Love horror movies but weary of supernatural explanations? Want a suspense/thriller with a rational approach for a change? Looking for a universal message grounded in plausibility? Or just want to escape ludicrously contrived plot twists and two-dimensional characters that insult your intelligence?
Look no further, for below is a list of films, TV shows, and radio plays for the discerning atheist! Many are underrated sleepers and all are lyrically crafted works of true literary merit. This is also a chance to appreciate great actors and actresses who should never be forgotten, and to enjoy that nearly-extinct art form, the radio play. Grab the popcorn and your favorite drink, and enjoy!
Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage, 1960, French, also The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (U.S.A. version))
Forget French stereotypes – this film was the Psycho of France, horrifying and fascinating audiences around the world (and banned in a few countries). A physician seeks young, pretty women to be the donors for his daughter, whose face was disfigured in an accident. Available dubbed or with subtitles.
Diabolique (1955, French)
Ignore the 1996 remake and rent this cozy little thriller. An abused wife and her coworker murder a philandering husband – or so they think, but now he seems to be stalking him. Is he a ghost? No, the truth is much worse! Also available dubbed or with subtitles.
I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
One of those rare films than could have either a supernatural or a rational explanation. A nurse hired to care for the wife of a Caribbean plantation owner discovers the world of voodoo, which is more accurately portrayed than most other films of the time.
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Vincent Price is not the most loving husband in the world but he is the consummate host – of a supposedly “haunted” house. Now watch him and his wife double-cross each other.
Director Guy Maddin perfects his unique blend of surrealist sarcasm in this perverse little fable about a repressed village about to trigger an avalanche – in more ways than one.
The Crowd (1928)
If you haven’t seen any silent cinema, it’s time to discover it. Cinema’s earliest decades invented what many sound films (and especially our current crop of remakes) merely imitate. In this classic by director King Vidor, a man struggles for dignity in a society marching toward conformity, anonymity, and mass disregard. Unsentimental for its time and downright disturbing at moments, with a bittersweet ending.
(A note about silent cinema: a woman brought her young children to see this film when I saw it on the big screen. Big mistake! Silent films are not necessarily for kids. Before the Board of Review, they regularly showed nudity and addressed issues such as prostitution, crime, and drug addiction.)
This classic by legendary director Fritz Lang stars a young Peter Lorre as a mild-mannered serial child killer. As the police crack down on the “usual suspects,” the pickpockets, burglars, and prostitutes band together to stop him themselves. Complex, sardonic and disturbing.
Just see it. What might be most startling about this film is its profound humanity.
A man (Jack Klugman) tries to convince his friend (E.G. Marshall) not to believe a mail-order fortune-teller who claims to predict the future. You’re not going to guess the ending!
William Shatner stars as a man who allows a coin-operated fortune-telling machine to run his life. A hair-raising must-see for anyone who allows someone or something else to dictate their choices.
This strange little piece stars legendary actress Jessica Tandy as a lonely older woman who becomes obsessed with and eventually stalks a dashing ventriloquist around the world.
“The Whistler: Sleep, My Pretty One” (available for viewing at link via YouTube)
The TV version of the popular radio series (see below). “It’s science!” We’ve been hearing that a lot in the past two years. But what does it really mean? What does it mean when a scientist might have a cure for a dread disease, if only he could find the right guinea pig? And oh, dear – there’s another fortune-teller.
“Dimension X: To the Future” (available for listening at link via Internet Archive)
A very strange married couple have come to Mexico but are cagey with everyone about their past. Perhaps it’s because they come from the future and they are much more than just tourists.
“CBS Radio Mystery Theater: A Little Night Murder” (available for listening at link via cbsrmt.com)
This 1970s resurrection of old-time radio plays offers many delights (among them the host of the series, E.G. Marshall). In this episode, a serial killer is terrorizing a city but there seems to be no rhyme or reason in his choice of victims. One woman claims to have a premonition but a detective thinks there in nothing supernatural in her guess.
“CBS Radio Mystery Theater: The Chinaman Button” (available for listening at link via cbsrmt.com)
Would you commit an abominable act for money, if the crime could never be traced to you and it only involves pushing a button? A chilling thought-experiment in morality.
“The Whistler: Sleep, My Pretty One” (available for listening at link via YouTube)
“It’s science!” We’ve been hearing that a lot in the past two years. But what does it really mean? What does it mean when a scientist might have a cure for a dread disease, if only he could find the right guinea pig? And oh, dear – there’s another fortune-teller.
Why would an otherwise normal young woman claim to have married her sister’s fiancé and then to have found him murdered, when he’s alive and well and all the “blood” has mysteriously been cleaned up? She must be insane, right? A detective smitten with her does not think so.