10. Redeemer: Son of Satan (1976)
Though it’s often referred to as “Class Reunion Massacre,” from the opening scene it should be apparent to any slasher aficionado that this is more than just a body count flick. Nonetheless, the bodies do pile up and the deaths are often cruel. Filmed in 1976, The Redeemer features creepy gimmicks that are now considered slasher tropes and are better remembered for their use in movies like Terror Train and Friday the 13th. The little-known Redeemer might be forgotten entirely if not for that other aspect which sets it apart from its more popular successors – this film came out of a time when occult/Satanic horror was big, and it shows. What makes this a unique slasher is not necessarily its religious overtones, nor the killer’s warped moral compass, but the surreal supernatural elements which bookend the “class reunion massacre” plot. It gives the viewer something to ponder, but don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a real heavy flick. It has killer puppets, mutant appendages, theatrical psychopaths and all sorts of other fun stuff to enjoy. (David Dunwoody)
Perhaps more than any other, horror is a genre marked by indelible faces: Lon Chaney’s chameleonic visage, his son’s hound-dog expression, Boris Karloff’s foreboding, sunken features, Vincent Price’s forlorn eyes resting just on the edge of madness, Bela Lugosi’s wry, hypnotic gaze. One of the most unsung but unforgettable faces belongs to Peter Lorre, whose wide-eyed, full moon features could shift with every performance. In the case of The Beast with Five Fingers, one can actually see them shift within one performance, as Lorre’s Hilary fronts as a lowly, victimized assistant to mercurial concert pianist Francis Ingram. In the wake of Ingram’s death, however, Hilary’s pitiful, childlike eyes become marked by madness and consumed by paranoia when his associates are murdered one-by-one. Convinced that Ingram’s severed hand has returned from beyond the grave to exact vengeance, Hilary skulks about an Old Dark House tale, one that’s bathed in shadows and playfulness as audience watch a squirming Lorre come undone once again. (Brett Gallman)
73 previous films have been selected over the last 8 years before, finally, Jean Rollin is paid tribute with a rightful spot on our Halloween list with Fascination being his most perfect and ultra sexy candidate for entry. One of the stranger flick picks this year, Fascination is a quiet little satanic cult movie that hints at vampirism and makes sure the viewers get all the lesbians they can handle. I've become an increasing fan of Jean Rollin over the years and the combination of his visuals and relative silence here is what drew me most into this work. You'd think a lack of music would ruin a movie (ala Carp's Halloween taking a life of its own when great synth was inserted), but such is not the case with Fascination, which accomplishes an almost calming atmosphere that is chilling at the same time. French horrors tend to have this effect on me where my mind almost wanders to feeling like a dream where I feel like I'm on a European vacation, just chilling alone on the banks of a secluded pond before two hot lesbians take me to their castle. Unknown to me, they're almost always vampires, cult members or ghosts destined for hell. They may as well take me with them! (Brett H.)
Sometimes, you want your zombie films to deliver a trenchant social commentary along with their gut-munching. Sometimes, you want them to be a a 90-minute punk rock orgy of brain-eating. And sometimes, you just want them to offer the same sort of cheap thrills as your average rural hayride attraction. Far removed from his appearance in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Bill Hinzman and an amateur film crew set out to deliver just that with Flesheater, one of the 80s’ most ridiculous homespun productions. While Hinzman’s effort isn’t on the level of the era’s shot-on-video-in-someone’s-backyard productions, it’s somewhere in the same vicinity and aims to revel in the same sort of schlock. Armed with as much plot as your basic slasher movie (a bunch of kids head off to the woods to die horrible, gruesome deaths), Flesheater is charming nonetheless since it follows the same sort of hayride mentality. Decked out in Halloween trimming, it essentially points its audiences towards cheap, lurid shocks: on your right, you’ll find a zombie chewing the flesh off of a naked girl. On your left, a group of undead trick-or-treaters feasting on something other than candy. FleshEater fills your marathon’s quote for blood and boobs—and then some. (Brett Gallman)
No Halloween marathon is complete without an anthology, that cinematic grab-bag that allows one to sample different flavors in one sitting. Chances are, the two Creepshow films have rightfully crept into an All Hallows Eve rotation or two over the years, and, while both would be fine choices, this spiritual successor is in keeping with this year’s theme of unsung B-sides. While Tales from the Darkside was at the forefront of the 80s anthology horror movement, history has relegated it to the undercard below Tales from the Crypt, and this cinematic adaptation has never quite escaped the shadow of creator George Romero’s big-screen omnibus series.
