Our white stretch limousine sat on the west side of the New York State Thruway, navigating the stagnant stream of compact cars and minivans packed with teenage punkers on their way to the Warped Tour in Buffalo. We, a handful of 10-year punk scene vets, had been attending shows since before Warped Tourâs inception a decade ago, and therefore felt a certain degree of bitter cynicism about the affair. The free limo didnât help our attitude problem, either. We tormented our chauffeur with tracks from NOFXâs War on Errorism, their delightful 2003 album rife with references to being an aging punk. My favorite is the albumâs opener, “The Separation of Church and Skate,” which wonders, “When did punk rock become so safe?” I began to lament that NOFX had finished their Warped dates a few days prior, and that I would have to spend the day surrounded by 10,000 shitty reminders of who I was ten years ago.
When we arrived at the front gate, the Darien Lake parking lot swirled with dust kicked up by kids jumping around to some band who hadnât changed their clothes since 1977âat least someone was keeping it real. We wandered around the labyrinthine mess of mini-tents, each hawking T-shirts from one of the 90+ bands set to perform that day. This yearâs Warped featured ten stages, a significant expansion from the four-stage tours of the mid-â90s. It became clear that none of the kids craning their necks to see the wipeboard band schedules would catch any of the bands on the six smaller stages except by pure accident. Apart from a few local acts with a draw, stages like the “Uproar Stage” and the “Smartpunk.com Stage” remained either hopelessly lost between merch tents or desolately exiled to the farthest reaches of the parking lot.
We spent the early afternoon shading ourselves in the canopied seating area, enduring the horrid amphitheater acoustics. I dragged my tired bones to the front of the crowd for Rise Against, who played on a ten-foot stage to a relatively tame crowd. They did their best to rock out, but live music can only be so special when my head is tilted vertically as if in the front row of a movie theater. With ringing ears and cricks in our necks, we wandered over to the mainstages to catch the end of Anti-Flagâs set. Upon arrival, I was not surprised to find the band singing the obnoxiously repetitive titular lyrics to their usual finale, “Youâve Gotta Die for the Government.” I was, however, miffed to discover that the closest tent to the mainstage was occupied by the Marines.
“What the fuck are the Marines doing here?” asked one of my comrades. The obvious answer would have been, “Leaning on a Hummer,” but the real reason was that they were recruiting. These Marines, just like most of the Warped audience, seemed totally unaffected by the irony of recruiting kids to die for their government while the theme song to this process wailed in the background. Had it been my first Warped Tour so many years ago, I probably wouldâve gone over and started an argument with them before getting my ass unceremoniously handed to me. But as one of the oldest non-parents in the audience, and therefore one of the least enthusiastic, I let it slide. I figured that one of the 10,000 teenage punks would pick up my legacy and shirk the pull-up bar for a good old-fashioned anti-establishment protest. Unfortunately, the only punks I saw at the Marines tent were not sparking fiery debate, but were instead getting lessons in the flexed-arm hang.
After hours of trudging through the parking lot (mysteriously covered in gravel so large I can only describe as moon rock) and looking over the energetic patrons, I began to understand what the head of recruitment over at Marines headquarters already knew. Warped Tour, the well-known traveling punk festival, had gone decidedly establishment this year. I donât mean “establishment” in the sense of major label acts or bands played on the radioâthat stuff has been at Warped for years. I mean establishment as in collaborating with the system, rather than defying it.
Ironically, this collaboration has been ushered in by none other than NOFX, who spent the past year creating Punkvoter.com, a partisan effort to register punks and get them into the ballots booths in November. Many bands used their brief half-hour sets to offer encouragement to vote and get Bush out of office, though few offered any explicit support for John Kerry. Even Canadian bands like Billy Talent begged the crowd to realize that the actions of the American government affect the entire world (and therefore please donât vote for Bush). The most politically inflammatory comment of the day came from the Swedes of (International) Noise Conspiracy, when frontman Dennis Lyxzenâin between splits and mic tricks-requested that the audience kick Bush out of office…and then kick Kerry out of office right after that.
The vibe of the day was participatory citizenship, which has become a growing mantra among political bands. Gone are the days when “punk” meant apathy, anarchy, and fucking the system. Now it means voting and creating change within the system. (And, by the way, it means songs about girls, if Warped Tour mainstage performers Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday, and New Found Glory have anything to say about it.) In some ways, “change within the system” is a more mainstream message, but to most of these sub-18-year-olds, it has no appeal. How excited can someone get about the November election if they have to wait four more years to participate? Teenagers have always responded well to the politics of alienation and revolution because both are equally accessible to all ages, and both are particularly appealing to teens. Voting? Not so much. No wonder the bands singing about girls are the big draw this year.
The Marines came to take advantage of the many kids who came to see Good Charlotte and Thursday and who wonât be burning their draft cards next year. Punk is just as much a force on the radio and TV as it is on the turntables of the alienated undergrounders, and the crowd was a mixed bag of green-haired band-shirt-wearing geeks (a.k.a. reflections of myself at my first Warped Tour) and attractive, preppy boys and girls politely standing on tiptoes to catch a look at Yellowcardâs violinist. Bands like Rise Against understood this, too, and offered some choice advice to this mixed mainstream audience: “You know, thereâs a lot of good shit here at Warped Tour, and thereâs a lot of bullshit. Check out all the good bands playing, and stay away from the bullshit, like Samsung and the Marines.” Sure, the Sex Pistols wouldâve incited a riot and the subsequent hospitalization of the Marines at the hands of a teenage mob, but a lot has changed in the last 30 years.
By the end of the day, I had maneuvered myself to the front of the crowd to see Bad Religion, the band that (many years ago) got me into this punk rock mess in the first place. Due to the lack of slam-dancing throughout the day, I knew that this was not the year where I would get my teeth knocked out in the circle pit. I was clearly the oldest one up front, dancing to the oldest band at Warped Tour. Bad Religion played old classics and brand new hits, and the crowd erupted like popcorn, with crowd-surfers frantically popping to the surface on the sea of hopping kids. As I had multiple crowd-surfing teens land on my head while I fought to stay standing, I suddenly felt like Warped Tour was still a little dangerous and subversive, if only from the inside of the crowd.
After Bad Religion finished, we walked past the horde of kids singing along to Warped closers Good Charlotte, feeling that we had retained a bit of our past, and most importantly, had stayed punk in the process. And as I ducked into the limo that idled outside the gate waiting for us, I smiled in satisfaction. Nothingâs quite as punk as scamming a free limo ride, a free ticket into the punk show, and riding in style while covered in moon dust and other peopleâs sweat. Oh, and if youâre wondering, this bitter punk rocker will be voting in November, thanks to Punkvoter.com.
Interview: Lauren Greenfield on The Kingmaker and Threats to Democracy
Greenfield discusses how the film relates to her body of work and the warnings Americans ought to heed from it.
When it comes to documenting stories about the dark underbelly of wealth in contemporary society, Lauren Greenfield is like a moth drawn to a flame. A photographer by trade who has ventured into documentary filmmaking, Greenfield broke out in 2012 with The Queen of Versailles, a âriches-to-ragsâ tale of how billionaire Florida couple Jackie and Robert Siegel attempted to build an American equivalent to Versailles. Their absurd ambition amounts to their folly as construction kicks off at the height of the Great Recession and strains their precarious finances, leaving the mansion unfinished. Greenfield continued this theme in her 2018 documentary Generation Wealth, a companion film to her monograph of the same name that follows multiple less bombastic tales of how an unfettered pursuit of opulence and glamour results in deep emptiness.
Greenfieldâs new documentary, The Kingmaker, began with her interest in another powerful symbol for the hollowness of wealth and power. In the Philippines, former First Lady Imelda Marcos evicted the native population of Calauit Island, located in the Calamian Archipelago, and replaced the inhabitants with African animals. Though the regime of her husband, Ferdinand E. Marcos, fell and drove the family into exile and disrepute, the animals remained. Generations later, the creaturesâ inbreeding and the general disarray of the islandâs ecosystem appears to be a fitting testament to the corruption and incompetence of their rule.
And yet, once Greenfield began to sit with the octogenarian Imelda Marcos, she found a subject spinning an alternate story, as well as a populace willing to believe it. The Kingmaker portrays the unfolding of a terrifying period in the history of the Philippines of how a political dynasty can rewrite the history of human rights abuses and corruption in order to return to power. While events continue to unfold in the country, the necessary forces and people are in place to pave the way for Imeldaâs son, Bongbong Marcos, to assume the presidency in 2022.
I spoke with Greenfield prior to The Kingmakerâs premiere at DOC NYC to discuss how the documentary relates to her body of work as a whole as well as the warnings Americans ought to heed from it as a similar political dynamic to the one in the Philippines develops stateside.
Youâve said elsewhere that you liked Imelda on a personal level, but much like The Queen of Versailles, The Kingmaker itself remains a little ambiguous so the audience can come to their own conclusions about the subject. How do you finesse that ambiguity in your filmmaking and in the editing process?
Itâs a little bit different with Imelda Marcos because I came in knowing the history. I was more interested in the paradox between the fact that when youâre with her, sheâs kind and generous and personable, versus the terrible consequences of the huge human rights abuses she was complicit with. It wasnât like, âOh, I think sheâs nice, letâs let the audience come to that conclusion.â I felt journalistically, ethically, and historically that I need to give the audience the information so they could see that what she was doing was telling untruths. So they could see that she was an unreliable narrator. Thatâs why, when I realized that about her, I brought in other voices that the audience would instinctively feel are credible.
Itâs a little bit of a different journey because, in the beginning, youâre sucked into her personality, which is lovely and charismatic, and I wanted people to see that. It was the key to her political success. But, even by the end of the first act, when you know sheâs depopulated an indigenous population to bring in the animals to her pet project island, I think you canât abide by that anymore. By the time you hear about martial law and torture, youâre not thinking sheâs nice anymore. Jackie Siegel was another journey because you start out thinking sheâs horrible, and then you end up kind of rooting for her. For Imelda, I wanted to show her humanity, but itâs a paradox of how can a human do these terrible things and not feel any remorse.
When you started filming Imelda, you thought maybe the film would become a redemption story? At what point did you begin to realize that wasnât going to play out?
I was still hoping for it, even at the very endâthat maybe sheâd have some kind of revelation. I thought thereâd be a moment where sheâs like, âOh, I didnât see it that way.â But looking back now, I was being naĂŻve. Of course, this is not her first rodeo. Sheâs talked to the press a million times. During the election, I realized they were just going to lean into their story. There was a TV interview that Bongbong did, and the reporter said, âAre you going to say youâre sorry? Are you going to say youâre sorry for martial law?â Thatâs what people really wanted, for him to apologize. And he said, âWhat do I have to apologize for? Should I apologize for the roads? The infrastructure? The building that happened during that period? If I hurt somebody, I would apologize, but what do I have to apologize for?â When I heard that a few months into the election campaign, I realized they were going to lean into the story, into their rewriting of history that those were the good times, and they werenât going to apologize. Itâs kind of a Trumpian move: never apologize, never say youâre wrong, just say, âIt was good, it was great!â And then people will eventually believe you.
