Director David Lynch’s first feature length film, Eraserhead is a surreal, nightmarish, original horror story. Shot in black and white, the film is similar in style to the German Expressionist films of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Throughout the film, Henry Spencer (played by Jack Nance), who lives in a bleak and bizarre industrial city, experiences dream-like hallucinations while caring for a deformed child. The film was produced with the assistance of the American Film Institute where Lynch was studying. The film opened to small audiences, little attention and largely negative reviews. Eraserhead has since grown into a cult classic. Critics today view the film as a cinematic masterpiece and compare it to the work of Luis Buñuel. They praise the film for its unsettling and unnerving sound design, surreal imagery, twisted sexual undercurrents, black comedy and Spencer’s sense of fatalism in a post-apocalyptic world. The film’s influence can be seen in the work of other filmmakers, including David Fincher, the Coen Brothers, Darren Aronofsky and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. In 2004, the film was preserved in the National Film Registry, which is maintained by the United States Library of Congress.
Village of the Damned (1960)
Based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, Village of the Damned is a disturbing tale directed by Wolf Rilla and featuring George Sanders (All About Eve) in the lead. After the inhabitants of a small English village mysteriously fall unconscious, a number of women discover they are pregnant. Soon after, they all, on the same day, deliver babies that eerily resemble each other—beautiful, blonde-haired children with strange eyes. To their horror, the townspeople later discover that the children all possess dangerous psychic abilities that they use to protect themselves and get what they want. The cold and calculating depiction of the children in juxtaposition with the idyllic and quaint quality of village life makes the film even more chilling. The clever story, strong performances (in particular from George Sanders who is always great to watch in films) and the well-executed mounting suspense (right up to the film’s thrilling climax) all make the film worth watching. The film is ranked #92 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. A sequel, Children of the Damned, followed in 1963. Don’t bother with the 1995 remake with Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley.
“Be afraid. Be very afraid.” Directed and co-written by David Cronenberg, The Fly is a remake of the 1958 film of the same name and features Jeff Goldblum (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Geena Davis (Thelma and Louise). When a teleportation experiment goes wrong, a scientist discovers he has accidentally combined his genetic material with that of a housefly and is becoming a hideous monster. The remake works on a number of levels. Not only is The Fly a superbly told and frightening suspense thriller, but it is also a tragic love story. Both Goldblum and Davis turn in powerful and heart wrenching performances and the movie delivers a highly charged emotional punch. The reviews for the film are highly positive and the movie was a hit at the box office, bringing in over 60 million. Some critics even saw the film as being a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s. The Fly won an Academy Award for Best Makeup. The film was nominated for six Saturn Awards, including Best Actress (Davis), Best Director and Best Music. It won for Best Horror Movie, Best Actor (Goldblum) and Best Makeup. In 2005, Tim Magazine included The Fly in their All-Time 100 Greatest Movies list and later the magazine named it one of the 25 best horror films. The film is also ranked #33 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The Chicago Film Critics Association named the movie 32nd scariest film ever made. Based on the short story by George Langelaan, the original 1958 version was directed by Kurt Neumann, featured David Hedison and Vincent Price and included the iconic line: “Help me! Help me!”. Both fun and frightening, the 1958 movie version was also well received by critics and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. There were two sequels: Return of the Fly and Curse of the Fly.
The Mummy (1932)
The original film The Mummy is one of the great horror classics from the 1930’s. The movie is directed by Karl Freund and features horror screen legend Boris Karloff. Karloff plays an Egyptian priest who is brought back from the dead after a member of an archaeological expedition reads from an ancient scroll. Under the guise of a modern day Egyptian, the “mummy” sets out on a quest to find the reincarnation of his lover—a former Egyptian Princess. The film may appear dated from today’s standards; however, Karl Freund, who was the cinematographer on 1931’s Dracula, has created an eerie, atmospheric tale (using shadow and light in the German expressionistic style to enhance the mood) that is both campy and frightening. Karloff is brilliant, as usual. Today, the film is considered a masterpiece and Karloff’s image of the mummy, wrapped in bandages, has become iconic.
Dressed to Kill (1980)
Dressed to Kill is a suspenseful tale directed by Brian De Palma (Carrie) and featuring Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises), Angie Dickinson (Police Woman), Nancy Allen (Carrie), and Keith Gordon (Christine). A murder victim’s son (Gordon) and a call girl (Allen), who witnessed his mother’s murder, believe that one of the patients of a New York psychiatrist (Caine) may be a psychopathic killer. With a lack of support from the police, the pair must team up to prove their theory before the call girl becomes the next victim. A homage to Hitchcock (with elements from films like Psycho, Rear Window and Vertigo), Dressed to Kill is a highly stylized, sexually charged thriller. De Palma skillfully combines mystery and suspense, providing enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience on edge of their seats. There is a dream-like, nightmarish quality to the film, supported by a great score by Pino Donaggio. The film also has strong performances from the cast, in particular Angie Dickinson as the morally conflicted murder victim. The film received a great deal of controversy when it was released. Feminist groups accused De Palma of being misogynistic and the GLBT community was not happy in the way transgender people were portrayed. Cuts were made to the film to get an R rating from the American Censor Board that trimmed the film by 30 seconds to contain less frontal nudity, blood and dirty dialogue. The movie received mostly positive reviews from critics. The film was nominated for four Saturn Awards, including Best Horror Film, Best Director and Best Music. Angie Dickinson won for Best Actress. The movie also had the distinction of being nominated for three Razzie Awards that year: Worst Director, Worst Actor (Caine) and Worst Actress (Allen). Nancy Allen though was nominated for a Golden Globe as “New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture – Female” for her role in the film.