When I think of The Criterion Collection, I think of high art. I think of pristine celluloid and perfectly framed shots sandwiched between thick, black widescreen bars. I think historic, I think epic, I think intelligence. Nose-in-the-air type stuff.
What I don’t think of is ooze, satan-worshipping, hyper-violence or James Woods sticking his hand inside of his own stomach. But believe it or not, all of those things (and more) can be found under the Criterion umbrella! It’s like going over to the class valedictorian’s house and seeing that they have a Basket Case poster on their bedroom wall.
David Lynch, Brian De Palma, Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher, Danny Boyle, and Paul Verhoeven all have Criterion films to their name (and David Cronenberg has four, wow!)
Here’s a short list of some of my favorite Criterion horror flicks. The list is actually much, much longer – and you can find all the titles on the Criterion site as well as their Wikipedia page – but I thought this little list would be a good place to start.
I often preach the greatness of this 1973 Nicolas Roeg shocker. Though not outright labeled as one, it feels like a giallo film – due mainly to the mysterious, raincoat-shrouded character Donald Sutherland hunts around the canals of Italy. Solid flick with plenty of twists and freaky revelations.
The first time I saw this film was in a theater packed full of horror fans, and I’m pretty sure I was half in the bag. The main thing I took away from the viewing was how funny the film was – not only by my own drunken interpretation, but also the uproarious laughter from the crowd. The bizarre imagery, the bits of dialogue lost in translation, the goofy score – what a funny, weird film! However, it wasn’t until last year, when I saw the Criterion analysis of the film, that I came to realize how truly horrifying it is. I suggest watching the film without any insight, and then rewatching it after viewing the analysis.
Pecker-tucking, cannibalism, airborne semen, the c-word, fat jokes, and Tom Petty’s “American Girl”. All in a Criterion movie! This is definitely one of the more understandable entries on this list – after all, Silence of the Lambs did win five Oscars the year it came out. But that just brings up another great milestone: a horror movie sweeping the Academy Awards!
As mentioned above, Cronenberg has a staggering four films on the Criterion list. That’s more than Bernardo Bertolucci, Miloš Forman, or Stanley Kubrick! Cronenberg’s other films on the list include Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, and the amazingly gory Scanners. It’s nice to see body horror, exploding heads, and utter mindfuckery get the kudos it deserves from such a distinguished company.
This film was so controversial when it was released in 1960 that it effectively ruined director Michael Powell’s career. If that’s not enough to get you to watch this movie, I don’t know what to tell you. I love this flick! It is often compared to Psycho, despite beating that film to the theaters by two months. With wide vocal support from both Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese, this movie is one of the great proto-slashers. At one point, zomfather George A. Romero was rumored to be remaking it, but so far nothing has come of that. Watch it!
This is another film that I totally understand its place in the Criterion Collection. It’s beautifully shot in stark black and white, casting ominous shadows over dark secrets like a flawless film noir should. And Robert Mitchum is perfectly terrifying as the murderous con-man trying to swindle a pair of farm kids out of their dead dad’s hidden loot.
I can understand why waifish middle-class debutante Mia Farrow would be so appalled at discovering she had been incubating Satan in her womb for the past 9 months (spoiler!), but can you imagine if Rosemary had been played by one of those Old Milwaukee-fueled dudines from Heavy Metal Parking Lot? She’d be stoked! As previously mentioned, it’s nice to see devil-worshipping be presented in such a highfalutin way.
Based on the synonymous book by the Maquis de Sade, this movie features all sorts of stuff your grandma would probably frown at: sadism, graphic violence, sexual depravity, and forcing little kids to eat platefuls of boom-boom. So naturally it should wind up in the Criterion Collection, a list self-described as “important classic and contemporary films for film aficionados”. Just what I love: artful smut!
Sure, this list loses some of its oomph when you realize both Kevin Smith and Michael Bay both have films on the Criterion list. Kinda makes you wonder who was behind the wheel when those decisions were made. But look: any collection that features The Blob (1958), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and Fiend Without a Face, and is intended for only the most discerning of film snobs — that’s a pretty dang alright list in my book.