October has arrived in full force. Jack o’ lanterns have started to populate the landscape. Children will soon be donning their best ghoul and goblin costumes while going door to door seeking sugary treasures. And that means that it’s time to start watching movies that possess a supernatural flare. You don’t have to be a gorehound to get in on the fun. There’s more than enough creep to go around for everyone. Here are some top-shelf selections, perfect for Halloween:
One of the forerunners of J-horror, Kwaidan is a spectacular ghost story anthology, perfect Halloween viewing for film geeks. It’s thick with suspense and hits home as colorful eye candy. The four stories that make up the anthology are as good as ghost stories can get.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
The best part of Herk Harvey’s creepy little b-movie is that he aimed high, very purposely giving it a taste of Bergman, Resnais, and Antonioni. He didn’t always succeed but the way he swung for the fences is downright admirable. And the imagery is haunting.
The Universal Studios Creature Features
Specifically, I’m referring to Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). These films were a tremendously important piece in filmmaking history, serving as a link in the evolutionary chain between German Expressionism and the American Film Noir. The atmospherics, the suspense, the pacing, the long shadows on rainy cobblestone, the wrought iron backdrops… these elements were incredible forerunners to a large part of the rest of film in America. My personal favorite was…
The Wolf Man (1941)
It’s astonishing how much depth there was to the seemingly benign Wolf Man. The most obvious example is how hard screenwriter Curt Siodmak worked to turn the film into an allegory for Germany under the Nazi state. Larry Tablott functioned as the vicious Nazi citizen–a friend one day, a terrifying monster capable of atrocities the next. It’s no accident that the werewolf’s future victims bear the mark of a star. The story itself is as old as they come. It’s biblical. “The sins of the father shall be visited upon the son”.
Benjamin Christensen’s Danish/Swedish film was intended as a documentary with dramatized portions. It plays out like a horror. There’s something to be said for eerie imagery when it’s coming through without spoken language, with heavy grain. Christensen’s film produces more creepy visuals than any other on this list.
Another Japanese ghost story, Ugetsu makes hay with a rich storyline heavy on the importance of family and traditional themes from the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. Make no mistake about it. It is a wonderful ghost story at heart.
Peeping Tom (1960)
Many critics compare it to Hitchcock’s Psycho, and rightly so- murder, Freudian overtones, and parenthood gone horribly wrong permeate Michael Powell’s film. The difference is that the father, rather than the mother, is the source of the psychological issues. The idea of using a camera to commit murder adds a really neat depth to it all.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The plot is a rather grisly one for 1960. It revolves around a father who murders women in the hope of grafting their faces onto his own daughter’s disfigured visage. Peppered in throughout the movie are shots of his daughter, who wears an expressionless doll-like mask. It’s had a lasting influence, right down to inspiring John Carpenter’s version of Michael Myers in the Halloween films.
Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara
The trilogy includes Pitfall (1962), Woman in the Dunes (1964), and The Face of Another (1966). The first in the trilogy- Pitfall– works as both a tremendous ghost story and a scathing indictment of greed. Woman in the Dunes tells the tale of a man hopelessly trapped, fighting a widow and the specter of menacing, ceaseless natural elements (specifically, sand). The Face of Another gives us corporeal horror, a man trapped in his own faceless disfigured body, gradually becoming more and more distant from society.
Speaking of corporeal horror, this list would be incomplete without the inclusion of David Cronenberg. His Videodrome features James Woods as a shameless media mogul who will stop at nothing to find the next big thing. His body deteriorates in surrealist ways, just as his own reality begins to fuse with the horrifying images he has discovered in his search. What comes out is a horror film that gives us both sexual and social commentary.