By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
The horror movie experience is subjective when looking at any screaming list of what to watch in the days leading to or on Halloween Day. Any long-time fan will have developed an immunity to certain levels of gore. When I was younger, I was not as hardened. What you see here is one where I reflect to those movies that really got to me when I was a tyke–still discovering what comes naught may.
I break a few entries down to include even more films since they represent a particular subgenre. Here’s my guide for what to view tonight (or any other). For a few of us, All Hallow’s Eve lasts longer. After all, the Day of the Dead takes place November 2nd, but this cultural celebration differs from the American-Celtic tradition.
Horror films from the silent film era are unique. The more aged the presentation is, the more detached it is from our sense of what modern times entails. Perhaps the way each frame flips or an original cinema screening skips, can jar our belief in reality–whether or not it is dreamlike.
There’s no denying Nosferatu (1922), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (109), The Phantom Carriage (1920) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) are masterpieces. A bigger question lies in what can truly disturb, or cause nightmares to those not used to tales of the macabre? When this Swedish-Danish work was originally meant to be a documentary that looks at Witchcraft throughout the ages–also this film’s English title–and the gory practices involved that cast them as demons, this film does the job!
Certain classical anthologies will never grow old, and when I love Asian horror cinema more than Western ones, Masaki Kobayashi’s classic is always on my list. Four tales make up this work: The Black Hair, The Woman of the Snow, Hoichi the Earless, and In a Cup of Tea.
The first is a simple fable, dealing with the complexities of a rag to riches story, and whom a swordsman (Rentarô Mikuni) loves more. His devoted wife (Michiyo Aratama) waits for him, but when he marries a vein second one (Misako Watanabe), his polygamy is explored. In what he returns to is a product of nightmares.
The ghostly terrors are exquisitely created through the cinematography than with actual projections. Karma plays a role in all four works, and we see the spirit world as it is–a naturalistic force neither good or evil. They serve a different purpose and that’s to vet justice to those who have done more harm than good in their life.
Mention David Cronenberg, and if you don’t know his varied works, you will either be revealed by his visions or want to journey into his surreal vision and cryptic analysis into the human psyche which defines much of his films. In addition to this early work, Existenz (1999), The Fly (1986) and The Dead Zone (1983) are very notable and worth viewing during this season.
In this cult classic, reality is never assured as TV Station manager Max Renn wants to break out of his studio’s current line of sensationalist programming. In what he pirates out of Asia may seem like torture porn, but there’s far more going on and what he uncovers as the source will twist minds apart. No one is ever the same; as for Max, this movie is a must for the season since two realms mix into one–you’re not sure where you are until you wake up!
Season of the Witch
Unrelated to the rest of the franchise but every bit true to the origins of the pagan celebration is a story with an unrelenting end game. We are never too sure if the television broadcast was stopped in time before the pagan desires of a mad corporate mogul destroys the modern tradition in one night.
This film has its own following and deserves to be recognized in how not to buy in to an industry simply capitalizing on candy desires–especially when it has its own agenda.
This ghost story is loosely based on the paranormal goings on of Doris Blither (in the film, Carla Moran) a single mother with four children who gets suddenly attacked. This movie makes my list each and every time because of how it effectively assault the senses with the sounds and imagery.
I advise turning down the subwoofer. The score by Charles Bernstein is pulse pounding and wails; it deservedly deserves praise since it underscores the terror to which Moran faces until this supernatural force relents. This work ranks in Martin Scorsese’s top five of scariest as number four. He considers The Haunting (1963) as tops and I’m inclined to agree.
In the Asian film category, The Ring is tough to beat. Forget Gore Verbinski’s Hollywood remake! Go for Hideo Nakata’s original instead! The premise is simple: anyone who views a strangely cursed VHS tape will die seven days later. 21 years later, this film still stands the test of time. This movie is a demonstration of simplicity to cast the terror. A lot lies on the fact we are just as resolved to solve the mystery of multiple death that occurred after a weekend trip to the country. We are seeing the story from the eyes of Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), who happens to be a young investigative reporter.
The fact these spirits come crawling out of television sets is enough to send shivers just because of what Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist has set upon the public consciousness.
Although nearly everybody streams their movies these days, I’m willing to bet some filmmaker or writer will update this tale to involve cloud services. Yes, it’s more or less done with Ghost in the Shell, but that’s a sci-fi tale than horror.
Let the Right One In (2008)
This Swedish film goes beyond exploring more than the dark side of humanity. It concerns how young Oskar can turn, going from a bullied boy to possible serial killer. The drama comes from how Eli, a young female vampire, tries to prevent the boy from falling into the rabbit hole. Whether it’s young love, or preventing the creation of another to a lifetime of misery and hiding, the chills are easy to understand. Even the snowy landscape is enough to send shudders of how isolated these two are in context of the world never sure if everyone can be kept safe.