When you look at a guy like Quentin Tarantino you just kind of know that he’s a horror movie afficinato. You don’t have to be particular with his films on an intimate level. You don’t have to know his backstory or his credentials. Just by casually listening to any conversation the guy has or any of his blurbs that come out about films, it’s obvious the man knows his stuff. A living, breathing encyclopedia of film and television with an insatiable thirst for content.
A full-time filmmaker who somehow, someway, has found out how to absorb more media in his lifetime than you or I ever could, even if we watched everything at 120x speed. He has dumbfounded actors by knowing their performances and nuances somehow deeper and better then they themselves even remember, sometimes down to the most particular detail in a performance that deeply matters to him. And when he explains it, he’s able to put it all into words that perfectly expound on that tip of the tongue, partial recall, vague explanation as to why you think something is good. A contextualizing machine that rivals your finest teachers and Forrest Gump’s mother combined.
Despite looking, acting and not so subtly BEING a horror film connousiour and expert, it’s worth pointing out that he’s never actually made a true horror film. Or, more accurately, he’s never made a film that lies too heavily in any one genre. But if you get out your magnifying glass and examine his work a little closer you’d see tons of your favorite horror film earmarks throughout his catalogue. Shady characters. Heists gone wrong. Swift, brutal revenge. Obscure 60’s music. Sudden, frantic, grisly violence. An over the top evil, cantankerous, vile, blowhard villain who you can’t wait to see be beaten, victimized and conquered. Samuel L. Jackson either screaming in someone’s face or intricately describing something vile he’s recently done with the same cadence and temperament he uses when calling in a prescription at Walgreens.
All things that have become synonymous with Tarantino’s films. Cultivated over a nearly 20 year career of homaging his heroes and serving up some scathing recreations of traumatic and shameful moments in human history, but presented with a sweet, thin candy shell of quirky and off-kilter snark and subterfuge. The heartworm pill in the piece of cheese, so you’re getting your medicine and you don’t even know it.
Never has there been a better poster child for someone who has given himself an education from films themselves. Whether it’s obscure 50’s westerns, or rot gut Italian horror video nasties, and sometimes old episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: he’s always listening and wanting to expand his palette. He has dipped his toes into the exploitation-horror genre before by crafting his own version of a slasher film with 2007’s Death Proof, penning the script (and co-starring in) the 1996 vampire flick From Dusk Till Dawn, and more recently claimed that his 10th, and rumored, final directorial effort could easily be his first all out horror film.
The internet even briefly freaked out back in 2005 when rumor had it that he’d be directing “The Ultimate Jason Voorhees Movie” but negotiations broke down and we were robbed of a potential film where a suit and tie wearing Jason gets real philosophical with Tommy Jarvis before carving him like a turkey while Joe Cocker’s cover of With a Little Help From My Friends blares in the background.
But if you’re truly dying to see just how twisted the vision of Quentin Tarantino can be, why not fall down the rabbit hole of some of the man’s favorites of the genre. From the expected to the obscure, you’d need a pen and probably a few weeks to compile them all, so let’s just just sample ten for now.
1. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Called “the greatest movie that has ever been made and that ever possibly will be made” by Tarantino…when he was five…Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was what the writer/director described as “the perfect blend of my most two favorite things at the time: horror films and classic, screwball comedies.” Granted, most five year old children don’t have favorite actors and actresses or are able to make genre distinctions quite like Tarantino can and did, but AACMF is undoubtedly a perfect gateway horror film that can appeal to both classic horror fans and more casual observers as its horror scenes are very clearly faithful to the mission statement of “Be Scary”, while its comedy element never really takes away from its core and mythos.
It only places heroes with infantile, bumbling naivety inside the Universal horror monster world and ends up being both a love letter to those franchises while also an easy to follow road map for people who can empathize with Lou Costello as he stumbles clumsily into danger. Influential and iconic, it definitely appealed to Tarantino’s freethinking scope.
2. Carrie (1976)
Regularly cited as QT’s favorite horror film of all time and made by one of his true filmmaking heroes: Brian DePalma, is 1976’s Carrie: an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel following a beleaguered young girl who has the power…to move you. In a time when demonic horror themed pictures were predominately portraying its protagonists as borderline dangerous and potential liars and con artists, De Palma dared to make you want to root for the bad guy (girl) more than before by putting you in the shoes of young Carrie, who is just mercilessly tormented at the hands of a group of scumbag high schoolers to the point where, yeah, you want to see her get her just desserts.
More character driven than many horror films of the era and focusing heavily on the plight of the victim, Carrie was a direct inspiration for Tarantino’s own Bride character of Kill Bill fame and he has cited star Sissy Spacek’s performance as his “favorite ever in a horror movie.” It clearly holds a special place in the man’s heart, as it will anyone who is bothered by just how cruel random strangers can be.
3. The Omen (1976)
If you only know The Omen as a reference point for other films, or have already had it explained to you in two sentences, it’s easy to want to dismiss it as a soft or tame film. Especially with its rather classy cast featuring big Hollywood stars like Gregory Peck. Or its quiet and only slightly foreboding trailer.
Tarantino himself recalled seeing it and thinking it would be “a nice horror film for older audiences” but was then blindsided on just how visceral and surprisingly gory the film was. “The interesting thing about it is that it’s a mystery. There’s an investigation going on there and you don’t really know if can trust it until maybe halfway through..” He was quick to also praise it as being particularly influential from a business standpoint, as it was the first of its kind to cast a star of the 50s in the lead to lure older audiences in. A practice that was repeated with stars like Charleton Heson in The Awakening, George C. Scott in The Changeling and Kirk Dougles in The Fury.
Tarantino was generally impressed at the film’s ability to portray itself so objectively and make you as a viewer come to grips with the reality of its true plotline. A nice treat for audiences who THINK they can surmise the film based on its age and their own firsthand knowledge of the plot, but who may be surprised with a present day watch.
4. The Night Stalker (1972)
One particular subgenre of horror that Tarantino has an affinity for is the Made For TV horror films of the 70’s, which many will forget, were pretty big deals to premiere at the time. Quentin has said he feels they “hold up better than most of the exploitation horror of the era — they have better actors..and they had really good stories!” QT’s particular favorite of the bunch is the ABC Movie of the Week from January in 1972: The Night Stalker. Adapted by horror fiction legend Richard Matheson and John Moxley (the TV veteran, not the AEW World Champion), The Night Stalker is a chilling story told from the POV of a man who MAY be a ruthless, hedonistic vampire pounding the streets for blood at night. Or maybe he’s just a regular guy who is having some problematic delusions and is suffering from a seriously bad night.
Tarantino praised its narrative and pacing, saying “the adrenaline drive of this thing just doesn’t stop!” and remembered fondly how well received it was at school the next day and how everyone was buzzing about what they had just seen. The film was a huge success at the time for ABC. Gathering the highest ratings of any of their made for TV films to that point. It even spawned its own sequel and spinoff weekly series.
5. The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
A lesser known horror film that Tarantino wishes more people knew about is 1971’s The Mephisto Waltz. Which stars Alan Alda, Curd Jurgens, and Jacqueline Bisset. Referring to it as “kind of Rosemary’s Baby in reverse,” it’s the story of a failed concert pianist turned journalist and how his chance encounter with Jurgens’ Duncan Ely character leads to him being able to live out his dreams of stardom and prestige. Which will appeal to fans of the horror possession genre.
But what Tarantino warns is how “you will not be prepared for the final 20 minutes” and heaps praise on how it veers off confidently in its own direction, while still being able to genuinely surprise him with how well the story wraps up.