Some picks for the holiday- low on blood, high on “that was fucking creepy, I need to take a shower.” factor. Just the way I like it.
Don’t Look Now
Directed by Nicholas Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth) and starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, this one has been a personal favorite since I stayed up until 4:00 AM some years ago to catch it on TCM. Fractured, tinged with deep sadness and full of skin crawling weirdness, there aren’t many films that can match Don’t Look Now’s mood and intensity.
Note: fans of David Lynch’s work would eat this film up.
Kwaidan (literally: Ghost Story)
Directed by a growing favorite of mine, Masaki Kobayashi, this 1964 anthology (there are four separate stories) is easily one of the best films with a supernatural bent ever made. With stunning cinematography, subtle but effective storytelling, excellent performances from the ensemble cast and an incredible purity of tone, Kwaidan is a one of a kind experience.
All four stories are excellent. The first, “Black Hair,” the tale of a down-on-his-luck samurai who leaves the love of his life in order to marry into money; perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film with it’s humanity, sure pacing and subtle, gradual, twisting of reality.
The second entry, “The Woman in the Snow,” features one my favorite Japanese actors, Tatsuya Nakadai, as a woodcutter who takes shelter in a small hut during a snowstorm. There he and his companion are visited by an ice spirit in the form of a beautiful woman. Nakadai watches in horror, helpless, as she drains the life out of his friend. The spirit spares his life, however, on the condition that he never tell anyone about what he saw…
Laced with emotion and more than a little creepy, this beautifully photographed story is haunting and truly unforgettable.
The third, “Hoichi the Earless,” is the masterpiece of the quartet. From the brilliantly staged, purely theatrical sea battle (shot on a sound stage no less) that opens the story to it’s painful, but smartly conceived ending, nothing in this short fails to hit the mark. Intelligent, possessing great depth and presenting some of the most enduring images I’ve ever seen on screen, “Hoichi the Earless” is a work of pure brilliance.
Fourth, “In a Cup of Tea,” while definitely good, is probably the least effective in the film. Lacking the emotional depth of the first two and failing to scale the immense heights of the third, the success of this segment is relatively shallow. Although successful it is. It works extremely well as a mood piece and no more. Which isn’t all that bad when you think about it.
The Vanishing (Spoorloos)
This is a four star freak show. A kick in the head of the highest magnitude. If you’ve got one of those friends that like to explain every plot detail of a movie as a way of “discussing” the film and they start on with this one, smash them in the head and then run away to the video store and rent it so they can’t further sully your experience.
As a very important note: don’t pick up the American remake with Kiefer Sutherland and think it’s the same thing. For the love of all that’s holy (or unholy, depending on your taste), grab the original Dutch version from 1988.
Of unknown provenance, but late 1990s/early2000s is a good bet for the time frame