is living in a nightmare that he is incapable of waking up, add that to his wife’s inner psychic illusions that she could talk to her dead child through medium, and nothing is left for Attenborough’s nerve to be shattered into the delusional reality, there is always the power of seances to take them into the two world of the opposites. Must See.
Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966) Seconds opens like a Hitchockian film, turns into a horror, then into a Science fiction then into a 60s hippie film and ends as god knows what. Frankenheimer is trying to achieve a metaphorical meaning in the film. A change of personality, plastic surgery and new reborn man was nothing new in cinema when Frankenheimer made this film, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another is a great masterpiece that uses the same plot, but its the direction that separate the two film. More than half of the film is statistic tight close-up with wide-angle lens and the other half is shaky hand-held camera, and the rest is master shots, it is hypnotizing.
The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)
Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman, 1967)
Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
Toby Dammit (Federico Fellini, 1968) Based on a short story by Poe, Fellini captures the existential spirit of Poe in Toby Dammit, a short masterpiece of anger, anguish, loneliest and a meditation on death, directed by the master himself, with his fantasy world of weird characters, colorful costumes, strange innocents and as always funny sequences. Terence Stamp is brilliant as the alcoholic English actor who is on the edge of suicide. There is a dark side of Fellini in this film, a rage that one rarely sees in his films, the best sequence in the film is the last 15 minutes of it, in which Stamp super speed his Ferrari in the dark and narrow streets of Rome, masterfully shot and edited. Fellini’s film are funny and satirical no matter what the situation is, take the ending of Toby Dammit in which he is about to drive over the broken bridge, and in his last few minutes of life, we hear two voice from homeless people complaining about the noise, yes, even if there is the existential question is put on the screen, Fellini takes us away for a few second to show us the other side of the argument, cooling us down for a few second. If Poe had directed his short, “Never Bet the Devil Your Head“, I’m sure he would gotten close to Fellini’s Toby Dammit, a forgotten short masterpiece.
The Andromeda Strain (Robert Wise, 1971) At times, it feel like being in a science class, watching The Andromeda Strain, it has to explain everything as if in a lecture room, but its is better to let the mind of the viewer explore the possibility of the impossibility of the unknown rather than be given as an immunity of an idiot, lengthy and insignificant info like how to lit a self-destruct mechanism of an atomic bomb. More of an horror film than a science-fiction, claustrophobic of a closed space, with characters trapped into a world of the unknown, the world outside is closed to them, with Wise’s suspenseful stretching of time by its slow pace editing and almost experimental juxtaposition of images, making it almost the most expensive experimental films ever to have been made, germ warfare, as relevant today as it was made, with the ever advance in science and technology, the possibility of a strain in the film is predictable . There is that cheesy ending, as the clock ticks; with only 8 second to spare to save mankind from total destruction. Worth Watching.
The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) Favorite film of the Pope and Catholic Church (just kidding), The Devil is the story of Urbain Grandier, a 17th-century Roman Catholic priest burned for his treacheries, at the hand of Ken Russell becomes the story of sexually repressed group of nuns and satisfied Grandier, banned in many countries at the time of its release for its controversial takes on the Church, religion and you name it, watching The Devils nowadays is nothing short of watching a perverts take on religion, power, lust, and sexually repressed nuns, Russell must have had something against the nuns to be so harsh on them, and Vanessa Redgrave role as a deformed of a neurotic Sister is as absurd of a sadists as one can get, Oliver Reed’s over the top acting is nothing short of a lesson in the art of shouting taken for that of acting, the people of the city are burning him at the stake, they laugh at him, mock him, as he is sizzling in the fire, yet, he is shouting to them “Don’t look at me, look at your City! If your city is destroyed, your freedom is destroyed also. If you want to be a free man, fight them or become their slaves”, and what is the answer of the people? They are drinking their wine, laughing and mocking him ever more louder.
La planète sauvage (Rene Laloux, 1973)
Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
Obsession (Brian DePalma, 1976) If you want to watch a masterpiece, then watch Hitchcock’s Vertigo, then if you want to watch a remake of Vertigo with a thrilling twist, then watch DePalma’s Obsession, a remake so similar than at times you seem to be watching Vertigo complete with Bernard Herman’s score. What makes Vertigo much better film than Obsession is not just mere mastery of Hitchcock’s genius as filmmaker, but Vertigo is made up of two half world, combined into one, the first half we see a realistic world and on the second we seem the creation of that reality through a neurotic mind, as in Obsession, the film start from beginning with the character living in that world which a creation of a neurotic mind in search of lost times in the realistic world. In Obsession, DePalma shows his obsession with the world of Hitchcock, with multiple homage to the master.
Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) In many classical film, that special time of reaching the age of adulthood from a teenagers is shown rather poetically, full of sentimentality, but the opposite is true, it is a period in one’s life that is full of turmoil, in which the world that is opening in front of one is a vast space full of chaos, hostile, full of strangers, De Palma’s Carrie is that world, it is rather the horror of living in that world, what make it more of a horror film, is the time spent in the High School, it is everyone’s worst time growing up, I’m yet, and I say, yet to meet someone or talk to someone who has a profound memory the time spent at High School, the opposite is true of Elementary School, in Carrie; the educational system is to blame or the tyranny of the parents, but it is only a reflection of one’s age, from childhood through teenage years to adulthood, to some, it is a horror of a transition, many become a victim of it, leaving a scar deep into their adulthood. What make the film such a cult following is its style; there are some masterful depth-of-field shot, that combine that background and the foreground into an eery composition of predicting the unexpected to happen, or the slow motion build up to the prom that make the dream to become a slow nightmare, stretched into eternity, effective in creating a guilty pleasure within the audience, that get punished, with the nightmare that follows. Sissy Spacek, as always, gives a silence of a brilliant performance.
Audrey Rose (Robert Wise, 1977) There are film that even before the credit rolls, it start with a scene, that grasp the audience, sinking them with it into the depth. Audrey Rose got that opening scene, and like any horror film, it should have a gripping scene to make the viewer waiting, hoping to predict the unpredictable. Only, everyone remember there was once a film before it, with the same practicable plot in horror; the The Exorcist, but, instead of being possessed, this time it is re-carnation, and instead of a priest, you have a scholar, a father who has lost his child, only to find it again in a different body. As masterful of a director Wise is, he does not bring the best out of Susan Swift in the role of the young girl, she sleepy walk the role with sudden explosion in overacting, yet, the films flows into a supernatural pf a philosophical diminution of spirituality that very few films of its genre even gets close to it. The rain is used masterfully, both as sound and visually not only to create a mood, but a dreary atmosphere throughout the film. The hypnotizing scene with Norman Lloyd is simply masterful, every beat of emotion is calculated to utmost perfection in the editing, equal and similar to the ending of Wise’ I Wan to Live. Audrey Rose is a film from a man who once worked with Val Lewton in making some of the best psychological horror films about the unknowns, a forgotten underrated Masterpiece
Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
The Shout (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1978) Call The Shout as Skolimowski’s experiment with horror, or the mashing of Peckinpah’s Straw Dog and Roeg’s Walkabout. Set in a remote village in England, the story of a stranger in an insane asylum claiming to have lived among the aborigines of Australia for 18 years and therefore managed to conquer the ability in the shout of death. Told in flashback, the film test the audience’s ability to distinguish between what is and what is not. A unique horror film, in which the mind of what to come is the where horror take place.
Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma, 1980)
White Dog (Samuel Fuller, 1981)
Slyozy kapali aka Tears Were Falling (Georgi Daneliya, 1982) From what I have seen so far from Georgi Daneliya, I have to say, Tears Were Falling is his not only his best film, but a masterpiece of Soviet cinema, all thanks not only to the minimalist direction from Daneliya, but also the powerful performance from Evgeni Leonov at his peak, he is a madman lost in the territory of sarcasm and madness, indeed, that is what a film Tears Were Falling is, it walks a fine balance, on the edge between a satire and tragedy, rarely does it tip into one side or another, it is a film about anger, madness, about sadness that comes deep from the heart of a man who is lost in a modern world, in which selfish individualism, uncaring for others and one’s inability to change oneself and that of others become a dilemma, with the only way out is that of anger, or rejecting everything that come one’s way, even if that is love and compassion. The reason given for such action comes from the intro of the film: “Once upon a time, an evil Troll had made a mirror, where everything good disappeared and everything bad and ugly reflected and seemed even bigger. Troll’s apprentices carried this mirror far and wide and made lots of bad things. Later they decided to go in heaven but the mirror fell down and broke into pieces. Millions of its pieces flew away. If one of these fragments got into man’s eye, the man began to see only bad things and his life was to become very hard”, well my friend, one of those glass pieces gets into the eyes of Vasin Pavel Ivanovich (Evgeni Leonov), and what follows is a day and a night of anger, sadness, rejections and pure madness in his soul. Masterpiece.
