There are so many films that I desperately wanted to include—Rosemary's Baby, Alien, Psycho, The Shining, The Innocents, Last Year at Marienbad, pretty much every film by Lynch and Cronenberg—but I was asked to choose five and these reflect my present mood.
There are so many Japanese horror films that I felt compelled to include—from Onibaba to Ugetsu to The Face of Another to Cure—but Kobayashi’s grand anthology might be the most breathtakingly beautiful horror film ever made. Adapted from four of Lafcadio Hearn’s remarkable ghost stories, Kwaidan is ethereal and haunting and possessed of a totally devouring commitment to artifice.
One of the great movies about divorce and the agony of romantic disentanglement. A thrilling rebuke to restraint, subtlety and “logic” (as the squares know it). Here is storytelling that is radically emotional and stubbornly intuitive, at the expense of almost all else.
The Night of the Hunter
What else might Charles Laughton have made? As with Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the custodians of culture deemed it pornographic and prevented Laughton from ever making another film, but its legacy is unmatched. Prefiguring so many coups to come - from Lynch’s work to the Coens’ to Kubrick’s to Greenaway’s - Laughton’s Expressionist masterpiece is so great that it makes me want to pull my arms off.
Don't Look Now
Arguably Nicolas Roeg’s greatest film (there’s a case to be made for Walkabout), this is a dead-serious reckoning with grief, a meditation on time and memory (or is it prophecy?) and a warm, uncanny hug of doom. Taking its editing cues from Resnais and doing so much with Venice that it would be futile to try topping it, this is a film that gives and gives upon repeat viewings—and socks you in the gut every time.
The film that traumatized me the most as a kid. It took me 15 years to come back to it, and when I finally summoned the courage, I was shocked to realize how campy it was (it shouldn’t have been a surprise, given what I knew/loved about De Palma). As with any great horror movie, its cruelty feels unfathomable and its images are potentially life-ruining (Piper Laurie with the knife???), but it’s also distinguished by a profound sense of empathy and sadness. Poor Carrie.