The List of the Best Horror Movies Continues
Special Mention: C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)
Written by André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux and Vincent Tavier
Directed by André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde
Special Mention: C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)
Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde set out to make their first feature film with little resources and little money. In the tradition of filmmakers who can’t afford much film stock, the trio settled for a faux-documentary-style approach – the result is a high-concept satire of media violence that would spoof documentaries by following around a fictitious sociopath named Ben as he exercises his lethal craft. While the cinematic tradition of presenting villains as suave, charming, attractive, and intelligent individuals is nothing new, Man Bites Dog was still ahead of its time. Much like the great Hitchcockian villains such as Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt, Ben is a wise man full of ideas. He expounds on art, philosophy, poetry, music, nature, society, and life as he slaughters housewives, children, mailmen, pensioners, and other random bystanders he meets along the way. Every frame of this film is shot documentary-style in grainy black-and-white, and the pseudo-realism, complete with rough uneven editing and shaky hand-held camera work, gives a frightening air of legitimacy to the events that unfold. As a critique of our crime-saturated media and violence-dominated lifestyle, Man Bites Dog is a truly compelling indictment. Over the years Man Bites Dog surely has lost its bite, but at the time it was revolutionary, pre-dating such films as John Waters’ Serial Mom, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Like it or not, this Belgian award-winning film has gone on to influence everything from The Blair Witch Project to Borat. Man Bites Dog also boasts graphic displays of violence. Yet what’s most disturbing about the mayhem is not so much its explicit presentation, but the actual attitude and tone surrounding the events. In fact, much of the violence takes place off camera or out of frame; but the way the movie presents these events with its own nonjudgmental point of view is what makes it disturbing. As the killing spree intensifies, it becomes clear that the camera crew following Ben at all times is equally responsible for the heinous acts documented. When the fictional crew (led by Belvaux and Bonzel) runs out of money, they rely on Ben to finance the rest of the picture. Eventually, they become active collaborators, and their mere presence alone incites Ben to continue his brutal savagery. At one point they even participate in the film’s most disturbing scene, which depicts the gang-rape and disembowelment of a young woman. Smart, deviant, scary, provocative, Man Bites Dog is a satirical stab at serial killers and our continued unhealthy obsession with them. In short, Man Bites Dog is profoundly disturbing – as it should be.
120. The Addiction
Produced by Russell Simmons, Abel Ferrara’s 1995 black and white experiment blends the urban vampire adventure with philosophical analysis. Scripted by Ferrara’s longtime collaborator Nicholas St. John, the film stars Lili Taylor as a philosophy student in New York who goes out walking one night and gets bitten by vampire Annabella Sciorra. Pretty soon she must prowl the gritty New York streets sticking homeless people with a syringe and shooting it into her veins. Later, she runs into another immortal vampire (Christopher Walken) who teaches her a painful lesson about her ever-growing addiction. The Addiction is only superficially about vampires as it is really a meditation on human nature and its fundamental predisposition toward evil. The Holocaust, the My Lai massacre, and the philosophy of Heidegger and Nietzsche are just some of the themes and ideas addressed in the film, and these topics really do help make The Addiction an original reworking of the classic vampire mythology. Although unintentionally funny at times, the film is always entertaining and beautiful to look at. Fans of Christopher Walken will especially enjoy this.
Originally released as Dead of Night, Deathdream was Bob Clark’s second foray into horror cinema and in my opinion, his second-best film. The plot is fairly straightforward and follows a young man named Andy who was said to be killed in Vietnam but inexplicably returns home to his family’s surprise. Although effective as a flat-out horror film, Deathdream’s greatest strength is its commentary on the social implications of the Vietnam War. Andy’s struggles on the home front are a metaphor for the difficulties many veterans face when returning to civilian life, and a good portion of the film focuses on the lingering effects these soldiers have when returning to America. While the stress disorders and drug addiction that many veterans experienced are alluded to, the film, more importantly, points out that the war has affected not just the soldiers but the entire country. Not only does the war turn Andy into a literal monster but it also tears his entire family apart. Andy’s mother becomes more and more delusional as the horror unfolds and his father tries to forget his troubles by turning to the bottle. Mirroring the breakdown of his family is Andy’s body, which begins to decompose, forcing him to feed on the blood and flesh of others in order to rejuvenate his skin. Deathdream also served as a training ground for another horror veteran Tom Savini. Although the make-up and gore on this film are pretty restrained, Savini and Clark did a superb job in crafting a few hair-raising scenes despite the film’s meager budget. Shots from the killer’s point-of-view along with a jarring piano and string score go a long way in giving the film a sense of impending doom, and Richard Backus’s chilling performance is reminiscent of Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The rest of the cast is equally good, especially Lynn Carlin and John Marley as Andy’s troubled parents. Two years later Bob Clark would direct the much more subtle horror classic Black Christmas, and it’s clear that Deathdream served as the genesis of some of the atmospheric directorial flourishes that Clark would use in that film. As a Horror film, Deathdream isn’t as effective as Clark’s 1976 slasher, but for a film that runs a mere 88 minutes, Deathdream is crammed with technical artistry and provocative social commentary to place it high on this list.
