5. Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)
Santa Sangre, translated “Holy Blood,” is a masterpiece by director Alejandro Jodorowsky. The surreal auteur, who cemented his visionary status with the cult hits Holy Mountain and El Topo, packs this film with as much bizarre symbolism and memorable story arcs, crafting one of the most intriguing horror films ever.
The story, which flips between flashbacks and the present, follows a troubled man named Felix who has been traumatized by the murder of his mother a circus performer, at a young age.
After escaping from an insane asylum, Felix explores the city, becoming involved in many surreal situations, until he finds his mother who quickly takes over his life.
There are many other subplots that play into the overall structure of the story, and these violent, bizarre occurrences make the film one of the most interesting and unpredictable horror films ever. Santa Sangre’s twisted plot and visuals, combined with a jiving mambo soundtrack, sum up to be a must watch for the fans of the weird.
4. In the Mouth of Madness (John Carpenter, 1995)
Another maven of Hollywood horror, John Carpenter, took on this unusually complex project, filled with psychological twists that leave the viewer wondering what in the film is real.
Sam Neill, in his second appearance on this list, plays John Trent, an investigator who is hired by a publishing company to look into the disappearance of the popular horror writer Sutter Cane. To make the case more complex, Trent discovers that Cane’s novels have been known to drive their reader’s into a state of paranoia and sometimes worse.
Trent, joined by an agent from the publishing company, venture off to a remote town that they are led to by hints from Cane’s novels. In the town, the two immediately begin experiencing bizarre incidents and the situation only gets more threatening as their stay persists.
This underrated metafictional horror film, is one of Carpenter’s most ambitious films, venturing into more daring territory than most of his typical films. Led by Neil’s terrific performance, In the Mouth of Madness is a must see mind-bending horror movie.
3. Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
Roman Polanski’s second film, and first in the English language, stars Catherine Deneuve as Carol, a bored manicurist in London who lives with her sister.
Carol is seemingly disinterested in everything, and has a great impatience for men, including her sister’s boyfriend and her many suitors. When her sister goes on vacation, Carol becomes even more isolated than before, hallucinating and losing her grip on reality. Polanski shows Carol’s descent into insanity with dark, surreal imagery, eventually leading to her acting violently towards men.
This chilling tale of psychological torment and sexuality is one of Polanski’s most effective works, frightening as well as commenting on women’s limited role in society. Deneuve is also one of the strong points of the film, delivering one of the best performances of her career as the emotionally devoid beauty.
Repulsion is the first of three horror films by Polanski that take place in small apartment buildings, the other two being Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. While the other two are good in their own ways, Repulsion stands above in its ability to instill psychological horror and uncertainty in the viewer.
2. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
David Lynch’s iconic debut that spurred one of the most interesting careers in film history is a landmark in underground horror films. Reviled by many critics upon its debut, Eraserhead’s reputation has increased greatly over the decades as Lynch began earning his spot as one of the most original voices in film.
The film’s plot follows Jack Nance as Henry Spencer, a man living in an industrial wasteland. He discovers that his girlfriend has become pregnant with a child, but that the child resembles more of a monster than a human.
Torn between many external voices, Henry Spencer becomes a deeply conflicted individual,, receiving veiled advice from entities like a woman in his radiator and a mysterious man who pulls strings in Henry’s reality. There are many aspects of the film that have led it to become one of the most unique films of its time. Its often disturbing visuals, as well as the distorted soundscape of an accompaniment, combine to make one of the most convincing wasteland settings ever shown in film.
Some might debate the classification of Eraserhead as a horror film because it is not scary in a conventional sense, but the grim and disturbing events that pervade Henry Spencer’s existence are certainly terrifying. Any fan of film who wishes to explore beyond the conventional into the experimental should start with Eraserhead.
1. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
The same year that Eraserhead came out, a very different surreal horror film was debuted in Italy. Dario Argento, the king of Italian horror and the Giallo movement, was already internationally renowned due to his slasher masterpiece Deep Red but changed the game with this next horror film.
Unlike anything that had come before it, Suspiria was a surreal, high tension thriller, filled with as much gore as psychological horror. The plot follows a young American girl, Suzy, who moves to Germany to study at a renowned dance school. After a series of disturbing and violent events, Suzy discovers that the school is run by a coven witches who have been killing students and staff to protect themselves and survive.
Although the plot is considerably more interesting than a lot of Argento’s previous works, the true greatness, like all of his films, lies in the stylization of the events. The surreal nature of the movie, similarly is due to the dreamlike atmosphere that surrounds the film. The juxtaposition of the beautiful dancers and movements with the cackling witches and vibrant violent attacks creates a unnerving environment for the viewer.
On top of this, Argento adds in his stunning, colorful shots as well as an unexpectedly effective soundtrack by the band Goblin. Even for those who are not fans of Giallo horror, Suspiria is in a category of its own, as one of the most dynamic and creative horror films ever made.
Author Bio: Matthew Benbenek is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has a passion for film, music and literature and, when not watching movies, is an amateur director and violin player.