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Under the Radar - Films (1)

10/15/11 10:46pm
tl;dr

There are movies that cover all sorts of genres. Whether it is an intense action movie, an entertaining comedy, a suspenseful drama, or even a disturbing horror film, there usually is something for everyone. But there are some good films that you may not have seen or even heard much about. This is a short but detailed list of some.

#1. Suspiria (1977)

#2. Santa Sangre (1989)

#3. The Orphanage (2007)

Since the beginning of the century, films as a whole have made an impact and connection with the general public. They can be in the form of entertainment, of investigative study, or even just of visual art. In order to appeal to a large amount of people, it is necessary to have a large variety of genres so that various audiences can be targeted. These genres can range from all sorts of categories: action films, art house films, crime dramas, horror films, romantic comedies, and numerous others.

The following list consists of a few films which I personally feel are under the radar to modern culture. I am not saying any of these movies are necessarily excellent (though I do consider them all to be good movies), just that they are likely not universally heard of. They are probably worth a watch if you're a big fan of film and are into the specific genre. Some of the examples do involve some horror aspects, so I will warn you when those appear.

#1. Suspiria

Suspiria is an Italian film which was directed by Dario Argento and produced by Claudio Argento. It was initially released on 1977. The movie is one of many similar films at the time which was referred to as a giallo. The term giallo refers to an Italian genre of film which became popular during the late twentieth century, with the word itself relating to crime fiction and mystery. Giallos were often presented as mystery films, with added horror and artistic elements. One of the more popular foreign directors for this sub-genre was Dario Argento, whose other films include The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red.

This particular film is one of his better artistic works in my opinion. The story follows a young American woman who has recently traveled to Germany in order to learn at a popular dance academy, where most of the movie takes place. The main plot is that over the course of the first week, a series of somewhat supernatural events begin to develop which is initiated with a rather brutal off-campus murder of an ex-student at the beginning of the film. Although the film does feature violence during a few rare moments, it isn't really that realistic at all, so viewers who are worried about violence shouldn't be too concerned.

What really stands out about the movie is its artistic presentation. Dario Argento provides a significant amount of attention to his cinematic sequences. He utilizes some very impressive sets which contain a variety of classical art design. There is also some very beautiful lighting used in several of the night scenes, giving parts of the film a very colorful presentation. The soundtrack in particular is very impressive, containing a nice variety of instrumentals which were composed by the Italian band Goblin. When the film does become more serious, the scenes involving witchcraft are actually somewhat suspenseful, despite sometimes suffering from horror clichés.

#2. Santa Sangre

Santa Sangre is a Mexican surrealist horror film which was released on 1989. It was directed by Alejandro Jordowsky with assistance in writing from Claudio Argento and Roberto Leoni. The plot is rather expansive, covering a large amount of different topics and at times combining elements of multiple genres. Due to the film's long length and rather large story, I'll let the below trailer give you an idea of how the film is presented.

The movie follows the life of a circus boy named Fenix. It is split into several main parts, being both a flashback and flash-forward. The film begins with a brief prologue of him in the present before spending the remainder of the first half exploring the child's past. This portion of the film consists largely of circus imagery with infrequent presentations of grief.  The second half of the film returns to the present and follows the future of the boy, who is now a young man. This half of the film plays like an artistic horror film. There is a character study which also involves a developing murder plot, and the film becomes much darker during these parts.

What is very interesting yet simultaneously bizarre about this particular film is how it covers a lot of different genres and topics. While the most appearing genre is that of horror (though usually more of in a psychological sense), there are different sequences which contain moments of wonder, segments of circus presentation, explorations of grief, romance, excitement, and even some appearing sexual themes in a few parts. It's a very good example of a movie which manages to not only be entertaining, but also simultaneously suspenseful, wondrous, and even horrific at times.

A note to squeamish viewers, this is actually a pretty violent film during certain scenes, and there are several sexual moments that appear as well. However, it's also very much like an art house film, and it never really gets scary to the point where you would be too afraid to watch the rest. It probably isn't for most children though; the film was initially rated NC-17 before later being edited for an R rating release.

#3. The Orphanage

The Orphanage is a Spanish horror film which was released on 2007. The movie was directed J.A. Bayona, and was produced by multiple people including Guillermo del Toro, who directed a very famous and interesting film known as Pan's Labyrinth.  Despite being a horror movie, much of the fear in The Orphanage is based on suspense mixed with developing supernatural elements, and only a few sequences of actual physical violence ever appear.

The story of The Orphanage focuses on a small family (with the mother named Laura as the focus character) who has recently moved into a house, which used to be an orphanage where the mother briefly lived at when she was younger. The advancement of the plot begins with a somewhat unsettling development of the son's lifestyle at the new home, the son being a young imaginative person named Simón. After a small series of events which occurs early on in the film, the film starts to add some supernatural elements, which without spoiling too much, are actually pretty suspenseful and very interesting to the film.

What makes The Orphanage an excellent example of how to do a horror film is its great use of suspense. Unlike physical horror movies like slashers or "torture porn" films (such as Hostel and Saw), The Orphanage focuses more on the fear of the unknown and what you can't see as opposed to what you can. There is a notable lack of cheap jump scares, and the use of physical violence is kept to a minimum (there is a great deal of intensity however). Footsteps and other noises which are heard but not seen, encounters with spirits which are frequently mysterious and at times creepy, and subtle movements of random objects make the film an effective example of good psychological horror. In addition, the cinematography is well done and the developing plot is presented in an interesting and intriguing manner.

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