by James Christian
Need something sinister to raise your Halloween spirits? Here’s the crème-de-la-creepy from our DVD dungeon.
The Bad Seed—Rhoda Penmark is polite, tidy, obedient, the perfect 8-year-old angel. She’s also pure evil. This 1956 cult classic follows Rhoda’s ruthless antics and her increasingly frantic mother, who suspects the wide-eyed tyke of murder. The placid suburban drama rapidly escalates into mayhem. Based on a stage play, Bad Seed is a histrionic, screamy melodrama reminiscent of Tennessee Williams, complete with boozers, armchair psychoanalysis and unsavory sexual underpinnings. Some moments border on camp, but I find its sweaty, seething desperation absolutely delightful. As the pint-sized sociopath, Patty McCormack boomerangs from screeching tantrums to saccharine wheedling, manipulating every adult around her. If you like the ‘creepy kid’ subgenre, The Bad Seed is required viewing. Call Number: 3380
The Phantom of the Opera: No, not that Phatom of the Opera. The original 1925 one. If you’ve never seen a silent movie, here’s your gateway drug. Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s first horror icon, is truly ghoulish as the phantom. No darkly-handsome pretty-boy Eric here; Chaney’s incarnation is hideous, with sunken skull-like features and snarled teeth. His bugged-out eyes—achieved with great physical discomfort by looping wire around his eyeballs—are the stuff of nightmares, even nearly a century later. For more silent horrors, check out The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Vampyr, The Golem and Chaney’s own Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you’re feeling creative, watch the films on mute and add your own soundtrack. Type O Negative or Bauhaus would be ideal, but do the Monster Mash if the urge hits you. Call Number: PN1995.75 .P42 1997
Teeth: Media typically depicts a girl’s coming-of-age as an awkward but magical time, when teens blossom into womanhood. Horror fans know better. The physical, emotional and sexual strain of adolescence is a thematic goldmine for horror films. Stephen King’s Carrie has yielded three separate adaptations. Ginger Snaps paralleled the werewolf mythos with another bloody, cyclical “curse” that women experience. Then, in 2007, Teeth delivered a caustic satire of teen sex drama. Dawn is an outsider, whose Christianity and abstinence alienates her from her classmates. Torn between her faith and her suppressed urges, harassed by drooling horndog boys and spiteful girls, Dawn discovers something special inside herself: a set of needle-sharp teeth…down there. That’s right, the legendary vagina dentata. If this concept doesn’t immediately disgust you—if it does, we have some Disney films you’d probably prefer—Teeth is a ripping good time, balancing mean Heathers-style laughs with top-notch gore, spiked with both feminist and rape-revenge elements. Jess Wexler nails it as Dawn, somehow selling the innocence, confusion and boiling fury of a character endowed with such a ridiculous power. Teeth is a heartfelt horror-comedy for teenage losers of all ages. Call Number: PN1997.2 .T443 2008
Videodrome—Max, a scuzzball TV exec, wants something different for his softcore cable programming. Something tough, something visceral. When he stumbles on Videodrome, a hyper-realistic S&M/torture show, it seems perfect for the late-night slot. But as Max investigates the mysterious broadcast, the shocking images trigger violent hallucinations, and worse. I won’t spoil the film’s secrets, because after multiple viewings I still don’t fully comprehend them. Instead, let me assure you that Videodrome is both an intruiging mystery and the pinnacle of the ‘body horror’ genre. Director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Naked Lunch) has built a career on contorting human flesh into bizarre monstrosities, and this 1983 sci-fi/horror hybrid is among his most cerebral, brain-melting creations. James Woods is at his twitchy best as Max, while Blondie’s own Debbie Harry sizzles as his kinky, thrill-seeking girlfriend. Once you experience Videodrome, you’ll never be quite the same. Call Number: PN1995.9.S26 V52 2004