Isnât the film, at least for Imelda, a redemption story? Sheâs restoring honor to the family name and, in doing so, putting some power behind their wealth, which has become a little toothless in the absence of actual clout.
Well, she is trying to whitewash history. Thatâs her goal, politically, and itâs why she chose to participate in the film. She wants to put out her version of the Marcos legacy. Thatâs not what I meant by âredemption story.â I meant her having a moral moment of realizing sheâs done something wrong. She does tell herself that sheâs doing something good. I do believe she thinks sheâs doing good, and that she believes her own story.
Everyone tells themselves a story of their life that makes sense, but the difference between the visions of grandeur of people like Imelda and Jackie Siegel and the average person is that they can manipulate reality to become their fantasy using wealth.
Her story helps her survive. It pushes her to keep going. Deep down, she feels like sheâs doing the right thing. If she felt like she was doing terrible things, it would get in her way. Itâs a strategic story that helps her live with it and get a young electorate on board for a comeback.
I found it a little difficult to discern toward the end: Does Imelda and the rest of the Marcos family see the contradictions in boosting a candidate like Rodrigo Duterte, who runs against the perceived corruption of a system only to re-legitimize a self-dealing former dynasty? Or is the irony completely lost on them?
Iâm not sure that thereâs a lot of irony there. Even though he pretends heâs one of the people, working class, talks trash, and swears, heâs actually from a place of privilege. Thereâs also a lot of corruption going on in this government. When Bongbong was campaigning, he also said he was going to go against corruption. Thatâs what everybody says. The reality is that Duterteâs father was in Ferdinand Marcosâs cabinet. Duterte looks up to Marcos. Heâs threatened martial law. He likes the idea of the strongman. So, I think that theyâre pretty aligned.
I was more surprised that Bongbong would align with Duterte because Bongbong was Western-educated and has the veneer of a legitimate politician, so I was surprised that he would go with somebody responsible for so many street killings. But, at the end of the day, itâs political. They made an alliance thatâs helped them both. They could give Duterte support for becoming president, and in return they got the heroâs burial that Imelda has wanted for decades. Duterte backed the sister, Imee, for senate, and she wonâas did every candidate that Duterte backed. Going into the next election, Duterteâs backing is extremely important.
A thread through your work is that people suffering from the adverse effects of wealth tend to cast themselves as victims in their own stories. From your experience, do you think that narrative holds any water? Or is it just a survival technique?
Yeah, I donât think we need to shed any tears for Imelda. What Iâm trying to do here, and in Generation Wealth, is to focus on the one percent and look at how it affects everybody else. Thatâs the important thing: looking at the long-term consequences of the Marcos regime and how the abuse of wealth and power affects everybody else. I came in looking at that through the animal island, but thatâs really symbolic for how the Philippines was hurt by how the Marcos family, in taking five to 10 billion dollars, hurt development, created persistent poverty, and made the people vulnerable to bringing back another strongman and supporting people like Bongbong Marcos, but especially Duterte. Benigno Aquino, the president when I was filming and son of opposition leader Ninoy Aquino, said his father told him you canât have democracy when youâre hungry. Thatâs what we see in the Philippines, democracy being threatened because peopleâs basic needs are not being met.
It almost feels like weâre doomed to live in a plutocracy forever.
Thatâs the irony. Thatâs what was so sad. Itâs also similar to Trump, as peopleâs needs were not being met, so they voted for change only to have somebody whoâs really on the side of the wealthy. Itâs ironic that these people get brought in by the support of the working class. But in the Philippines, youâre not even talking about the working class. Youâre talking about deep, deep poverty where people are getting money, food, or clothing in exchange for votes. And especially without proper information, the history not being taught in the schoolbooks or not as many outlets of independent journalism, itâs very hard for a democracy to thrive.
Youâve noted that Imelda is yet another adherent of the âdictator chicâ styleâthe gauche, in-your-face extravagance that attracts aspiring autocrats from Trump to Saddam Hussein. As someone who observes the intersection of wealth and aesthetics, do you have any theories about why this phenomenon cuts across the globe?
In a way, that was a little bit more of what I looked at in Generation Wealth. Thereâs an aspirational nobility that people with power want, like being a king or a queen. You see that in the portrait of Imelda at the beginning of the film and in some of the commissioned portraiture she didâand, for that matter, some of what the Siegels did. You can see the love for gold that Trump has. I think itâs an association with nobility, especially for the nouveau riche and people who are ambitiously climbing their way up.
As someone whoâs studied and documented wealth across the world, what do you make of this moment in America where it seems like a large portion of the country worships an opulent, self-proclaimed wealthy leader and another large portion finds inspiration in politicians who are rallying people against the idea of concentrated wealth?
Well, I definitely think weâre at a really precarious time at the moment, because the amount of inequality we have right now is dangerous for any society or democracy. And dangerous economically. We have this myth of the American dream where anyone can go from rags to riches. I think thatâs whatâs standing between us and revolution, even though many people are not sharing in the spoils of our economy. Itâs because of this âkeeping up with the Kardashiansâ mindset. In Generation Wealth, I looked at how in the space of a generation, people went from âkeeping up with the Joneses,â their neighbors, to keeping up with the Kardashians, these ultra-wealthy people they see on TV. Itâs so unrealistic, and yet thereâs this deep myth in the culture that you can become that one day, through a reality show or whatever it is. Obama called that out more than two decades ago when he was a lawyer. The thing about Donald Trump is that people think they can be him one day, or maybe their child can be him. Thereâs this illusion that keeps people accepting the status quo.
And then I think thereâs a waking up happening, particularly among young people, that thatâs not going to happen, and that thereâs some real rot. The game is rigged, and what theyâre telling us is the goalâbeing richâisnât actually making people happy. Especially on the millennial side, there are signs of people waking up and wanting something different. The problem is that the culture and corporate capitalism are so slanted toward keeping the status quo. Just money in politics, for example, and the disinformation from social media. We saw it in the Philippines, we saw it here, we saw it with Brexit. Thatâs the thing Andy Bautista [former head of the Philippinesâ Presidential Commission on Good Government] keeps telling me about the Philippines: If you have money, you have speech because you can put forward lies on social media and convince people of that. And itâs kind of like that here as well.
The Best Stephen King Movies, Ranked
Weâve compiled the best feature-length adaptations of Kingâs work, excluding the mostly mediocre TV adaptations.
Stephen King is one of the most influential of all contemporary writers, an artist who followed Richard Mathesonâs example in wedding irrational horror with the surreal minutiae of everyday American life. The most distinctive elements of Kingâs remarkably vast bibliographyâhis exacting and uncanny empathy for working-class people and his loose, pop-culture-strewn proseâare rarely accounted for in the dozens of films that have been made from his novels and stories, which often predictably emphasize his propulsive plotting. Consequently, these adaptations often resemble routine genre films with a smattering of Kingâs dialogue, which sounds better on the page than when performed by often self-conscious actors who look as if theyâd rather be anywhere than trapesing around a simulation of Kingâs beloved Maine. But a number of excellent films have been made from the authorâs writing, either by doubling down on the neurotic naĂŻvetĂ© of the authorâs Americana or by striking new ground, recognizing that a good film needs to be a movie, rather than a literal-minded act of CliffsNotes-style embalming. To commemorate the recent release of Cell, weâve compiled the 10 best feature-length adaptations of Kingâs work, excluding the countless, mostly mediocre TV adaptations.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 8, 2015.
10. Stand by Me (1986)
Those who accuse Stand by Me of indulging shameless boomer nostalgia are missing the point, as thatâs precisely what the film is about. Director Rob Reiner dials down the violent hopelessness of Kingâs source material (the novella The Body), but still emphasizes the cruelty and loneliness that mark four boysâ coming-of-age odyssey to see the corpse of a young man nearly their age. The film is framed as one of the grown boyâs remembrances, as he attempts to spin his unreconciled feelings into the more tangible stuff ofâŠcoming-of-age fiction. At times itâs hokey, and, yes, the soundtrack does some major emotional heavy lifting, but the feast of excellent acting compensates greatly, particularly by Wil Wheaton, Kiefer Sutherland, and River Phoenix. Stand by Me remains one of the best adaptations of Kingâs more sentimental non-horror writing, and itâs far superior to preachy, insidiously insulting staples like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
9. Creepshow (1982)
Still one of the great comic-book movies in that it approximates the actual tactile act of reading and flipping through a magazine, ideally on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a can of soda by your side. George Romero directed from Kingâs original script, which pays homage to EC comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, and the filmmaker displays a visual confidence and tonal flexibility thatâs reminiscent of his Dawn of the Dead. The bright, deep, and garish cinematography is both beautiful and disturbing, enriching Kingâs gleefully vicious writing while providing a framework for the lively performances of a game, celebrity-rich cast. The film straddles an ideal line between straight-faced seriousness and parody, particularly in the unnerving climax of a story in which we can hear the pained gurgling of aquatic zombies.
8. Silver Bullet (1985)
A creepy drive-in horror movie that throws a werewolf into a boyâs sentimental coming-of-age tale. Based on Kingâs slim Cycle of the Werewolf, which was released with gorgeous illustrations by artist Bernie Wrightson, Silver Bullet weds evocative imagery with spare plotting that allows each scene to breathe, giving the film an nightmarish free-associative energy. There are several boffo sequences, particularly when the werewolf seizes a manâs baseball bat, his paw shown to be beating the man to death from below thick fog, or when the wolf is outsmarted by the protagonist, one of his eyes blown to pieces by a bottle rocket. Speaking of the monster, the movie has one of the great wolf designs, which suggests a huge, bitter, upstanding bear with a terrifying snout. The human identity of the creature is a great, characteristically blasphemous King twist.
7. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Five years after her career-making performance in Misery, Kathy Bates returned to Stephen King territory with Dolores Claiborne, which, like the book, disappointed nearly everyone for not being a typical horror story, instead combining the traditions of martyred-woman melodrama with gothic mystery. Critics, who only seem capable of praising melodrama when itâs directed by one of their pre-approved canon placeholders (like Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk), also turned their noses up at Dolores Claiborne, and itâs a real shame. Both the novel and the film get at the heart of Kingâs preoccupations with sexism and classicism, spinning a fractured narrative of a mother, her daughter, the man who nearly ruined their lives, and the all-encompassing pitilessness of aging. Yes, the film is behaviorally broad, but this broadness is utilized by the reliably underrated director, Taylor Hackford, as a form of catharsis. And Batesâs performance as the titular character is positively poetic. Her delivery of a monologue about Doloresâs work routine particularly locate the weird, qualified dignity of thanklessness, reveling in the pride and transcendence that can be wrestled from menial-ness. Perhaps more than any other film on this list, Dolores Claiborne has the feel of Kingâs voice.
6. Misery (1990)
No one performs Kingâs dialogue like Kathy Bates. She embraces and owns the moving cuckoo logic of his best orations, understanding that theyâre almost always rooted in class anxiety. The most disturbing quality of Misery, both the novel and the film, is the fact that we relate to Annie Wilkes, psychotic ânumber one fanâ of author Paul Sheldon (superbly played in the film by James Caan), more than we do her victims. Bates is so intimately in tune with Annie that we feel for her when she fails to impress Paul, somehow temporarily forgetting that sheâs holding him hostage and torturing him. Annie is yet another of Kingâs unleashed nerds, a repressed soul seeking actualization, but she isnât sentimentalized, instead embodying the ferocious self-absorption that fuels obsession, leading to estrangement. Director Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman regrettably trim Kingâs most ambitiously subjective material, but they compensate by focusing pronouncedly on the cracked love story at the narrativeâs center.
Interview: Max Richter on His Ad Astra Score and its So-Called Planetary Instruments
Richter discusses how he connects his classical schooling to one of his other early passions: outer space.
NASA launched its Voyager program over 40 years ago, and since then, sci-fi films like James Grayâs Ad Astra have been drawing inspiration from the journey that the programâs twin robotic probes have made through our outer solar system. And for the filmâs post-minimalist soundtrack, influential composer Max Richter actually pulled plasma wave data from the Voyager probes and used it to make music that would embody the story of the long and precarious journey that an existentially fraught astronaut, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), makes through space to find his famed father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones).
Though Ad Astraâs music is written with an interstellar scope in mind, Richter is modest when speaking about his diminutive ânotes on the page.â âIf you donât get the notes right on the piano, they wonât sound right when they are being played by an orchestra,â he says in a straightforward way. Ad Astra is also a bit of a return to a childhood dream for the musician, as one of his first memories was being woken up in the middle of the night by his parents to watch the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing on a black-and-white TV set in their living room.
Speaking with German-born British composer while he takes a break from recording his next album, we discussed how he connects his classical schoolingâhe studied composition and piano at the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Academy of Music, and with experimental Italian composer Luciano Berio in Florenceâto one of his other early passions: outer space. In doing so, we also discover that the distance between two broken human psyches sometimes feels as though itâs on an interstellar scale.
How are you doing today after the recent U.S. tour?
Iâm recording today, so Iâm good. Iâm recording a new project for next year.
Is there anything that you can share about it yet?
Well, itâs very much the vein of my other kind of storytelling projects around society and culture, like Memoryhouse and Blue Notebooks. So, it has a kind of a sociopolitical, activist dimension. Itâs very much in the vein of Memoryhouse and Blue Notebooks.
Both of those albums posit the idea of the democratization of music and getting it out there, and youâve continued that commentary on sociopolitical things. What are your thoughts on the choice to perform the eight-hour composition Sleep at the Great Wall of China? Obviously sleep, shelter, and food and water are common denominators across all cultures and governments.
Sleep is a piece which is about finding a place to rest and repose. Itâs a moment to pause and reflect, and I think music can provide that. Artworks can provide that. They can provide a place to thinkâto think about what weâre doing. Thatâs one of the most important things I think that music can do. I felt that bringing Sleep to that setting was, in a way, my way of contributing to that debate to what was going on over there, what is going on over there, and to try and make a kind of a plea for kind of a humane behavior. I think thatâs really one of the things that Sleep is about. So, yeah, it was very, very interesting.
I saw that when you were approached to work on Ad Astra, you saw a rough cut. What were you originally struck by as a composer even in that early stage of the edit?
There are really two films in Ad Astra. Thereâs the father-son psychodrama and then thereâs the voyage in space. I like the way that these two films are superimposed on top of one another. I then started thinking about the two kinds of musical language. The first being that kind of personal instrumental language, which speaks to the dynamic between Roy and Clifford, and the second being the kind of big-picture music.
I had kind of traditional instrumentation for them and their story and then I thought, âWhat about the big-picture music, what about the physics, and, you know, all of that science?â So I thought about the Voyager I and II probes, which have actually made the journey thatâs depicted in the film. I contacted Iowa Universityâs Department of physics & Astronomy, which got data that the Voyager probes recorded on their journey.
They actually measured the plasma wave data all the way out and sent it back. We got a hold of the data and transformed it into musical sounds. That allowed me to use almost like a location-recording approach to the electronic music so that when Bradâs character goes past a planet, youâre actually hearing data collected there, transformed into music. As well as being illustrative and embodying the journey, youâve actually got real objects from that place. That was the sort of jumping-off point for the electronic music parts.
Is the data that you manipulated throughout the soundtrack or does it only pop up on select tracks?
Oh yeah! Weâve actually built computer-modeled instruments out of that data. So, thereâs that kind of raw and cooked versions of that data [on the soundtrack].
I enjoyed the classical parts of the score meeting those electronic ones. It got me thinking about your background in Renaissance music. I immediately think of angelic things when I hear the harp on the soundtrack. First Man employed it in a different way. I was curious about that instrument choice.
I mean, there are a lot of sounds which kind of evoke traditional religious music or choral writing. There are these kinds of glassy, high-frequency tones and they sort of transcend them in some way. They evoke those colors. The reverberation Iâve used in the score throughout is a digital model of the Notre Dame in France. Itâs a kind of a virtual cathedral [laughs] that all the music is being played through. I think that kind of affects us. It makes us think about big stuff and the sort of big questions. The film is about big questions. So, weâre trying to sort of populate the sonic universe of it with these sorts of emblems, which remind us of those things.
I watched an Estonian TV show in which you likened the Brexit situation to someone willfully stepping off a fast-moving train, and though the story for Ad Astra is highly personal, there are some moments, almost like Easter eggs, that are commentaries on what life might be like in that situation. Did you find any contemporary, socioeconomic elements coming out in the writing against those images?
Well, yeah. I mean, I think James Gray is a realist. You know, heâs a very, very smart writer, and heâs very sanguine about the present and the future. Certainly, the way the moon is depicted in Ad Astra is the big thing, as itâs got subways and stuff all over it and thereâs a war going on. Itâs like weâve just exported all the problems of Earth and put them on the moon. Thatâs basically what heâs saying [laughs]. You know, itâs actually very sad. I think Bradâs character actually says this [about the moon]. He says something like, âYou know, if my dad was here, he would certainly be so depressed.â So, James is very sanguine about the potential for humanity, but he does show humanityâs habit of falling back on these sorts of conflicts.
I read that youâre closer with your mother and I was curious if there was anything that you found with your personal journey with your father that came up as you were working through the soundtrack?
Yes, in a way. I mean, I think all father-son relationships have an element of confrontation [laughs] that Roy and Clifford have. It seems to be something about the male psyche isnât it, somehow? Thereâs always something of that and hopefully [laughs] not as much as they have. Yeah, I think it speaks to people because of that. Roy is somebody who canât connect to other people. Thatâs his kind of challenge and thatâs his journey and connecting sometimes is hard. Itâs also like the most important thing we do actually. Yeah, thereâs a paradox in that. I think the film does speak to people in a personal way. And, certainly, to me.
Youâve done versions of classical pieces throughout your career, most notably on the album Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi â The Four Seasons, but I really liked the rendition of Bachâs âErbarme Dichâ from the St. Matthew Passion. What did you want to convey with that on the soundtrack at that point in the filmâs narrative?
Bachâs music is kind of like the most perfect music in my brain. Itâs like divine music, you know? âErbarme Dichâ from the St. Matthew Passion translates as âhave mercy.â You know, obviously itâs in a religious context in that film. What I was thinking is, âWell, this is really what Roy is asking for from his father.â Heâs saying, âHave mercy,â and the father is saying, âNo, not in this way.â It just seemed to sum up their dynamic and, obviously, itâs fantastic music. It was a nice opportunity to kind of revisit that and then I think thereâs something about Bachâs music which just sort of connects to some of those sorts of very archetypal, cosmic images. Itâs because of the incredible perfection of the geometry of Bachâs music.
I really enjoyed the orchestraâs energy and thrum on âEncounterâ and âForced Entry.â They show more of the menacing side that you have as a composer and itâs definitely reflected in the film. It seems like thereâs some kind of electronic-like processing on the instruments for those tracks.
Yeah, there is. I basically just put guitar pedals on the orchestra for just sort of gritty energy in various places. Thereâs quite a bit of that kind of stuff, and aside from the so-called planetary instruments made from the Voyager data, thereâs also the synthesizer that I use most is a Moog System 55. Apart from being like an archetypal synth and my absolute favorite, it also comes from, you know, 1969, which is the Apollo 11 landing year. It all just sort of made sense. All of that quite gritty, analog-sounding electronics stuff is from the Moog 55 and itâs there because of its association with, you know, that moment in history. It has kind of a cosmic vibe.
What did you see as the main thread that went throughout the score as you were working on it?
Well, I guess itâs mostly about the sort of image of music, which can evoke something beyond ourselves. So thatâs why it sort of connects a little bit to traditional religious music or historical religious music. Itâs got this kind of slow-moving ritual quality and, you know, very extreme registers, kind of low-density, low-information density, so that the listener sort of completes the piece. [That is the impact] of those kinds of things on the soundtrack; I almost feel like theyâre drones, but theyâre not, theyâre just very slow-moving music. Thereâs just something about very slow-moving material which makes it feel big. I donât know why that is. I guess weâre used to seeing, you know, large, slow-moving objects in real life, and thereâs something about that that we imprint on the music somehow. All of those sorts of ideas. Honestly, for any film, youâre really just looking for material which feels like it belongs to that world. When you find it, thatâs it. I mean, of course, itâs a very technical and cerebral process on one hand, and on the other hand itâs completely intuitive.
A Space in Time: Doclisboa 2019 Explores the Politics of Memory, Space, and the Image
The film image opens a space for both a reckoning with the old and the creation of the new.
Just before the start of this yearâs Doclisboa film festival in Lisbon, the organizers put out a press release protesting the Brazilian governmentâs apparent crackdown on independent filmmaking through censorship and abrupt budget cuts to Ancine, the South American countryâs state-supported cinema fund. Given the close ties between Portugal and its former colonyâwhich include shared memories of 20th-century dictatorshipsâitâs not surprising that Doclisboa felt compelled to address Brazilâs ongoing crisis, unambiguously decrying the Bolsonaro governmentâs âdismantlement of democracyâ and installation of a dictatorship, and announcing additional screenings of anti-dictatorship films from Brazil.
Several Brazilian films, of course, were already on Doclisboaâs docket this year. One of the standouts of the festivalâs international competition was Jo Serfatyâs Sun Inside, which follows four Rio de Janeiro teens as they struggle to find their identities in the summer after school ends. Featuring compelling, naturalistic performances from each of its young leads and practically radiating hope for the future represented by Generation Z, the film has the makings of an American award-season darling.
But Sun Inside qualifies its own sense of hope: Its fun, woke teens know they live in a time of change, crisis, and inequity, and neither the script nor Serfatyâs camera offers an easy path toward transcending the cramped spaces and precarious circumstances they navigate in Rio. The film, which suggests a very muted version of Fernando Meirellesâs City of God, is as much about a milieu as it is about its characters.
