Oh, it’s that glorious time of year again! 2 months out of the year, Barnes & Noble offers the entire Criterion library for half off of the retail price. That’s not to say that Criterion titles aren’t worth the extra cash, but knowing that Barnes & Noble gives us the half off option in August and again in November gives us the opportunity to buy even more!
I did a write-up for the summer sale earlier this year where I recommended 10 Criterion titles for horror fans. But why stop there? Most of you may already have that first batch? With 600 plus titles in their catalog, there are plenty to choose from. So, here are 10 more Criterion releases worth picking up!
The murder-mystery debut film from the Coen Brothers is a masterpiece. A wealthy man hires a Private Investigator to murder his cheating wife and lover, but as can be expected, nothing quite goes according to plan. What unfolds is a thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s best! And the dark comedic tone helped put Joel and Ethan Coen on the map. Pick up this Criterion and double bill it with Scream Factory’s PSYCHO III! The second sequel in the PSYCHO franchise was directed by none other than Anthony Perkins, and he cited BLOOD SIMPLE as his favorite movie at that time. In fact, he screened it for the cast and crew prior to shooting and even hired the same composer, Carter Burwell, to do the music for his film. Also fun, check out the original pitch film the Coen Brothers put together for BLOOD SIMPLE starring their old friend Bruce Campbell!
There are a few David Cronenberg titles in the Criterion library, and last time, I recommended SCANNERS. This time, I say go with his 1979 cult classic THE BROOD! Frank (Art Hindle) is searching for an unconventional therapy for his institutionalized wife. And he finds one through Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). But could a series of related murders somehow tie into his wife’s increasing anger? Written and directed by Cronenberg as a reaction to his bitter divorce and the custody battle for his child, THE BROOD is one of his absolute best!
CARNIVAL OF SOULS
There’s something about the way Criterion manages to restore classic black and white films. Every one they’ve done just pops on screen, especially in high def and on Blu-Ray. Next to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Herk Harvey’s 1962 CARNIVAL OF SOULS is probably the second most used background movie in horror features since it also falls in the public domain, but here, Criterion finally gives it it’s due. After surviving a horrific car accident, Mary Henry accepts a job as the church organist in a small town. When she arrives, she finds herself mysteriously drawn to a nearby defunct carnival. She also keeps having visions of a creepy guy from the carnival. What secrets do this place hold for her? As a horror fan, this one is a must own for your collection.
Now we’re talking! From the Van Lewton horror collection, Jacques Tourner’s 1942 version of CAT PEOPLE arrives on Blu-Ray courtesy of Criterion. A Serbian fashion sketch artist meets and falls in love with a marine engineer in New York, and the two are married. She begins to fear if they are intimate together, the fables of her old home town will come true, and she’ll transform into a cat! Here’s hoping this is the first of many Van Lewton titles in Criterion’s future!
The gorgeously shot, and moody ghost story THE INNOCENTS is a welcome addition to the Criterion filmography. Deborah Kerr stars in Jack Clayton’s 1962 classic as a nanny that looks after two young children at their wealthy, yet absent father’s estate. The last caretaker met a terrible demise, so with that in mind, the more time she spends in this mansion, the more she feels the presence of the supernatural! Strikingly beautiful as it is spooky, THE INNOCENTS is great for late night viewing.
Since we’re on a kick of scary ghost tales, why not continue that trend and pick another one up that is best viewed late at night, with all the lights out, and the volume turned all the way up! Lewis Allen’s atmospheric 1944 feature about a composer and his sister that get a great deal on a gothic seacoast mansion is truly the first of its kind. Any great deal has to be too good to be true, right? And sure enough, perhaps the reason the place was available for so cheap is its unsavory past! I picked this one up because the great Martin Scorsese cited it as one of the scariest horror movies ever made, and in Uncle Marty, we trust!
Another filmmaker that Criterion has done a great service to is Brian De Palma. And while, for me, DRESSED TO KILL is the closest thing in his filmography to a straight horror movie, next to CARRIE of course, BLOW OUT is an exceptional thriller that also deserves your attention. John Travolta plays a movie sound engineer that’s out late one night trying to capture some natural sound design, when he witnesses a car fly off of a bridge. When he goes back to re-evaluate his tapes, there’s evidence that the accident was actually a murder! As he begins unraveling the conspiracy behind the crime, he’s only putting himself in danger. Added bonus: the Criterion Blu-Ray also features MURDER A LA MOD, De Palma’s 1967 feature!
For a while there, Guillermo del Toro adopted a fairly smart directorial rule. He’d do one personal story for himself, then he’s do a studio picture. And so on and so forth. “One for them, one for me,” as he put it. So, when he finished MIMIC, he went back and made THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. After BLADE II and HELLBOY, he went back and did PAN’S LABYRINTH. Criterion has now collected 3 of his consecutive “for me” films CRONOS, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH into a trilogy box set, or you can get them individually. For me, PAN’S LABYRINTH is his masterpiece. Set in Spain 1944, the bookish, imaginative Ofelia escapes the ravages of war around her by entering a fantasy world, complete with creatures and a place where she can prove herself to be a true princess. But how long before her fantasy world and the real world come crashing together? If you’re just getting into the films of del Toro, start here.
Confession – I love David Lynch, but to this day, I still don’t fully “get” ERASERHEAD. Because of everything that’s come after though, once a year, every year, I go back to his debut feature film and give it another whirl. There’s some of the most unique, shocking imagery, and ideas presented within the confines of the wacky world Lynch creates here. And it’s always a joy to watch Jack Nance. But I may have to one day witness this at a midnight screening with a packed audience for full effect. Regardless, as a Lynch completist, you have to have his first feature on your movie shelf.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
One of the joys of living in Los Angeles is getting the chance to see old movies at one of the various revival house around town. The New Beverly regularly programs Alfred Hitchcock double bills through out the year, and I rather love his 1956 THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH with Jimmy Stewart. But what about the original version of the film, also directed by Hitchcock, from 1934? Criterion has been great at preserving the earlier career of the “Master of Suspense.” And I was fortunate enough to watch this one at a backyard screening with friends. While on holiday in Switzerland, a dying friend gives a couple a clue to an impending assassination attempt. When the bad guys realize this info is out there, they kidnap the couple’s daughter! Can they stop the assassination and save the girl before it’s too late? The stand out in this version? The great, villainous Peter Loree. Was there ever anyone else like him on film? I think not. If you’re looking to delve into earlier Hitchcock stuff, you can’t go wrong with THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH!