Quentin Tarantino may not be best known for his forays into the horror genre, though much like his influences in other areas of world cinema, aspects of terror and violence often weave themselves into his stories.
Look no further than his screenplay for From Dusk Till Dawn Robert Rodriguez’s off-the-wall vampire bloodbath, or his Grindhouse back-to-back with the same director, taking on Deathproof in his ode to the splatter, exploitation films of the 1970s. This essence of late 20th-century filmmaking has gone on to characterise much of his filmography, from the incessant violence of Kill Bill to the exploitation western, Django Unchained.
“Violence is just one of many things you can do in movies,” the director once said. “People ask me, ‘Where does all this violence come from in your movies?’ I say, ‘Where does all this dancing come from in Stanley Donen movies?’ If you ask me how I feel about violence in real life, well, I have a lot of feelings about it. It’s one of the worst aspects of America. In movies, violence is cool. I like it.”
He added, later: “I feel like a conductor and the audience’s feelings are my instruments. I will be like, ‘Laugh, laugh, now be horrified’. When someone does that to me I’ve had a good time at the movies,” he said, offering a deeper understanding of his approach to violence. “If a guy gets shot in the stomach and he’s bleeding like a stuck pig then that’s what I want to see — not a man with a stomach ache and a little red dot on his belly,” he added.
Though he may be influenced by it, the director is yet to fully submerge himself into the horror genre but remains a vocal advocate. Speaking to Taste of Cinema to offer his opinion on some of the most exciting, and most original horror films around, check out the list below…
Quentin Tarantino’s 10 favourite horror films:
Crawl (Alexandre Aja – 2009)
Not since 1999’s delightfully silly horror-comedy Lake Placid have we had a solid horror film that attempts to tackle the prehistoric terror of alligators. Named as one of his favourite films of 2019, Alexandre Aja’s Crawl is a strange, claustrophobic, home-invasion monster-movie, following a student-athlete who ventures into a level-five hurricane to save her father. Trapped and injured in the basement, her father soon has to contend with rising floodwaters and the threat of several 200kg alligators.
It’s a very unique premise, carried-out with suitable focus on the ferocity of the creatures and the smart cat and mouse game they force on the human protagonists. Though the film gives you little emotional meat to snap down on, its sheer brutality and ruthlessness make it one to watch, and an obvious choice for any Tarantino fan.
Slaughter Hotel (Fernando Di Leo – 1971)
A grubby, grungy icon of Italian Giallo horror, Slaughter Hotel stars cult cinema’s Klaus Kinski as a doctor in a rehabilitation hospital in the Italian countryside. Listed as one of Quentin Tarantino’s top 200 films in Mubi, the films takes an expectedly twisted turn, once blood splatters the beige walls, and butchered bodies inhabit the white bed linens at hands of an axe-wielding serial killer.
The films violence and expressions of nudity are raw and offputting, which may explain why Tarantino remains a fan, expressing the grindhouse gore that he so-admires.
My Bloody Valentine (George Mihalka – 1981)
Not to be confused with the eye-popping 3D 2009 remake that existed in a time of primitive red and blue lenses, 1981’s My Bloody Valentine is one of the slasher sub-genres most unique products. In a time where the horror industry was largely in a cycle of rinse-and-repeat when it came to the slasher film, George Mihalka anti-valentines day thriller presented a more unique approach and is recognised as Tarantino’s all-time favourite slasher film.
Set in a small mining village where Valentine’s Day is not celebrated due to an ancient, evil folk-tale, a gas-masked pick-axe-wielding killer is soon let loose after a small-group defies the folklore. It’s a gloriously grisly horror, where grease, mud and gore combine for a nasty, though thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Audition (Takashi Miike – 1999)
Tarantino and Takashi Miike are kindred spirits, with the former often citing the Japanese filmmaker as one of his all-time favourite directors. His critically acclaimed 1999 horror-mystery hybrid, Audition, may not be his most violently graphic, though it is certainly his most viscerally disturbing.
