Horror Hidden Gems

Suspiria 2018 – Dir. Luca Guadagninoshowing on Prime Video
More a reimagining than a remake, Luca Guadagnino Suspiria ripped Dario Argento’s 1977 classic from the vestiges of its florid giallo core to create something altogether new and transformative. Suspiria spins the tale of an American dancer attending a German dance academy to find it run by a coven of witches, with new historical and political context. It is equally a rebuke of the gendered violence that the film’s world inhabits as it is of the exploitation which engendered its original iteration. The slow-burn atmosphere and muted hues make for the perfect autumnal horror.

Titane 2021 – Dir. Julia Ducournau showing on Mubi
Raw would have been a tough film to follow up for any director, but somehow last year Ducournau managed to surpass everything that made her debut so enthralling and intimate, with this bizarre exploration of family, gender and the interplay they both share with violence. Although not for the squeamish or faint of heart, Ducournau’s vision is as uncompromisingly visceral as it is tender and heartfelt. A future cult classic without a doubt.

Thirst 2009 – Dir. Park Chan-wook showing on Mubi soon
A twist on the vampire tale which imagines vampiric lust as both a release from the shackles of everyday mundanity and a psychological battle of inner turmoil. After a priest volunteers for an experimental medical procedure, dies and comes back to life as a vampire, he becomes torn between faith and his newfound bloodlust. Even as the film descends into
what feels like unruly violence and fractious lust, Park infuses it all with an enduring humanity that is rarely seen in the genre. Personal change is rarely conveyed with so much intensity, but rarely is it expressed with such empathy either.

Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage) 1960 – Dir. Georges Franju showing on BFI Player
Although the central conceit of a plastic surgeon attempting to perform a face transplant on his daughter following her involvement in a car accident might sound like the stuff of B-horror movies, Franju’s cult film feels like the opposite. Rendered in gorgeous black-and-white and drenched in a wonderfully spooky atmosphere, it almost doesn’t matter what’s happening as each frame manages to look more resplendent than the last. Full of imagery that will stay with you forever and filmmaking that feels just as exciting as it did 60 years ago, this one’s a must-watch for fans of the genre.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night 2014 – Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour available to rent

A film which defies easy understanding because it seems to subvert narrative convention at every turn for a free-flowing form of images and sound. A film which entraps the viewer in its world just as much as its characters, so even if this isn’t particularly heavy on plot, it more than makes up for it with its rich atmosphere and hypnotic nightscapes. Only really a
vampire film in the loosest sense as it utilises the genre to punctuate its dreary landscape with moments of heartfelt wonder and unlikely romance. Perhaps not for everyone, but if you’re willing to give it a chance it’s really rewarding.

Amer 2009 – Dir. Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani showing on Mubi
This modern take on the giallo concentrates the stylistic foundations of the violent and sexually exploitative Italian genre only then to subvert them at every turn. Told in three distinct sections, each explores the life of Ana as she navigates sexual trauma and the effects of its repression as well as the ways in which those experiences interweave with her everyday experiences. Another one which is light on plot, but offers an overwhelming sensory experience like no other, and in my eyes, articulates the best modern interpretation of the giallo genre.

In Fabric 2018 – Dir. Peter Strickland showing on Mubi & BFI Player
On the more light-hearted end of the horror spectrum, Peter Strickland’s In Fabric weaves the director’s continued fascination with 70’s Euro-horror with his now distinct sense of awkward humour. A setting which belongs 50 years in the past merged with a modern humour gives this a unique styling you can’t really find anywhere else. As the film follows the ensuing hilarity that occurs as a haunted red dress is passed from owner to owner, Strickland still finds time to nod his head to the power of clothing as well as the irresistible consumerism which drives us to buy it. This is worth watching for the fantastic score alone.

Under the Shadow 2016 – Dir. Babak Anvari showing on Netflix & BFI Player

Under the Shadow follows a somewhat familiar recipe to devastating effects. A more literal take on ‘the haunted house’, here the uncanny events are not manifestations of the supernatural but extensions of war. Air raids replace the wailing shrieks of ghosts and missiles and artillery strikes become very real objects of violence as an Iranian woman and
her son struggle to reconcile seemingly inhuman violence with their own reality. Under the Shadow explores violence so inane that the only way to explain its presence would be some supernatural force and where the effects of its trauma could only be explained by nefarious possession.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer 2017 – Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos showing on Netflix & Mubi
This reuniting of Lanthimos with Colin Farrel articulates the director’s usual sense of depraved absurdity but imbues it with an unrelenting dread and terror. Most impressive here is the handling of tone, as a strange teenage boy becomes embroiled in the life of a renowned cardiovascular surgeon in increasingly bizarre ways. Everything from the stilted,
awkward dialogue delivery to the omniscient camera work builds upon further and further unease. This isn’t a film willing to divulge many answers, but rather operates within the realm of punitive mythology. More than anything what Lanthimos offers here is a Greek tragedy for the modern age.

Audition 1999 – Dir. Takashi Miike showing on BFI Player
A very difficult film to talk about without giving too much away. With a first half that completely belies the surreal horror of its second, it sets itself up almost as an unassuming romance, only to betray any sense of its previous tone later on. It revels in the discomfort of its audience just as much as its characters and cheekily accosts viewers for making any
assumptions early on. All that I can really say is to watch it, whether you like it or not, it’ll be just as nightmarish either way.

Possession 1981 – Dir. Andrzej Żuławski currently only available in physical formats

It certainly doesn’t help that it isn’t widely available to watch, but there’s something about Possession’s lack of streaming release that only heightens its lauded cult status. Initially reviled on release and only released in a heavily edited cut in the U.S., it’s safe to say that it’s a film that earns its reputation. Starting out as an eerie domestic drama following the
relationship between an international spy and his wife, the film slowly dissolves into a nightmarish fever dream, where reality corrodes and each character is drowned in inexorable helplessness. Possession is a film which seems like it would be difficult to conceive of in isolation, and somehow the fact that it exists still seems just as unexplainable. If you ever get a chance to watch this, just do it.

By Daniel Strathdee [he/him] @daniel_strathdee

[Image credit: La Grieta del Absurdo blog]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s