The Criterion Collection is often held up as the gold standard in DVD and Blu-ray production of classic, indie, and foreign films. When they put out a movie, physical media aficionados usually take notice. They’re not perfect, but on the whole, they do a really great job of making sure that all their releases meet the highest standards of quality so their viewers can have the best possible experience watching their products.
However, despite their reputation in the physical media world, Criterion is not always a go-to source for horror fans. As much as we love owning physical copies of our favorite movies, many of us tend to gravitate more towards other labels, like Arrow and Scream Factory. Criterion just doesn’t put out nearly as many genre titles as those other companies, and the ones they have released tend to be older films or foreign movies that are unfamiliar to North American audiences today. If you don’t already know what you’re looking for, it can be tough to know where to begin with Criterion’s horror catalog.
And that’s what I’m here to help out with. I’m a big fan of the Criterion Collection, and I own several of their horror films on Blu-ray. So, if you’re interested in exploring the horror side of this fantastic label, here are five of my favorites to help get you started.
When I was a kid, The Blob was one of my favorite horror movies, so when I heard that Criterion had put it out on blu-ray, I just had to buy it. It’s an old sci-fi horror film from the 1950s, and it’s about an amorphous blob from outer space that eats people. It arrives on earth in a meteorite, and when it first emerges from its rocky cocoon, it’s pretty small. It grows bigger as it eats more people, and nobody can figure out how to stop it.
If you think that sounds pretty silly, you’re totally right. It’s not exactly a shining example of the fine art of cinema, so don’t go into this one expecting anything Oscar-worthy. It’s just an entertaining B movie creature feature, but as far as those movies go, this is one of the best. The Blob isn’t the kind of arthouse fare that Criterion is usually known for, but if you like turning off your brain and just enjoying a dumb monster movie, you should definitely give this one a shot.
The Devil’s Backbone
Criterion has all three of Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-language movies (the others are Pan’s Labyrinth and Cronos), and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. However, for the sake of variety, I only included one of them on this list, and I decided to make it The Devil’s Backbone. This movie is about a boy who’s dropped off at an orphanage in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and he soon finds out that the place is haunted by a ghost the other kids call “the one who sighs.”
Like many of del Toro’s films, this one is largely a drama with a few horror elements thrown in, so it’s more about the plot and the characters than it is about the scares. Despite the seemingly bleak title, this movie is actually a rather touching story about friendship and the ability to see people’s inner beauty (or ugliness), so if you like real storytelling substance with your horror, The Devil’s Backbone will be right up your alley.
The Innocents is one of those classic movies that for some reason isn’t talked about much anymore. It’s on Martin Scorsese’s list of the scariest movies of all time, but most people today have never even heard of it. The film is based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, and it tells the story of a woman who is given charge of two orphaned children in a big mansion. Soon after she arrives, she begins to see strange people who shouldn’t be there, and she eventually realizes that the place is haunted by a pair of malevolent ghosts…or is it?
Probably the best thing about this movie is its ambiguity. You’re never entirely sure if the ghosts are real or if they’re just in the woman’s head. Sometimes the film seems to clearly point in one direction, but other times it gives the opposite impression. It’s a mix between psychological and supernatural horror, so if you’re in the mood for a genre mashup that will keep you guessing the whole way through, check out The Innocents.
The Uninvited is also on Martin Scorsese’s list of the scariest horror movies ever made, but just like The Innocents, this one too is almost entirely forgotten by all but the most hardcore film buffs today. It’s a 1944 ghost story about a brother and sister who unknowingly move into a haunted house, and it was the first horror movie to depict ghosts as real entities rather than illusions or hoaxes.
It’s no longer scary by modern standards, but what makes this one an enduring classic is its story. The ghosts in it aren’t just your standard evil spirits who like to torment the living for fun. No, these specters have a complex backstory, and the film takes you through some intriguing twists and turns as you find out just why they’re so attached to that house. It’s ultimately a story of love, lies, and discovering who you truly are, so if you’re looking for something that’s light on scares but big on heart, then The Uninvited is just the movie for you.
Eyes Without a Face
Eyes Without a Face is a French film from 1960, and it’s about a doctor who tries to give a face transplant to his daughter, who was horribly disfigured in a car accident. He lures young women to his home, drugs them, and then removes their faces. The operation always kills his victims, so when his experiments hit a snag, he has to keep killing again and again.
This film has a lot going for it, but for me, the best thing about it is the juxtaposition between intense love and intense cruelty. On the one hand, the doctor loves his daughter and just wants to give her back the life she enjoyed before her accident, but on the other hand, he’s let this desire turn him into a serial killer. This love-inspired barbarism shows that dividing people into good guys and bad guys is way too simplistic. We’re all a mix of both, and we all have the potential to do great good or great evil. The film is a deep dive into a complex facet of the human condition, so if you like horror that gives you some real food for thought, then Eyes Without a Face should definitely be on your to-watch list.