Halloween on the big screen
Kill, Baby… Kill!
Just in time for Halloween, Netflix has unleashed a ghoulishly generous helping of Mario Bava films available for streaming. A former cinematographer, Bava (1914-1980) is the still-unsung master of Italian horror, the predecessor of directors like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, and (Mario’s own son) Lamberto Bava. He established a method of creating fearful moods using light, shadows, and especially bold colors; these tools often came in handy, as Bava was not usually assigned the most literate of material. Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966) may be his masterpiece, though, a story of a vengeful witch, the ghost of a little girl (above), and a series of murders. No less a director than Martin Scorsese claims it as an influence on his work.
Lisa and the Devil
Bava claimed Lisa and the Devil (1974) as his favorite of his own films. Elke Sommer stars as a tourist in some ancient city. She gets lost and finds her way to the massive home of a strange family of aristocrats. She meets a countess (Alida Valli), her handsome son (Alessio Orano), and a bald, lollipop-licking butler (Telly Savalas, who had just started his famous Kojak TV series the same year). Unfortunately, there are some strange and twisted things going on. Bava turns in some of his dreamiest and most atmospheric work here, but sadly, this version of his film was never released in theaters (only on video later) and was re-cut and released as The House of Exorcism (see the next item).
The House of Exorcism
The House of Exorcism (1975) is what happened to Lisa and the Devil, and how audiences saw it in 1975. Much of the footage is the same, with Sommer getting lost, but this time she suffers some kind of attack and is whisked to a hospital, where it becomes apparent that she has been possessed by a demon. A priest (Robert Alda) tries to save her, while she flashes to the events of Lisa and the Devil, as if in a murderous dream. The exorcism sequences are graphically violent and contain gratuitous nudity, and were very clearly added to cash in on The Exorcist fever of the time. Yet it’s fascinating to compare the two movies.
Bay of Blood
Everything the Friday the 13th movies tried, they learned from Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971), sometimes known under its much better title Twitch of the Death Nerve. It even includes a lot of the original “cabin in the woods” clichés, though they still feel fresh under Bava’s guiding hand. Basically, the action takes place in a vacation resort (near a bay), where teenagers and others have sex and get murdered in a “Ten Little Indians” fashion by an unknown killer.
Bava’s career was thought to be on the decline when he made Baron Blood (1972), and it’s not one of his best, but it does benefit from a lead performance by Joseph Cotten as the baron, as well as an effective gothic setting in a spooky castle. Elke Sommer also stars.
Bug (coming 10/23)
A few newer spooky films also arrive on Netflix just in time for the haunted holiday. One of them is William Friedkin’s great, underrated Bug (2006). It was heavily advertised as “from the director of The Exorcist,” and fans were understandably disappointed when they found it was something different: A study of paranoia, with no demon possession or green vomit. An ex-soldier (Michael Shannon) begins to feel that bugs are crawling around under his skin. His new waitress girlfriend (Ashley Judd) believes him, and starts to feel the creepy-crawlies too. Friedkin plays up the difference between what we believe and what is real, using constricting sets and weak lighting. Tracy Letts wrote the screenplay, based on his own stage play.
Paranormal Activity 3 (coming 10/20)
It’s impressive how the creators of this “video surveillance” horror series manage to keep it going by digging deeper into the characters’ pasts: Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) is set in the 1980s, when the female heroes of the first two entries were young girls. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman—who also made the controversial Facebook documentary Catfish—manage to create one absolutely brilliant sequence by strapping a video camera to an oscillating fan; it’s better seen than described.
Many other unsung chillers are already available for streaming, including Brad Anderson’s Session 9 (2001). In a movie with no monsters or chainsaw-wielding maniacs, an asbestos cleanup crew takes on a massive, abandoned hospital (filmed in an actual abandoned hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts). Inside, one of the men becomes obsessed with recordings of creepy therapy sessions, while past histories and conflicts arise in terrifying ways.
The House of the Devil
Ti West’s The House of the Devil (2009) may just be the finest American horror film of the past 10 years, though hardly anything happens. A college girl (Jocelin Donahue), looking for extra cash to enable her to rent her own place, takes on a mysterious babysitting job. A huge chunk of the movie is spent simply watching her explore the house, but with the distinct possibility that anything could go wrong at any time. Genre icons like Dee Wallace, Mary Woronov and, Tom Noonan co-star, as does the wonderful Greta Gerwig.
Son of Frankenstein
And what Halloween would be complete without a screening of something from the Universal horror canon? Son of Frankenstein (1939) is the third in the Frankenstein series, and it’s a step down from the masterful Bride of Frankenstein, but it still has a great deal going for it. Boris Karloff returned for his final turn as the monster, and Bela Lugosi gives a terrific performance as Ygor, the servant with a partly broken neck. Director Rowland V. Lee makes terrific use of the bizarre sets, and a wonderful score by Frank Skinner completes the mood. Mel Brooks borrowed heavily from this movie for his 1974 parody Young Frankenstein.
- The Forgiveness of Blood
- The Girl Who Knew Too Much
- Chico & Rita
- Hotel Rwanda
- The Woman in the Fifth
- The Artist (10/24)
- Bread and Tulips (10/19)
- Fados (10/20)
- Down in the Delta (10/24)
- Hot Tub Time Machine (10/26)
- The Scent of Green Papaya (10/26)
[Streaming movies and TV shows—on services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Videos—are ephemeral: Here one day, gone the next. The purpose of the Now Streaming series is to alert you to what movies and shows are new to streaming, what you might want to watch before it disappears, and other treasures that are worth checking out.]