(Author's Note: The titles selected are on the basis of personal preference, and not debatable merit.)
5. Jurassic Park (1993)
The ambiguousness of the genre classification is the only thing that prevents this one from ranking higher, but I would submit it as the modern heir to Frankenstein – and far more frightening to me when I first saw it as a kid. Also compelled me to seek out the source novel, the first I ever read intended for adult audiences. To this day probably the cornerstone of what molecular biology literacy I might claim.
4. Macbeth (1971)
A prototype of the monster-as-protagonist that greatly informed the writing of Hemlock Grove. The two leads – Jon Finch and Francesa Anni – are so beautiful, and because the world is an unfair place so inherently sympathetic, that an added component to the tragedy is wanting to see them win. This was the first film Polanski made after his wife’s murder by the Manson family, and every frame bleeds with dread and heartbreak.
3. Lair of the White Worm (1988)
A not especially celebrated Bram Stoker adaptation, and fairly. Somewhere between genre satire and highly literal dramatization of Freudian theory: the climax consists of the attempted sacrifice of a nubile female to a huge albino phallus. But I found the total lack of delicacy or restraint of any kind charming (phalluses in this movie are like Catholic guilt in Scorsese’s), and the depiction of an aristocratic and predatorial female villain more than a little steal-able.
2. Dracula (1931)
An especially celebrated Bram Stoker adaptation, not altogether fairly. The movie itself dates terribly, and was not even the first: Murnau beat it to the punch, although not entirely legally. The staging, acting, and plotting are often creaky – the introduction of sound arguably setting the art of cinema back by decades – but there is an unquestionable charismatic weirdness to Lugosi’s performance; he did not speak English so had to learn his lines phonetically in an accidental if effective proto-Lynchian flourish. And Renfield as portrayed by Dwight Frye is certainly the most inspired thing in the movie, even causing some alarm to the more heteronormative tastes of the studio (generally a good sign).
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Polanski again; a cult victimizing a pregnant, 1960s gamine blond in this case eerie foreshadowing. In my memory this movie largely consisted of tight shots of Mia Farrow’s haunted paranoia, but was struck on most recent viewing to find that for the first two acts she is rarely in the center of the frame at all; more frequently in profile or at the periphery as the camera marginalizes her role as much as the conspirators in her building. It is only towards the end as her personal agency increases along with her isolation that we are confronted with her head on. Unlike the modern twist ending that tends to favor sensationalism at the expense of narrative logic, knowing exactly what’s coming doesn’t diminish the pleasure of arrival.
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