Directed by Mary Lambert
Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
Starring Kate Mara, Robert Vito, Tina Lifford, Ed Marinaro, Michael Coe, and Rooney Mara
Urban legends were all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in no small part due to the exhaustive series of books about them by Jan Harold Brunvand. These took the stories out of the realm of academic journals and presented them for enjoyment to a larger audience. It was inevitable that we’d get a slasher film using these modern folk tales as a gimmick. It was also probable that the sequels would wind up being released direct to video, as was the case with the third installment Urban Legends: Bloody Mary.
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee and Bill Gunn
Starring Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaarah Abrahams, Rami Malek, Elvis Nolasco, Felicia Pearson, Katherine Borowitz, Joie Lee, and Naté Bova
For a long time, it wasn’t easy to see Ganja & Hess, especially not as originally released. The distributors pulled it from theaters, recut it (removing around a half an hour from its run time), and re-released it as Blood Couple. A complete print was donated to MoMA and has had a few releases, most recently though Kino Lorber. I mention this because because by doing a remake of the film as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Spike Lee essentially brought Bill Gunn’s version to a wider audience.
Directed by Antonia Bird
Written by Ted Griffin
Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeffrey Jones, Stephen Spinella, Jeremy Davies, Neal McDonough, David Arquette, and Joseph Runningfox
Cannibals are one of the lesser horror monsters. Since 1977 they’ve primarily been mutants, hillbillies, or mutant hillbillies, but throughout the history of film they’ve been refined gourmets, restauranteurs, ghouls, zombies, and even middle-class Americans. One seldom-used take is based on the Algonquian legend of the wendigo, a powerful being may once have been human. An interpretation of this creature is the basis for Antonia Bird’s remarkable horror movie Ravenous.
aka, Something Creeping In the Dark
Written and Directed by Mario Colucci
Starring Farley Granger, Lucia Bosé, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Stelvio Rosi, Mia Genberg, Gianni Medici, and Dino Fazio
I have a high tolerance for Italian horror cinema. Incoherent plots and terrible dubbing are par for the course, but stellar locations, inventive set pieces, and the occasional flair for lighting and cinematography are the rewards I often get for overlooking those failings. Yet every now and then I trip over a dud like Qualcosa striscia nel buio that leaves me face down in the poop juice, questioning my commitment to Sparkle Motion.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red
Starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Tim Thomerson, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein
Vampires are predatory. We all know that. Yet ever since they became lead characters, every effort has been made to reduce or excuse their feeding habits. They only take a little blood, or that of animals, or eat bad people, or use a synthetic material — anything to get around the basic fact about vampires; they are the bad guys. So whenever I get too sick of all this glamorization, I like to watch a film that remembers they’re monsters. Something like Near Dark.
Directed by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Starring Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang, Anitra Ford, Royal Dano, Elisha Cook Jr., and Walter Hill
There are Lovecraft adaptations, and then there are movies that feel Lovecraftian. They take place in small coastal towns, where fishing is the main industry. People are secretive there, and they scurry about their business in the shadows. They are up to something in the darkness, but you’re reluctant to find out exactly what. Such a film is Messiah of Evil, and it’s one of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen.
Written and Directed by Xan Cassavetes
Starring Joséphine de La Baume, Roxane Mesquida, Milo Ventimiglia, Caitlin Keats, Anna Mouglalis, and Michael Rapaport
Vampire movies featuring women used to be about sex, implied or explicit. The story of Countess Bathory has been filmed many times with varying degrees of predatory lesbian action. Naked, young vampire women occupy a significant portion of the filmographies of sexploitation-horror directors like Jean Rollin. But we’re starting to see more films that treat female vampires as actual characters, even as the Underworld series reduces Kate Beckinsale to a fetishized killer. One of these is Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned, which explores the struggle between intellectual and physical desire.