From the Spanish horror classic that inspired Dario Argenta’s ‘Susperia’ to Tobe Hooper’s undisputed chainsaw champion, here is another Halloween flick fix.
October is here once again, which means all things spooky, creepy, and outright horrifying are currently making their way into the homes of millions of people – through their screens, of course. All Halloween aficionados know that this is the month where we attempt to watch as many horror movies as we can, marathoning as much blood and guts as anyone might be able to stand (or delight in). It may as well be a sacred tradition.
In that spirit, Knotfest has called on our very own Ryan J. Downey as well as resident film critic Nicolás Delgadillo to put together two individual lists of vital Halloween horror picks for every day of the month. The wide variety of macabre favorites range from classics to more obscure cult films and feature zombies, demons, serial killers, vampires, and monsters of all kinds from all different eras.
Today’s picks feature an abusive boarding school and a family of cannibals, and while the two may seem like they couldn’t be any more different, both reveal themselves to have some gruesome similarities in a way.
‘The House That Screamed’ (1969) Directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Enough kinky suggestiveness for Elvira? Sure.
This 1969 Spanish horror film, alternately released as The House That Screamed, The Finishing School, The Boarding School, and La residencia, is available on Tubi (and on DVD) as part of an episode of Elvira’s Movie Macabre, complete with the requisite quips from the Mistress of the Dark where commercial breaks would have been. But while I recommend this version in the absence of a DVD (the copies on YouTube and even Amazon Prime are much lower quality), The House That Screamed is leaps and bounds above the schlocky b-movie fare associated with the grand tradition of late night horror hosts.
Set in a 19th Century French boarding school for girls (as old as 21), director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador lays on the gothic atmosphere with a taught tale more rewarding for its use of the horrors of institutionalized cruelty than the more traditional horror story on its surface. Undeniably, there’s some sexual tension in the air, but the “boarding school for troubled girls” setting is marvelously restrained (as film critic Peter Gutierrez pointed out in his Letterboxd review, even a group shower scene steers clear of lewdness.) There’s some decent horror on display, but the movie’s atmospheric tension is its greatest strength.
A few pieces I’ve read about The House That Screamed claim it was a major influence on Dario Argenta’s Susperia.
German actress Lilli Palmer (a Golden Globe nominee for 1959’s But Not for Me) captivates as the iron willed headmistress. My favorite character is Irene, a particularly menacing student given a bit of power above the other girls, which corrupts her completely, played with appropriate unraveling meanness by British born Mary Maude. It was apparently the first Spanish film presented in English. There are several Madrid-based actors in the cast; each scene was shot in both English and Spanish (the government of Spain even provided partial funding) though it was all dubbed into English in postproduction.
Shout! Factory released the movie on Bluray, but as of December 2020, it is no longer in print.
‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ (1974) Directed by Tobe Hooper
What can be said about this thing that hasn’t already? Nearly half a century later and an ongoing slew of lackluster to outright terrible sequels and prequels have managed to lessen the disturbing power of Hooper’s original. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is so much more than the slasher movies it would inevitably get lumped in with. There is still something undeniably dirty, provocative, and extreme about the original film that can’t be shaken.
It’s considered to be one of the most outright scary movies ever made and for good reason. A chaotic production is only one of the contributing factors to what makes Hooper’s film so undeniably gritty in the most terrifying of ways. The violence feels shockingly real, the killing done so unceremoniously and so believably messy that it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re watching something you shouldn’t be watching.
Few other horror films have made quite as much of an impact on the genre as this one, with everyone from Rob Zombie to Wes Craven to Ridley Scott noting it as a major influence. It’s quite the experience.
Knotfest 2021 Halloween Horror Coverage: