Here are the ten best old-to-the-world, new-to-me horror movies I’ve watched so far this year:
10) Society (1989): Beneath the TV-quality production values, beneath the hairstyles and outfits that scream “late ’80s,” Society is a devastating gross-out satire. In fact, it feels even better-tailored to a post-Occupy America than to the socioeconomic climate into which it was released. I’ll never hear the word “shunt” again without a shudder.
9) Slither (2006): Here’s another movie that plays with gore like Jackson Pollock with dripping paint. It’s more or less a Night of the Creeps remake, but shifted from a college campus to a small, rural town, and with the added bonus of Michael Rooker at his most intimidating/squidlike.
8) Cube (1997): In the middle of this movie’s titular cube is a room with a lethal, sound-sensitive trap. And the scene in which five intrepid prisoners sneak through it made my knuckles the whitest they’ve been all year. This is existential horror done right on next to no budget: tense as hell, and very cruel.
7) Demon Seed (1977): Infamous as the “computer sexually assaults Julie Christie” movie, this is… that movie, and exactly as icky as its premise suggests. Plenty claustrophobic, too, as the amoral Proteus—speaking in the chilly voice of Robert Vaughn—closes in around his prey, wielding her locked house as a weapon.
6) Planet of the Vampires (1965): One of the many blueprints for Alien, this Bava space odyssey focuses less on plot and more on style, with impressive results. It’s a near-ballet of bold colors and production design, gradually descending into a morass of dread.
5) Lost Highway (1997): I actually found this a tad disappointing compared to other Lynch, but his movies tend to grow on repeat viewings, so I know I’ll return to it sooner or later. In the meantime, the performances of Roberts Blake and Loggia are enough to pull this noir-horror Möbius strip onto my list.
4) Suicide Club (2002): I still can’t make heads or tails of Sion Sono’s J-horror police procedural, but that’s much of its charm. Sometimes it’s a digital conspiracy thriller; occasionally it morphs into a rock musical or, at its best, a darker-than-dark absurdist comedy. Always mystifying and incredibly bloody.
3) Parents (1989): This was certainly my greatest surprise. I’d never heard a peep about Bob Balaban’s weird suburban fantasia before watching it, but I was instantly drawn in, disturbed, and enraptured by its child’s POV and nightmarish ambience. Career-best work by Randy Quaid as the father, too.
2) The Phantom Carriage (1921): I expected Victor Sjöström’s moral fable to be “good,” but it’s actually gonna-be-watching-this-for-years great. Shot like a series of grim Scandinavian woodcuts, it mines life mistakes for all their inherent horror, and ends with one hell of an emotional sucker punch. Plus it inspired the “Heeere’s Johnny!” shot in The Shining.
1) Tales from the Crypt (1972): This Amicus anthology is everything I want from a horror movie and more. It starts out creepy (with a killer Santa Claus!) and rises from there; it has an ace British cast, from Ralph Richardson to Joan Collins; and it has a few of the most morbidly ironic endings I’ve ever seen. A few of the stories here are still giving me chills.
And a few more… Signs (2002) is tremendously atmospheric, and preys on a childhood fear of mine; The Hitcher (1986) proves that Rutger Hauer can, if he so chooses, be the scariest man alive; Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) is painfully uneven, but worth it for the Dante, Miller, and wraparound segments; Frankenhooker (1990) is gleeful, trashy fun; and finally I have no excuse for The Final Destination (2009) and Final Destination 5 (2011). They’re just ridiculously watchable.