Bay of Blood
The maestro of Italian horror cinema Mario Bava was one pioneer of the slasher film thanks to 1971’s Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve), which predates Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (usually cited as one of the North American progenitors). Unlike the Italian giallo film, the influential Bay of Blood doesn’t contain a convoluted mystery narrative. Instead, Bava goes straight for the kills, dispatching his characters in gruesome ways—making it a favorite of gore fans. Friday the 13th and other body-count films owe a lot to Bava. The plot is forgettable and the actors didn’t win any awards for their performances (it’s a massive cast, but the players exist only exist to be slaughtered in creative ways), but Bay of Blood is more stylish and inventive than all the Saw films combined.
A cerebral indie horror that puts a unique twist on the “infected” genre (don’t call it a zombie movie, or else) that was simultaneously created as a radio play (based on the 1995 novel Pontypool Changes Everything). “It’s mostly set in a church basement, where a washed-up morning-radio shock jock (Stephen McHattie) becomes the world’s principal source of information on the mysterious apocalyptic virus that is turning the inhabitants of snowbound Pontypool, Ontario, into ravening cannibals,” explains Andrew O’Hehir. “Except it seems that the virus is spread by words and sounds—by language, in fact—so by reporting on the epidemic, the cowboy-hatted drunkard at CLSY may actually be spreading it.”
John Dies at the End
A cross between Naked Lunch, a Douglas Adams story, and Buckaroo Banzai, Don Coscarelli’s (Phantasm) adaptation of Cracked.com editor Jason Pargin (aka David Wong) 2007 novel John Dies at the End is a hallucinogenic horror-comedy that careens from one bizarre universe to another. Two small-town slackers are plunged into a supernatural crisis that finds them dealing with meat monsters and talking dogs. If you want to see a cult classic in the making, this is it.
Here Comes the Devil
Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s 2012 Mexican horror film, often compared to Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, swept Austin’s Fantastic Fest film awards. Something strange happens with two children who go missing, only to return the next day… different. “Here Comes the Devil sets itself apart from many contemporaries with confident, slow-boiling camerawork and a practically self-parodying sense of humor that rigidly accentuates certain shots, allowing us to laugh with moments of deliberately hackneyed narrative progression before the events at hand become entirely too malevolent for laughter,” said Sound on Sight. “The whole is bedded in a swelling cacophony of unsettling, William Malone-esque sound effects and rooted by the desperately concerned and increasingly disturbed performances of Francisco Barreiro (Felix) and Laura Caro (Sol).”
Starring “that guy” from Law & Order, a young Paul Sorvino, and a killer primordial ooze (sold to the unsuspecting public as an addictive ice cream), Larry Cohen’s The Stuff is a wicked piece of satirical commentary about our ignorant consumer obsessions, with a dose of nihilism. The B-horror auteur’s clever, near philosophical twist on low-budget horror always surprises and delights.
C.H.U.D. stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller,” so you know exactly what you’re getting into when you turn on this goofy, B-grade ‘80s trash flick. A bizarre string of murders in New York City leads a ragtag team under the city streets where they uncover a race of mutant cannibals (who used to be the city’s homeless). What other ridiculous horror movie can you watch that boasts three of the Home Alone series actors? This is one from the golden era of horror that doesn’t involved masked maniacs and is strangely charming for it.
The Vampire Lovers
Hammer Films legend Ingrid Pitt stars in this gothic great based on the novella Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu—an influential story that has shaped the role of the female vampire throughout film history. This is the first chapter in Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy, which found Pitt in a dual role, playing Marcilla and Carmilla—a vampy lady who spends eternity seducing young women. Pitt played the part with a sexual confidence that was controversial for the time (being nude and sharing a bed with other women helped). It was a daring shift away from Hammer’s wide-eyed starlets who fell prey to a male vampire, addressing the sexual and social taboos of the time.
Somehow, this 1982 Canadian horror film snuck in a little social commentary about misogyny, which is not what you’d expect from a film featuring a Comic Sans-esque font on its poster. Don’t let that or the hospital stuff deter you. This isn’t a benign ER drama. The setting provides a claustrophobic labyrinth for a woman-hating serial killer to chase the feminist TV journalist he’s been stalking—and it’s gritty, at that. Star Michael Ironside made a career out of being the bad guy, and he’s genuinely frightening in Visiting Hours.
If the only David Cronenberg films you know are his dark dramas, then you’re missing out. The director’s body horror roots started with his debut feature, 1975’s Shivers. The Canadian government didn’t look kindly on Cronenberg’s visceral film for its gory, sexual content—but the filmmaker wound up winning the Best Director award at Sitges. The film is a cult classic, today. The residents of an isolated apartment block are infected by a parasite that transforms them into sex-crazed lunatics—taking the concept of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and recontextualizing it for an era full of sexual/gender anxiety. You can see the influence of Shivers in films like Alien or Species.
The House of the Devil
Ti West has quickly become one of the best filmmakers working in the genre today. He has gained a reputation for slow-paced, tense indie chillers that emphasize storytelling, atmospheric visuals, and in-depth characters. There’s a supernatural premise running throughout his work—like my favorite of the bunch, The House of the Devil. It’s a throwback to Satanic horror flicks from the 1980s. When a broke college student takes a babysitting gig during a lunar eclipse, she has no idea what her employers (the amazing Tom Noonan from Manhunter and former Warhol Superstar Mary Woronov) really have in store for her.