Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Top 20 Favourite Horror Movies.

Great, another blogger with a list post. But hey, they make for easy content when one is short on time, and they make for quick reads, which can be a plus some times. At any rate, here's my favourite horror movies. I dare not say "of all time", as the list very well could change, but for the most part it has stayed fairly solid over the last few years. I've tried to focus this list on films that actually scare me, or in the very least creep me the hell out in a very serious way. But some selections are just there because they are awesome films that suck me in every time I watch them. Hopefully I'm not alone in some of the more slightly esoteric selections found here. Oh, and happy Halloween.

20. Near Dark (1987) | Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

One of the more original and best modern takes on the vampire. This deserved to be the classic '80s vampire film that The Lost Boys is often hailed as being. A young man and a female vampire fall for each other and her "family" try to integrate him into the clan, but he soon learns the life of a vampire is not a life of glamour and fun, but a filthy, nomadic existence on the outside of society, living off its garbage. A solid cast, with memorable characters and a couple of really stand-out scenes. A very nice contrast to Anne Rice's lame romantic vampires.

19. From Beyond the Grave (1973) | Directed by Kevin Connor.

For me, the most enjoyable of Amicus Productions horror anthology releases. Four segments based on the short stories of R. Chetwynd-Hayes, held together by Peter Cushing, as an antique shop proprietor who deals out fate to his customers, based on how they treat him in their business transactions. A great group of genre vets round out the cast. Only one story is slightly out of place and the rest are delightfully morbid. For my money, the best made, and best looking of the Amicus anthologies.

18. Jaws (1975) | Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Like just about everyone else, this film made me think twice about taking a swim at times. It plays on the very real fear we all have of the unknown -- specifically the ocean and the alien horrors, real or imagined, which exist there. The great white shark is the perfect movie monster: A heartless eating machine, with cold black eyes, and no intention of stopping to consider if it wants to eat you. It has existed for millions of years, pretty much unchanged. You are nothing to it but food.

17. The Children (2008) | Directed by Tom Shankland.

I'm still blown away over this really shocking film about innocent children becoming killers against their will, and their parents inability to deal with this reality in a proper fashion. How does one kill their own children? In this case, it may very well be the right thing to do, but most normal people are hard-wired against such a solution. The film heaps tragedy upon tragedy and leaves me shaken up.

16. From Beyond (1986) | Directed by Stuart Gordon.

Truly one of the great, gory, fun house rides of the genre. Gordon takes his love of Lovecraft and updates it for the '80s with sex, comedy, and relentless grue. Genre stars abound and even if the film often steps outside of Lovecraft's conventions at times, it pays proper respect to his major themes -- the most obvious being that man is small in this universe, and perhaps he should be content to know his place.

15. The Haunting (1963) | Directed by Robert Wise.

The perfect example of minimalism in horror, based on Shirley Jackson's classic The Haunting of Hill House, is also just the best damn haunted house story ever put on film. Are there ghosts in Hill House, or are they all in Eleanor's fragile mind? Avoid the stupid remake and watch this one. This is how you build suspense and atmosphere without depending on effects and blood.

14. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971) | Directed by Amando de Ossorio.

The first and best of what, honestly, isn't a great series of films. However, the Blind Dead -- the skeletal revenants of satanic Templar Knights -- are a truly scary mix of Romero zombie, vampire, and old school ghost. The way they hunt and surround their victims is creepy as hell. Watching them ride their undead horses is both campy and chilling.

13. Shock Waves (1977) | Directed by Ken Wiederhorn.

I had to have Nazi Zombies on here somewhere, didn't I? Well here's the best of the damn lot so far. Creepy androids, relics of an insane experiment the Nazis could not control. Given the budget and some of the spotty acting in the film, one would expect these undead uber-creeps to not really be creepy at all. But they are. Slow, silent, and deadly, with a unique look. Much like the Blind Dead in their films, it's the zombies here themselves that have mostly made this film a classic to this day.

12. Just Before Dawn (1981) | Directed by Jeff Lieberman.

Not really writing a new chapter in the book on slasher films, Just Before Dawn at least adds a paragraph or two. One of the best copycat slasher in the woods films to come out of the early '80s, there are some neat twists here. What stands out here, you ask?: a creepy score; a fairly unique twist regarding the killer; one stalk and kill scene that implies very nasty things without showing them; and even a bit of a twist on the final girl formula, all help prop this up above the standard trash.

11. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) | Directed by Peter Sasdy.

Apart from having the best title for a horror film ever, this is my favourite of the Hammer Dracula films. It's, of course, well-acted and everything looks good, but it also features a very smartly-written script that critiques Victorian-aged hypocrisy and highlights the clash between the older generation and its children. Christopher Lee hardly says anything in this one (he was brought back in at the last minute to reprise his signature role) but manages to be quite menacing as he takes a terrible revenge on those who have wronged him.

10. Horror Express (1972) | Directed by Eugenio Martín.

This could be watched on a double bill with The Thing, as it holds in common the central theme: people isolated with an alien intruder who could be anyone. Here they are isolated on a train and the alien is sucking peoples knowledge from their brains in order to better itself and survive. Throw in Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as rival British men of science who are forced to work together to save the day, and a fantastic cameo by Telly Savalas, and you have a classic film in my book.

9. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) | Directed by Tobe Hooper.

The bleak underbelly of the love generation being eaten up by Vietnam war era America. A road trip far off the beaten path in rural America. A relentless encroachment of death upon hapless young men and women who learn that life isn't fair or safe. Shocking for its time and still effective today, despite it not being as bloody or violent as everyone seems to think it is. The film makes you believe you're seeing more than you really are.

