Best of Criterion’s New Releases: October 2023

Movies Lists The Criterion Collection
Best of Criterion’s New Releases: October 2023

Each month, Paste brings you a look at the best new selections from the Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, Criterion has presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films for over three decades. You can explore the complete collection here.

In the meantime, because chances are you may be looking for something, anything, to discover, find all of our Criterion picks here, and if you’d rather dig into things on the streaming side (because who’s got the money to invest in all these beautiful physical editions?) we’ve got our list of the best films on the Criterion Channel. But you’re here for what’s new, and we’ve got you covered.

Here are all the new releases from Criterion, October 2023:

Don’t Look Now

Year: 1973
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Stars: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland
Genre: Horror

Don’t Look Now is one of cinema’s great treatises on grief that falls within the realm of horror cinema, an emotionally devastating film that likewise functions as a masterclass on the use of visual and aural leitmotifs. After a married couple (Julie Christie and a typically unhinged Donald Sutherland) loses their sole daughter to a drowning accident, they travel abroad while trying unsuccessfully to cope with the loss, until the wife is contacted by a psychic who claims to be able to speak with their deceased daughter. What follows is a descent down a rabbit hole of faith, doubt and precognition, which tests the limits of Sutherland’s character’s sanity in particular. Highly atmospheric, and making spectacular use of the natural canals and bridges of Venice, Don’t Look Now winds through dark streets both visually and symbolically in search of answers to its burning questions. Famous in its time for a fairly explicit sex scene that has long since been surpassed by modern cinema, Don’t Look Now instead deserves to be remembered for its performance by Sutherland as the truth-seeking father, which slowly ramps up into a conclusion that will haunt your nightmares. If ever I have beseeched you to not spoil a film’s ending, it is now.—Jim Vorel 


Year: 1985
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi

Videodrome wears many skins: It’s a near-future thriller about the lines between man and machine blurring, a sadomasochistic fantasy, a chronicle of one man’s tragic descent into madness and even a screed against society’s abusive relationship with theatrical violence. Yet, more than any dermis it claims as its own, Videodrome is horror down to its bones, a shard of phantasmagorical mania wielded by the genre’s most cerebral master. The mind is where Cronenberg creeps, taking his imagination’s darkest wanderings—steeped in symbolism and subconscious detritus—to visceral extremes. The same could be said for smut peddler Max Renn (the always sweaty James Woods), manager of a cable TV channel devoted to finding new boundary-breaking entertainment, who stumbles upon a pirated broadcast signal carrying “Videodrome,” a seemingly unsimulated series filled with graphic torture and death. As Cronenberg’s dark dreams tend to do, “Videodrome” begins to warp Renn’s reality—our mind’s eye, as one episode explains to him, is the television screen—and the malevolent forces behind “Videodrome” convince him to go on a killing spree, armed with his newly grown mutant cyborg hand (which might be a hallucination but probably isn’t). Throughout, Cronenberg literalizes Renn’s grossest thoughts, opening up a vaginal orifice in his stomach (into which he salaciously sticks his handgun) or transforming his television set into a pulsating, veined organ, manifesting each apocalyptic vision with immediate, tactile reality. In Videodrome, maybe more saliently than in any of his other films, Cronenberg squeezes the ordeals of the slumbering mind like toothpaste from the tube into the disgusting light of day, unable to push them back in. Long live the new flesh—because the old can no longer hold us together. —Dom Sinacola


Year: 1932
Director: Tod Browning
Stars: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates, Harry Earles
Genre: Horror

There are few films of the 1930s, no matter how shocking their intent, that can still claim to possess any kind of taboo aura—except for Freaks, that is. The film is unique among those of its time in the disturbing nature of both its imagery and its all-too-true indictment of human misanthropy. You can call Freaks exploitative all you want—and let’s be honest, it really is—but it’s simultaneously one of the era’s most daring pieces of outsider art. Which is funny, considering it came out of MGM, of all places. Freaks is the story of supposed lovebirds Cleopatra and Hans, circus performers who are due to be married. Cleopatra is a beautiful but penniless trapeze artist. Hans is a “sideshow midget” played by Harry Earles of The Unholy Three, and you can’t deny he gets much more of a plum role here—he’s not a man standing in for a baby again, at the very least. The only problem with the upcoming nuptials is the fact that they’re a sham—Cleopatra is only interested in the diminutive Hans for his money, and is planning to have him killed by her true lover, circus strongman Hercules. The only people standing between Cleopatra, Hercules and the fortune possessed by Hans are the latter’s small army of “freak” friends, from the Human Skeleton and the Bearded Lady to “Pinhead Zip” and “Koo-Koo the Bird Girl.” The horror of Freaks comes on several levels. There is, to be sure, plenty of surface-level revulsion here. A modern audience (and indeed, the contemporary audience as well) is both repulsed by some of the faces on screen, and contrite about their own repulsion. These were human beings; many of them lifelong circus sideshow performers, totally out of their element appearing in a Hollywood film. There’s no way to make a horror film with these kinds of performers without it being at least moderately exploitative. At the same time, though, the more lasting contribution of Freaks to horror cinema is its scathing criticism of society’s instinct to demonize and dehumanize those who are different. It’s little wonder that the status of Freaks as a horror classic began with the 1960s counterculture, as those who chose to turn their back on popular society, likely being labeled “freaks” themselves, rediscovered Browning’s film as a lost time capsule of similar sentiment.–Jim Vorel

