Since it’s been 1500 days, I picked 15 movies, or one for every hundred that made the other 99 worth wading through. That may seem like a pretty terrible investment/reward ratio, but keep in mind - a man who goes through life without ever experiencing the joys of Cathy’s Curse just isn’t really a man.
(Note – I didn’t count anything that’s played at the New Beverly or film festivals I would have attended anyway. Sorry, Pieces.)
One of the relatively few horror films to be given the Criterion treatment, this German take on the basic vampire story (borrowing heavily from “Dracula” in its early scenes, though eventually becoming its own unique thing) is drenched with atmosphere and unnerving sequences, such as when a guy dreams about his own funeral. Vampyr is not always coherent (David Lynch seems to have been influenced by it), but it’s a wonderful and creepy addition to the overpopulated vampire genre.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964)
This is actually my least favorite of the “true” Coffin Joe trilogy (José Marins has played the character in several “unofficial” films), but I’m a firm believer in seeing series in order, and of all the franchises that I’ve watched in their entirety for HMAD, this is definitely the most unique. And by that I mean batshit insane. They actually get stranger as they go too, so if you enjoy At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, by all means go on the rest of the ride with This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967) and Embodiment Of Evil (2008), in which Joe unleashes his inner Patrick Bateman with a rat, a naked woman, and melted cheese. Hey-O!
Theatre Of Blood (1973)
HMAD has exposed me to several Vincent Price movies, but Theatre Of Blood is my favorite of all his movies after Dr. Phibes (which I had seen prior). It’s similar – he’s out for revenge against a group of individuals he blames for a personal misfortune, but it’s much more humorous take on the subject matter. It’s also a touch sad, since Price’s character isn’t taken seriously as an actor, much like Price himself, who didn’t want to be known for just his horror movies. Plus, if you’re a Shakespeare scholar, you can enjoy the numerous references and violent re-enactments of his plays. And if you’re NOT, the movie might inspire you to read a few. Win-win (-win, if you get the DVD that has the delightful Madhouse paired with it).
Who Can Kill A Child? (1976)
The hero of this movie can! Seriously, this is the least politically correct killer child movie I’ve ever seen, as our hero guns down kids left and right (not off-screen) as he and his wife (who isn’t as keen on the whole “shooting children”) thing try to escape from the island that is overrun with the murderous tykes. But what makes Who Can Kill A Child? work is that the kids seem to be enjoying the whole thing, like it was just a big game. Also, they don’t come up with an explanation for why they are doing it – no He Who Walks Behind The Rows here.
Cathy’s Curse (1977)
Ah, Cathy’s Curse. One of the early movies I watched for the site, and the one I spend the most time name-checking whenever someone asks me to recommend them something that I know they haven’t seen. And how would they? Prints of the film don’t seem to exist, and all DVD copies I’ve come across are terrible: cropped, out of focus, and washed out to the extreme. But that’s not enough to diminish the film’s mean-spirited tone (one of the first lines of the movie is “Your mother’s a bitch!”), nigh on incoherent storyline, and the Omen wannabe antics of the titular Cathy, a hateful little Canadian child who refers to a medium as an “Extra rare piece of SHTI!” Essential viewing (possibly under the original title Cauchemares).
This delightfully odd British movie is basically about an alien (impersonating a man) trying to break apart a lesbian couple that lives in the woods. There’s very little action (well, of the horror variety – there’s a 5 minute love scene between the two ladies), but Prey (aka Alien Prey) is so peculiar I couldn’t help but love it. To date it’s the only movie I’ve seen in which someone kicks their own chicken’s corpse.
Another weird British movie, but this one has it all! The aliens have genie-like powers, in that they just have to think about something and it will appear, and luckily for us the alien is pretty random. So we have death by scary circus folks, a panther, a giant toy soldier… everything but the kitchen sink, though that might be in there too (the DVD sports a pretty poor transfer). Great alien birthing scene too. There are a pair of lousy sequels that bear no relation (by the same director no less), so if you’ve seen those but not the original, don’t let that sway you. The original Xtro is the one to see.
Of Unknown Origin (1983)
Peter Weller vs. a rat. Not a giant rat, though it seems a bit bigger than the usual ones you see scurrying around on the NY subway. And the great thing about Of Unknown Origin is that it keeps it to just Peter Weller vs. the rat for most of its running time; his family is off visiting relatives, a few guests come and go without any major rat encounters – it’s wonderfully focused. This underrated, surprisingly suspenseful (but not without some humor – the obligatory “Moby Dick” reference is perfect) flick frequently tops my list of dream screenings to have at the New Beverly.
The Stuff (1985)
“Everybody has to eat shaving cream once in a while.” With that line, I developed a huge man crush on Michael Moriarty, and eagerly checked out some of his other collaborations with Larry Cohen (It’s Alive III, Q), who seems to use him best. And The Stuff remains my favorite of their films; working as an homage/spoof of 50s monster movies like The Blob, but also as a pretty sharp satire of rampant 80s consumerism. I’m actually sort of surprised there hasn’t been a remake; certainly something can be done that both pays homage to 80s FX movies and skewers an aspect of our own excess (maybe they can make The iStuff?). Don’t steal my idea!
