Hey kids! Want to see something REALLY spooky for Halloween?
Well, have you seen this little film called…Halloween???
Umm, ok. Well have you seen…The Exorcist???
“It’s playing on cable three times at once right now.”
Hmmm. Well how about…Night of the Living Dead???
The problem with Halloween top ten lists is that they invariably keep naming the same movies. Yeah, Halloween sure is a good movie to watch around Halloween, no arguments there. But where is the thrill of the hunt there? Honestly, in these days streaming movies and a million movies at your fingertips, I kinda miss having to actually to hunt something down! Well, and it being good, of course. Those of you who have spent a phenomenal amount of time finding lost and rare horror movies, and spending hours in the aisles of out of the way mom and pop video rental stores know that 95% of the time, these films are rare and lost for a reason (read: they suck). So, I wanted to devote a list of rare creepy features that had an international flavor and are totally worth hunting down. I am pretty sure that dvds or blu rays exist for all of this, so no need to settle for grainy VHS copies. Unless that’s your thing of course.
This Night I Possess Your Corpse/At Midnight I Eat Your Soul
I have to start this list off with my favorite cinematic boogieman, Coffin Joe, or Zé do Caixão as he is better known in Brazil. In his first two appearances from 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and 1967’s This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse, José Marins (who also wrote and directed) gives us an unhinged performance as a lunatic with a dark cloak, black top hat, odd unibrow, and some unholy long fingernails who is attempting to be the most evil individual in the world as well as finding a woman who is equally evil to bring about the most wicked of children. The films are awesome gothic black and white psychedelic masterpieces that would be similar to filtering some classic Mario Bava Italian gothic horrors…but on acid. There is a color sequence from hell in This Night… that must be seen to be believed! If the trailer doesn’t make you want to automatically watch these, you are on the wrong website.
Mystics of Bali
I know that it is a genre that has kind of been done to death, but take my word for it, if you only see ONE “floating head vampire with hanging entrails” movie, make it this bizarre as all hell 1981 Indonesian film. This is the sort of movie that was tailor made for the cult aficionados at Mondo Macabro to release upon unsuspecting viewers. They actually had a large part in it’s introduction to Europe and North America by its inclusion in their 1998 book from which they took their DVD distribution name. The plot of this is fairly paper thin and involves a witch taking in a European anthropology student who seeks to learn of her unique powers, but in exchange, each night the woman’s head detaches, with organs dangling, and roams the village in search of blood and fetuses to sustain the witch’s powers. Not the scariest movie ever, but a high recommendation for those who have “seen it all”.
The Living Skeleton
Try to identify this movie…the crew of a ship liner is killed for their gold and come back on the anniversary of their demise to terrorize a seaside town that was responsible for their fate. Did you say The Fog? Well that is right too, but I was referring to the underseen atmospheric Japanese black and white horror movie The Living Skeleton from 1968. This effective ghost story was penned by the same guy who would later give us the psychedelic endtimes horror fave Goke, the Body Snatcher, and here he does some inventive things with the standard ghost story which has a palpable feeling of dread and doom throughout. Criterion lovingly resurrected this one as part of their Eclipse series #37
Speaking of Criterion, having a remastered Blu Ray of Hausu is proof enough for me that there is a Film God and that he loves us. How does one ever start to describe Hausu (or “House” in English), a completely bonkers Japanese cinematic oddity from 1977? Imagine a annoying late 1970s Japanese counterpart to Saved By the Bell, but mix in The Evil Dead, David Lynch weirdness, a crazy amount of blood, weird animation, insane direction, a terrible j-pop soundtrack, and multiple hits of LSD. This movie is so out there but quintessentially Japanese pop culture at the same time. Even wrapping your head around it is an exercise in futility, but that isn’t the point. You aren’t meant to understand Hausu…you are meant to EXPERIENCE Hausu. The fact that the only legitimate subtitled edition of this is a knock-it-out-of-the-park edition by Criterion exceeds all expectations for this amazing oddity that was oft talked about but little seen. This trailer does a good job of taking 100 seconds to blow your mind.
Of anything on this list, Viy from 1967 (although apparently remade in 3D in 2014) is most in need of a good remastered blu ray. In fact, I’d take a good legitimate DVD of it if nothing else. This is a really unique movie. Russian cinema, while it excels in the areas of drama, soul crushing war movies, and dabbles in sci-fi is not really known for a country that produces horror movies. I believe that this may be the first Russian horror movie of any type, and if so, it has got a lot right on its first try. Based upon the same source material as Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, the two however are very different takes on this story of witch mythology and the Russian version becomes more of a religious themed meditation rather than the gothic chiller route of Bava. This version of the story involves a man of God who must watch over the body of a dead girl for three days, not realizing that she is also the local witch. The aspects of the bright colorful cinematography would actually be similar to Bava’s later work. While this movie may not be start to finish grueling terror, there are definitely some great creepy moments in this that make it worth checking out for fans of artsy foreign horror.
