Not long ago I wrote an open letter to The Criterion Collection, reminding the venerable institution that although they have included a great many horror films into their otherwise impeccable collection of artistically and historically significant catalog, they still had a long way to go.
I included in that article a list of five classic horror films which warrant the full Criterion treatment, but that was just the beginning. The list of ingenious horror movies that haven’t received their proper due, especially on home video, is as long as your small intestine.
To continue making my point, I have decided to add five more films to the list of horror movies that deserve the Criterion treatment.
And then I can easily add five more… and five more… and five more… until Criterion finally takes the hint.
Brian De Palma remains one of our most fascinating filmmakers, but the films from his creative zenith — a.k.a. “the 1970s and 1980s” — are almost all worthy of special edition Blu-rays. One of his most underrated films from this period, BODY DOUBLE, is an absolute explosion of perverse creativity, exploring themes of voyeurism, obsession and the erotic as a full-blown concept.
It is also kind of a REAR WINDOW knock-off, but Brian De Palma has never been shy about his many Alfred Hitchcock influences. BODY DOUBLE stars Craig Wasson (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS) as a down-on-his-luck actor who takes a house-sitting gig, only to discover that one of his neighbors puts on an unusually elaborate sex show every night. He begins to stalk this woman in real life, watching her every night, but when his voyeurism makes him a witness to her murder he thinks that his story has come to a tragic conclusion… until he then sees a porn star performing, somehow, the exact same sex show.
Melanie Griffith plays the porn star, Holly Body, and it’s one of her most exciting and charismatic performances. Brian De Palma seems electrified by kink in BODY DOUBLE, imagining a pornographic filmmaking landscape as elaborate as an Orson Welles production, and as intricately choreographed as an MTV music video. He also imagines the descent into psychosexual obsession more fantastically, and probably more accurately, then you might expect.
BODY DOUBLE is out of print in America (the DVD is still available, but the Blu-ray costs a pretty penny now). Criterion has already released three of De Palma’s other classic films — SISTERS, BLOW OUT and DRESSED TO KILL — and BODY DOUBLE is the next logical step for the distributor.
NIGHT OF THE DEMON / CURSE OF THE DEMON
Master genre filmmaker Jacques Tourneur directed classic film noirs (OUT OF THE PAST) and classic horror movies (CAT PEOPLE), but one of his most iconic works combines elements of those genres and more. NIGHT OF THE DEMON is the story of a psychologist who tries to debunk a cult leader, who gradually begins to suspect he has been cursed, and that his time is running out. The ending, without giving anything away, is a classic, and has been referenced more often than you probably realize, in everything from HARRY POTTER to DRAG ME TO HELL.
A few shots of the titular demon aside (Jacques Tourneur objected to even filming those scenes), NIGHT OF THE DEMON is a masterpiece of subtlety, leaving the question of our hero’s and villain’s beliefs open for a lot of the movie. The tension mounts and mounts and complex themes of secularism and paganism are explored. It’s amazing how suspenseful an intellectual argument can be, if it’s being argued while a noose is tightening around your neck.
NIGHT OF THE DEMON was released in America as CURSE OF THE DEMON, edited down by several minutes. A Criterion restoration would, for the sake of history (if nothing else), need to feature both versions, a retrospective of Tourneur’s work and more. But frankly, even a bare-bones Criterion restoration would be welcome: an all-region Blu-ray import is available, but not widely, and NIGHT OF THE DEMON deserves better.
Prolific actor Bill Paxton is best known to audiences from his work in films like ALIENS and TWISTER, but he is also an accomplished director whose first feature is one of the most mature, frightening and artful horror films of the 2000s. FRAILTY stars Paxton as a mild-mannered single father of two young boys, who one day wakes them up in the middle of the night to tell them that God spoke to him… and told him to kill demons.
The youngest child goes along with it, but his older brother begins to suspect his dad may be insane, especially after he starts kidnapping people and murdering them in the basement, claiming that he is able to see their sins. For the longest time, Paxton keeps the audience as objective as possible, refusing to prove one way or another who is right and who is wrong, and illustrating with horrifying insight the narrow chasm between those two extremes.
Bill Paxton’s film borrows fascinating visual elements from film John Sayles’ classic murder mystery LONE STAR and Charles Laughton’s terrifying childhood nightmare THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, two films with many similarities to FRAILTY. But Paxton’s film soon proves that it is more than a pastiche, and a beautiful and shocking ode to religious extremism that comes to an unsettling and highly debatable conclusion.
FRAILTY is one of the smartest, most impressively acted horror movies of the 21st century, and a Criterion release would help solidify its respectability, and re-introduce the film to the larger audience it deserves.
INVADERS FROM MARS
William Cameron Menzies is one of the best filmmakers you’ve probably never heard of. He started his career as a production designer, and won the first-ever Oscar for Best Art Direction in 1927 (for THE DOVE and TEMPEST) and earned an honorary Academy Award for being instrumental in just how unforgettable amazing GONE WITH THE WIND looked. But he also made a successful transition into the director’s chair, with sci-fi films like the classic THINGS TO COME, horror films like the early 3-D oddity THE MAZE, and sci-fi/horror films like INVADERS FROM MARS.
No joke, no exaggeration, INVADERS FROM MARS is one of the best sci-fi/horror movies. Told from the perspective of a young boy, the film imagines that a flying saucer landed behind our hero’s house, and starts taking over the bodies of every adult in town. Menzies’ film, with production design by Menzies, transforms in front of our eyes from a storybook into a paranoid delusion, with jail cells that shrink to emphasize the the young boy’s helplessness. (And the ending is one of the best. Ever. Period.)
The work of William Cameron Menzies has been featured by The Criterion Collection before, with gorgeous editions of THINGS TO COME and also THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD and THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (which Menzies didn’t direct, but worked on in other capacities). But INVADERS FROM MARS is his masterpiece, an influential film that makes INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS look limited in ambition. It’s an insightful look into a child’s disturbed brain, brought to life by one of the great unsung visual storytellers. It warrants a fabulous restoration, and a closer look at its ingenious production design.
One of the most respected and admired horror movies of the 21st century is rarely talked about outside of hardcore horror fandom. But the time has come to give Luck McKee’s breakthrough film its due: MAY, a gruesome tragedy if ever there was one, is a powerful social comment on isolation, desperation, and self-delusion.
Angela Bettis stars as May, whose lazy eye prevented her from socializing as a child, who now eagerly reaches out for human contact. The problem is, nobody’s perfect, and although everyone has qualities that May admires they also let her down in the end, leaving her feeling lonelier than ever. Until finally it dawns on May that if everybody has parts that she likes, then all she needs are those particular parts, and then she can simple make the perfect friend and lover…
Lots of horrifying characters have a motive, but Lucky McKee’s film spends the majority of its running time building to the bloodshed. It may be brutal but MAY is also an act of profound sympathy, a modern-day FRANKENSTEIN in which the mad scientist has our sympathy, and the monster is just a side-effect of her profound trauma.
Insightful and powerful, MAY is almost universally accepted as one of the great modern horror movies. But not everyone in the universe has seen it. The Criterion Collection should get out in front of this one, and acknowledge its power before MAY becomes one of the great artistic oversights.