James Picks Ten Criterion Films That Will Terrify You This Halloween

It’s my favorite time of year, kiddies. It’s Halloween and time to gorge oneself on candy, costumes and horror movies. Even though I watch them all year long, many people out there tend to gravitate toward the horror genre during this time of year. When the weather is cooler, the night comes faster and pumpkins are carved. So in Criterion Cast fashion, I’m giving you my top 10 horrifying movies within the collection.

You might see a few you are familiar with and a few that you didn’t think of as a horror film in the first place. That’s why I’m here. And no, I won’t mention Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. I just don’t like those films very much.


10. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

One of the most widely debated films of all time is in the bottom of my list. And it’s because the film is a horrifying take on the Marquis De Sade’s opus, which Pier Paulo Pasolini took from the 18th century and put in 1944 Fascist Italy. And there isn’t a more hated film within the Criterion Collection or in film at all. Do I like this film? I’m still not sure if ‘like’ is a proper word I’d use toward this film. Horrifies, yes, that’s a word more in tune with my feelings toward this film. And watching it again with my brother (it was his first time) was an eye opener.

It sickened me and I want that visceral feeling toward a film. Imagine a drinking game with this one? I have many ideas but I think there would be much vomiting (and not just from the actual vomiting within the film).


9. Carnival of Souls

Herk Harvey’s atmospheric low budget horror masterpiece deservedly fits into this list. The realms of the living and dead is dreamlike, where you and the main character, Mary (Candace Hilligoss) never know what is reality. Ghouls dancing in the night, in the fog, coming for you tends to be a creepy thing to see in film (just look at John Carpenter’s The Fog). And that last shot of the footprints and the abrupt disappearance still sends shivers down my spine.

A film that is easily attained because of its public domain, the only one worthwhile is the Criterion version, which restored the film in a beautiful print. A perfect film for Halloween. A double bill with Night of the Living Dead is essential.


8. General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait

A documentary on a horror film top 10 list? Perish the thought. But with some documentaries showing the terror of man (Deliver Us From Evil is a perfect example of man’s evil), Mr. Idi Amin is one face that has slowly become more popular in the world of ‘horrible people’ in history. General Idi Amin was the dictator of Uganda and this film was made with the support of Uganda and Idi Amin himself, at the height of his power.

What’s so scary about this film is that it’s a candid take on the subject, at first, but slowly the cracks start to show and we the audience see that he is a ticking time bomb, ready to strike at any moment. Give credit to Barbet Schroeder for having the guts to make this film, knowing full well that Idi Amin was slaughtering his own people for years and ruling with an iron first. She refers to the film as a ‘self portrait’ because Idi Amin had full control, directed the camera where he wanted, staged events to show that he was ‘loved’ by his people and even threatened the crew and even held 200 French citizens in a hotel in Uganda captive, until Schroeder made the changes he wanted. Of course she had to give in to his demands. Luckily when he fell out of power she put back the film the way it was meant to be seen and we have this portrait of a man, who lived in infamy and we see him for how ugly he truly is.


7. The Virgin Spring

This was a film I was happy to discuss on the Criterion Cast, being that it was the basis for many horror films after it (Wes Craven himself almost remaking it directly into his own Last House on the Left). From the outside, Ingmar Bergman’s film seems like just a period piece, with beautiful lighting and scenery. But while the story unfolds and we see the ugliness of men (and child), the true horror of the film is a question of revenge and if it is the right thing to do. Not to say the rape and murder of Karin isn’t horrific. It’s played as such, but Bergman asks a more important question.

Is murdering your daughter’s killers truly what God would want? Does that make you a righteous person? Of course the answer tends to be shoved aside and vengeance must be had, which makes for a compelling piece of commentary on right and wrong.


6. Bigger Than Life

Ahh, James Mason. You’re a wonderful actor and up until recently, most moviegoers probably hadn’t even heard of Bigger Than Life, let alone seen it. But see it they must, because this film is as scary as any slasher film out there.

What’s scarier than your own father going slowly mad from a drug that is actually curing him, being verbally and mentally abusive to you and your mother and proclaiming mankind is full of idiots and he knew exactly how to change all of that? It’s just a wonderful piece of film making, Nicholas Ray showing us that the good ol’ American family dynamic wasn’t always so good behind closed doors.


5. Peeping Tom

The film that ruined Michael Powell’s directing career in England (and he never fully recovered from), Peeping Tom is an amazing psychological thriller that puts the audience in the role of voyeur. We are watching the murders happen, one by one, while we are helpless. An amazing piece of work, Powell’s directing is a perfect example of what to do when in the director’s chair.