Serfatyâs socially minded film shares its exploration of the politics of narrative form and the cinematic image with much of the 2019 Doclisboa slate. And Brazil isnât the only former Portuguese colony represented at the festival: The Sound of Masks explores the traumatic history of Mozambique in the decades since it freed itself from Portuguese rule in 1975 by focusing on AtanĂĄsio Nyusi, a renowned dancer of the mapiko, in which a solitary male dancer dons a wooden mask. For Nyusiâand for director Sara CF de Gouveiaâhis tremulous mapiko dance serves as a record of the trauma Mozambique experienced over a century of colonialism and civil war. His jolting movements and often frightful bearing toward his audience implicitly speak of pain and terror, but the fact that he and his company continue to perform suggests perseverance and pride.
Nyusi, appropriately, also manages his communityâs archive of mapiko dancers, the existence of which by itself points to the fact that the dance isnât some timeless tribal practice. A crucial subtext in The Sound of Masks is that precolonial practices arenât objects frozen in time, but bear the marks of history like any form of transgenerational human activity. Throughout, de Gouveia uses television footage from the days of colonialism and the civil war relatively sparingly, illustrating through montage the events that she and Nyusi understand his dance to be evoking. This expressive use of archival footage is combined with haunting footage of Nyusiâs performancesâboth contemporary and from when he was youngâand slow-motion shots of Nyusi or other members of his company in full makeup against a black backdrop, staring directly into the camera. In this way, the documentary is utterly transfixing, often as strange as it is revelatory.
A confrontation with Portugalâs colonialist legacy is also implicit in Welket BunguĂ©âs I Am Not Pilatus, one of the short films in the festivalâs international competition. Itâs composed of cellphone footage of two recent racist incidents in Lisbon, one of which took place on the Avenida do Liberdade, down the street from Cinema SĂŁo Jorge, where many of Doclisboaâs screenings are held. The unseen woman doing the recording stands on one of the broad commercial avenueâs many plazas, filming at a great distance a confrontation between Lisbon police and a group of black youth and, though she admits she cannot see whatâs happening, making racist conjectures. BunguĂ© manipulates the footage, mockingly distorting the womanâs voice, flipping the footage upside down, looping her racist or obviously hypocritical lines, and ironically splicing in footage from a police beating that undercuts her assertion that the police are there to keep order.
Aesthetically, I Am Not Pilatus hardly breaks new ground, but itâs an instructive reminder of a certain activist filmmaking credo: Because reality is already structured by unjust systems, itâs incumbent upon artists like BunguĂ© to use film as an instrument of intervention, rather than merely reproduce unjust realities. However slight, I Am Not Pilatus is an admirable and coherent political intervention, simmering with righteous anger at the racism and anti-immigrant sentiments apparently on the rise in Portugal, which recently elected a far-right representative to parliament for the first time since the end of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974.
Other distinctly political shortsâlike Josip LukiÄâs The Rex Will Sail In and Filipe Oliveiraâs HĂĄ Margem, which screened together out of competition in the âGreen Yearsâ sectionâexplore the manifestation of bigger socio-political structures in the lives of the underclass. The Rex Will Sail In concerns a Croatian family supported by their matriarch Marinaâs work on a cruise ship, which sends her away from home for months at a time; the stress of working in the neoliberal tourism industry has taken its toll, and Marina uses the camera as her therapist, monologuing her buried anxieties about her sonsâ behavior and upcoming changes at work. By and large consisting of close-ups, and filmed mostly in Marinaâs car and small apartment, the short conveys the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in an unforgiving, often unpredictable profession.
HĂĄ Margem is also in part about feeling closed in. âItâs tight in here,â says one subject about a narrow alley that bends between buildings, and that remark resonates throughout the film. Capturing slice-of-life footage from Segundo TorrĂŁo, a neighborhood on the other side of the Tagus River from Lisbon whose homes are all illegal because the land there isnât appropriately zoned, Oliveiraâs poetic documentary looks at the ways people make what they can out of a life on the margins (âThereâs Marginâ is the English translation of the filmâs title).
Spatial politics also play an important role in Christian Haardtâs A New Environment, an essayistic film with rather esoteric interests and a dry tone. Composed of archival footage edited to the audio of an interview with the architect Heinrich Klotz, it covers, among other topics centered around 20th-century architecture, how national character and memory is revealed or hidden by major building projects like the postwar reconstruction of Frankfurt. Klotzâs thinking can be intriguingly dialectical: Suspicious of modernityâs penchant for reproductions, he nevertheless embraces the design principles of Disney World because even if it represents the pinnacle of fabricated living, it contains the dream of a unique and specific utopia. But Haardtâs sparse, quiet film has a monotonous quality that often makes it easy to lose the stakes of Klotzâs extended discourse.
Thomas Heiseâs Heimat Is a Space in Time, which won the Caligari Prize at this yearâs Berlinale and screened at Doclisboa in the âFrom the Earth to the Moonâ section, is more effective in grappling with German history. Heise delves into his own archival materialâletters, diary entries, photographs, even a resumeâto reconstruct the effect that the tragedies of the 20th century had on his family. At one point, he reads an exchange of letters between family members from the â30s and â40sâsome in newly annexed Vienna, some in their adopted home of Berlinâover scrolling images of deportation lists. As the dispersed family reports of the increasing persecution they face and expresses their growing fears of being deported and murdered, we wait in anguish for the inevitable appearance of their names on the lists. In this sequence and others, the filmâs deliberate pace demands intellectual engagement, compelling us to look and truly consider the material reality of the past.
Heimat Is a Space in Timeâs title uses the German word for âhomelandâ in an evocative, paradoxical phrase that suggests the historically mutability of the concept, and the problem of a notion of homeland for a German whose family was shattered by the most notorious and inhumane of the 20th centuryâs nationalist movements. By contrast, Wook Steven Heoâs Under-Ground is a far less personalized confrontation with significant historical spaces affected by the chaos that nationalist aggression set loose in the world. Wook sends his camera contemplatively into the cold landscapes of factories and industrial campuses where the Japanese forced Korean captives to work, through now-empty caverns under Okinawa where Korean prisoners died alongside Japanese soldiers, and around Japanese anti-war memorials, looking to capture spaces of suffering that were forgotten even as the rest of the world memorialized their fallen.
The filmâs anonymous feel suits the legacy of dehumanization Wook is concerned withâUnder-Ground is in large part a protest against Japanese steel giant Nipponâs refusal to reckon with its historical participation in war crimesâbut at times its presentation can feel a bit cold, suggesting a particularly somber travel film. Finding a more metaphorical way of dealing with the spaces of the past is Clayton Vomeroâs Zona, a documentary-narrative hybrid that draws parallels between the spread of individualism among young people in the â80s, which helped bring an end to Russiaâs totalitarian communist state, and todayâs Russian subculture.
Zonaâs title is surely a reference to Andrei Tarkovskyâs Stalker, in which a mysterious event creates an exceptional zone of temptation in which wishes come true. One of the veterans of the soâcalled second Russian revolution in 1991 describes post-communist Russia as permanently existing in the state of exception declared during the militaryâs attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev. Russia here appears as a metaphysically suspended space, caught between the dream of the West its young people had at the turn of the â90s and the reality of a country that managed to successfully adopt neoliberalism but not democracy.
The attitudes of todayâs counterculture youth, which the film represents through scripted but veracious interviews, offers a glimpse at the possibility of a more open Russia, but itâs clear now that this open future wonât be achieved by building more McDonalds. The problem with global capitalism, one of the Gen-X rebels interviewed notes in despair, is that âin the end, everyone will just be American.â Finding a Russian identity that doesnât depend on such a perverse dream may require finally canceling the state of exception that the film proposes the country has found itself in for nearly three decades.
The selections cited here represents a miniscule portion of the 303 films showing at Doclisboa. Many, like Heimat Is a Space in Time, have already received attention after playing other festivals earlier this year. Werner Herzog probably counts as the biggest name with a film at Doclisboa, with his strange new Japan-set drama Family Romance, LLC, about an actor (Ishii Yuichi) who works for a company that hires him out to impersonate the missing father to a 12-year-old girl (Mahiro Tanimoto). It played Cannes earlier this year. Eric Baudelaireâs disarming documentary A Dramatic Film, made over the course of four years in collaboration with a diverse group of pre-teen children at a Paris school, premiered more recently at Locarno.
Gathering such already-premiered films under the Doclisboa umbrellaâor, as a recurrent advertisement for the fest suggests, baking them into the same cakeâinvites us to consider their politics alongside their experimental aesthetics. When a director chooses to allow a black French child to record his walk home for inclusion in his film, when an established German director elects to make a film about the mechanization of family relations in Japan with Japanese principles, theyâre not merely aesthetic choices, but political interventions that color the filmsâ reconstruction of the real. As Doclisboaâs program and emboldened stance against the burgeoning democratic crisis in Brazil attests, film may be a form of action as well as one of thought. Its images open a space for both a reckoning with the old and the creation of the new.
Doclisboa runs from October 17â27.
The 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time
The good horror film insists on the humanity thatâs inextinguishable even by severe atrocity.
One of the most common claims made about horror films is that they allow audiences to vicariously play with their fear of death. Inarguable, really, but thatâs also too easy, as one doesnât have to look too far into a genre often preoccupied with offering simulations of death to conclude that the genre in question is about death. Thatâs akin to saying that all an apple ever really symbolizes is an apple, and that symbols and subtexts essentially donât exist. A more interesting question: Why do we flock to films that revel in what is, in all likelihood, our greatest fear? And why is death our greatest fear?
A startling commonality emerges if you look over the following films in short succession thatâs revelatory of the entire horror genre: These works arenât about the fear of dying, but the fear of dying alone, a subtlety that cuts to the bone of our fear of death anywayâof a life unlived. Thereâs an explicit current of self-loathing running through this amazing collection of films. What are Norman Bates and Jack Torrance besides eerily all-too-human monsters? Failures. Success also ultimately eludes Leatherface, as well as the socially stunted lost souls of Kiyoshi Kurosawaâs Pulse. What is the imposing creature at the dark heart of F.W. Murnauâs Nosferatu? He makes for quite the presence, but his hungers ultimately lead him to oblivion.
So many films, particularly American ones, tell us that we can be whatever we want to be, and that people who donât achieve their desired self-actualization are freaks. The horror film says: Wait Jack, it ainât that easy. This genre resents platitude (certainly, you can count the happy endings among these films on one hand), but the good horror film usually isnât cynical, as it insists on the humanity thatâs inextinguishable even by severe atrocity. Which is to say thereâs hope, and catharsis, offered by the horror film. It tells us bruised romantics that weâre all in this together, thus offering evidence that we may not be as alone as we may think. Chuck Bowen
Editorâs Note: Click here for a list of the titles that made the original 2013 incarnation of our list.
