Cult Love

Gaping ghouls and Baywatch beauties: 15 lesser-known horror flicks

Welcome to Cult Love. This will be a semi-regular column devoted to appreciating movies that haven’t found wide audiences but are still appreciated by a devoted few. Some are truly terrible and some are really quite good, but they all have something in them that intrigues, shocks, titillates, amuses or surprises. You just need to know where to look. This week, celebrate Halloween without the predictable parade of pimp and ho costumes and get spooked without dropping your comforter. With the exception of The Hunger, all these gems are available on DVD at local stores or easily traceable online.

1. They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1963)

Starring Bill Freed as Adolf Hitler.

Hitler didn’t really die in the bunker: in a bid for eternal life, he was decapitated and his head put in a jar, Futurama-style. The first half of the movie follows mod secret agents trying to track down the killers of a brilliant Professor, but when they die, a second professor takes center stage, facilitated by the Professor’s hunky son-in-law. Sound disconnected? That’s because the two plots were shot at different times, and possibly planned for different movies. Highlights include a shot of Hitler’s head melting slowly—hypnotizing grotesquerie at its very best.

2. Dementia 13 (1963)

Starring William Campbell

From schlock überproducer Rodger Corman and first-time writer-director Francis Ford Coppola, comes this intriguingly novel look at the familiar axe-murderer-haunts-a-family-because-of-secrets-that-won’t-stay-buried genre. Startling heart attack aside, the opening scene is strangely lovely and serves to sets up the heroine’s very real moral conflict. Although the blonde-haired beauties are visually interchangeable—courtesy of their cookie-cutter cheerleader good looks and the graininess of the black and white photography—their characterizations are nuanced. Although he was hired to create a formulaic thriller, Coppola establishes surprisingly interesting and vivid characters.

3. Suspiria (1977)

Starring Udo Kier

I know what you’re thinking: not another flick about an American ballerina who goes to an international dancing school only to discover it is a witches coven! But turn those frowns upside down boys and girls, because this is a slasher flick from none other than Dario Argento, a.k.a. The Man who Gives Wes Craven and John Carpenter nightmares. The defining element of Argento’s films is a crazily inventive visual palette. The colors are so beautiful that the grizzly dismemberment attains a certain gloriousness. After seeing a movie like this, run-of-the mill horror seems far too crude.

4. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Starring Tim Robbins

Jacob Singer (Robbins) endures constant nightmares about a crucial fight in Vietnam when his unit was fiercely attacked by a Vietnamese unit. Or was it? His confusion is magnified by the demons who keep appearing, cameo appearances that culminate in the apparent rape of his girlfriend. And amazingly enough, it just goes downhill from there. Although the ending is hinted at throughout, its flimsy spirituality distracts from the film’s strength: relentless urban horror that makes the Book of Job look like fun.

5. The Wicker Man (1973)