In a peculiar kind of way, the horror genre is sort of like the punk-rock of the movie world. It began vaguely, on the outside edge of the medium, before crystalizing itself in the late 1970s. Since then it has become an ever-growing umbrella genre, with a seemingly infinite amount of available methods of execution and niches to satisfy (or exploit). It is a genre where anything goes. There are no rules, and sometimes the more recklessly made, potentially offensive, and against-the-grain; the better a resulting product is. There is an inherent aura of danger involved, and that is what makes them so damn much fun to experience.
On that note, I decided to make this year's "Noisepaper Halloween Special" a series on my favorite films of the horror genre. Not a particularly original concept, I know; but every movie included will be one that I hold strong feelings about that I have been dying (horror-themed pun unintended) to put into writing one way or another.
This first installment features a trio of relatively old gems that seem to be lesser known among todays audience. They have all aged incredibly well however, perhaps even reaching "timeless" status. While not usually mentioned among the classics, as far as I'm concerned they are important landmarks in horror cinema.
Re-Animator is a film based on an H.P. Lovecraft story originally written as a parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. If that doesn't set the stage for this gruesomely entertaining thrill-ride, the satirical take on Psycho's theme music that plays over the opening credits will.
As noted by Robert Ebert, the film seems to thrive on the balance between director Stuart Gordon's desire to make a good film, and his simultaneous acknowledgement that a film about a mad scientist bringing back the dead is unlikely to be considered "good". As the film builds momentum off of this tension, it finds its stylistic groove in comic book-esque, out-of-control sci-fi weirdness. I like to describe this movie as either the scariest funny movie ever made, or the funniest scary movie ever made. Although it maintains its horror spirt throughout- propelled by perpetually building intensity and gore, the whole story is shaded with a psychotically morbid, pitch-black sense of humor.
I'm a sucker for movies dealing with dreams and delusions; where the story and images are presented through an unreliable lens in such a way that anything can happen and the viewer is left questioning whether anything is "real" or just imagined. I have found very few films that succeed in creating such a palpable atmosphere of unease the way that Jacob's Ladder does.
Jacob's Ladder places its protagonist (and in turn its audience) in a world shrouded in perpetual fog, where normal characters act vaguely "off" and fleeting glimpses of demonic creatures are made. The plot navigates a disorienting network of flashbacks as our hero tries to make sense of it all, before all hell (quite literally) inevitably breaks loose. For much of its runtime we are kept right at the brink of sanity, just as overcome by the unpredictable mystery as our main character is. There are a few well-placed jump scares thrown in to keep the momentum, but the real terror lies in the constant feeling that something unspeakably scary is just about to happen. When it finally does boil over with the infamous "hospital scene", the result is one of the most undeniably brilliant sequences in all of horror, and some of the most indelible nightmare fuel to be be found anywhere.
In the post-fascist Italy of the late 1970s, a subgenre of horror emerged that has come to be known as Giallo-Horror. Such films traditionally focus on an outsider protagonist becoming witness to some type of gruesome crime, and as a result finding themselves involved in a story of delusion, diabolical authority figures, Hitchcockian suspense, and violent bloodletting. Among the most highly regarded of such films is Dario Argento's 1977 classic Suspiria.
Much like Jacob's Ladder, Suspiria creates a surreal atmospheric setting; in this case experienced from the perspective of a young American ballerina attending a mysterious dance academy in Germany. Unlike Jacob's Ladder, Suspiria relies not on shadows and glimpses of disturbing imagery, but bright, gory, in-your-face terror. The death scenes play out like works of art, the disembowelment of the ballet students choreographed like a ballet itself, with the surrealistically vibrant blood serving as the main set piece. Despite a lacking storyline, the film maintains tension not only via graphic kills, but the bizarre intricacies of the setting itself, and the disorienting camera angles in which it is seen. Add in the terrifying soundtrack by Italian progressive rock band Goblin, and this film is a work of art unlike any other.