In the parlance of today’s writer, gory greetings! We’ve reached day three of The Criterion Top 10 Series. First, a brief reminder- I’m running contributions from some of my favorite film critics, writers, and theorists from around the internet. Each writer is listing their top 10 from the Criterion Collection. Today’s entry is from my favorite fan of horror films, Goregirl. You won’t find anyone who’s more enthusiastic about the genre. And like some horrifying bug in a film made by her fellow Canadian, David Cronenberg, her enthusiasm is infectious. Think of your 20 or 50 or 100 favorite horror films, and I assure you that Goregirl has seen them and loved them. However, her tastes go deeper than just horror. For as long as I’ve been aware of Goregirl’s Dungeon, her blog, I’ve also known that she has an appreciation for Criterion’s quality. While she recently closed up shop at the Dungeon, you can find an immense archive of her writing there. She also has a very active Tumblr site and can be found on Twitter @ggsdungeon.
GOREGIRL: Thanks to John for inviting me to share my ten favourite Criterion films; even if it did almost cause my brain to spontaneously combust choosing a mere ten selections from their amazing catalog!
PEEPING TOM (1960)
Directed by Michael Powell
Mark Lewis is a brooding young photographer who rents rooms in the house left to him by his father. As a child Mark was the guinea pig of his father’s experiments and has grown up with the desire to conduct an experiment of his own; capturing the terrified expressions of women before they die. Peeping Tom opens with a murder, and there is no mystery or puzzle to solve. It is an in-depth character study; a well acted and intelligently written character study of a disturbed man. Beautifully filmed with heavily voyeuristic details and an unforgettable performance by Carl Boehm. Peeping Tom is an unsettling glimpse into a damaged psyche and the result is a dark, edgy masterpiece.
Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi
Gorgeous is going to stay with her strange Aunt in the country with giddy girlfriends in tow; kooky, supernatural shenanigans ensue! Nobuhiko Obayashiís Hausu is a total trip that fills me with child-like joy! No surprise that is should as many of the ideas in the film came from Nobuhiko Obayashiís ten year old daughter. The hand-painted backdrops, eye-popping colors and the delightfully devilish and cutely grotesque deaths are truly one of a kind! The seven schoolgirl characters are known only by their nicknames which describes their dominant character trait; Gorgeous (the primper), Kung-Fu (the blackbelt), Melody (the musician), etc. Hausu is a fun, fast-paced thrill ride that is a cartoon nightmare of thrills, chills and absurdity that puts it in a class all of its own.
WORLD ON A WIRE (1973)
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Fred Stiller is an employee at The Institute for Cybernetics and Futurology; the operators of a supercomputer that have created a virtual world. Stiller is promoted after his friend and co-worker Fred Vollmer dies. Stiller suspects his friend’s death was murder but discovers considerably more odious forces at play. As far as I am aware this is Fassbinder’s only attempt at science fiction and it is a wholly fascinating, visually stimulating, character-driven epic. There is no special effects in the film to speak of but the heavy use of reflective, transparent and glass surfaces used throughout the film give it an other-worldly feel that suits the material beautifully. The film is packed with Fassbinder regulars and the performances are outstanding. Fassbinder’s three and a half hour-long science fiction odyssey World on a Wire is an exercise in paranoia and betrayal and is a unique, phantasmagorical entry in his oeuvre.
BRAND UPON THE BRAIN (2006)
Directed by Guy Maddin
Guy Maddin is returning home on the request of his dying mother after thirty years of being away. His childhood home, a lighthouse on a remote island where his parents once ran an orphanage is in need of a fresh coat of paint. As Guy works away he recollects the events of his unusual childhood. A mom who threatens suicide to get children to behave, a father who performs late night experiments on orphans (not to mention his own daughter), a harp playing brother and sister detective team named Wendy and Chance (who are in fact one person) and also happens to be in love with Guy’s sister, and a house full of misfit children. Guy’s recollections are silent and feverish black and white images full of sexuality, tragedy, love, joy, guilt and regret. Brand Upon the Brain is truly one of a kind; it is perverse, poetic, macabre, sexy, strange, funny and utterly spellbinding. Brand Upon the Brain is the second film in Maddin’s auto-biographical trilogy which also includes Cowards Bend the Knee and My Winnipeg. A shame there is not a Criterion version of all three.
