request | Filmmaker Magazine
Adam Simon's fine documentary plugs you into the zeitgeist of some of America’s bravest and boldest horror cinema, but there's a lot more to the genre than just the acknowledged classics. Some of the films below are loaded with great ideas but are let down in their execution by a criminal paucity of funds. Still others are whipsmart Eurotrash that you can't believe exist even as their bizarro images unfold before your startled eyes. But all of them are unique and challenging, and contained within this list are 11 films (mostly modern) that no self-respecting genre aficionado should miss!

By Scooter McCrae

1. Brain Damage (Frank Henenlotter, 1987): The leanest, meanest and most polished of auteur Frank Henenlotter’s genre gems. A streetwise talking turd/penis/parasite named Elmer seduces an innocent victim into junkiehood with an addictive pleasure drug. Together they roam the scuzzy streets of New York City searching for fresh brains. Seems more visionary with every passing year.

2. Hatchet for the Honeymoon (Mario Bava, 1969): How’s this for a neat plot twist? The vengeful ghost of the protagonist’s murdered wife comes back to haunt the psychotic husband who killed her by being invisible to everyone except him! That’s just one of the many twists to be encountered in this playful chiller. And remember: each murder brings him one step closer to the truth ....

3. The Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968): Vincent Price at his finest in a film that holds a mirror up to the time in which it was made even as it picks apart the evil persecutions of the innocent in a previous era. The unremitting stench of holy violence and moral decay thoroughly permeate this work, and its unforgettable final scene is nightmarishly damaging.

4. The Asphyx (Peter Newbrook, 1972): What could the birth of photography and the Greek spirit of death possibly have to do with each other? Lots, actually, in this imperfect but fascinating hybrid of Victorian science and speculative fantasy disguised as a conservative morality play. Seek out the letterboxed DVD to avoid whiplash.

5. Ganja and Hess (Bill Gunn, 1973): 0ne of the most intelligent and fascinating films to examine how African-American culture was both enhanced and destroyed by the imposition of Christianity. It is also almost a vampire film that shows what might have happened if Alain Resnais had made Blacula. Ganja and Hess is as much a curiosity as it is a genuine genre achievement.

6. Who Can Kill a Child? (Narcisco Ibáñez Serrador, 1975): A tourist couple on an island devoid of adults discover that the child population has killed them all. How far will they go to survive? Unsettling in the extreme, the events that follow this horrid setup escalate in ferocity far beyond the limits of any semblance of political correctness or acceptable morality. Truly original and very, very disturbing.

7. Star 80 (Bob Fosse, 1983): Fosse’s telling of the tragic Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten story is most definitely a horror film. Eric Roberts’s performance, floating somewhere between the childish empathy of Karloff’s Frankenstein and the miasmic energy of March’s Mr. Hyde, creates a memorable modern monster for the ages.

8. Night of the Hunted (Jean Rollin, 1980): It starts out as a softcore sex flick, becomes a French version of David Cronenberg’s They Came from Within for a while and ends with a full-blown evocation of how the Holocaust gutted the soul of Europe. Director Jean Rollin’s least appreciated and most idiosyncratic work is a delicate, windblown husk of flourescent lights and maddening forgetfulness.

9. Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1959): Surgical horror wields a most poetic scalpel in Franju’s classic, which tells of a frustrated doctor trying to restore his daughter's lost beauty with a series of skin grafts obtained from girls murdered by his wife. The daughter, wandering through the house wearing an expressionless mask to hide her deformity, is a chilling and beautiful genre icon.

10. The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981): A portentious painting, creative carnage and a hotel that contains one of the seven doorways to Hell are all part of Lucio Fulci’s luminous mirage of a film. Narrative strands begging to be threaded into some kind of intelligible shape intertwine with unforgettably gruesome spectacle. A spellbinding concoction like no other.

11. Female Vampire (Jess Franco, 1973): Franco dredges up his ultimate filmic expression of vampiric ennui as the Countess Karlstein bakes in the sun and rolls languidly around in her bed for 90 minutes, with occasional bloodsucking breaks. Makes eternity a palpable torture for the viewer as it sucks the joy out of all the usual exploitation staples, like nudity and violence. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece.


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