Did you know that Michael Sembello’s 1983 hit song “Maniac” from Flashdance was originally written as the title track to William Lustig’s low-budget New York grunge slasher flick, Maniac? A precursor to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Lustig’s grimy snapshot of early ‘80s Manhattan is an unapologetically twisted study of a pathological murdering maniac. This harrowing, stomach-churning journey into a mad man’s psyche pissed off many critics upon release, and it is easy to see why, but one cannot deny the emotional impact the film has regardless if you like it or not. Yes, it was made on the cheap, but this isn’t just a pure exploitation film – it’s intelligent and appropriately unsettling given the subject matter. Maniac comes across as a slasher version of Taxi Driver (a film that star Joe Spinell also appeared in), and just like Deniro, Spinell is fully committed to his role, carrying the weight of the movie from beginning to end. Frank’s our main character, and the focus of this entire movie, so chances are you won’t always like what you’re seeing. Despite a low-budget, Maniac is extremely well-made. The atmosphere that Lustig creates is extremely effective in telling this story, and the 16 mm print gives it that dirty, rough, grimy look. It’s also incredibly violent and able to quench the thirsts of gore hounds while sending sensitive viewers running to the exits thanks to the effects by leading horror make-up expert Tom Savini (who actually has a fun little cameo in the film).
An insane mother (Zelda Rubinstein) telepathically controls her middle-aged son (Michael Lerner) to seek out deadly revenge on those who have done her wrong. When he’s finished murdering his victims, he gouges their eyes out and adds them to the family collection. But that’s only a movie within the movie: The real horror is in the theater, where the audience who is watching this story become victims of a mass-murdering spree. Spanish director J.J. Bigas Lunas does a stellar job of pulling off the story’s unconventional narrative. Although other movie-within-a-movie tricks have been tried, this one stands out from the rest thanks to the way it seamlessly switches from the reel to the “real world”. Anguish is certainly an unusual movie, but an extremely well-made film with first-rate performances, special effects, and wide-screen camera work that defies its small budget.
116. White Zombie
In this haunting, low-budget, lyrical melodrama, director Victor Halperin brings into play voodoo, possession, and a virgin bride cursed to walk with the living dead. Bela Lugosi stars as voodoo master Murder Legendre, a devilish figure who exercises supernatural powers over the natives in his Haitian domain. Made by a small indie company on a minuscule budget, White Zombie was a huge box office hit on its initial release, yet it proved to be less popular than other horror films of the time, opening to negative reception. Even worse, it remained out of circulation for quite a while due to various legal battles. The film was shot in only 11 days, borrowing many props and scenery from other horror films shot on the Universal lot. Halperin did an astonishing job pushing the technical limitations of its day, with extravagant sets, multi-layered compositions, and a killer split-screen sequence, all elevating the film above simplicity, to near-operatic. The sugar mill sets are extraordinary. A repeated shot of Madeline walking down a grand staircase in Legendre’s castle is breathtaking, and the crossfade from Madeline and Neil into a shot of Lugosi’s deep penetrating stare is legendary. Halperin’s rough visuals fill the screen with surprisingly poetic images. The command of mood and emotion on display suggests a work from a master filmmaker, and Lugosi’s character here is one of his most fascinating creations. Many claim his performance here to be his best, and in my opinion, he never found a better role that could flaunt his range as an actor. Most independent productions of that era are downright awful, but White Zombie is a truly remarkable film that lands somewhere in between classic Universal horror and Val Lewton productions. Considered the first zombie film, White Zombie is essential viewing for any true horror fan.
