Tag Archives: Suspiria

Fright Club: Best Reboots

What were we looking for? Reboots/remakes that are superior to the original. There are more than you think. In the podcast, we run through eight horror reboots that are superior to the original, kick around another handful that are Even Stevens, and argue about several that could maybe go either way (depending on which one of us you’re talking to). So, you know, have a listen.

5. Dawn of the Dead

Zack Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley). Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

4. Suspiria

Luca Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.

But even when this new Suspiria—a “cover version” of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo classic—is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.

3. The Ring/Ringu

Gore Verbinski’s film The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of the fledgling director. Verbinski’s film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.

From cherubic image of plump cheeked innocence to a mess of ghastly flesh and disjointed bones climbing out of the well and into your life, the character of Samara is brilliantly created.

Hideo Nakata’s original was saddled with an unlikeable ex-husband and a screechy supernatural/psychic storyline that didn’t travel well. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger did a nice job of re-focusing the mystery.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”

At this point we realize he means us, the audience.

We watched the tape! We’re screwed!

2. The Thing/The Thing From Another World

The 1951 original The Thing From Another World is a scifi classic, and every inch of it screams 1950s. The good guys are good, the monsters are monsters. Everything has its place. It’s reassuring.

John Carpenter’s remake upends all that with a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.

A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

1. The Fly

As endearing and fascinating as we find Kurt Neumann’s 1958 Vincent Price vehicle, it just doesn’t quite have the same impact once you’ve seen Jeff Goldblum peel off his fingernails.

Not because it’s gross—and it is gross AF—but because he’s fascinated by the process itself. It’s the scientist in him.

David Cronenberg knows how to properly make a mad scientist film, especially if that madness wreaks corporeal havoc. But it’s not just Cronenberg’s disturbed genius for images and ideas that makes The Fly fly; it’s the performance he draws from Goldblum.

Goldblum is an absolute gift to this film, so endearing in his pre-Brundlefly nerdiness. He’s the picture’s heartbeat, and it’s more than the fact that we like his character so much. The actor also performs heroically under all those prosthetics.

Fright Club: This Cast!

We are beyond delighted to have been allowed to screen Jim Jarmusch’s new zombie classic The Dead Don’t Die two days in advance of its national opening. To honor this remarkable film and its amazing cast, we look at the best other horror movies that star these actors.

5. Zombieland (2009) – Bill Murray

Just when Shaun of the Dead convinced me that those Limey Brits had created the best-ever zombie romantic comedy, it turns out they’d only created the most British zom-rom-com. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick take the tried-and-true zombiepocalypse premise and sprint with it in totally new and awesome directions.

And the cameo. I cannot imagine a better one. I mean that. I’m not sure a walk on by Jesus himself could have brought me more joy.

That’s not true. Plus, in zombie movie?! How awesome would that have been?!

Jesse Eisenberg anchors the film with an inspired narration and an endearing dork characterization. But Woody Harrelson owns this film. His gun-toting, Twinkie-loving, Willie Nelson-singing, Dale Earnhart-number-wearing redneck ranks among the greatest horror heroes ever.

I give you, a trip to a loud and well-lit amusement park is not a recommendation Max Brooks would make during the zombiepocalypse. Still, you’ve got to admit it’s a gloriously filmed piece of action horror cinema.

4. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) – Tilda Swinton

The Dead Don’t Die is not Jim Jarmusch’s first foray into horror. In 2013, the visionary writer/director concocted a delicious black comedy, oozing with sharp wit and hipster attitude.

Great lead performances don’t hurt, either, and Jarmusch gets them from Tom Hilddleston and Tilda Swinton as Adam and Eve (perfect!), a vampire couple rekindling their centuries-old romance against the picturesque backdrop of…Detroit.

Not since the David Bowie/Catherine Deneuve pairing in The Hunger has there been such perfectly vampiric casting. Swinton and Hiddleston, already two of the most consistently excellent actors around, deliver cooly detached, underplayed performances, wearing the world- weariness of their characters in uniquely contrasting ways.

