5. Mandy (2018)
Panos Cosmatos follows up his Cronenberg-inflected 2010 sci-fi thriller Beyond the Black Rainbow with Mandy, a deeply personal film entwined in the most hallucinatory, messed up, heavy-metal-meets-80s-movie-mashup packaging imaginable. And when we say 80s movies, we’re talking Blue Velvet, Evil Dead 2, and Hellraiser here.
Set in 1983 somewhere in the Pacific Northwest near the Shadow Mountains, Red Miller (an absolutely insane Nic Cage) and his fantasy-obsessed artist girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough, brilliant) eke out a peaceful existence. But their idyll is short lived in this ultra-violent fantasy of revenge and bloodlust.
Conventional definitions of good and bad go by the wayside, but it feels like Cosmatos has made exactly the kind of uncompromising, obsessive, stoner prayer to the church of psycho cinema he’s always dreamed of.
Cage is gloriously off the chain, inhabiting a blood-speckled world of alien sunsets, King Crimson forests, Christ-dreading demon bikers, drug-crazed freaks, psychedelic insects, and Cheddar Goblins. Bolstered by a haunting Jóhann Jóhannsson score, stunning visuals (including some astounding animated dream sequences), Mandy is an extreme genre journey that beautifully weds grindhouse and arthouse in startling and stunning ways.
4. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Eve (Tilda Swinton) is one part of an incurably cool vampire couple whose husband, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is having self-harming thoughts in Jim Jarmusch’s (Mystery Train , Dead Man ) chic shocker, Only Lovers Left Alive.
Tough-as-nails and fiercely romantic, this vampire film is full of leitmotifs involving fear, exhilaration, alienation, isolation, creativity, art, music, literature, life, and death. It’s not full-on in your face horror but it does have classic Gothic sensibilities, jets of blood, moments of mortal fear, piercingly sad genuflections, and painfully poignant ruminations on unending love.
More visual than it is verbal, this elegiac and eerie film displays, amongst other things, the wraithlike dissolution of Detroit, the unearthly otherness of Tangier and many amusing and macabre tableaus of the undead, their uncanny mores and their outlandish dwellings. Only Lovers Left Alive is a visual spree detailing the haunting harmony of ageless sweethearts in perpetual midnight and it’s marvellous.
3. The Love Witch (2016)
Los Angeles-based filmmaker Anna Biller (Viva ) gives audiences a delightfully macabre exercise in sassy seduction and strange, vintage sensations with The Love Witch, a visually lush film that feels like it was made in another era, except that it’s adorned with bracingly modernistic designs.
A stunning to look at and thrilling to think about throwback to the Technicolor melodramas of the swinging 60s and the sexploitation cinema that supervened, The Love Witch stars a smashing Samantha Robinson as Elaine, the eponymous witch.
Beautiful but bloodthirsty, Elaine is determined to find the man of her dreams and will cast spells and brew strange potions to manipulate the men around her until she finds her ideal muse.
Biller’s inspired and kaleidoscopic set design, sumptuous costumes, and deliberately superannuated aesthetic is a crafty coup de cinema, combined with an excellently effective soundtrack and kitschy ornamentation that makes The Love Witch a ravishing and ineffable entertainment and magic made manifest.
2. A Field in England (2013)
Blurring the lines between dream and reality is a right-hand aspiration for Ben Wheatley (Kill List ), and his fourth feature, the incomparable A Field in England, exemplifies this to the nth degree. Here I have to happily concede, this is my favorite film so far in the Wheatley canon, but it’s almost never the first film of his I recommend.
It’s an acquired taste that truly only the most adventurous and somewhat crackpot cineastes would cherish. I don’t mean that to sound elitist, there are many brash, broad strokes and artful flourishes that any film fan could admire here, but there are also just as many rabbit holes and Gordian knots to navigate, too.
A Field in England is a black comedy masquerading as an arthouse horror film set in mid-17th century England. It sobs and squirms like the bastard child of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995) and Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), but even those comparisons don’t do the film much justice.
Jump outdoes herself with a literate and completely corrupt screenplay that follows Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith in a brilliant performance) as he absconds from a demonic alchemist named O’Neill (Michael Smiley, excellent) amidst a bloody English Civil War battle. Cursed and accompanied by a trio of deserters this ill-starred crew, high on psilocybin mushrooms, are soon at the mercy of O’Neill.
Cinematographer Laurie Rose shoots a monochrome world of creepy close-ups and other odd and ominous tricks as the trippy pastoral mise en scène mutates into a Grand Guignol chamber of horrors. It’s an inspired, utterly loopy, psychotropic Möbius strip that embraces moral ambiguity, resists tidy resolutions, and is more lively and enjoyable than it perhaps ought to be. It’s also the perfect midnight movie if you’re brave enough to visit it.
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
“Yeah, but Big Al says dogs can’t look up!”
If trying to get his act together and be a decent boyfriend to his unfairly ignored girlfriend wasn’t enough of a task for stagnant electronics salesman Shaun (Simon Pegg), there’s also a looming zombie uprising that could just signal the end of days to contend with.
The delightfully pastiche-heavy horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead marked director Edgar Wright and star Pegg’s (they both also co-wrote the knee-slappin’ screenplay) triumphant reteaming –– along with Jessica Stevens (who has a great cameo in the film), previously collaborated on the hilarious Channel 4 series Spaced for two glorious seasons –– as well as being the first film in Pegg and Wright’s Three Colours Cornetto trilogy (2007’s Hot Fuzz and 2013’s The World’s End, being the other two).
Combining savvy, scatological, and wry English humor, with George Romero-style horror, Shaun of the Dead has our hapless hero and his freeloading best mate, Ed (Nick Frost) team up amongst a plague of zombies in London, hatching a plan to rescue Shaun’s estranged girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), and maybe do a little prioritizing and growing up in the process. Or at least get a few pints in. All told, it’s a classic cult comedy, and one worth revisiting again and again, got it?
“Okay, but dogs CAN look up!”
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.