Raise the Red Lantern

Great sadness hides behind great beauty.

Zhang Yimou’s haunting look at the life of a concubine in 1920’s China is among the most-gorgeous films of the ’90s – or any era, for that matter.

But beneath the opulence a lot of nasty things linger – death, betrayal, and ultimately, madness.

Gong Li, a subtly-powerful actress, captures every flickering emotion as a young woman essentially sold into slavery after the death of her father leaves her family bankrupt.

Her new marriage offers great rewards, at first, but crushing sadness soon becomes her constant handmaiden.

Lovely to look at, and chilling to behold.

Mörderische Ferien

Blood ‘n guts – the universal language.

We usually think of slasher films as an American institution, but Uncle Sam has some competition when it comes to crazed killers harassing nubile victims.

This gore-splattered mystery thriller hails from Germany and follows a pretty familiar pattern.

Having escaped a killer as a youngster — her parents didn’t fare as well — our heroine gets out of the mental hospital years later and heads for the most remote location she can find.

Surprise, surprise, the vengeful assassin is soon on her trail, leaving a trail of bodies.

As you do in these kind of movies.

Jar City

You can’t escape the past.

Wandering through an unforgiving Icelandic landscape, a cop who’s seen too much finds he can still be surprised — though not necessarily in a good way — in this fairly-unique mystery thriller.

The complex case sprawling out in from him stretches back decades, hitting on murder most foul, rape, corrupt cops, and a rare disease wreaking havoc on multiple lives.

So, not exactly a laugh-a-minute comedy, is what I’m saying, I guess.

But, if you like your foreign detective flicks to be gorgeously downbeat and moody as all get out, this is a trip worth taking.

Save the Green Planet

The truth will set you free.

You just might not have all your body parts left when that happens, however.

Things get gnarly when a deeply-disturbed young man unleashes a vendetta, kidnapping and torturing a business leader who he believes is secretly a reptilian ET bent on world domination.

Grisly, yet also giggle-inducing at times, this loopy South Korean treat starts bizarre, then jams the gas pedal through the floor on its way to full-on demented status.

Not for those who get panicky at the sight of gore, maybe, but a worthy trip for those who embrace the surreal.

Battle Royale

Taboo to mainstream.

What a long, strange trip for this tale of Japanese schoolkids forced to fight to the death on a far-flung island.

The final film from a 40-year career for director Kinji Fukasaku, it predates The Hunger Games novels by almost a decade, and originally could only be seen on often-fuzzy bootleg tapes.

Nowadays, I can just fire up my Roku and find this ripe slice of the ol’ ultraviolence on any of a hundred streaming channels.

Either way, it was, and is, a punch to the gut in a way no PG-13 blockbuster ripoff/homage can ever be.