Weekly Top Five: Horror-fest essentials

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Kill, Baby . . . Kill!
  • Kill, Baby . . . Kill!
When this post goes live, the horror hounds over at the Massacre, the annual 24-hour scary-movie marathon hosted this year by the Patio Theater, will have nearly reached the end of their excursion—or at least those dedicated enough to see the whole thing through will have. This year's highlights include George Romero's Martin, Dario Argento's Deep Red, and Fred Walton's April Fool's Day. Vintage trailers and short films are interspersed with the features, and there are some gems among them as well, including Guy Maddin's Odilon Redon, or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity. In total, 35 feature and short works will have screened, a true deluge that only the most dedicated enthusiasts could endure in full.

Programming so many films in such a condensed amount of time is no easy feat. It takes finesse, not to mention a keen appreciation for how the films will complement one another. The folks over at the Massacre do a fine job, tempting me to formulate a plan myself. After the jump, you can check out five films that meet five criteria I'd consider vital in programming a horror-movie marathon.

5. The Phantom Carriage (1920, dir. Victor Sjöström) First, you need something silent. Cinema's silent era goes unappreciated by most modern moviegoers, but that seems to go double for genre fans, who are often hard-pressed to name any film that predates Star Wars. But silent cinema produced some of the greatest horror films ever, particularly this eery Swedish ghost story that makes masterful use of double exposure. See also: A Page of Madness, Nosferatu.

4. Halloween (1978, dir. John Carpenter) Next up, something canonical. Though I'd be inclined to present mostly lesser-known titles, classic works are ideal palate cleansers that offer audiences a recognizable touchstone. John Carpenter's trendsetting slasher is essentially ageless, its abstract qualities rendered that much more enthralling by the countless copycats and homages it inspired. See also: Psycho, The Shining.

3. Dead Alive (1993, dir. Peter Jackson) For further palate cleansing, program something funny. Comedy and horror are naturally complementary genres because of the way they elicit visceral reactions from an audience. When the two are capably merged, the line between what's funny and what's scary is erased, as it is in this manic splatterfest whose ample gore is made absurd by its sheer abundance. Surely I'm not the only person who wishes Jackson made more movies like this. See also: Shaun of the Dead, Cemetery Man.

2. Kill, Baby . . . Kill! (1966, dir. Mario Bava) It's always important to include foreign fare. Horror films from other countries tend to be far less narrowly conceived than their American counterparts—for instance, Japanese and South Korean horror movies often incorporate elements of national folklore, while those from France usually take on sociocultural themes. In Italy, it's all about stylistic excess, as in this visually chaotic chiller, a career best from master aesthete Bava. See also: Kuroneko, Wolf Creek.

1. Twentynine Palms (2003, dir. Bruno Dumont) And finally, something unexpected—something that might not fit in the parameters of the genre but nevertheless retains aspects of it. For the majority of its run time, this elegiac road movie plays more like an exercise in landscape photography and dysfunctional relationships than a horror film, but an abrupt twist ushers in unforeseen terror. More than some screenplay gambit, the twist recontextualizes the preceding action and coyly subverts the film's themes, an experiential ploy worthy of Hitchcock. See also: Cache, Inland Empire.

Repeat as desired.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.

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