As Halloween approaches we can all look forward to lists of the best horror films which all include “Halloween”, “The Exorcist”, “The Shining” and something from Cronenberg and Romero.
Quite right too.
I thought it might be more interesting to turn my eye to some horror films that a wider audience might not have seen or heard of.
Here you go then, five of my favourite horror films that you may not have seen.
Jigoku (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1960)
Director Nobuo Nakagawa brought Hell to the Japanese audience with this intelligent, philosophical, thought provoking and graphic horror film. Starkly different from other Japanese horror up to that point such as Onibaba and Kwaidan thanks to its genuinely shocking visuals and its blending of both Budhist and Western depictions of the afterlife the film is a bona fide cult classic.
The plot is not easy to break down but, in short, a young man finds himself journeying through limbo following a series of “sins”. At times the film is both lurid and thrillingly disquieting in its presentation of sin, death and punishment. On release it was a flop and it has taken many years for it to be given its rightful place in Japanese horror with many critics now hailing it as a classic. Writing for the Criterion Collection re-issue of the film Chuck Stephens had this to say;
“Overflowing with brackish ponds of bubbling pus, brain-rattling disjunctions of sound and image, and at times almost dauntingly incomprehensible plot twists and eye-assaulting bouts of brutish montage, Jigoku is more than merely a boundary-pummeling classic of the horror genre—it’s as lurid a study of sin without salvation as the silver screen has ever seen.”
If that doesn’t make you want to see it then I don’t know what will.
Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943)
For some this is a psychological thriller, a film noir from the master of suspense.
Not for me.
It is the best vampire film of all time.
Charles “Uncle Charley” Oakley (Joseph Cotten) draws energy from wealthy widowers whom he seduces with his good looks and charm. The film starts with him laying in bed, a pile of money (profits from his latest seduction) strewn around the floor of his lodgings. The curtains are drawn and he is wan and listless.
Discovering that the police are on his trail he finds himself travelling to his niece Charlie Newton to escape the long arm of the law…but not before he has managed to evade capture thanks to some highly improbable, bordering on magical, escape which may, or may not, have involved him turning into a bird.
Uncle Charlie is stylish, devilishly charming and utterly evil all at once…it isn’t the money he is after but the essence of the women, their energy and, while he never “vants to drink zer blood” it is impossible not to find yourself viewing him as Count Dracula.
A deeper exploration of this theory can be found here.
You can watch the film here…
The Singing Ringing Tree (Francesco Stefani, 1957)
Made for East German television as a children’s show this “fairy tale” is, in fact, utterly terrifying.
Alongside “Children of the Stones” this is, arguably, one of the most disturbing and unsettling shows ever made for children.
A Prince who is turned into a bear, a cold, cruel Princess, a malevolent dwarf and a giant fish all combine to make this fairy tale something more grim than Grimm.
Odishon (Audition, Takashi Miike, 1999)
Miike does not make films for the faint hearted.
“Audition” is a dark, twisted, chilling and, at times, genuinely shocking horror film.
A lonely widower, Aoyama, uses his media connections to conduct a day of “auditions” for a young female actress for a role in a film that doesn’t exist. Instead he is running his eye over candidates for his attentions…
The lucky girl is Asami and soon the two of them have embarked on an affair.
Very quickly things take a turn for the worst and Aoyama finds himself in a surreal nightmare world of mental and physical torture. There are moments here that will haunt you for weeks to come, possibly longer.
American Mary (Jen and Sylvia Soska, 2012)
There’s very definitely something about this Mary.
Mary (Katherine Isabelle) is a down on her luck medical student who is specialising in surgery. With funds running low she finds herself looking for work as a dancer in a seedy nightclub. Before she can complete her audition she is called upon to tend to the wounds of a gangster in the basement of the club and is handed a large bundle of cash for her troubles. A stripper from the club then approaches her to perform some extreme body modification surgeries and, again, Mary accepts the money.
Following a truly terrifying sexual assault at the hands of her lecturer/mentor a beaten and broken Mary decides that the status of victim is not one she is willing to accept and so begins a bloody revenge mission.
This is a gory, disturbingly sexy and thrillingly fun horror film. It is also, very clearly, a feminist horror film which has something to say about society.