With only a certain number of weeks before Halloween, it’s the perfect time to dig up some horror movies to satiate the dark seasonal mood. It’s pretty much a given that at least one film studio will release a horror movie to theaters this time of year. Whether that movie will be a new modern classic or a cynical attempt to cash in on the spirit of the season remains to be seen, leaving us with the option of revisiting some old classics.
Movies like "The Exorcist" (1973), "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), and, of course, "Halloween" (1978) make perfectly good choices to celebrate the spirit of Halloween. However, more die-hard movie fanatics can testify to the reward in unearthing some obscure horror movie from years past and discovering something so strange and unique that it becomes completely rewarding in its own way.
For example, everyone has heard of George A. Romero’s groundbreaking "Night of the Living Dead." But how many people know that it was treated to a color remake well before horror movie remakes became a tired cliché? The 1990 remake boasts a credible pedigree, having been directed by "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) special effects maestro Tom Savini, confirming that this new version was in the hands of someone with a true love for the original.
A few changes to the original movie’s plot injects some freshness into the story while, at the same time, diminishing the film’s social commentary. However, considering the original came out during the height of tensions surrounding the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, that’s a cultural environment that is impossible to recreate more than 20 years later. As you might have guessed then, this color remake can’t stand up to the original’s impact. However, it’s the rare case of a remake actually staying true to the spirit of the original, leaving anyone possessing a similar attitude with plenty to enjoy here.
Then there’s a movie like "Inferno" (1980), the kind of movie that only Italian horror legend Dario Argento could make. "Inferno" certainly isn’t Argento’s best movie -- that honor would probably go to either "Suspiria" (1977), "Deep Red" (1975), or perhaps even "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" (1970). However "Inferno" may be the most representative of Argento’s style. Bold primary colors, an unrelenting atmosphere of dread, head-scratching plot turns, and occasional bursts of pure hysteria perfectly represent the way Argento tends to favor style over substance. However, if only other movies had half the degree of style Argento brings to his productions. The film consistently mixes the ridiculous with the sublime, frequently meshing the two together that perfectly encapsulates Argento’s virtues as a director. It may be a flawed film, but it’s safe to say "Inferno" doesn’t contain a single dull moment.
An even more obscure horror movie from Argento’s homeland of Italy is "The House with the Laughing Windows" (1976). While Italian horror movies tend to feature overheated plots and a comparable visual style thanks to the "giallo" films pioneered by directors like Dario Argento himself, "House with the Laughing Windows" prefers to pursue the genre’s equally crucial mystery elements. The film may start out slow but gradually gathers steam as all the plot elements slowly fall into place. In fact, rather than belonging to that long list of movies that start off strong only to disappoint with an unsatisfying conclusion, "House of the Laughing Windows" is one of those rare instances of a film that actually improves the longer it plays. By the time the film’s truly frightening climax eventually arrives, there’s no doubt that you will find yourself completely absorbed in its creepy atmosphere.
Even more foreign to a western perspective is a movie like "Valerie and her Week of Wonders" (1970), and is recommended for those only with the most adventurous of mindsets. Filmed in Czechoslovakia, and exploiting its foreign perspective in every single frame, the movie is a visually fantastic experience, very artfully done and dream-like and full of sexual subtext.
Some viewers may find the film’s abstract nature pretentious, and granted, you may not know exactly what’s going on much of the time while the movie’s obscure plot plays out. However, that only suggests that repeat viewings might be necessary to fully wrap your head around this ethereal film.
If you do find "Valerie and her Week of Wonders" more magical than maddening, then its striking visuals and an enigmatic sense of mystery will certainly make repeat viewings a rewarding experience.
Nathan Hurlbut is a free-lance filmmaker and a regular columnist for the Arts & Entertainment section.