100. A Bay of Blood (1971)
Compared to the other giallo films that comprise most of Mario Bavaâs canon, A Bay of Blood (also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve) represents a more stripped-down and economic filmmaking from the Italian master. Notably absent are the supernatural undertones and fetishistic sexuality, and Bava even suppresses the vigorous impulses and desires that drive his characters to exteriorize their feelings in vicious bursts of violence by offering no valid (or convincing) psychological explanation. Despite being one of Bavaâs simpler works, or perhaps because of that very reason, A Bay of Blood has proven to be the foremost progenitor of the slasher film, the one in which the Jason Voorheeses and Ghostfaces owe their blade of choice to. But itâs only the basic tenor of a psychopath slaying victims one by one thatâs remained intact within the subgenre in the 40-plus years of this filmâs existence. Itâs in this filmâs elementary plotting that Bava, by withholding information and leaning more on animalistic themes dictating bizarre character motivation, unveils a deceptive depth that the filmâs acolytes canât discern among the copious amounts of blood spilled within its frames. Wes Greene
99. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Throughout Alice, Sweet Alice, Alfred Sole paints a rich and febrile portrait of how society enables dysfunction on multiple fronts, from the domestic to the religious to the psychiatric. (The police are shown to be restorers of order, though they serve that function almost inadvertently.) The filmmaker also invests his narrative with references to classic horror films, most notably Psycho, though his own direction lacks Alfred Hitchcockâs polish, which in this case is a blessing. In the filmâs best sequences, particularly the moments following Karenâs (Brooke Shields) murder, Sole allows for tonal inconsistencies that reflect the true shock of violence. In such instances, Alice, Sweet Alice turns momentarily shrill, with actors screeching their lines almost directly to the cameraâa device that expresses pain and refutes the fashions with which many horror directors rush through the grief process haphazardly in order to move the narrative along. In other moments, though, Soleâs directorial control is magisterial. Annieâs (Jane Lowry) near murder, when sheâs stabbed on the stairway, is framed in a prismatic image, with a mirror reflecting the assault back on itself and suggesting, once again, the intense insularity of this world. Bowen
98. Bram Stokerâs Dracula (1992)
âSee me. See me now,â Gary Oldmanâs undead vampire intones, so as to magically compel virginal Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) to turn his way on a crowded London street. The two wind up at a cinematograph, âthe greatest attraction of the century.â The intersection of vampire and victim in front of a labyrinth of movie screens is telling, as Francis Ford Coppolaâs take on the classic Bram Stoker material winds up collapsing history and cinema together. Coppola shunned budding CGI technology in favor of in-camera techniques such as rear projection (as when we see Draculaâs eyes fade in over the countryside, overlooking a callow Keanu Reeves) and forced perspective (such as trick shots using miniatures of castles, which seem to loom over the full-sized actors and coaches in the foreground). However flagrantly artificial and constructed, the whole film feels uniquely alive. Dracula has âcrossed oceans of timeâ to find Mina, and Coppola shows how the cinematically preternatural similarly finds and seduces audiencesâhow movies offer their own sparkle of immortality. Bram Stokerâs Dracula is noteworthy for how un-scary it is, and yet Coppolaâs fanciful movie tool-box conceits, in perfect sync with Oldmanâs deliciously over-the-top performance, exert an overpowering sense of the uncanny. Like the vampire, the film infects us and offers an illusory respite from death. Niles Schwartz
97. Blood for Dracula (1974)
The horror of Blood for Dracula derives in part from director Paul Morrisseyâs unique ability to meld social critique, gonzo humor, and gore into a genre piece thatâs ambivalent about the passing of eras. Udo Kierâs Count Dracula, unable to find virgin blood amid the sexually active women of a 19th-century Italian family, finds himself quite literally poisoned by change. As Dracula vomits up non-virgin blood like water from a fire hydrant, Morrissey films Kierâs convulsing body not for campy laughs, but to highlight its anguish and deterioration. The opening shot, set to Claudio Gizziâs tragic score, holds on Dracula in close-up as he delicately applies make-up. The film, far too strange to be flatly interpreted as a conservative lament for lost sexual decorum, convincingly focuses on the body as the root source of all humankindâs tribulations, whether in pursuit of pleasure or gripped in pain. Clayton Dillard
96. Basket Case (1982)
Unsaid yet implicit in Frank Henenlotterâs Basket Case is the notion that outsiders can sniff each other out. Yet self-loathing can estrange someone from even an accepting society, and Henenlotter is attentive to the literal and figurative scars that Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his brother, Belial, carry as social rejects accustomed to companionship only from the other. Women are attracted to Duane, yet he carries guilt over Belialâs much worse lot in life, as well as a steadfast conviction in his own essential âugliness,â which Belial metaphorically physicalizes. This poignancy complements the purposefully and amusingly tasteless plotâa variation on lurid stories of conjoined twins and aborted children who miraculous liveâand informs the film with a tangy emotional texture thatâs intensified by Henenlotterâs resolute lack of pretension. Horror is said to be driven by a fear of death when the genre is often more viscerally concerned with rejection and loneliness. Henenlotter feels these emotions in his bones. Bowen
95. Night of the Demon (1957)
With Night of the Demon, Jacques Tourneur pits logic against the boundless mysteries of the supernatural, focusing not on the fear of the unknown and unseen, but the fear of accepting and confronting the inexplicable. After asking Dana Andrewsâs comically hardheaded Dr. Holden how can one differentiate between the powers of darkness and the powers of the mind, Niall MacGinnisâs wily satanic cult leader conjures up a storm of epic proportions to prove to the pragmatic doctor that the power of the dark arts is no joke. But the warning doesnât take. Later, when a man is shredded to pieces by a demon, onlookers debate whether the death was a result of a passing train or something more nefarious, to which Holden retorts, âMaybe itâs better not to know.â Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, sometimes the easiest way to deal with the devil is to pretend he doesnât exist. Derek Smith
94. The Devilâs Backbone (2001)
Guillermo del Toroâs films are rabid commentaries on the suspension of time, often told through the point of view of children. A bomb is dropped from the skies above an isolated Spanish orphanage, which leaves a boy bleeding to death in its mysterious, inexplosive wake. His corpse is then tied and shoved into the orphanageâs basement pool, and when a young boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), arrives at the ghostly facility some time later, he seemingly signals the arrival of Franco himself. A rich political allegory disguised as an art-house spooker, The Devilâs Backbone hauntingly ruminates on the decay of country whose living are so stuck in past as to seem like ghosts. But thereâs hope in brotherhood, and in negotiating the ghostly Santiâs past and bandying together against the cruel Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), the filmâs children ensure their survival and that of their homeland. Ed Gonzalez
93. Let the Right One In (2008)
Not unlike Matt Reevesâs American remake, Tomas Alfredsonâs Let the Right One In is, in its color scheme and emotional tenor, something almost unbearably blue. When Oskar (KĂ„re Hedebrant), a 12-year-old outcast perpetually bullied at school, meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), the mysterious new girl at his apartment complex, one childâs painful coming of age is conflated with anotherâs insatiable bloodlust. The film treats adolescence, even a vampireâs arrested own, as a prolonged horrorâlifeâs most vicious and unforgiving set piece. This study of human loneliness and the prickly crawlspace between adolescence and adulthood is also an unexpectedly poignant queering of the horror genre. Donât avert your eyes from Alfredsonâs gorgeously, meaningfully aestheticized vision, though you may want to cover your neck. Gonzalez
92. Black Cat (1934)
Based loosely on one of Edgar Allen Poeâs most disquieting tales, 1934âs The Black Cat is one of the neglected jewels in Universal Studiosâs horror crown. Edgar Ulmerâs melancholy film is a confrontation between two disturbed World War I veterans, one warped by an evil faith and the other a shattered ghost of a man driven by revenge, and the young couple that becomes entangled in their twisted game. Itâs a fable of modernity darkened with war, obsession, and madness. Much like the other tone poem of the Universal horror series, Karl Freundâs gorgeously mannered The Mummy, Ulmerâs deeply elegiac film is a grief-stricken work, a spiraling ode to overwhelming loss, both personal and universal. Josh Vasquez
91. Brain Damage (1988)
Throughout Brain Damage, Frank Henenlotterâs images have a compact and gnarly vitality. He frequently cordons people off by themselves in individual frames, serving the low budget with pared-down shot selections while intensifying the lonely resonance of a man set adrift with his cravings. Briaâsn (Rick Herbst) degradation suggests the crack epidemic of the 1980s, and the threat and alienation of AIDS lingers over the outrĂ©, sexualized set pieces, especially when Brian cruises a night club called Hell and picks up a woman, whoâs murdered by Aylmer (voiced by John Zacherle) just as sheâs about to go down on Brian. The most hideous of this filmâs images is a shot of the back of Brianâs neck after Aylmerâan eight-inch-or-so-long creature that resembles a cross between a tapeworm, a dildo, and an ambulant piece of a shit along the lines of South Parkâs Mr. Hankyâhas first injected him, with its cartography of blood lines that are so tactile we can nearly feel Brianâs pain as he touches it. Such moments hammer home the unnerving simplicity of the premise, likening drug addiction to volunteer parasitism, rendering self-violation relatable via its inherently paradoxical alien-ness. Bowen
13 Obscure and Underrated Horror Movies to Watch This Halloween
At the very least, these 13 weird movies can hold your attention, and deliver decent chills, especially with a nice buzz and low expectations.
Halloween is a time for horror, and if youâre no stranger to John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Val Lewton, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, the Italian giallo, or Universal Horror, then you may be hankering to unearth a few obscure sleepers made by directors and stars half-forgotten in the sludge of time. This list of 13 weird movies all seem to reflect fear of their own obscurity: aging actresses camping it up before the mirror with highballs and axes; younger actresses having Antonioni-esque meltdowns; and space ships following the Alien slime breadcrumb trail. They throw normal reality to the wind, yet never lapse into whimsy or sentiment. They explore collective human mythos with a stout heart of darkness, and with scant budgetary means. At the very least, they can hold your attention, and deliver decent chills, especially with a nice buzz and low expectations.
The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959)
The Black Pit of Dr. Mâs plot unfolds like a whole season of The Twilight Zone collapsed into a single surrealist fever dream. Dr. Mazali (Rafael Bertrand) asks his dying colleague to arrange a means by which he can visit the realm beyond death and then return to tell the tale. A pretty difficult thing to ask, but after his death, his colleagueâs spirit appears to assure him an elaborate chain of coincidence is in play that will fulfill the macabre request. A beautiful dancer, an dangerous female lunatic, an acid-scarred orderly all play parts in an experience that will answer all Dr. Mâs questions. The bombastic plodding score is like an inexorable countdown to some horrific destiny, and some of the light and shadow patterns recall early Orson Welles. In sum, 71 minutes of unusually mature and poetic Mexican horror cinema, its rich minimalist dream ambience worthy of Edgar G. Ulmer or Val Letwon.
Juli Reding is a â50s pulp-novel cover come to life as Vi, a jealous jazz pianistâs ex-lover turned ghost, haunting the louche Tom (Richard Carlson) after he lets her fall from the top of a lighthouse so he can marry Meg (Lugene Sanders) and her money. The next morning thereâs footprints in the sand following Tom home, and soon Viâs disembodied head is taunting him and her hand scuttling after his. He has to keep killing to keep his shadiness a secret until after the wedding, and itâs up to Megâs disillusioned younger sister (Susan Gordon) to convince the adults to call the whole thing off before sheâs next on Tomâs kill list. Joe Turkel makes a rare early appearance as a hipster beatnik, dropping crazy slang no real beatnik probably ever said while still maintaining that Satanic stare as he shakes Tom down for a cut of the take. Carlson, the terminally sincere good guy scientist in so many â50s horror movies, is gamely playing against type too. Bert I. Gordon, the director behind The Amazing Colossal Man, gets a lot of flak for his chintzy special effects (his colossal man was see-through), but he usually brought some bizarre twists and humanity to his films, here the double-exposure effect fits the ghost material, and it works as a masculine character study as well as a streamlined all-American pulp-horror romance.
