Horror mini-reviews (3 of 3) + ranking of films

This month, I found a top 25 Italian giallo list, so because of Halloween, I decided to give a handful of those murder mysteries a watch. Soundonsight also have an interesting 150 Greatest Horror Films roundup, which also served as inspiration for my horrorthon.

Again, no spoilers for the mini-reviews:

Repulsion (1965)
Widely considered a classic, black and white psychological-horror film recommended by Josh as part of his top 10 favorite horror films. Directed by Roman Polanski, and technically brilliant, the camera work and atmosphere of the film reminded me of The Double Life of Veronique (1991), showing personal intimacy and small details in a young woman’s day-to-day life. I think you can either find this style very intense or very boring. The visual language and exaggerated sound(phone, clock, church-bells) gives us a feeling of being inside the mind of the over-sensitive protagonist.
Repulsion (1965) is from the point-of-view of fragile, introverted, confused and beautiful Carol (Catherine Deneuve in a stand-out performance). Her spiral out of control and mental breakdown is a disturbing ordeal. The line is blurred between reality, madness. You could also view elements as supernatural, I don’t buy that interpretation. Self-defense is also a theme.
Repulsion is the first of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” (the other two being Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976).
Favorite quote: “We all have to lead our own lives in the end, you know”
Rating 8.2

Shivers (They Came From Within) (1975)
Early David Cronenberg horror film. Due to the low budget, the audio is pretty shoddy, and it does shift around between a wide range of characters more than I’m comfortable with, so characterization is at a minimum. Nevertheless, a memorable and captivating look at a medical experiment gone wrong. Takes place in in a claustrophobic, fortress-like luxury apartment complex. The worm-like creatures are incredibly disgusting, shivers indeed!!!
Suspenseful, unsettling and unpredictable. A reaction to changing attitudes towards sex during the 1970s. Brings new meaning to the word sex addict. Cronenberg was still honing his craft with this body horror film, and gives an indication of what was to come. The Fly (1986) for example. Horrifying side effects of health care industry is also a theme in Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981).
Favorite quote: “Why not breed a parasite that can do something useful? A parasite that can take over the function of a human organ”
Rating 7.6

Scanners (1981)
David Cronenberg futuristic thriller. Scanners boasts some impressive special effects. We are thrown into the mind of the patient, listening to all those voices. The sound effects are disturbing, so at times painful to watch, rather than entertaining. About dangerous telekinesis, telepathy, mind control, and learning to harness your abilities. How medical industry are experimenting with side effects of a drug. Scanners look like ordinary humans. Perhaps David Cronenberg was using the film as a metaphor to comment on society’s prejudicial attitudes towards the mentally ill. In the context of the story, schizophrenia comes to mind. Being forced to live on the fringes of society as their powers/weaknesses are feared and misunderstood by many. Sort of like how the “X-Men” movies worked out.
Impressed by the creepy performance by Michael Ironside, his devilishness reminds me of Jack Nicholson, and it was a pity he vanished in the middle part of the film. Uncanny how similar looking Cameron Vale (main character Stephen Lack) is to the real life David Cronenberg, he must be the director’s alter ego.
I liked the film, but I wish Cronenberg had done a little more with the ideas. My rating is slightly lower than Shivers (1975), because I feel Cronenberg is covering the same ground again about dangerous side effects of health care system, albeit with different story. However, from a technical standpoint, Scanners is a step up from his 1975 work, obviously because of a larger budget.
Favorite quote: “With all those other voices in your head, how can you hear your own voice? How can you develop the self-personality”
Rating 7.5

Black Sabbath (1963)
Recommended by SDG from U, Me and Films. Italian horror tales dubbed in English. Anthology divided into three parts; The Telephone, The Wurdulak, & The Drop of Water. All of the segments feature beautiful women. The heavy metal band Black Sabbath appropriated their name from the British title of the film.
“The Telephone” creates tension by someone ringing a woman when she is home alone. (A mysterious person on the phone may have been the inspiration for opening 20 minutes of 1979 horror movie When A Stranger Calls)
The second part “The Wurdulak” was the least scary, yet best for atmospheric visuals.
“The Drop of Water” was the creepiest and most memorable of the three, I just wish the old woman’s face didn’t look like a wax work. Could conceivably have been even creepier then.
If you like anthology horror, I’d also recommend Dead of Night (1945), and Kwaidan (1964).
Rating 7.6

