In the world of home video distribution, there is The Criterion Collection and then there is everyone else. The venerable institution has helped define the very concept of a special edition, with groundbreaking LaserDiscs (remember those?) that solidified the commentary track as the most indispensable special feature, and helped elaborate on the artistic process of filmmaking as well as the invaluable cultural context that sometimes get lost as our greatest films become a part of history.
And to their credit, The Criterion Collection has never ignored the horror genre, although it makes up only a small part of their overall output. Indispensable editions of classic and influential horror films like ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, THE UNINVITED, EYES WITHOUT A FACE and PEEPING TOM belong in every horror movie lover’s collection. But there’s a reason the Criterion Collection keeps going, releasing new and exciting high-definition remasters of classic art house films every single month: there are always more obscure films to introduce to a larger audience, and even more classic films that deserve the grandest presentation possible.
With that in mind, we now present our picks for five films that definitely deserve the Criterion treatment. All of them are excellent films, influential and/or artistically significant. They all warrant closer artistic analysis and a high quality restoration on Blu-ray. And unlike a lot of other horror classics, none of them have received a genuinely excellent home video release so far.
Criterion, we challenge you to make these Blu-rays happen. The world deserves them.
Abel Ferrara’s award-winning 1995 vampire drama THE ADDICTION is one of the most artful horror films produced in the 1990s. It is also completely unavailable on DVD in America, let alone Blu-ray, so Criterion would be doing us all a favor just by releasing it at all, barebones, without any special features beyond the incredible movie itself.
But a Criterion Collection release of THE ADDICTION should be more than that. Ferrara’s film is isn’t just a vampire movie, it’s a messy autopsy of modern philosophical thought. The film stars Lili Taylor as a philosophy student who is sexually assaulted by a female vampire in a darkened corner of a New York City sidewalk, and as she transforms into an amoral predator she is forced to seriously consider the ramifications. THE ADDICTION spews out references to Descartes, Burroughs, Husserl and Feuerbach so blithely that it practically demands its own Cliff’s Notes, and that’s where Criterion would come in.
THE ADDICTION has all the earmarks of a pretentious film, but it’s not, it’s just a smart film about smart people doing not necessarily smart things. Abel Ferrara’s grimy drama ponders the effects of addiction and isolation and naive confidence (as opposed to ancient wisdom), and dares to touch upon the idea that in these secular times, there may still be a powerful need for religious judgment and personal shame.
The contemporary giallo AMER hails from French co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, whose approach to this lusciously violent genre captures all the operatic qualities made famous by Dario Argento and Mario Bava. But in AMER they strip away the artifice, conveying a shocking tale of terror and ultimately murder, in three parts: the childhood of a little girl, her sexual awakening, and then later, a terrifying victimization.
By removing the detective novel façade from the giallo, Cattet and Forzani reveal the entire genre to be about a single subject: women, as innocents, as witches, and as sexual beings (with all that said sexuality brings along with it, positive and negative). It is one of the most gorgeously produced art house horror films in recent memory, right alongside the similarly themed – but even more nightmarish – THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS, which also emerged from the warped creative minds of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (and which also deserves its own Criterion release).
AMER already has a respectable American Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films, but this is still a modern masterpiece trapped inside the realm of the niche. A Criterion release would introduce AMER to a wider audience and legitimize Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s film as a powerful artistic statement. It would also give them a fabulous opportunity to explain their almost Jan Švankmajer approach to an otherwise formulaic genre.
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO
When is a horror film not a horror film? When it’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, a film that movie not feature any violence but feels like it may as well have, for all of the psychological scarring it inflicts. Toby Jones stars as a British sound engineer imported to Italy, where he is tasked with mixing and providing effects for a horror film entitled THE EQUESTRIAN VORTEX, a film that begins to weigh heavily on his soul.
Peter Strickland’s film is a strange concert, wherein the monotonous isolation of a studio and the phantasmagoric imagery of madness (and THE EQUESTRIAN VORTEX) are at constant odds. It becomes hard to tell whether our protagonist is going mad or simply trapped in a very mad world, in which the simple act of being compensated for a plane ticket turns into a Kafka-esque ordeal that eventually threatens his very concept of reality.
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is a disturbing psychological drama about everyday horrors, cast against a backdrop of workplace anxiety and ethereal horror iconography. And although it has been released on Blu-ray in Europe, in the United States it has never received its proper due, and languishes without a high-definition home video release. A Criterion release that gave Peter Strickland an opportunity to discuss his storytelling, and documentaries about the art of sound engineering (particularly in the context of 1970s Italian horror) would be invaluable to any genre film lover.
The Criterion Collection has delivered amazing home video editions of David Cronenberg’s horror films before, including DEAD RINGERS, VIDEODROME, SCANNERS and THE BROOD. So it stands to reason that they may very well get around to the rest of his filmography eventually, but one of the most obvious omissions so far is Cronenberg’s very first feature, which laid out the thematic framework most of his future films would follow.
SHIVERS is the story of an isolated community, into which an experimental parasite is released that acts both as an aphrodisiac and a sexually transmitted infection. The effect, dramatically, is that of a zombie film wherein the zombies become obsessed with physical sensation and abandon all morality in pursuit of sex and violence. Cronenberg films SHIVERS with all of the objective judgment of an industrial hygiene film, allowing audiences to project their own anxieties and permitting the suspense to build gradually, with limited theatricality.
David Cronenberg’s films, as he career continued and the filmmaker became more masterful, often explored the intense relationship between the intellectual mind and the human body. This grotesque horror movie is one of his purest expressions of the anxiety that emerges from the disconnection of the two, and the overcompensating lust for life that motivates so many of our darkest behaviors. The film is overdue for a high quality high-definition restoration, released in America, with Cronenberg looking back at his early work and – perhaps – contemplating the breadth of his career that followed.
Roman Polanski spent a large portion of his early career flitting between art house dramas (KNIFE IN THE WATER, CHINATOWN, MACBETH) and horror thrillers (REPULSION, FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, ROSEMARY’S BABY). Most of his other early films have received exceptional home video releases, some of them even from The Criterion Collection, but his 1976 masterpiece THE TENANT remains oddly unloved, without even a barebones Blu-ray release to its name.
The film stars Polanski himself as Trelkovsky, a man who moves into an apartment whose previous tenant tried to commit suicide by throwing himself out the window, through a pane of glass. Unsettling details begin to build up, like the neighbors who constantly berate Trelkovksy for making too much noise (he’s as quiet as a mouse) and the strange hole in his wall which contains a human tooth.
Paranoia mounts as Trelkovsky begins to adopt more and more qualities of the dead man whose tiny corner of the world our protagonist now inhabits. Is this a perverse scheme on the part of his neighbors, to get Trelkovsky to commit suicide? Or is it simply the mania of a meek man whose sense of self was never terribly strong to begin with? THE TENANT examines the notions of identity, fatalism, and social isolation within a narrative that operates just as effectively as a psychodrama as it does a deeply profound haunted house story.
It is possible that THE TENANT, as incredible as it is, has been swept under the cultural rug a bit. It was the last film that Polanski made before he pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in 1977, so perhaps the images of Polanski in this film, exploring his fetishes, may seem as though they are in poor taste. But in a vacuum THE TENANT is one of a superb filmmaker’s finest films, and a Criterion edition loaded with documentaries and thoughtful commentaries could finally help put this disturbing classic in its proper context… for better and worse.