Wednesday, October 26, 2011
My Personal Top Ten Horror Films
I like horror a lot. It is frequently lumped in with fantasy and science fiction, so this is entirely natural, but I don't blog much about scary movies for two reasons. One, unless I am specifically enjoying them for how awful they are at a Bad Movie Night, I'm pretty picky. The second reason is that there are a lot of horror bloggers out there, and many of them do it better than I could ever hope to. (In particular, I recommend Wreckhouse Magazine, many awesome articles there.) I have my own taste in what I find scary, like anyone else, and these films are ones that got to me when I first saw them. I'm leaving out a few films that I personally love, but which didn't scare me (specifically, The Shining and Nightbreed) and a TON that others might call horror, but I'd classify under another genre (the Aliens series is science fiction, as far as I'm concerned.)
Counting down from 10 to 1 without further ado...
10. Suspiria (1977, Italian)
Okay, I'll admit, some people find this one dull, and most find the plot ridiculous at best, nonsensical at worst. For me, this is classic italian gore-splattered horror, with quality kill scenes. The filming of the individual scenes, the effects and use of color, light and music make the incoherent mess of a plot concerning witches at a dance academy entirely irrelevant. The mood created is disturbing and deeply unsettling, and even where the effects are subpar, the kills stuck with me.
9. Friday the Thirteenth, Part Two (1981)
The first of two sequels to get love on my list where I snub the original film, the sequel to Friday the Thirteenth is the first to have Jason Voorhees as the actual villain, as his mother is the killer in the first picture. He's missing his signature hockey mask in this one, preferring instead to hide his features under a sack with holes cut, and the disfigured being under that mask will forever be my preferred vision of the man behind the mask.
8. The Thing (1982)
Paranoia, extreme cold, an environment where something has gone horribly wrong, no one is coming to help you, and the creature could be any one of the people around you. John Carpenter touches a few of the triggers that get to me in this one, and the effects are spectacular, even if they almost killed several of the actors and burned down the set at least once in the filming. I actually think The Thing is at its scariest when we aren't looking at the monster, and don't know what (or who) it is at any given moment.
7. Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Barker has a problem. He writes great horror that, in general, doesn't translate well onto the screen. My love of Nightbreed doesn't excuse how far it falls short of the short story, and the less said about Lord of Illusions, the better (how you perfectly cast such a great story and screw up the script that bad is beyond me.) Hellraiser is the exception. This is Clive Barker's first movie as director, and he knocks it out of the park with demons, blood, a cursed puzzle box, and a twisted torturous sadomasochistic take on a tale of horror and revenge.
6. The Devil's Backbone (2001, Spanish)
A spanish ghost story from Guillermo del Toro, the story of an orphanage in the middle of the Spanish Civil War and a young boy who is plagued by an apparition of one of the boys who died there, saying many of the other children will die soon. Between the horrors of war, the menacing adults and their secrets and an unexploded bomb in the center of the school, this film drips with tension, and I actually like it as much or more than later del Toro films like Pan's Labyrinth.
5. Freaks (1932)
I'll just say this, Freaks is flat out great. A simple tale of revenge is made incredible by the supporting cast comprised entirely of actual circus freaks. The climax, with the Freaks closing in on the beautiful but treacherous trapeze artist who only marries the minute sideshow leader for his money, as they chant "One of us, one of us..." is still chilling today. Tod Browning cast the Barnum and Bailey troop members when actors of the day balked at sharing billing with "sideshow attractions" and the resulting film was considered so shocking it was banned by law in much of the United States and all of Australia.
4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
As far as I'm concerned, this is the zombie movie. It is the first to address the perils of what to do once you are safe, as boredom and complancency set in once the survivors are holed up in a shopping mall. It most effectively also shows how dangerous other survivors can be, and is the least preachy of all of George Romero's zombie films. Though it has a bit to say about commercialism and the monstrous nature of man, it doesn't jam those things down your throat while you are trying to watch a horror movie.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)
A controversial choice, I know, but I've always liked the third Freddy Kreuger movie better than the first, mainly because each of the kids who he kills are the best developed in this one. In the first attempt to solidify a coherent mythology for the series, each of the Dream Warriors realizes that Freddy can only kill them in their sleep, and that they can fight him with aspects of their own personality. Most of them lose, but it is one hell of a story along the way to the final showdown.
2. Halloween (1978)
Slasher films may be overdone, but Michael Myer's first appearance holds a high place on my list. From the creepy piano theme to the spray-painted mask of William Shatner's face, the escaped lunatic stalks his prey on the night he can move about when no one would find his costume odd. What makes this film is how subtle it is, and how it builds tension by showing the killer in the background, lurking... and he doesn't strike. Every time we think he'll make a move, he disappears, and the audience is left wondering when and how he'll kill.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
This movie has been parodied, analyzed and studied for years, and with good reason. This is the archetype for all other stories of demonic possession. Quick cuts to build unease, great performances from all the principal actors, creepy music and a story so scary that the Rev. Billy Graham claimed that the film's reels contained an actual demon, this is a classic without parallel. I highly recommend the DVD re-release with restored footage that corrects a few technical glitches and adds the cut "spider walk" sequence. If adjusted for inflation, this movie would be the highest grossing R-Rated film of all time.
Barely missing the cut is the only horror movie I own on DVD, The Ring, and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the first Saw film and the Amityville Horror. I'm not a huge fan of all the remakes going around, and I despise the campy, self-aware horror films of the 1990s and 2000s, and this list shows it. Happy Halloween!