Written and Directed by Kei Fujiwara
Starring Kei Fujiwara, Kimihiko Hasegawa, Yosiaki Maekawa, and Kenji Nasa
I like being surprised by movies, and sometimes the most effective surprises come after completely breaking down my faith in the filmmakers. Videodrome, Brand Upon the Brain, Holy Mountain — these are a few of the movies that have challenged me to alter how I approach a narrative. It’s thanks to those that I was able to even follow Organ, let alone enjoy it.
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 Anna Biller
Starring Samantha Robinson, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Laura Waddell, Gian Keys, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, and Jennifer Ingrum
The double standard for gendered behavior in our society establishes rules that few can follow. It’s especially hard on women, who are still held to the artificial 1950s model of being subservient homemakers. In return men are expected to have no emotional life. The whole mess is a recipe for disaster, and that’s what we get in the comic love tragedy The Love Witch.
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.
Directed by Brice Mack
Written by Steve Krantz and Kay Cousins Johnson
Starring Lisa Pelikan, Bert Convy, Nina Foch, Amy Johnston, John Gavin, and Louise Hoven
A good friend of mine says that everyone wants to be the second to do something. Pioneers do the hard work of breaking new ground, and then others swoop in to capitalize on the effort. Thus, the success of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) brought imitators, including De Palma’s own The Fury in 1978. That same year saw the release of Jennifer, which switches out telekinesis for snake handing.
aka Dans ma peau
Written and Directed by Marina de Van
Starring Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker, and Thibault de Montalembert
One of the most ridiculous bits of praise I ever heard about a movie was that a girl in It Follows laid pieces of grass on her leg in a symbolic act of cutting. I liked the movie, but so what? An empty metaphor, unsupported and never addressed is nonsense. Self-harm is a real issue, not something to be winkingly referenced in an attempt to appear deep. Marina de Van understood that it is a frightening and irrational means of control, and she deconstructed herself to explore this in her film In My Skin.
Written and directed by Bill Gunn
Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam L. Waymon, and Leonard Jackson
Vampires are associated with Eastern Europe in American film, despite the rich world culture of similar mythologies. Even in the classic blaxploitation horror Blacula, African prince Mamuwalde is turned into a vampire by a very traditional Dracula. Almost as though in answer to the Euro-centrism of Blacula’s origin, the following year saw the release of Bill Gunn’s Ganja &a Hess. The importance of this film cannot be understated, as it presented a very different model of black filmmaking amidst a glut of crass cash-ins.
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Written by Rachel Talalay and Michael De Luca, based on characters created by Wes Craven
Starring Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Shon Greenblatt, Lezlie Deane, Ricky Dean Logan, Breckin Meyer, and Yaphet Kotto
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street came out in 1984, creating the relentless killer who became the sole speaking member of the Unholy Trinity of 80s Slashers. Together with Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger captured imaginations and box office with flamboyant murders and the inability to stay dead for long. Sequels were on such a fast track that only 7 years after the original Freddy movie the 6th one was released. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was not, of course, the end of Freddy Krueger. It wasn’t even the last time that the character would be portrayed by Robert Englund. But it was the last of the original sprint of Nightmare movies.
Written and directed by Karen Lam
Starring Katerina Katelieva, Richard Harmon, Mayumi Yoshida, Kelvin Redvers, Nelson Leis, David Lewis, and Natalie Grace
Women in movies are often raped and killed in order to motivate male heroes. When women began to be shown as heroes, their rapes became their own motivations. As thrilling as it is to watch Jennifer hunt down her attackers in I Spit on Your Grave, it and far too many other pictures assume that the only reason for vengeance is sexual assault on women. Which leaves me feeling conflicted about Evangeline, a film that steeps itself in vengeance cliches to address matters of humanity and spirituality.