In the weeks between the DVD release of NIGHTMARES IN RED WHITE AND BLUE and All Hallow's Eve, I thought I’d take time to highlight some great horror films that aren’t included in my documentary. In 96 minutes, NIRWAB references approximately 250 films… but, of course, this barely scratches the surface of “classic horror.” With that in mind, I’ve given myself a task for the next few weeks. For each decade between the 1930s and the 2000s, I’m going pick ten additional films to highlight...
1) Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
When I wrote the first draft of my book Nightmares in Red White and Blue, this underrated gem was the film title I mentioned. The film was directed by a guy named John Hancock. You can't get much more patriotic than that...
2)Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)
Zombie knights on horseback... Nuff said.
3) Sisters (1973)
Brian DePalma proves that he's a worthy heir to Alfred Hitchcock...
4) Don't Look Now (1973)
I had heard about this legendary ghost story for years before I finally managed to see the film (on a Region 2 DVD while I was staying with friends in London)... and it more than lived up to the hype.
5) The Wicker Man (1973)
Utterly captivating for every single minute leading up an utterly unforgettable finale. Need I mention Britt Ekland's dance moves?
6) Deliverance (1974)
This film was originally in the NIRWAB documentary as a representative of the "savage cinema" of the 1970s. It remains one of the most harrowing films I've ever seen.
7) Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Most people wouldn't consider this a horror movie, but few "horror" films get under my skin like this one. It's a simple, reality-based narrative... but Peter Weir's visual storytelling somehow stirs up the great mysteries of the universe. (The director's followup, THE LAST WAVE, is equally noteworthy.)
8) God Told Me To (a.k.a. Demon, 1977)
For my money, Larry Cohen's best film... and I was happy to tell him so when I interviewed him for NIRWAB. We quickly got into a discussion about the film and the bad rap that it got upon initial release. Cohen told me:
People thought that God Told Me To was kind of touchy because it dealt with religion... but I always say, "Hey, look at The Exorcist! Here’s a movie where the little girl’s masturbating with a crucifix. I mean, this is really disgusting stuff." And they had real priests on the set of that movie as technical advisors. What the hell were they doing there, lending credence to this movie... just because it was a bestselling book? They got away with a lot. Far more than we did with God Told Me To... The marketing of God Told Me To was particularly bad. They tried to make it out to be a film that was condemned by the leaders of every religion. They put out ads like that: "This film has been condemned by the leaders of every religious group." What kind of way is that to sell a movie? And then they opened it in Texas, of all places. The stupidity of that organization [Roger Corman's New World] was mind-boggling.
9) Suspiria (1977)
Streaming directly from Dario Argento's vivid nightmares into the soft tissue of your brain...
10) Martin (1978)
George Romero is of course known for zombie movies, but he also made one of the best vampire films in the last half-century. Some fans consider this his best film... and Romero agrees. When I interviewed him for NIRWAB, he told me:
Martin remains my favorite film of mine... It's hard to explain why... You like your own work not so much because of the work... but [because of] the experience that goes into it – the people you work with, the time you spend making it, the camaraderie, the collaboration and all of that. That's what I love about that film. I also think the film’s pretty good, but that… all of that goes into my judgment of it. And it’s the film that came closest to what I intended to do. Everyone supported me and worked hard to make it, and so that’s why it’s my favorite film.
The idea originally came from... I wanted to do a comedy. I said, if there was a real vampire [alive today], he’d have to get a new driver’s license every few years... because he's not gonna look any older. Originally I wanted to do something like that. And I started to scribble a few ideas for a vampire comedy and then I said, "No, that’s not the way to go." One day, I say, "I’m going to try to do this straight."
[It's about] a kid that’s been influenced by family and film and you don’t know which is the strongest influence. And he thinks he’s a vampire. And he is in fact... I mean, he actually enjoys the taste of blood. He always got the impression that it would relate somehow to [intimacy].... He's not the most truthful guy in the world, but he's the sweetest guy that you’d ever want to know. Never tells a lie. Goes on the radio and says who he is... I loved all those ironies that ran through it. I loved the "monster within" theme. So that’s where that movie came from.