Excellent horror films are so few and far between. But the arrival of a genuine visionary within the genre is a few times a generation. Ari Aster is the most intriguing horror director right now. I don’t know if Midsommar works on all counts – perhaps there is an overreach from Aster in the same way that director Paul Thomas Anderson overly indulged (in my opinion) in Magnolia (1999). And yet, there are moments of staggering beauty and stomach-churning depravity. If you like your cinema at the edges of what’s permissible (and don’t we all?), start with Heredity, move onto Midsommar, and follow the career of Ari Aster.
Of course it’s a horror film! I once screened the Winkie’s diner scene for a bunch of unsuspecting people at a Jungian conference – they freaked out. And I dare anybody not to be traumatised by that final sequence in which Betty is set upon by those two macabre, garish, well-meaning, grossly off-kilter octogenarians. This is what makes David Lynch so special – he understands that horror is about irrationality and excess, and he pushes this aesthetic to breaking point in the monumental Club Silencio sequence.
I can hear the Jerry Goldsmith score, and you don’t want that in your head. This is classical religious-horror filmmaking at its best. I remember doing a deep dive after seeing this film as a kid, reading the Book of Revelations (King James version), and in all seriousness attempting to identify the beast. My first flirtation with conspiracy thinking! Beyond the religiosity, the film has many of the greatest death scenes in prestige horror, and by far and away the greatest decapitation scene.
It’s so difficult to classify the cinema of Dario Argento. I’m obsessed with Hitchcock, which basically means I’m obsessed with Argento, and I’ve spent too much time trying to come to terms with just what makes Argento so unique. Suspiria is Argento after the giallomasterpieces, and it gains from a dose of surrealist horror we don’t see in those earlier works. Colour, design, framing, geometry, sound – these are Argento’s fascinations as one of cinema’s great formalists. Be sure to check out Guadagnino’s remake, with a wonderful score from Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame.
I love this movie. Nicholas Roeg is always about mood and atmosphere, but he managed in this work to channel Henry James of The Turn of the Screw and rings every ounce of gothic sex (the Donald Sutherland-Julie Christie coupling has to be seen to be believed), melodrama and violence from the Venice setting. The film seems lost in palls of mist and shadowed alleyways, and Roeg’s montage set pieces that open and close Don’t Look Now rival anything by Eisenstein and Renoir of the 1930s.
British horror is something very special, and one of my treasured collections is the magnificent Hammer Horror blu-ray series. The Wicker Man elevates Hammer to the level of modernist art, and indelible scenes such as Britt Ekland’s enthralled erotic dance and the final sacrifice would influence filmmakers for decades to come, not least the precocious Ari Aster (see above).
Another Argento, of course. Beyond cool, a wonderful mystery, and a genuinely satisfying giallo on all counts. Be sure to watch in Italian language with subtitles, as the dubbing is horrendous. That bathroom death rivals Hitchcock’s shower scene for formal ingenuity, and Argento demonstrates here why he is so revered by modern filmmakers.
It’s a remake and a stand-alone masterpiece that combines the best of 80s body horror (think Cronenberg and Verhoeven) with a classic whodunit scenario. Carpenter is so important to horror – with Halloween (a masterpiece, 1978) and The Fog, he owned a particular kind of American genre horror. I still marvel at and am mystified by some of the practical effects, not least when ‘The Thing’ bursts from a chest cavity as it consumes a body. Just wonderful.
Is it scary? After roughly 100 viewings – YES! Kubrick’s Steadicam brings the Overlook to glorious, sinister life, and Nicholson’s Jack Torrance is one of the great unhinged performances in American studio cinema. Of course, check out The Simpson’s Halloween parody (“The Shinning!”), the greatest of all Treehouse segments.
Obviously. For me, the rub is always about religion when it comes to horror. I so vividly recall watching this as a 10-year-old with my twin brother. In those days, I was still attending Sunday school every week, believed whole-heartedly in God and the Devil, and feared spirits around every corner. I never quite got over the trauma of that viewing, and the opening in Iraq is a lesson in suspense-building. The Exorcist was just such a brilliant entry in the New Hollywood cinema, at that incendiary moment when auteur filmmakers were doing genre to make some extra box office.
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