In this tale of a widower auditioning local women to be his new wife, Miike explores torture and sadomasochism through the most jarring narrative structure, constantly flicking unnerving between a romantic-drama and a psychological horror. This one brands images into your mind that you won’t be forgetting anytime soon…Kiri, kiri, kiri….
Black Sabbath (Mario Bava – 1963)
Included in many lists as one of the greatest horror films of all time, Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath is an anthology horror tracking the stories of a vampirical entity, a stalked call-girl and the life of a nurse haunted by a vengeful ghost. Named as one of Tarantino’s all-time favourite directors, Black Sabbath is up there with the Italian filmmakers most iconic works.
Bava’s film succeeds most in its proficient atmosphere, building a true sense of unease with some unique ghostly designs and intelligent cinematography. It’s not often you can say that each story is an anthology feature works perfectly in its own right.
The War of the Gargantuas (Ishirō Honda – 1966)
You can’t go wrong with a classic 1960’s kaiju film.
Set in Japan The War of the Gargantuas is wonderfully hammy, following a Gargantua created from a lab experiment gone wrong, and an evil Gargantua wreaking havoc on the countryside who must both come to blows.
A long-time admirer of kaiju filmmaking, Tarantino actually stole a specific fight scene from The War of the Gargantuas and implemented it in a fight between Elle Driver and the Bride in Kill Bill Vol. 2. For pure entertainment value, this may be the very best kaiju film around, providing some eccentric, artistically distinctive fight sequences.
Mad Love (Karl Freund – 1935)
Here’s an outlandish one from Metropolis cinematographer Karl Freund, Mad Love follows a demented surgeon who replaces the mangled hands of his lovers’ husband, with that of a mass murderer. It’s a bizarre premise that stars the iconic eyes of Peter Lorre in the lead role, driven insane by his own genius as he proclaims “I have conquered science, why can’t I conquer love”.
For all the films obscurities, Mad Love is surprisingly tender by its conclusion. It’s a film wrapped in psychological torment, which carefully toys with a building intensity with thanks to a short, succinct script.
The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar – 2011)
From Spain’s most acclaimed filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Live In, is a psychological thriller which owes its existence to the influential surrealist film Eyes Without a Face. Almodóvar’s film toys with a mix of genres, capturing a skin-crawling discomfort as it effortlessly traverses between a tender melodrama and an effective body-horror.
It follows a tortured surgeon whose wife was badly burnt in a crash years ago, and his continuing efforts to create a synthetic skin that is able to replicate the sensations of real life flesh. To practise his efforts he captures a genuine pig to carry out his experiments. This is less a horror and more a squirming, uncomfortable psychological horror, seeping into the brain and settling on the skin.
Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky – 1989)
Master of the surreal, Santa Sangre is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s lesser-discussed foray into psychological horror following a former circus artist who escapes from a mental institution to join the cult of his armless mother. Yes, it’s as bizarre as it sounds, with the Boston Globe exclaiming in the film’s trailer: “Santa Sangre plays like a Bunuel remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho”.
Once again, Tarantino took some direct inspiration from this film, ripping one particular shot for use in the distinctly disturbing katana sequence of Pulp Fiction. Jodorowsky’s eclectic film traverses genre, snowballing with the influence of Bunuel and Hitchcock to form a strange, subversive Giallo-inspired tale of psychological trauma and surreal originality.
Wicked, Wicked (Richard L. Bare – 1973)
Bizarrely, the last film on our list was originally projected in the newfound gimmick ‘Duo-vision’ where the entire film was presented in split-screen, with separate images on either side of the screen. Inspired, in part, by The Phantom of the Opera, Richard L. Bare’s Wicked Wicked follows a psychotic handyman who has a fondness for the killing of blonde-haired women, and the detective trying to track him down.
Though, for the most part, the ‘duo-vision’ technique is a gimmick, it is also used for some surprisingly original and well-conceived moments, building a profound tension through the simultaneous presentation of both the victims POV and the view of the stalking serial killer.
It may not be a technique we see being used today but Brian De Palma would use the same technique in parts of his film Sisters in 1973, a method of filmmaking that perfectly captures the joy, experimentation and trickery that exuded from ’70s filmmaking.