From the great purveyors of the craziest cinema on the globe, Mondo Macabro, comes what is without question, the greatest, most bat-shit crazy satanic film ever made (which says a lot…School of the Holy Beast being a close second). From the excellent Mexican surrealist Juan López Moctezuma comes this late 70’s slice of colorful, bloody, salacious, depraved insanity. After her parents pass away, a coming of age girl is given over to convent where she befriends another strange girl Alucarda. The two form a fast friendship and then do exactly what you would expect…pledge their allegiance to Satan. Copious nudity, violence, blood, orgies with a goat headed devil, surreal horror imagery, and lots of nuns on fire result. This would make a brain melting sacrilegious double feature with Ken Russell’s The Devils.
…And now for something completely different. On Halloween of 1992, the BBC aired a live broadcast of a news investigation of a haunted house where a mom and her two daughters have been experiencing poltergeist like activity from a spirit known as “Pipes” who has been terrorizing the family. As the simulcast cuts between the feed in the house and the commentators and paranormal experts in the studio, things start to take a turn toward the malicious and violent. This freaked the hell out of many youths when it aired on tv and led to clinically diagnosed cases of post traumatic stress and maybe even a suicide. The show goes completely bonkers by the last ten minutes and loses any shred of realism, but you have to hand it to them, the film is actually pretty brilliant by never really showing the ghost of Pipes (although eagle eyed viewers can spot him throughout in glimpses which adds to the WTF factor) and pre-dates the fascination with live TV ghost hunts by a decade or two. Much like The Blair Witch Project, if you buy into the setup, this one will stick around with you after the credits roll.
Filmed the same time as Tod Browning’s Dracula, Danish master director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 atmospheric chiller is a vastly more artistic take on the vampire mythos and plays out like a really bad surreal dream filled with rolling fogs, ominous scythes, and ghostly echoes. Paired with a hauntingly effective score, this silent film is really something unique and doesn’t feature the conventional bloodsuckers that Tod Browning (along with F.W. Marnau’s Nosferatu a decade earlier) would forever make synonymous with the name “vampire”. The movie may not work well for those of you who are trying to do a toss up between a 1930’s silent foreign art film and some modern big budget horror remake, but with the right mindset (and maybe a second viewing) this one is really an interesting addition to the genre, especially in context of when it was made. Criterion’s or Eureka’s remastered DVDs are the only way to watch this and do it justice.
Night of the Werewolf
Paul Naschy was the man…the WOLFman that is. As a cursed Spanish werewolf who is in adventures throughout a couple centuries and a couple continents worth of cinema, what makes his dozen-plus appearances as Waldemar Daninsky, interesting is that these movies take the approach that this isn’t just a werewolf movie. It is a werewolf VERSUS something movie. In these usually well shot, well directed films, Naschy takes on Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, Samurais, the Yeti, Vampire mistresses, zombies…and sometimes more than one! This mashup mentality always works for me and, along with some gratuitous nudity and bloodshed, checks most the boxes for an interesting 90 minute horror film. This 1981 flick which was directed and written by Paul Naschy is as good of a starting place as one could hope for in his film oeuvre. It has witches, vampire women, zombies, and our main man wolf man. Paired with a good budget, gothic setting, artistic touches, tons of blood and TnA, this one is a heck of a flick!
All the Colors of the Dark
Being a lover of Italian giallo’s (and gelato’s if we are being honest), I feel compelled to put one here. Going the Fulci or Argento route seems too easy, so how about some Sergio Martino? This 1972 psychedelic giallo checks all the boxes for me. Style over substance? Check. Best-of-genre soundtrack by Bruno Nicolai? Check. Wild color palates and acid influenced visuals? Check. The hottest Italian genre babe played by the voluptuous Edwige Fenech half dressed an in peril? Check. A good amount of gore, nudity, and subtle J&B product placement? Check. Kink, perversions, and high Italian fashion? Check. Add in a satanic angle to it all, and you have a true winner. Martino’s output is really strong from this period and it is a shame that he is not better known. However, I feel like his work gets more appreciation with every new blu ray remaster. These films demand a crisp, colorful presentation with an solid HD score. Your Vice is a Locked Room, Torso, Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and this were all made in the span of three years from 1971 to 1973 and make a heck of an introduction to one of the visionaries of the giallo genre. Check ‘em all out. Now who wants to give me a 4k remastered blu ray of this? Synapse or Blue Underground, raise your hand please.