So, I came up with either serial killers or horror films, and since I could not think of my ten favorite serial killers (Ted Bundy, Vlad the Impaler, I got nothin'),
"What are you boys gonna do with all those pies?"
I almost put Ginger Snaps on here instead. The thing about The Shining is that it's such an art film, one of those films you never get tired of re-watching because of all the WTF going on (see Hitchcock, Alfred) - but it doesn't stay scary for me in the way that other films on this list do. The first time I saw it, my best friend wrote "REDRUM" on my door in red marker, and when I stepped outside and saw it I screamed my head off. And few things in cinema have the sheer shock value that the revelation of Jack's "novel" did for me the first time I saw it. Maybe it's that I've just watched it too often, or that this spoof has charmed its way into my life forever. But this movie lately is more 'ooh cool, weird symbols!' to me and less scary. (Top 100 ranking1:
I was and remain so impressed by 28 Days Later. I've never seen Dawn of the Dead and my experience with zombie films as social commentary is limited to the two on this list. But oh what great films they are. 28 Days has so much raw power and drama - the apocalypse is, uh, nigher in this film than any other I've ever seen. You can't call yourself a horror movie buff if you haven't seen this. (Top 100 ranking:
I made a post about Suspiria a while back but I didn't get to praise it nearly enough. This movie is so exultantly gory, so stylishly bloody. It's completely repulsive from start to finish. It's completely psychadelic. The score is simply fantastic, a total classic that shrieks "WITCHWITCHWITCH!!!!!!!" at you from the shadows. I really just love everything about this film artistically. It's the reddest movie I've ever seen. The deaths are full of suspense and gross and cheesy and awesome all at once, and the scenes with the dog truly are wonderfully creepy. It's so great. WITCHES AND BALLET, you can't go wrong. Why this is not a combination seen in film over and over again I'll never know. (Top 100 ranking:
I debated a long time about whether I wanted to put this film here or Psycho, but the thing is with Hitchcock (who is my favorite favorite director) the subtle WTFness is so much creepier in the long run than the initial shocks; and while Psycho is a great, great film, The Birds is always the one that just lingers with me the longest. There is so much creepy incestuous lesbian freudian oedipal sexual subtext going on in this movie it would take a team of post-grads to unravel it all, and it fascinates me every time I rewatch. And the scene outside the schoolhouse is just literally the classic definition of suspense on film. Nothing but birds gathering on a playground and children singing, but it's the creepiest thing EVER. The first time I saw it it scared me to death. There's never been anything like it in film since, and it's just as simple and terrifying as it can be.2 (Top 100 ranking:
I don't even think this movie is technically classified as horror, but it ought to be, and if you've ever seen Blue Velvet you will immediately understand why. David Lynch's films all have an element of horror (so much love for Mulholland Drive, SO MUCH), but Blue Velvet just takes shock to a whole new level of psychological extremes. You know how Dennis Quaid always plays psychos? Well he plays the mother of ALL psychos in this movie, at a level that is simultaneously utterly disturbing, completely horrifying, and ultimately sad. Tremendous acting and a great, high WTF-factor as always from a Lynch film, but the infamous scene pictured above not only makes this film unforgettable, but makes it a solid horror fest pick for me. (Top 100 ranking: not ranked.)
In fact, the only movie I've ever seen that's more utterly twisted and insane than Blue Velvet is....
...Audition. Oh, man. There is so much to say about this psychotic, mesmerizing, disturbing, brilliant, eye-popping brain-breaker of a film. The Midnight Eye guy3 called his initial festival viewing of Audition "the highest audience walk-out count I was ever lucky enough to witness." Rotten Tomatoes snarkily tagged it "How to Lose A Guy In One Date?" LOL. It's all about the moment when. asdfkj;l well. Everyone who's seen this film knows exactly which moment i'm talking about, the moment this film shifts over from languidly-paced, banal romantic melodrama into the most WTF-inducing nightmare you were never expecting. I genuinely love Audition. Takashi Mike is perhaps my favorite Asian director, and it's solely because after this film I just wanted to drown myself in Japanese horror. When looking back at this film the moments that seem horrific feel comedic, and there is this element of shrill, hysterical nervous laughter that follows you all the way through this film, because you're just like NO WAY ASDKFADJ NO WAY. but. oh yes. yes, way. It's going exactly where you can't believe it's going. It's such a fantastic trip, too. I can't rec this film highly enough. (Top 100 ranking:
I know that as fantastic and classic as this film is, Dawn of the Living Dead is supposedly even better. I find that hard to believe, honestly. How much better could it possibly get than this? Zombies! Human flesh! Families eating each other! Monstrous character design and political overtones everywhere - much has been written about the resemblance of Romero's zombies to the wasted, emaciated look of survivors being freed from concentration camps, and with one of the first main characters ever cast as a minority, Night of the Living Dead is the definitive film that presents searing social commentary in the guise of supernatural terror, and also influenced everyone ever after ever, from Wes Craven to John Carpenter to Sam Raimi to those "Supernatural" geeks. Romero has said the film is just supposed to be your basic scarefest. Whatever, man; Ray Bradbury said Fahrenheight 411 was just about a lot of fire. (Top 100 ranking:
I didn't actually realize until just now how much the girl in Ju-On reminds me of L from Death Note. I'm torn about this film as well; it doesn't hold up as well on repeat viewings, and I think that's mostly because the Ring-like figure of the girl in white has been so universally parodied, stringy black hair and jerky movements and all, that she is rendered virtually ineffective as a horror mechanism at the outset.
