Possession (1981); Andrzej Zulawski, director
Oh, if only I was writing this column a few months back, when I could’ve been certain that you haven’t seen this movie!
I swear I was hip to this movie before it had its recent celebrated run at New York’s Film Forum, where it was quickly dubbed “this year’s Hausu.” (Proof! I wrote about it on my blog close to six years ago! My cred is revived!)
It’s pretty impossible to describe what this movie is “about,” but I can tell you it involves a beautiful Isabelle Adjani, Satanic possession, bodily secretions, yelling, weird sex, more yelling, unmotivated camera moves and lots and lots of yelling. It is one of those “you have to see it to believe it” type things that isn’t quite what I would label a “good movie,” but has too much mastery of the craft (camerawork, music, performance, makeup effects) to ever be labeled shlock.
If you like having your mind blown, please, put this one at the top of your list.
Jigoku (1960); Nobuo Nakagawa, director
It’s amazing to think that this movie was made in 1960. In Hollywood, people were freaking out about Pyscho, a masterpiece to be sure, but for shocking imagery, let’s just say you can always count on the Japanese to kick it up a notch.
A simple morality tale of a man overcome with guilt for an accidental killing, what puts Jigoku on the map is an extended section of the film where our lead characters are tormented in a disturbing, violent vision of Hell’s eternal punishment.
Jigoku has been remade three times, but I can only vouch for the original.
Deconstructing Harry (1997); Woody Allen, director
All right, all right. . .this one is a stretch. But hear me out.
First of all, Deconstructing Harry is brilliant – one of Woody Allen’s best and one of the finest movies about how the artistic process can destroy lives. It arrived dead center in a dull patch in Woody’s career and I’m worried that this one is getting swept under the rug of time.
Deconstructing Harry’s loose structure of weaving in and out of fantasy and stories-within-a-story enabled Woody to work in material he’d been holding on to for quite some time. The “hell sequence” (embedded above) was actually something he initially wanted to put into Annie Hall but it and additional animation got cut for budget reasons.
So, okay, this vision of Satan is just six minutes of the movie, but also take a look at one of the “real” scenes like this one between Woody and Judy Davis and tell me other demons aren’t at play.
The Ninth Gate (1999); Roman Polanski, director
Let’s bring this home with another controversial pick. Yeah, maybe this isn’t one that too many people haven’t heard of, but I can safely say it is one that people don’t think about anymore. I think it’s time this one got a second look.
The Ninth Gate was always doomed to suffer comparisons to Roman Polanski’s early devil masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby. Another earlier film, the strange and witty The Tenant, doesn’t deal with the Dark Lord himself, but does involve possession, visions and things that go bump in the night. The Ninth Gate doesn’t come near these two milestones, but it is still a great, tense demon-hunting thriller with some whacked-out supernatural crap that really knocks it out of the park in the third act.
The Ninth Gate is also important because, in my opinion, it is one of the last good Johnny Depp performances that plays it straight. He followed this up with the entertaining Sleepy Hollow which is where the raised-eyebrow kooky Depp really started to break through. After that it was mostly stylized characterization or deep chameleon stuff – this was, in my opinion, the last worthwhile picture where Depp played a leading man.
Okay, I know I left off a lot of really good ones – please lay into me in the comments below.
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