If palpable atmosphere is the measure of a fright film, then few can match the photographic lyricism of this 1965 Japanese release. Onibaba, nearly overwhelms the viewer with its otherworldly sense of mysticism, seclusion and desperation. Detailing the degrading poverty of 17th century Japan, every scene of this unsettling classic is texturally rich, though the camera never ventures beyond the waving fields of grass where the story takes place.

The field is home to an aging widow and her daughter, who lure unwary samurai to their doom as they return from war. Upon selling the armor they've stripped from the bodies, the two women deposit the corpses in a pit concealed by the head-high grass.

A young farmer, returning from battle to his home across the field, threatens to woo the daughter from her possessive mother's side. The terrified widow, willing to employ any means to forestall her desertion, pries a ritual mask from the face of a dead samurai. Wearing the mask, she stalks the field by night, hoping to frighten the romantic inclinations out of her daughter.The scenes of this grinning visage emerging suddenly from the grass as the young lover runs to meet her paramour are some of the most truly frightening in all cinema. The widow's actions backfire hideously.

The acting in Onibaba is uniformly excellent but the wind is the film's true star. The unnerving sound of it continuously whooshing and wafting through the tall grass cannot be construed by the viewer as mere ambience but more a subliminal indication of the omnipresent evil inhabiting the film. The sure-handed direction of Kineto Shindo, expertly photographing the shadowly interplay of desperate people amid a bleak landscape, make Onibaba a film experience not to be missed.

The Japanese knack for delivering mood-drenched thrills should be explored by any true genre fan. Forthwith, these recommendations:

Kwaidan (1968)
Based on the writings of expatriate author Lafcadio Hearn, an American who made Japan his home in the late 1800s, this trilogy of ghost stories is nearly as unsettling at times as Onibaba. Each segment explores a different aspect of Japanese folklore and superstition. The portion detailing the experiences of a young man painted head to toe with protective religious symbols is particularly disturbing.

Acting: A
Atmosphere: A+
Fun: A

Ugetsu (1953)
Director Kenji Mizoguchi's eerie story of two peasants seeking fame and fortune in 16th century Japan was a prize winner at the Venice Film Festival. In their travels, the protagonists encounter spirits and rampant violence conveyed through some of the most haunting photography this side of Onibaba.

Acting: A+
Atmosphere: A+
Fun: A+

Throne of Blood (1957)
Akira Kurasawa's samarai retelling of MacBeth is an undeniable classic on many levels, but it is the film's supernatural content and depiction of bloody vengeance that remain with the viewer long after the story's conclusion. Highlights include a frenzied ride through a haunted forest, and Toshiro Mifune's encounter with a ghostly clairvoyant.

Acting: A+
Atmosphere: A+
Fun: A+

"Danger! These girls are hot!"
Jail Bait

"You'll be gripped by unholy horror
when you realize what H really means!"
The H-Man

"Before - a beautiful girl. one moment later - a skeleton!"
Teenagers from Outer Space

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