Combo Attack!! podcast recently opted to, out of the many pillars of cinema freak-out that are out there in the ether, share a singular DVD pick that best encapsulates the Samhain season for each of us. This was largely due to scheduling, and frankly budget issues that left us with only so much space to work with. But when one thinks about it, this also makes for a potentially interesting, since there are so many other horror classics that I was think of when the leaves begin to fall, and winter's early chill begins to take hold. And since I only could pick one (which will be online shortly - Alain drew first blood HERE) , here are my top five that missed the hallowed spot.
Keep in mind that like favorite children, I'd pick them all had the podcast allowed for it!
So let the carnage begin!
5. Halloween (1978)
I'm not sure if there's anything I can add here that hasn't been raked through the coals already beyond recognition. John Carpenter's indie masterpiece is a thing of sheer wonder that while the world we live in now couldn't be more different, the tale of babysitter murders on Halloween night has something of a mythical quality that hits where it counts. Such a simple premise played to the hilt by cinematographer Dean Cundey, as well as the iconic performances by Donald Pleasance, and Jamie Lee Curtis. In fact, the entire tapestry of the film's production is a case in conceptual perfection. (Can one imagine Halloween without Carpenter's spiritual mindscrew of a score?) And topping this all off by utilizing the squeaky-clean seeming suburban hells of L.A. as Haddonfield, Illinois , as endless labyrinth. While it does very little for gender politics, it more than makes a strong case for independent female leads in genre film by an impressive bound. And let's not discount that still astonishing finale that drives home the ultimate expression of fear in familiar places. One cannot truly kill evil.
4. Night of The Living Dead (1968)
C'mon! They are going to eat us!!! Alain said it best when he mentioned the primal fear that runs though us all in our last Combo Attack!! There's just something truly horrid, and bold about what George Romero and pals set out to do as the world was on edge with change. The fear of living with a wholly new order of thought as they advance upon our complacent way of life is a powerful notion, and with Night, it is encompassed with the kind of veracity, and acerbic wit often missing from most horror films. And even as zombie films have 'advanced" over the years, into a state of pre-packaged irrelevance, this film stands as a powerful indictment of a nation's shameful hypocrisies, and offers the dreadful end result of such lack of any real connection between neighbors.
3. Kairo (2001)
As much as I enjoyed a few major entries in the J-horror wave of the late 90s, including Hideo Nakata's RINGU, and Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On, few riffs on the "angry ghost" cliche nailed it with as much topicality & power as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's brilliant inversion of the subgenre. Less interested in playing it like a film, and more like a dark stage parable on the mutual divisiveness of internet culture, Kairo is a no-holds-barred haunt fest, filled with enough memorably eerie sights and sounds to fill several films. While most definitely a slow burn, Kurosawa makes it clear with his youthful cast of net neophytes, and experts that he is concerned with his nation's increasing cloud of disconnect seemingly linked to technology in time of extended economic recession. The use of largely abandoned cityscapes, interiors, and some seriously troubling music by Takefumi Haketa, creates a world becoming overwhelmed by the machines that once heralded pride, and comfortably nestled in increasingly desperate isolation. Forget that unforgivable US remake, this is true fear.
2. Psycho (1961)
Hard to imagine the slasher film ever happening without this coming down the lane. Leave it to the mighty Hitch to deliver a one of a kind look into the look of varying degrees of evil. And yet somehow, he also finds a way for us to relate to the killer. And that is for me, PSYCHO's masterstroke. Forget that phenomenal swerve early in the film, and keep in mind that with most films of this kind, the so-called monster is often viewed as an external force to be dealt with from the outside of the good. (aka -Us) With the tale of Norman Bates, Alfred Hitchcock establishes the convention of the slasher by doing something most films wouldn't dare do now. Case in point is the scene where the vehicle carrying evidence is run into a watery bog. To see the vehicle stop sinking, we ourselves are implicated, and this is where the disorientation begins to take full shape, and we are now accomplices to the crime. All performances by Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, and even Martin Balsam are wonderful, but I doubt they knew what kind of game changer they were involved in. Still stunning.
1. The Exorcist (1974)
And now we're down to it. yes, I understand just how obvious this all seems, but it just stands to reason. Few films embraced as equal focus on the realism of a world, as well as the supernatural. It is at times the perfect marriage of verite cinema ever attempted as the worlds of the dramatic and horrific do a rare dance that defies expectations, and delivers one impactful scene after another. In some ways, I'd love to see William Friedkin's classic as less of a "horror film", and more a gut-wrenching mediation on faith. Excellent performances by Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, and Max Von Sydow highlight this cinematic equivalent of a penultimate magic act. Even after so many viewings over the years, the film loses none of its potency. As the frazzled Chris MacNeil finally convinces the faithless Father Karras to bring in noted exorcist, Merrin, and the film's climax begins proper, there's this sense that it is time to truly check your gut at the door, because it is an ultimate expression of the eternal battle between polar opposing forces. The battle for little Regan's life is handled in a manner that still defies belief, and instills me with that rare feeling that movies can...rarely achieve. And even as the calm reappears in the final moments, Mike Oldfield's classic Tubular Bells serve as a reminder that this is something to be mindful of, always. While I may be a lover of being frightened, The Exorcist is a reminder of things beyond the screen in a way that rivals profundity, and transcends belief systems all over by walking the walk, as if over the finest razor's edge.