Vampire and the Ballerina (1960)
Tina Gloriani, who plays the gorgeous heroine in this atmospheric Italian horror film by Renato Polselli, looks a lot like Eva Marie Saint, and though the âbusload of dancing girls stranded on tour near an old castle menaced by a vampireâ plot was old-hat even in 1960, sheâs so luminous, and the crumbling castle ruins so atmospheric in crisp black and white, that it feels fresh. The troupeâs improv vampire dance routines, and the natural rapport between Glorianiâs Francesca and her equally blond roommate, Luisa (HĂ©lĂšne RĂ©my), conjures weird echoes of Stage Door and Persona. The male vampire wears a goofy mask with ping-pong eyeballs when he needs blood, becoming younger and normal-looking after drinking someâan unusually smart touch that taps into the vanity at the dark heart of Italian masculinity (as soon as his lovely young victims come back, he stakes them, shouting âIâm master of my domain!â as he kicks their coffins shut). Most available versions of the film are in Italian with English subtitles, which is the ideal way to soak up the arty, weirdly neorealist vibe.
Letâs Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
With its child nursery rhyme-style title, naturalistic acting, eerie ambiguity, complex portrait of mental illness, and sense of America as a land of eternal limbo, Letâs Scare Jessica to Death has a uniquely â70s approach to horror, one borne of encounter groups, Valium, womenâs lib, LSD, and suburban swinging. Zohra Lampert stars as Jessica, a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown by moving with her husband and a Meathead-mustached buddy to a remote island apple orchard, where she soon learns that just because youâre delusional doesnât mean the constant whispering you hear is an auditory hallucination or that the hippie chick (Gretchen Corbett) squatter you let stay over isnât a vampire, or that sheâs just trying to seduce you rather than drown you. Horror films from the â70s were steeped in such paralyzing self-doubt, and this is perhaps the subtlest, creepiest example.
Seven Deaths in the Catâs Eye (1973)
Jane Birkinâher long straight hair like gossamer gold in the candle light as her character, Corringa, investigates strange goings on in her auntâs mansionâis just one reason to discover this European mod update to the dark-house horrors of the 1930s. Genre staples abound: secret passages, secret heirs, even a guy in an ape suit. The plot involves the usual ornate mansion full of scheming eccentrics, one of whom killed Corringaâs mother; the doctor says it was natural causes, but heâs sleeping with Corringaâs aunt, whoâll hold onto the mansion at any cost to those around her. At night, Corringaâs mother appears as a vampire, invoking her lineageâs birthright, declaring that Corringa must avenge her death. The killings are strangely observed by a big orange tabby cat, and the suspects include Doris Kunstman as a bisexual, self-diagnosed âslutâ and Hiram Keller as a cloistered, Byronic pretty boy. (Birkinâs husband, Serge Gainsbourg, even appears as a drowsy constable.) Itâs not particularly scary, but the Ennio Morricone-esque score by Riz Ortolani and the fairy-tale tableaux conveyed by Carlo Carliniâs beautiful cinematography make it ethereal.
Messiah of Evil (1976)
This impressive debut feature from future Lucasfilm writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz stars Mariana Hill as Arletty, the emotionally vacant daughter of a disappeared artist (Royal Dano). Thereâs a hushed quality to Messiah of Evil, all the better to hear the waves crashing in the distance. Nobody shouts until theyâre about to die, usually at the hands of cannibal mobs. A super-chill dandy, Thom (Michael Greer), and his two girlfriends, Laura (Anitra Ford) and Toni (Joy Bang), join Arletty in an attempt to unravel the mysteries afoot in this secluded, unfriendly location, and as Thom busts a move on Arletty, the girlfriends disappear into the ominous blackness. Among the filmâs more haunting elements: photorealist faces peering through windows and a wall weirdly painted with a full-size escalator. At any moment, this empty house seems as if it could warp into a nightmarish shopping mallâone of many bizarre evocations of a film that cannily mixes Lovecraftian dread with Antonioni-esque alienation.
Interview: Nadav Lapid on Synonyms and Our Conflict with Existence
Lapid discusses how he sought to confront audiences with questions about belonging, nationalism, and identity.
Nadav Lapid is one of the most exciting Israeli filmmakers to emerge in recent years. His first two features, Policeman and The Kindergarten Teacher, are hypnotic studies of the nature of power and resistance. His latest, Synonyms, tackles similar issues, but Lapidâs approach to his material here is almost as obfuscating as it is illuminating.
Tom Mercier, in a phenomenal screen debut, plays Yoav, a twentysomething Israeli who exiles himself to Paris, refusing to speak Hebrew or return to his homeland. Yoav is intense and enigmatic, whether sharing stories of his military experiences or practicing a form of wordplay while walking, head down, through the streets of the French capital. Whether he wants to or not, everyone is drawn into his orbit, from the young couple (Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte) who finding him naked and helpless in the bathtub of an apartment adjacent to theirs, to the various men who work security at the Israeli embassy.
At this yearâs New York Film Festival, Lapid sat down with me to discuss Synonyms and how he sought to confront audiences with questions about belonging, nationalism, and identity.
While thereâs a narrative to Synonyms, it feels deliberately very episodic, creating emotions and moments of high drama but also ambiguity. What was your approach or purpose to tell this story in this way?
I arrived at the conclusion that I might be a strange person, because people find unusual and irregular things in the way I construct my movies. Policeman was divided into two parts, which was normal to me, but people found that strange. I try to be as close as I can to what I see as existence. And existence, as I see it, is composed as a series of events, and these events are composed of one single melody. Synonyms doesnât have a classic narrative line, though its narrative is simple: Yoav gets to a place that he thinks will be his salvation and heâs disappointed. But even if the narrative structure isnât classical, the film is one movement, or melody, even though it has a thousand variations.
I admire how deliberate the film is in its depiction of and ideas about storytelling. Yoav narrates photos, and he givesâand takesâstories from Emile, Quentin Dolmaireâs character. How do you find meaning in art, or inject meaning into it?
When we create art, thereâs this desperate attempt to create stories that, on one hand, are full of beautiful storytelling moments. They may be the only way we have to communicate ourselves, our essence, and our past. On the other hand, thereâs something very artificial in the way art and life tell stories. Itâs as if we treat the world as if it has suddenly stopped and nothing is happening except for the stories we tell. The other person is only the ears. As we know in real life, everything is mixed, so we can tell a story with only words. Our body will deconstruct it, or reconstruct it, or give it another meaning. Thereâs something artificial in this desire to detach this moment of storytelling from the person.
In cinema, there are stories, but they have a peculiar relationship with the actual moment. Maybe this is also true of the storytelling of my film. Itâs a classical narrative: Yoav arrives in the big city, tries to find success, and in the end is rejected. Maybe this is the peculiar, unique, singular thing, and itâs the film interfering with this simple narrative line? It spoils this naĂŻve attempt to just tell the story. Thereâs something naĂŻve and interesting that movies that are applauding their own stories. It touches only a thin layer of life.
Thereâs a specific emphasis on language, words, contrasts, and meanings in Synonyms. How did you land on the specific words you incorporated into the film.
I think that I tried to keep a certain balance between accidental and instinctive choices. I had this picture of Jackson Pollock hitting a painting in an accidental, or automatic, way, like the surrealists. I was also interested in the texture of words. Words have bodies and organs. I was walking, and talking to myself, and I canât imagine how people looked at me! But I tried to feel and let my tongue lead me. And at the same timeâand this is the nice thing about wordsâyou canât only reduce them to syllables. They have meanings, and the meanings have choices.
Are you into wordplay? Do you do crossword puzzles or other word games?
No. I read, and when I read books, Iâm fascinated by words. I canât bear the idea that people say that art cinema should be without words, and that words arenât cinematic. There are films of acts and films of words. I think it comes from the fact that people treat words on a content level, and their only role is to mean or represent something. If you detach words from the story, or donât want to say something by using words, then life changes.
Do you, as Emile suggests in the film, drink before writing to ward off the fear?
I drink when I write my shooting plan. I encourage myself to be courageousâto not to fall to convention.
I loved the dancing in the film. The women outside the bar, the nightclub scene with Technotronicâs âPump Up the Jam,â and even a scene of Yoav dancing alone in his apartment, though he almost looks like heâs fighting. A scene of Michel and Yaron fighting is like a form of dancing, too, no?
I like when people dance by themselves for the audience in films. They come to the camera and say, âHere I am, look at me!â On another level, Synonyms goes further; it dances by itself with complicated mise-en-scĂšne and trashy music. You cannot classify me! I am this and I am that. Iâm fancy mise-en-scĂšne and âPump Up the Jam.â
Your film is, of course, erotic, not just because of Yoavâs often naked body, but his relationship with Emile is homoerotic, and his passion for Louise Chevillotteâs Caroline is palpable. Sheâs so sexy just sitting on the couch looking at Yoav or playing her oboe. How did you approach this element of desire?
When I think about desire, Iâm guided by the idea that we all have a body. Iâm trying to create movies where the existence of sex and the possibility of sex is in each and every secondârather than creating a film where there are sex scenes. There are sex scenes in my films, but theyâre not the hottest scenes in my movies. Thereâs a permanent existence of the body, and that has a sexual potential. I sound like a new French philosopher! Iâm not like this at all!
Speaking of bodies, how did you work with Thomas Mercier on the role of Yoav? Was there guidance you gave him to elicit this remarkable, full-bodied performance?
Tom was like a miracle. The work was intense but easy once he was cast. I bought him a French dictionary and I wanted him to study five new words each day and five new synonyms for each word. That was the work. He understood it so well. He prepared for a year because he was the thing itself. He was a judo champion and then became a dancer. He had a tenderness and fragility, and was very sexual, but he also had a violence and fury. You feel it. He could explode at any second. He was limitless.
All of your films address issues of desolation and madness. Why are these such key themes in your work?
I think my films are about people that take themselves very seriouslyânot in an ego way, or a stupid way, but in a way where they feel as if they understand or grasp something and follow these things until they find hell in paradise. They follow it until they recognize the deeper truth. But when you follow a principle to the end, it puts you in conflict with existence. And in odd moments, you lose your sense of humor and why life has humor.
You also explore issues of identity and nationality. There are ideas here about birth and corruption, the individual versus the masses, citizenship and rights. It seems like you deliberately set out to make viewers puzzle over lots of things.
I think Synonyms is broadly a political film. For Yoav, his national identity and Israel is like a dragon that he should kill and destroy and fight againstâthis mythological enemy. And, as you know, these mythological enemies are always yourself. Like Rosemaryâs babyâthe devil is inside you. But the film is attracted and seduced and fascinated by all the elements of nationalism. I read somewhere that Synonyms is anti-nationalist, but I wouldnât define the film so easily. The moment in the metro where Yaron is humming the Israeli national themeâit creates a polemic in Israel, but [Yaron] has his problems. At the same time, itâs a powerfully charismatic, embracing moment. Heâs humming the hymn of a nation that was annihilated. Whatever it means, Iâm on the opposite political pole. I think the film has a right to flirt with nationalism while condemning it. You canât hate a country if youâre not attracted to it.