There is substance to accent all the style. The film moseys toward its perfect finale, casually waxing Goth philosophic about soul mates and finding your joy.

3. Suspiria (2018) – Tilda Swinton

It is 1977 in “a divided Berlin,” when American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, nicely moving the character from naivete to complexity) arrives for an audition with a world-renowned dance company run by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, mesmerizing).

This “cover version” (The Tilda’s phrase, and valid) of Argento’s original lifts the veil on the academy elders early, via the diaries of Patricia (Chloe Moretz), a dancer who tells psychotherapist Dr. Josef Kiemperer (also The Tilda, under impressive makeup) wild tales of witches and their shocking plans.

Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth.

But even when this new Suspiria is tipping its hat to Argento, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. Women move in strong solidarity both onstage and off, dancing with a hypnotic power capable of deadly results. In fact, most of the male characters here are mere playthings under the spell of powerful women, which takes a deliciously ironic swipe at witch lore.

2. American Psycho (2000) – Chloe Sevigny

A giddy hatchet to the head of the abiding culture of the Eighties, American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.

There’s an elegant exaggeration to the satire afoot. Bateman is a slick, sleek Wall Street toady, pompous one minute because of his smart business cards and quick entrance into posh NYC eateries, cowed the next when a colleague whips out better cards and shorter wait times. For all his quest for status and perfection, he is a cog indistinguishable from everyone who surrounds him. The more glamour and flash on the outside, the more pronounced the abyss on the inside. What else can he do but turn to bloody, merciless slaughter? It’s a cry for help, really.

Harron’s send up of the soulless Reagan era is breathtakingly handled, from the set decoration to the soundtrack, but the film works as well as a horror picture as it does a comedy. Whether it’s Chloe Sevigny’s tenderness as Bateman’s smitten secretary or Cara Seymour’s world wearied vulnerability, the cast draws a real sense of empathy and dread that complicate the levity. We do not want to see these people harmed, and as hammy as it seems, you may almost call out to them: Look behind you!

As solid as this cast is, and top to bottom it is perfect, every performance is eclipsed by the lunatic genius of Bale’s work. Volatile, soulless, misogynistic and insane, yet somehow he also draws some empathy. It is wild, brilliant work that marked a talent preparing for big things.

1. Get Out (2017) – Caleb Landry Jones

Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” writer/director Jordan Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.

When white Rose (Alison Williams) takes her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet the fam, she assures him race will not be a problem. How can she be sure? Because her Dad (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Obama’s third term “if he could.” It’s the first of many B.S. alerts for Peele, and they only get more satisfying.

Rose’s family is overly polite at first, but then mom Missy (Catherine Keener) starts acting evasive and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) gets a bit threatening, while the gardener and the maid (both black – whaaat?) appear straight outta Stepford.

Peele is clearly a horror fan, and he gives knowing winks to many genre cliches (the jump scare, the dream) while anchoring his entire film in the upending of the “final girl.” This isn’t a young white coed trying to solve a mystery and save herself, it’s a young man of color, challenging the audience to enjoy the ride but understand why switching these roles in a horror film is a social critique in itself.

Get Out is an audacious first feature for Jordan Peele, a film that never stops entertaining as it consistently pays off the bets it is unafraid to make.

I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of January 28

Loads of movies to keep you company during this stupifying cold snap. A lot of them are pretty great. Here are the options, from best to worst:

Suspiria

Boy Erased

The Wife

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Hunter Killer





Fright Club: Best Horror Movies of 2018

Was 2018 the lamentable year in horror that some dumbasses suggest? No! There was a wild and impressive range in independent horror and blockbuster stuff, gore and comedy, psychological scares and slashers. It was a really fun year to look back on, as we do today to rank the best in horror the year had to offer. Join us, won’t you?

10. The Ritual

David Bruckner has entertained us with some of the best shorts in horror today, including work from V/H/S, Southbound, and one of our favorites, The Signal. Directing his feature debut in The Ritual, Bruckner takes what feels familiar, roots it in genuine human emotion, takes a wild left turn and delivers the scares.