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
Science fiction-psychological horror film. According to rotten tomatoes the 1978 remake expands upon themes and ideas only lightly explored in the 1956 original.
The opening credits sequence is spectacular, partly down to DP Michael Chapman, who also worked on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
Not bad, enjoyable to pass the time, an eeriness is maintained. A scene that stayed with me was when plants are going crazy, while Donald Sutherland sleeps in the garden chair.
You can read the story as an allegory of mass political brainwashing and loss of individualism.
Favorite quote: “isn’t it more likely that you want him to change, because it gives you an excuse to get out?”
Rating 7.4

Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) (1989)
Recommended by 3guys1movie. Atmospheric, hallucinatory, and imaginative Spanish drama/horror/mystery by director Alejandro Jodorowsky. Ranked 476th on Empire magazine’s 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.
If I had to compare it to anything, would be The Fall (2006)
And no, it’s not about Christmas, even with Santa in the title.
The story is a little uneven and all over the place, probably to emphasize the hallucinatory state the main character is in.
In fact, it almost plays out as a silent film, the dialogue is not needed.
I got the feeling the director had thrown all his wild ideas into this project, so there’s a lot to take in on the first viewing.
So why didn’t I give it a higher score? Somehow so abstract, symbolic and mysterious that it never quite becomes as emotionally involving as it wants to be, and this for me lessens the impact of the imagery. Nevertheless, a visual treat for the senses. I would label this arthouse horror.
Rating 7.3

Les Diabolique (The Devils) (1955)
Recommended by David at Taste of Cinema. Has been called the greatest film that Alfred Hitchcock never made. I wouldn’t call Les Diabolique a horror film, I’d label it suspense/mystery. The opening credits score had a shade of The Shining.
I liked it, wouldn’t say I loved it. Not sure my nerves can handle any more films that keep the twist a secret for over an hour!!! Keeps you on the edge of your seat!
Rating 7.5

The Omen (1976)
Recommended by Jessica at The Velvet Cafe. Directed by Richard Donner, a slick, entertaining mainstream horror movie that is widely hailed as a classic. You might think twice about adopting a random child after having watched The Omen!
Only small thing that rang the alarm bells for me was the pregnancy issue, mother couldn’t have children at beginning, yet doctor says she can later on?
Even though the omen warnings on photographs is an idea that is difficult for me to take seriously, the filmmakers do a good job in making Gregory Peck’s character and his wife very skeptical. An engaging film, that won’t scare you to death, but has plenty of memorable scenes. Jerry Goldsmith won an Oscar for the chilling score.
Trivia: A series of events happened during the making of “The Omen” (October 1975 to January 1976) that caused some speculation as to whether or not the film was “cursed”.
Rating 7.6

Possession (1981)
Recommended by Sati from Cinematic Corner.
Powerful drama starring Sam Neil and Isabelle Adjani(in an award winning performance). A relationship is falling apart. Has an unease and tension that keeps you on edge, not knowing at all what is going to happen next, because there’s a lot of irrational behaviour. Fluctuated a lot between low and high audio. Anger outbursts, arguing and crazy domestic violence, I didn’t know how to react to what I saw.  I think on my part it was a mix or disgust and fascination. So quite a dark film, that will not be to everyone’s taste.
The sound quality is not of the highest order, it seems it was low budget production. Several characters behave in an odd way, flirting, stealing, chasing. I’m glad I wasn’t the actor who had to keep his head under water in the toilet bowl!!! The director has stated that he wrote the screenplay in the midst of a messy divorce.
If you like the work of Cronenberg, you should give it a try. A unique experience. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Favorite quote: “So that’s how you’ve changed her so much! Possibly, but is it changing her or making her open to herself”
Quote: “I can’t exist by myself, because I’m afraid of myself. Because I’m the maker of my own evil.”
Rating 7.6

Carnival of Souls (1962)
Recommended by Dusty at Playground of Doom, who says it’s one of his favorite films. A low budget b-movie with poor audio quality, which has gained acclaim in recent years, and is now in the Criterion Collection.
The organ music is effective in setting the mood, but the scares are a bit dated. A loner woman gets a job as a Church organist in a new town, but she is seeing unsettling things everywhere.
May have been an inspiration for a number of subsequent high profile horror films, which I’ll refrain from mentioning due to spoilers. Carnival of Souls has atmosphere, and is worth a look, and does rise above its B-movie budget. If you can handle the dodgy audio, you might get into it. Some call it overrated, others call it a gem. It held my attention.
Rating 7.4

Hellraiser 2 (1988)
The good news is you get to see the hellraiser world, which due to budgetary limitations was only hinted at in the original. There is also more money spent this time on gore. Aside from a couple of visuals from the underworld, and an underwhelming revelation of who pinhead is, the sequel doesn’t really add much else to the mythology. Lacks the freshness of the first film. Never boring, and quite an entertaining watch, but based on the trailer, I thought part 2 would have more to offer.
Rating 6.0

House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Recommended by SJHoneywell at 1001plus. A group of people are locked in a house that may, or may not be haunted, and must survive the night in order to receive $10.000. High on suspense and mystery, low on actual scares. We wait to see what will go wrong. No big action scenes, on a minor scale. Memorable performance by sinister Vincent Price as the host of the gathering. Avoid the 1999 CGI remake at all costs…
Rating 7.5

House of Wax (1953)
Entertaining, even though, in my opinion, the first half of the movie is stronger than the second half. Vincent Price sure put his safety at risk during the opening 15 minutes.  Wow, doesn’t look like a stuntman! The film was one of the biggest hits of 1953, according to Wikipedia.
Favorite quotes: “To you they are wax, to me the creator they live and breath”
“If a girl don’t watch her figure, a man won’t!”
Rating 7.4

Noroi : The Curse (2005)
A Japanese found footage horror. A series of mysterious deaths, are they coincidences or a curse? A number of witnesses are interviewed. Has certain similarities with The Blair Witch Project (1999). Unfortunately I don’t have very much positive to say about Noroi, I disliked the film. Has a fanbase and has been called an ”intricate puzzle”. Sadly I found it overlong, tedious, and not at all scary. The final scene is quite memorable, that was only thing I liked. I didn’t care about the characters or the outcome, and struggled to finish. Perhaps it appeals more to an Asian audience? To me it was extremely boring. My least favorite of the horrorthon.
Rating 3.5

Black Sunday (1960)
Features in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Mario Bava’s directorial debut, which confusingly goes by several different titles (see poster above for evidence). About a vengeful witch.
Loved it, strong for atmosphere, set pieces, and suspense.
I believed this place is haunted!
According to Wikipedia, Black Sunday was a worldwide critical and box office success, and launched the careers of director Mario Bava and movie star Barbara Steele.
Recommended, if you are a fan of Tim Burton, or Coppola’s Dracula (1992)
Rating 8.1

Don’t Look Now (1973)
Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier. A psychological drama/mystery about a grieving couple, who meet a psychic. The editing is very deliberate. The colours and images are loaded with symbolism, and the city of Venice looks stunning. A film I could watch every 10 years and still notice new details. Holds up well despite being from the 70s. As rotten tomatoes writes, we feel their grief. Is this a giallo? If so, among the best.
Rating 8.2

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)
Italian giallo mystery dubbed in English, directed by Sergio Martino. The film uses elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Black Cat, and acknowledges this influence in the film’s opening credits. Bookended by two memorable scenes. About a writer who sleeps around, we witness a series of murders without knowing the killers identity. Likely this film was the inspiration for the typewriter scene in The Shining (1980).
I liked the score, and how we got to know the characters. It’s a strange mix of frequent nudity, and character study. The murder mystery surprisingly takes a back seat, which may put off some viewers. Of the Italian giallo films I saw, this one would rank as the most psychologically interesting. Not simply a whodunit, the characters are also worth observing on their own merit. Uneven, pretty effective film.
Favorite quote: “Drink. Maybe you’d prefer drinking from my empty skull?
Rating 7.3

