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Thursday, October 14, 2010

24 of the Most Influential & Greatest European Horror Movies: 1900's to the 1980's

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This is a list of horror films from Europe ranging from Germany, Spain, France and predominantly from Italy. Some of these have influenced many reputable filmmakers, but sadly, these movies remain obscure to all but the most devoted of cult cinema lovers. Most people won't know who Mario Bava, or Paul Naschy are if you mention them in conversation. Even the mention of Dario Argento is likely to arouse a questionable look from most mainstream moviegoers. Still, he has penetrated the foreign market to a greater extent than most. Nonetheless, the contributions of all the artists below were important in shaping the look, the feel and the sound of European horror and its eerie touch of death has and will continue to be felt abroad for decades to come.

Directed by Robert Wiene

Eerily enigmatic German silent picture about a madman carnival barker named Caligari and his main attraction, Cesare, a somnambulist with the power of clairvoyance whose visions aren't necessarily prosperous for interested parties. CALIGARI belongs to the school of German Expressionist cinema along with other movies like THE GOLEM (1920), NOSFERATU (1922) and METROPOLIS (1927). Not for everybody, these movies do offer striking visuals and outlandishly and intentionally fake sets akin to an abstract painting accompanied by an aura that only B/W photography can possess.

Directed by F.W. Murnau

This unauthorized German version of Stoker's novel is one of the most celebrated horror films of all time. Bearing some of the most recognizable and iconic images this side of a vampires coffin, Count Orlok left an indelible effigy on my eyes in the first grade after spying a photo of his sinister shadow ascending a staircase in a book on vampires in film. Over the years, the picture has been available countless times on VHS and DVD in its original silent form as well as versions backed by an orchestral score and even one with heavy metal musical accompaniment. In 1979, Tobe Hooper would direct what I consider the scariest vampire series/movie of all time--SALEM'S LOT. The make up for the head vampire is reminiscent of that used for Count Orlok.

3. I, VAMPIRI 1956
Directed by Riccardo Freda

This is considered the first Italian horror film that begat a long series of Gothic and subtly sexy creature of the night and ghost films. Mario Bava finished the picture when Freda left at some point during the filming. Freda's contributions have long been overshadowed by Bava's, but apparently, the genre meant far more to Bava than it did to his predecessor. The film itself isn't very engrossing, but its significance holds importance. Star, Gianna Maria Canale plays the vampiress; an actress who went on to play many roles in sword and sandal fantasies and adventure movies as a sorceress, or amazon queen, or the object of the heroes affection.

Directed by Mario Bava

This superbly spooky bloody ballet of vengeance from beyond the grave is arguably the single greatest Italian horror picture of all time. Sumptuously photographed, this B/W bravura and baroque dark fairy tale about vampires and an ancient curse is the crowning achievement of director, Mario Bava. He is well known for his signature style of cinematic ambiance and his ingenuity in turning a few pennies into a million bucks. Bava would again explore vengeance from beyond the grave several more times in color including the opaque, sepulchral horror of BARON BLOOD (1972). The most esteemed name associated with Italian horror, he's also notable for introducing Barbara Steele to the world of Italiano del cinematografo di orrore.

Directed by Georges Franju

This controversial, yet classic French horror film has made a lasting impact on numerous filmmakers outside of Europe despite languishing in obscurity for decades before garnering respect and reverence from the critical cognoscenti. The plot about a mad doctor desperate to graft a new face for his disfigured daughter using beautiful female victims became the crux of more than a handful of similar horror pictures over the years including MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960), THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (1961), MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976) and FACELESS (1988). There are a healthy number of DVD releases of this film on the market.

Directed by Mario Bava

Black and white brilliance from Bava in this, the first noted example of a 'giallo', Italian murder mysteries that became all the rage throughout the 1970's. The lead character is even seen reading one of the pulpy suspense novels at the outset aboard a plane heading for Italy. With several scenes encapsulating Bava's signature air of omnipresent evil, other scenes contain a playful, almost Hitchcockian vibrance about them. Although unrelated to an American production bearing the same title in 1969, some of Bava's performers have small roles in the US picture.

