100 Essential Films of the Fantastic (51-75)

#62 Fantastic Planet (1973)

#62 Fantastic Planet (1973)

Part 3 of the 100 Essential Films of the Fantastic. See Part 1 for an introduction. To view all 100, visit the list’s contents page.

 51 Kill Baby Kill #51 Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) D: Mario Bava

Renowned horror stylist Bava submits this tale about a vengeful spirit – in the shape of an innocent-looking girl – terrorizing a small village. Thick Gothic atmosphere in the Hammer vein with dollops of Bava’s trademark nightmarish imagery; an evident influence on Fellini’s “Toby Dammit” segment of Spirits of the Dead (1968).

 52 Fearless Vampire Killers #52 The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) D: Roman Polanski

One of Polanski’s most playful films, this horror-comedy about a Van Helsing-style vampire hunter and his incompetent assistant benefits enormously from its fully realized sense of location and a clear love of the genre.

 53 Viy #53 Viy (1967) D: Konstantin Ershov, Georgi Kropachyov

A student is tasked with spending three nights watching over the body of a beautiful young woman in a church – but only he knows that she’s a witch, and she isn’t dead. A funny and creepy Russian tale with inventive special effects by Aleksandr Ptushko.

 54 The Devil Rides Out #54 The Devil Rides Out (1968) D: Terence Fisher

One of the greatest of Hammer horror films, an adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s novel about a crusader against black magic (Christopher Lee) who unravels a Satanic conspiracy led by Charles Gray. Taut direction by Fisher, and features a number of now-classic sequences.

 55 Kuroneko #55 Kuroneko (1968) D: Kaneto Shindô

After being raped and murdered by samurai, two women return from the dead to seduce and murder all samurai who travel near their final resting place. A thoroughly engrossing horror tale from the director of Onibaba.

 56 2001 #56 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) D: Stanley Kubrick

Value the fact that Kubrick took science fiction seriously, and carried on a long correspondence with Arthur C. Clarke to fully explore the ideas and the science behind them. Kubrick didn’t think there had been a really good film in the genre; he was wrong, but thankfully he raised the game for everyone.

 57 Yellow Submarine #57 Yellow Submarine (1968) D: George Dunning

During production, the Beatles all but disassociated themselves from this film, thinking it would turn out like the Beatles cartoon series. Instead they got a classic, an animated musical that captures the pop art stylings of the era. It’s the good “Sgt. Pepper” movie.

 58 Shiver of the Vampires #58 The Shiver of the Vampires (1971) D: Jean Rollin

Rollin found an exploitation niche with his erotic vampire films, and for much of the 70’s he continued to mine that premise as though he were searching for something. This is one of his best, full of mad inspiration, and the perfect image of a vampiress emerging from a grandfather clock.

 59 Conquest of the POTA #59 Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) D: J. Lee Thompson

In this late film in the classic Planet of the Apes cycle, we watch an enslaved race (the apes) rise up against the ruling class and defeat bigotry with disturbing violence. The best film since the original, infused with meaning and surprising conviction.

 60 Ruslan and Ludmila #60 Ruslan and Ludmila (1972) D: Aleksandr Ptushko

Ptushko’s fairy tale spectacle, in two parts, adapts Pushkin’s epic poem of a knight, a princess, and a sorcerer dwarf who lives inside a mountain kingdom. If you only see one Russian fairy tale film…


 61 Solaris #61 Solaris (1972) D: Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s adaptation of the Stanislaw Lem novel is long and meditative, so if you thought 2001 was too slow, you can skip it. Those who take the voyage, however, will find a film that’s actually 2001‘s opposite: a deeply emotional exploration of human longing and loss.

 62 Fantastic Planet #62 Fantastic Planet (1973) D: René Laloux

This will not be Laloux’s only entry in this list, because his animated pictures are pretty astounding. Fantastic Planet is his best known film, a science fiction parable about a race kept enslaved by blue humanoid giants. Distributed in the U.S. by Roger Corman.

 63 Holy Mountain #63 The Holy Mountain (1973) D: Alejandro Jodorowsky

In a totalitarian Catholic society, a thief scales a tower to assassinate a guru, played by Jodorowsky. Instead he falls under the guru’s wing, and joins a pilgrimage to find and ascend a “holy mountain” and achieve enlightenment. But that’s just the broad outline of a midnight movie chock full of outrageous digressions and transgressions.

