Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller
A young girl, Regan (Blair), raised by her single mother, Chris (Burstyn), plays with a Ouija board. Not long after, Chris sees dramatic, inexplicable, terrifying changes in her once innocent daughter. Exhausting all other resources, Chris eventually turns to Father Damien (Miller), a priest and doctor working through spiritual doubt in his own life. Finding Regan to be possessed, Father Damien and a more experienced priest, Father Merrin (Von Sydow) set about her exorcism. An early standard bearer of the genre, many of its tactics have been borrowed across dozens of horror flicks, but rarely used as effectively as they are here. The Exorcist, aside from being genuinely thrilling and affecting, is an impeccably made film. From pacing to acting to its notorious special effects, the film remains an impressive horror classic. Beyond the evil and the fear of demons, the film is rooted in the horror of watching these terrible things happen to a little girl, and watching a loving mother at a loss to help her daughter.
Starring Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal, Margarita Lozano, Lola Gaos
Subversive drama about an aspiring nun, Viridiana, on a final familial visit before she takes her vows. A tragedy follows, and Viridiana responds by becoming nearly a saint figure. She takes in a group of vagrants, as her proud and handsome cousin moves in. Subtly transgressive, striking in its imagery (the beautiful Pinal, the repulsive vagrants), provocative, funny, bleak. There’s much left to interpretation, but this was the first Buñuel film that’s iconoclastic imagery mixed with what I found to be a compelling narrative.
Starring Claudio Brook, Silvia Pinal, Enrique Álvarez Félix
The least inflammatory of Bunuel’s trilogy, Simon of the Desert follows Viridiana (1961) and The Exterminating Angel (1962) in its illusory approach to religious themes. In this one, a devout figure named Simon spends his days and nights atop a pillar in the desert besieged by onlookers and frequent visits from Satan, here in the form of an attractive woman. Bunuel, an acclaimed surrealist, uses the premise for a series of unspectacular imagery to my mind. The proceedings, while mercifully short, are too austere and uninspired. There’s no new approach to the material. It mostly symbols we’ve seen before. That is, until the ending, which I won’t ruin, but salvages the film to a degree with its strangeness.
Voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Tony Jay, Jason Alexander, David Ogden Stiers
Victor Hugo’s classic novel about hypocrisy, lust, sin, guilt, good versus evil, superficiality, mob mentality, and God makes for odd source material for an animated Disney flick. Quasimoto, born deformed and orphaned by the cruel Judge Claude Frollo, lives atop the famed Parisian cathedral, out of sight of fellow Parisians, but not left out of rumors. He, along with two other men-Captain Phoebus and Frollo-fall in love with a travelling Gypsy, Esmerelda, and the plot is set in motion that leads to Disney’s most thematic film ever. Naturally there had to be many changes and compromises from the original text, but Disney’s Hunchback remains remarkably dark; a powerful film with great music from Alan Menken and beautiful traditional animation.
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Franka Potente, Simon McBurney
Ed and Lorraine Warren return to help a working class British family against a real or created demonic presence, mid ’70s. Not as surprising or inspired as its predecessor, this horror sequel nonetheless delivers on thrills and expert filmmaking, from the acting to the careful pacing or the modest use of jump scares; it’s all very well-executed.
Starring Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, and Jean Simmons
A group of nuns led by the young sister superior, Clodagh (Kerr), set up camp in the Himalayas and find the locale has a strange effect on them. Seen by some as a reflection of Britain’s relationship with colonized India, this glorious technicolor masterpiece with incredible set designs and subtly passionate performances is among the directing duo’s best.