The Best New Movies on The Criterion Channel in October 2022 – Collider

Spooky time is coming to Criterion this month with a host of great horror films (and others) joining the service.
The arrival of October means the official onset of Halloween. Until the proliferation of comic-book conventions to expand the reasons to dress like more daring and/or mildly frightening alternates of ourselves, this sugary Autumn masquerade has been there for those who need it. The Criterion Channel understands October’s spooky responsibilities, and its programming is a bloody bucketful of scary treats, or artistically comforting ones, so let’s waste no time and consider a few of the best.
Available: October 1 | Directed by: Amy Holden Jones
Cast: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella
After John Carpenter wrote the playbook turning macabre, grindhouse entertainment into populist gold with Halloween (1978), the Hollywood Imitation Factory began its inevitable churn for similar hits. Unlike, say, the post-Tarantino crime dramedy boom of the 1990s, the 1980s horror also-rans did not have to live up to some undefinable X-factor embodied by a single writer. The fine details of the horror playbook—especially for slasher auteurs—were open to interpretation, but the broad strokes were obvious. You needed teenagers, you needed tension, you needed a body count, you needed a villain. Yes, talented directors would be nice, but you didn’t need them, the beats themselves were just too pleasurable to really screw up. Among the best to immediately follow Halloween took the female-protagonist aspect as a given. Black Christmas and Sorority House Massacre are fun and funny highlights, with the former being actually pretty great. Their unsung cousin is The Slumber Party Massacre. Directed by feminist artist Amy Holden Jones (who co-wrote Mystic Pizza) and written by feminist scribe Rita Mae Brown, this film’s script was originally intended as a sendup of the young slasher genre. Its strength was meant to be its effectiveness as an entrant. It was supposed to be Scream, just a decade-plus ahead of schedule. Unfortunately for the writer, her director was not interested in satire. What’s left is an enjoyable slasher that attempts to depict its victims as actual characters, but whose wink-wink trashiness is delivered minus the winks.
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Available: October 1 | Directed by: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Hae-sook, Shin Ha-kyun
Director Park Chan-wook is one of the most well-rounded artists to ever touch the horror genre. His touch can be so subtle that gatekeepers might quibble that he’s ever made a straight-up horror movie, but so visceral that others find the horror too obvious to deny. His Vengeance Trilogy is poignant, brutal stuff that should be seen by even the most puritanical of horror fans. Included in Criterion’s Halloween programming is his 2009, post-Trilogy vampire offering, Thirst. One might remember 2009 as a quite vampire-minded time in popular culture. To that end, Thirst has read the room. It’s got violence, it’s got sex, it’s got romance. It’s about an accidentally undead priest and his torrid affair with a woman wanting for physical intimacy. Lucky for our priest, she is quite open-minded about how much blood-sucking nihilism this intimacy can contain. The story is character-focused, but that doesn’t stop Chan-Wook from employing showstopping directorial flourishes to keep the intensity felt. It’s kind of his thing. There is enough energy in his camera work alone to get the less erotic-thriller-hungry vampire fans in the audience transfixed.
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Available: October 1 | Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Cast: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves
Oh, but not everyone likes to be scared. Or, not in the mortal peril sense. Some like to vicariously explore the fear of heartbreak, and so here comes Gus Van Sant. He is an artist with dual spirits. The first spirit is a European cinema studying art-cannon who almost never misses his target. Able to wring pathos and poetry from shots of pretty faces as much as from shots of empty rooms or long highways. The other spirit is more of a crowd-pleasing populist interested more in getting a story to the endzone than taking you on a trip. One could argue that the only example of his successfully merging those competing instincts is My Own Private Idaho. A landmark for queer cinema, it tells the Shakespearian story of male hustlers, portrayed by River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, in search of the love they don’t get from their parents and identities that provide self-respect. It’s a location-hopping unrequited love story, with a great performance from Reeves and perhaps the best-ever performance from River Phoenix. The latter’s untimely end adds a layer of vitality to his work here, and to his character’s dances with danger, making his every move onscreen feel very important to watch.