 64 Zardoz #64 Zardoz (1974) D: John Boorman

Simultaneously regarded as a great “bad” movie as well as an endearing cult classic, I make no bones about it: I love Zardoz and believe a channel should be devoted to showing it 24/7. Boorman’s SF allegory sends Sean Connery from a barbaric wasteland into a walled society of elites who have developed psychic powers.

 65 Black Moon #65 Black Moon (1975) D: Louis Malle

If you thought Zardoz was strange, let me introduce you to Black Moon, Louis Malle’s riff on Alice in Wonderland which doubles as a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story. (I think. There is really no other film like it.)

 66 Duelle #66 Duelle (1976) D: Jacques Rivette

I could have picked a different Rivette film, such as the better-known Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), but Duelle, at least as odd as Black Moon, deserves a bigger audience. It’s another Rivette fantasy-comedy which pokes fun at film noir…and cinema in general (the soundtrack is played by a gent on the piano, occasionally glimpsed in the background). But it does have goddesses and magic, too.

 67 Master of the Flying Guillotine #67 Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) D: Jimmy Wang Yu

Hey, it’s got fantasy elements: just check out the film’s centerpiece, a martial arts tournament in which the contestants have superpowers that seemed to have been dreamed up during some late-night drinking: one man is called “Braised Hair” and can strangle his opponents with his braided hair. But this is a fun, fun movie.

 68 Star Wars #68 Star Wars (1977) D: George Lucas

Sadly, this interesting attempt at Flash Gordon space opera quickly vanished into obscurity, and its director was reduced to a string of low-budget teens-in-fast-cars movies for Roger Corman in line with his only success, American Graffiti. But what if?

 69 Wizards #69 Wizards (1977) D: Ralph Bakshi

That other Mark Hamill film from 1977, Wizards is like a distillation of Vaughn Bodé, Richard Corben, and Heavy Metal magazine. Violent, sexy, irreverent, chaotic, and crude – it’s Bakshi at his most Bakshi-esque.

 70 Alien #70 Alien (1979) D: Ridley Scott

Scott’s damp, grease-stained, steam-blasted universe is utterly believable, which makes this alien infestation – which is truly alien – so frightening. It may be updating clichés from B-movies past, but it still feels utterly original; it’s the best of the series by far.

 71 Galaxy Express #71 Galaxy Express 999 (1979) D: Rintaro

Leiji Matsumoto’s tale (also a concurrent TV series) of a boy, reeling from the murder of his mother, who is offered a pass on the Galaxy Express, a locomotive that travels between the stars. His goal is to get a machine body to become an immortal. A classic anime that spawned many sequels and spin-offs, it’s also briefly glimpsed in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983).

 72 An American Werewolf #72 An American Werewolf in London (1981) D: John Landis

A just-about-perfect reinvention of the werewolf movie in realistic and contemporary terms, which made Landis a “Master of Horror” even though he’d prefer to make comedies. Here, the comedy becomes starker amidst the horror, and vice versa.

 73 Clash of the Titans #73 Clash of the Titans (1981) D: Desmond Davis

Ray Harryhausen’s swan song returns to the Greek mythology of Jason and the Argonauts with a new collection of creatures, including Medusa, who stalks and kills Perseus’s men with poison arrows and a petrifying stare. Ignore the remakes.

 74 Dragonslayer  #74 Dragonslayer (1981) D: Matthew Robbins

Seriously underrated gritty fantasy has more in common with Alien than Star Wars, including its use of horror. Marketed with a (perhaps ill-considered) “Not a Fantasy” tagline, it’s an attempt to depict a realistic medieval world where dragons and sorcerers exist. The dragon itself is a triumph of the “Go Motion” stop-motion technique, and has awe and majesty.

 75 Excalibur  #75 Excalibur (1981) D: John Boorman

Like Dragonslayer, an attempt to use the new demand for fantasy and science fiction to present a sword & sorcery film with integrity and realism. An epic retelling of the Arthurian legend that Boorman seems to have been photographed through Merlin’s crystal ball.

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  • Jeff Kuykendall

    Would have included, but forgot to do so: Phantom of the Paradise, Suspiria.

    Cut – not by merit, but to get the list down to 100: Planet of the Apes, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead.