Staff Picks: Deep Cuts for a Killer Holiday

This year to celebrate Halloween the team here at A Fistful of Film tasked ourselves with writing not about the go-to spooky season movies but to write about our favourite hidden gem or cult classic that we’ve been watching this year. Our range of deep cuts covers a wide range of horror films from Romero, to lesser known Giallo, to J-horror, and to comedy-horror, but rest assured if you’re looking for something to watch this spooky season any of these films will get you in that spooky mood!

Waxwork (1980) By Amos Lamb

Waxwork is not what I would consider to be a masterpiece, it’s neither groundbreaking nor revolutionary for horror cinema as a whole. It’s a hidden gem for sure, but I’m certainly not toting it as equal to films like The Shining or The Exorcist when it comes to the pinnacle of horror films. But what it absolutely is, is a good time, and something I’d definitely recommend for an easy-watch this Halloween whether as a group or by yourself. 

The premise of Waxwork is simple, a group of college students are invited to a private party at a recently built Wax Museum, their curiosity piqued by the museum’s suburban location. In all honesty, the overarching narrative simply serves the purpose of creating an anthology-style sequence of ‘historic’ horror set-pieces, this is because at the Wax Museum each exhibit transports the college students into the world they depict. This allows Anthony Hickox to create a film that has Count Dracula, a Werewolf and 18th century author Marquis De Sade, among others, all as antagonists for the different college students in their own respective sequences. This is all in the hopes that David Lincoln, the owner of the museum, can collect enough innocent souls to bring all of history’s evilest people back to life again through the wax models. It should be more than abundantly clear by now how goofy this film, I can’t wait to tell you about the climax. 

The film ends in what is essentially an all-out brawl between all of the horror characters and an army of middle-aged white men who the main character recruits through a friend of his grandfather. It’s absolutely ridiculous but an incredible amount of fun as you see men who look like they’ve come out of an American adaptation of Dad’s Army fighting basically every horror movie monster in a sequence that feels like the saloon fight in Blazing Saddles

Now hopefully what I’ve managed to do is sell you on just what a fun experience this film is, but I really don’t want to undersell it as a completely “so-bad-it’s-good” film, because honestly as goofy as the premise is, the different horror sequences within the museum, and the general atmosphere of tension is done really well. All of the different exhibit’s are shot in their own unique style, all reminiscent of the film’s their inspiration was taken from; one of the most obvious being the zombie sequence which is framed to evoke George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. There is a tremendous amount of care and effort put into Waxwork by writer & director Anthony Hickox all of which shines through despite the failings of the narrative. But ultimately Waxwork is one of those films that despite all my criticisms I still think is great and I know that personally, it is going to become a consistent rewatch every halloween season.

All the Colours of the Dark (1972) By Saoirse Selway

One of the best of the early 70s wave of Italian horror, Sergio Martino’s masterpiece All The Colors of the Dark is perfect Halloween viewing.  Edwige Fenech stars as a dissatisfied woman living in London who’s haunted by nightmares. The solution she finds is darker than she would previously have imagined, a cult of black magic! From there she seems to lose more and more of her control and grip on reality. Martino’s knack for atypical and stylish Gialli continues in his follow up to the controversial and shocking The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. Including surreal dream sequences that are super freaky, disorienting cult action, and haunting and terrifying premonitions, all with a stylish flair for the confounding and strange. This film is made perfect Halloween viewing due it’s bewitching pleasures. If you have a hankering for anything witch or black magic related this halloween, this should hit the spot. 

Sweet Home (1989) By Jacob Calta

Kiyoshi Kurosawa, J-horror icon behind such masterpieces as Cure and Pulse, crafts a colorful, gnarly haunted house film in Sweet Home. The basis for the renowned Capcom game that proved a precursor to the world-famous Resident Evil series, this early Kurosawa effort surrounds a documentary crew investigating the mansion of Ichirō Mamiya, a painter whose frescos still reside within the mansion, and whose family befell a most macabre tragedy. What results is an old-school haunted house mystery with shocking gore and incredible style.

The story of the house is horrific, as are the events that transpire within, and Kurosawa paces the film masterfully, sucking you into the mystery and giving you a quite gruesome payoff when all is said and done. If you can get past the faux-chestral synth score (though it is excellently composed by future video game composer Masaya Matsuura), the slow buildup, & are in tune to the film’s odd sense of humor, Sweet Home is a marvelous motion picture. The script is fine, the cast quite good, but if there is one major reason to watch, it is for the special effects and the production values, as they make the film.

The best way to describe this one is as Italian J-horror. All of the excess and style of Italian horror is there but filtered through its Japanese locale and filmmaking. Many people have described this as an Argento haunted house film, and they do have something there. The way the film is cut and staged does suggest Argento a great deal. Dick Smith also brings us god-tier special effects exuding a terrifying uncanniness & bordering on Fulcian gore. Oh, and the Gothicism screams Bava. The mansion is beautifully decrepit and exudes this uneasy ambience that would have been the Master’s cup of tea.

I think that many horror fans will find themselves right at home with this criminally underseen fantasy horror from one of the genre’s finest, early in his career no less. Suspenseful, engaging, & truly haunting.

Season of the Witch (1973) By David Alkhed

George A. Romero was a filmmaker who, perhaps more than many I can think of, was trapped by his own success. Due to the success of his Night of the Living Dead franchise and the subsequent creation of the zombie movie boom, he was mostly relegated to making those films in order to maintain a career. Consequently, many of his non-zombie movies tend to be ignored by the average moviegoers and even most horror movie fans. But if only they would make that leap of faith they would discover a number of small yet interesting takes on various aspects within the horror genre. One such film is his third film Season of the Witch from 1972.

Romero was inspired to make the film upon reading about witchcraft for another project. He was also equally influenced by the feminist movement which took form around that time. Suddenly, women started to rise up or at least challenge a patriarchal society which often negated women and their feelings or desires. The idea of the happy housewife is one that Season of the Witch tackles directly by making the main character a middle-aged housewife frustrated with the irrelevance of her existence. Feeling powerless and haunted by nightmares (all of which are beautifully shot but more importantly look like they’re outtakes from a giallo), she picks up witchcraft, giving her a renewed sense of purpose and control over her own life, no longer dictated by the entrapments of society.

Romero was a master at weaving popcorn entertainment and thrills with potent social commentary and Season of the Witch is yet another worthy entry in his underrated filmography, and also makes for fine Halloween viewing with genuine thrills and scares.

Also on the subject of Romero, be sure to check out his vampire film Martin, his finest work in my opinion.

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