ON HALLOWEEN’s eve, George takes us through a selection of overlooked gems in a genre that’s prone to suffering from an excess of crap. Take it away.
Well, it’s that time of the year again. Everyone loves a good horror film, and this is the perfect season to watch something that makes you wish you hadn’t watched it later on, when you’re alone in your bed and you’re not sure if that sound is just the natural creaking that all houses make at night or the footsteps of the former resident’s ghost, twisted by a gruesome death and determined to exact a horrific revenge on anyone it can get its hands on.
It’s probably the former, but just so I’m covering all my bases – hello, murderous ghost. I notice you’ve just killed the person reading this article in a way I can’t possibly imagine. While you enjoy that warm afterglow that follows a successful kill, may I suggest some underrated horror films that you might like to watch in between stalking your next victim?
1 – Antichrist
Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is one of the most controversial films of all time, not only because of its famous auto-clitorectomy scene, but because of the uncompromising darkness of the entire film. Rather than using the standard horror subject matter of ghosts, monsters and serial killers, Antichrist is built on the horror of ideas – namely, the idea that the world is actively malign.
The central premise of what is, in my opinion, the greatest horror film of all time, is that the universe actively seeks to harm us, on a very individual level. Von Trier made the film during a serious bout with depression, and it shows – despite the beautiful cinematography, every second of this masterpiece is drenched with a sense of despair that one rarely sees even in what should be the bleakest of all genres. If you’re looking for a film that is both a stunning work of art and deeply disturbing, check out Antichrist.
2 – Tony
Have you ever watched Taxi Driver and thought, “This is just too upbeat?” If so, then Tony is the film for you. Taking as its subject matter the same type of isolated, violent loner as Scorsese’s film, Tony (written and directed by Gerard Johnson) is a Dalston-set examination of the way in which frustrated masculinity and social alienation give rise to the title character’s brutal acts of violence. For Tony, killing is the only way that he can achieve any kind of intimacy with another human being.
When he invites a pair of heroin addicts back to his flat, he seems to be genuinely invested inbefreinding them, and in being accepted as one of the gang; similarly, while he does keep a corpse in his bed, the suggestion is not of necrophilia but of a need for companionship. Tony talks to his bed-corpse as if to a close friend, offering it tea and so forth. The real horror in this film comes from how relatable the main character is. He has two major urges: to connect with other people, and to emulate the violent masculinity played out in the action films that he watches obsessively.
In this way, he is a perfect representation of the isolated, frustrated male that has become a permanent fixture in the landscape of the twenty-first century. The difference between Tony and Travis Bickle is that there is no moral dimension to Tony’s murders. While Bickle kills a child prostitute’s pimp, Tony simply kills anyone he can get his hands on. This nihilistic approach makes Tony’s humanity all the more troubling, as the audience is forced to care about a man who is not simply morally ambiguous, but a full-on monster. Watch Tony to see what a collaboration between Sarah Kane and Mike Leigh might have looked like.
3 – Confessions
There isn’t a lot I can say about this Japanese film without ruining it, and besides, I’d need another thousand words just to explain the plot. Suffice to say it begins when a teacher reveals to her young students that two of them were responsible for the death of her daughter some years previously. From there, it follows the lives of the people involved as they spiral out of control, while simultaneously telling through flashbacks the events that led up to the daughter’s murder.
It’s one of the hardest films to watch on this list, which is saying something, but that’s not because of any extreme violence. Instead, what makes it such a gruelling watch is the sheer depth of suffering that the characters experience, as well as the fact that all of this is happening to characters who aren’t old enough to shave.
By making children both the victims and the perpetrators of many of the film’s various enormities, writer/director Tetsuya Nakashima makes his film even more disturbing – it’s hard to watch a child suffer, but it’s perhaps even harder to be confronted with a child’s capacity to inflict suffering upon others.
Nakashima reminds us that kids are just as emotionally complex as adults, and that they are capable of being just as disturbed. A stellar soundtrack by Toyohiko Kanahashi and excellent performances by the entire cast contribute to a film that is impossible not to get caught up in, even as it makes you want to switch it off.