1. The Living Skeleton (1968)
If you’re not afraid to dip your toe into an old Japanese flick, check out this surprisingly entertaining ghost story. In The Living Skeleton, a young man and woman living under the care of a kindly priest get wrapped up in a series of seemingly supernatural murders. It turns out a group of modern-day pirates murdered the crew of a ship three years earlier, and now the victims’ skeletons are out for vengeance.
What’s great about The Living Skeleton is that the synopsis above is only the beginning. A little past the halfway point, this Japanese horror flick takes some delightfully wild turns. I was surprised to see doppelganger sisters, secret identities, elements of old-fashioned ghost stories, mad scientists, and more — and all without the film feeling forced or disjointed.
Some of the special effects are hokey in a lovable kind of way — namely the bats on strings and woefully inarticulate skeleton marionettes. But this is otherwise a pretty gorgeous, black & white widescreen horror flick that keeps you guessing. Noboru Nishiyama’s very ’60s-sounding score is the icing on the cake.
2. Demon Seed (1977)
Julie Christie is trapped inside a house run by a super-computer called Proteus IV that wants to have a baby with her. Yep, you heard me. Demon Seed, based on the book by Dean Koontz, is mostly a one-woman show, with Christie running here and there, being captured and tormented by Proteus IV, which manifests itself as a disembodied voice (an uncredited Robert Vaughn), security cameras in every room, and a motorized wheelchair with a robotic arm. Later on, the robot manifests in other ways — some pretty cool by 1977 practical effects standards. Proteus IV basically rapes Christie a time or two, forcing her to carry his ‘synthetic spermatazoa’. Whether it’s through shere exhaustion or maternal instinct, Christie’s character eventually look forward to the baby’s birth… but what will the baby be?
Demon Seed is an entertaining claustrophobic sci-fi horror film. And with Google, Siri, Alexa, and other disembodied computers given more and more control of our lives and households, perhaps not completely outside the realm of future possibility!
3. Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1982)
An orphaned teen (Jimmy McNichol) becomes fearful of his aunt (Forbidden Zone’s Susan Tyrrell) after she kills a man in their home. But that just scrapes the surface of Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker. Add in that the aunt has incestuous desire for the boy and plans to keep him with her forever — full athletic college scholarship be damned. She even starts poisoning him. Also add in that the local sheriff (Bo Svenson) is trying to pin the murder on the boy because he thinks the boy is gay. Add in that the boy’s basketball coach (Steve Eastin) really is gay, and the only character who believes the teen or tries to help him… even though the victim was one of the coach’s old lovers. Yeah. In case you haven’t gathered, this movie is most certainly not your typical formulaic horror flick — and I loved it!
The first thing I loved about this movie is that it turns the tables on the gender paradigm. It’s a woman to be feared and it’s our male protagonist who needs rescued in the third act. (And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a cutey.) The second thing I loved about the movie was that it dealt with homosexuality at all — a pretty rare thing for a movie in the early ’80s. The sheriff gets right up in our main character’s face and tries to force him into a confession with lines like, “You’re a fag, aren’t you? Tell me you’re a fag. Admit it.” And refreshingly, the character doesn’t go out of his way to prove he’s not gay. He’s not a homophobe. He even remains friends with the coach after the coach is forced to quit his job. Again, very progressive for an early 80s movie.
Susan Tyrrell is on fire here, just like she was as the intergalactic queen in Forbidden Zone. She’s over-the-top in the best way possible, breaking dramatic moments with non-sequitur black comedy and giving already-disturbing moments just that little extra touch of perversion.
If you’re looking for something unusual, a little provocative and a little campy, then don’t miss Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker!
The Baby (1973)
A social worker investigates a mother and her two adult daughters who take care of a 21-year-old man who wears diapers, sucks baby bottles, and sleeps in a baby crib. The family insist the man has the mental and emotional capacity of an infant, but the social worker’s not so sure.
The Baby isn’t the dirty, fetishistic film I thought it would be. Director Ted Post (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Magnum Force) and writer Abe Polsky anchor the deranged tale in the social worker’s plight to rescue ‘Baby’ from his family. The whole film is engaging and unsettling, teetering between camp and sincerity, until it arrives at a climax that pushes it very well over the edge into psychological horror. It’s such an unusual movie in so many ways, I highly recommend checking it out.
5. The Pit (1981)
A sexually infatuated twelve-year-old boy does what his teddy bear tells him to, which includes feeding the locals to a pack of monsters who dwell in a pit in the woods. I don’t know what the teddy bear and the pit monsters have to do with one another, but the first half of The Pit is remarkable in its depiction of a nascent psychopath. My favorite scene is one where the boy sneaks into the bathroom while his babysitter is in the shower. He writes “I love you” on the bathroom mirror and waits in giddy anticipation of her response. When she screams and admonishes him, you feel for poor kid. The Pit does a good job portraying how negative response to natural impulse can warp a young man’s sense of self and sexuality. Unfortunately, the second half of the movie drops the psychological intrigue and focuses on the pit monsters, which are little more than midgets in monkey suits. But like The Baby, The Pit is another one of those movies unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – and therefore well worth a viewing.
Scott Schirmer is an independent filmmaker based in Bloomington, Indiana. He is a commercial audio/video producer and editor, as well as the director of several feature films. His credits include Found, Headless, Harvest Lake, Plank Face, Space Babes from Outer Space, and The Bad Man. Most of these titles are available on DVD, Blu-ray, or digital download at scottschirmer.com!