8. Don't Look Now (1973) | Directed by Nicolas Roeg.

Shocking moments: the loss of a child, the breaking up of a marriage, and an uncanny series of events that somehow relate to it all, leads Donald Sutherland's character down a path towards a grim fate. Often we mistake warning signs and take the wrong direction home. Here it seems as if there was no other choice but to go down the wrong path.

7. The Blair Witch Project (1999) | Directed by Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez.

I can't understand how anyone, except for those with motion sickness problems, can not see this as a creepy minimalist classic of the genre. Unanswered questions are scary. I don't want to know for sure if there was a witch, or a serial killer's ghost, or if one of our main characters was not what they seemed. I want to ponder it forever. That's what this film offers true horror fans: the unexplained and the horrible possibilities of what happened to those three students.

6. The Shining (1980) | Directed by Stanley Kubrick.

A brave move to strip Stephen King's central themes in his novel out of the script and insert a much more creepy haunting in the Overlook Hotel. It's not so much the break down of the family Kubrick is concerned about here, but with the white man paying for his sins over and over again for what he did to the native population. At least that's what I'm convinced of after seeing this many, many times. In effect the evil spirits here are our own. The clues are all there.

5. The Thing (1982) | Directed by John Carpenter

From my original review: "The movie sets out to scare and it does. Taking elements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, the film actually stays more faithful to the original story than the first film adaptation did, and the Thing is one of the most interesting and outright scary monsters to ever appear on screen. Who has been taken over? Would you even know if you had been? The film is a shining example of how to blend horror and sci-fi together and make it work".

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) | Directed by Philip Kaufman.

A theme that scares me over and over. Your friends and loved ones changing and turning on you over night. Losing your identity. What is more scary than that? This is a smart update that takes advantage of the growing isolation and urban paranoia of its time. It has many creepy moments, but the final scene stands out and still scares me, even though I know it's coming.

3. Dawn of the Dead (1978) | Directed by George A. Romero.

Romero dumps his ghouls into a semi-comicbook action picture, set in a world gone mad. Society is breaking down, everyone is at each others throats for power and survival...and all the zombies want is to eat those throats. The first epic zombie picture and the true classic of the genre. As much of an action picture that it is, it's also a fairly obvious, but spot-on critique of consumerism, capitalism, racism, and authority in the wrong hands. All the usual stuff Romero likes to bitch about. But on top of all of that, it's gory and it's fun.

2. Halloween (1978) | Directed by John Carpenter.

Iconic. The little movie that could. The Shape (the ill-fated from the start Michael Myers) is not explained by the heroic Dr. Loomis in any regard other than he's pure evil. All that was human has died. That's all you need to know as we watch The Shape stalk three smart, interesting and likable young girls on Halloween night. You like them and you don't want them to die. This separates the film from many of its imitators, which feature throw-away teen fodder to be hacked up after smoking pot, drinking beer, and getting naked. The scenes where we see The Shape in the same frame as the characters he's stalking -- the soon-to-be victims totally unaware -- still works perfectly to this day.

1. Nosferatu: The Vampyre/Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (1979) | Directed by Werner Herzog.

Herzog made this film wanting to pay tribute to a generation of German film makers that vanished before or around the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. He picked F.W. Murnau's classic and somehow has improved upon it. Sometimes a shot-for-shot remake, this film truly explores the real horrors of the vampire. The undying isolation and loneliness that Klaus Kinski's Count Dracula feels is thick in the air. The viewer feels sorry for this monster, but is revolted at the same time. The scenes of a deserted and nearly dead plague-ridden town, all thanks to the coming of Dracula and his army of rats, stand to this day as some of the most effective scenes ever put to film.

Some Honourable Mentions:

Night of the Living Dead (1968) | Directed by George A. Romero.
Martin (1977) | Directed by George A. Romero.
Pan's Labyrinth (2006) | Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Rogue (2007) | Directed by Greg Mclean.
Wolf Creek (2005) | Directed by Greg Mclean.
Psycho (1960) | Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
The Innocents (1961) | Directed by Jack Clayton.
The Mist (2007) | Directed by Frank Darabont.
Session 9 (2001) | Directed by Brad Anderson.
Let the Right One In (2008) | Directed by Tomas Alfredson.
From Hell (2001) | Directed by Albert Hughes & Allen Hughes.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006) | Directed by Alexandre Aja.
Black Christmas (1974) | Directed by Bob Clark.
Deathdream (1974) | Directed by Bob Clark
Alien (1979) | Directed by Ridley Scott.
The Fog (1980) | Directed by John Carpenter.
Horror of Dracula (1958) | Directed by Terence Fisher.
The Funhouse (1981) | Directed by Tobe Hooper.


Carl Manes said...

Holy crap dude, did I just catch Taste the Blood of Dracula and Horror Express on a top 20?? Thats awesome! I looove those films, and Taste the Blood of Dracula gets the shaft way too awesome when it is a fantastically dark and bitter occult movie with a pinch of Dracula. Glad to see this list up!

Lee said...

Heh, indeed you did. Horror Express gets overlooked unfairly. I think part of it has to do with how hard it was to get a decent copy to watch until the last ten years or so. I think it's funny how my favourite Hammer Dracula film almost didn't even have Dracula in it. They just shoehorned Lee in at the last moment, but somehow it worked out much better.

Thanks for the comments, Carl.

Emily said...

I looooooved The Children and just rewatched it the other night. Really holds up on repeat viewings, though I still consider the scariest scene to be that first dinner when the kids are still normal, but run around screaming like demons. Great birth control that is! If you haven't already seen it, I recommned a '70s Spanish horror film called Who Can Kill a Child. Has a similar setup and equally unflinching execution.

Lee Russell said...

Emily>> I've been meaning to pick that one up actually. Thanks for the comment.