Deja Viscera: Oscar Worthy Horror
Every month, Marcus Irving and Ryan Horner offer up six picks for horror fans, that are a little off the beaten path, in Deja Viscera. This month they focus on the Oscars. These six horror films should not only have been in the conversation for several categories — indeed, some of these were nominated in a handful of categories — but they should have each been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Seven (1995) d. David Fincher
It all changed for me the night I first saw Seven. It fostered the first signs of a morbid fascination in serial killers, and it’s the entire reason I fell in love with cinema. David Fincher elevates a little procedural about two detectives attempting to track down a serial killer into a meticulous trudge through hell. Yet, while its legacy would imply an overt brutality, the film’s violence is mostly handled off camera, since Fincher is far more concerned with the ripple effect inherent to acts of violence than the actions themselves. He ushers us into a world laced with a nauseous and tyrannical vacancy that steadily chips away at its inhabitants. In many ways, it is a slow burn through a malevolent haunted house, but instead of a building it’s a whole damn city. Seven is not a thriller fixated on “whodunit.” It’s a horror about the ever-looming hand of depravity and its quiet inevitability. Fincher understands the reasons we pine for tragedy. We don’t enter tragedy as a frame of caution or to avoid chaos — rather, to celebrate its necessity. From the somber pacing, the masterful script, to the dread filled atmosphere, this is a masterwork in every sense of the word. Nominated for only Best Film Editing, Seven was vastly underrepresented at the Academy Awards.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) d. Guillermo del Toro
I swear to you, magic does exist. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo del Toro, lover of monsters and friend to ghosts, is a wonder and a master of the craft; he probably loves telling stories more than anyone. This one, out of all the movies I considered, is the most aggravating. I know it won technical awards, but it should have been a sure thing for, at least, a best picture nomination. It’s a ferocious and sorrowful war story. It’s an escape into a world of horrific and fantastical creatures. It’s a solemn examination of cruelty as well as a testament to goodness. These two universes are alien to each other, yet intricately sewn together with a macabre thread. It’s a brutal and despairing thing that, while it isn’t necessarily for kids, it's about their innocence and their place in a warring land. Pan’s Labyrinth recognizes that there are monsters in the floorboards, and they will come for you, but goodness prevails. It might not happen the way we want and it always comes with a price, but if you can stare into the face of evil and walk away still yourself — it loses all power. Thank you, Guillermo del Toro, for making me believe in magic again.
Under the Skin (2013) d. Jonathan Glazer
Under the Skin is one of the most challenging and important films to come out of the 21st century and it was nominated for...nothing? It’s unlike anything I’ve seen. You can draw comparisons: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Field in England, and Antichrist come to mind — but Under the Skin is something wholly original, where isolation and empathy intertwine into a surrealist horrorscape. Though, there’s poetry to Jonathan Glazer’s masterpiece, something that yearns to be unpacked as it flows between the real and unreal. It follows a woman (Scarlett Johansson) or, rather, the body of a woman that is occupied by something extraterrestrial. The body snatcher uses its newfound sex appeal to prey on the men of Glasgow, Scotland; however, the more it consumes, the more humanlike it becomes. It haunts the world, an eidolon of our deep seeded insecurities, hypnotically framed with grace and disassociation. It seems Glazer wants to frustrate. In the end, it’s about what all art is about: what it is to be a human being. Under the Skin is, at once, a roaring symphony and a decrepit poem that has hidden in the recesses of our bodies for far too long.
- Ryan Horner
Carrie (1976) d. Brian De Palma
Stephen King adaptations have run the gamut all the way from legitimate masterworks to unwatchable trash. Brian De Palma's 1976 film is definitely the former. The bleaker than bleak tale of an abused teenage girl who gains supernatural powers earned Piper Laurie her second Oscar nomination and Sissy Spacek her first of six (six!) Best Actress nominations, but should have gone all the way to Best Picture.
At school, the shy Carrie White (Spacek) is bullied and at home she is verbally and physically abused by her religious fanatic, single mother (Laurie). She is screamed at, beaten, and locked away under the stairs. As the punishments worsen, Carrie starts to notice that she is controlling things with her mind. These small acts of telekinetic power seem trivial at first, mostly glass breaking, but they eventually lead to something greater. The film's major set piece, where Carrie unlocks her true power after being embarrassed in front of the whole school, the blood-soaked and fiery prom scene, is among the most memorable in all film.
An American Werewolf in London (1981) d. John Landis
John Landis's 1981 creature feature is famous for one thing, the transformation scene. The masterful work of legendary makeup artist Rick Baker is put on beautiful display in the near three-minute scene in which our hero, David (David Naughton), first turns into an intimidating, hideous beast. It's gruesome to watch and years ahead of its time, some would say it still hasn't been matched. The effect actually did lead to Baker getting his first of seven Oscars, but the film was unrepresented in any of the other categories.
An American Werewolf in London ends up perfectly walking the line between horror and comedy with scenes that are actually scary and actually funny, often at the same time. The final cut to credits is sublime, maybe the most exhilarating in all of film history. When the Marcels' catchy "Bom ba ba bom" from Blue Moon starts playing, chills fly down your spine just before you realize how silly it is and you laugh, a perfect reflection of the experience you just had. We can also be thankful that they left this near perfect monster movie alone without ever making a sequel and that there isn't a remake in the works...oh, wait.
28 Days Later (2002) d. Danny Boyle
The modern idea of what a zombie is was established over thirty years before the release of 28 Days Later. It took more than thirty years to make them as terrifying as they were when they were first introduced in Night of the Living Dead. Instead of the lumbering, simple-minded creatures we'd already become accustomed to, these former humans could sprint. It's a simple change, but one that ended up revitalizing the whole subgenre.
Cillian Murphy wakes up from a coma and the entire city of London is seemingly deserted. It's the movie's single most famous scene, and for good reason. Several of London's famous sights are shown completely empty of people. The entirely CGI-free effect is impressive and chilling. Even before you've met the zombies you're put into an unnerved state, and once they show up it's nearly constant terror for the rest of the runtime. Director Danny Boyle is no stranger to the Oscars with three nominations including one win for Slumdog Millionaire, but his classic zombie flick went completely unnoticed by all but smaller genre award givers, and that's a shame.