Shallow Ground (2004)
I actually rented this movie figuring it was some no-budget indie piece of junk that I’d forget all about in a day. I had just finished working as a PA on a friend’s film for 3 nights (while working during the day at my usual job!) and was exhausted, but damned if I was going to miss a day! But Shallow Ground was far from junk – it was a really cool take on the revenge slasher, with a great twist I didn’t see coming but wasn’t a cheat either – a tough balancing act to pull off even with a ton of dough. Director Sheldon Wilson has gone on to helm some better than average Syfy type movies (including Screamers 2, which I think is better than the original).
The Pang brothers are responsible for The Eye films, and the 2nd one almost made this list. But Re-Cycle is even better; a Gilliam-esque blend of fantasy and horror that boils down to a very melancholy tale of a woman dealing with something from her past that she may now be regretting (it’s been a while so I can’t recall if what that thing is would be considered a spoiler). And while their Eye films are a bit bland looking by design, this is a visual feast – see it on Blu-ray if you can!
My favorite movie of all time is John Carpenter’s Halloween. I know every frame of that film inside and out, and thus I can instantly spot a ripoff or “homage” in any slasher film that followed. Usually this tends to annoy the shit out of me, but in Frayed’s case, I was impressed, because it seemed like the directors weren’t just copying something they knew worked, but like me, loved the film to death and were referencing it perhaps even on a subconscious level. AND they made a modern slasher that was refreshingly free of bullshit and managed to find a bit of sympathy for the killer. Finally, a good clown slasher!
Rise Of The Dead (2007)
OK, truthfully, Rise of the Dead isn’t that great of a movie. It’s a bit slow, not shot particularly well, and has some woozy acting (plus the distributor tried to sell it as a zombie movie. But on the other hand, it has what is undoubtedly one of the most batshit icky endings in movie history (and not icky in the gory/bloody way). My review spoils it, but I won’t here – I’ll just insist that if you decide to check it out, you stick with it.
Baby Blues (2008)
I actually got “yelled at” by a reader for defending this movie, which made me laugh – she essentially hated Baby Blues because it was disturbing. Granted, it’s essentially a slasher movie version of something like the Andrea Yates tragedy (and yes, this means a couple of children are killed), but since when is it a bad thing for a horror movie to be disturbing? Like Inside or Martyrs, it’s one of the few horror films I’ve seen in the past 4-5 years that I can truly say I found upsetting.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the habit of seeing movies 2-3 times in theaters, or rewatching them on DVD. Part of that is, obviously, due to the “task” of watching a new movie every day and then reviewing it – sort of takes a toll on your free time. But also, there are just too many movies out there that I want to see, and thus I can’t justify watching anything besides all time favorites over and over instead of experiencing something new. However, Sauna is the only film I’ve actually watched twice in a row. Not like, on a Friday and then again on a Saturday – I literally skipped back to chapter 1 once the end credits began to roll and watched it again without getting off my ass. Part of it was because I didn’t “get” certain parts of it, and part of it was just because I loved the score and wanted to hear it again… but mainly because it was just a stunningly gorgeous looking film, and its metaphorical nature lends itself nicely to multiple viewings.
Now, if you notice, a couple of the movies on this list aren’t exactly great even by my own admittance, but that leads me to my main point. Folks are always saying “You must see a lot of crap, huh?”, and yes, I do. I could make a list twice as long of the movies that made me want to swear off watching horror films forever. But, I always have to remember – doing this has actually made me appreciate even bad movies a little bit more. If you go back and read my old reviews, at first I was sort of astounded at how terrible a lot of the movies were. But now that I’m a “seasoned pro”, I can actually find nice things to say about most of the movies I see. Nearly every “meh” movie I watch (let’s use the recent Curse Of Alcatraz as an example) has a thread on its IMDb page saying how it’s the worst horror movie they’ve ever seen, and my initial reaction is usually “They haven’t seen an Ulli Lommel” film. But that’s the thing – Curse Of Alcatraz probably IS the worst horror movie they’ve ever seen, because the rest of the time they’re probably sticking with the big franchises and remakes. But I have seen those Lommel… THINGS (to call them films is giving them too much credit), and thus I can look at Curse of Alcatraz and say “Well, the director knew how to frame a shot, the actors are competent, the story is coherent, and even if it’s not very good, I can at least detect genuine effort on the filmmakers’ part to make an actual movie”, something I can never say about anything Lommel has made in the past decade.
So that’s why I do Horror Movie A Day. So I can appreciate the Curse of Alcatraz’s of the world just a little bit more than the average Joe. Nothing wrong with a little optimism.
Read the full reviews for these films and hundreds more at Horror Movie A Day!