10. Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Barker’s bid for sensual body horror is second perhaps only to David Cronenberg, and Hellraiser was, for many, their introduction to who Stephen King famously dubbed “the future face of horror.”
Introducing his S&M-attired Cenobites –– extradimensional beings summoned via sex magick and with a predilection for pleasure through pain –– led by Pinhead (Doug Bradley in an iconic performance), this would be the first of several Hellraiser films and it’s arguably the best of the lot (though a promised and long-gestating reboot holds promise).
Hellraiser also succeeds as satire of Marquis de Sade’s explicit inclination as well as being a great example of 1980s horror done right, “We have so much to show you” indeed.
9. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Writer/director John Landis’ werewolf classic has withstood the passing decades because of its genius balance of horror, dark comedy, dramatics, and eroticism (a sexy/naughty nurse stereotype, hello!?). You can’t help but root for forlorn backpacker David Kessler (David Naughton), but then again, after an unfortunate encounter over the moonlit moors of Scotland, he keeps transforming into a terrifying werewolf and tearing people to shreds.
Aside from bending genre rules along to a perfect CCR soundtrack, AAWIL addresses the confounding question: why does everything turn tits up just when a hot British nurse takes you in? That’s probably the real curse, amirite?
8. Nina Forever (2015)
Written and directed by brothers Ben and Chris Blaine, Nina Forever is an oft romantic, always amusing, occasionally erotic, and outright macabre debut that showcases pronounced visual savvy and a breakout performance from Abigail Hardingham.
Holly (Hardingham) is a young paramedic student who early on is wrongly labelled “a bit vanilla” from a wannabe Lothario. Such ideas of unembellished basic-ness are soon kicked to the curb when Holly falls for bad boy Rob (Cian Barry) –– who proves to be a thoughtful lover were it not for his ex-love, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). Nina died in a grisly road accident but her blood-splattered body has no problem cockblocking Rob and Holly’s passionate lovemaking at every turn.
Lurid subject matter makes nice with horror genre tropes, coming-of-age sexual awakenings and more in this surprising, delightful, and seductive slab of fright cinema. Recommended.
7. Videodrome (1983)
Described by Andy Warhol as “A Clockwork Orange of the ‘80s”, this sci-fi-horror hybrid from Canadian iconoclast David Cronenberg presents a prophetic vision of a dystopian future where television, media piracy, pay-per-view violence, rampant perversion and torture porn rule the ratings.
Max Renn (James Woods) is the owner of a trashy TV station who’s forever searching for risqué programming to broadcast. Soon Max discovers the torture/snuff show known as “Videodrome” and he must acquire it for his network. Along the way Max meets radio personality/sadomasochistic psychiatrist and femme fatale Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) and events intensify as an erotic dream logic kicks in.
Part aphrodisiac and part body horror nightmare, Videodrome is a sensual and scary tour de force and vintage Cronenberg. Not to be missed.
6. Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
The highpoint in Jesús “Jess” Franco’s prolific career –– there’s something like 200 films to his name –– Vampyros Lesbos details the desirable and libidinous Countess Nadine Carody (Soledad Miranda). When the pretty young lass, Linda Westinghouse (Swedish starlet Ewa Strömberg) is sent to settle the Countess’ estate on a remote island, well, things get steamy.
The film’s extensive love scenes avoid tedium due to the lovely lensing from Manuel Merino, the sumptuous giallo-like production design, and the thrumming psychedelic score from Siegfried Schwab, Manfred Hübler and Franco himself. The surreal imagery, lovely lead actresses, sexual pathology and constant titillation combined with the reworking of the well-established Dracula mythos make this movie something of a vintage exploitation standard.
5. Trouble Every Day (2001)
Few filmmakers can connect sexual craving and appetite with that for human flesh as brazenly and slyly as Claire Denis does with this sparkling gem of the New French Extremity with her transgressive 2001 masterpiece, Trouble Every Day. As controversial as it’s genuinely and artfully atmospheric Denis delights in devouring recognizable horror movie motifs with a formative hunger.
