(WARNING: This article contains a few minor spoilers for the films mentioned. You've been warned).
There are many factors in creating a good horror film. There's a need for mood and atmosphere and, of course, the need to be scary in some capacity — whether that means jump scares or psychological scarring. There are films that use images, sound and ideas in their expected ways, and then there's films that stretch and twist them into something much more. Here are just some of those films:
7. 'The Skin I Live In' / 'La Piel Que Habito' (2011)
OK, so not quite as "unique" as it is just absolutely stunning, The Skin I Live In, as described by it's director, #PedroAlmodóvar, is "a horror story without screams or frights." They are there, but in a different, much more disturbing way. The Skin I Live In is based on the book Tarantula (French: Mygale) by Thierry Jonquet.
The film stars #AntonioBanderas as a plastic surgeon who dedicates his time to creating an artificial skin that can withstand burns and stings after losing his wife in a fire. Elena Anaya is Zera, his guinea pig, whom he keeps locked away in isolation in his home. It is a twisted story of obsession and desire. I don't really want to go into much depth here as the film does such a perfect job of taking away its layers one by one until you are completely overcome with shock and emotion. I really don't think that's something that I should, or want to, deprive you of.
#TheSkinILiveIn is visually stunning like a Bond movie and oozes style that Don Draper would be proud of; the soundtrack is great and feels artistic — why are you even still here? Just go find it right now. Wait, no! Read the rest of this post and then go.
6. 'Antiviral' (2012)
David Cronenberg's knack for body horror seems to have rubbed off on his son, Brandon Cronenberg, whose debut feature is full of weird and macabre madness that is original and unique.
#Antiviral is a surrealist horror that comments on our ever-growing, celebrity-obsessed culture, as it offers us a glimpse into a dystopian future that terrifyingly doesn't seem all that far away. Caleb Landry Jones plays Syd March, an employee at a clinic who buys live viruses from celebrities and distributes them as injections to obsessed fans who want to be closer to their idols. The premise speaks directly to our generation and almost acts as a hideous warning.
Syd March is pale and freckly and #Cronenberg often isolates him against white backgrounds for effect. Along with the hallucinatory moments and dream sequences (like the one pictured above) Antiviral is a think-piece that will stay lingering in your mind.
5. 'Berberian Sound Studio' (2012)
Directed by Peter Strickland, this British homage to the Italian giallo films of the 1970s is set accordingly — in an Italian horror movie studio, in the '70s.
Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a mild-mannered British sound engineer who arrives in Italy to work on a film he knows little about. He soon comes to learn that it's an Italian giallo film. He is made to do Foley work — stabbing at vegetables to create increasingly gory sounds to the point it's uncomfortable for him and for the viewer. He is also tasked with having to mix sounds of the actresses screams as they are made to do them over and over again.
What makes #BerberianSoundStudio unique is this focus on sound and Foley work. It reverts back to Hitchcock's philosophy that the audience's imagination will always be more horrifying than anything that can be filmed. A lot in Berberian Sound Studio is implied and at often times makes no sense as things continue to get weirder and weirder, but that seems to be the point. It's psychological about a man's fear of descending into madness.
4. 'The Love Witch' (2016)
The Love Witch is a throwback to the campy horror films of the 1960s — filmed on 35mm and in Technicolor to give it that look and feel. Everything from the style of acting to the camera work is spot on. Honestly, if I hadn't known that this film was released last year, I'd be none the wiser (the film does, in fact, take place in the modern day).
Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a witch who uses potions and spells to make men fall in love with her. A twist on the serial killer genre, the film uses the "witch" as a representation or a metaphor for women in general, their ability to make men infatuated with them and our fears of them through a feminist perspective — something that its director, Anna Biller, also did with her comedy film Viva (along with a similar throwback style).
#TheLoveWitch isn't scary but a campy, sometimes psychedelic, chiller with a lot to say. It's visually bubbly and the contrast of the bright color palette against the dark subject matter works perfectly. It's over the top and at often times very darkly funny. Elaine's "give no f's" attitude is often on display, making it hard not to fall under this witch's spell.
3. 'Under The Skin' (2013)
Under the Skin is co-written and directed by Jonathan Glazer and loosely based on Michel Faber's 2000 novel of the same name. It centres around #ScarlettJohansson as a nameless alien being in human form as she drives around Scotland seducing men before she leaves them in a black abyss. We are given no explanation as to why this is or where she has come from.
The content acts as a metaphor to the power of lust and the way that we perceive beauty, also perhaps men's fear of women. It comments on our superficial views of beauty and Johansson as an outsider — somebody that we wouldn't accept who's trying to fit in. Johansson appears to be trying to make herself more and more human as we progress through things like eating cake and watching TV.
There's a lot that #UnderTheSkin is trying to say, and it does so in what is such a perfect marriage of images and sound. It's haunting, disturbing and very hypnotic. Under the Skin is an experience like no other.
2. 'Beyond The Black Rainbow' (2010)
Panos Cosmatos's directorial debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow can only be described as a trance film. The blue-hue cinematography and what Cosmatos described as "night mode" is like what I'd imagine having a fever-dream while high on acid would be like. Pertaining to its visuals, Cosmatos has mentioned 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Suspiria, Enter the Void, Begotten and Last Year In Marienbad as influences. Cosmatos stated that one of his goals was:
"To create a film that is a sort of imagining of an old film that doesn’t exist."
Set in 1983, the plot of the film will be too complicated to explain here — not because it's difficult to follow, more because it's just difficult to explain. It involves a new-age research facility dedicated to finding a reconciliation between science and spirituality. There's a girl with psychic capabilities, whom Nyle (the head of the facility) can suppress, using a giant, glowing, prismatic device. It is deliberately slow in its pacing, with Cosmatos wanting to create something "more dream-like and less story driven."
Along with the hypnotic score by Jeremy Schmidt of musical group Black Mountain, #BeyondTheBlackRainbow is a surrealistically horrifying and psychedelic experience that'll suck you into its utter madness and refuse to let go. That said, it isn't going to be for everybody, but check it out!
1. 'The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears' / 'L'étrange Couleur Des Larmes De Ton Corps' (2013)
This French #giallo film by husband and wife duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani is by far one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears follows Dan (Klaus Tange), an average business man who returns home to find that his wife has gone missing. He decides to go from apartment to apartment in an attempt to find her, and by doing so, encounters several people who share with him their own stories and secrets, all while trying to unravel the mystery of the whereabouts of his wife.
The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears uses a variety of visual styles for different sections of the film. I found myself rewinding several times just to watch some of them again. The film is Art Nouveau-esque in its colors and angles, filled with black and white jump-cuts galore, exploits color, and jumps from Hitchcockian to completely psychedelic.
The film is a narrative puzzle and will require your attention and your patience, but that shouldn't be too difficult as you'll just find yourself not wanting to look away. It's mysterious, horrific and at times confusing, but #TheStrangeColourOfYourBodysTears isn't a film that you're likely to forget.
Honorable Mention: 'Lulu' (1978)
Lulu is by far the most unique film on this list, but it isn't quite a thriller or horror, or is it? In fact, I'm not even quite sure how I would even attempt to categorize #Lulu. A dark drama, perhaps? By Ronald Chase and based on the 1930s opera by Alban Berg, this experimental and highly stylized movie seems to be almost non-existent online.
Lulu uses a mixture of elements such as silent film cards, soundscape, color and music from the opera to create this unparalleled atmosphere. It's a hugely unique experience and one that I can't quite explain. Lulu is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and I highly recommend giving it a look.
What are some other unique horror and thriller films? Let us know!