Five friends decide to mourn a tragedy with a trip together into the woods. Grief is a tricky, personal, often ugly process and as they work through their feelings, their frustration quickly turns to fear as they lose themselves in a foreign forest where danger lurks.

The film works for a number of reasons, but its greatest triumph is in making the woods scary again. That environment has become such a profound cliché in horror that it is almost impossible to make it feel fresh, but there is an authenticity to the performances, the interaction among the characters, and the frustration and fear that grounds the horror. And then there is horror—intriguing, startling, genuinely frightening horror. Yay!

9. Unsane

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy—brittle, unlikeable and amazing) is living your worst nightmare. After moving 400 miles to escape her stalker, she begins seeing him everywhere. She visits an insurance-approved therapist in a nearby clinic and quickly finds herself being held involuntarily for 24 hours.

After punching an orderly she mistakes for her stalker, that 24 hours turns into one week. And now she’s convinced that the new orderly George is, in fact, her stalker David (Joshua Leonard—cloying, terrifying perfection).

After laying bare some terrifying facts about our privatized mental health industry, Steven Soderbergh structures this critique with a somewhat traditional is-she-or-isn’t-she-crazy storyline. Anyone who watches much horror will recognize that uneasy line: you may be here against your will, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be here.

And the seasoned director of misdirection knows how to toy with that notion, how to employ Sawyer’s very real damage, touch on her raw nerve of struggling to remain in control of her own life only to have another’s will forced upon her.

He relies on familiar tropes to say something relevant and in doing so creates a tidy, satisfying thriller.

8. Mom and Dad

I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it.

It’s a joke, of course, an idle threat. Right?

Maybe so, but deep down, it does speak to the unspeakable tumult of emotions and desires that come with parenting. Wisely, a humorous tumult is exactly the approach writer/director Brian Taylor brings to his horror comedy Mom and Dad.

Why do you want to see it? Because of the unhinged Nicolas Cage. Not just any Nic Cage—the kind who can convincingly sing the Hokey Pokey while demolishing furniture with a sledge hammer.

7. Overlord

Perhaps you don’t know this, but Nazi zombies have a horror genre unto themselves: Shock Waves, Zombie Lake, Dead Snow, Dead Snow 2, Blood Creek. Well, there’s a new Nazi Zombie Sheriff in town, and he is effing glorious.

Overlord drops us into enemy territory on D-Day. One rag tag group of American soldiers needs to disable the radio tower the Nazis have set up on top of a rural French church, disabling Nazi communications and allowing our guys to land safely.

What’s on the church tower is not so much the problem. It’s what’s in the basement.

A satisfying Good V Evil film that benefits from layers, Overlord reminds us repeatedly that it is possible to retain your humanity, even in the face of inhuman evil.

Plus, Nazi zombies, which is never not awesome!

6. Revenge

The rape-revenge film is a tough one to pull off. Even in the cases where the victim rips bloody vengeance through the bodies of her betrayers, the films are too often titillating. Almost exclusively written and directed by men for a primarily male audience, the comeuppance angle can be so bent by the male gaze that the film feels more like an additional violation.

Well, friends, writer/director Coralie Fargeat changes all that with Revenge, a breathless, visually fascinating, bloody-as-hell vengeance flick that repays the viewer for her endurance. (His, too.)

Fargeat’s grasp of male entitlement and the elements of a rape culture are as sharp as her instincts for visual storytelling. Wildly off-kilter close-ups sandwich gorgeous vistas to create a dreamlike frame for the utterly brutal mess of a film unfolding.

Symbol-heavy but never pretentious or preachy, the film follows a traditional path—she is betrayed, she is underestimated, she repays her assailants for their toxic masculinity. But between Fargeat’s wild aesthetic, four very solid performances, and thoughtful yet visceral storytelling, the film feels break-neck, terrifying and entirely satisfying.

5. Halloween

David Gordon Green’s direct sequel is, above all things, a mash note to the original. Visual odes continually call back to Carpenter, often in ways that allude to an intriguing about-face the film is leading to.

