American filmmaker and screenwriter Ari Aster has been gaining traction in recent years, following the success of films like Hereditary and Midsommar. Since his early childhood, Aster was drawn to horror films and developed many screenplays about the themes he liked. Aster’s new project is called Disappointment Blvd and is scheduled to come out next year, starring Joaquin Phoenix.
In an interview, Aster commented: “You have film like Get Out, which is more satire than horror, and it’s great satire but it’s obviously drawn from the school of Ira Levin [American novelist and playwright], and people like him. But movies and TV in general, not just the horror genre, is becoming extremely political, which I think in some ways is extremely exciting and in some ways, it can be a handicap. Because there is a trend in some corners to put politics over aesthetics, so what makes a film like Get Out so exciting that it feels sincere.”
Adding, “You have the aesthetic, brilliantly made socio-political satire, that is not like a product of strategy but it is coming from an authentic place, which makes a film like that more valuable than maybe others. I also feel that it’s a trend to survey a bunch of films coming out at a time and say that this is a movement. Ultimately most filmmakers, or the ones that I like, are in their own little bubbles, making what they want to make and reacting to the world around them, rather than films being made by a committee and to answer the call of one agenda or another.”
In order to get a better understanding of Ari Aster’s cinematic journey, we take a look at some of the defining works from the horror genre that inspired the famous director.
10 horror films that inspired Ari Aster:
The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton – 1955)
Charles Laughton’s 1955 expressionistic masterpiece is hailed by many as one of the pioneering works of the genre. The film revolves around a scheming preacher who marries an innocent widow in the hopes of finding her dead husband’s stashed loot.
Laughton’s seminal work has inspired multiple generations of filmmakers, including the likes of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Robert Altman. The Cahiers du cinéma voted The Night of the Hunter as the second-best film of all time, after Citizen Kane.
Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi – 1964)
Kwaidan is a fascinating horror anthology film by the Japanese master Masaki Kobayashi, inspired by Lafcadio Hearn’s folk tales. Divided into four separate narratives, Kwaidan paints a compelling picture of the spectrum of horror. The film received the Special Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival for its brilliance.
Kobayashi reflected: “I hate to sound self-aggrandising, but watching my films today, they don’t feel dated. What this means is that I really spent time on the editing, but also spent a lot of time working on the whole sound of the film, including the music. So when I finished a film, it was really complete.
“Normally, others might spend about three days on the final edit. But I’d spend two weeks, even more in the case of Kwaidan. The fact that I was able to fully complete my films, with no regrets, is a significant factor in why, watching them today, they don’t feel dated, they remain relevant.”
Repulsion (Roman Polanski – 1965)
Roman Polanski‘s 1965 psychological thriller Repulsion follows the struggles of a paranoid woman (played by Catherine Deneuve) whose nightmares slowly slip into the realm of reality. Repulsion earned a BAFTA bid for Gilbert Taylor’s expert cinematography.
While talking about the response that the film elicited from the viewers, Polanski revealed: “Audiences were furious because at the start they sympathised with Denevue’s character but then found themselves implicated in what she was doing.”
Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski – 1969)
Rosemary’s Baby is probably Polanski’s finest interpretation of the horror genre. It stars Mia Farrow as a pregnant woman who gets manipulated by a Satanic cult in a systematic fashion, leaving her helpless as she gives birth to an otherworldly entity.
“I had only seen her on the cover of Life,” Polanski said of Farrow. “To be honest, I was not enthusiastic about her until we started to work. Then I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that she is a brilliant actress. This is one of the most difficult woman’s parts I can imagine.”
Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg – 1973)
Based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story, Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 classic follows the misadventures of a married couple who go to Venice after they lose their young daughter to an accident. Apart from Aster, Don’t Look Now has influenced the likes of Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh.
Roeg said: “Movies are very curious: making them is not just a case of going in to work then going out again. For everyone on the crew, it becomes his or her life, especially when you’re on location. You’re there and you can’t stop it. It’s not nine to five: a film is there the whole time. The only thing revisiting a film can do is make you see the things you think you could improve upon. It also makes you remember where you were, personally speaking.”
Carrie (Brian De Palma – 1976)
An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Carrie tells the story of a teenager who is endlessly bullied by her peers but the tables turn when she discovers that she possesses unique telekinetic powers. It is now remembered as one of the finest Stephen King film adaptations ever made.
“I read the book. It was suggested to me by a writer friend of mine. A writer friend of his, Stephen King, had written it,” the filmmaker recalled. “I guess this was almost two years ago [circa 1975]. I liked it a lot and proceeded to call my agent to find out who owned it. I found out that nobody had bought it yet. A lot of studios were considering it, so I called around to some of the people I knew and said it was a terrific book and I’m very interested in doing it.”
Possession (Andrzej Żuławski – 1981)
Żuławski’s 1981 psychological horror film is a metaphysical meditation on the disintegration of the mind as well as political structures through an analysis of the relationship between an international spy and his wife. In recent years, it has been rediscovered by younger audiences and has become a true cult classic.
“I’m so easily bored with cinema,” the filmmaker confessed. “It’s not because I don’t appreciate the effort, the acting, the script writing, or whatever. But most of it is so predictable, after five minutes I know exactly the pattern, the flow, how it will turn out. That’s perfectly all right, why not?”
Adding, “But what these people call hysteria is, I guess, a will to provoke a certain kind of awareness, nervousness, open-eyed-ness, I don’t know what to call it. And actors who will reflect a hope on the audience. They won’t be bored. But this clinical term ‘hysteria’ is very hurtful to me.”
Blue Velvet (David Lynch – 1986)
This 1986 neo-noir is one of the finest works of the genre, documenting the human depravity that hides beneath suburban facades. Although critics like Roger Ebert denounced it for its explicit violence, others still maintain that Blue Velvet should rank among Lynch’s best.
Lynch once said: “My childhood was elegant homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning aeroplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees. Middle America as it’s supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there’s this pitch oozing out – some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast.”
Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa – 1997)
Cure presents us with a fascinating premise for its cinematic investigations – a Tokyo that is riddled with death sprees and the signature of an ominous serial killer. Kiyoshi Kurosawa built his artistic vision on the American horror films that he grew up watching.
“With Cure there is a sociological element, but probably not because I studied sociology at university, but because I watched so many films and those are the elements I learned from the films that I have seen,” Kurosawa explained. “I’d say maybe 1-out-of-100 of the elements you see in the film might be from what I studied in the university as a sociology student, but I’d say 99 is from other films that I have seen.”
Thirst (Park Chan-wook – 2009)
Inspired by Emile Zola’s literary work, Thirst tells the strange story of a Catholic priest who undergoes a failed medical experiment which turns him into a vampire. The film picked up the Jury Prize at Cannes for its engaging narrative.
The director revealed: “I’d been planning Thirst for about 10 years, but I didn’t work on it consistently. For a long time I had only two scenes written. One is the scene in the beginning when the priest is being transfused with vampire blood, thereby becoming a vampire himself.”
Adding, “The other was the scene in which the woman he falls in love with becomes a vampire too. That was it until I came across Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. I loved the style of the book, the fact that it’s not romantic or sentimental, which was similar to the approach I had in mind for this film. So, the book inspired me to start working properly on the script and to eventually make the film.”