Featured image from Twins of Evil.
Amazon is again the clear winner. One does have to be careful, because they have many titles in poor quality that are available in better quality elsewhere, but I can vouch for the quality of these selections.
Ash is Purest White
This was in my top ten of the decade and I consider it a masterpiece. It is a film in the jianghu tradition, concerned with the alternative codes of honor of the criminal world. It appropriates tropes of this tradition to examine what it means to preserve one’s values amidst rapid, sweeping cultural change. It’s a funny, very strange movie that goes to surprising places. Jia’s direction is at once rigorously controlled and effortlessly fluid. Throughout the film, he uses digital cameras that would have been available at the time the action takes place (except for the prison section, which is on film), weaving the film’s themes into the shifting character of the cinematography.
Mandatory viewing for Bronson fans. It’s an extremely satisfying and fun revenge picture where a watermelon farmer finds himself simultaneously squaring off against racist yokels, asshole cops, and organized crime.
One of my very favorite poliziotteschi. The score is by Ennio Morricone. This is a mean, nasty movie and lots of content warnings apply. Do not watch this if you are worried about content warnings. What makes this one really stand out is the great Oliver Reed, who brings all the wild intensity he is capable of. He plays a prison warden whose wife is kidnapped by a gang of crooks in order to force him to free a hood played by genre icon Fabio Testi. Things do not go well and it becomes a brutal revenge movie.
Note that a restored version of this movie came out on blu ray a couple months ago, whereas the version on Amazon appears to be pulled from the older dvd. If you really care, it’s worth seeking out the blu ray, but the version on Amazon is within the range of acceptability for a 70’s exploitation movie. It only has the English audio, but that’s fine, as the leads are speaking English and the dubbing isn’t terrible (in Italian exploitation movies from this era everyone usually spoke their own preferred language during the production and then the audio was dubbed in post production).
Ghosthouse (1989, not 2017)
Lenzi is a schlockmaster and this is pure schlock. It’s a totally incompetent and very fun mash up of Poltergeist and The Evil Dead.
Twins of Evil
One of my favorite Hammer Horror titles. Peter Cushing plays a Puritan witch hunter who takes in his orphaned identical twin nieces as wards. Local libertine Count Karnstein gets into some weird erotic vampire occultism and one of the twins is drawn in (but which one????). This is exceptionally lurid and the production design is delicious. It’s actually the third part of the Karnstein Trilogy but the other two are paid rentals and there’s no need to watch them in order.
A new restoration of one of the best and strangest classic noirs. It’s short and wonderful and you should certainly see it.
I’ve recommended this before but I bring it up again because it’s probably the single best movie available on any of these three streaming services (unless Johnny Guitar is still available). Jameson famously called it the postmodern film. Antonioni’s Blow-Up is helpful context. I won’t even bother to describe this. If you’re seriously interested in film, I insist that you watch it.
This is the least well known of Polanski’s brilliant trilogy about people losing their minds in apartments (the other two parts are Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby). It’s the funniest and most bizarre of the three, and Polanski himself stars. This is one of his very best and most distinctive movies and absolutely essential for anyone interested in his work.
I’m sure I’ve recommended this before but it bears repeating. This is one of my favorite modern horror movies and it was on the vanguard of the welcome trend of reversing gender power dynamics. Lycanthropy as puberty!
Probably don’t watch this lol. I’m recommending it for anyone out there who really and truly loves bad movies. This is raw, uncut bad movie madness. I mean this is John Travolta fully leaning into some unnamed cognitive disability, directed by Fred Durst. This is a bad movie for people (like me!) who want to see boundaries of taste not just stretched but eviscerated.
The sleaziest peak-era Van Damme flick. It’s a gnarly exploitation movie about a cop who goes undercover in prison to investigate a string of deaths.
The Stendhal Syndrome
This is on the late side for Argento, and some people think he fell off around this point in his career. Of course his earlier films are better, but in my opinion this is fantastic. It’s quite messed up and something you should skip if you care about content warnings (and it’s even more messed up to consider that he cast his own daughter in THIS role). But if you like Argento you’re probably not too worried about this sort of thing, whereas if you’re not familiar with his work you should start with the 70’s classics. In any case, this is a wild movie about trauma and the power of art and it features one of Asia Argento’s best performances.
The House of the Devil
An excellent retro 70’s style slow burn from 2009 about a babysitter who is hired for a very creepy and ominous assignment. It features the great Tom Noonan. Greta Gerwig makes an appearance. Ti West fell off after this, but it’s one of the best horror movies of the aughts.