Kills—more numerous and grisly than the first go round—are often handled offscreen, just the wet thud or slice of the deed to enlighten us until the corpse gets a quick showcase. The result is a jumpy, fun, “don’t go in there!” experience reminiscent of the best of the genre.

The film takes it up a notch in its final reel, as tables turn, panic rooms open and cop heads become Jack-o-lanterns. The result is a respectful, fun and creepy experience meant to be shared with a crowd.

4. A Quiet Place

Damn. John Krasinski. That big, tall guy, kind of doughy-faced? Married to Emily Blunt? Dude can direct the shit out of a horror movie.

Krasinski plays the patriarch of a close-knit family trying to survive the post-alien-invasion apocalypse by staying really, really quiet. The beasts use sound to hunt, but the family is prepared. The cast, anchored by Krasinski’s on-and-off-screen wife Emily Blunt is amazing. That you may expect.

What you may not expect is Krasinski’s masterful direction: where and when the camera lingers or cuts away, how often and how much he shows the monsters, when he decides the silence will generate the most dread and when he chooses to let Marco Beltrami’s ominous score do that work for him.

It’s smart in the way it’s written, sly in its direction and spot-on in its ability to pile on the mayhem in the final reel without feeling gimmicky or silly.

3. Mandy

Writer/director Panos Cosmatos’s hallucinogenic fever dream of social, political and pop-culture subtexts layered with good old, blood-soaked revenge, Mandy throws enough visionary strangeness on the screen to dwarf even Nicolas Cage in full freakout mode.

Like Cosmatos’s 2010 debut Beyond the Black Rainbow, Mandy is both formally daring and wildly borrowed. While Black Rainbow, also set in 1983, shines with the antiseptic aesthetic of Cronenberg or Kubrick, Mandy feels more like something snatched from a Dio album cover.

Cosmatos blends ingredients from decades-spanning indie horror into a stew that tastes like nothing else.

Surrender to it.

2. Suspiria

Luca Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.

But even when this new Suspiria—a “cover version” of Dario Argento’s 1974 gaillo classic—is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.

1. Hereditary

Grief and guilt color every somber, shadowy frame of writer/director Ari Aster’s unbelievably assured feature film debut, Hereditary.

With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.

Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.

Aster takes advantage of a remarkably committed cast to explore family dysfunction of the most insidious type. Whether his supernatural twisting and turning amount to metaphor or fact hardly matters with performances this unnerving and visual storytelling this hypnotic.





Screening Room: And the Winners Are…

2018 was a pretty outstanding year for film. We had smart blockbusters, gorgeous indies and envelope-pushing animation. New filmmaking voices made themselves heard and old favorites returned to form. In this week’s screening room, with help of former Drexel Theatre President Kevin Rouche, we count down the best in film from the year.

 

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

And check out a far more expansive written review of the best 30 films of the year HERE.





The Screening Room: Song and Dance

Remakes! Legendary returns! Song! Dance! Exclamation points! It’s all in the new Screening Room Podcast, where we talk through the pros and cons of Bohemian Rhapsody, Suspiria, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The Happy Prince, The Other Side of the Wind and Beautiful Boy, plus a slew of new home releases.

 

Listen to the full podcast HERE.





Dance Macabre

Suspiria

by George Wolf

Seventies horror has had a damn good month.

Just weeks after David Gordon Green gave 1978’s Halloween the sequel it deserved, director Luca Guadagnino re-imagines 1977’s giallo classic Suspiria as a gorgeous rumination on the horror of being haunted by echoes of your past.

Wait, wasn’t the original about witches?

It still is, more than ever. Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich (True Story, A Bigger Splash, the upcoming Pet Sematary remake) remove the guesswork about the dance academy coven in favor of a narrative much more layered, meaningful and bloody.

The building blocks remain the same. It is 1977 in “a divided Berlin,” when American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, nicely moving the character from naivete to complexity) arrives for an audition with a world-renowned dance company run by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, mesmerizing). Susie impresses immediately, and is soon given the lead in the company’s next production.