Directed by Mario Bava

Bava returns with his first full on foray of fright in blood curdling color. This macabre compendium is one of the most successful versions of the anthology form. The original Italian version is told with a bit of tongue to cheek playfulness during its wraparound segments with Boris Karloff. While the stories themselves are downbeat affairs, the last scene reminds us that we're only watching a movie after all. The AIP version under the title BLACK SABBATH rearranged the placement of the episodes as well as turning one of them from a giallo with a sexual subtext into a ghost story. 'The Wurdulak' story is one of the best, most creepily artistic pieces of film Bava ever painted.

Directed by Mario Bava

The versatile Mario Bava's candy colored carnage finds him fully immersed in what was soon to become the signature conventions of the giallo style of horror thriller. This atmospheric terror tale stars Cameron Mitchell in a story about a faceless killer butchering fashion models and the search for a diary that contains the various vices committed in secrecy behind the walls of the house. Bava treads into territory he wouldn't fully embrace until the visceral explosion that was BAY OF BLOOD in 1971. For his '64 excursion, the murder set pieces take precedence alluding to the brutality to come.

Directed by Mario Bava

This science fiction horror movie borrows its ending from one of the more famous TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, but a scene from this picture was later lifted for use in Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979) as well. There's several sincerely spooky sequences and a prime aura of evil permeating Bava's space opera of terror. Outlandish costumes, fog enshrouded set pieces and vampiric, disembodied alien lifeforms possessing humans provides a creepy scenario for this curious piece of European fear from the far reaches of space.

Science fiction was particularly rare in Italian cinema and the chief proponent, the champion of the fantastic world of outer space adventure was Antonio Margheriti, a director who dabbled in many genres including horror. Some of his choice horror films were CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) and a remake of the former as WEB OF THE SPIDER (1971). The former is also considered his masterwork, but it draws its inspiration from Bava's MASK OF SATAN even down to procuring Barbara Steele in the lead. Margheriti was especially enamored with sci fi and his first film was SPACEMEN in 1960. Future futuristic endeavors included BATTLE OF THE WORLDS (1961), WILD, WILD PLANET and WAR OF THE PLANETS (both 1965). He later returned to sci fi with the sprawling star studded fantasy, TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE (1986).

Directed by Mario Bava

Yet another thickly atmospheric black fable of seethingly viscous ambiance successfully captured by the venerable director. The murderous spirit of a dead little girl looms large over a superstitious Carpathian village. A visiting doctor brings modern science with him and struggles to fathom the diabolical horror perpetrated by the pernicious ghost child. Bava brandishes all the Gothic trappings at his disposal creating the most phantasmogorically rich visual canvas since his debut, LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO and his Hercules in hell epic, HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961). Ghosts, occultism, talismans, violent death and the requisite atmosphere promise this to be one long horror set piece held together by a chilling score by Carlo Rustichelli bearing similarities to his score for Antonio Margheriti's THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964).

Directed by Harald Reinl

The Germans followed Bava into the Gothic arena of horror with this exemplary assimilation that defines the European style of oldeworld terror tales as well as incorporating elements from Poe's 'The Pit & the Pendulum' (the films German title). DR. SADISM not only benefits from some superb set pieces, but also with the participation of Christopher Lee as the cruel Count Regula. A vampiric sadist, he has returned from the dead to exact revenge on the descendants of his torturers and to complete his work in the search for eternal life through the blood of virgins, butchered at the height of terror. The 'Forest of the Dead' sequence is tantamount to the level of quality found in this German production that also features former Tarzan, Lex Barker.

