6. Bride of Frankenstein
I’m a newer convert to Bride of Frankenstein. Director James Whale is responsible for three of the most special effects-intensive horror films of the Universal era. Bride of Frankenstein is the third and the most accomplished in that matter. The tale of The Creature learning to communicate and survive in society after the brutal attempt at murdering him for his confusion flipped the script on acceptable horror film narratives. The monster is transformed into the tragic hero in a bizarrely meta fashion for the time period. After all, the film opens with Mary Shelley complaining to Lord Byron and Percy Shelley that no one will publish Frankenstein because it’s too horrific. Instead, she knows that the second story, the monster finding love, will bring the publishers around to her side. By production and release year alone it’s clearly commentary on The Hollywood Code and the new age of censorship in Hollywood. Whale confronts Hollywood head-on and then produces an even more disturbing tale than Frankenstein for daring to humanize the monster at all.
5. Noriko’s Dinner Table
Though South Korea has overtaken the title in recent years, Japan was responsible for some of the best horror cinema being produced around the world for many years in the 90′s and early 2000s. Noriko’s Dinner Table is, in many ways, the perfect distillation of that approach to horror. There are no literal ghosts, hair hanging limp and haunting everyday people. Instead, Noriko’s Dinner Table is focused on the ghosts of regret and dissatisfaction in everyday life. A family is torn apart by the events of the rampant Suicide Club (yes, this is a sequel to Suicide Club, albeit one that does not require you to see the original at all) without any of them committing suicide. First one daughter, then the second become obsessed with the online community that ran the website counting the number of suicides committed as part of the club. They travel off, one after the other, to the big city to meet a mysterious young woman who can show them what life is really like. Everyone becomes obsessed with decoding the secret of this online community that is so welcoming, everyone who joins becomes family. Or, you know, commits suicide in a very bloody and public fashion to show the world how ugly life really is. It’s a coin toss moment.
4. Night of the Living Dead
Any artist will tell you the role luck plays in the creation of art. George A. Romero and John A. Russo have made it no secret that the casting of Duane Jones as the male lead in their zombie film was a chance occurrence. They immediately realized the grand social implications of a black leading man in their story and went with it. Night of the Living Dead preys on a lot of fears at the time. It digs into Cold War paranoia, social unrest, and fear of recent history. If the dead can’t even stay dead, what hope do the living have of moving on with their lives? Night of the Living Dead forever cemented the zombie genre as the most political and socially aware of all the horror genres.
3. Santa Sangre
Good weird fiction is much harder to make than it looks. The genre is synonymous with its master, H.P. Lovecraft, and everything else is judged to those standards. Santa Sangre is one of the few examples I can think of that goes beyond the boundaries of what Lovecraft or any other weird fiction author thought possible. It is Absurdism and Modernism and fantasy and horror all wrapped up in the splendor and wonder of the traveling side show. I’d love to describe the plot for you beyond “extreme religious cult crosses paths with a circus and nightmares ensue,” but it would be a grave injustice to both the actual story (whatever that might be) and the joy of experiencing this journey without foreknowledge of what’s to come.