One honest-to-God-with-a-capital-G scary movie, and not just because you've got grue and gore. It's scary because it violates your sense of what's natural. Plus, I respect the ending.
A movie spilling over with character and dialogue.
I said The Exorcist was a scary movie, but even that didn't freak me out like Jacob's Ladder. It's a movie that makes you afraid to be alive.
Jeremy Irons plays psychotic twin gynecologists. This movie has no paranormal elements, and it's gobs weirder than most horror movies. Based on a true story. (Not a date movie.)
A simple paranormal concept (reincarnation) well handled, directed and acted, except for a bit of scene chewing from Derek Jacobi.
Good paranormal detective story, and DeNiro was spot on.
Lord of Illusions
Wow, did they ever misuse Scott Bakula in this one! Still, in its basic precept it's very close to what's going on in Unknown Armies. Be sure to get the director's cut--not so much for the "aorta-cam" scene but for about thirty seconds when the reactivated cultists butcher their families before going off to see the wizard.
John Woo's masterpiece of violence and melodrama. Again, no paranormal elements, except for Chow Yun-Fat's unearthly coolness. Fargo A brilliant portrait of the kind of stumbling, directionless, short-sighted folks who make up at least 80% of the criminal class (and probably a large section of most other classes as well).
Recommended Reading (Greg): Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron by Daniel Clowes
Lessee here . . . murderous apocalyptic cults? Check. Trashy, bumbling seekers after mystic enlightenment? Check. People voluntarily getting their eye sockets chewed on by rare Asiatic sea crustaceans? Check. This graphic novel has everything you need. ISBN# 1-56097-116-9.
Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
This look at the occult underground of Italy is thick with weird history of every flavor. Not easy going, but worth it. If you like this one, try out The Island of the Day Before. Not much of that book is applicable to Unknown Armies except for the magical thinking of the protagonist. The part where he snaps and wants to save Jesus from Judas is classic.
Kooks by Donna Kossy
This is a collection of materials from fringe groups and mixed lone nuts. Rather heavy on the anti-semitism (as you'd expect from any collection of kook writing) but rich with plot ideas. ISBN 0-922915-19-9.
While Lovecraft is best known for his so-called "Cthulhu Mythos" stories (and deservedly so), he also did a number of stories without the Mythos cosmology and intertext, and they're probably more applicable to Unknown Armies. "The Picture in the House" is a perfect example of a solo psycho Duke with his own system worked out.
The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee
The stories "The Middleman," "Buried Lives," and "Danny's Girls" are a mix of film noir, white trash, and a rainbow of multiculturalism. "Loose Ends" is all of the above, with a protagonist who is just bone-chilling scary. Mukherjee has a bullseye bead on the juncture between sex and politics, not to mention a deft hand with characterization. These stories may be a little out of date (they're from the '80s) but still well worth reading.
Pretty much anything by Tim Powers
The Stress of Her Regard is one of his weakest works: it's only better than 80% of the stuff out there. On Stranger Tides and The Anubis Gates are better, and both deliver examples of fabulous magick that make perfect sense. Expiration Date is better still, providing a modern-day magickal underground in L.A. Best of all for Unknown Armies is Last Call, which was seminal to the idea of the godwalker.
In Sorcery's Shadow by Paul Stoller
This is the nonfiction account of an anthropologist who apprenticed himself to a Nigerian sorcerer and fled the country from fear of a witch's anger. ISBN 0-226-77543-7.
Recommended Viewing (John): Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart & Lost Highway
David Lynch is quintessentially Unknown Armies, but then again, there are few creative areas where his work — or at least Blue Velvet — hasn't had as much of an influence as H.R. Giger has had in the fantastic visual arts. The three films listed above have the right mix of tawdry glamour and white-trash ambition to qualify as good for Unknown Armies. His Twin Peaks work — particularly his film Fire Walk With Me — veers wildly into excellence at times, but doesn't really have the Unknown Armies vibe. However, find the out-of-print videotape or laserdisc of his three-episode series Hotel Room. The third episode, "Blackout," with terminal freak Crispin Glover, has a lovely atmosphere of senseless dread that should infect your gaming sessions.
The Element of Crime
Director Lars von Trier's debut feature, this is a beautifully filmed look at madness and murder set within a vaguely post-apocalypse Europe where it is always night and usually raining. An exiled cop is recalled from Egypt — where the desert is devouring Cairo — to Germany, where a psychopath is murdering young girls selling lottery tickets. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, the cop seeks to adopt the mindset of the murderer in order to catch him. Stunning visuals that recall Blade Runner in their power and uniqueness, only using mud and crumbling buildings instead of cyclopic skyscrapers.
The Exorcist III
Having seen the first, you should skip the second and go straight to the third, written and directed by original Exorcist novelist William Peter Blatty from his own novel (Legion). It's a beautiful piece of work with some amazing imagery and chilling scenes, despite a few letdowns in the climax.
Writer/director Michael Mann presents a textbook example of solid plotting in this three-hour L.A. crime drama. He moves masterfully between amazing shootouts, tech-talky plans for elaborate heists, credible police procedurals, and harrowing family dramas in a way that every GM should study. It's like half a season of Hill Street Blues or Homicide in one movie. I've watched this flick maybe a half-dozen times now and it's still an education in effective storytelling.
The Kingdom I & II
Lars von Trier returns with a nine-hour Danish television mini-series released as two feature films abroad. At a prestigous hospital in Copenhagen, a door to the spirit world is opening and all hell is breaking loose. Brilliantly melds a traditional ghost story with Twin Peaks-style bizarro humor and jaw-droppingly scary revelations into a work like nothing else on this globe of earth.
From the late Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky comes this curious mix of science fiction and philosophy. A restricted Zone within the Soviet Union — where a meteor hit years before — contains, at the heart of its abandoned industrial wasteland, a room where your deepest wish comes true. A writer and a professor hire a Stalker to guide them through the Zone to the room at its heart. The Zone proves dangerous, with its own set of rules and traps that function on metaphysical principles rather than physical ones. A dreamlike, haunting film.
Ellroy writes crime novels the way Shakespeare wrote plays: better than anyone else. His books are fat, beefy bastards so full of intricate plotting, fascinating characters, and devastating psychologies that they render most crime writers since Dashiell Hammett irrelavent. If you want to read the best in new horror fiction, avoid the "horror" book rack — Ellroy is fighting on the front lines of the human nightmare, and has handily left the sad remnants of the horror field in his wake. His novel L.A. Confidential was made into an excellent movie recently, but as good as the movie was, the book was far better.
From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie
Campbell Moore's sweeping saga of Jack the Ripper does an admirable job of showing how mysticism can infect daily life — and even overtake it.
Pretty much anything by Tim Powers
I have to second Greg's pick here, though I like The Stress of Her Regard more than Greg did and Last Call a lot less. Even though I think Last Call is something of a tiresome novel — if you've read the rest of Powers' work, that is — it still contains brilliant ideas and bits of business. On Stranger Tides and Anubis Gates remain his best.