Every holiday season, somebody has to come along and whine about said holiday. Religious types always get wound up about Christmas, pagans get angry about St. Patrick’s Day, and Halloween always has to bring out the whiny movie critic.
True, every Halloween heralds a new wave of horror movies, most of them awful. Horror movies are beloved by Hollywood because they’re cheaply made, and have a built-in audience: Drop $10 million and you’ll get $20 million back.
This isn’t conducive to artistic filmmaking. But after a hundred years of filmmaking around the world, there are some horror movies that even the snottiest critic is forced to admit are classics.
Here are just five.
Eyes Without A Face
Georges Franju is probably best known among film nerds for his documentary short Blood of the Beasts, about a slaughterhouse. But this movie is his triumph, in many ways. Part of this is the fact that the central bad guy is a sympathetic monster: In the end, he just wants his daughter to have a normal life. He just doesn’t particularly care who he has to kill to do it. To say any more would ruin the movie but suffice to say if you haven’t seen it, it’s one of the most chilling movies in French cinema.
The original 1960s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel is a movie I first saw on a ten-inch screen on a warm summer’s day on VHS in high school.
And it creeped me the hell out. Directed by Robert Wise, better known to your mom for The Sound of Music and to you as the director of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Wise captures perfectly the psychological horror at the core of Eleanor, a woman so isolated and lonely that you’re forced to wonder if the ghosts that haunt the house want her… or she wants them.
He can also freak you out with wallpaper. He’s that good.
Warner Bros. hired Paul Schrader, writer and director of such feel-good hits as Hard Core and Auto Focus and defined as much by his own struggles with his Catholic upbringing as his bleak outlook in film, and asked him to make an Exorcist movie.
Then they refused to release it and hired Renny Harlin to make an entirely new movie. There’s a reason: Schrader’s movie is moody, bleak, and troubling, not The Exorcist 4. It’s not just scary… it’s troubling.
Takashi Miike has a bit of reputation for making splatter movies, but there’s always something else going on in his movies, and Audition is no exception. It starts out as an odd kind of romance, but Miike quickly turns it into a critical look at both how Japan treats its women, while not faulting its central character, a widower with a young son, for being lonely and struggling to find companionship. His method of meeting people turns out to be creepy… and he pays for it. But the movie also establishes that being creepy might be his only choice.
And finally, on the topic of Japanese film, you won’t find a horror movie more joyously, utterly insane than Hausu. It’s sometimes manic, sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes grotesque movie that, love it or hate it, you’re never going to forget it. It’s worth seeing for the sequence where a piano eats a character alone.