If you're anything like me, you've been staring at your tuxedo cat, coming to the realization that all tuxedos look like dominoes--and if you take their front and back halves, utilizing white spots, you can glean their binary value (for instance, my cat Gus would be a 4/3 domino). And how much fun would it be for all of us to collect armies of tuxedo cats and play dominoes together...
...yeah, we gotta get out of the goddamn house.
Since that won't be happening anytime soon, why not take advantage of the entire world being at our fingertips? As such, I've put together a quick list of seven foreign genre films streaming on various platforms this very second--a group of films to watch as a means of traveling the world. You know, like taking a damned trip. But not like visiting the Louvre with your sophomore class or some shit like that. We're talking' thieves in Paris, vampires in Australia, gangsters in Seoul, and witches in Russia.
So yeah, maybe not all that much different from your sophomore class.
Shoot First, Die Later (1974)
Written and directed by the godfather of the poliziotteschi genre, Fernando Di Leo, Shoot First, Die Later stands tall, even among the best of its ilk. Luc Merenda (Torso) stars as a hot shot cop taking on an underground criminal ring, and that's all I'm going to say, as there's a pretty big twist thirty minutes in that completely changes the trajectory of the movie. As a matter of fact, the film shifts gears a few times, unfolding in a dynamic and unpredictable way that's a bit more sophisticated than what we've come to expect in this genre.
Perhaps most surprising about this film is its emotional heft, especially given that it's by the same guy who directed Il Boss and wrote Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, two of the most hard-edged films in the Italian crime canon. Di Leo weaves a potent, heartbreaking father-son story inside the standard boilerplate police actioner, painting a portrait of tragedy and loss of innocence during Italy's "Years of Lead."
Really well directed and packed with great dialogue, Shoot First, Die Later is the best poliziotteschi film of all time.
Available to stream on Fandor
The Outlaws (2017)
The true story of Seoul police running operations against Chinese-Korean gangs in 2007, The Outlaws is a very entertaining, funny, and violent police procedural from first time director Kang Yoon-sung. But its biggest selling point is that it stars Ma Dong-seok--yes, the big guy who played the best character in Train to Busan. Raise your hand if you saw that film, and all you wanted was to see Ma Dong-seok play a badass Popeye Doyle-type cop in a leading role?
Now lower and your hand click play.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime
A young seminary student must do battle with an evil witch in what is considered the first ever horror film from the Soviet Union. Viy is charming and hauntingly beautiful, with a blue gel color palette that would make Mario Bava proud. Though obviously constricted by budget, the sets are elaborate and expansive, lending a nice gothic feel to this rural folk tale.
For those interested in the history of horror cinema, this one is not to be overlooked.
Available to stream on Shudder
Le deuxième souffle (1966)
If you're reading this, chances are I don't have to sell you on the merits of Jean-Pierre Melville, the French New Wave master who has influenced everyone from Michael Mann to Quentin Tarantino to Paul Thomas Anderson. Though, to be fair, even if you are a Melville fan, you've probably missed Le deuxième souffle. For whatever reason, it always tends to get lost in the shuffle, even though it was one of his biggest commercial hits at the time.
His last film in black and white, it is decidedly separate from the rest of his crime oeuvre. For one thing, it's two and a half hours long; it's slow and brooding and more in-your-face existential. However, the film still brings the cool: we get the trench coats and the fedoras, the badass heists and stoicism. It also appears to directly lay the template for Mann's Heat thirty years later (hell, Lino Ventura even looks like Robert De Niro).
Top three Melville for me.
Available to stream on Criterion Channel
Big Bad Wolves (2013)
A Quentin Tarantino favorite, Big Bad Wolves ain't for the faint of heart. The film follows a grieving father as he kidnaps the main suspect in his daughter's murder after the police are helpless to do anything. Well, kidnapping is the lighter way of putting it--more like torturing him in his basement.
Directed by Ahron Keshales and Navot Papushado, Big Bad Wolves is not without its sense of humor, though it is far, far, far from a pleasant watch. The movie struggles with the validity/cost of torture as it tries to answer the question: even if it does work sometimes, is it worth the price of your soul?
An underrated, little gem from the past decade.
Available to stream on Shudder
This movie falls under the category of Way Better Than It Has Any Right Being. In what could be an insanely campy premise (aristocratic vampire cult that has a human farm for "milking" purposes), it's done totally straight and somehow works!
Thirst stars a smoking hot Chantal Contouri who is kidnapped by the aforementioned cult, who includes among its ranks a very game Henry Silva. The cult believes Contouri is a direct descendant of Elizabeth Bathory, and therefore a link in a royal bloodline of vampires.
The film is big, excellently paced, and will keep you on edge until the very last frame.
Available to stream on Tubi, Shudder, and Fandor
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)
Ah yes, no genre film list is complete without the requisite, sleazy woman in prison film. So why not go balls to the wall (not sure that pun really works here) and do director Shun'ya Ito's first film in his Female Prisoner Scorpion series. Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood) plays Kami, a wrongly imprisoned woman who seeks revenge on the man who put her there. In order to achieve this, she must survive rapey guards, torture, and the maniacal warden who's out to silence her.
Though Ito would refine his bold sense of style with later entries, it all starts here. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is hyper stylized, ultra violent, and sleazy as all fuck. Highly recommended.
Available to stream in Shudder