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Available: October 1 | Directed by: Bill Duke
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum, Charles Martin Smith
Another not-a-horror-movie. This one is a noir thriller with racial and class politics on its mind. In the years following Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Hollywood learned (as they would have to do many times over since) that telling stories of high artistic quality about modern African-American experiences might be lucrative. Post-1980s excess, American cinema was ready for relatively grounded stories in general. The state of many Black-majority cities throughout the country, in the early ‘90s, meant those stories would be as bracing and unforgiving as the neighborhoods they depicted. Boyz ‘N the Hood, Menace II Society, and Juice get brought up a lot in conversations about this era, but Deep Cover is often overlooked. This might be due to it wearing its genre intentions so brazenly. It wants to tell a crime story, and it wants to tell it with style. Directed by Bill Duke (who spent the 80s playing intense, soft-spoken badasses in movies like Commando and Predator), it is all dark spaces and tough guys and men who can’t be trusted. The co-lead is Laurence Fishburne, but he is also the film’s MVP. He is a charisma bomb, delivering each of his lines as if his scene partner has stolen something, and they’ll settle it after this take is in the can.
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Available: October 12 | Directed by: Věra Chytilová
Cast: Miroslav Machácek, Tomás Palatý, Stepánka Cervenková
As far as horror setups go, Wolf’s Hole—another contribution from the post-Carpenter 1980s—has a premise that’s basically perfect. A group of angsty teenagers are taken to remote mountains for a skiing workshop, and they aren’t told how exactly they’ve qualified for such a special trip. There are 11 teens altogether, but their camp supervisor is emphatically certain there should only be 10 of them. That means, one of them is an imposter. This Czech film has elements of a paranoid thriller and heaping portions of teen horror. It’s also got elements that suggest it might have inspired young-adult author Bruce Coville’s My Teacher is an Alien novels, which would debut a few years later. Its story can also be seen as an allegorical take on the Czech period of Soviet-influenced authoritarian rule, and its ills, which would not end till 1990.
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Available: October 15 | Directed by: Lucrecia Martel
Cast: María Onetto, Claudia Cantero, Ines Efron
An elusive mystery that moves with horror’s sense of unease, The Headless Woman’s central character is a very put-together woman of means. This all goes out the window when, one night, driving while distracted, she strikes and kills a dog. Or was it a person? Perhaps even a child… Not one to stick around and find out, our lead goes on with her life, only now her effortless grace and reliable mental state are all gone. She is clumsier, foggier, and not quite herself. Could that have really been a little boy she killed? She doesn’t want to know, and it’s that tell-tale unknowing that becomes her slow, psychological undoing. The film traps us with her, allowing us only to know what she is willing to accept, generating effective tension from this dance of denial, buoyed by excellent performances all around. Hereditary director Ari Aster curates a list this month for Criterion, featuring works whose effectiveness he admires, and includes The Headless Woman as one such film.
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Available: October 19 | Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson
Before her relatively recent prestige resurgence with The Hurt Locker (2008), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), and Detroit (2017), the vampire western Near Dark was arguably director Kathryn Bigelow’s best movie. In its grounded, modern depiction of the undead as a group of close-knit bandits who are hostile to handsome newcomers, Bigelow crafts a horror-drama precursor to her own Point Break. With its central romance of an isolated human male falling for a beguiling vampiric female, it’s a glimpse at what a gender-swapped Twilight might look like with more complicated moral interests. A product of America in the 1980s, there are threads of AIDS and drug-addiction allegories in the characters’ different relationships with the consumption of blood. The more action-oriented scenes are some of the best Bigelow has ever directed (to this day, even) and this film’s relative obscurity is worth remedying to see those sequences if nothing else.
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Fredrick James writes about TV and movies for Collider. He is a writer and artist from New Jersey, land of the Sopranos, and currently living in California, land of sunny traffic jams. Since childhood, he’s been enamored with the “why” and “how” of film, music and television, scouring credits for familiar names to get excited about and generally wondering how cool things got to be that way. When he isn’t leaving food out for his neighborhood’s less feral stray cats, he is playing Crusader Kings 3 and missing New York’s pizza parlors.
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