ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erich Kuersten is a gonzo-theorist, film and music critic, crypto-Jungian and editor of The Acidemic Journal of Film and Media, with work appearing in: Bright Lights Film Journal, Popmatters, Slashfood, McSweeney’s, Slant and the Daily Om. Also (in print): The Decadent Handbook, Scarlet Street and Midnight Marquee. Films include the awards-skipping Queen of Disks, The Lacan Hour, Drunkards of Borneo and the “Shortcuts to Enlightenment” series. Check out his site here.
1. Demon Witch Child (1975): TUBI LINK
After an old witch kills herself in the DA’s office, she possesses his spooky-looking to start with daughter Susan (Marián Salgado) and lets the obscenities fly. Clearly Mexican with a complicated relationship with Catholicism (in a good way), we got the pleasure of watching a very deadpan child actress in old lady make-up killing people in the park, sexually taunting a priest (“You’re either a goddamned queer or impotent!”), sacrificing a baby, insulting her mom, castrating her mom’s boyfriend, and generally proving Mexico can out-do Italian Exorcist clones any day of the week. There’s even some Tubular Bells-style chimes and a child chorus singing a spooky Morricone-ish “na-na-na” song. The acting of everyone else is all over the place and side plots of stall out but Salgado seems to be having a real wild time, holding very still for the time lapse transformation effects and generally earning her spot in the following year’s Who Can Kill a Child? Pair it with the wondrous Antichrist also on Tubi (the Italian one, not the Von Trier one)
2. The Eternal (1998): TUBI LINK
Michael Almereyda followed up Nadja (his cult black-and-white downtown 90s hipster reimagining of Dracula’s Daughter) with this revisionist Irish take on Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, (i.e. Bram Stoker’s “Jewel with 7 Stars”). Hard-partying NYC hipster Alison Elliott travels with her drinking partner/husband (Jared Harris) and their kid to her Irish homestead–drawn by bad fainting spells and the pull of bog mummy druid sorceress ancient relative currently down in the basement, watched over by her eccentric hard-drinking Christopher Walken. The banal title and terrible DVD cover (it makes this artsy and cool film look like some lame direct-to-video softcore), no doubt keep its ideal audience at bay. Don’t be fooled! With its arty photography, dreamy music (including a Cat Power song) and 16mm and super 8mm film stock used to evoke past life and childhood memories, the whole thing flows with a dreamy Irish vibe both melancholic and groovy, especially for anyone who grew up watching classic horror movies on TV before moving to the city to become a jaded hipster alcoholic.
3. Revenant (1998): TUBI LINK
Also known as Modern Vampires, this triple-R rated HBO TV movie benefits from a darkly hilarious and gleefully savage script by Matthew Bright (Freeway). Caspar van Dien is a cool vampire who needs to guide sexy Natasha von Wagner in the mores of vamping after she starts running amok (he vamped her a while ago but then left her to fend for herself). See, Dracula is in town and trying to reign in all the vamping under his rule and he considers Van Dien a threat. Rod Steiger is the hammy Van Helsing Jr. who we learn staked his own son after Van Dien turned him. Kim Cattrall, Udo Kier, Natasha Lyonne, Craig Ferguson all co-star, though the scene is stolen by four gangbangers Steiger recruits as vamp hunters, who wind up saving the day (for the vampires) and have a great blunted group dynamic. Rife with the typically cheerful and shockingly blase sense of darkly comic amorality we hope for from a Matthew Bright script, it’s a dark little sociopathic gem dressed in made-for-HBO vamp movie colors. (see also the Bright-scripted Dark Angel, also on Tubi).
4. The Forbidden Girl (2013): TUBI LINK
This atmospheric German/Dutch production, filmed in English, benefits from a great location–a vast, crumbling mansion with Overlook-ish interior hallways–and a strange Jungian archetypal plot involving the confused son of a deranged preacher who finds the girl (Jytte-Merle Böhrnsen) he thought he only imagined but who’s now living as an insane sun-allergic invalid where he’s been hired to be a live-in tutor (and she doesn’t remember him). Cockblocking their inevitable hookup is a strapping Germanic house man (Klaus Tange, from Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears) always within earshot and an elderly witch who seems to be getting younger as the film goes on. Given way more love and care (especially with the dusky cinematography and hallway-prowling camera) than its lack of renown warrants, Forbidden triangulates Neil Jordan, David Lynch, and Joseph Campbell to find a zone that feels like a half-forgotten childhood dream, but with some bad CGI.
