This handsome, blue-eyed, blond actor-turned-filmmaker first ventured behind the camera under the bloodshot eye of celebrated Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. Soavi began acting in 1976 but his c...
It happens every Halloween: Magazines and movie sites (like this one) trudge up a list of horror movies for recommended Halloween horror viewing. As a lifelong horror fan, I’m sick of seeing the same films on these lists – Frankenstein, The Exorcist; Alien, etc. – with the more adventurous writers occasionally recommending something like Dario Argento’s Suspiria that’s not so well known to mainstream audiences but are classics to the horror crowd.
I don’t want to read about the same old movies I’ve known and loved for decades; I want to put the focus on some horror films that are so good, not even all die-hard horror fans have seen them. What I’ve got for you here is a listing of eight really solid horror films from different eras that are not only well worth seeing but also readily available on DVD or VoD. They’re smart, they’re scary and they all stay with you, like any good movie should. Enjoy!
Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Most people are unaware that Universal even made a sequel to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, much less that this film (directed by Lambert Hillyer) is actually a superior film. Despite some unnecessary moments of comic relief, it’s one of the most intelligent and adult films in the classic Universal canon, with some surprisingly frank lesbian context for the era. Star Gloria Holden delivers an excellent performance in the lead role that makes her one of the finest vampires in screen history.
And Soon the Darkness (1971)
British schoolgirls Pamela Franklin and Michele Dotrice, on a biking holiday in the French countryside, encounter the mysterious Sandor Eles, unaware that he’s the same serial killer who’s been terrorizing the area. One of the best British horror films of the 1970s, director Robert Feust makes excellent use of sparse, open locations and perfectly captures the feelings of isolation and dread that come from being a stranger in a strange land – all of it set during a bright, sunny day.
Hausu (a.k.a. HOUSE, 1977)
This crazed Japanese horror fantasy/comedy has finally been released in the U.S., 33 years after its initial release, and it’s now available on DVD and Blu-ray from none other than the Criterion Collection (who have done their usual stellar job). The film itself is pretty indescribable, which is exactly the key to its appeal; Hausu simply throws a lot of crazy ideas and marvelously insane visuals at the viewer for 90 minutes, and once it’s done, you have no idea what you’ve seen, but you know you love it. A major rediscovery, Hausu is proof positive that no one does ultra-weird horror quite like the Japanese.
Long Weekend (1978)
One of the best Australian horror films of the '70s stars John Hargraves and Briony Behets as an estranged married couple on a remote camping holiday who abuse the environment as much as they do each other – and find that nature isn’t in a forgiving mood. What follows is a stark, brutal and powerful film, one of the best “nature run amok” films ever made. Quentin Tarantino is on record as being one of the film’s many admirers.
Cemetery Man (1996)
Adapted from a popular Italian comic book, Michele Soavi’s funny and frightening zombie film stars Rupert Everett as the caretaker of a cemetery whose residents keep coming back to life, which puts a real damper on his love life. Perhaps the best horror film of the '90s, Cemetery Man is consistently unpredictable and surprising, all of it anchored by a wonderfully funny and droll lead performance from Everett.
Five Across the Eyes (2007)
Paranormal Activity put the focus on micro-budget genre films being produced for only a few grand that exhibited new talent behind the camera. This Tennessee-shot winner is filmed entirely from the inside of a car with five lost teenage girls who have dented its fender and whose driver happens to be completely insane and won’t leave them alone. The very definition of a movie that knows how to use its low budget effectively, the constant screaming and crying of the girls may grate on some viewers, but for this one, it only amped up the tension.
Murder Party (2007)
Low-budget horror comedies that are actually funny are extremely rare, so major props must go to this ingenious indie that gets it right. A shy mailman gets a mysterious invite to a Halloween party – actually a “murder party” thrown by a group of Brooklyn hipster artists – and he’s the victim! A clever premise that plays well throughout, and like the best horror comedies, it adds a lot of social satire with the blood and scares.
The Burrowers (2008)
Writer/director J.T. Petty effectively mixes the horror and Western genres with this little-seen gem that was dumped by its studio. A posse, on the search for a missing family of settlers, discovers that instead of hostile Indians, they’re really up against underground creatures who know the terrain better than they do. Beautifully shot in New Mexico locations, The Burrowers is smart and intelligent horror that will also appeal to Western fans, and there’s not a lot of movies you can say that about, are there?
