Sure, you could watch a classic horror movie this like Halloween, Psycho, or The Thing, but why not try some offbeat chillers to give you the holiday shivers? Here are 5 flicks guaranteed to raise the goosebumps.
They’re well nigh on being 80 years old, but the films of Alfred Hitchcock’s British Period, his vastly entertaining oeuvre before he crossed over the pond to the cinematic heights of Hollywood, are looking as fresh and fascinating as ever. Case in point: Secret Agent, a very fine spy picture that boasts some haunting visual set pieces and a thoughtful study on the human toll of war and the causal need for state sanctioned murder. John Gielgud is a reluctant undercover British agent sent to Switzerland to find and kill a notorious German spy. He’s aided by a scene stealing Peter Lorre as an amoral devil doll sidekick. There’s no low ebb in this amped up performance; he’s a walking id leering at all the ladies or dead set on enemy homicide. The cooly beautiful Madeleine Carroll—the proto “Hitchcock Blonde”—is also on hand as the third spy assigned to the case. She’s Gielgud’s marital cover, slowly falling for her faux hubby, but also swatting away the advances of a charming American tourist, Robert “Marcus Welby” Young. The cast effortlessly handles the witty dialog and espionage derring-do, while Hitchcock cannily exploits the Teutonic locale. You get loads of Alps, mountain climbing, cute Dachshunds, and a sinister chocolate factory, but more importantly, a thoughtful meditation on the price of human life during wartime. Best of all, you can catch this gem on YouTube, watch it here.
Director Irvin Kirshner did something pretty special with The Eyes of Laura Mars. He captured the visceral pulsating atmosphere of the dying days of that immoral Me Decade, the 1970’s, and the cultural nexus where all that grime, grit, glitter, and glamour was in full swing, the scary and wonderful New York City that President Ford had written off with a tart ‘drop dead’, but was still a thriving hothouse of creativity and social taboo busting. It’s all wrapped in a so-so thriller, but the plot, pure Hollywood twaddle, is beside the point. It’s all about the visual milieu, the dirty streets, downtown discos, and pre-mall-ified SoHo. Faye Dunaway is a high fashion photographer who’s work is a mixture of style and violence, sex and danger. Gorgeous models are coldly impassive in tableaux vivant with guns, blood, fire, wrecked cars, and barking Dobermans. It’s Helmut Newton gone even more gonzo. But just like that she starts suffering from psychic spells where she’s seeing through the point of view of a crazed killer’s eyes. Everyone around her is getting bumped off. Dunaway pulls off the balance of strong career gal and vulnerable victim admirably, and she probably never looked better on film. Those cheekbones and stiletto heeled long legs were made to play a couture ice goddess. An earnest Tommy Lee Jones shows up as the hunky detective assigned to crack the implausible case and to save (and bed) Dunaway. If you don’t see the identity of the murderer coming from a mile away you’re more blind than Laura Mars. Just revel in the time capsule nature of the film and take yourself into that exciting pre-scrubbed-up Manhattan of yesterday where the dangerous mixed with the chic, and the result was decadently stimulating.
The 1960’s It Girl, Julie Christie has a star turn in this very fine adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s proto-feminist 19th century novel. She’s a headstrong young woman who comes into a substantial inheritance, her wealthy uncle’s working farm. In good time she manages to beguile three different suitors all at once, making her the Goldilocks of the English countryside. One is too cold, the older and stuffy land baron next door (Peter Finch); one is too hot, the smoldering army sergeant (Terence Stamp) who, ahem, makes good use of his broadsword; and the last, the earthy farmhand (Alan Bates) may be just right. It’s all set in the achingly beautiful English countryside of Dorset and Wiltshire and the film feels as if it’s looking ahead to the style of the best ’70s cinema, it has a modern sensibility despite being a period costumer. Richard Rodney Bennett’s score is a big plus too.
Blow Out remains a very fine political thriller that looks better and better with each passing year. Director Brian DePalma deftly weaves together a tight plot that references the Kennedy assassination, the Chappaquiddick scandal, and the Watergate coverup. John Travolta is a sound man for cheap grind house slasher pictures. One night he’s recording sound effects and witnesses a car careen off a bridge into a river. The two passengers are a governor making a bid for the White House, and his ‘date’, Nancy Allen. Travolta to the rescue; the politician dies and she lives. That’s just the beginning of the twisty plot as the two stars, both never better, find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy coverup because they’re The Couple Who Knew Too Much. DePalma has such a command of the whiz bang cinema toys of split screens, cross-cutting, sound effects, deep focus, etc, that each tense set piece will make you giddy. As a wry comment on the proceedings expert cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond bathes the whole production in inky blacks highlighted with reds, whites, and blues, an idea that sounds hokey but works in spades. Add Pino Dinaggio’s heartbreaking and lush score and you’ve got a winner all around. Excellent movie craft becomes high art.