The National Film Registry is a highly respected cinema institution. Run by the National Film Preservation Board, the list currently numbers at around 700 films. Every year, they select up to 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” to preserve for posterity in the Library of Congress.
These are incredibly important films, from the very first examples of cinema to minted classics like CASABLANCA and CITIZEN KANE to modern masterworks like PULP FICTION or BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. There’s not a huge horror presence on the list because genre filmmaking has never been as artistically respected as it should be, but there are still plenty of solid titles including FRANKENSTEIN, KING KONG, PSYCHO, ALIEN, and HALLOWEEN.
However, what interested me most when scrolling through the list recently were the films I hadn’t heard of. There are a lot of huge titles on the NFR, but they can also skew toward some incredibly obscure artistic achievements just begging to be rediscovered. Here are five of their genre picks that you should really get to know a little better.
A late-period film noir from director Rudolph Mate, D.O.A. sounds kind of like the unholy union of the bizarre giallo SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS and Nolan’s MEMENTO. Told in flashbacks, it details the story of an accountant who discovers that he has been poisoned with iridium. He must use the final three days he has left in this world to find the person who committed him to his terrible fate.
THE HITCH-HIKER (1953)
THE HITCH-HIKER is a demented precursor to THE HITCHER about two fishermen who pick up a psychotic escaped convict. But it’s so much more than that. THE HITCH-HIKER is a groundbreaking genre film, being one of the very first to be directed by a woman: ex-screen actress Ida Lupino. After directing some “women’s pictures,” she moved on to this harrowing tale that proved early on that there’s absolutely no good reason for Hollywood’s lack of female genre directors.
SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963)
If you’re a fan of writer-director Sam Fuller, you’ve almost certainly heard of SHOCK CORRIDOR, but I daresay more people need to spread the word. This film was probably a huge inspiration for Ryan Murphy in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM with its story of a journalist who checks into a psychiatric ward to investigate the wicked goings-on, only to get caught up in them with no means of escape.
OUR LADY OF THE SPHERE (1969)
While the content of the animated short film OUR LADY OF THE SPHERE couldn’t necessary be considered “horror,” just one click on that video will reveal that the content couldn’t possibly matter less. Using found images to create “unknown worlds and landscapes of the mind” and drawing inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Bay Area animator Lawrence Jordan has crafted a deeply devastating series of images that crafts an uncanny atmosphere the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
THE HOSPITAL (1971)
THE HOSPITAL is everything: Comedy, drama, murder mystery, Oscar winner. That’s right, it won the golden statuette for Best Screenplay thanks to NETWORK writer Paddy Chayefsky. This flick, set in a Manhattan teaching hospital, stars genre icon George C. Scott (THE CHANGELING, THE EXORCIST III) as a beleaguered doctor whose hospital is beset by a rampaging murderer.