A little while ago my new-found FTB film cohort Pamela Fillion approached me with a proposition: A horror movie top 10. We each write a post of our top ten horror films, to make all the internet cower beneath the turgid, obsidian monolith of our good taste. This presents a few problems for me, however.
Firstly: how in God’s good name can I describe the sheer beauty of Evil Dead 2 in less than a hundred words. Ask me to perform brain surgery next time, Pammy dear.
Second, while she may be all hip with her foreign and indie tastes, my choices are almost all embarrassingly mainstream. But as a certain video game critic once said “It’s worth remembering that sometimes popular things are popular for a reason: because they’re good”.
So without further ado, here are my top ten horror films of all time:
1) Dawn of the Dead
I can hear you horror buffs sharpening your pitchforks already, but I’m just gonna come out and say it, Dawn of the Dead is better than Night of the Living Dead. It has a tighter cast, better effects and is overall just a stronger movie. As Ridley Scott will show us further down the list, location is everything, and setting his second zombie opus in a shopping mall was a stroke of genius on Romero’s part, especially since every time I go to one now I’m constantly on the lookout for undead Hare Krishnas.
It would be enough if it JUST had some of the best practical special FX ever, or JUST had an interesting and unique setting, or JUST had an oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere heightened by the guessing game the cast and audience are constantly playing. But it has all that and more. It’s also one of the few movies I known that properly get across that Antarctica is REALLY effin’ cold.
3) Evil Dead 2
Let it never be said that a guy sawing his own hand off can’t be funny as hell. Long before he was making massively overrated Spiderman movies (yes, even number 2!) Sam Raimi’s niche was horror-comedies, the crown jewel of which is Evil Dead 2, your basic cabin in the woods horror movie but played more for laughs than scares. This is also one of the few movies I know off-hand where the demon-plagued protagonist just goes “Ok, screw this” and attaches a chainsaw to his arm-stump to kick some demon ass in the thrilling conclusion.
4) Shadow of the Vampire
Before Bela Lugosi became the most iconic screen vampire, German actor Max Shreck took the lead role in F.W Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu. Shadow is set during the filming of Nosferatu, and posits that Shreck really was a vampire. This is without a doubt my favorite vampire film of all time, offering a haunting and poetic take on the genre, with Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich both giving excellent turns as Shreck and Murnau respectively.
It used to be that horror movies had to be set in deserted cabins or sleepy middle-America towns or the occasional girls’ dormitory – if you were feeling scandalous, but then out of nowhere comes Ridley Scott asking, “What about a horror movie set in space?” and once everyone in the room recovered from having their jaws hit the floor they set to work on the sci-fi/horror masterpiece Alien, a film so inventive and crammed with so much Freudian imagery (H.R Giger was and remains a strange, strange man) that if you don’t have a crippling fear of the male phallus going in, you’ll be going out with one by the end.
6) American Werewolf in London
Name five great vampire movies. Had to think about it, didn’t you? Now, name five great werewolf movies. Easy, right? Well, easy for me. (American Werewolf, Dog Soldiers, The Howling, Ginger Snaps and Silver Bullet) It seems like werewolves have an easier time on the silver screen, and American Werewolf is the prime example of this. It takes the classic werewolf story, adds some interesting new elements and ties it all together with a strong cast and the best transformation scene in any werewolf movie ever.
7) Dead Alive
Before he was a multiple Oscar-winning director known for his classy, high brow adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson directed a film in which this happens:
Dead Alive (Aka Brain Dead) is a classic horror comedy, going so far over the top in gore levels and sheer absurdity that you can’t help but laugh. But on top of that, it’s creative and masterfully executed with top-notch effects. I can’t help but wonder what Two Towers would have been like if the battle of Minas Tirith was won with upturned lawnmowers. Oh wait, yes I do: awesome!
8 ) Jaws
Sometimes it takes just one element to give a movie that kind of lasting power that current directors like to think they have. It can be a single iconic shot, a stellar performance or even one or two endlessly quotable lines, but in the case of Jaws, it all really comes down to just 2 notes of music. Trust a composer like John Williams to idly finger a few keys while passing a keyboard and come up with one of the most iconic movie scores of all time. That’s not to say the rest of the movie is bad, in fact it’s great, but what really sells it is the music. That and the part where the shark blows up… I mean, spoilers.
There’s two basic facts in life as far as I’m concerned: remakes are a waste of time and flies are really damn gross. The Fly is an exception to one of these facts and a reinforcement of another. It takes the basic plot of the 1958 film and adds two important elements: Jeff Goldblum and enough awesome (and gross) practical effects to almost (ALMOST) put The Thing to shame. Also monkeys.
I don’t know what happened to Clive Barker as a child, but the man knows how to put some messed up stuff on movie screens, I’ll tell ya that. Hellraiser is definitely his most popular movie, you can tell since they made approximately a thousand sequels. The story involves sado-masochistic demons, a demonic Rubik’s cube and an escapee from hell mackin’ on his brothers’ wife, but the real draw is the sphincter-tighteningly good makeup and creature effects, easily some of the best ever put to film.
So there you have it, my top 10 horror movies of all time. Disagree? Think you could do better? Leave me a comment and I’ll debate you to the death. (Possibly with a severed limb)