115. Altered States
Altered States is a rarity among Hollywood films, and it’s amazing it ever got made under the studio system. Ken Russell (The Devils) directs from a script by Paddy Chayefsky (Network), who adapted his own novel of the same name. William Hurt plays Eddie Jessup, a brilliant and slightly mad American scientist obsessed with discovering mankind’s true reason for existing. He submits himself to a series of mind-bending experiments with the help of mind-altering drugs. Enclosing himself in a sensory-deprivation chamber, Jessup explores various levels of human consciousness and begins to experience disturbing physical changes in his body that hint at an evolutionary regression. Ken Russell applies his usual psychedelic visuals, and the end result makes no sense because, as Russell claims, it’s not supposed to. Altered States works best as ‘body horror’ with its well-crafted transformation sequences both physical and metaphysical, but what makes this bizarre film truly awe-inspiring, is how it at times, is genuinely touching.
Phantasm is an impressive film for 23-year-old director Don Coscarelli, who worked with a minuscule budget and somehow created one of the most memorable horror pics of the late ’70s. Coscarelli not only directed this remarkable film, but he was also its director of photography and its editor. Phantasm became a considerable sleeper hit in 1979, but it never became as popular as some the indie horror hits from the same period. Ask any horror fan if they’ve seen Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween and the answer will most likely be yes, but very few people for whatever reason have seen Phantasm. It’s a shame really because Phantasm is filled with surreal offbeat images – such as the killer sphere that drills into a victims’ head and screws a hole into his brain and spatters his brain out behind it – and creepy characters such as the killer dwarves and the sinister figure of the Tall Man played by Angus Scrimm. The film doesn’t make a lick of sense (Coscarelli actually carved out over half of the film, leaving behind only 88 minutes of a 3-hour cut) — but Phantasm works if only because it’s suggested that the story is a recurring nightmare, complete with a twist ending that seems to validate nothing is what it seems.
113. Black Sunday
Mario Bava’s directorial debut Black Sunday is a densely atmospheric black-and-white horror film that clearly took its inspiration from the classic Universal horror movies, but it still stands as one of the most influential and important genre films ever made. Although taken from the 1835 classic Russian ghost story The Vij by Nikolai Gogol, Bava tweaked the narrative to deliver a fine mixture of folklore, traditional superstition, and genre convention. Technically speaking, the film is a work of art, with superb sound design and striking camerawork. Already an established cinematographer, Bava, along with co-cinematographer Ubaldo, shot the entire film with a dolly. The result achieves a dream-like quality and despite the budget limitations, Black Sunday is one of the best-looking Italian horror films of the 60s, with its Gothic landscapes, shadowy black-and-white imagery, castles, crypts, and long passageways. The film also introduced the world to Barbara Steele, who has dual roles as the evil witch and princess. Her Gothic black hair and saucer-like dark eyes made her famous, but unfortunately, it was a role she would forever be typecast in. The film was ignored by the critics when released, but soon gained a cult following and opened the door for many Italian Gothic horror films to come. It was also a box office hit and forecast Bava’s career-long central theme of uncertainty.
Set in a vaguely defined Transylvanian town sometime in the last century, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a bizarre Gothic fable of a young woman’s descent into womanhood. There is no clearly defined story, but essentially the film works as a parable of menstruation. Directed and written by Jaromil Jires, a key member of the Czech New Wave, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is one long, erotically charged nightmare of sexuality and death. And yes, there are vampires. An easy way to describe the film is to think Alice in Wonderland meets Nosferatu with a screenplay that bears similarities to Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves. Valerie features stunning visuals, a remarkable score, and a tour-de-force performance by Jaroslava Schallerová, who was only 13 at the time.
In 1971, Mario Bava unleashed Bay Of Blood, a film that pushed beyond the levels of gore that had yet been seen in a murder mystery thriller. Blood Zhas a body count of 13, spread across multiple killers – which is more dead bodies than the total of victims in the first Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th movies combined. In place of a single psycho, Bay Of Blood hosts a cast of characters, all related (and all insane), and all after the property of a deceased Countess and her lofty inheritance. It was by far Bava’s goriest film, soaked in top-of-the-line practical effects, dripping in blood and featuring the most innovative kill sequences for its time. Bava was a cinematographer-turned-director, and Bay of Blood was the first film since 1962’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much for which he took credit in both capacities. Released as Twitch of the Death Nerve, the film would become a predecessor to the slasher sub-genre, and said to have heavily influenced Friday the 13th. Frederico Fellini once commented that he worked on writing a horror film for an acquaintance who gave him a script with numerous depictions of murders, but not one thread of story connecting them. Many believe it was Bava he was referring to, specifically this movie. Dario Argento loved the film so much, he had a friend (a projectionist) steal him a print of the film during its first run in Italy. One last piece of IMDb trivia: Roberto Rossellini (whom Bava had previously worked for) shot a day’s worth of second unit footage for Bava. While he was uncredited, most of the footage appeared in the final cut.
