I can still remember going to see James Gunn’s debut feature Slither on opening night in March of 2006. It was to be my birthday movie, so myself and a group of friends all got together at the movie theater, ready to check out what Gunn had in store for us. I was the only one among us with an awareness of his work, having followed his career as a screenwriter during his days at Troma through The Specials, the two live-action Scooby-Doo movies, and, most notably, his 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Because I knew what to expect from a James Gunn movie, naturally I loved Slither. My friends did, too. The rest of the nearly empty theater seemed puzzled and disgusted by it, though, and I knew that night that the movie was going to die a quick death.
When a filmmaker creates a number of movies that qualify for masterpiece status, it becomes nearly impossible to quantifiably conclude which one stands above the rest as his or her single greatest achievement.
After nearly 40 years in the business and with 22 officially credited features as a director, Mario Bava made his final feature film with 1977’s Shock, also known to U.S. audiences as Beyond the Door II. Just three years after its release, Bava died of a heart attack. He was 65 years old.
As the film that bridges the two decades of Mario Bava’s output as a director, 1970’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon feels strangely trapped between two worlds. It contains the traces of gothic horror with which Bava made his name, as well as elements of the supernatural and the psychosexual leanings of the giallo genre he more or less helped create. At the same time, it’s steeped in dazzling colors and psychedelia—it feels seedier than his usual output even though it’s far less graphic than some of his other works.
Gothic horror found its way into the American mainstream in the early 1960s courtesy of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures. Movies with a tortured Vincent Price brooding around darkened castles, longing for the spirits of some long-lost love were reaching audiences on the same screens as Frankie and Annette and the Beach Party series—and from the same studio, no less. Over in Europe, though, it was a totally different story.
Though he worked across a number of genres, be it fantasy with Hercules in the Haunted World, science fiction with Planet of the Vampires or the crime thriller with Rabid Dogs, the great Mario Bava will forever be most closely associated with horror. His work in the genre is both groundbreaking and legendary, its influence felt across a wide swath of filmmakers and films. Traces of his gothic horror movies can be seen as recently as 2015’s Crimson Peak, while his 1971 effort A Bay of Blood inspired countless slashers, none more than Friday the 13th. It is his 1963 thriller Evil Eye, however, that would help create a genre both known and beloved by fans of Italian horror: the giallo film.
Confession: I have never been much for religious horror. I blame this on a secular upbringing, which has left me ill-equipped for faith-based fear dependent on devils and possession for scares. Don’t get me wrong; I can appreciate the brilliance of The Exorcist and I can buy into these ideas just as easily as I can buy into monsters and vampires and killer toys, but I also recognize that these kinds of movies tap directly into a certain portion of horror fandom while leaving me cold. It’s not you, religious horror movies. It’s me.
Poor John Carpenter. Like nearly all of the truly great horror filmmakers, his movies are destined to be misunderstood in their time, only finding the proper appreciation several years after the fact when the rest of the world is finally able to catch up to what he’s doing. It’s not always the case, of course, as he has had a handful of commercial hits; for many years, his breakthrough movie Halloween was the most successful independent film ever made. It was the rare instance in which audiences were tuned in to what Carpenter was doing at the time he was doing it. Most of his other great films—and he has more great films than almost any other director working in the genre—took years to connect with the public. Don’t blame Carpenter for that. He’s a man ahead of his time.
While I’m never going to consider it a “good” movie, I’m strangely glad that director Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho exists. It only serves to make the original movie that much better (as though such a thing was possible) by demonstrating all the things Hitchcock does so perfectly that the remake gets perfectly wrong. Think of it as a $20 million experimental film; now that is has been tried and failed, we know that the experiment doesn’t need repeating. That alone has to be worth something.
As Scream Factory continues to release pared-down catalogue titles on their now five-year-old label, the brand keeps expanding to include all different kinds of movies. Once known for releasing deluxe special editions of horror fan favorites, the company has diversified over the last half decade and begun releasing new films (as part of their deal with IFC midnight), unknown (and sometimes previously unavailable) cult films, a handful of classics, and even their own in-house productions. This last batch of catalogue titles, the majority of which have been released with only minimum bonus features but new HD scans, continues to broaden the reach of the Scream Factory brand to include a range of titles from secretly successful ’70s sexploitation sci-fi to well-intentioned failures of the 1990s.
Now that we’re nearly 20 years removed and the dust has settled on the 1990s, the decade long believed to be a wasteland for horror movies is finally being reconsidered for the number of really good films it actually did produce.
Though Scream Factory originally made their name by releasing comprehensive special editions of beloved horror titles and some lesser-known cult films deserving reappraisal, after five years the company is diversifying their output more and more.