The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971)
Italian giallo mystery dubbed in English. Having now watched two of Sergio Martino’s films, a trend with his work is that he wants to show nudity every 5-10 minutes, and has a love of motorcycles. Plus characters have a strong appetite for sex.
I love the wailing music theme by Nora Orlandi. Aside from the twist ending, didn’t have any other stand-out scenes. But a pretty good film, that is considered among the top 20 Italian giallos.
In an interesting sidenote, the letter “h” was added to the name “Ward” when an Italian woman named Mrs. Ward threatened legal action over the original title’s potentially damaging her good name, just before the film was released.
Favorite quote: “They shouldn’t have given that killer all those free ads in the press and on TV, now he thinks he’s got to go on with the killings to live up to his reputation”
Rating 7.2

Blood and Black Lace (1964)
Early influencial giallo, dubbed in English. I really liked the first two Mario Bava films I saw this month, this was by far the worst of the three. Served as a stylistic template for the “body count” slasher films of the 1980s.
I would give it 4 for story and characters, 8 for lighting and set design. We never got to know the characters for long, so the cast feel like they are basically there to be killed off. Aside from one scene involving a burned face, to me the story lacks a spark when it comes to suspense, and the ending was unremarkable. I find this giallo film dull and overrated. There is nothing really of interest except Mario Bava’s signature flair for visuals. In Italy, Blood and Black Lace was a box office failure, and I’m not that surprised. I was bored.
Rating 5.5

The Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971)
Italian giallo mystery subtitled in English. After the success of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), the Italian film industry set out to produce a slate of thrillers with animal-related titles.
The first 10 minutes of the film made me wonder if it was another erotic giallo in the style of Sergio Martino’s films, but that is not the case at all.
Instead the vast majority of the film is about the detective work, and for a change we get to see the home life of the detective. A couple of bizarre attacks on women are looked into.
Good story, a memorable roof chase is a highlight. I was expecting spiders to have more screen time with that title. Despite that, the film keeps you on edge the whole way. Tense soundtrack by famed Italian composer Ennio Morricone.
Having now watched a group of different giallo directors, I’m convinced that Dario Argento’s 70s and 80s work is the best of the bunch. The Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971) is however one of the finest of the non-Argento giallo films I’ve discovered.
Rating 7.4

Monthly recap

Ranking of horror marathon (my scores in brackets)

Recommended:

1.) Repulsion (1965) (8.2)
2.) Don’t Look Now (1973) (8.2)
3.) Black Sunday (1960) (8.1)
4.) The Descent (2005) (8.0)
5.) The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) (8.0)
6.) Ghost Stories (Kwaidan) (1964) (7.9)
7.) Altered States (1980) (7.8)
8.) Paranormal Activity (2007) (7.8)
9.) The Omen (1976) (7.6)
10.) Possession (1981) (7.6)
11.) Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) (7.6)
12.) Black Sabbath (1963) (7.6)
13.) Shivers (1975) (7.6)
14.) Shaun of the Dead (2004) (7.5)
15.) Peeping Tom (1960) (7.5)
16.) House on Haunted Hill (1959) (7.5)
17.) Zombieland (2009) (7.5)
18.) The Beyond (1981) (7.5)
19.) Scanners (1981) (7.5)
20.) Night of the Living Dead (1968) (7.5)
21.) Les Diabolique (1955) (7.5)
22.) Hellraiser (1987) (7.4)
23.) Carnival of Souls (1962) (7.4)
24.) House of Wax (1953) (7.4)
25.) Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978) (7.4)
26.) The Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971) (7.4)
27.) Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) (7.3)
28.) Santa Sangre (1989) (7.3)
29.) The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971) (7.2)

Not recommended:

30.) Sweeney Todd (2007) (6.8)
31.) Children of The Corn (1984) (6.5)
32.) Friday the 13th (1980) (6.5)
33.) Practical Magic (1998) (6.2)
34.) Insidious (2011) (6.0)
35.) Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) (6.0)
36.) Blood and Black Lace (1964) (5.5)
37.) Re-Animator (1985) (5.5)
38.) Noroi: The Curse (2005) (3.5)

Agree or disagree? Have you watched any of these? Which horror films did you see this October? I think I’ve watched enough horror to last me until Halloween next year LOL!

24 thoughts on “Horror mini-reviews (3 of 3) + ranking of films

  1. Isn't Don't look now a great film? Nice mini review – it was great to see it in here. Im quite a Daphne du Maurier fan… she also wrote Rebecca and the Birds of Hitchcock fame. Jamaice Inn too, but Hitchcock stuffed that up a bit.
    However, I agree that Don't look now is a truly great film and stands up to the test of time.