A film that is sometimes forgotten, especially because of Hitchcock’s Psycho came out the same year, both are brilliant in their own ways and I’ve been known to play double bills with them both. Scary, thrilling and poignant… it’s a film that deserves a wider audience.


4. Antichrist

I believe everyone is familiar with my love for this film. The horror aspect of the film isn’t a typical idea for a horror film. It makes the audience guess, as to what we’re seeing is truly to be believed. Did that fox just say “Chaos Reigns”? Does it really matter? Lars Von Trier made a beautiful, horrific sexual dynamo with this film, showing why he deserves his place in the Criterion Collection.

It’s a daring piece of work that just punches you in the face with its subject manner, and I love him for that. Seeing the film multiple times, in theaters and at home, just shows why I keep coming back to this film. It makes the audience cringe when they should be, and pushes you to the point of no return. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are amazing as the married couple who have lost their son and are trying to save not only their marriage but the sanity of She. The film is a minimalist’s dream film, yet asks so many questions of the audience. Booed at Cannes when it premiered, it just goes to show that horror sometimes gets the love it deserves after it’s in the public’s view for awhile.


3. Cronos

Ahh, Guillermo Del Toro’s first foray into the collection is his first feature film. It’s a tale of vampires, but not the typical vampires we all know. No sparkly vampires either, but Del Toro has never gave us ‘typical’. If we look at Blade 2 or his The Strain series of books, he never shies from giving a different spin on vampires and the horror genre in general.

A scarab with the amazing capability of giving youth and vitality back to the recipient is owned by an elderly antiques dealer and he won’t get rid of it, even when an evil businessman sends his brutish nephew (Ron Perlman) to retrieve it. Just an amazing debut by Del Toro and a great horror tale that doesn’t disappoint. We don’t shy away from our love for the big man, but it’s because he’s one of the truly imaginative filmmakers around. He’s like a kid in a candy shop. If the candy shop was filled with monster designs and prosthetic bloody limbs. My kind of candy shop.


2. The Ruling Class

A man, The 14th Earl of Gurney, believes that he is God himself. He dances and sings lovely songs and will not be convinced he’s anything but God himself. His uncle worries that this will mean no heir to the family name, he sends him to an institution. He continues to believe himself to be the God of Love, until finally with the aide of electroshock therapy and another patient who thinks he is Christ, it seems to have worked. But this is where the horror comes because Jack Gurney now believe he is Jack the Ripper and he continues his hatred and onslaught on women and somehow convinces everyone around him that he’s perfectly sane. An amazing performance by Peter O’Toole himself, this is a film that when I mention my love for it, people have never heard of it.

Also touting it as a horror film is never favorable amongst some film nerds, but I’m looking for the deeper meaning. The horror here is that, yes, Jack was a bit on the crazy side. But with the ‘help’ of horrid therapy, they’ve unleashed a true monster to the world. One that is truly man made and ultimately that is just carelessness on the part of the institution and his own uncle’s greed of wanting an heir to the seat at the House of Lords. A highlight of the film is Jack’s passionate speech about punishment, capital and corporal, which the lords all applaud and love, even though they don’t realize these are the rantings of a madman. And the final shot is horrifying, haunting and one you won’t soon forget. A trademark of a well made horror film.


1. House

Yes, the film just came out. We just did our latest episode on it. And in the last week I’ve watched the film 4 times. Why can’t I stop watching Nobuhiko Obayashi’s debut film? Because it’s the type of bat shit crazy horror fantasy comedy film that one needs to both cheer oneself up and to showcase a talented film director. It’s a one of a kind movie experience, and seeing tons of movies, I don’t say that with such ease. House is the type of horror film that needs to be watched with an audience, your loved ones, best friend, whoever you can get to showcase this amazing piece of cinema.

It has so many hidden things in the background, a Where’s Waldo of film. A well crafted film with no wasted shots at all, Obayashi uses every practical trick in the book and adds a few more into the mix. The story is simple: Seven young girls go to an old mansion where one of their Aunt’s lives. She’s older and has been alone for many years and being summer vacation, it’s time to get away. Sadly the house is haunted and each girls gets killed horribly in 90 minutes of insanity.


That’s my list and I’m sticking to it. But we really want to know anyone’s suggestions in what their favorite horror films in the collection are. My ‘close but no cigar’ choices were many, with such films as Diabolique, Fiend Without A Face, Häxan, Straw Dogs, White Dog, Man Bites Dog (a lot of dog titles, actually), Eyes Without a Face and Onibaba, to name a few. Hope you all enjoy it.