The 20 Best Zombie Movies of All Time
If zombies seem infinitely spongy as functional allegories, itâs their non-hierarchic function that retains the kernel of their monstrousness.
Zombie movies not only endure, but persist at the height of their popularity, neck and neck with vampire stories in a cultural race to the bottom, their respective âtwistsâ on generic boilerplate masking a dead-eyed derivativeness. For the zombie film (or comic book, or cable TV drama), that boilerplate was struck by George A. Romeroâs Night of the Living Dead, and its subsequent sequels established a loose conception of the undead threat: lumbering, beholden to no centralized authority, sensitive to headshots and decapitations.
If, according to Franco Morettiâs âThe Dialectic of Fear,â the vampiric threat (at least as embodied in Count Dracula) operates chiefly as a metaphor for monopoly capital, binding those English bourgeois interlopers to his spell and extracting the blood of their industry, then the zombie poses a more anarchic, horizontalized threat. In post-Romero, hyper-allegorized zombie cinema, the hulking undead mass can be generally understood as the anti-Draculean annihilation of capital. Flesh and blood are acquired but not retained; civilization is destroyed but not remodeled. If zombies seem infinitely spongy as functional allegories for this or that, itâs their non-hierarchic function that retains the kernel of their monstrousness.
At their apex of their allegorical authority, zombies may fundamentally destroy, as attested by our favorite zombie films of all time. But that doesnât mean their inexhaustible popularity as monster du jour canât be harnessed to the whims of real-deal market maneuvering, their principally anarchic menace yoked to the proverbial voodoo master of capital. John Semley
20. Night of the Comet (1984)
Night of the Cometâs scenario reads like the bastard child of countless drive-in movies, in which most of humanity is instantly reduced to colored piles of dust when the Earth passes through the tail of a comet that last came aroundâyou guessed itâright about the time the dinosaurs went belly-up. Then again, just so you know heâs not adhering too closely to generic procedures, writer-director Thom Eberhardt irreverently elects a couple of pretty vacant valley girlsâtomboyish arcade addict Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her blond cheerleader sister, Sam (Kelli Maroney)âand a Mexican truck driver, Hector (Robert Beltran), to stand in for the last remnants of humanity. With regard to its bubbly protagonists, the film vacillates between poking not-so-gentle fun at their vapid mindset, as in the Dawn of the Dead-indebted shopping spree (obligingly scored to Cindi Lauperâs anthemic âGirls Just Want to Have Funâ), and taking them seriously as agents of their own destiny. Lucky for them, as it happens, that their hard-ass old man taught them how to shoot the shit out of an Uziâand look adorable doing it. It also doesnât hurt that Eberhardt filigrees his absurd premise with grace notes like the cheeky cinephilia informing early scenes set in an all-night movie theater. Budd Wilkins
19. The Living Dead Girl (1982)
In The Living Dead Girl, the gothic ambience that elsewhere suffuses Jean Rollinâs work smashes headlong against the inexorable advance of modernity. The film opens with the vision of bucolic scenery blighted by the scourge of industrialization: rolling hills sliced up by concertina-capped fences, billowing smokestacks visible in the hazy distance. When some dicey movers deposit barrels of chemical waste in the family vault beneath the dilapidated Valmont chateau, a sudden tremor causes the barrels to spring a leak, reanimating the corpse of Catherine Valmont (FranĂ§oise Blanchard) in the process. Despite the gruesome carnage she inflicts on hapless and not-so-hapless victims alike, itâs clear that Rollin sees the angelic Catherine, with her flowing blond tresses and clinging white burial weeds, as an undead innocent abroad in a world she can no longer comprehend. The flm builds to a climax of Grand Guignol gruesomeness as HĂ©lĂšne (Marina Pierro), Catherineâs girlhood friend, makes the ultimate sacrifice for her blood sister. Itâs an altogether remarkable scene, tinged with melancholy and possessed of a ferocious integrity thatâs especially apparent in Blanchardâs unhinged performance. The filmâs blood-spattered descent into positively Jacobean tragedy helps to make it one of Rollinâs strongest, most disturbing efforts. Wilkins
18. Messiah of Evil (1976)
This debut feature from future Lucasfilm writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz stars Mariana Hill as Arletty, the emotionally vacant daughter of a disappeared artist (Royal Dano). Thereâs a hushed quality to Messiah of Evil, all the better to hear the waves crashing in the distance. Nobody shouts until theyâre about to die, usually at the hands of cannibal mobs. A super-chill dandy, Thom (Michael Greer), and his two girlfriends, Laura (Anitra Ford) and Toni (Joy Bang), join Arletty in an attempt to unravel the mysteries afoot in this secluded, unfriendly location, and as Thom busts a move on Arletty, the girlfriends disappear into the ominous blackness. Among the filmâs more haunting elements: photorealist faces peering through windows and a wall weirdly painted with a full-size escalator. At any moment, this empty house seems as if it could warp into a nightmarish shopping mallâone of many bizarre evocations of a film that cannily mixes Lovecraftian dread with Antonioni-esque alienation. Erich Kuersten
17. They Came Back (2004)
They Came Back is a triumph of internal horror, and unlike M. Night Shyamalanâs similarly moody freak-out The Sixth Sense, Robin Campilloâs vision of the dead sharing the same space as the living isnât predicated on a gimmicky reduction of human faith. Campillo is more upfront than Shyamalanâitâs more or less understood that the presence of the living dead in his film is likely metaphoricâand he actually seems willing to plumb the moral oblivion created by the collision of its two worlds. Though the fear that the filmâs walking dead can turn violent at any second is completely unjustified, the writer-director allows this paranoia to reflect the feelings of loss, disassociation, and hopelessness that cripple the living. Itâs rather amazing how far the film is able to coast on its uniquely fascinating premise, even if it isnât much of a stretch for its director: Campillo co-authored Laurent Cantetâs incredible Time Out, a different kind of zombie film about the deadening effects of too much work on the human psyche, and They Came Back is almost as impressive in its concern with the existential relationship between the physical and non-physical world. Ed Gonzalez
16. Zombi (1979)
Zombie lacks Romeroâs allegorical undercurrents and horror-comedy hybridization, substituting instead a streamlined narrative that owes a substantial debt to H.G. Wellsâs Island of Doctor Moreau and an all-encompassing mood of claustrophobic desolation. Taken on its own terms, it works quite agreeably as a visceral blow to the breadbasket, with one of the most outrageous and apocalyptic final scenes in the entirety of the subgenre. Some of the filmâs most inventive shots are from zombie-cam POV, as the dead rise, shake off clods of dirt, and slouch toward the mission church. Attacks come fast and furious now, setting a frenzied pace that later zombie films like Evil Dead II and Dead Alive will utilize to infinitely more comic effect. By filmâs end, only one couple remains, fighting their way back to a crippled ship. Adrift on the open sea, they catch a radio broadcast from New York. As it will in every mid-period Fulci film, hell has broken loose, and zombie hordes have overrun the outlying boroughs. In the fantastic final shots, as the panic-stricken newscaster narrates the zombie invasion of his radio station, a mass of zombies cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Wilkins
The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century
These are the films from this millennium that have most shocked us by plumbing our deepest primordial terrors.
Ever since audiences ran screaming from the premiere of Auguste and Louis LumiĂšreâs 1895 short black-and-white silent documentary Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, the histories of filmgoing and horror have been inextricably intertwined. Through the decadesâand subsequent crazes for color and sound, stereoscopy and anamorphosisâsince that train threatened to barrel into the front row, thereâs never been a time when audiences didnât clamor for the palpating fingers of fear. Horror films remain perennially popular, despite periodic (and always exaggerated) rumors of their demise, even in the face of steadily declining ticket sales and desperately shifting models of distribution.
