Halloween viewing

Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space (1999)

I’m wondering if anyone has any superior horror films or recent discoveries they’d recommend?

I still think Romero’s last zombie movie, Diary of the Dead, is a fantastic genre piece with impressive stylistic qualities (first person camerawork, documentary footage of Katrina) and incisive social commentary, as is typical for the series.

Last year, I watched a lot of the Hammer titles I had never seen, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) was probably the most complex and emotionally resonating, with a very evocative sense of the Gothic.

Two years ago, I was blown away by The Innocents (1961), an adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. (I’ll be showing this and 1962’s Burn, Witch, Burn!, which I haven’t seen yet, at my own Halloween party this year.) I was fortunate enough to see Jack Clayton’s masterpiece on the big screen, and its immersive widescreen black-and-white cinematography (by Freddie Francis, who later worked with David Lynch) and sound design is first rate.

I had high hopes this year for the new Swedish film, Let the Right One In, but I was ultimately disappointed by it. It is wonderfully directed and a masterpiece of tone (mixing sweet romanticism with horror) . . . but it’s also a narrative film that wants to sweep the audience along, and its ending is unresolving and even works against some of its more interesting themes.

Of course, we at Masters of Cinema (and the folks at Criterion) have released Martin Koerber’s restored version of Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1931), so if you haven’t seen it yet, now is your golden opportunity.

Lastly, the adventurous programmers at CineFamily here in Los Angeles screened a 35mm print of Tscherkassky’s Outer Space last week, along with other films curated by Provocateur Pictures, the latest incarnation of The Other Cinema, who released both of the Experiments in Terror DVDs. As a rough facsimile of the 35mm experience, you can watch Outer Space here, although I’m almost embarrassed to link to it given the YouTube quality. Aside from the aforementioned DVD compilation, however, it may be your only chance to see this remarkable film, a re-edited and reprocessed, black-and-white assembly of scenes from the ’80s Hollywood thriller The Entity.

The film increasingly simulates the destruction of the very medium it’s created on, finding visual and aural resonances with unexpected superimpositions, strobe lights, and an emphasis on the physicality of the celluloid itself, its sprockets flying across the screen as if crumpling in violent disintegration. As a young child, I recall watching my parents’ home movies on our aged 8mm projector, and invariably a film would get momentarily jammed and an organic, billowing cloud of putrid brown blobs would emerge as the lamp burned a hole in the film. I remember feeling truly horrified by this visual effect, partly because I knew it was the active destruction of the medium itself (and, by extension, our memories) but also because of its hideous scaly aesthetic, like some kind of expanding, rotting fungus. (Check out Bill Morrison’s 2000 film, Decasia, for a stunning compilation of deteriorating film.) I don’t know anything about The Entity, but Tscherkassky’s film also provokes the same sense of dread–its implication that the celluloid itself is being radically manhandled and destroyed wholly intensifies its unsettling montage. (I’m also reminded of the similar moments of “film destruction” in Persona and Two-Lane Blacktop.)

For more, Rhys Graham provides a perceptive analysis here at Senses of Cinema.

3 thoughts on “Halloween viewing

  1. I meant to mention that I was recently highly charmed by The Call of Cthulhu (2005), an ultra-low budget but extremely resourceful and creative adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1928 short story, filmed as though it was made during the silent era. Highly recommended.

  2. Doug,

    Tscherkassky’s ‘Outer Space’ is also available in the compilation ‘Films from a Dark Room’ from Index DVD (alongside its essential companion-piece ‘Dream Work’).


    ‘The Entity’ is actually well worth a look: a really wild and inventive sh(l)ocker with great use of ‘scope by Furie (even more so than ‘The Ipcress File’).

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