Directed by Enrique Lopez Eguiluz

Famed Spanish icon, Paul Naschy, jump started the horror renaissance in Spain with a series of Gothically ghoulish pictures beginning with a tale of werewolfery; the first Polish lycanthrope, Waldemar Daninsky. Inspired by the Universal films of old and the blood red color of Hammer, Naschy's wolfman was a first in several ways including the first such film to feature a fang toothed fiend with an upper set of razor sharp chompers. Over a dozen Daninsky flicks followed as well as Naschy covering the spectrum of other supernatural personalities. Many of his films make little sense and are often on the mediocre side, but films in which he also directed show an adeptness and devout passion for the material.

Directed by Dario Argento

The man who came to be known as the Italian master of the giallo made his directorial debut with this European hit that borrows elements from the German 'Edgar Wallace' thrillers and the tone set by Mario Bava in previous pictures, most importantly, BLOOD & BLACK LACE (1964). There were a handful of giallos produced just prior to this one, but it was Argento's film that defined the style and modus operandi that dominated for nearly a decade. Argento became the leading proponent for these movies and continued to produce them throughout the 1980's up to today. PLUMAGE follows a writer who is witness to an attempted murder by a black gloved killer wearing a raincoat. With the police failing to find any leads, the novelist does some investigating of his own becoming the next target of the killer in the process. The ending mimics the finale of Bava's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963).

Directed by Amando de Ossorio

This oppressively eerie little spook show was the first in a popular quartet of innovative zombie pictures from Spain. The budgets may have gotten smaller with each succeeding entry, but there's no denying the infernal power of this Portugal lensed goosebumper with one of the great unsung horror movie scores that is guaranteed to make your skin crawl. Ossorio's blood drinking, sword swinging, dead horse riding knights of the living dead galloped across four official movies and put in appearances in a few other films for other directors. A hauntingly visual experience accentuated by unsettling sounds and the ominous chords of demonic chanting monks. One of the best examples of Euro horror.

Directed by Mario Bava

The auteur of atmosphere changed gears for this whodunit murder mystery laced with 13(!) gory deaths that precipitated the slasher onslaught nearly a decade later. Many movies had featured malicious plots over an inheritance, but none had delved so far into despotic depravity as Bava's ghoulishly violent spin on Agatha Christie's book, 'And Then There Were None'. The ending is both shocking and darkly comical in the most macabre way imaginable. Released under a myriad of titles such as CARNAGE (also the title of an Andy Milligan movie), TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE and BLOOD BATH (not the same as the Joel Reed anthology horror), it's not Bava's best, but will speak volumes to the grand guinol crowd of horror hounds.

Directed by Jorge Grau

Superb zombie spook show benefits from some alternately gloomy and gorgeous cinematography melded with extreme gore and arcane occurrences. There are subtle nods and blatantly borrowed motifs from Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD such as the resurrected corpses seen as flesh eating zombies. There's also a peculiar parallel between science and the supernatural. Generally the odd movie out among Euro epics, Grau's gore ghoulash is one of the best movies of its kind and undeserving of obscurity. The soundtrack by Giuliano Sorgini is bound to raise a goosebump, or two. Grau's movie was released under an array of aliases (LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE, ZOMBI 3), one of which became most popular among heavy metal bands including Rob Zombie.

Directed by Dario Argento

At this point, Argento's giallo's became emblazoned with increasingly spectacular scenes of violence. DEEP RED accentuates this with several excruciatingly shocking gore murders that ultimately became the pièce de résistance of the eccentric directors vast oeuvre. The killers calling card is a creepy and cackling doll that appears to have a life all its own. The giallo inspired SAW series utilizes a similar deadly doll like device. Another Argento stylized flourish are his complicated and sweeping camera set ups which are introduced here and are magnified in such films as SUSPIRIA (1977) and TENEBRE (1982).

18. SUSPIRIA 1977
Directed by Dario Argento

This is one of the directors most famous and most grimly violent pictures. The plot makes little sense dealing with a coven of witches hidden within a dancing academy in Munich. The main selling point here are the ferocious visuals executed in a gruelling schism of candy colored vibrance, nightmarishly gory images and dissonant, unnerving music blaring on the soundtrack. Arguably the most explicit expression of a dark fairy tale akin to what Mario Bava had been doing over a decade earlier. The unsettling score by popular Euro band, Goblin, is one of their signature works and led to many more endeavors in the horror genre.