Special Mention: Manhunter
What makes Michael Mann’s vision of Harris’ novel so incredibly good is that the plot is told from opposite views, based on Graham’s principal role. Although the killer does not appear until midway through the movie, his slant is experienced through Graham’s peerless investigation, leaving us with a disturbing voyeuristic look into the mind of both the criminal and the hunter chasing his prey. Writer/director Michael Mann’s measured approach pays off in spades. Manhunter is a clever race-against-time flick, in which the ticking of the clock is measured in Will’s attempt to retain his own sanity as he forces himself to think more and more like his quarry. Mann lays on the style thick with contrasting colour schemes to the seemingly contrary actions of his central characters, and cinematographer Dante Spinotti employs specific colours to emphasize emotional and jointed parallels. Mann and Spinotti deftly employ colour to heighten the mood, resulting in creating tension and uncertainty in the unlikeliest of settings. Mann explores all angles here, both visually and emotionally. Using light and shadow to enhance an atmosphere of horror, and working with a couple of highly stylized set pieces, the director’s taste for structural beauty is on full display. The score, with music by The Reds and Michael Rubini, along with the pulsating soundtrack of pre-existing music from bands such as Red 7, Shriekback, and Iron Butterfly, might seem dated, but in a strange way, the music helps elevate the mood. Meanwhile, throughout the film, Mann also makes a deliberate choice to snip out a couple of frames so that the shots flicker. While these choices won’t please most viewers, they do give the film its own unique sensibility. The movie’s emotional highpoint features Joan Allen as a physically vulnerable but emotionally strong blind woman named Reba, visiting an anesthetized tiger (perhaps symbolically used as a substitute for a dragon). As Reba strokes the animal and puts her head up against his body to hear his heartbeat, Dollarhyde (Tooth Fairy) watches from a distance, imagining her touching him. Noonan’s Tooth Fairy is insane of course, but he wasn’t born a monster; he was made into one, as told to us by Graham at one point. Allen is fantastic in the role, playing an assertive female character in a time when they were rarely seen on the big screen. Another memorable scene features a brief shot of the sleazy reporter Lounds thundering down a narrow hallway while strapped to a wheelchair lit on fire – as if he spat out of a dragon’s mouth. In addition – the breathtaking chill of Lecktor’s few scenes is enough to qualify Manhunter as a superior film to Silence of the Lambs. Cox’s Hannibal is a masterclass in restraint. His sociopathic killer is much less operatic than Jonathan Demme’s take, and Brian Cox’s brilliant portrayal is not only diametrically opposed to Hopkins’s performance but superior in every way. His Hannibal is far more cunning and terrifying than the campy portrayal in Silence of the Lambs. William Petersen’s performance as the troubled agent is central to the film, and while his character may be less memorable than Hannibal and the Tooth Fairy, he is no less complex. Graham is an archetypal Mann protagonist, and the actor offers a commanding performance crafting a multi-faceted character. The Tooth Fairy is also given much more depth than that typically afforded to serial killers. Tom Noonan makes him unhinged, but at the same time he can come across as retaining flashes of humanity. But he’s altogether discomfiting to watch, especially in his gentle scenes when his character shows a great deal of pain. The cast overall is stunning – even supporting roles, such as Dennis Farina’s Jack and Stephen Lang’s revolting tabloid journalist Lounds carry weight. Like The Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter isn’t really about the notorious cannibal – it’s about the unscrupulous psychological effects he has on those who surround him, and how his prowess continues to haunt Graham. Silence Of The Lambs might have gone on to be the film that put Lecktor on the map, but this slick and glossy thriller is every bit as compelling.
Mario Bava’s final black-and-white production is regarded as the seminal work in what would become known as the start of the Giallo genre. Much like Brian De Palma, Bava was influenced by and borrowed heavily from Alfred Hitchcock over the years. The title spoofs The Man Who Knew Too Much, a story Hitchcock adapted twice to the big screen. The Girl Who Knew Too Much helped kick-start a whole school of Italian thrillers, but only a few were able to surpass the genius of Bava. This is a beautifully shot film, composed of pristine blocking, framing, pans, dollies, and sharp edits, all creating suspense amidst the shadowy photography. Bava’s films might not always make a lick of sense, but as a former cinematographer working for directors such as Roberto Rossellini, his movies always look good. With a solid performance from the always reliable John Saxon, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is incredibly entertaining; features a few twists and even a surprise ending.