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a âsafe spaceâ in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that âitâs only a movie.â
At the same time, the genre manages to find fresh and powerful metaphors for where weâre at as a society and how we endure fractious, fearful times. For every eviscerated remake or toothless throwback, thereâs a startlingly fresh take on the genreâs most time-honored tropes; for every milquetoast PG-13 compromise, thereâs a ferocious take-no-prisoners attempt to push the envelope on what we can honestly say about ourselves. Budd Wilkins
50. Them (2006)
Hoody-clad sadists attack a couple, alone in their country home. Thatâs all the setup that co-writers/directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud need to dredge up some uniquely discomfiting chills. You wonât be able to shake Them after seeing it because itâs scary without being grisly or full of cheap jump scares. Instead, itâs a marvel of precise timing and action choreography. The silence that deadens the air between each new assault becomes more and more disquieting as the film goes on. Likewise, the house where Them is primarily set in seems to grow bigger with each new hole the filmâs villains tear out of. To get the maximum effect, be sure to watch this one at night; just donât watch it alone. Simon Abrams
49. Black Death (2010)
Grim aesthetics and an even grimmer worldview define Black Death, in which ardent piousness and defiant paganism both prove paths toward violence, hypocrisy, and hell. Christopher Smithâs 14th-century period piece exudes an oppressive sense of physical, spiritual, and atmospheric weight, with grimy doom hanging in the air like the fog enshrouding its dense forests. His story concerns a gang of thugs, torturers, and killers led by Ulric (Sean Bean), a devout soldier commissioned by the church to visit the lone, remote town in the land not afflicted by a fatal pestilence, where itâs suspected a necromancer is raising the dead. Dario Poloniâs austere script charts the crewâs journey into a misty netherworld where the viciousness of man seems constantly matched by divine cruelty, even as the role of Godâs handâin the pestilence, and in the personal affairs of individualsâremains throughout tantalizingly oblique. Nick Schager
48. The Invitation (2015)
The Invitation filters each sinister development through Willâs (Logan Marshall-Green) unreliable perspective, to the point that one friendâs failure to turn up at a lavish dinner, or anotherâs precipitous departure, appear as if submerged, changing with each shift in the emotional current. Returning to the rambling house where he and Eden once lived for the first time since the death of their son, Will finds himself inundated anew by his heartache, and the film, which otherwise hews to crisp, clean realism, is run through with these painful stabs of memory. Eden slashes her wrists in the kitchen sink, the sounds of children playing emanate from the empty yard, inane talk of the Internetâs funny cats and penguins becomes white noise against Willâs screaming: The question of whether or not to trust his sense of foreboding is perhaps not so open as director Karyn Kusama and company might wish, but against the terrors of continuing on after losing a child, the issue of narrative suspense is almost immaterial. Matt Brennan
47. Midsommar (2019)
Anybody whoâs seen Robin Hardyâs The Wicker Man or similar folk horror films will hardly be surprised by any of the plot turns in Ari Asterâs Midsommar. From early on, thereâs no doubt that the pagan rituals at the filmâs center will spell doom for the group of friends who visit rural Sweden in a quasi-anthropological attempt to observe a cultâs summer solstice festival. The film masterfully builds itself around the inevitability of a mass terror, aligning our foreknowledge of that with the anxiety felt by the main character, Dani (Florence Pugh), in the wake of a recent family tragedy. The result is a deeply unnerving film about the indissoluble, somehow archaic bond between self and familyâone more psychologically robust than Asterâs similarly themed Hereditary. And itâs also very funny. Pat Brown
46. Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynchâs meta noir Mulholland Drive literalizes the theory of surrealism as perpetual dream state. Told as it is using a highly symbolic, ravishingly engorged language of dreams, this bloody valentine to Los Angeles naturally leaves one feeling groggy, confused, looking forward and back, hankering to pass again through its serpentine, slithery hall of mirrors until all its secrets have been unpacked. Whether Mulholland Drive anticipated the YouTube Age we live in (and which Inland Empireâs digital punk poetics perfectly embody) is up for debate, but thereâs no doubt that this movie-movie will continue to haunt us long after Lynch has moved on to shooting pictures using the tools of whatever new film medium awaits usâtools that he will no doubt have helped to revolutionize. Ed Gonzalez
45. Sinister (2012)
Scott Derricksonâs Sinister isnât a period piece, but by directing its attention backward it brackets its chosen tech-horror particulars as products of a bygone eraâin this case considerably further back than the period of tube TVs and quarter-inch tapes to which this subgenre of horror so often belongs. Much like Ringu, Sinister concerns a cursed film whose audience dies after exposure to it, but here the curse is disseminated not by clunky videotape, but by a box of 8mm films. The projector, more than simply outmoded, is regarded here as practically archaic, and as with Berberian Sound Studio and its reel-to-reel fetishism, Sinister makes quite a show of the mechanics of the machine, soaking in the localized details and milking them for their weighty physicality. Even the formatâs deficiencies, from the rickety hum of sprockets to the instability of the frame, are savored by what seems like a nostalgic impulseâa fondness for the old-fashioned that even transforms the rough, granular quality of the haunted films themselves into something like pointillist paintings of the macabre. Calum Marsh
44. Maniac (2012)
Made in collaboration with Alexandre Aja and GrĂ©gory Levasseur, and with the sort of fearless artistic freedom often allowed by European financing, Franck Khalfounâs Maniac begins with a psychopathâs synth-tastically scored stalking of a party girl back to her apartment, outside which he cuts her frightened scream short by driving a knife up into her head through her jaw. The film deceptively delights in capturing the mood of an exploitation cheapie before latching onto and running with the conceit only halfheartedly employed by William Lustig in the 1980 original, framing the titular maniacâs killing spreeâthis time set in Los Angelesâalmost entirely from his point of view. A gimmick, yes, but more than just a means of superficially keying us into the psyche of the main character, Frank, an antique mannequin salesman played memorably by a minimally seen Elijah Wood. As in Rob Zombieâs Halloween II, this approach becomes a provocative means of sympathizing with the devil. Gonzalez
43. Depraved (2019)
What does a Frankenstein figure look like in 2019? According to Larry Fessendenâs Depraved, heâs a guy with war-addled, once-noble intentions set adrift by male ego and shady benefactors. Heâs a white man grasping for control in a world coming apart, a cog in a machine who hasnât broken free so much as changed the machineâs functionâfrom that of war to that of the pharmaceutical industry. The film, Fessendenâs first feature as both writer and director since 2006âs The Last Winter, paints multiple psychological portraits that are sad, angry, and strangely beautiful. It shows us the mind of not just PTSD-afflicted field surgeon Henry (David Call), but also that of his prototypical sewn-together âmonster,â Adam (Alex Breaux), and his assistant and Big Pharma bankroller, Polidori (Joshua Leonard). Throughout, the film it remains firmly focused on its thesis of Frankenstein as a lens for examining modern society. Fessenden catalogues what personalities and power dynamics have shifted and what hasnât changed at all. He diagnoses the rot of our era through these solipsistic men that pour their prejudices and their insecurities into Adam, an open book eventually read back to its authors with a violence they cultivated themselves. Steven Scaife
42. 28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyleâs 28 Days Later is a post-apocalyptic zombie movie indebted to the traditions of John Wyndham and George A. Romero, opening with its young hero wandering abandoned streets calling out âHello! Hello!â into the void. A marvel of economic storytelling, the film follows a handful of survivors that evaded a deadly âRageâ virus that tore across England, the riots and destruction that ensued, and the legion of infected victims who roam the streets at night for human meat. A bleak journey through an underground tunnel brings to mind one of the finest chapters in Stephen Kingâs The Stand; similar such references are far from being smug in-jokes, but rather uniquely appreciative of previous horror texts. The Rage virus itself feels particularly topical in our angry modern times. But maybe the more appropriate metaphor is that anyone whoâs struggled through a grouchy, apocalyptic mood during 28 days of nicotine/drug/alcohol withdrawal will find their hostile sentiments reflected in this anger-fueled nightmare odyssey. Jeremiah Kipp
41. Piranha 3D (2010)
Piranha 3D tips its cap to Jaws with an opening appearance by Richard Dreyfuss, yet the true ancestors of Alexandre Ajaâs latest are less Steven Spielbergâs classic (and Joe Dante and Roger Cormanâs more politically inclined 1978 original Piranha) than 1980s-era slasher films. Unapologetically giddy about its gratuitous crassness, Ajaâs B movie operates by constantly winking at its audience, and while such self-consciousness diffuses any serious sense of terror, it also amplifies the rollicking comedy of its over-the-top insanity. Ajaâs gimmicky use of 3D is self-aware, and the obscene gore of the proceedings is, like its softcore jokiness, so extreme and campyâepitomized by a hair-caught-in-propeller scalpingâthat the trashy, merciless Piranha 3D proves a worthy heir to its brazen exploitation-cinema forefathers. Schager
Robert Forster: Winning in the Late Innings
The Oscar-nominated actor brought a sense of honor and dignity to every role he played.
David Lynchâs Mulholland Drive opens with a nighttime ride into oblivion. A limo drifts through the lightless void of the Hollywood Hills, red taillights burning in the blackness. An enigmatic woman, ebony hair and curvaceous red lips lending her the air of a tragic beauty, sits in the back by herself. The limo pulls over, and after the woman says, âWe donât stop here,â the driver aims a gun at her, but a gaggle of joyriding kids comes speeding around the curve and crashes into the vehicle. The woman climbs out of the wreckage stupefied and traipses into the hills, leaving behind the mangled metal and bodies.
Soon, a stoic detective arrives on the scene. He looks like a lawman, serious, a little sad, his face etched with the wrinkles of time. He examines the cars, offers a few terse observations, gazes out at the nocturnal city sprawling before him. Itâs Robert Forsterâs only scene in the film, and itâs an indelible one, imbued with mystery and menace, an attempt to explain the unexplainable. Saying fewer than 20 words and appearing in only a handful of shots, he exudes an air of wisdom and wearinessâthat of an indolent man whoâs seen some shit and knows the horrors lurking ahead. In a film of dreamy logic and ineffaceable images, Forsterâs taciturn detective acts as the final glimpse of reality before we slip into a world of Hollywood hopes and fantasy.
Forster, who died of brain cancer at the age of 78 this past Friday, was a prolific actor who experienced a remarkable second act in his mid-50s after giving a deeply empathetic and vulnerable performance as a love-struck bail bondsman in Quentin Tarantinoâs Jackie Brown, a film populated by wounded characters leading unamazing lives, and who aspire to transcend mediocrity. âMy career by then was dead,â Forster told the AV Clubâs Will Harris in a 2011 interview. âNo agent, no manager, no lawyer, no nothing…I could not believe that he [Tarantino] was talking about the Max Cherry role.â
Like so many of Tarantinoâs films, Jackie Brown is replete with colorful, loquacious characters whose banter is clever, trenchant, and self-referential, but Forsterâs Max Cherry is reserved and crestfallen, a man whoâs settled into complacency and finds in Pam Grierâs flight attendant an unexpected inspiration. Itâs one of American cinemaâs great unconsummated love stories. Forster is a subtle actor, playing Max as an Everyman who chases people for a living but never seems to find what he’s looking for, and who willingly embroils himself in a dangerous situation because of love. Heâs smart, self-sufficient, a decent guy, and yet for Jackie Brown heâs willing to risk his life, or whatever mundane existence he calls a life.
Forster was one of those great actors who appeared in far too few great films. His filmography is rife with bad films, though he was invariably a dependable presence in everything he did. He began his career promisingly, with a supporting role in John Hustonâs Reflections in a Golden Eye, and earned renown for his turn as an ambitious and ill-fated news cameraman in Haskell Wexlerâs incandescent Medium Cool. He played a private eye in 1930s Hollywood in the show Banyon (his role in Mulholland Drive almost feels like a brief homage to the short-lived series) and appeared in a slew of genre movies for the rest of the 1970s and 1980s. Of note is Lewis Teagueâs Alligator, in which a gargantuan reptile terrorizes a city, William Lustigâs nihilistic grindhouse flick Vigilante, and a rare villainous turn in Delta Force, opposite the indefatigable Chuck Norris.
It wasnât until Jackie Brown and his subsequent Oscar nomination that Forster reentered the public consciousness. The way Tarantino exhumes old, often âtrashâ films when crafting his paeans to moving pictures, he also has a preternatural skill for resurrecting the careers of forgotten or faded actors. Tarantino fought for Forster to get the part. When news of Forsterâs death went public, the director said in a statement:
âToday the world is left with one less gentlemen. One less square shooter. One less good man. One less wonderful father. One less marvelous actor. I remember all the breakfasts we had at silver spoons. All the stories. All the kind words. All the support. Casting Robert Forster in Jackie Brown was one of the best choices Iâve ever made in my life. I will miss you dearly my old friend.â
Forster appeared in a panoply of listless films and television programs throughout the 2000s (his appearance in Alexander Payneâs The Descendants in 2011 being an exception) but became a household face again in 2018, when he took on the role of Sheriff Frank Truman, Harry S. Trumanâs brother, on the third season of Lynchâs Twin Peaks. Whereas Michael Ontkean exuded a mercurial youthfulness on the original series, that of a warm-hearted, just man capable of fiery spontaneity, Forster plays the elder Sheriff Truman rather pensively, sagacious and serene. Which is to say, he acts with the wisdom accrued by experience.
Forster also appeared in a season five episode of Breaking Bad, as a vacuum store owner and âdisappearerâ named Ed who helps Bryan Cranstonâs Walt change identities. A stable presence amid the histrionic theatrics that defined the showâs approach to acting, Forster gives an understated performance and a sense of the real-world left behind by Vince Gilliganâs increasingly combustible melodrama. Forster reprised the part this year in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, the actorâs final screen credit. In a film-stealing scene, Forster stands steadfast and stoical against Aaron Paulâs desperate, bedraggled Jesse Pinkman, refusing to perform his disappearing service over a $1,800 discrepancy. The viewer is, of course, rooting for Jesse, yet one canât help but respect the conviction of Forsterâs unruffled professional. The actor brings a sense of honor and dignity to the role, as he did with every role. Forster was a safe, reliable presence, someone you trusted, unflustered, earnest, whether he was fighting monstrous alligators or swooning after air stewardesses.
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