For this week’s Debate Club, we’re getting into the holiday spirit by picking some good stocking-stuffers for the genre fans in your life. Specifically, we decided to spotlight five classic sci-fi or horror films that aren’t necessarily staples of everyone’s DVD library, but absolutely should be. You’ll be the cool person during this season of giving by turning someone on to an under-the-radar gem.
At the same time, this list can also be helpful for filling in gaps in your own genre education. Every one of these films is a must-own.
(Note: These movies are listed alphabetically. No point in ranking such equally great flicks.)
Evil Dead II (1987)
It's strange to go back and watch the original Evil Dead now and realize how straightforwardly scary it is, considering, well, how wacked-out the sequel was.
Sam Raimi's slapstick horror masterpiece remains endlessly fun, a movie that both seemed to anticipate cult horror culture while still transcending it. And what a collaborator Raimi had in Bruce Campbell, who retains that cheesy but lovable leading-man self-aware lunkheadedness still today.
Also, the film about the making of the film is called The Gore the Merrier, which is probably all you need to know.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The film that probably inspired the name of a Billy Idol hit and maybe informed the look of John Carpenter's psycho killer Michael Myers, Eyes Without a Face is a horror movie higher in clammy unease than gross-out gore.
French director Georges Franju adapted a Jean Redon novel, telling the story of a brilliant, grieving doctor (Pierre Brasseur) who's determined to "fix" his daughter (Édith Scob) after she's disfigured in an automobile crash. All the good doctor has to do is find some willing victims for his experiment…
Famous for its scene in which the daughter's face is removed on the operating table, Eyes Without a Face is so damn creepy and also so damn sad. Scob became a cinephile's horror icon because of this film, but in recent years she's been a muse to acclaimed French directors such as Olivier Assayas, Mia Hansen-Løve, and Leos Carax, who slyly had her slip on an Eyes-like mask in Holy Motors.
The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg's body-horror peak seems worthy of a reconsideration today, and not just because Jeff Goldblum has become a walking meme.
The movie's creepy, often terrifying look at how Goldbum's Seth Brundle wants not just to conduct his experiments but also, essentially, control the mind and body of Geena Davis' Ronnie has even more resonance in the #MeToo era; it's toxic masculinity in shockingly physical form. Plus, if you get the two-disc special edition, there's a whole two-and-a-half hour documentary about the film's still-effective special effects, and a ton more.
This Fly will still skeeve you out today.
Once referred to as "the OG of dystopian cinema," Metropolis taught filmgoers how to think about the future nearly a century ago. Fritz Lang's 1927 silent movie gives us a city in which humans have become cogs in the machine — and the proletariat is ready to wage war against the upper class.
If the genre fan in your life has an aversion to "old" movies, maybe this one will turn them around: the special effects are actually still pretty nifty all these years later, and the film's vision of towering cityscapes and lifelike robots paved the way for plenty of sci-fi movies to come.
Consumer Alert: Metropolis has been released in several versions, but seek out The Complete Metropolis, which adds nearly 30 minutes of restored footage to a film that's been considerably re-edited and trimmed over time.
Few movies have been this fun to go down the rabbit hole with. Writer-director Shane Carruth's time-travel mind-bender requires multiple viewings to unravel — and you might not figure it out even then — and has been the source of endless online theories and competing narratives. But it's worth noting that, even if you get lost by all the possibilities, the movie still works as a quiet satire of the sort of tech-sector bro who thinks science and data can fix everything... and is absolutely certain of his own rectitude.
Hearing Carruth talk on the commentary track can be even more confusing, but that's the fun of it.