by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The following is a list of 10 little-known movies, at least by English-speakers. Some of them have been remade; others remain in obscurity outside of the country where they were filmed. Follow us into a world of horror without borders:
I have to say I’ve never been a fan of most Italian horror. The gialli leave me cold and Dario Who-Needs-A-Plot Argento never convinced me, despite that cool underwater sequence in Inferno, that I should sit and watch. Nevertheless, Italy has produced its share of influential horror movies. There would be no Halloween without Suspiria. And there wouldn’t be any Suspiria without Black Sunday (or La Mascheta del demonio, using its Italian title). This beautifully shot black-and-white film about an evil witch that returns from the dead launched the career of Mario Bava, who went on to direct many more horror movies.
Nosferatu and Nosferatu the Vampyre
Year: 1922 and 1979
Ah, Nosferatu. You’ve heard about it, but how many of you have really seen it? And I’m not talking snippets in a college film history class. Like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu is a film that has left its mark on horror, but few filmgoers nowadays would be able to identify it as the source of more than one horror sequence. Ask the average person who was the first vampire on film and they’ll remember Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. Similarly, ask who was the uber-vampire of the 1970s and they’ll say Frank Langella (his Dracula was also released in 1979). Nosferatu: The Vampyre, with Klaus Kinski in the title role, looks amazing, atmospheric and pestilent. This is no sparkling vampire. At the same time, we feel a certain pathos for the poor, bald chump as he stares at the beautiful Isabelle Adjani. The poster for this movie, by the way, was awesome.
The Spirit of the Beehive
Not really a horror movie in the traditional blood-and-removed-limbs sense, Spirit of the Beehive is concerned with exploring the horrors of real life and how they intersect with a child’s imagination. Franco’s regime is in full swing when a young girl, who has been to a screening of a black-and-white show of Frankenstein, meets a fugitive hiding in the sheepfold. She believes he is Frankentstein’s monster, just like in the movie, and forms a friendship with him. Before Pan’s Labyrinth, there was the beautiful Spirit of the Beehive.
In a nutshell: post-apocalyptic dark comedy about a butcher and landlord who makes sausages out of his tenants. Funny and bloody, it has several memorable moments, like the constant suicide attempts by one of the tenants or the opening sequence that has an unfortunate tenant trying to escape his fate by disguising himself as garbage. The apartment building inhabited by the characters is decaying, dark and gloomy, but the director offers a funny and touching budding romance between the newest tenant and the butcher’s daughter to offset the depressing surroundings. Directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet later directed the fantasy film La cité des enfants perdus (The City of Lost Children).
Guillermo del Toro is more famous these days for directing Pan’s Labyrinth and big Hollywood films such as Hellboy. But del Toro got his start in movies by directing this interesting take on the vampire mythos. Cronos is the story of an old antiquarian who stumbles upon a mechanical device which can grant immortality to its owner, and experiences the consequences. Mostly, it’s a film about family and love which sports many of del Toro’s usual touches, such as a child protagonist and a bittersweet feel to the narrative. Far from the likes of Twilight or Interview with the Vampire, Cronos is heartfelt, imaginative and beautiful, even so many years after its release.
El Dia de la Bestia
Alex de la Iglesia directs a black comedy about a priest trying to stop the birth of the Antichrist in the middle of Madrid. His search is both hilarious and disturbing. Watch as he tries to mine the attendant at a heavy metal music shop for tips on getting in touch with the Devil, pummels a security guard and in general behaves in a very un-priestly manner. It’s a good antidote to all those Omen-like movies, filled with the energy and wackiness seldom found outside of Spanish cinema. Alex de la Iglesia would go on to make Perdita Durango, a hilarious, often misunderstood crime movie which is heavily censored outside of Spain and Mexico.
Brotherhood of the Wolf
A Frenchman and an Iroquois warrior with impressively-anachronistic martial arts skills combine forces to track down a gigantic “beast”, probably some kind of werewolf or super-wolf, in 18th-century France. Based on a true story. Kind of. The movies does not quite succeed. It throws everything and the kitchen sink at the audience, hoping something will stick – not exactly a recipe for success. But it does try to inject its story with energy. It’s full of foggy, mossy backdrops à la Hammer Films, and half-seen horrors. Don’t expect blood and gore; it’s more of a detective story with the traditional werewolf trappings thrown in, such as the mysterious deaths or the obligatory scene with a lost lamb.
By now, the horror of Ringu has been watered down by the constant overuse of a girl with long black hair stalking people. However, when I saw Ringu for the first time, I thought the girl was creepy and the movie had a fresh, urban-legend twist to the traditional ghost story. Ringu suffers from plot and production pains, a point on which the director must agree with me since he directed the English-language The Ring Two, perhaps hoping to make a better film the second time around. Alas, it didn’t work very well. Ringu has spawned several sequels, remakes and copycats which include Ringu 2, The Ring and Dead Friend. One wonders how long the Ring franchise may go on, as a cursed DVD or iPod does not have the same feel as a cursed video tape, but expect an English-language Ring 3 in the near future.
Tale of Two Sisters
I must admit I never understood why my classmates in Massachusetts feared going back home for Thanksgiving. After all, I grew up in Mexico surrounded by extended family members. We’ve got family imprinted in our genetic pattern. Well, A Tale of Two Sisters made me re-evaluate my concept of family as a positive thing. Two young women return home to their father and stepmother after a stay in a mental institution. Stepmother is deeply disturbed and dangerous. House is creepy. Weird stuff happens. The plot and characters need some ironing, but overall, this ghost movie is intriguing and has the deep, rich darkness of Grimm’s fairy tales. It was remade as The Uninvited.
Country: Hong Kong
The quest for eternal youth. Lotions, creams, botox. It seems we will try anything to keep our skin unwrinkled and escape the ravages of time. The protagonist in Dumplings is in the midst of a crisis: not only is she trying to regain her lost youth, she also has to contend with a cheating husband. When she hears about some dumplings with very special properties, she decides to sample them immediately and then, when the dumplings become scarce, she attempts to obtain the ingredients necessary to cook them, no matter what the cost. It’s not exactly new material, Erszebet Bathori figured out a similar beauty regime a few centuries before, but it’s done with elegance and good camera work. Dumplings first appeared as a segment of the Asian horror anthology Three…Extremes (with a different ending) before being expanded into short-movie length.