With a style blending the Gothicism of Universal monster movies, the aesthetics of a mid-century Halloween party and the banality of middle-class suburban life, Tim Burton’s films always defy convention. If you’re one of Burton’s fans, you’ve no doubt exhausted the director’s library of darkly whimsical gems with repeat viewings. So, while you’re waiting for Hollywood’s dark prince to unleash his next weird masterpiece, we suggest you put away that worn-out copy of Beetlejuice (you know all the dialogue by heart, anyway) and watch one of these movies Tim Burton fans will love.
Mad Monster Party?
Long before The Nightmare Before Christmas, Rankin/Bass Productions, the studio responsible for the holiday classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, released the macabre animated musical Mad Monster Party? With the voice talents of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller, Mad Monster Party? brings all the classic movie monsters together for the bash of the century. Although the film never reached the level of popularity of Rankin/Bass’ beloved Christmas specials, Mad Monster Party? has become a cult classic and favorite among fans of the ’60s monster revival that brought us The Munsters and The Addams Family.
The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T
Any kid forced to suffer piano lessons under duress will immediately relate to The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T. Much like 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, this film is a musical fantasy with some unusually dark imagery. Written by Dr. Seuss, who was so disappointed with the film that he disowned it, The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T was the beloved writer’s only foray into live-action film. Reviled at the time, modern critics reevaluated the film, establishing it as a forgotten classic, decades ahead of its time.
The feature debut of French filmmakers Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, Delicatessen is a quirky feast of bizarre visuals, music and black comedy. Set in post-apocalyptic France, the film stars Dominique Pinon as Louison, a former circus clown who takes a job as a maintenance man in a run-down apartment building over a butcher shop. His new boss, however, has other plans for him. A wickedly funny film that is at times both beautiful and grotesque, Delicatessen is a hearty meal for the senses unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Horror Of Dracula
In 1957, British movie studio Hammer Film Productions revived the classic monsters for a new generation with The Curse Of Frankenstein featuring Christopher Lee as Mary Shelley’s man-made monster. However, the following year, the studio would cast him in his signature role as the king of the vampires in Horror Of Dracula. A sexy revision of the bloodsucking count, Lee seized Bela Lugosi’s crown, reshaping the character in his own suave image. In his later years, Lee would become a staple of Burton’s films, appearing in Sleepy Hollow, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride and Dark Shadows.
Tales Of Terror
From the 1982 short film Vincent to the atmospheric, period style of Sleepy Hollow, Vincent Price and the Edgar Allan Poe films in which he starred throughout the 1960s loom large over Burton’s career. Among the best of those films is 1962’s Tales Of Terror. An anthology collecting Poe’s “Morella,” “The Black Cat” and “The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar,” the film stars Price alongside horror greats Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. With segments both comedic and terrifying, Tales Of Terror is a stylish tribute to Poe and a testament to Price’s underappreciated acting skills.
The City Of Lost Children
The creative team of Jeunet and Caro followed up Delicatessen with the dark fable The City Of Lost Children. Original Hellboy Ron Perlman stars as One, a circus strongman, who, with the help of an orphaned child named Miette (Judith Vittet), embarks on a perilous quest to rescue his little brother Denree (Joseph Lucien) from Krank (Daniel Emilfork), a mad villain who feeds on the dreams of children. Employing much of the quirky visual style that made Delicatessen a critical hit, Jeunet and Caro trade in their previous film’s overt wackiness for a more somber tone.
Mary And Max
A pair of misfits find true friendship by mail in the 2009 animated feature Mary And Max. Featuring voiceovers from Hereditary’s Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary And Max is uproariously funny and achingly touching. Dealing frankly with such topics as mental illness, loneliness and death, this film doesn’t shy away from important issues. Rarely has any film lived up the strength of its convictions with as much grace and sensitivity.
A fusion of sci-fi, film noir and a hefty dose of horror, Alex Proyas’ Dark City is an underappreciated masterpiece. The film stars Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch, a man with no memory who may have committed a violent murder. Relentlessly stalked by a group of frightening entities known as the “Strangers,” Murdoch uncovers the true nature of reality. Thematically similar to the Wachowskis’ The Matrix, which would be released just one year later, Dark City is in many ways a more mature film, less reliant on special effects and possessing an overall richer and decidedly gloomier atmosphere.
Henry Selick brings that stop-motion animation magic that made The Nightmare Before Christmas an instant classic to the work of author Neil Gaiman in the delightfully dark children’s fantasy Coraline. Based on Gaiman’s award-winning 2002 novella of the same name, Coraline stars Dakota Fanning as the voice of the film’s eponymous 11-year-old heroine whose dream of more attentive parents leads her to an idyllic parallel world. However, this alternate reality filled with button-eyed doppelgangers harbors a sinister secret. Selick’s connection to The Nightmare Before Christmas makes comparison inevitable. Despite the obvious similarities to Burton’s playfully spooky aesthetics, Coraline stands on its own.
Guillermo del Toro is among the most visionary and ferociously original filmmakers of the last 30 years. Pan’s Labyrinth is his magnum opus—a dark fairy tale of war, childhood and dreams. Set in the tumultuous years following the Spanish Civil War, the film tells the story of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a 10-year-old girl who, in the midst of the violence around her, enters a fantastic world of mythical beasts and monsters. Although a beautiful film, the visuals never overwhelm the poignancy of the story or humanity of the characters.