19. ZOMBIE 1979
Directed by Lucio Fulci

Known as ZOMBI 2 in European markets, Fulci's film was an unauthorized sequel to Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD (titled ZOMBI in Italy), although it differed itself by centering on voodoo as the cause of the zombie outbreak. The widespread threat of a flesh eating apocalypse comes to fruition during the closing moments of the film. Prior to that, Fulci creates some of the scariest, most skillfully crafted scenes of horror on his distinguished resume. One could say this picture was just as influential (reportedly, it was more profitable than DAWN) as Romero's iconic portrait of a world gone mad. Fulci's is one of pure horror backed by a pounding, pulsing score and several stand out sequences of notoriously gory extravagance.

Directed by Ruggero Deodato

Few fans would disagree that this is the ultimate display of jungle savagery; a crash and burn of opposing "civilizations" summed up by Robert Kerman in the final scene of the film. Umberto Lenzi may have cooked up the first sampling of cannibalism in his violent jungle adventure-drama, MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972), but Deodato's film is the putrid pinnacle of cannibal cruelty. It's both a fantastic and forbiddingly unpleasant cinematic experience that will likely linger long after the film has finished. The damnation of man is told in such a way that the picture inevitably replicates the very cruelty it proclaims to dispel. Reprehensible, nauseating and repulsive are apt descriptions of Deodato's supreme cinematic representation of the dark side of man and his inadvertent brush with directorial suicide.

Directed by Lucio Fulci

The frequently misunderstood maestro of Euro splatter takes a crack at Lovecraftian lore married to Italian zombie conventions complimented by a generous helping of spectacular gore. There's only one shot of flesh being eaten, but the level of violence is extraordinarily sadistic here. Fulci perfectly captures a supreme aura of evil permeating the sleepy village of Dunwich. Even during the day, the level of pestilence is unmistakable. Arguably Fulci's ultimate depiction of the dead, numerous images penetrate the viewers brain resulting in a skin crawling, maggot infested experience boosted by several scenes of heart pounding surrealism and unmitigated vulgarity.

22. THE BEYOND 1981 aka L'ALDILA'
Directed by Lucio Fulci

The master of gore returns yet again for his third entry in his living dead quartet. Possibly the most ghoulishly artistic of his horror portraits, the film deals with a warlock painting a mural of hell. His brutal execution by persecuting villagers in the basement of a hotel becomes one of seven gateways to the devil's domain. Decades later, the hotel is reopened and the evil is summarily let loose on the world. Frequently incoherent, Fulci paints a visual feast of surrealism, existentialism and metaphysical terror that's highlighted by wildly creative gore set pieces including several instances of ocular mayhem. This is Lucio Fulci's bloody masterpiece.

23. DEMONS 1985 aka DEMONI
Directed by Lamberto Bava

This maddeningly fast paced, gore drenched bucket of bloody, buttered up popcorn is undoubtedly the most well known and popular film of Lamberto Bava, the son of acclaimed filmmaker, Mario. Future director, Michele Soavi, donning a metal mask, hands out free passes to a mysterious movie at the ominous multiplex, The Metropol. A devilish visage on a mask in the lobby provides the catalyst for the demonic plague, a terrible apocalypse that mirrors what unspools on the movie screen the patrons are watching. Irrefutably silly at times, Bava's movie retains a brutal, savage power backed by a blisteringly hellish heavy metal soundtrack. One of the best Italian horrors of the 1980's and innovative in that numerous other Euro horrors utilized metal music for their soundtracks, most famously in the succeeding works of Dario Argento, who acted as a producer here.

