Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Dante Tomaselli's Top ten picks for Halloween viewing
Horror filmmaker Dante Tomaselli was kind enough to share his list of top movie picks for Halloween viewing.
Read my interview with Mr. Tomaselli
1.) HALLOWEEN. I can watch this landmark horror shocker over and over and each time I'm transported. I just can't shake the experience of seeing the original Halloween in 1979 at my 10th birthday party. It's engrained in my psyche. My mother orchestrated the theatrical event and I remember a bunch of my childhood best friends in the lobby innocently staring at the macabre framed poster of a massive pumpkin brandishing a glistening butcher knife. I noticed people coming from the screenings appeared quiet and unnerved. 'How was it?' No answers...just some nervous laughter and shudders. It looked like they were walking out of a very powerful Funhouse. Even though I was barely 10-years-old, I was a die-hard horror fan and this was the late 70's, so quality horror movies were coming out practically every single week. I read the reviews of the film; I knew what it was about and it was supposed to be very scary. Still, nothing could prepare me for the experience that was John Carpenter's Halloween. What a perfect birthday gift!
This terror trip became my favorite movie that night and no film since has come close to knocking it out of the # 1 slot. What do I love about Halloween? Everything. Mainly, we have a relatable, down-to-earth heroine, Laurie Strode played by Jamie Lee Curtis...An atmosphere of all-encompassing doom...From the opening titles with the most spine-tingling synthesizer theme in existence...to the ending...You know the evil is out there...loose, lurking, you can feel it in your bones.
2.) CARRIE. This is an emotionally-charged horror film with astonishing performances. I can see why Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were both up for major awards. The vivid characters instantly hook onto you and I can't imagine anyone not sympathizing with poor Carrie. There's probably a boy or girl like this in every high school in the world. The fact that Carrie has telekinetic powers and comes from a religious family is what really intrigues me. Director Brian De Palma milks the literally explosive situation for all it's worth. Kudos to Stephen King for a creepy tale. Carrie is a spectacularly well-made horror movie. The acting, cinematography, production design, music by Pino Donaggio, it's all top-notch. Piper Laurie as Mrs. White chills my blood. The final scene where she stabs her own daughter is alarming and operatic. Mrs. White's punishment by flying kitchen utensils is out-of-this-world...unforgettable...horror cinema at its best.
3.) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Old school hardcore horror...brutal, though not gory. It's the emotional violence here that is beyond belief. Director Tobe Hooper works with an ultra low budget. No doubt about it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre set the bar for independent cinema. This film has such a mounting sense of dread and hopelessness, it borders on mysticism. The nerve-jangling experimental 'non-music' helps shape the experience because the sound design is never intrusive and it swells like emotions.Edwin Neal as the grinning Hitch-hiker jumps off the screen. I think he's one of the most demented screen villains of all time. And the unspeakable Leatherface, with his masks of flesh and chainsaw is unadulterated evil. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a truly frightening film. There are moments of heart-stopping terror. Marilyn Burns, stunning as Sally, gives one of the bravest, finest performances ever committed to celluloid.
4.) ALICE, SWEET ALICE. My cousin directed this film. I was 7-years-old when it made its premiere November 1976 in Paterson, New Jersey. Many of my relatives were extras and my father provided the communion dresses, gloves and veils from his Bridal Shop. This was a family affair. Alfred Sole is now a successful Production Designer and we've been planning a remake of Alice, Sweet Alice for a while. I know in some circles remake is a dirty word and I understand that completely, though in this case it would be a passing on of the torch...or knife...We're relatives...blood...Everything is going to be remade anyway, as you know, so we just want to beat the others to the punch by doing it our way. In fact, whenever we get started on this, Alfred will be Production Designer and I'll Direct and Sound Design. Speaking of music, Alfred's film has a profoundly chilling lullaby composition by composer Stephen Lawrence. It's definitely the centerpiece of the movie's soundtrack and creates an ethereal, icy mood. Alice, Sweet Alice has textural power and intelligence. I can only dream to direct a film as accomplished as my cousin's original. Alice, Sweet Alice is like the Godfather of horror films. Paula Sheppard as Alice was outstanding in her part. She projected just the right amount of malice before ever going over-the-top. And Mildred Clinton as Mrs. Tredoni, the religious House-keeper stole the show. The scene where she bashes the face of her victim with a sharp rock is obscene and bloodcurdling. I personally met the enigmatic actress in 1997 while auditioning for a lead role in my first feature, Desecration.
5.) THE EXORCIST. I was only three-years-old in 1973 but I remember the spooky commercials vividly. I would wait for them to come on. Then, about six years later, I finally saw the actual film on cable. I can recall sneaking into the room to catch a glimpse of The Exorcist as a dare to myself. All of the scenes in Regan's bedroom deeply frightened me. Authentic satanic sounds and gruesome imagery galore. At certain points, The Exorcist is like an out-of-body experience. We're not watching a movie anymore. It's happening...It's as if a supernatural event were unfolding before our eyes...something I aspire to in my projects. Director William Friedkin imbues the film with a seriousness and maturity that is sorely lacking in modern day horror. The graphic violence pushes the limits and is shocking and definitely groundbreaking. I've never seen special make up fx so flawlessly portrayed. Dick Smith is a magician.