That doesn't, however, change the fact that for sheer fright, for absolute scariness, and for horror that stemmed purely from the imagination rather than gratuitous special effects, the last ten minutes of this film scared me more than any film has ever scared me in my life. I was watching it alone in the dark and I wound up turning the sound completely off and still was so terrified that I nearly cried. I wrote a post about the typical reaction to the American remake, The Grudge, which was also creepy and effective, but which was easy for people to laugh at because in the end, it's "just" a ghost story.
I think it's the fact that it's "just" a ghost story that makes Ju-On particularly effective. It's far less complex a narrative than most Japanese horror I've seen, and so the timeline is broken up to create a sense of confusion and chaos. The film works on those levels to keep you in a state of wariness from start to finish. Lots of critics feel this makes the film a jumbled mess, but what it really does is create a sense of being trapped in this never-ending series of horrific events in this creepy creepy house, from which none of us can really escape. And the result is absolutely terrifying. (Top 100 ranking:
edited 2/16/09: (just to note, from the time of posting to now, the Top 100 ranking methodology has shifted this film from #48 on their list all the way up to #16. Impressive, and I couldn't agree more!!!)
For Halloween one night when I was in college, I curled up and read all of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw aloud to my friend Christianne. In its gothic, subtextual, psychosexual, and melodramatic elements, The Others reminds me of nothing so much as that twisting and dark novella whose end leaves you thunderstruck and chilled and more troubled and confused than when you went in. The Others is technically suspense/drama, but it's very closely linked to Hitchcock in its psychological elements, and to such classic horror films as The Haunting, Carrie, and The Birds in its treatment of an enigmatic, troubled woman at the center of the drama. The kids in this movie are a horror pairing all in their own right, and the fact that they're allergic to light just sets the tone for everything in this movie.
This film does everything well - cinematically it's beautiful, with the scoring and editing both done by the director. Immediately after seeing this film I went out and rented every film I could find by Alejandro Amenabar. It would take a post all its own to say all the things I love about its story, plot, acting, and elements of tension and unresolved questions. The climactic revelation is ultimately creepier and more troubling than everything that came before it, and Nicole Kidman is simply fantastic in a role where she somehow manages to be creepy, endearing, mesmerizing and scary as hell, often all at the same time. The acting is tremendous all around - the daughter is superb and Christopher Eccleston shows up on my top 10 list for the second time to deliver a cameo that's almost as creepy as everything else that's happening, all by itself. I love this film. It's the closest Hollywood has ever come to taking Hitchcockian themes and film techniques and augmenting them, increasing their effectiveness rather than just producing shoddy second-rate imitations. The Others is first-rate any way you look at it. (Top 100 ranking: not ranked.)
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.
okay. i'm just kidding, but seriously, i saw this movie last night, and it's totally the greatest thing ever, ever, WATCH IT, IT HAS EVERYTHING. I'm not even joking, it has, like. KILLER COTTON CANDY. GUARD BALLOON DOGS. MURDEROUS SHADOW PUPPETS. PSYCHO PUNCH AND JUDY. DEATH BY PIE. and this seriously creepy scene with a clown using a victim as a ventriloquist's doll. This was one of my friend Tom's favorite movies. I can totally see why he loved it, it's completely awesome.
I think the best thing you can say about any film is that it gets better upon subsequent rewatchings. I have never watched The Exorcist without feeling profoundly unsettled. Even when the special, remastered edition appeared in theatres and I was distracted here and there by the quick flashing goblins onscreen and the period effects footage that was edited out of the original, I was moved in totally new ways by the utter depth of religious antipathy evinced in the film, and the ways in which faith has no place in a landscape where every priest has a dark and troubling demon. Everyone knows that the Exorcist is generally considered the greatest horror film of all time, but what strikes me most forcibly about it is the way the obscene is presented as inevitable. Linda Blair engages in all manner of unspeakable acts from start to finish, until the unspeakable is commonplace. The image of the defaced statue of the Virgin Mary in the church is one of the most horrific in the film, and it has nothing to do with the plot except peripherally, to remind us that the obscene has become prevalent everywhere, even in the places once considered hallowed and untouchable, such as churches and children.
"You're gonna die up there." This line is still the scariest line in cinema to me. Simple, quiet, understated, unexpected, and true. Horror distilled to its utter essence - unthinkable things uttered in the pure voice of a girl, horror ultimately unconquerable - not by priests, nor even by death. The symbology of the Exorcist makes it so much more than a horror film. It is an art film, and simply one of the greatest films ever. It ranks in my personal list of favorite films of any genre, of all time.
Top 100 ranking: #1
1. For comparison, I've listed their places on this ranking of Top 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time. I love lists.
2. I also feel like I should mention that in terms of sheer shock and unease, nothing has ever unsettled me as much as the last scene of Vertigo. The first time I saw this film as a teenager I couldn't sleep for nights afterward. Vertigo is not a horror film by any means, but its current ranking as the second greatest film of all time on the Sight & Sound top ten list denotes the devasting impact it can have on viewers, which is far more effective than a gore film can ever be and which is precisely why Hitchcock is my favorite.)
3. I love Midnight Eye. ♥