1 – M (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1931)
The classic. In 1930’s Germany, the manhunt to catch a child-murderer…
Lang’s first talkie is of course a much celebrated classic from all artistic angles. But it also foresaw the degradation of social climate leading to Nazi Germany by depicting a common resignation from ordinary people to let criminals take care of things. The bound linking criminals to officials in a race for the first to find a child killer (regardless that we agree they actually are abominable crimes) is still very contemporary. As the child killer everyone’s after, Peter Lorre pushes acting to a level of genius rarely matched in the history of the film medium.
2 – Buffet froid (Bertrand Blier, France, 1978)
A delightful metaphorical farce starring young Gerard Depardieu in top form along veterans Bernard Blier and Jean Carmet as a trio of men so bored and depressed by the climax of their surroundings of newly constructed lifeless building development (basically a concrete jungle), they start killing people at night as a hobby…
Loony, witted, cynical, lots of great performances by the leads, but also notable cameos by Carole Bouquet and Michel Serreault. Buffet froid is top black humor with clever dialogues, outrageous sequences and circumstantial cold and depress lighting by cinematographer Jean Penzer. Unforgettable.
3 – Man Bites dog (C’est arrivé près de chez vous) Belvaux-Bonzel-Poelvoorde, Belg, 1992)
A film crew follows the everyday life of an extrovert serial killer.
Even by today’s standards there is still some highly provocative moments in this independent film from Belgium. Shot in a documentary style before it was a la mode, it follows the adventures of a serial killer (amazing Benoit Poelvoorede) with a cynical tone and It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste as it crosses violently the boundaries of decency more than a few times. A classic of modern horror
4 – Dr Petiot (Christian De Challonge, France, 1990)
Based on real life of Marcel Petiot. During world War 2, , pretending to help Jewish family to flee to Spain under occupied France, Dr. Petiot violently disposed of them.
Leading man, Michel Serreault, once said he liked to play under De Challonges direction because he was one of a few stylish directors in France. Taking him by his word, the filmmaker choose to give a surrealistic Nosferatu-like- feeling to this peculiar portrait of real War-time serial killer taking advantage of people trying to flee German occupation during world war II. The resulting film is quite original.
5 – Hangover Square ( John Brahm, US, 1945)
In early 20th century London, a stressed out composer, the subject of terrible black outs, meets a minor cabaret singer who takes advantage of him, while a series of mysterious murders occur.
Sometime It’s about climax and John Brahm does it well all along and even more during the final showcase which involves a chilling concerto by the musician turn killer (Laird Cregar in his last role before passing away at only 30).The whole setup plays on ‘incidental’ music owing much to Bernard Herrmann (of Hitchcock fame) writing skills. In glorious Black & White! Pure Candy.
6 – Seance on a wet afternoon (Bryan Forbes, UK,1964)
More of a kidnapping movie.
To achieve fame, a medium and her husband kidnap a young girl and pretend to solve the crime.
Careful directing, great framing , beautiful B&W cinematography a top-notch John Barry score (far away from his James Bond entries). Kim Stanley received a well deserved Oscar nomination and we get one more celluloid proof of Richard Attenborough’s acting talent. Attenborough actually makes us care about a character that should be considered despicable in the first place. 1960’s movie-making at its best.
7 – Ten Rillington Place (Richard Fleischer, UK, 1971)
A film as overlooked as it is good, based on real-life case of Post-War British serial killer John Christie.
Blockbuster director Richard Fleischer (Soylen Green, The Vikings, Tora!Tora!Tora!) abilities when on a more restrain budget offers one of his finest film. The depicption of London, just a few year after the War, is quite effective. Richard Attenbourough (of Jurassic Park late fame) shows once more what a great actor he was as he renders a sympathetic looking character with high psychological complexity out of a real life killer. Watch for a young John Hurt (1984, Elephant Man, V for Vendetta) in a supporting role.
8 – The Collector (William Wyler, UK, 1965)
A socially unfit clerk who collects butterflies expands his collecting to a human specimen.
Fresh out of larger than life shooting of Ben-Hur extravaganza, veteran William Wyler offers great variations on the subject of impulsive maniacs (beautifully played by Terence Stamp ) with his usual flair. With numerous classic Hollywood A-pictures Behind him it was surprising that, at this late point of his career, Wyler gave us such a wonderful little gem far from the Charlton Heston vehicle and remote from his extensive filmography. This is one great serious film on the subject by a major director. Great music by by the late Maurice Jarre.
9 – The element of crime (Lars Von Trier, Danemark, 1985)
Using odd methods, a detective returns from Cairo to solve a series of murders.
Von Trier’s surreal signature is already taking shape in this early effort. Casting is great dominated by late Britt actors Michael Elphick and Esmond Knight. Before going completely insane, Trier made this one with panache, visual style, a sense of storytelling and breathtaking ambiance.
10 – The match factory girl (Aki Kaurismaki, Finland, 1990)
A lonely match-factory worker, living with strict parents is made pregnant after a one-night stand. Fed up with everything and everyone she lurks for revenge…
In this atypical Serial killing comedy-drama, a (highly) personal take on The little Match Girl, Kaurismaki’s muse, Kati Outinen, goes on a killing spree with such gentle caring face, you just don’t see it coming… as her victims don’t. As usual the question raised by Kaurismaki surreal and unmatched satiric style is: shall we cry or shall we laugh?
11 – The twisted nerves (Roy Boulting. UK, 1971)
A troubled young man with the mind of a child is obsessed by a beautiful librarian in this carefully crafted shocker
The Boulting Brothers were mainly associated with comedy efforts but they ventured from time to time into the thriller world. Great Art direction lifts the story into a childlike world. The main music theme, by Hitchcock’s most trusted composer, Bernard Herrmann, is highly effective by playing the contrasts between suspenseful and childish elements. Patrons will recognize Herrmann’s whistled theme as Quentin Tarantino borrowed it for Kill Bill: Vol 1.
12 – Vengeance is mine (Sohei Imamura, Japan, 1979)
The killing rampage of true life Japanese serial Killer Akira Nishiguchi.
Just like one big picture, Immamura’s whole filmography seems to point at Japanese audiences the strange unspoken things that do happen under the rising sun. Its crucial to understand this aspect of his films as a whole in order to fully appreciate it from an occidental point of view. The shape and pacing might be a bore to some Hannibal fans since there’s no Hollywood Glamour here, nonetheless this is a great uncompromising dark and depressing dramatic (it’s a true story) tale by a legendary filmmaker.
Ken Ogata (Mishima, The Ballad of Narayama) delivers top performance as the killer.
13 – Chi l’ha vista morire? / Who saw her die? (Aldo Lado, Italy, 1972)
A sculptor, who’s daughter was brutally murdered by a serial killer leads his own inquiry.
A fine example of the Italian Gialli genre (a mix of horror and investigation film). Preceding by a year the similar and much more favored (at least by critics) Don’t look now, this thriller is simply better than Roeg’s film. The bone chilling music, a sinister children choral work is top 25 All-time Morricone. You also get, one time-James Bond, George Lazenby as the lead, supported be Stindberg and adolfo Celi, as well as beautifully shot city of Venice for its Background to action. Beautiful and Creepy