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  2. I've had The Omen and Scanners on my to-watch list for a while so thanks for the reviews here. Think The Omen is more up my street. Cronenberg's films tend to be a bit hit and miss with me.

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  3. haha found footage takes the bottom spot! I'll look forward to that one then! I've only seen The Descent out of your top 5 so I better check some of them out. Maybe next Halloween…

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  4. Wow, so many of these I haven't seen. I like that you ranked them all at the end. I may have to do something similar, though I didn't see nearly as many horror films as you last month.

    Repulsion is the best, eh? Definitely heard a lot of great things about it. I'll try to get to it soon.

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  5. Woah that is a huge list of horrors, I saw 6 this week and I already feel scared, I don't think I'd make it through such a quantity. Glad you liked Repulsion and Possession. I really need to check out Don't look Now.

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  6. Must've quite an experience, Chris! I don't know much about the films you reviewed and you know I avoid horror films.

    Aw, you disliked Practical Magic? It's more of a family/flick movie, though there were scary parts. I love the sisterhood between Kidman and Bullock.

    I'm glad I passed on Sweeney Todd though

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  7. @Lisa: Yes, Don't Look Now is a good one, I saw it in my teens, and couldn't remember a whole lot except they go to Venice. I'm glad I revisited it this year, I think I understood it better. Rebecca, Hitchcock's adaptation is on my list.

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  8. @Jaina: I think you'd enjoy The Omen, plenty of memorable scenes in that one.
    Yeah, Cronenberg can be hit or miss, someone told me the early films are the best from 70s and 80s, though I also like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.

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  9. @Pete Turner: I like the found footage movies Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project. Noroi didn't appeal to me at all, I would approach it with caution, even though you're a big fan of found footage.

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  10. @Eric: You know what, the margins are so small, that to be honest, Repulsion is not a clear favorite, I pretty much enjoyed all of the top 28 for different reasons.

    I look forward to your horror ranking, and hope you like Polanski's film.

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  11. @Sati: I don't have trouble sleeping at night, so I'm okay with lots of horror ( :

    Thanks for suggesting Possession, you are right that it's a unique experience! Look forward to your thoughts on Don't Look Now

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  12. @Andina: I feel I need to see something different now, but it sure was fun finally watching all those horror films I had heard about, but never watched. (I had only seen 2 on the list before)

    Practical Magic I think is a girl film, and I can't change my gender and watch it with female eyes ( :

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  13. @Bonjour Tristesse: That actress is pretty hot, I agree. Wardh had a great twist ending and theme tune, and Your Vice I liked for the characters and ending.

    I'd recommend under-appreciated The Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971), if you haven't seen that giallo. It's not as sexy as Martino, but good for detective work, suspense, and Morricone's score.

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  14. I love the fact that how you trust each of us,and actually watched the films we recommend,Chris.I've only seen 4 in your top 10 list,a lot of catch up work to do!

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  15. Thanks for the shout-out, Chris!

    Love this epic post. It's great seeing Repulsion at the top of your rankings. Other than that, I've only seen House of Wax, but I should be seeing Don't Look Now, Possession, and House on Haunted Hill soon.

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  16. Thanks David, The LAMB community is inspirational for finding films I never would have discovered by myself. In October a lot of bloggers were writing about horror and Halloween movies, and I had a blast broadening my horizon in that area ( :

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  17. Some great horror films here. I was really impressed with The Descent as one of the more recently produced films. The Omen is still one of the scariest films I've ever seen.

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  18. @Dan: Thanks! Yes, The Descent is getting a lot of love in the blogosphere, and I#m a fan too. The Omen still holds up as a creepy experience, the remake was not needed.

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  19. Fantastic post! I think Carnival of Souls was sort of right time-right movie for me. I was in high school, and hadn't seen anything that far out before. I agree…it's not particularly scary (as in terrifying). But it works on you.

    I've only seen Repulsion once…but it's unforgettable. I can still remember those hands bursting out the wall!

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  20. @Dusty McGowan: Thanks for saying so! I know what you mean about timing, there are several films I liked, because I was the right age, Poltergeist comes to mind, which scared me as a kid.

    Repulsion, I just loved the atmosphere, and how it was all from her perspective.

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