Celebrate October with These Five Horror Classics on Criterion Channel

This week, FIELD OF STREAMS shares five fiendish favorites from famed filmmakers

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There’s no denying that cinephiles come in different forms with vastly different tastes. While some opt for explosive action films, others love pensive dramas. Some lovers of film tend to favor fantasy and adventure stories while others enjoy a classic costume drama. But it seems to me that the horror genre is the one area of film which has the ability to bridge the gap between almost any movie aficionado. Whether it’s The Haunting, What Lies Beneath, or Hereditary, the genre has proven one of the most diverse and popular types in all of cinema, attracting actors ranging from scream queens to Oscar winners.

The world of horror movies don’t just attract a variety of different stars, but a variety of different directors as well. Many famous filmmakers known from both within and outside the genre, including Robert Aldrich, Paul Schrader, Tim Burton, and David Koepp, among others, have left their own stamp on the cinema of fear. This October, The Criterion Channel has offered up a number of horror titles from some of film’s greatest filmmakers all available for some streaming chills.


Some may not know that Robert Altman took a turn at the horror game, but he did indeed. In the middle of his 70s heyday which saw the likes of Nashville and M*A*S*H propel him to great acclaim, the director also helmed this surreal and off-putting tale of madness. When a children’s book author (Susannah York) suffering from a breakdown following a tragic event goes to the English seaside to recover, she’s plagued by one mysterious occurrence after another, all of which are causing her to lose her grip on reality. York is fantastic in the title role (giving one of her best performances), but the marvel is how Altman makes a film about the true horrors of the mind, the perception of reality and the frightening discovery that maybe we’ve all been mad all along.


Grief and horror have never been as romantic and sumptuous as they are in this European horror classic. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland exude romance, sensuality and heartbreak as a married couple living in Italy following the death of their young daughter. As the couple tries to deal with their marriage and haunting visions of their dead child, a killer roams the streets. Much in the way he would do for The Witches, director Nicolas Roeg presents a film whose story he treats not as a genre piece but as an exploration of the characters within it. It’s for this reason that the balance of human tragedy and the macabre sinister nature of what’s happening outside the couple’s home is so striking…and why that ending remains so shocking all these years later.


Before Brian DePalma put his name on the map with Carrie, he ventured into the horror realm with this tale of two conjoined twins (both played by Margot Kidder in was was some of her best work) now separated physically, but still linked, emotionally. While one wreaks havoc on anyone who she feels tries to tear her and her sister apart, the other cleans up her bloody mess time and time again. DePalma uses some great storytelling techniques to illustrate the horrors happening in the apartment across the street from a journalist (Jennifer Salt) who witnesses the deadlier sister in action and the way he lets Kidder go loose provides a series of endless jolts for the audience. A director of many beloved trademarks seen throughout his storied career, for many, Sisters is where it all began.


Abel Ferrara can proudly boast that he is the creator of what is perhaps one of the most famous of the legendary “video nasties” (look it up, kids) with this story of a struggling New York artist (Ferrara himself), his two girlfriends (Carolyn Marz and Baybi Day) and his need to stalk the city streets looking for people to kill with his mechanical drill. The Driller Killer has no bones about the use of brutal violence and elaborate death scenes, most of which genuinely come off as morbidly artful almost as much as they do exploitative. But the genius behind the film is in showing how the legendary hell hole New York of the 70s and early 80s was a city full of maddening decay which manifested itself in ways beyond just muggers and gratified subways.


No one did vintage scares quite like the oft-proclaimed “dime store Hitchcock,” William Castle. The legendary director of shock horror in the 50s and 60s gave Joan Crawford her final gasp of celebrated fame with this movie about a woman sent to an asylum after it was proven that she’d killed her young husband. Now she’s back home with an axe to grind. Say what you will about Castle and the movie’s set up, but Crawford acts her heart out, showing she always believed in the part she was playing, regardless of what kind of movie it was in. As for the movie, Strait-Jacket alternates between grand dame guignol camp and genuine Castle thrills. It’s a fun affair that takes pleasure in both pushing the gore boundaries of the day and the game playfulness of its legendary leading lady.

There are countless services to explore and great things to watch on all of them. Which ones did we miss that you would suggest to us? And, as always, if you’ve got thoughts on titles we’re missing out on or new services to check out, leave a comment below.

Till next week, stream on, stream away.

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