Surrealism is all-but considered a lost art when it comes to horror movies. Italian horror was known for it, particularly, in the giallos. But for the most part that has disappeared. Italian horror fizzled out in the 1990’s and never really recovered. Without the Italian maestros or directors like Kubrick and Cronenberg working within the genre anymore, it seems almost obvious that a hope of resurgence for this kind of cinema is all but lost.
Luckily, there are some amazing directors working within the independent horror field and this is where the hope for surrealism thrives. They don’t always have huge budgets, but these indie directors have something to say and that’s what keeps this kind of film alive. It always comes down to imagination and drive.
It pays off, too. In recent years that have been numerous features that rely heavily on surrealism, but don’t talk down to their audience. They have more questions than answers and let the viewer make up their own mind about what they’ve just seen when all is said and done.
The Lords of Salem
All of Rob Zombie’s films are polarizing to some degree, but The Lords of Salem has very few people on its side. Personally, I think it’s one of the best things he’s done. It feels the least like a Rob Zombie movie, the dialogue is much more toned down because he’s doing something very diferent from anything he had done before—which is something he should be applauded instead of condemned for, no matter how people feel about the end result. To me, that result may not be Kubrick or Polanski, but it’s a pure return to Lucio Fulci in the best way.
On a plot level, Beyond the Black Rainbow has an interesting concept that is dealt with rather slowly and kind of lags in the middle. But on a visual level, it’s spectacular. The color palette echoes back to Argento at his peak with cinematography very conscious of Kubrick’s form and style. The incredible score only aids and enhances the surrealism.
Starry Eyes is somewhat a body horror film, focusing on what the industry does to aspiring actors, both inside and out. It’s a strange but extremely effective movie and the lead performance by Alex Essoe is incredible. This is a very, very recent entry on the list but definitely should not be missed.
High Tension may have been released over a decade ago, but it is still within the twenty-first century and its twist made several of these movies possible. Most people hate it for its ending, even people who loved everything about it up until that point. The ending is what proves it to be a work of surrealist horror, though. It’s told entirely from her perspective, which we get right at the beginning. It’s clearly not reality, it’s her own version of events and is one of the rare cases of an unreliable narrator portrayed effectively on the screen.
The remake of Maniac is excellent. While the first got us inside the character’s head and portrayed his psychosis well, the remake shows the entire story from his point of view. This makes for an interesting movie overall, but it’s particularly interesting when Frank begins to have delusions or flashbacks to his mother and his past while he’s out walking around.
This movie is an interesting one for several different reasons. Most surrealist horror relies on an unusual visual element, but Berberian Sound Studio—as the title suggests—is reliant almost entirely on sound. This is not to say that it does not contain some interesting cinematography, but it is very much about the importance of sound in horror which is something that definitely needs to be focused on more often.