Hey, I’ve got a proposition I would like you to consider. Instead of doing the whole Valentine’s Day business this year, what if you completely ignored the customary hubbub of the holiday and stayed in to get completely unnerved with some good old-fashioned horror cinema? Surely, I’m not the first person to propose such a venture? To sweeten the pot, I have even gone to the trouble of curating a handful of titles to help you pull off this feat. But wait, there's more - every single film on the list is available through the streaming platform, Kanopy, so it’s essentially one-stop shopping!
With Kanopy you can choose between thousands of documentaries, educational films and independent cinema, all completely accessible with your library card and a web browser, iOS, Android, Apple TV or Roku device. You get six checkouts per month, so after you watch the five titles below, maybe you can use your remaining credit on something a little lighter to promote a decent night’s sleep. Each film is rated with a gore level of 1 heart (low-level gore) to 5 heart (high-level gore). Enjoy!
A Tale of Two Sisters
I went through an Asian horror film phase a decade or so ago, and this South Korean title was a personal favorite. The less you know about the plot, the better, but here is a short summary of the general premise. Following a stint in a mental institution, Su-Mi joins her sister, father and new stepmother at a secluded country estate with the hope of regaining a semblance of normalcy. Unfortunately, Su-Mi’s domestic re-assimilation is strained by familial baggage, and wouldn’t you know it, malevolent spirits! A Tale of Two Sisters is beautifully shot, deftly acted, and most importantly, creepy. Of course, Hollywood had to taint a good thing with a completely flaccid and cruddy remake called The Uninvited. Blah.
Let’s get this out of the way up front – yes, the title of this film is the namesake of the influential heavy metal band. With that resolved, I will say that Black Sabbath is a relatively tame number compared to the others on this list. This 1963 Italian horror anthology offers up three tales of horror and suspense, each introduced and concluded by the legendary Boris Karloff. Director Mario Bava’s work often included a vibrant and almost psychedelic use of color and contrast that made the Italian “giallo” horror director’s work aesthetically unique and emulated by other filmmakers. If you are looking for a horror film that is a little more old-fashioned and “family friendly” for your viewing pleasure, Black Sabbath is a good choice.
In the early 90s, I recall feeling slightly traumatized after eyeing the VHS cover of this movie at my local video store, so obviously I eventually had to watch it. Much of the storyline is familiar turf – after a surgical procedure has gone awry, a woman develops a craving for human blood which she sates in a fashion I won’t go into here. In turn, her victims devolve into rabid goons (hence the film’s title) and go about getting their fix wherever they can. As fun as all of this sounds, I must warn you that the antics are somewhat dampened by the extremely morose film score and the unrelenting overcast setting, where sunshine was evidently outlawed during the movie shoot. Rabid is an early entry by the Canadian master, David Cronenberg, who went on to direct an impressive and eclectic body of work over the years. And get a load of this – if you watch Rabid, you’ll get to see people smoking in movie theaters, as well as in hospital beds! Sure makes you long for that simpler time!
Hmm, hmm, hmm. What on earth can you say about Donnie Darko? Donnie is a young man who happens to have an imaginary friend. And this imaginary friend happens to be an off-putting, human-sized rabbit that may be encouraging Donnie to do bad things. Bluntly speaking, Donnie Darko is a relatively odd film. Donnie Darko is actually classified as science fiction, so unlike most of the other selections on this list, the film doesn’t rely on traditional scares to draw you in, but rather works at developing a general sense of unease, dread and mystery. Although this movie received very little attention upon its release, it eventually caught on to become somewhat of a cult sensation. What is the meaning of the movie? Let me know when you know.
If the title alone didn’t tip you off, this one may be a bit exploitatively disturbing, so viewer discretion is advised. Here is the gist of the story – a documentary film crew sets out to make contact with some of the isolated, indigenous tribes in the Amazon and are never heard from again. But as luck would have it, the missing crew left behind a very interesting video reel to provide some clues (“clues” meaning explicit footage of…any guesses, any guesses?). This movie is notorious for several reasons. Most notably, it can be credited as starting the whole “found footage” trope that is used, and somewhat abused, in modern horror films (i.e. The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity franchise et al.). One bright note - for all the film’s yuckiness, it sure has a melodiously catchy opening theme song!