I once asked the great British filmmaker John Boorman if he still believed that “the occult and the cinema are natural companions,” as he once told the indispensable French film critic and historian Michel Ciment. Boorman (“Deliverance,” “Exorcist II: The Heretic”) didn’t hesitate to correct himself: instead of “occult,” he should have said “magic.” “I think film is very much connected to dreams,” he added. “To dreaming, and the unconscious. That’s where its real power lies.”
I thought about Boorman, and his love of Jungian archetypes, when I first heard about National Paranormal Day. That was a few hours ago, on Saturday morning. I confess, I first had to look up the definition of “paranormal,” then check on what we‘re celebrating: our mutual experiences and love for anything that can’t be explained, verified, or reproduced scientifically. I love that stuff; it’s weird, and reminds me of Kojak.
Also: daydreaming about paranormal phenomena is a fine enough way to think about our own superstitions or magical thinking. I suspect that’s why Boorman’s right to say that magic is cinematic, and, on a more personal note, why so many of my favorite movies are about the paranormal. Here are ten of my favorites.
1. “The Exorcist”
Is it still possible to watch this unnerving passion play with reasonable expectations? The movie’s still great, either way.
2. “God Told Me To”
3. “Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams”
There are a number of great Japanese ghost stories that could have gone on this list—“Kwaidan” and “Kuroneko” immediately come to mind—but “Dreams” is the first movie that scared me so badly that I had to turn it off partway through. “Dreams” is also one of a few movies about ghosts (and the past, the subconscious, and the artistic compulsion) that’s as mysterious as it is blunt.
4. “Don’t Look Now”
Nicolas Roeg’s haunted psychodrama is so overwhelming, both stylistically and emotionally. You should see it on a big screen, or right now.
Love at first sight with this delirious, grotesque character study. It’s also one of the only great psychodramas (about one woman’s spiritual crisis) that I think can be accurately described as “rococo.”
The Ramsay brothers— a group of self-taught Indian horror buffs that took cues from Hammer’s gothic chillers, “The Evil Dead,” and the “Thriller” music video, too—are pioneers of Indian horror. And “Veerana” is one of the Ramsays’ best horror movies.
The first horror movie to make me open my front door to confirm that the outside world was still there. The Tom Savini-helmed 1990 remake is also not bad!
8. “Encounters of the Spooky Kind”
9. “The Curse of the Cat People”
I love this sad, small ode to childhood disillusionment. Also: one the best possible sequels to a movie about jumping at shadows.
10. “Ghost Watch”
If you haven’t seen “Ghost Watch” yet: don’t read anything else about it, just find a copy, and watch it right now. If you have seen “Ghost Watch” already: I know, right?