This “cover version” (The Tilda’s phrase, and valid) of Argento’s original lifts the veil on the academy elders early, via the diaries of Patricia (Chloe Moretz), a dancer who has fled the troupe in fear. While whispers paint Patricia as a radical member of the anti-fascist Red Army Faction, she tells psychotherapist Dr. Josef Kiemperer (also The Tilda, under impressive makeup) wild tales of witches and their shocking plans.

Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.

But even when this new Suspiria is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.

Guadagnino’s stated goal of “de-victimizing” women in this film shows early and often. They move in strong solidarity both onstage and off, dancing with a hypnotic power capable of deadly results. In fact, most of the male characters here are mere playthings under the spell of powerful women, which takes a deliciously ironic swipe at witch lore as it creates a compelling bookend to what’s going on away from the dance academy.

Dr. Kiemperer, still searching for his wife missing since the end of WWII, becomes a personal illustration of Germany’s struggle with its Nazi legacy. When paired with Patricia’s rumored involvement in the “German Autumn” uprising of ’77, we get two important pillars of an epilogue that, admittedly, some may find a head-scratching overreach.

But after the finale that precedes that epilogue, the bigger problem may be breath-catching. A glorious celebration of the grotesque, it explodes into a cathartic mix of Ken Russell’s The Devils and GOT‘s Red Wedding that more than affirms the film’s intense, obsessive build. Guadagnino has thrown so much at us, he knows we deserve a payoff and damn, he delivers one.

It cements a vision of Suspiria that’s as ambitious and it is uncompromising, one that explores different definitions of horror while ultimately delivering more outright shocks and shivers than Argento ever attempted. Who knew a silly witch story could support so much mind-fuckery?

His name is Luca.

 

 

 





Fright Club: Most Overrated Horror Movies

Are these the worst movies ever? Hell no – most of the are actually quite good. This is a list of films that can’t live up to the accolades and high expectations that come with them. When we think of films that people just love too much, usually they are impressive on some level – just not impressive enough to merit all the commotion. Here’s our list of the films that best fit that bill. (And when I say “ours,” take that with a grain of salt. George highly disagrees with one choice, in particular.)

5. Saw (2004)

Did you see Saw? Because if you saw Saw, there’s really no need to see Saw 2 (or 3, 4, 5, or 6).

Saw is the gruesome tale of a madman bent on forcing those unworthy of their own lives to acknowledge their internal ugliness. He carries this out in a most unpleasant way. Body parts are usually lost.

Saw would have been an altogether decent piece of grisly filmmaking were it not for the climax – a piece of cinema that was fantastic for the three seconds it took to realize it could never have happened. Coupled with Cary Elwes’s laughable whining and director James Wan’s dreadful grasp of pacing, the film turned out to be much less than it should have been.

My favorite thing about Saw is that, right off the bat, in the opening investigation, cops claim that Jigsaw is no murderer. How’s that? Well, it’s because his victims are given a test that they could, given the masochism and tenacity, survive. This is like saying the guy who pushed someone into the shark tank isn’t a murderer, the shark is.

4. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

An inspired Lorna Raver plays Mrs. Ganush, an old gypsy woman (here and almost everywhere else in the film, Raimi will never be accused of cultural sensitivity) who curses a meek bank loan officer (an uncharacteristically bland Alison Lohman). She will spend the rest of the film trying to break the curse. It’s a pretty slight and predictable premise, but the point is simply to allow director Sam Raimi an opportunity to string together as many body fluid sight gags and creepy set pieces as possible.

His film is gleefully over-the-top, and I wonder whether Lohman’s stiff performance resulted from the nausea she must have suffered. Never have we seen one actor subjected to so many instances of projectile fluids and/or insects in the mouth. Ever.

The film is broadly comical, utterly repulsive, often clever viewing. It won’t scare you in any lingering way – don’t look for any slow-developing dread or quiet creepiness here. From the word Ganush this film is giddy with bile and mucous and blood and worms and nastiness – all that stupid fun of the Evil Dead series, but with a budget. But the storyline itself – leading to the twisty climax – is far too predictable to be effective.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUZTybLlWKI

3. Don’t Look Now (1973)

Did we need to see quite so much of Donald Sutherland?

