Halloween, outside of being the one time of the year you can show up to work dressed like a cat and take out your office aggression through competitive pumpkin carving, affords the opportunity to watch disturbing and/or outright revolting movies and not seem like a sociopath. As with many of life’s precious opportunities, this one is often wasted on standard fare: fright films that we’ve all seen a hundred times and return to repeatedly like zombies. Whether it’s Linda Blair peeing on the carpet before crawling backward down the stairs in The Exorcist or Jack Nicholson living out the writer’s life by staring hard at a sheet of paper while running up a monstrous satanic bar tab in The Shining, it’s time to confess the popular terrain is played out.
If you find yourself craving a new set of ghoulish companions this season, consider cueing up one of these lesser-known flicks.
(Dario Argento, 1977)
For a while, this Italian auteur was being touted as a Hitchcock-meets-Russ Meyer maverick who — with his slick attention to atmospheric carnage and slow-motion splatter — had elevated the standards of horror cinema (that was before that Phantom of the Opera turkey he made with Julian Sands). Argento’s reputation as a macabre stylist comes from a trilogy of witch-themed films starring sexy young women with eating disorders. Of this trilogy — which includes the unnerving stand-alone masterpiece Inferno, and the recent yawner Mother of Tears — Suspiria (set in an all-girls dance school, with a kick-ass horror-jazz soundtrack) is the one to watch.
Les Yeux San Visage
(Georges Franju, 1960)
Les Yeux San Visage (Eyes Without a Face), the French film that inspired Pedro Almodóvar’s latest thriller The Skin I Live In, as well as a sudsy Billy Idol ballad that aped its name as a chorus, is simply one of the most arresting horror movies ever made. Its gossamer elements detail the story of a surgeon who kidnaps young women and grafts their faces onto his faceless daughter who, driven mad by the perpetual blood on her hands, steadies herself for vengeance and wanders wraith-like from scene to scene. She wears a white mask resembling a Max Ernst painting and floods the screen with an ethereal dread.
Full Moon High
(Larry Cohen, 1981)
So we’ve all seen Teen Wolf and have that image of Michael J. Fox surfing on a van and turning down the school slut for a girl named “Boof.” Believe it or not, there is a strikingly similar but actually funny teen werewolf comedy that came out four years before called Full Moon High. Written and directed by the notoriously under-appreciated Larry Cohen (who gave us the growling baby classic It’s Alive and that yogurt nightmare movie The Stuff), the film stars a young Adam Arkin as a teen bitten by a werewolf while in Romania who, after several decades, returns to his high school to try get his act together. Aside from being a low-budget yuck fest, Full Moon High is a must-see for any ’80s TV addict who — if so inclined to watch a movie where Ed McMahon plays a Cold War colonel and Alan Arkin (Adam’s father) a wisecracking psychiatrist — will be treated to early performances of such C-list celebs as the chick who played Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days and the dude who played Lamont on Sanford and Son.
(Kenneth Anger, 1950)
You know the work of Kenneth Anger, author of the notorious gossip bible Hollywood Babylon, even if you don’t know his films. From the slow pans of leather clad motorcyclists in his underground classic Scorpio Rising to the haunted cackling of a pampered recluse in his elegantly eerie Puce Moment, Anger’s films have been “quoted” by everyone from Martin Scorsese to David Lynch. In his enchanting Rabbit’s Moon he offers a lonely pantomime in the tradition of the commedia dell’arte about the pain of a clown who falls in love with the moon. The doomed fool tries to charm the ballerina bunny who resides within its lunar world, but his efforts are scoffed at, as she has a more eligible suitor — Lucifer in the form of a Harlequin — who can get her better presents. There are two versions of this beautiful film, and they both have their charms. But, for the purpose of Hollow’s Eve, watch the 16-minute one that includes that post-punk Raincoats song “It Came in the Night.” For full effect, watch it about five times in a row.
At any rate, at least know that this Halloween you don’t have to pretend to enjoy the Rocky Horror Picture Show when it gets played on VH1. •
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