As much as the focus is really on dramas and how they can affect us, it is often a thriller that can grab the attention of an audience member and thrust them into a narrative, perhaps more than any other genre.
Thrillers can be wonderful… they can also be soul-crushingly awful, so with the hopes of saving you the pain of having to wade through quite so many thrillers looking for the gems, as it were, here are ten personal favourite thrillers you can dig your teeth into, with… less fear than usual regarding the quality of them.
1. Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (Lucio Fulci, 1971)
Why not start of with the craziest film of them all, Lucio Fulci’s utterly insane Lizard In A Woman’s Skin? A film focused on a woman troubled by intense sexual nightmares that soon become all too real, Lucio Fulci’s scarcely discussed masterpiece is painfully slept on, especially for a films visually enchanting and expressive as this is – there’s really very little like it, not just in thrillers, but anywhere, and still it failed to really find a solid audience when released in 1971.
In fact, the same can be applied to the majority of Fulci’s work – thankfully, more people are discovering the likes of The Beyond and City of the Living Dead as they are being carefully restored time and time again, and the infamous Zombie Flesh Eaters (also known as Zombi 2) has picked up a little traction, maybe partially in debt to a mention in Tarkovsky’s diary, of all places.
Anyway, with its consistent use of zooms, and dream sequences that seem to genuinely have no limitations in extremity, Fulci’s crowning work really is stunning. It’s a bold piece, taking pieces of giallo and implementing them into Fulci’s style and then adding a (rather large) pinch of surrealism into the mix and somehow pulling this all off at the same time.
This is one for any fan of Italian horror (as is the fourth choice on this same list, we have you covered!), and for anyone who fits with the aforementioned, be sure to seek out as much Fulci as possible in general, he’s almost always worthwhile!
2. Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988)
A film gradually picking up more and more steam, thanks to a recent Blu-Ray release from Arrow Video, Steve De Jarnatt’s nuclear romantic thriller (yes, really!) Miracle Mile is too fascinating to be left out. Managing to juggle a multitude of genres this seamlessly deserves praise in and of itself, but it says a lot more that the plot surrounding and the presentation of such a complicated plot is so seamless, too.
There is something additionally thrilling to seeing this kind of intense juggling act, with the film feeling much like a magic trick wherein if one minuscule part of it were to fail, the rest would topple, and yet it never does! It’s remarkable, and beyond that, it’s such an exciting film. With great performances from Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham (among others), a phenomenal Tangerine Dream score (no surprise there, really!), the film focuses in on Harry, a man elated after finally meeting the girl of his dreams… only for the threat of a nuclear holocaust to disrupt their first date.
From there on, the thrills don’t stop, with a steady escalation that would make Scorsese’s masterpiece, After Hours, jealous and an ending so good it’s impossible to describe. A must watch for most anyone, as it is a film quite easily accessible… just one that, unfortunately, hasn’t quite gotten to the point of receiving as much credit as it deserves from film fans around the world – at least it is an established classic in Los Angeles.
3. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
Certainly the most subdued on this list, Lucrecia Martel’s second masterwork comes in the form of a restricted, uncomfortable thriller about a woman who is involves in a car accident, and slowly becomes convinced that she may have in fact killed somebody in the process.
It’s a slow moving film, the kind that creeps under your skin without you even noticing it, the kind that lingers long after the credits roll, the eerie discomfort lasting quite some time… so in other words, it’s a film with real patience. Very little is said outright (this is typical of Martel, she’s a quiet director, but a truly powerful one), and so, the silence becomes overwhelming, everlasting.
The discomfort grows with every second, and though it may not feel formally anything like a thriller, it certainly has some staying power in the way that it manages to take complete control over an audience. It is simply astounding. It’s a little difficult to go into much depth here without ruining parts of it, so it will have to do to simply state that this is one of the strongest films of the 21st century so far, and it must be seen!
4. Rabid Dogs (Mario Bava, 1974)
Another film from an Italian horror master, Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs is one truly grizzly film. Detailing the tremendous aftermaths of a robbery gone horribly wrong when the groups’ driver is shot and killed, leading the pressured robbers to climb into a car at random and hold the driver hostage, only for this driver to be in the midst of saving his child’s young life.
With a creeping anxiety in the background from start to finish, one of the best scores of all time, and a plot so wonderfully simple it can’t be ignored, Rabid Dogs is a film that intends to overwhelm an unassuming audience, and it sure does a good job of it. By setting things up so simply, but also so quickly, the breakneck pacing keeps the audience on their toes, and as soon as the hostage situation ensues, the tension has them gripped wholeheartedly.
It is one of Bava’s finest works, and considering that he is the mastermind behind such films as the classic Black Sunday (1960) and The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), that’s really quite a compliment. It’s a must see, again, for any fans of Italian Cinema (as was said earlier). It’s a shame there wasn’t the space for any Argento on here, though his work fits more into horror than thriller anyway, but he is also an incredible Italian director – one that some, if not all of you will certainly know by name.
5. Spies (Fritz Lang, 1928)
The one and only silent film present on this list, Fritz Lang’s enduring masterpiece Spies is one of the most thrilling of all silent films, if not THE single most thrilling, sat above all others. Few films are so exhilarating, which is especially shocking seeing as this film is now over ninety years old, and yet, seems to have lost none of its magic in such an ageing process.
Thankfully, due to countless restoration projects done to preserve the film, it can still be seen in luscious black and white, with a creeping story that builds atmosphere so efficiently, and mood so brilliantly, and holds both for the entire runtime. It is exciting, moody directing of a genuinely thrilling and immersive story, a story told so well and so carefully that it has this inherent flow to it that most films don’t.
It’s a good introduction to silent cinema, for anyone looking for an entry point and struggling, but this is one that even a silent film veteran should see if they haven’t. Fritz in general had such a varied career – there is sure to be a film of his for just about everyone!