6.) DON'T LOOK NOW. Dreamlike, puzzle horror. Don't Look Now is a subliminal chiller that gets under my skin. Top notch performances by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a married couple coping with the death of their beloved daughter. Don't Look Now is a very sad horror movie, focusing on grief and emotional pain. It's also so chilling in that the whole film is really a warning. Donald Sutherland's character was given many elusive clues...and tragically the pieces all come together in the climax, the most disturbing montage I've ever seen. Director Nicolas Roeg creates a world of beauty and horror...different sides of the same coin. This is an elegant horror film and it weaves a non linear storyline that is disorienting and genuinely eerie.
7.) THE SHINING. Stanley Kubrick's majestic horror epic. I saw this film in theatres in 1980, the same week Friday the 13th came out. In fact, my mother and I were going to see Friday the 13th and it was sold out so we watched The Shining. I must say The Shining did not disappoint and only grew on me with repeated viewing's. I was addicted to this film...and book growing up. It didn't matter to me that Kubrick took creative license with the novel. He definitely knew what he was doing! And of course I owned the brooding synthesizer soundtrack by Wendy Carlos. Mostly, I was mesmerized by the gothic images, so beautifully composed by Stanley Kubrick. Wow. Adding fuel to the fire is Jack Nicholson, born to play the part of the demonic dad. No need for much graphic gore here, except for the visually dazzling blood-drenched elevator sequence. We have a maze. A disintegrating family, completely isolated. Parents as monsters. Spirits not at rest. In retrospect, I was in awe of the construction of this film, practically studying it.
8.) SUSPIRIA. Dario Argento unleashes an alternate world, glowing, electrified...It's a grotesque, psychedelic landscape like no other. Throughout its running time Argento displays non-stop audio-visual fireworks. This is horror film as art and it must be experienced in darkness, with the volume way up. Any other way diminishes its power. When I was 7 years-old in 1977, the commercial was on all the time. There was a woman combing her hair and slowly turning around to reveal a skull's face. We'd hear, in a sinister whispery tone...S-U-S-P-I-R-I-A. I really enjoyed the commercials and would wait for them to come on but for some reason I missed the film in theatres and on video. I finally watched Suspiria in my twenties and fell in love. How did I ever miss it? This is definitely a horror movie where the substance is in the style. Some people I know find the film to be superficial...hollow. It's not about the story. Suspiria is really about surrendering to...sensations...You have to let this movie wash over you. Left brainers might not get it at all. This is a mood piece if there ever was one. The cast of bizarre characters contribute to the wall-to-wall madness...It's the psychotic dream-state Suspiria conjures: pulsating lights, weird camera angles, graphic gore, stylish, ornate set design, a trance-like soundtrack by Goblin and the Alice in Wonderland-like performance of Jessica Harper as Suzy, "The American Girl." Suspiria is a European horror film all the way. The overall effect is dizzying, hazy, like a true nightmare.
9.) THE CHANGELING. Moody and absorbing ghost story. George C. Scott stars as an intelligent man coping with the loss of his wife and daughter after a freak accident. Consumed by guilt and grief, he moves into an old mansion in the country. Soon we hear violent pounding noises coming from the walls and apparitions in the bathtub. Somber and brooding, this film tingles with emotion. At the core of the slow-burn mystery is a child's blasphemous drowning death. I can see how many modern horror films were directly influenced by The Changeling but none come even close. And what's with the title of the Angelina Jolie movie? Very disrespectful to the memory of this bona-fide horror classic. Dreamy shots of the camera gliding up the stairs and to the attic are hypnotic and ominous. I always loved seance sequences and this contains one of the best of all time.
10.) THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS. A shattering horror experience. This is probably the first film in my adult life to give me nightmares. The 70's Italian psychological chiller is pretty obscure to the mainstream, but all Euro-horror aficionados know about it. A remote Italian village is the setting for this atmospheric mind-fuck. Stefano has come to a strange rural town to restore the church's decaying painting of St. Sebastian. There seems to be a conspiracy, something is just not right. Supposedly, the mysterious painter of the church's religious wall documented real death and his paintings were actual murders. At the core of this ghastly tale are the two sisters of the painter. I won't give away anything but I've never seen elderly women portrayed in such horrific ways. The voice-overs of the depraved artist talking about colors and blood are emotionally violent. And the unexpected conclusion to this hallucinatory fear film just might leave you speechless.
There are many movies I couldn't fit on this list like Psycho, Rosemary's Baby, The Evil Dead, Tourist Trap, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The Fog, Alien, The Brood, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Night of the Living Dead, Burnt Offerings, The Omen, The House of Whipcord, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, The Hills Have Eyes, Tombs of The Blind Dead, Videodrome, The Beyond, Friday the 13th, Trilogy of Terror, Nosferatu, Deep Red, Nightmare on Elm Street, Phantasm, Hellraiser, Frightmare, The Sentinel, Cujo, Shock, Black Christmas, Black Sabbath, The Beast Within, I could go on and on...