The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
Chuchelo aka The Scarecrow (Rolan Bykov, 1983) Rolan Bykov’s The Scarecrow is one of the most honest, yet, devastating examination of the cruel psyche in children. Children can be as cruel, if not more, psychologically and psychically as adults are, François Truffaut’s Small Change comes to mind. In The Scarecrow, what start out as innocent children film, soon turn into a nightmarish one, when the realization of a failed hope, of one’s innocent sacrifice goes not only unanswered, but ridiculed, the film become a heartbreaking examination in guilt, forgiveness and redemption. Lena is a young charming little girl, she comes from Moscow to live with her Grandfather in a small town in which everyone knows everyone’s else’s secret, especially the children, on her first day of school, she is ridiculed for being the Granddaughter of of a rich but greedy man who only collect painting yet incapable of buying himself a decent coat, she is considered by all as ugly, she is named “Scarecrow”, and she take all the insult humbly, always with a smile. When she take the blame of betrayal of guilt of another person as nobel gesture for the boy she is in love with, she is boycotted by all the children in the school, they torment her mentally and psychically, she take all pain without telling the others of her innocent, and the boy, well, he betray her, that is where her heart break, from a child, she become an adult living with agony in the cruelty with other, the only way out of her, is to leave all the pain behind, she shaves her head, goes to them for the final time, face to face, she is triumphal but broken in hear, she leave the school with her Grandfather, the take the boat, leave all their belonging to the town, the rest of the Children realize their guilt, now, they live in the agony of betraying, of being cruel, of breaking the spirit of the most noblest of them all, little Lena, this time, the collective ideology fails, and the individual triumph. Masterpiece.
Idi i smotri aka Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985) Once a friend asked me to name a film to watch that shows the German atrocities committed during WWII against civilians? I suggested Elem Klimov’s masterpiece, Come and See, after watching it, I got this respond; “It was a very disturbing film”. Well my my friend, war is disturbing, it is the ultimate evil that makes men into a killing machine with no independent will of their own to make judgment, Come and See is a disturbing film, and it has the right to be, for it shows the evil of Nazism, what men are capable to do in time of wars, when hate is the only will power they have. If you ever watch this masterful film, which you might have to watch it multiple time in order to observe the complex mastery behind it, watch for Aleksey Kravchenko’s performance, see how an innocent young boy, full of laughter and life at the beginning of the film become an old man, face wrinkled, with eyes full of sadness, with gray hair, now he has one thing in life to look for, to revenge the death of all that he has lost, above all, to revenge the lose of his innocents. Come and See is a disturbing film for it is realism at its peak and nothing more, when it was shown, ambulances had to be parked outside the theater to take away those with weak hearts, because it is unlike any other wars films, for we see the war through the eyes of a young boy, we are like him, we become the victims, there are no hero nor heroic deeds, no battle to be fought and won, there are only victims, atrocities committed by the Germans, seeing such cruelty can drive any being into the edge of madness, let alone a little boy who is about to discover life, and what a tragic way to experience the world. It is the irony of evil that is at display in Come and See; Before taking them to be slaughtered, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Goebbels wrote some instructions to be read on loudspeakers to the Russian peasants, one of them was the following: “Germany is civilized country. Everyone who goes to Germany, must have a toothbrush, toothpaste, shoe-polish, soap, a towel for every member of a family.” In time of war, the first victims is always the innocents. It is a film that comes from experience, for Elem Klimov was himself a child and had to live the siege of Stalingrad with his mothers and younger brothers and sisters. This was the last film of Klimov, he would not make another film. Masterpiece.
Gandahar (René Laloux, 1988) In a fantasy world there is no logic, in Laloux’s world everything is possible. In Gandahar, he has created a world of dream, beauty and horror, a political film that is both metaphysical and metaphorical at the same time, surreal imagery floats in front of your eyes at every frame of this film, your eyes wonders at the images that must had takes forever to create and you wonder and ask “What imagination could have created such scenery?” I finally managed to the watch the real French version of the film and not the English version that was ruined by Harvey Weinstein and the Miramax Films. There are a nostalgic and poetic elements to Laloux film that comes across the screen, he creates a world of beauty and perfection, a world of individuals threatened by the dark forces of destruction, a force of the mass that look alike and have one ideology in common. True achievement of the imagination, Gandahar is an Utopian world of perfectionism on the surface, underneath its as dark as Metamorphis (who is the creation of Gandahar’s experiment gone wrong), we meet a group of characters that are called “The Deformed,” a group of mutants who Sylvain (the hero) at first mistakes them for the enemy but are deformed due to scientific experiment by the previous powers in Gandahar, soon we realize they are the only ones who could stand and fight back against Metamorphis. Like other films from Laloux, science, time and the world of the unknown play a big part in the film’s plot and our experiment with it. With this, now I have seen all of Laloux’s film and loved them all, they are hunting.
The Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)
Benny’s Video (Michael Haneke, 1992) You could look at Benny’s Video in two ways: As a film masterfully crated with a twist at the end that is right out of a noir or critically philosophize about its inner meaning, the influence of media on society, dysfunctional family, violence, etc…either way, Benny’s Video is among the best of early Haneke, he is raw and fresh, less stylish and complex as he would later become.
Safe (Todd Haynes, 1995) If anybody ever asked you why you ever watched Safe? tell them because of Julianne Moore, she gives one of her best performance as a rich bourgeoisie wife living in big mansion in LA whom soon find herself sick and allergic to everything, the reason she think is due to chemicals in everyday environment. More than a film, Safe is a mediation on loneliness and a philosophical insight into the inability to communicate and behave in a society that one live in as an outsider. Watch it more than one time and then you will get it, one for the ages. “Who are you?”, the film ask.
I Stand Alone (Gasper Noe, 1998)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010) Winner of Palm dO’r, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is in my opinion the best film of last year and Apichatpong Weerasethakul once more proved that he is among the few film directors working today that is capable of creating a new films that is fresh and new.
Faust (Alexander Sokurov, 2011) There are many film adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, the best that I had seen had always been F.W Murnau’s Faust, for it is a fantasy adaptation with no desire to be realistic or true to the book. Sokurov’s Faust is equal in power to that of Murnau, it is a film that only a philosopher of a poet could make it, as complex in nature as Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Sokurov create a world that on the surface seems like a realistic portrayal of the world of Faust, but underneath, it is a metaphor for Faust’s inner dilemmas, so what you end up seeing on the screen, is a world of two, always in conflict with each other, that of the reality and that of the poetic, the outer illusion of what you see, and the inner conflict within it, the battle instead of good and evil become that of the inner and the outer realization of a metaphorical world within Faust, it is a majestic and hypnotizing watch.
Post Tenebras Lux aka Light after Darkness (Carlos Reygadas, 2012) In Spring of 2008, I first watched Reygadas’ Silent Light, I had to watch it three more times in the span of a week, and for a month, I could not stop talking about the films and recommending it to other friends, I had already seen both of earlier work of Reygadas; Japon and Battle in Heaven, and I thought little of them, but after seeing Silent Light, I eagerly waited for his next film, and it is five years later, gain, watching a new Reygadas film, Post Tenebras Lux, and like Silent Light, it has the power to shock you, to leave you for days reflecting upon the imagery, for it is hypnotic in it power. From the first image, of a Little girl, her first words are given to images and color that she sees, sound only she can hear, textures only she can feel, the film search for a style, for a narrative, from the world of childhood that consist of feeling through our senses, to the world of the adults, that consist of feeling and emotions, that become the story of Light after Darkness; light of childhood, and darkness of adulthood, both are elements of existence within nature, and it is nature that conquers both. There is a Father who seem to live in paradise, with a a happy family, only, just as he is gentle with his children, he is equally cruel to other being in nature, a Mother, who only care for her children, but something dark live within her, we never know what it is. Then there is something, someone,, it is always looking in, it live within the lens, distorting the reality, at times it appear, red with a tail, it is the mythical creature; devil, ready to corrupt the happy childhood that is full of mystery. The unpredictability of the film, the experimental use of narrative, the rapid shift and jumps between sequences, make it feel like watching a dream, a fantasy, or a mere recollections of memories, it shift back and forth; quotes from Tolstoy, from Pierre in War and Peace, is mentioned by bourgeoisie, drinking champagne and smoking cigars discussing Dostoevsky and Chekhov, then, next cut; to a nightmarish of an orgy in France, in which the couple are looking for a “Duchamp” room, but they mistakenly get into “Hegel” room, there is a dark element of humor in the film. Everything is in depth of field, the action is center staged, distorted, but always controlled, innovative use of framing and lens, it is a film that distort reality into a nightmarish dream of fantasy.