The Love Witch
Anna Biller’s sexy, feminist, comic Jacques Demy-inspired lite horror movie is singular and delightful. There’s a ton of male and female full frontal nudity, fyi. Her concept here was to center the female gaze and her own sexual fantasies.
Get the Gringo
An excellent south of the border genre picture with Mel Gibson in full form. There have been precious few Mel Gibson movies the last decade, but at least we have this.
Flesh and Blood
Verhoeven’s first English language movie, starring Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh (!). It’s set in the 16th century and is stuffed to the gills with sex and violence. Very entertaining, if you’re into this kind of thing.
I love The Witcher! I know it’s very popular, so you may not need the recommendation, but if you’ve been reading mixed things about it, consider Strohltopia an enthusiastic yes. I like it much, much better than game of thrones. It’s unapologetically trashy, with lots of shirtless Henry Cavill and gratuitous nudity and CGI monsters and magecraft and so on.
Gangs of New York
You probably saw this but I propose that it’s time for a rewatch. It’s aged extremely well. I consider it one of the very best movies of the aughts and also one of Scorsese’s two or three best movies (maybe his best, but I’d need to rewatch a couple things to be confident in that declaration). He said he was going for something like “Western on Mars,” but that doesn’t even begin to capture how bold and ambitious this film is. We start out with 19th century urban medievalism (?!) and transition to a gang of nativist mad hatters. This is the best Daniel Day Lewis performance by a fucking mile, but don’t miss how good Cameron Diaz is here (it takes a lot of sand to be a turtle dove). The intense, vitriolic nativism resonates much more strongly now than it did when this was first released.
Peak Scott Adkins. This is like Bronson meets Brawl in Cell Block 99 meets early Guy Ritchie. It is brutal and bone-crunching and Adkins is over-the-top amazing.
Poignant drama from Johnnie To. A derelict cop suffers a brain injury and becomes dependent on the wife who he previously mistreated. Lau Ching Wan and Carman Lee are extraordinary.
The World is Not Enough
Highly underrated. I think this is the best Bond film since Timothy Dalton (certainly a lot better than all the Daniel Craig entries). Sophie Marceau is one of the very best femme fatales in the series and Denise Richards is delightfully campy.
Five Elements Ninjas
I am able to stream this on Apple TV with the original audio and subtitles, but I’ve heard mixed reports from people using other devices. In any case, don’t watch it unless you can watch it with the original audio, as these Shaw Bros. movies are ruined by dubbing. This is peak Chang Cheh. It’s a borderline abstract set of battles with color coordinated groups of ninjas channeling each of the five elements.
28 Weeks Later
I absolutely hate Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and I think it’s one of the worst things that ever happened to the horror genre, but this belated sequel is really good. It’s tense and violent and moves at a compelling pace.
I just recorded an appearance on Philosophy Talk where I discuss this film and Give Me Liberty with Joshua Landy and Jeremy Sabol. I think it’s certainly one of the most interesting contemporary topical films about race in America. It’s a 2019 film by Nigerian-American filmmaker Julius Onah, based on J.C. Lee’s 2013 play. It’s about a young black man who started out his life as a child solider in Eritrea, but who was adopted by a middle class white couple played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth (love the early-2000’s casting!). He’s become a star athlete and high school valedictorian, but after he writes an essay about Fanon (!) a teacher played by Octavia Spencer becomes suspicious of whether he’s hiding something dark. It’s a very original take on the bad seed movie. Amidst all the simplistic moralism that weighs down most topical films in the age of Trump, Luce stands out for its complexity and thorniness. I think one needs to relate it back to the birtherism controversy, as Luce is clearly a sort of Obama stand-in, but I won’t say more than that here to avoid spoilers. It’s a very interesting film, even if the dialogue is sometimes stagey.
Another bad seed movie, but this one is fully trashy. Think Child’s Play meets Birth. Bad movie lovers only.
Extremely bizarre, violent, surreal Turkish horror movie. It’s descended from stuff like In the Mouth of Madness but it’s more untethered. Not for everyone, but horror fans should see it.
A Score to Settle
Wild Nic Cage movie, for Cage fans only. It’s sort of like Scent of a Woman as a revenge movie, but except instead of being blind he can’t sleep AT ALL.
Running with the Devil
This has milder Cage factor but considerable Fishburne factor and is very fun as a bad movie. The story is basically “what’s the stupidest possible way to get a few kilos of cocaine from Columbia to Vancouver?”
One of Ben Wheatley’s best movies, based on the J.G. Ballard novel. It’s a surreal, conceptual depiction of class conflict in a high rise where the residents are blocked off from the outside world. Plenty violent.