Worked as a second unit director on Terry Gilliam's lavish fantasy "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen"
Feature screenwriting debut (with Argento and Giovanni Romoli), "The Sect/The Devil's Daughter" (also co-wrote story with Argento and Romoli and directed)
First feature story credit, co-wrote (with Argento and Franco Ferrini) "The Church" (also directed)
Met Dario Argento while auditioning for a role in the director's "Inferno" (the part went to Gabriele Lavia)
This handsome, blue-eyed, blond actor-turned-filmmaker first ventured behind the camera under the bloodshot eye of celebrated Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. Soavi began acting in 1976 but his classic good looks consigned him to playing Americans in cheap Italian knockoffs of Hollywood genre movies, notably in the absurdly gory work of Lucio Fulci. His fortunes changed upon meeting Argento who was then casting for "Inferno" (1980). Soavi lost the part but gained a mentor when hired as an assistant director on Argento's "Tenebrae/Unsane" (1982). Horror proved both hospitable and inspirational for Soavi, even inflecting his atmospheric direction of the music video for Bill Wyman's "Valley", from the soundtrack of Argento's first English-language feature, "Phenomena/Creepers" (1985), on which he also served as assistant director. Soavi performed similar chores on Argento's "Opera" (1987) and several horror outings by director Lamberto Bava.
Soavi paid homage to his teacher with his deft helming of the nonfiction portrait "Dario Argento's World of Horror". Moreover, his 1987 feature directorial bow, "Bloody Bird" (a.k.a. "Deliria", "Stagefright", and "Aquarius"), revealed the influence of "The Visconti of Violence" with its penchant for baroquely lit bloodletting. However, the story, with a crazed actor in an owl mask dispatching a theatrical troupe, was less than inspired. Nonetheless, the effort won the Fear Prize at the 1987 Avoriaz Festival.
Intriguingly rather than immediately proceeding to directing another feature of his own, Soavi next took a job as a 2nd unit director on a lavish international co-production--"The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1988). Helmed by the visionary Terry Gilliam, this troubled and ultimately financially disastrous production was shot in Spain, West Germany and the Cinecitta Studios in Rome, Italy. Though, at first, Gilliam would seem to be a wildly different mentor from Argento, Italian horror specialist Maitland McDonagh observed "Soavi found himself working with one of the few major English-language directors whose flaws are the same as Argento's: love of spectacle at the expense of narrative and clarity, and set design to the detriment of characters." Reviewers would later voice similar qualms about films that Soavi would direct.
Argento produced Soavi's next two dark fantasies, "The Church" (1988) and "The Sect" (1991; released on video in the US in 1992 as "The Devil's Daughter"). The first was a stylish outing in which demons infest a church in Budapest while the latter concerned a villa overrun by a Satanic cult. The latter was distinctive for its surreal imagery, both beautiful and disturbing. Soavi's eccentric follow-up, "Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man" (1994; released theatrically in the US in 1996), displayed similar qualities as well as a strong central performance by Rupert Everett as a brooding cemetery worker who must routinely dispatch the newly risen dead back to the grave. Based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi derived from a popular series of comic books featuring "Dylan Dog", the film generally baffled US reviewers who perceived it as failed satire.
"Whereas "The Church" is ultimately polished folderol about a demon-infested cathedral, "The Sect" is something else altogether, a magical mystery tour full to bursting with beautiful and disturbing images: a tree hung with glittering, tinkling and vaguely sinister charms; a woman's face slowly peeled off with silver hooks; a pickpocket robbing a man on the subway, only to find he's stolen a bloody human heart; a cloth taking on the contours of a man's face and a peculiar deadly life of its own; a beetle crawling up a sleeper's nose and causing hallucinations; an ordinary street, the air alive with drifting, shimmering dandelion fluff. The prevailing tone is dark but enchanted, a grim, twisted fairy tale. . . . It all sounds to silly to be believed, but unfolds with a compelling conviction." -- From "Soavi" by Maitland McDonagh, FILM COMMENT, March - April, 1996.
"Says director Soavi, 'I am 35 years old and so far have made three horror/fantasy films. After spending over ten years working with my mentors, Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam, I still hadn't had the chance to make a really personal film--one that would allow me to deal with subjects closer to the way my imagination works. The horror genre has been for me an original way of taking an explicit visual and visionary approach to directing. I love the type of movies that start off in the real world, which the imagination then transforms and twists as it pleases. "Cemetery Man" allowed me to create a fascinating visual climate in which two worlds are totally opposed--the world of the dead and the world of the living." -- From the press kit for "Cemetery Man" (1996).