In late September, we put out a call for readers looking for specific horror movie recommendations. It’s an offshoot of our Dear Polygon series, where we answer questions and give recs to readers like you. To our delight, hundreds of you responded. This is the first entry in what will be quite a few answering those requests, hand-picking a horror movie to watch, just for you.
If you’d like to get in on the fun, you can still fill out our recommendation request form.
Let’s dig in.
Being completely honest, my fave horror movies are the ones that have some descent into madness. So I’m looking for stuff like that! People going crazy, [...] characters going through harrowing events, body horror, and just weird horror movies in general, [with] maybe something to think about after it’s done. So please hit me with your weirdest!
Jupiter, I couldn’t agree more; there’s nothing better than a movie where someone completely loses it. In the spirit of that, I’ve picked out the king of all freak-out movies for you, one where no one comes out even remotely normal. —Austen Goslin
What’s it like? A woman abandons her family, and her husband starts following her to find out why. But he quickly realizes that her behavior has a far stranger explanation than he (or we) could have guessed.
What flavor of horror is it? Possession starts louder and angrier than most divorce movies and only grows from there, plus it’s more bizarre than any of the rest.
Who made it? Possession is directed by Andrzej Żuławski, a Polish filmmaker and an absolute master of very messed-up love stories, and of people losing their minds over love (or something that looks kind of like love if you squint).
Who’s in it? The movie stars In the Mouth of Madness’ Sam Neill in one of his earliest and best roles. Neill stars alongside the incredible Isabelle Adjani, who won Best Actress at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival for Possession and Quartet, and also appears in movies like The Tenant, Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Diabolique.
How long is it? The movie’s 124 minutes, but is so packed that it still barely feels that long.
Where can I watch? Possession was unavailable for years until, in 2021, New York’s Metrograph theater helped restore a new version of the film. Metrograph’s streaming service is now the only place to watch the movie. Thankfully, at just $5 for a month of access, it’s basically the same price as renting a movie would be anyway.
I love when a movie can build a creepy atmosphere and a sense of dread. I tend to prefer horror that has some element of the fantastical or supernatural, at least over stalker/slasher movies. I feel pretty well versed in American horror but less so with foreign horror
Joe, thank you for the detailed question, and the movies you listed in our form that you had already seen. I have the perfect pick for you, and one I hope you have not seen. It’s a foreign horror movie that leans heavily into the fantastical and atmospheric elements, is light on the gorier tendencies of modern movies, and is an absolute classic. —Pete Volk
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
What’s it like? A tangled-up fairy tale filled with thorny vines. It’s a haunting story filled with moments of beauty and gorgeous production design (led by the unforgettable face mask worn by one of the lead characters). The narrative follows a surgeon who performs dark experiments to try and repair the damage he accidentally caused to his daughter’s face.
What flavor of horror is it? Fantasy horror, with a considerable amount of gore for the period it was released (although milder by today’s standards). Expect many jacked-up faces.
Who made it? Georges Franju, who also made the 1963 remake of Judex, directed and co-wrote the French-Italian production, based on Jean Redon’s novel. Before this, Franju was mainly known as a documentary filmmaker.
The movie had an all-star group of talents behind Franju as well. The screenplay was co-written by prolific crime-writing duo Boileau-Narcejac (who wrote the source material for Vertigo), the movie was shot by cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (who broke ground on Metropolis and later won an Academy Award for The Hustler), and the score was composed by Maurice-Alexis Jarre (best known for his work with David Lean, including an Oscar-winning score for Lawrence of Arabia).
Who’s in it? Pierre Brasseur is Doctor Génessier, the tormented plastic surgeon. Édith Scob is his extremely lonely daughter Christiane, and she manages to deliver a stunning performance even with her face mostly contained behind a stiff mask. Scob later referenced this iconic role in her appearance in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors.
How long is it? A breezy 90 minutes.
When it comes to horror I tend to love movies that make me think, or else ones that tap into my deepest-held fears in an almost instinctive way. I’d love to see a horror movie that does something new, such as: using innovative techniques in the cinematography, movies with weird genre-bending elements or twists, or bold, creative ideas that eschew convention!
Is there something more beautiful than a horror movie that hits exactly on a deeply held fear, maybe even one you didn’t know you had, and makes you feel at once like your soul has been stretched out of your chest and seen? Maybe, but probably at least some of those beautiful things are films like this one, which is bold and atmospheric while also being incredibly precise with its horror elements. —Zosha Millman
What’s it like? The year is an alternate 2008, where we follow an assassin who is able to supplant the consciousness of others and take control of bodies in order to carry out her hits. And when a hit goes wrong, well — Possessor is like that feeling of catching yourself in the mirror and dissociating for a few seconds, suddenly feeling flooded with and disconnected from your memories and sense of self all at once.
What flavor of horror is it? A psychological horror, with the kind of trippiness that is seldom predictable and never loses you. There’s sci-fi elements here too, but only to better probe into the inner workings of the blurry outlines of identity. I’m also obligated to tell you that this falls somewhere under the large umbrella of “body horror,” but to me less so in the gory sense, and more in the cleaving (and perverted rejoining) of consciousness from physical experience.
Who made it? Unsurprisingly given the final warning on the last question, Possessor was written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, who follows in his dad (David Cronenberg)’s steps by making an astoundingly confident and provocative first feature.
Who’s in it? Mandy’s Andrea Riseborough stars as Tasya, the assassin in question, whose handler is played by one Jennifer Jason Leigh. Christopher Abbott and Sean Bean are also in the mix as two people in the swirl of high-tech assassinations.
How long is it? 104 minutes. In terms of how those 104 minutes feel, I would say they are surprisingly economical, making room to sprawl only when it serves the movie to get lost in the distance of its own visuals and story.