Society is as sticky and schlocky as they come, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Aside from some gruesome body horror that rivals the great David Cronenberg, a probing commentary on capitalism and class divide remains the format’s first of its kind. In this 1989 release, the practical effects are an obvious nod to the film’s respective decade, a continuation of more celebrated performances such as The Thing and An American Werewolf in London.
Other than the technical sorcery in the gore department, Yuzna’s methodical building of a conspiracy in Society is their most compelling feature. As the life of rich kid Bill Whitney unfolds, panic slowly sets in as he uncovers a dark secret in his family, sending him on a morbidly curious mission to discover the truth. As LA movies go, this is a uniquely satirical affair, filled with thick farce and silly dialog before it turns Rosemary’s Baby. Society is certainly one of the most overlooked cult films. Though it may be hyper-stylized, there’s nothing else like it.
Get Out (2017)
Get Out is perhaps Jordan Peele’s most original take on the subgenre in years, fusing a traditionally white premise with a black perspective. An indictment of white supremacy and a study of America’s odious history, Peele’s film shook the industry as the first of its kind, tearing down the whitewashed foundations and creating something entirely new.
Get Out works as a brilliant subversion of orthodoxy, flipping the picket-fenced orthodoxy of the average conspiracy horror onto its head. Daniel Kaluuya’s central performance will go down as one of the great, iconic turning points in the history of black characters. When you realize he’s English, his American accent is certainly one of the best in the business. Peele adds a biting social commentary to Kaluuya’s sincerity, making for an energizing combination of horror and hilarity. Even the equally wealthy Knives Out family was a piece of work, but they paled in comparison to the unrepentant Armitages.
The House of the Devil (2009)
With modern classics like Drive, The Guest, or even the John Wick franchise, the decade of the 2010s saw a booming revival of retro filmmaking, but The House of the Devil, from 2009, seemed to have ignited the trend. A simple, slow-burn plot, intricate slow-zooms, and synth music carried Ti West’s 80s homage like few others have in a long time. West’s film takes us on a creepy nostalgia trip before plunging into a no-holds-barred ending. With its use of the jarring technique, The Exorcist is one of the few films to compete with flash imagery.
Samantha, a college student who takes a job babysitting in the middle of a lunar eclipse, becomes paranoid as she uncovers heinous truths about the family who hired her, revealing a world she never imagined existed.
With equally engaging performances from Jocelin Donahue and Tom Noonan, as well as an early standout display from actor/director Greta Gerwig, The House of the Devil is a 16mm time capsule of heartfelt craft. Additionally, it’s one of the best modern films to demonstrate how mobile phones, as painful as it is to admit, have somewhat ruined suspense in contemporary horror.
The Possessed (1965)
French actor Franco Rossellini (nephew of Roberto) directs an Italian composer Renzo Rossellini scores The Possessed, an exquisite pre-giallo horror movie from Italian royalty that’s somehow been pushed to the sidelines. Its crisp, black-and-white photography is a feast for the eyes, and the dynamic camera movements evoke Federico Fellini’s acclaimed back catalog. Despite an apparently innocuous lakeside town becoming a high-suspicious countryside, the neighborhood is inhabited by a depressed man obsessed with the apparent suicide of a woman he once romanced.
The Possessed is regarded as a precursor to the Giallo genre in many ways. Considering Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood’s gloomy lakeside aesthetic and chilly, autumnal atmosphere, there’s a good chance it was influenced by it. Neorealism is a cornerstone of cinema that is often manipulated into a more genre-centric form, and Rossellini is no exception. The Possessed stands out as the epitome of conspiracy horror thanks to co-director Luigi Bazzoni. Intriguing noir-style exploration of gnawing paranoia.
Kill List (2011)
As gnarly as they come, Ben Wheatley’s cult horror classic contains details about on-screen injuries that are beyond what many censors would deem acceptable. S. Craig Zahler’s notoriously gory western Bone Tomahawk is one of the few modern-day genre films that can match this level of unflinching barbarism, but even it lacks the sense of sadistic intent. It begins as a simple British crime story, then abruptly turns the tables when we least expect it.
Wheatley’s love for conspiracy is evident here, as an insidious plot emerges as the rabbit hole deepens. An exploitation extravaganza morphs from a straightforward romp between two allied hitmen, beginning as a character drama. In spite of its estimated budget of $800,000, Wheatley made magic happen on this one, with his wife and co-writer Amy Jump helping to see it to the bitter end. Few British films have reached this level of graphic content to date. You can’t forget the images on display here, no matter how hard you try.