Each month, the Paste staff brings you a look at the best new selections from The Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, The Criterion Collection has for over three decades presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films. You can explore the complete collection here. In the meantime, here are our top picks for the month of October:
Director: David Cronenberg
The Brood is, simply put, essential Cronenberg. The film is masterfully executed in its suspense and buildup toward the horrifying conclusion. Oliver Reed, as expected, delivers a powerhouse performance as Dr. Raglan, although this perhaps overshadows the rest of the cast. Regardless, the film stands as an earlier example of what was to follow throughout the majority of Cronenberg’s filmography. While this film focuses more on the body horror than the cerebral nature of his later work, The Brood has touches of the psychological in exploring rage, mental suppression and the pains of separation. Also permeating the film are nods to films that came before it such as Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, and the opening score has to be Howard Shore’s tip-of-the-hat to Hitchcock’s Psycho. In addition, the Criterion Collection’s digital transfer makes the images here really pop, especially the various shades of red used throughout the film. Perfect for the Halloween season, one of the early Cronenberg classics is definitely an addition worthy of any horror lover’s library. Especially due to some of the very nice special features including a documentary on the making of the film, various interviews with collaborators and a retrospective by Cronenberg himself. —Nelson Maddaloni
Director: Gus Van Sant
My Own Private Idaho serves as a reminder that Gus Van Sant used to make great movies. Not that he makes bad movies now, but as this film attests, he certainly found his sweet spot in the ’90s. Now deservingly part of the Criterion Collection, Van Sant’s second feature film, a road movie of sorts, centers on two young street hustlers: an introspective narcoleptic played by the late River Phoenix and the wayward son of the Portland mayor played by Keanu Reeves. With an eclectic, lyrical style that perfectly encapsulates the ethos of its director, My Own Private Idaho moves deliberately, aimlessly from scene to scene and place to place, functioning more as an ambiguous character study than a linear narrative. That said, despite its erratic nature, Van Sant’s film still proves intoxicating and heartbreaking at the same time. Anchored by the two lead performances, in which Phoenix possibly gives the best performance of his career, My Own Private Idaho emerges as a sad and hopeless meditation on the search for love and, ultimately, home in all the wrong places. —David Roark
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
You may notice that Criterion has outfitted their Blu-ray presentation of Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan with a dearth of supplemental material: The film comes packaged with a 1993 interview with Kobayashi, a 2015 interview with Kobayashi’s assistant director, Kiyoshi Ogasawara, and a profile of Greek author Lafcadio Hearn, whose novel Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a collection of old Japanese ghost stories translated by Hearn himself, served as the bases for Kobayashi’s film. (The always reliable Geoffrey O’Brien contributes his own thoughts on the movie in essay form, too.) But releases like Kwaidan don’t demand an excess of extras. They just demand to be seen. Criterion’s disc contains the full 183-minute cut of Kobayashi’s masterpiece, which should provide viewers with more than enough existentially terrifying diversion even sans auxiliary content.
Kwaidan is a landmark of its genre. As an anthology work, it predates horror’s fascination with omnibus filmmaking, and its segmented narratives have influenced classic and contemporary horror films alike, from The Exorcist to Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, Carved to Jessabelle. Cultural currency aside, the film is perfect, a beautifully made exercise in mounting fear through the impeccability of its craft. Horror films rarely look this breathtaking, but maybe they should. —Andy Crump