Directed by Vera Chytilová
Two brazen young women both called Marie contemplate their roles in the world; agreeing the world is spoiled the two embark on a series of misadventures. Where has Daisies been all my life? I seen the film for the first time just last year! A feminist, anarchic romp full of destruction, excess and general naughtiness! Vera Chytilová’s Maries speak to me unlike any characters in film ever have. I wish I had a friend like Marie growing up! Drunken disorderliness, defacement of public property, thievery, fashion, sugar daddies, gluttony, served up with a cynical and hysterical wink, and a shitload of creativity. I was so in love with Daisies that I bought the pricey Criterion Eclipse Series 32: Pearls of the Czech New Wave set. Daisies is not the only pearl in that oyster; well worth every penny I paid for it! Daisies is a freaking masterpiece!
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Odo Island is hit by a storm that brings with it more than just heavy winds and rain; the island residents believe it was caused by a creature of their folklore called Godzilla. Archeologist Dr. Yamane along with a team of scientists is sent to investigate and discover the residents just might be correct. Ishirō Honda’s 1954 Japanese monster epic Godzilla is a film near and dear to my heart. Godzilla was literally the first film I ever seen. My parents brought me home from the hospital on a Sunday afternoon and sat holding me in their arms as they watched Godzilla on television. I have loved Godzilla and the many Toho creature features it spawned my entire life. The action sequences are elaborate and plentiful; much detail is paid to the impressive models; power lines, boats, cars, dozens of unique buildings constructed only to be destroyed. Godzilla’s menacing size, scaly back, powerful tail, fiery breath and mighty ancient cry cuts an imposing figure. Godzilla is a visual extravaganza, with a compelling story, suspense and great action. Godzilla was made not ten years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan and despite being controversial at the time of its release has become a cult phenomenon. This original is still the monster of them all.
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Max Renn is always on the lookout for programming not offered by the competition for his struggling cable station. Soft-core adult films are part of the station’s late night programming but he is looking to step up his game. One fateful night his engineer stumbles upon a grainy barebones production called Videodrome; simulated snuff that Max soon discovers is all very real. Videodrome is a fascinating, sexy, sleazy, violent, grotesque and original masterpiece. Rick Baker’s superbly disturbing and surreal effects are simply perfect. Casting of James Woods as Max Renn and Debbie Harry as Nicki Brand could not have been better chosen. One of the best horror films ever made. Criterion needs to add Cronenberg’s It Came From Within and Rabid to their library.
THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928)
Directed By: Carl Theodor Dreyer
As its title suggests, The Passion of Joan of Arc is a film about the infamous martyr; specifically her trial & death. Words really can not do this film justice; The Passion of Joan of Arc is a cinematic experience quite unlike any other. This masterpiece is without a doubt one of the best films, silent or otherwise I have ever seen. Beautifully filmed, biting, intense, and indeed “passionate”. Maria Falconetti is phenomenal as Jeanne d’Arc; she gives a stunning and literally breathtaking performance! Carl Theodor Dreyer is one of the greatest directors of all time with an impressive resume. Criterion offers six of Dreyer’s titles of which I have seen four (Vampyr, Day of Wrath, Ordet, Passion of Joan of Arc) and they are all just amazing.
Directed By: Roman Polanski
Carol is a delicate albeit uptight beauty who loses her tenuous grasp on reality after she is left to fend for herself in the London apartment she shares with her sister. Repulsion‘s claustrophobic, intense mood and nightmarish and surreal visuals are complimented by Catherine Deneuve’s amazing performance. Deneuve is nothing short of spectacular as the unstable and sexually frustrated Carol. Carol’s descent into madness ranks high among my favourite performances ever. Polanski’s apartment trilogy (Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, The Tenant) is pure perfection and all garner a perfect score in my book, but ultimately Repulsion is the one that I re-visit most often.
THE SILENCE (1963)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Anna along with her young son Johan are travelling with her ailing sister Ester by train to a small town seemingly on the verge of war. The sisters themselves share a conflicted relationship laden with issues unlikely to be resolved. The animosity between the two only grows in the close quarters. I had a ridiculous amount of films shortlisted for this project so I limited myself to just one title per director. Picking a single Bergman title ended up being my most conflicted decision. Every last one is brilliantly acted and beautifully filmed but The Silence‘s narrative and characters are particularly appealing to me. The intellectual and dominant sister Ester has become ill and is humiliated by her need for assistance. The sexy Anna, mother to a young boy and wife to an often absent husband once lived in fear of her sister. The Silence is a fascinating, provocative and bittersweet character study of two woman with exceptional performances by Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom.