5 Offbeat Horror Movie Classics You Can Enjoy After Halloween
You hear it over and over and over: modern horror movies are too violent. The more squeamish in our society accuse filmmakers of emphasizing mutilation and titillation at the expense of character and story. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of the old ultra-violence now and again, but the crowds who can’t seem to get enough of the same old same AHH! sadden me a little. The horror genre can do so much more than Saw 29 or Paranormal Activity 36. Such films as Nosferatu(both the F.W. Murnau original and the Werner Herzog remake) and the original Night of the Living Dead spring to mind, not to mention the work of such directors as John Carpenter and David Cronenberg.
Of course, the established classics can get a bit old too after a few thousand viewings. So, if October left you hoping never to watch The Shining or Halloween ever again, here’s a brief list of lesser-known, high-quality horror films that you can enjoy.
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Hollywood has never been a stranger to milking a hit for all that it’s worth. This 30’s B-movie has only the most tenuous connection to the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic; it features only one member of the previous film’s cast (Edward Van Sloan, who returns as Professor Van Helsing) and was purportedly based off the Bram Stoker story “Dracula’s Guest” but actually bears no resemblance to it whatsoever.
Dracula’s Daughter opens with the titular character, Countess MaryaZaleska (Gloria Holden), burning the corpse of her father not long after his death. She hopes that this act will cure her vampirism. No such luck, of course, but she persists in her efforts to kill off her bloodthirsty desires by reaching out to renowned psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger).
Rip-off though it may be, Dracula’s Daughter manages to be a decent film in its own right. Director Lambert Hillyer and his crew imbue the film with an eerie sensuousness and melancholy. Indeed, in these regards, it may equal the Lugosi film. This film is also noteworthy for inspiring Anne Rice while she wrote Interview with the Vampire.
The Seventh Victim (1943)
True horror movie buffs know and revere the work that Val Lewton produced at RKO in the 1940’s. His 1941 classic Cat People, with its psychosexual underpinnings and emphasis on generating scares through suggestion and misdirection,proved a watershed moment not just in the history of the horror genre but, as Martin Scorsese has argued, in the history of American film. Other films such as the sequel Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and The Body Snatcher (which features what may be Boris Karloff’s best performance) are equally venerated.
The Seventh Victim is one of the more obscure titles in the Lewton canon but quite possibly the most haunting. Young Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter) travels to New York City to investigate the disappearance of her sister Jacqueline (Jean Brooks). Her search causes her to run afoul of a secret society of devil worshippers. As with Dracula’s Daughter only more so, an air of dread, loneliness and ennui pervades this movie. It may not always make sense, but its occasional lapses of logic only add to its hypnotic, dreamlike power.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Georges Franju’sLes yeux sans visages (Eyes Without a Face) was originally released in the U.S. in an edited and dubbed version with the wonderfully schlocky title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. European audiences greeted the film with near-absolute revulsion.An odd and tragic fate for the second narrative film by this respected documentarian and co-founder of the CinemathequeFrancaise. Time has proven very kind to this film, however: when a new print was released back in 2003, J Hoberman of the Village Voice praised it as “a masterpiece of poetic horror and tactful, tactile brutality.”
Eyes Without a Face tells the story of thecold, arrogant plastic surgeon Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his obsessive efforts to restore the beauty of his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) after he injures her face in a car accident. With the help of his assistant Louise (AlidaValli), he abducts young women and tries to transplant the skin from their faces onto Christiane’s. Between surgeries, Christiane wanders forlornly about Genessier’s estate, wearing a white mask to conceal her deformity.
This brief synopsis may remind foreign film buffs of Pedro Almodovar’sThe Skin I Live In. That’s no coincidence: Almodovar stated in a 2011 Cineuropa interview that Eyes was “the only clear reference” for his film. Also, John Carpenter has suggested that Christiane’s mask could have served as part of the inspiration for Michael Myers’s mask in Halloween. Eyes itself boasts an impressive pedigree: in addition to havingFranju in the director’s seat, it was shot by EugenSchufftan, who also worked on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Robert Rossen’sThe Hustler, and scored by Maurice Jarre, who went on to compose the music for David Lean’s Laurence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.
This film was something of an anomaly for its director, Masaki Kobayashi. Considered the greatest anti-authoritarian in Japanese film history, Kobayashi specialized in a very different kind of horror story. His nine-hour trilogy The Human Condition unflinchingly depicted the brutalities of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria during WWII. His 1962 masterpiece Harakiriskewered the callousness and hypocrisy of the code of Bushido.
With Kwaidan, Kobayashi and his collaborators crafted a beautiful and unsettling film based on four ghost stories by authorLafcadio Hearn. The most expensive Japanese production of its time, it features astonishingly huge sets (temples, snowy forests, etc.) and gorgeous cinematography. Kobayashi also generates enormous tension through his inventive use of sound; while he lets some sequences play in near-total silence, he inserts jarringly artificial sounds in others and puts them just slightly out of sync with the image. This helps give the movie’s four tales a detached, otherworldly feel. At a languid 161 minutes, Kwaidanrequires a considerable time investment, but it definitely rewards the effort that the viewer puts into it.
Near Dark (1987)
With this last film, we return to our favorite children of the night, the vampires. Young farmboy Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) meets pretty, waifish Mae (Jenny Wright) one summer night. After hanging out for a few hours, Caleb manages to wrangle a kiss out of this mysterious girl. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when she bites him on the neck. The next thing he knows, the sunlight starts to literally burn his skin. Things quickly go from bad to worse when Mae’s vampire “family” abducts Caleb and takes him along on a bloodsucking spree through the American southwest.
Near Dark rises above its grindhouse-worthy storyline thanks to its outstanding craftsmanship. It boasts strong performances (particularly by Lance Henriksen as the clan’s paterfamilias and by Bill Paxton as its most flamboyant member), stunning nighttime cinematography by Adam Greenberg and a droningly creepy score by Tangerine Dream. Be warned: it’s easily the goriest film on this list. Nonetheless, this stylish, moody film packs more emotional resonance than you’d ever expect from a vampire-western hybrid. One more thing: Near Dark marked the solo directorial debut of Kathryn Bigelow, who would go on to helm the 2008 film The Hurt Locker and become the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director.
Marie Sumner enjoys writing about topics concerning art (especially film), fashion and culture. She recently started writing for the costume website costumesupercenter.com.
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