109. The Changeling
This creepy tale of horror stars George C. Scott as John Russell, a recently widowed music professor, who has moved to Seattle in the hope of forgetting his personal tragedy. Unfortunately for him, his new residence (an old home owned by the local historical society) is haunted. Although many critics consider this one of the best in the haunted house sub-genre, the film was criminally underseen when released in 1980, a time when slasher films starring young good looking teens were in vogue. It’s a shame because this good old-fashioned ghost story is a skillfully-made thriller, one that unfolds slowly, choosing to take its time in setting up the characters before any real horror begins. This is a textbook example of how to do horror right without relying on any digital effects.
108. The Beyond
Sometimes labeled “Fulci’s masterpiece,” The Beyond is loaded with more than enough graphic gore to please the most jaded genre enthusiast. There are acid face-lifts, killer tarantulas and a scene reminiscent of Suspiria, where a blind girl has her ear ripped off when attacked by her seeing-eye dog. The Beyond is littered with Fulci’s iconic imagery, alternating between genuine frightening moments of gore and shocks and unintentionally funny and awkward interactions between the cast of odd characters, that despite its discernible lines of logic, one can’t help but be entertained. The gore here is splattered about in high style and the Italian prog-rock soundtrack is one of the best of all the Italian horror films. You’ll love the excellent camera work by Gand Fulci, the Gothic locales, the terrific sets, and the well-executed jump-scares.
Opera mixed with horror is a fine fitting for Dario Argento’s extravagant style and dark trademarks as a filmmaker. Terror at the Opera was Argento’s most expensive production, and it shows in his color schemes, use of music, grand set design, and camera work – all of which are wildly inventive and appropriate. The film’s chosen opera is an avant-garde rendition of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, historically known for bringing bad omens to its cast and crew. Though Opera was never plagued by post-production problems, the director has been quoted as saying that “Opera‘s loveless tone was intended in part as a kind of AIDS metaphor” since star Ian Charleson learned during the filming that he was HIV+. Much like most of Argento’s work, the dialogue is over-the-top, and the acting is at times hammy, but one can’t deny its style and spectacular mood. Opera also features many incredible highlights, including one truly brilliant POV shot: At one point Betty is immobilized, as the killer ties her up and places a row of needles below her eyelids, forcing her to witness the excruciating deaths of her friends. We see the torture of unsuspecting supporting characters through her obstructed, terrifying view. I dare you not to blink.
Based on Richard Matheson’s 1971 novel Hell House, The Legend of Hell House, much like The Haunting, involves a group of skeptics, mediums, and researchers tasked with spending a few days in a mansion allegedly haunted. Unexplained occurrences follow as interpersonal conflicts arise among the group. Things go bump in the night, glasses spontaneously shatter, furniture moves, people levitate, bedsheets hover over the mattress and strange sounds are heard coming from around the house. John Hough’s direction relies upon suggestion and anxious anticipation, and The Legend of Hell House earns a fair share of chills. Drenched in atmosphere and fog, the film is adeptly made — the art direction of Robert Jones and the cinematography by Alan Hume is beautiful, and the music by Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire similarly work to enhance the film and keep viewers at the edge of their seat. With a single setting, slick visuals, a spooky score, minimal effects and an extremely talented cast of no more than half a dozen characters, The Legend of Hell House is one of the best ghost stories ever put to the big screen. This is one ghost story that will have you gripping your armrest.
The best way to describe Joe Dante’s Christmas Horror-comedy Gremlins is to quote the tagline: Cute. Clever. Mischievous. Intelligent. Dangerous. Gremlins offers enough thrills to please even the most well-seasoned horror fan, and enough laughs to satisfy the entire family. Not enough credit is given to Chris Columbus for his sharp script, which not only gives this monster movie a heart but introduced some truly iconic creatures and a cast of characters we’ve grown to love. Gremlins is not only a witty B-movie, but a minor classic and one of the best films released in the 80’s no matter what the genre. The special effects and puppetry designed by Chris Walas are rather incredible, even by today’s standards, and I would argue that the practical effects look much more realistic than something intangible, such as CGI. Though it sports a PG rating, Gremlins contains some surprisingly dark moments and was one of two films in 1984 to influence the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating (with Red Dawn being the first film given the new rating in August 1984). Gremlins also caused a resurgence of monster-orientated films and helped pave the way for C.H.U.D. and Critters, to name a few. This tribute to the 1950s matinee genre stands the test of time from a time when parents would take their children to family films that pushed the boundaries of the MPAA. Joe Dante is an under-rated director and was clearly making some of the most interesting Hollywood films in the ’80s. See it with your children. Gremlins makes the perfect gateway film into the world of Horror. And remember…
Never get them wet.