That’s not really our complaint. Nicolas Roeg’s visually stunning rumination on parental grief follows Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Sutherland) to Venice where they’ll try to recover from the accidental death of their daughter. But grief doesn’t work like that.

Roeg’s film takes on the dreamlike logic and color motifs of an Italian film – not gaillo outright, Don’t Look Now is far too subdued and elegant to fit into that category. But there’s no denying the stylistic similarities between this and Mario Bava, some Argento, even maybe a touch of Fulci. Just a touch!

The director uses dreamy visions to enhance the mystery facing John Baxter. In its best moments, the film articulates the necessarily selfish nature of grief. Otherwise, it’s a slow and graceful mystery often punctured by garish flashes and a twist ending is so ill-fitting it leaves you dumbfounded – and not in a good way.

2. Suspiria (1977)

Italian director Dario Argento is in the business of colorfully dispatching nubile young women. In Suspiria, his strongest film, American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) moves to Germany to join a dance academy, but the other dancers are catty and the school is staffed with freaks. Plus, women keep disappearing and dying.

As Suzy undertakes an investigation of sorts, she discovers that the school is a front for a coven of witches. But Argento’s best film isn’t known for its plot, it’s become famous because of the visually disturbing and weirdly gorgeous imagery. Suspiria is a twisted fairy tale of sorts, saturating every image with detail and deep colors, oversized arches and doorways that dwarf the actors. Even the bizarre dubbing Argento favored in his earlier films works to feed the film’s effectively surreal quality.

But it is tough to surrender the need for decent acting or coherent story in favor of the garish style.

1. Omen (1976)

Gregory Peck brought impenetrable gravitas to this film, making everything seem very serious and worthwhile. This could be no ordinary horror flick – not with Atticus Finch in the lead.

Peck plays Robert Thorn, a rising politician and best friend to the President of the United States. He agrees to a delivery room switcheroo when he’s told his own son perished during childbirth, but another baby born simultaneously was orphaned. He brings home the tot, his loving wife (Lee Remick) none the wiser.

This mid-Seventies Oscar winner is a bit over-the-top with its self-serious approach to the coming of the antichrist. Richard Donner – who would go on to direct a couple Superman movies, a bunch of Lethal Weapons, as well as the Goonies – made a name for himself as a director with this bloated and deadly serious bible thumper.

The film’s sinister elements – Mrs. Baylock, that dog, and Jerry Goldsmith’s intensely creepy score – combine with Peck’s elegant heroism to keep the film fascinating, but all would have been for naught except for Harvey Stephens’s impish perfection as Damien.

Disagree? Keep it to yourselves. NO! What we mean is, share that enthusiasm and any suggestions with us on Twitter @maddwolf, on Facebook @maddwolfcolumbus, or comment right here.

Stay frightful, my friends!





Fright Club: Best Witch Movies

Can’t imagine what it was that inspired us to run through the best witch movies. Oh wait, it was the spellbinding and unsettling The Witch, that’s what it was. So, celebrate that film and many a Black Mass with us as we count down the best films about witches, and invite Junior Emmy-Winning Corresponding Mike McGraner to hash out the pros and cons of The Witch. Listen to the full brawl…er…podcast HERE.

5. Starry Eyes (2014)

Sarah (Alex Essoe) is an aspiring actress in LA and a bit of a delicate flower. She lives in a complex full of other aspiring actors, but she doesn’t hang out with them or participate in their low budget indie circle – they believe she thinks she’s too good for them. Then she auditions for a part, does some things on camera for the audition she regrets, behaves weirdly in the bathroom, and is invited to meet The Producer.

On the one hand, Starry Eyes offers an obvious plot about selling your soul for success, dressed in a cautionary tale about Hollywood. But the writing/directing team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer are much more sly than that. Yes, the insights they provide about the backbiting lowest rungs of the Hollywood ladder abound, but they are far more compassionate than what you routinely see.

Also fascinating is the clever use of the protagonist Sarah – she begins as our empathetic heroine, our vehicle through the daily degradation of trying to “make it.” But the filmmakers have more in store for her than this, and Essoe uncomfortably peels layer after layer of a character that is never fully what we expect.

