The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Sunday, October 13, 2002
SAMHEIN IS ICUMEN IN: Hallowe'en approaches, and even the Family Channel, formerly owned by Pat Robertson, is celebrating with horror-themed programming. A lot of you will be renting creepy movies between now and the end of the month. If you're looking for suggestions, keep reading: I make 10 of them below.

I've tried to skip the horror classics everyone already knows, from The Bride of Frankenstein to Dawn of the Dead -- yes, they're great, but you don't need me to tell you about them. Instead, I've focused on some less obvious choices:

Freaks (1932)
Directed by Tod Browning
Written by Willis Goldbeck and Leon Gordon, from a novel by Tod Robbins

Forget Dracula: This is Browning's greatest film. Even its flaws work in its favor: Stiff acting usually drives me crazy, but here it actually adds to the movie's mysterious flavor -- perhaps because it reminds us that these folks aren't actors in weird get-ups, but honest-to-god circus freaks.

Vampyr (1932)
Directed by Carl Dryer
Written by Dryer and Christen Jul, from a novel by Sheridan Le Fanu

Keep forgetting Dracula: Dryer's early masterpiece may be the best vampire picture ever made.

Island of Lost Souls (1933)
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Written by Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie, from a novel by H.G. Wells

With the possible exception of The Bride of Frankenstein, this is my favorite horror flick of the '30s: a mad
pre-Code picture based on H.G. Wells' best book, starring Bela Lugosi and the great Charles Laughton. Still later, it inspired an Oingo Boingo song.

The Black Cat (1934)
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by Ulmer and Peter Ruric

Ulmer's best movie -- and the best movie to star Karloff and Lugosi together -- isn't just a weird experience and a terrific entertainment. It's an isolationist parable.

Isle of the Dead (1945)
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Josef Mischel and Ardel Wray

Not merely a good thriller, but a fine illustration of a theorem formulated by the sociologists William and Dorothy Thomas: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Written by Nigel Kneale

Horror and science fiction don't always mix well. Here they do.

Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Bergman isn't usually regarded as a horror director, but several of his efforts might make good Halloween rentals. The Virgin Spring was the acknowledged inspiration for Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left. Persona was an unacknowledged inspiration for Fight Club. (I've also seen it classified as a vampire movie, and while that's an eccentric interpretation, it makes a certain sense.) And then there's this psychologically intense character study, with its chilling images, its surreal narrative, and, yes, its horror.

Images (1972)
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Altman and Susannah York

Altman's underrated drama is told from a schizophrenic woman's unreliable point of view. It isn't usually classified as a horror movie, but it's one of the few films that genuinely scared me as I watched it.

Videodrome (1983)
Written and Directed by David Cronenberg

My favorite Cronenberg movie. Idea for a (non-Halloween) living-room film festival: start with Network, continue with Being There, and end here.

Safe (1995)
Written and Directed by Todd Haynes

A parable about an egoless person who consumes her life rather than living it, even -- or especially -- when she turns her back on "consumerism." Like Images, it isn't usually classified as a horror film. But there's more eerieness here -- more honest fear, among both the characters and the viewers -- than in a dozen ordinary suspense flicks put together.

posted by Jesse 2:42 PM
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