The latter is hardly surprising, particularly since its middle segment features another collaboration between Stephen King and Romero, who combine for a bewitching tale involving a cat from hell. Simply considering it to be Creepshow 3 isn’t exactly inaccurate, nor is it a slight. For all intents and purposes, it might as well be since it draws from the same well that mixes the macabre, vengeance-laden sensibilities with an All Star cast that’s hacked, eviscerated, and decapitated-- and this is not to mention a resoundingly fucked up frame story involving a witch (Deborah Harry) threatening to cook a kid in her oven. In true Creepshow fashion, however, the child’s trick is our treat, as his trio of tales is a fine, gruesome assortment. (Brett Gallman)
In a year when we are shedding light on lesser heralded films, what title says it better than The Unseen, Danny Steinmann’s bizarre but surprising precursor to Friday the 13th Part V?. If his jaunt in Crystal Lake is Steinmann's melodramatic tempest of grime and sleaze, then this is the relatively low-key rumbling before the storm. Essentially an old dark house riff by way of yet another Psycho/Texas Chain Saw imitator, The Unseen finds a trio of unsuspecting reporters wandering into a house of horrors, the most horrifying of which lurks in the basement. The titular unseen menace spends much of the film off-screen, skulking about the edges but causing gruesome mayhem all the same. Naturally, though, all is not as one sees or seems, as the twisted familial drama eventually spills over into bursts of unhinged hysterics. While The Unseen does not unleash Steinmann’s sleaze sensibilities as potently as A New Beginning, it nonetheless blurs the line between the arthouse and the grindhouse, as the film simply feels grubby and grungy even as its director is building atmosphere and suspense. (Brett Gallman)
Conventional wisdom holds that, should one’s Halloween horrorthon feature some sampling of 50s monster movies, it’s prudent to choose from the lineup of usual suspects: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World, Them!, or Godzilla, all of which are fine, thinly-veiled tales of atomic age obsession and/or Red Scare paranoia. But then there’s Tarantula, which is about a giant fucking spider wreaking havoc on a small Arizona town. One of the earliest films to ride the decade’s giant monster wave, Jack Arnold’s film at least checks off the atomic paranoia along with several other boxes: we have a mad scientist’s good but misguided intentions butting heads with military personnel, a couple of lovebirds clinging to each other in the midst of terror, and, of course, special effects that are now more charming than they are bone-chilling. What truly matters, though, is the incredible sense of fun at hand—Tarantula may not be as intricately concerned with the weighty issues of its contemporaries, but it’s proof that these less burdened exercises are no less valuable, especially in the heart of a Halloween rotation. (Brett Gallman)
This year affords our yearly Halloween marathon with a unique opportunity, as many of us will be carving out a half hour block on the 31st to hail the return of the king in Ash vs. The Evil Dead, Starz’s unexpected resurrection and continuation (!) of Sam Raimi’s legendary franchise. And by “unexpected,” I mean “holy shit, you guys do realize Raimi has essentially gifted us a four-hour-long Evil Dead 4, right?” But I digress. Rather than look forward, I’m here with an eye turned towards the past, looking specifically upon Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s embryonic short film that spawned The Evil Dead. A 30-minute burst of unhinged madness, Within the Woods is akin to reading a rough draft of a favorite book. You can certainly catch more than a hint of the filmmaker Raimi would become here, particularly in the manic camera movements and frenzied gore.
More difficult is ever guessing that Raimi and company would somehow ever have fun with this concept, as Within the Woods is Evil Dead without a trace of oddball humor. You won’t find series staples like the Necronomicon or Deadites, either: in their place is an ill-fated camping trip to an Indian burial ground that ends with Bruce Campbell’s possession. Those familiar with watching Campbell take the brunt of Raimi’s punishment may be shocked to see him dole out the violence here, as he hacks up his friends in ultra-gory sequences. More of a straight slasher film than the films that would follow, Within the Woods is a different sort of blast from those films, as it offers meaner, leaner thrills, here made all the more unreal by the warbling, umpteenth- generation VHS tape presentation. Rights issues have prevented a legitimate (and one would assume improved) release for Within the Woods, but something about this nightmarish, almost snuffy transmission feels more correct anyway. (Brett Gallman)
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is the first Czech film to make our list and its surreal, dream/nightmare-like coming of age atmosphere is seldom matched in the annals of horror. A demented fairy tale if there ever was one, the blend of fantasy with stark horror is nearly unmatched in cinema history. Having watched it for the first time a couple years back, I knew it was destined to be at one with the other nightmares our annual October list entails, adding something to it that really can't be matched in tone or effect by any other horror movie. If you're into weird cinema that enters a hazy, messed up world and top notch cinematography, you owe it to yourself to check out Valerie and Her Week of Wonders this Halloween. The spirit of the Halloween season seeps through its seems and truly feels like a nightmare in progress; it's that artistically deranged, weird and intentionally mind boggling at times. A lot of adjectives have been thrown around in this description, and hyperbole is often present when describing horror films to at least a small degree. I assure you, if you experience Valerie and Her Week of Wonders this Halloween season, you can take these descriptions to the bank. It is likely the most surreal and intense horror films of all time, from start to finish. (Brett H.)
No stranger to black-and-white, gothic-tinged nightmares, Barbara Steele stars in a spooky tale that gathers Eurohorror luminaries under one haunted roof. In addition to boasting the continent’s scream queen, Castle of Blood features the talents of Sergio Corbucci, Antonio Margheriti, and Rugerro Deodato in various capacities as they conjure the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe. In the tradition of their AIP counterparts, the cast and crew were charged with brining the literary master to the screen using leftover resources from a previous film, and they did so in a most intriguing fashion. That Castle of Blood isn’t a direct adaptation of any particular Poe tale is hardly surprising; that Poe himself appears as a character (played by Silvano Tranquilli), however, is an awesome wrinkle. He invites the skeptical journalist here to spend a night in a haunted castle that inspired his tales, where spirits of the dead roam the halls on All Souls’ Eve, reliving their own ghastly fates. Unlike Corman’s adaptations, Castle of Blood is hardly a lush nightmare; rather, it recaptures the suffocating feeling of languishing in a nightmare, unable to come up for air. Like so many of its higher profile Italian counterparts, Castle of Blood is a truly Gothic masterwork in every sense of the word: as the veil between the living and the dead slips away, so too does fall begin to transition into the dreadful desolation of winter. (Brett Gallman)
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