Look for outstanding, witchy appearances by genre veteran Maria Olsen, as well as a spot-on Louis Dezseran. They will make you uncomfortable.

4. Suspiria (1977)

Italian director Dario Argenta is in the business of colorfully dispatching nubile young women. In Suspiria, his strongest film, American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) moves to Germany to join a dance academy, but the other dancers are catty and the school staff are freaks. Plus, women keep disappearing and dying.

As Suzy undertakes an investigation of sorts, she discovers that the school is a front for a coven of witches. But Argenta’s best film isn’t known for its plot, it’s become famous because of the visually disturbing and weirdly gorgeous imagery. Suspiria is a twisted fairy tale of sorts, saturating every image with detail and deep colors, oversized arches and doorways that dwarf the actors. Even the bizarre dubbing Argento favored in his earlier films works beautifully to feed the film’s effectively surreal quality.

It’s a gorgeous nightmare, bloody and grotesque but disturbingly appealing both visually and aurally (thanks to Argento’s go-to soundtrack collaborator, Goblin).

3. The Witches (1990)

Roald Dahl can spin the most wondrously dark tales for children, and the tale that fits that description best is The Witches. Directed by Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, The Man who Fell to Earth, Performance) from a screenplay adapted by Allan Scott, the film may pull a punch here or there, but it lands others unexpectedly.

Angelica Huston – always an imposing presence – leads a cast of witches whose dastardly plan to eliminate all the children in England is overheard by, well, a child in England. Now he has to save the world, even though they’ve turned him into a mouse.

While this is absolutely a family film, full of Honey I Shrunk the Kids style fun with the tiny mouse protagonist, plus a lot of slapstick humor, Huston is forever frightening, and the film takes an absolutely terrifying turn once all those witches remove their day-to-day faces.

No, The Witches may not be a true horror flick, but it was a terrifying experience for countless kids in 1990 and it definitely boasts some of the scariest witches in cinema.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Nearly 50 years after its release, this film remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Yes, that crazy pederast Roman Polanski sure can spin a yarn about violated, vulnerable females.

Back in ’69, Roman was interested in Rosemary Woodhouse, she of the fuzzy slippers who doesn’t want to be a bother. Tethered to aspiring actor/bad husband Guy Woodhouse, Rosemary moves into a Manhattan apartment building with a dark past and some peculiar neighbors.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet.

By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary, but when the film was released, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands? Not that Roman Polanski, of all people, can be trusted in such a situation.

1. The Witch (2015)

The unerring authenticity of The Witch makes it the most unnerving horror film in years.

Ideas of gender inequality, sexual awakening, slavish devotion to dogma, and isolationism and radicalization roil beneath the surface of the film, yet the tale itself is deceptively simple. One family, fresh off the boat from England in 1630 and expelled from their puritanical village, sets up house and farm in a clearing near a wood.

As a series of grim catastrophes befalls the family, members turn on members with ever-heightening hysteria. The Witch creates an atmosphere of the most intimate and unpleasant tension, a sense of anxiety that builds relentlessly and traps you along with this helpless, miserable family.

Every opportunity writer/director Robert Eggers has to make an obvious choice he discards, though not a single move feels inauthentic. Rather, every detail – whether lurid or mundane – feels peculiarly at home here. Even the most supernatural elements in the film feel appallingly true because of the reality of this world, much of which is owed to journals and documents of the time, from which Eggers pulled complete sections of dialog.

Equally important is the work of Eggers’s collaborators Mark Kovan, whose haunting score keeps you unnerved throughout, and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke. From frigid exteriors to candle-lit interiors, the debilitating isolation and oppressive intimacy created by Blaschke’s camera feed an atmosphere ripe for tragedy and for horror.

As frenzy and paranoia feed on ignorance and helplessness, tensions balloon to bursting. You are trapped as they are trapped in this inescapable mess, where man’s overanxious attempt to purge himself absolutely of his capacity for sin only opens him up to the true evil lurking, as it always is, in the woods.