"And you will face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored."
– The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
This is a very personal selection of films that came to me at an impressionable moment in my life, and in many ways marked the course of what followed. I grew up in a small village in Somerset, UK, with very little in the way of culture to hand—what we did have was a video shop in the basement of the Methodist Church, run by a man who whatever time of year wore a big sheepskin coat and stood by a gas heater, the basement being so chilly. Clearly not a religious man, he encouraged my friends and I, when we were roughly between ten and thirteen years old, to watch the latest crazed sci-fi or video nasty horror, which he had somehow managed to procure an often pirated copy of. He also pushed on us some of what he clearly thought of as classics—some of which were mind-blowing, like Argento, and others, especially when it came to Jean Rollin, were completely baffling.
I have always liked, and perhaps made, films whose concern for plot and character development is less important than other kinds of pure cinematic experience, and horror planted that seed. These films are predominantly ones of visceral experience. They are about atmospheres, sound and image combined to create extremely unnerving spaces based around ingenuity and the flimsiest storylines. Try to even understand the plot of The Beyond, The Visitor, Messiah of Evil or Split of the Spirit—it doesn’t matter, because the films transcend well-worn conventions in favor of gloriously fragmented experiments in terror.
It’s interesting that this season coincides at the HFA with the amazing Furious Cinema season—because I think the films are another response to this time of reinvention. Most of the films I have chosen followed this period in Hollywood where anything seemed possible in film. This had to crash and burn at some point, which it did in a fairly spectacular way, to be followed by much more sporadic greatness. What possibly happened was that some of the inventiveness of these earlier films, particularly in the US, was then pushed to the lower end of budgets, cheap genre movies that had less at stake at the box-office, and also had the burgeoning benefits of VHS rental.
Many of these films I’ve never seen other than on TV, so the season is mainly a selfish one: I can finally see them in glorious 35mm. There will also be some added extras in the shape of original trailers and short films. – Ben Rivers
An acclaimed filmmaker who frequently shows new work at the Harvard Film Archive, Ben Rivers is currently a fellow at Radcliffe and the Film Study Center, Harvard.