Directed by Michele Soavi

This was Soavi's first stab (haha) at a feature film. He previously helmed the auspicious documentary, DARIO ARGENTO'S WORLD OF HORROR (1986) and quickly became the most promising new talent for the future of horror cinema in Italy. Borrowing elements from the giallo and most obviously the slasher subgenre, Soavi created one of the best stalk and kill pictures at a time when such films had all but dried up. Despite bringing nothing new to the formula, the picture is saturated in bravura set pieces rife with razor sharp editing, mounting suspense and a gaggle of artistic flourishes. An insane madman has escaped and taken up residence within a theater after hours. The actors and actresses meet their doom in various gruesome ways at the hands of the psycho wearing a creepy owl mask. The well worn and brutally butchered slasher conventions are presented here in an unusually fresh, fright filled fashion.


Aaron said...

Especially happy to see EYES W/O A FACE and LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE on there. Nice to see Bava get a lot of props as well. There are some on there I haven't seen yet but am familiar with and plan on checking out soon, like STAGEFRIGHT. A great list overall, Brian!

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Excellent article Brian! A diverse and interesting range of films that tempers obvious inclusions with more obscure offerings. One of my favourite films from the period of German expressionism is Paul Leni's 'Waxworks', which would probably get my nod over 'Nosferatu', and I'd probably find a place for Dreyer's 'Vampyr' as well. All kudos to Mario Bava, and I was very happy to see 'Tombs of the Blind Dead' and Fulci's 'Zombi' amongst the number.

venoms5 said...

@ Aaron: Thanks, Aaron. STAGE FRIGHT is must see entertainment. It's as good, if not better than a lot of slashers produced during there prime. LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE was a curio to me from the early 80's. My mom bought me this large hardcover book called HORRORS: A HISTORY OF HORROR MOVIES. There was some pictures from the movie in there and it grabbed my attention for some reason or other. It might have been the title as it was listed there as BREAKFAST AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE. Needless, to say, I never got to see the film till AB released it some years back on VHS.

@ Shaun: Thank you, Shaun. I've not seen WAXWORKS, but chose NOSFERATU because of its significance and importance to the genre. VAMPYR I saw one time late at night when I was a kid. TOMBS is a huge childhood favorite. I saw it the first time on Elvira in the mid 80's. Not long after, I picked up that cut Paragon tape in the big, garish video box. ZOMBIE was my very first exposure to extreme Italian horror in 1984 aside from stuff like BLACK SUNDAY that would show up on Shock Theater on weekends.

Will Errickson said...

This is a fantastic piece and, as far as I can tell, pretty much complete! There are only a handful that I haven't seen, and I can't really quibble with the rankings either. I was glad to see Eyes without a Face so high up.

venoms5 said...

Hey, Will! I ranked them by year, but had I ranked by how rich and well made the picture was, EYES would definitely be up there at the top.

I actually struggled with including a couple others, but figured I'd leave it at 24 since the other list was 24. Thanks for stopping over!

Franco Macabro said...

Extremely awesome choices in here my friend! I still need to check out more Bava...Planet of the Vampires and I Vampiri being the two that I need to get my hands on. I'll get down to that as soon as possible!

LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE is so underrated, its almost criminal. Its such an effective zombie movie, its so different! And it has one of the first zombie baby scenes I had ever seen on any movie. I dont believe Id seen a zombie baby on any movie older than this one.

STAGEFRRIGHT is so freaking good, I feel bad that Soavi isnt making more horror movies, though I heard he was coming back with something..but nothings come of it. I still need to see the one he made called THE SECT, Im dying to check that one out. All his other films, including Stagefright, Cemetary Man and The Church are awesome!

By the way, I included the church in my 20 DEMONIC MOVIES blogpost!

R.A.M.'67 said...

Another great post, venoms5!

Which DVD version of Nosferatu do you have?

venoms5 said...

@ Fran: Yeah, THE CHURCH is pretty good in its unrated form. I just read your Demon Film article, by the way. Speaking of THE CHURCH, one of its aka's is DEMONS 3 then there's also the sort of official DEMONS 3: THE OGRE from Lamberto Bava. Media Blasters put that one out. I passed on it. Also, I think Lenzi's BLACK DEMONS also goes by the title DEMONS 3, lol. THE SECT is also called DEMONS 4. I forget what the hell Bava's DEMONS 5 really is, lol.

@ Fang: I got the 2 disc edition from Kino Video I think it is. Thanks for reading, buddy!

I Like Horror Movies said...

When paired with the previous list, I would say you have covered nearly everything! I was surprised to see Stagefright on there even though I love the film, but you nailed every other aspect of European Horror that I can think of. More great calls!

venoms5 said...

Hey, Carl! It being Soavi's first movie and the fact that it gave Italian horror another boost was reason enough for me to put it up there and that it took tired slasher conventions and made them seem fresh. Some of these were meant for the other list, but I figured it might be best to separate the two.

Dr. Sarcofiguy aka "John Dimes" said...

I loved the Cabinet of Caligari! The American, non-silent remake is pretty cool too. Stars Doug Jones, Abe Sapien of the Hellboy movies.

And I love all these old style movie posters! Miss all of that dramatic artistry!

venoms5 said...

You mean that one from the 90's I think it was? All I recall from it was a tongue on a wall or something like that. I just remember it being really bizarre, sort of hip version of the earlier films already quirky set design.

dfordoom said...

I would certainly have included at least one Jess Franco movie, probably Vampyros Lesbos. And at least one Jean Rollin movie, probably Fascination. But then I wouldn't have included any Fulci movies so our tastes may be very different!

Wostry Ferenc said...

I have to say (again), this is probably the best cult film related blog on the net. Having said that, you should do something about the design, B., right now it's butt ugly... :)

venoms5 said...

@ D: I've yet to see a Franco movie that I enjoyed, or was able to sit through in its entirety. I know he has a lot of fans, but I have been unable to grasp why. I'd say Jean Rollin is infinitely more talented, but his movies also put me to sleep. GRAPES OF DEATH was pretty good, though.

venoms5 said...

@ Wostry: I appreciate your enthusiasm immensely, Wostry! I'm looking into a new look as I am not satisfied with it, myself. I have a look already in mind, I'm just not sure how to go about it without paying someone to realize what I want. Hopefully it won't be too expensive.

dfordoom said...

V, Jess Franco is my favourite horror director. But then my preference is for the trippy surreal 1960s/1970s style of eurohorror. I start to lose interest in eurohorror once directors like Fulci come along.

But it's just personal preference. Lots of people love George Romero's movies but they just leave me cold.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for the update on all those Demons movies, I've gotta see them from part 3 onward, The Ogre, Black Demons and the rest.

The Church unrated is freaking awesome! I love some of the shots on that movie, so artistic and beautiful for a horror film. Thats what I loved about Soavi's horror movies, the elevated the horror film and mixed it with style and an artistic sensibility. The desire to make something truly beautiful to look at.

Nigel M said...

For me possible the most influential on the list there is Blood and Black Lace, even though it isnt the first giallo and it was argento that has been credited with popularising giallo- the conventions pretty much get laid out in Blood and Black Lace, making a greatest list may be a bit more problematic- could endlessly debate what are the greatest giallo, but there could be little doubt over what is the most influential - great list btw. Bava well represented as he should be

venoms5 said...

@ D: Yes, I've suspected your loyalty to Franco for some time now, D! Regardless of what I think of his movies, they are obviously popular somewhere or else he wouldn't have been able to direct several hundred of them.

@ Fran: You're not missing anything if you skip BLACK DEMONS from Lenzi, trust me! I bought it and it's one of a few DVD's I regret buying. The concept is good, but the execution is terrible. The gore is there, but everything else is just awful. Lenzi doesn't like it, either. You're right about THE CHURCH. There's some nice shots there that mimic the old style Italian horror.

@ Nigel: It would be hard to derive any list of European horror movies without having a Bava or two on there. I probably should put 'Non-British' in parenthesis between 'greatest' and 'European'. Thanks, Nigel, for stopping by and commenting!

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