Two disparate storylines slowly intertwine in Trouble Every Day, one involving Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey), American newlyweds honeymooning in La Ville -Lumière, the other involving Léo, a doctor (Alex Descas) and his ravishing wife, Coré (Béatrice Dalle).
Coré, it seems, has a vampiric bloodlust and a raging libido that makes her sexual hunger and that for human flesh completely indivisible. Is a similar fate befalling Shane? How are these four lost souls’ paths enmeshed? The answers will astonish the viewer in what Film Comment’s Max Nelson describes as “the kind of public self-exorcism a director can only get away with once in a career.”
4. The Hunger (1983)
This erotic horror film from Tony Scott can be easily summed up by it’s unbelievably beautiful and dreamy cast, a Holy Trinity of hotness in the form of a bawdy David Bowie, a nubile Catherine Deneuve, and a sultry Susan Sarandon. I need a cold shower just thinking of their nubile bodies contorting to the strands of Bauhaus’ dreamily seductive “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”.
3. Twentynine Palms (2003)
The uncompromising French director Bruno Dumont (Humanité, L’il Quinquin) takes a ferocious zigzag into horror and eroticism with the gripping road movie Twentynine Palms. David (David Wissak), a photographer, and his girlfriend Katia (Yekaterina Golubeva) head for the heat of Joshua Tree National Park for a photo spread for a magazine.
The couple spend a lot of time either fighting or fucking and before long danger and peril will befall them. What begins as a Zabriskie Point-like mise-en-scène soon morphs into something closer to The Hills Have Eyes, albeit with a minimalist arthouse approach.
Be warned that Dumont’s nihilistic and deeply upsetting ending will rattle sensitive viewers and shock even the most unflappable of fright fans.
“Perhaps the end of the film is too definitive and authoritarian, too violent even, by comparison with the first three quarters of the film,” says Dumont, “…but I knew I wanted to end up with total carnage.” You’ve been warned.
2. Don’t Look Now (1973)
After their daughter’s tragic death by drowning, grieving parents John and Laura (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) retreat to Venice in hopes of healing and finding peace in Nicolas Roeg’s stunning arthouse horror Don’t Look Now.
Using a fragmented visual style involving abrupt cuts, unanticipated segues, ambiguous, often cryptic associations (the color red has never been so unsettling), Roeg creates a feeling of perpetual dread and impending doom.
This suffocating atmosphere is met with an unforgettable romantic interlude––the soul reason this film is placed so high on this list––wherein John and Laura make love in one of the most brazenly erotic scenes in all of cinema.
Controversial back in 1973, the love scene is still shocking and miraculous when viewed today, over 40 years later. Prolonged and explicit, the passion of the damaged couple is unmistakable, and their pre and post-coital embrace of one another shows a passion and an affinity that feels genuine.
Don’t Look Now is a troubling, stunning, and sensual masterpiece you’ll never forget.
1. Cat People (1982)
As sensual objet d’art entwined like exhausted lovers to dark, glowing fantasy set in the balmy haze of the Big Easy, New Orleans, one can’t do any better than Paul Schrader’s feline overindulgence from 1982, Cat People.
Starring a tempting and carnal Nastassja Kinski as Irena Gallier, keeper of a deep family secret, she’s recently reconnected with her estranged a-hole of a brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell). This family secret? Turns out the Gallier’s are shapeshifters who transform into leopards when they’re sexually aroused.
Schrader takes a much different, arguably much gutsier, and definitely much more explicit tack than Jacques Tourneur chose with his 1942 version––also a masterpiece––and here, via furtive glances, glaring innuendo, glistening bondage, and overdone undress, Cat People is a jolting, fleshly masterstroke.
Shocking violence such as Paul’s ferocious assault on Lynn Lowry’s sex worker are tempered by Irena’s icy, burning gaze and dreamlike scenes of irresistible seduction. Saturated in sex, this erotically charged love story, seething with slaughter and lunatic libido is a genre standard that will make your purr with pleasure
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.