5. High Tension (AKA Switchblade Romance)
Since its release, French horror, High Tension has felt the brunt of controversy, appearing on the likes of TIME magazine’s list of 10 Most Ridiculously Violent Films and reviewers such as Roger Ebert finding the plot simply ‘impossible’. Alejandro Aja’s extreme movie is deserving of such notions, be they merits or otherwise. In the eyes of the hardcore fans, High Tension is certainly the former.
High Tension (known alternatively as Switchblade Romance in the US) follows best friends Marie and Alex on a trip to the countryside. Their little getaway takes a turn for the worse when a homicidal delivery man decides to start a game of cat and mouse with the young women. What starts out as a basic enough slasher premise – albeit with increased levels of violence – turns into something much more psychological and interesting when Aja pulls the rug, and pulls it hard.
Whether it’s despite the unbelievable shock twist or because of it, High Tension has enjoyed itself quite a following following its release. A proud flag waver of the New French Extremity movement, the unflinching film is well deserving of a watch.
Rosemary’s Baby is the Roman Polanski horror film the director will likely be forever known for. It’s a beautiful, haunting film that stands the test of time. His very first English-speaking film, Repulsion is those things, too, but sadly often gets forgotten in the conversation of classic horror. Despite this, it has continued to enjoy a 50+ year lifespan among beloved Polanski and cult horror fans alike.
Repulsion is about a young girl, Carol who is left alone in her apartment for several days and begins to lose her mind. Her anxieties force everyday realities to become distorted as she falls further into insanity. It’s a fascinating study on schizophrenia, led by a fearless performance from Catherine Deneuve.
Upon release in 1965, Repulsion made a strong impression on critics and a moderate box office. It has lived in the shadow of Rosemary since 1968, but in its own right Repulsion is a confident, mature horror film from a master of craft that breeds an interesting following.
3. The Brood
The Brood is another case of a quality horror film being overshadowed by a director’s better-known work. David Cronenberg has focused his efforts on hard-hitting drama thrillers for the last twenty years or so, but to horror fans he’ll always be the body horror master.
The Fly, Scanners and Videodrome are but three of his most popular and influential horror titles. The Brood came out in 1979, just before Cronenberg became a household horror name, and this lesser-known flick is also one of his best.
Following an unorthodox experiment, a woman gives birth to genderless, mutant children. These creatures are an unpleasant experience on all the senses, and to top it off, they quickly develop murderous tendencies. The woman’s ex husband is determined to stop this brood’s homicidal rampage before it’s too late.
It’s admirable how effectively Cronenberg can scare on such a low budget. He commits to the disgusting, the graphic and the terrifying. The Brood is less about the plot than it is about a visceral experience to haunt your dreams. It should be essential viewing for true horror fans.
2. Zombi 2
The confusing production details of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 makes for a fascinating study – something that has only contributed to its cult status over the past four decades. It is adapted from a screenplay which served as a sequel to a film known as Zombi – an Italian version of George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Having bounced around between directors and the script being tinkered with, ultimately the finished product is one that could be viewed as a Zombi sequel, or indeed as standing alone in its own little universe.
In Zombi 2 a group of tourists get more than what they were promised on the brochure when they travel to an island and bump into a doctor who is reanimating the dead. Things quickly get out of hand for the vacationers and the doctor as they have to run for their lives from these disgusting undead creatures, hungry for human flesh.
This competently made shocker comes from a director known for his overly graphic, gorey films, and this one might just take the cake in those regards. Despite its average script and low production value, Fulci created iconic horror imagery in Zombi 2 – scenes that continue to haunt and inspire to this day. It’s no wonder it is still held dear by so many fans of the genre.
1. Dead Alive (AKA Braindead)
Before he became the Lord of the Rings guy, Peter Jackson was an indie splashtick horror God. His most beloved effort from those early horror years is the outrageous 1992 gorefest Dead Alive. Although it was a box office bomb, critics responded surprisingly positively to Jackson’s affectionately made black comedy. Fans, even more so.
Dead Alive’s plot concerns Lionel who lives with his mother Vera in a mansion. Things go sour when Vera gets bitten by a rabid monkey and she starts converting the whole neighbourhood into a horde of brainless, blood-thirsty zombies. From here on out, it’s balls-to-the-wall mayhem. The setup is there to service the movie’s real purpose, which is to deliver blood and guts in absolute spades.
Dead Alive is as creative and darkly funny a zombie movie as it gets, with incredibly clever lo-fi special effects that deliver unprecedented levels of blood to screen. It’s an indie horror filmmakers wet dream, and Jackson makes it look achievable. An inspirational demonstration of true passion for horror filmmaking as entertaining now as ever. Although he’ll always be known as Oscar-winner Peter Jackson, he has a whole other side to his following with a film like Dead Alive.