Keep them away from bright lights.
And no matter how much they cry. No matter how much they beg. Never, ever feed them after midnight.
104. The Hour of the Wolf
The title alludes to the hour when nightmares come. Ingmar Bergman’s The Hour of the Wolf is the filmmaker’s companion piece to Persona, about a brooding artist who is undergoing a crisis in his work which causes his marriage to fall apart. He and his wife move to a remote and exotic island in hopes that the time away will help them resolve their problems, only his demons follow him along. Unable to distinguish reality from fiction, the artist begins to lose his grip on reality. The Hour of the Wolf is both a bleak psychological drama and a brilliantly conceived Gothic horror tale and features some of the most striking and unusual scenes Bergman ever created.
Along with 1964’s Onibaba, Kuroneko (1968) is one of two horror films directed by Kaneto Shindo appearing on this list. Also translated as Black Cat, Kuroneko is a mixture of samurai adventures and supernatural ghost stories about two women living alone in a rural hut who are raped and murdered by a band of mercenaries. Years later, the women are reincarnated as feline vampires and are intent on seeking revenge on every samurai traveling their way. Director Kaneto Shindo’s 1968 folktale is in some ways a precursor to rape and revenge exploitation films such as I Spit on Your Grave, with the action perpetrated by a mother/daughter-in-law who leaves behind a pile of dead bodies in their wake. Beyond the political and social concerns, Kuroneko works exceptionally well as a ghost story. It’s also beautifully shot in stunning black-and-white 35-millimeter film and features a stunning climax. Not to be missed!
Sisters was director Brian De Palma’s first venture into Hitchcock territory and it set the stage for him as a filmmaker. In this self-confessed homage to Hitchcock, De Palma references everything from Psycho to Rear Window to Vertigo, but the spirit of the film is all his. Brian De Palma conceived the idea for Sisters after reading an article about a set of Russian Siamese twins. He set out to write a script that detailed the twins’ psychological problems as they grew older, and he even independently financed the low-budget pic himself. Quebecois model Margot Kidder brilliantly plays the twins, Danielle and Dominique, and Bernard Herrmann provided his last, but greatest score here. Sisters is also De Palma’s first excursion into the subjects of voyeurism and sexual horror, and in a way, Sisters is the culmination of all the themes he has developed over his long career as a filmmaker. No doubt he has far more accomplished films, but Sisters is the truest to his soul. It’s one of the best films of the 1970s — it’s stylishly made (I especially love how it explores using split-screens) — and it’s perverse, darkly funny, at times. Sisters is bloody good and an entertaining slasher pic with plenty of scenes that put the viewer on edge.
In between George Romero’s original trilogy of zombie movies, he made his first and only vampire film. Martin is arguably the most compelling cinematic deconstruction of the vampire myth to date. The vampire in question is just your average teenager who’s been sent to live with his eccentric Uncle Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) and cousin Christina (Christiana Forrest). He spends his days working in his Uncle’s store and delivering groceries to various customers. Martin has no supernatural powers and appears as a weak, slightly autistic 17-year-old. The problem is that Martin thinks he’s an 84-year-old vampire who must feed on the blood of the living to survive and to do so he stalks, sedates and rapes the women who are clients of his uncle’s business. In between, we also witness Martin’s fantasy/flashback scenes. These highly romanticized scenes, filmed in black and white, are visually and tonally different — and similar to what you’d come to expect in a Hammer Studios production, but it is unclear if they are memories of an 87-year old vampire or the twisted product of mental illness and family superstition. The question of whether Martin is actually a vampire or not is left ambiguous. Gruesome, gory and one of the best vampire movies ever made, even if it isn’t really a vampire movie. Martin is not for the weak at heart but if you think you can stomach its graphic violence, it is a must-see for Romero’s direction, writing and — his performance as the Catholic priest!