Black Orpheus (1959)
Adhemar da Silva
Bolder than Jean Cocteau’s French 1950 version of the same story (where Death turned out to be a moody beatnik), Marcel Camus’ Cannes winning Brazilian classic puts the Greek myth in the middle of Carnival season. Jumping out of the shadows to chase Eurydice through the streets of Rio, the Reaper is a bit less scary when you know that the man behind the mask was Brazil’s Olympic triple jump champion.
The Book Of Life (2014)
Kate del Castillo
A real Mexican saint worshiped by drug cartels, La Muerte (Our Lady Of The Holy Death) is usually just an old skeleton in a tatty dress. Reimagined by Jorge Gutierrez for his dazzling 3D animation, La Muerte becomes a feisty, flowery coquette with penchant for winding up her Mayan death god husband Xibalba (Ron Perlman).
The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Legend has it that the last person to die on New Year’s Eve will have to drive Death’s carriage around all year, harvesting souls and doing all the Reaper’s dirty work. Victor Sjöström’s silent Swedish classic has an air of eeriness that even 90 years can’t shake – with Death’s hooded, shuffling, loping presence (filmed using double exposures for an early special effect) still casting a long shadow.
Last Action Hero (1993)
Ingmar Bergman’s Death exits his own film via a magical portal in James Cameron’s meta-movie, giving Ian McKellen a chance to do a pretty good Bengt Ekerot impression (and help patch over a massive plot hole at the end of the movie that had something to do with a magic cinema ticket and Arnold Schwarzenegger foiling a plan to resurrect Hitler and King Kong).
The Frighteners (1996)
Okay, so it’s not really the Grim Reaper – it’s just the ghost of mad old Jake Busey pretending to be the Reaper so he can carry on killing people – but that doesn’t stop Peter Jackson from showing us the Death of Weta. Bursting out of mirrors, creeping under the wallpaper and outrunning cars – he actually looks suspiciously like one of the Black Riders from Lord Of The Rings …
The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)
The seventh film in Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe series, Vincent Price plays the satanic prince who realises that his muddy medieval village is infected with the plague. A few orgies later, Price comes face to face with the spectral figure responsible – a lurid red robed Death.
Watership Down (1978)
Forget the eye gouging and the blood-letting, the most horrific scenes in Watership Down all involve the Black Rabbit Of Inle’ – the woodland Reaper who ferries Hazel to the great hutch in the sky and who still haunts the dreams of a generation of children who thought they were watching a nice film about rabbits…
The Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen (1988)
Bluffing and blagging his way through life, Baron Munchhausen’s greatest act is cheating Death – literally. After outrunning the Reaper on the back of a cannonball and outlasting him in the belly of a giant fish – the Baron eventually ends up playing him at cards. Terry Gilliam’s ragged, winged Reaper looks (like everything else in the film) like it leapt off the canvas of a renaissance painting.
One of the most terrifying dream sequences ever committed to film (and one of the first), Futuristic rich kid Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) imagines himself in a church full of mourners, turning to confront the skeletal figure of Death. Statues start moving, weird bone-flutes are played and several jarring jump cuts bring the reaper lurching to life, swinging his scythe at the screen.
Love and Death (1975)
“Great, now I’m dead” Woody Allen’s Napoleonic soldier moans to Diane Keaton, standing next to a white cloaked reaper before dancing off with him into the end credits in one of Woody’s most memorable scene-stealers. “What’s it like being dead?” she asks. “You know the chicken at Treskies restaurant? It’s worse.”