Thursday, October 30, 2014

and Welcome to the Horror Show!

Ten horror movies that span the genre. We're not trying to put out a BEST HORROR MOVIES EVER, END OF list, 'cause that'd be presumptuous. No no, the horror movies on this list have two things in common: that we like them (and are trying to assemble a list of movies you might not have seen); and they're available on multiple platforms, like Netflix, Amazon, Fandor, etc. Simply click the title of each movie and you'll get to the page on the Jaman site that'll show you where you can watch them. Okay? Here we go!

The Mummy's Hand - The original Mummy (with icon Boris Karloff) can be found on Netflix, but it's first sequel is a fine follow-up, and is more fun. A traveling magician and his daughter wind up accompanying (and sponsoring) a group of fly-by-night archaeologists seeking an Egyptian tomb. They run afoul of a wizard guarding the tomb, and before long a mummy is rampaging beneath the full moon. It's a bit of a hodge-podge, but the atmospheric bits deliver, the comic relief is actually funny (not always the case in horror-comedies), and it just has a bracing energy that makes for fun viewing. One of the better Universal horror sequels.

Black Sabbath - Speaking of Karloff, later in the venerated icon's career he could be seen hosting and appearing in the middle episode of this colorful and insane triptych of horror tales from horror master Mario Bava. We feted Bava for his centenary, celebrated in July of this year, and earnestly recommend this for anyone knew to Bava's oeuvre. Especially this week!

The Curse of Frankenstein - Hammer Films, the celebrated studio that practically defined horror from the late 50s into the 70s, began their horror cycle in earnest with this, the first of several film sin a long running Frankenstein franchise. Peter Cushing appears for the first time as Baron Frankenstein, making the first of many, many attempts to bring life to the dead. Cushing's work in this series would ensure his status as a horror icon; this status would elude Christopher Lee (who appears here as the Creature) for a while, but he would certainly attain it as well.

The Curse of the Werewolf - Again Hammer Films (and director Terence Fisher) make with the curses. This one falls upon a young Oliver Reed, who was sadly born under a bad sign and eventually transforms into the title creature in the light of the full moon. The period trappings and atmosphere are stunning in this one, as is its steady pacing. This movie received substantial acclaim in 1961 as not just a great horror movie, but simply one of the great British movies of the year.

Ju-On 2 aka Ju-On 2: The Grudge - It is safe to guess that most people with a profound love of contemporary Japanese horror have sampled extensively from the long-running Ju-On/The Grudge series. Directed by Takashi Shimizu (even the American remakes), the series is largely set in a house haunted by the ghosts of a woman and a child who were killed there. These ghosts lash out in anger at anyone who enters the house, often following them to their own homes, profoundly unsettling familiar spaces before unleashing supernatural wrath. Though some object to the series' apparent simple rehashes of many of the same themes and incidents, approaching them as variations on a theme shows a master horror filmmaker at work. Most of the films can be seen independently of one another; this one was the first one we saw, and, quite frankly, it scared the hell out of us. (Kudos to its startlingly beautiful coda, one of horror's finest grace notes. We wouldn't dare spoil it, but can't believe no one talks about it.)

The Moth Diaries - This barely got any kind of theatrical release so we're delighted to see it available on so many platforms. Director Mary Harron (American Psycho) helms a nice little B-picture about a student at an all-girls school who finds herself quite literally bewitched by a new arrival to the school. The Gothic symbolism is discussed maybe a little too directly, but it bleeds beautifully into the nicely-sustained atmosphere, with a couple of jaw-dropping visual moments as well. In a just world, Harron would get to make a movie like this every year.

Fright Night (1985) - Before the Scream series enshrined the ironic stance as the dominant approach to horror, the original Fright Night took an almost post-modern, knowingly referential approach to its genre. The story of a young horror fan who discovers that the new next door neighbor is a vampire, and his enlistment of washed up horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, just stellar) to battle the threat, received a cult following immediately upon release, and even garnered critical appreciation for its knowing nods to horror movie history. Its scares remain potent (with some lovely non-CGI creature effects throughout), its characters three-dimensional, its humor funny, and there are a number of fine lesser-known 80s tunes on the soundtrack. The remake is decently conceived and crafted, yet unnecessary.

Berberian Sound Studio - The famous Italian horror movies (including the gialli, the gory mysteries derided from pulp literature) are only sporadically available on line. But Berberian Sound Studio is happily fairly easy to find, and is well worth watching (and, crucially, hearing). Toby Jones is just dandy as Guilderoy, a repressed British sound engineer brought in to shape the sound of an Italian horror film. Vegetables and other benign objects are mercilessly torn apart as Guilderoy explores various sonic extremes, and though we never see the images they accompany, Guilderoy's mounting stress and insanity are plainly evident.

Silent Hill - This adaptation of the acclaimed (and often downright terrifying) video game franchise gets a bad rap, from both casual viewers and devotees of the series, which I don't understand. We're big devotees of the notion of movies-as-environments, and appreciate the Silent Hill movies for so lovingly capturing the look and feel of the creepy town of Silent Hill, as much a mental landscape as a place on a map, people by desperate residents and terrifying creatures. Mychael Danna's score leans heavily on the acclaimed soundtracks of the games by Akira Yamaoka. Even if the story doesn't grab you, we eagerly recommend getting lost in Silent Hill this Halloween...

American Mary - And though we haven't seen this final entry (which we're nevertheless pretty sure we can call the most extreme movie on this list), we're excited by what we've heard about its makers, twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska. The story of a disgruntled medical student (Katharine Isabelle, herself finally a growing cult phenomenon after years of work) who plies her talents within an underground society bent on body modification was won numerous awards and much attention for its makers, who continue to turn out more and bigger movies with winning confidence and infectious verve.

Happy Halloween!

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