The Unknown

Year: 1927
Director: Tod Browning
Stars: Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford, Nick De Ruiz, John George
Genre: Thriller

Criterion October 2023 the unknown

A showcase for Lon Chaney’s impeccable physicality, The Unknown is about as melodramatic as a Tod Browning film gets: You’ve heard of cutting off your nose to spite your face, but what about when arms come into play? Chaney plays lying carnival scoundrel Alonzo the Armless, whose arms are simply hidden, bound tightly around his torso, to prevent his identification as a thief. Chaney, in addition to some of the most intense and engrossing facial expressions of his career, sells this deception perfectly. Thanks to leg double Paul Desmuke (a truly armless knife-thrower), Alonzo drinks tea, writes letters, scratches his chin while thinking, shoots a gun, and does just about everything else you can think of with his feet. It’s a well-blended dual performance that portends Browning’s centering of disabled actors in Freaks just five years later. As his obsessions with spectacle and the thin line between reality and illusion collide, Browning and frequent writing collaborator Waldemar Young weave a story worthy of a fable. Alonzo’s infatuation with Joan Crawford’s Nanon is suitably tragic, while Crawford grounds her character’s arm-phobic performance (really!) with a light touch. A deliciously cruel plot and a stunner of a final setpiece sets The Unknown atop Browning’s big-top dramas and atop his Chaney collaborations in general.–Jacob Oller

The Mystic

Year: 1925
Director: Tod Browning
Stars: Aileen Pringle, Conway Tearle
Genre: Drama

Criterion October 2023 the mystic

Tod Browning’s proto-Nightmare Alley is a carnie con filled with stunning Erté gowns, shifty eyes and practical illusions taken straight from the sideshow. Aileen Pringle’s “psychic” Zara, scooped up from Hungary and brought to America by an enterprising scoundrel (Conway Tearle) looking to make some real money, gains the confidence of an heiress (Gladys Hulette) through phantasmagoric feats of light, shadow and trick wall panels. Coupled with early circus gags including knife-throwing, handcuff escapes, tightrope-walking and fake arms, The Mystic immediately announces itself as a movie well-versed in duping rubes. Browning and cinematographer Ira H. Morgan know exactly where to put the camera to frame this amazement, earning our confidence alongside their plot’s mark. While the crime plot eventually collides head-on with a half-hearted romance between its petty crooks (Browning’s outcasts can never truly be as bad as they seem), The Mystic is a gorgeous and underseen séance film — and one that reveals the pet themes of its writer/director as his career began to mature at MGM.–Jacob Oller

The Others

Year: 2001
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston, Elaine Cassidy, Eric Sykes, Alakina Mann, James Bentley
Genre: Horror

the others

The Others is a stately ghost thriller that is classical in structure, sumptuous in appearance and somewhat familiar in its plotting. Borrowing heavily from the modus operandi of gothic horror literature and Hammer horror productions of the ’60s, it’s hard not to look at Nicole Kidman here and see her as doing an impersonation of Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, except playing a mother rather than “governess.” Still, The Others takes the bones of that kind of story, in the mold of The Turn of the Screw and adds a few more modern layers–an absent husband who mysteriously returns; a pair of servants who seem to know more than they let on; a few genuinely creepy scenes involving the children. It was rightly praised upon release as a stylish throwback in an era that was considerably more dominated by monsters and slashers, and its period piece setting gives it a certain timeless quality, 20 years later. The best ghost stories age well, and The Others is doing exactly that. —Jim Vorel


Year: 2022
Director: Nikyatu Jusu
Stars: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams
Genre: Horror

Nikyatu Jusu's Debut Nanny Wraps Its Immigrant Horror in Folklore Roots

Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny is a tale of prolific sadness that challenges horror’s identity. Jusu conjures a Senegalese immigrant’s experience, tempted by the siren’s call of American dreams only to find classism, status oppression and unwelcome glances. Whenever Nanny approaches moments where supernatural events might indulge frightening fantasies, Jusu pushes harder for tragic authenticity. Anna Diop stars as transplant Aisha, the hired nanny to an Upper East Side family struggling to maintain their lifestyle. Amy (Michelle Monaghan) enlists Aisha to care for her daughter Rose (Rose Decker) while her photojournalist husband Adam (Morgan Spector) is away shooting another conflict. Aisha works day and night to raise money for her son Lamine’s (Jahleel Kamara) birthday flight to America, but Amy starts missing payments, and working conditions become increasingly uncomfortable. Another day in the life of an overworked and unprotected American immigrant, complete with visions of folklore that endanger Aisha’s position and health—I never said an “average” life. Jusu works with soft and quiet assertions of the horror genre, although there’s not much to fear on spectral levels. That’s not the movie Nanny wants to be. Diop portrays a character drowning in maternal remorse as she cares for another’s neglected child while fighting the guilt of “neglecting” her own son, still living abroad. Nanny doesn’t require a grotesque Clive Barkerian imagination—life is terrifying enough for outsiders. Nanny seeps into your pores, stings like salt in a throbbing wound. Jusu’s feature debut is a noteworthy victory in terms of dreary tones, simmering tension and emotional brevity. Its horror accents don’t lunge from shadows or squeal at high pitches. Patience is a virtue here, as long as audiences holster their Blumhouse expectations and allow Jusu to express herself.–Matt Donato

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