6. Piranha (1978)
Hailing the Jaws ripoff as “a horror genre all unto itself” Tarantino has a particular affinity for 1978’s Piranha. Produced by the legendary Roger Corman. Tarantino screened it at his New Beverly theater recently and was impressed with how the film had aged. Saying: “Great script…Joe Dante does a great directorial debut…and the movie holds up to this day! Very funny when it’s supposed to be funny and the effects are surprisingly good!” Adding that the film has one of the more successful suspense beats of any he can think of, featuring a classic Will He or Won’t He martyr moment for star Bradford Dillman.
Wildly enough, QT was also surprised at the film’s sudden bursts of violence and how that, more often than not, the film depicts the piranha attacking children. When a film can surprise and nauseate Quentin Tarantino with a frenzy of disturbing violence, you know it absolutely has something special going for it.
7. Halloween H20 (1998)
While ranking his top performances in horror films, Tarantino cited all kinds of heavy hitters as his favorite female performances. Complimenting Mia Farrow from Rosemary’s Baby, Heather Langenkamp from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and of course pointing out personal favorite Sissy Spacek for her role in Carrie. But one name who he hesitated on was Jamie Lee Curtis. Despite her iconic role in the original Halloween and her performance spawning the long running Final Girl horror trope, Tarantino surprisingly much prefers her acting in the series’ 6th sequel. Which acted as a soft reboot of the franchise, a relatively unexplored concept at the time.
The film picked up on Curtis’ Laurie Strode character 20 years after the events of that first faithful Halloween night, and QT was especially impressed with her performance. “Seeing a grown woman take on Michael Myers is pretty terrific. And unlike most other films, this one makes everything feel full circle going back to the original one.” Tarantino was even impressed to the point of recommending to producer Bob Weinstein to get behind an Oscar push for her role. A campaign that sadly never came to be.
8. Red State (2011)
Ranked as his 5th favorite film of 2011 is Kevin Smith’s radical right lensed horror film Red State. QT was so excited about the film that he personally hosted a screening in his home theater for an audience of himself, Smith and the film’s star Michael Parks. Smith has recounted that the film was his attempt at “making a Tarantino film by way of the Coen brothers” and a giant showcase for one of Quentin’s acting heroes in Parks.
And Tarantino marveled at Smith’s dialogue, telling him “your words coming out of Parks was perfect” and even admitting that he wasn’t able to wait for their screening together and had secretly watched the film earlier in the day by himself. The night then evolved into an unofficial Michael Parks celebration as QT dusted off his homemade “Best of Michael Parks” VHS, featuring home-recorded scenes from older Parks pictures like Club Life and The China Lake Murders as he and Smith both ooh-ed and ahh-ed at Parks’ masterful ability while Mike sat there, smiling politely. Subsequently, Tarantino went out of his way to screen the film personally at his New Beverly Cinema so that it could qualify for awards consideration.
9. Repulsion (1965)
Looking at the horror genre as a whole, Tarantino boiled down what he sees as his evolution of the titans of the art. Singling out Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychological horror film as a true changing of the guard. Saying “there’s something different about Repulsion. What Polanski figured out is how to make a Hitchcockian thriller..BUT for a more sophisticated and younger audience. While Hitchcock’s films HINTED at being disturbing, the point of Polanski’s film was to be outright disturbing and come with a far more grisly ending.”
And while he considers Rosemary’s Baby to be Polanski’s best horror film to date, he was genuinely moved and affected by Polanski’s ability to build tension and dread off of Catherine Deneuve’s difficult and complicated performance. Calling it “Polanski’s Psycho” is pretty heavy praise.
10. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
Continuing on his theory of the growth and adaptation of the horror genre, Tarantino went on to point out that despite his success, Polanski was suddenly out of the picture after the horrific Manson family murders had destroyed his family back in 1969. Leaving the door open for Dario Argento to make his feature film debut with The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. Another nod to Hitchcockian style horror, but this time, parlayed with the promise of disturbing imagery and gore.
But unlike Repulsion, Tarantino was particularly impressed with Argento’s ability to replicate Hitchcock style setpieces in his film, and pull them off in a way that felt both familiar and foreboding. He firmly believes it was both Repulsion and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage that inspired Brian De Palma to push himself into making Sisters: another one of his all time favorites. De Palma’s version of Psycho. Call it a pair of Filmmaker’s films. The kind that other writers and directors see, are inspired by and want to expound upon.