5. 68 Kill (2017): TUBI LINK
Naive, smitten yokel Chip winds up on the wrong side of his homicidal girlfriend (a wondrously feral Anne LynnMcCord) after racing away into the night in her car, rescuing the woman she was trying to sell to her even more evil snuff film-making brother. A wild chase ensues and he eventually winds up in the clutches of another homicidal woman, this one a meth-headed crime ring leader played by Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night). Your jaw will hit the floor and likely not be lifted again until the credits roll, especially if you love strong, dangerous women and propulsive black comedy crime films where you legitimately have no idea what will happen next.
6. Machine Gun Kelly (1957): TUBI LINK
A lean, mean Roger Corman crime film stolen by Susan Cabot as Kelly’s long-time girlfriend and the real brains of the operation (she even gave him the name). A groovy score and rattatat editing along with Cabot’s stylish self-assertion, cool furs, and–surprise–Charles Bronson as Kelly, his toughness shot through with a cowardly streak a mile wide. Corman has no time for tedious art or Big Statements, and in the process of stripping things down to a lean hour he’s way more insightful and illuminating than most of the overblown prestige gangster pics. And Cabot is a real discovery if you only know her from The Wasp Woman. Pair it with Corman’s other big Cabot vehicle, Sorority Girl also on Tubi and let the Cabot magic rip.
I avoided this for years, presuming by the title it was the usual early 80s mix of aerobics and slasher tropes. Just goes to show how wrong you can be! It’s a scrappy regional horror about a samurai ghost who kills people, but it’s also the most accurate and palpable tales of what it’s like going to your college lover’s parent’s house in the boonies over Christmas break, only to find everyone likes to go hunting (and you don’t) and the psychic (bi-polar?) mom doesn’t like you and has serious emotional problems and spends most of her time in her painting studio, having visions, and/or staring at you. With a great moody weird electronic score, vivid 70s Wisconsin naturalism, and some truly psychedelic effects, it’s a 70s film in spirit and one of those priceless examples of locally-sourced independent horror that flourished once upon a time, where it’s so different from the usual you’re like “Finally! Why can’t they all be this weird?”
8. Bride and the Beast (1958): TUBI LINK
As the thunder crashes and the taxidermy big game looks on, the post-wedding nuptials between a big game hunter and cool, soft-spoken dame (Charlotte Austin) are complicated and interrupted by his pet gorilla Spanky She and Spanky have a thing that transcends boundaries. Under hypnosis, she remembers her past-life as “queen of the gorillas!” and they’re leaving for a hunting trip in Africa the next week. Spoiler Alert – she likes it there. I love this movie so much I don’t mind that the second half is awash in stock travelogue footage. Regardless of what we’re seeing, Charlotte Austin’s narration is dreamy (she has a great purr of a voice) and the words she speaks have Ed Wood’s unique fingerprints all over them. He may not have directed, but this Woodian right down to Austin’s angora sweaters.
Whether or not this film speaks to you will probably depend on your ever-transcended space and time with psychedelic drugs. Paul Giamatti in a cool Chinese restaurant, a dimension just like ours except it’s ruled by a tentacled Lovecraftian monster, crazy flesh-eating flies, a hotdog phone, a renowned TV psychic (Clancy Brown) and a one-handed girl who helps open a phantom door at “the Mall of the Dead” thanks to her phantom limb, and so much more. Directed by the great Don Phantasm Coscarelli (Angus Scrimm has a cameo as an evil priest), this deserves a wider cult audience than it has. I have hope the world will one day be ready.
10. The Lady in Red (1979): TUBI LINK
A lot of people ignored this on video as they confused it with The Woman in Red, a sex comedy with Gene Wilder and Kelly LeBrock. This isn’t that. I only found out the difference by accident when it showed up one late-late night HBO. I could scarcely believe how much of a blast it was. John Sayles scripted, Lewis Teague directed, it’s an imagining of the life of the moll who was with Dillinger when he was shot, but it’s so much more. Pamela Sue Martin stars; she gets her start after following a no-good man to the city from her life on the farm, seduced and abandoned, she gets a job at a garment factory and then winds up jailed in a union riot after a cop kills her communist roommate (it’s a Sayles script all right!), then sent to a jail-annexed brothel run by a scenery-chewing Louise Fletcher. Somewhere along the line she gets hip to the way things are, especially with the help of Dillinger, who teaches her to shoot and rob banks. It’s one of the better examples of what I call “libsploitation” i.e strong women fighting back against their sexual subjugation through cathartic violence, while also showing their breasts in lots of sex scenes. That’s the Corman’s New World one-two punch!