I’m a fickle lover. I’ve composed quite a few songs about this fact. As I’ve written in my last film review, I love horror films. So much so that ForgetTheBox film writer Thomas O’ Connor and myself have decided to have a show down. We’ve each composed our list of Top Ten Horror Films. It shouldn’t be a surprise that coming up with a top ten list of my favourite horror movies has caused me to have an existential crisis. How do I choose? What criteria should I use? Do I judge them as a whole, or by the strength of their particularly intriguing/engaging elements. Conclusion: I close my eyes and go with my gut. So, euh, welcome to my innards.
10. April Fool’s Day (Walton, 1986)
I only recently saw April Fool’s Day on (guess what) April Fools night this year and it found a special place in my heart for its wittiness. A group of college kids head out to the island mansion of their rich (and kinda nuts) friend named Muffy (yup, that’s her name) for a weekend getaway and have no clue what is in store for them. There’s something unexpectedly smart about this film: its sense of humour and the suspense and the successful combination of both. This film just keeps you guessing whilst the bodies keep piling up.
9. The Children (Shankland, 2008)
Kids are scary.
This film is one of two which caused me to have a very visceral panic attack in theatres, which a quick swig of whiskey from a friend’s flask helped calm down. Basic plot: A family drives to the woods to celebrate the holidays with their relatives. One of the kiddies is sick and acting kinda weird. It starts to spread and so does the blood. Not so basic: the effectiveness of the creep.
8. Let The Right One In (Alfredson, 2008)
Kids are scary and so are vampires. This film combines both. However, the most frightening (and unique element) in this film is the dark nature of the romance that develops between the young protagonist and his strange neighbour. A careful consideration of the fate of the man who takes care of her, reveals that such a similar fate surely awaits our protagonist. Ultimately, relationships can be more scary than a quick and bloody death.
7. The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)
The Shining is hands down amazing. Jack Nicholson’s performance is insidious and the camera work and mise-en-scene pretty darned perfect. Shelly Duval’s character is one of my all time movie favourites and I enjoy trying to put myself in her shoes, well at least for the less threatening parts of the film. However, the isolated hotel slowly outshines all the other characters as the most powerful and intriguing player in The Shining. There is mastery of the uncanny in this maze of a film.
6. Ginger Snaps (Fawcett, 2000)
Puberty sucks. In this film, puberty kills. Two sisters, outcasts and self-proclaimed weirdos, are really into gore … until it becomes ‘real life’ and tears their relationship (and several people) apart. I rented this film on my 16th birthday, almost a decade ago and felt sick to my stomach watching it. Ginger Snaps made my viscera uncomfortable, made my skin crawl, and most of all, made me aware of the (real) importance of safe sex: I’ll give you one guess why and it isn’t herpes.
5. The Last Winter (Fessenden, 2006)
The Last Winter is my favourite eco-horror. Its strengths lie in the pace of the film, the Arctic environment the characters find themselves in and the film’s soundtrack. The Last Winter (like The Shining) reminds us that the places we find ourselves in have the potential to be extremely frightening especially when a threat is felt but not seen. Perceived but not understood. It’s pretty great. The last scene, however, is total shit (cliche and uninteresting) and I have mentally erased it so as to include The Last Winter in this list.
4. May (McKee, 2002)
May Dove Canaday is a special young woman who works at a Veterinarian clinic and who really just wants to find love and friendship. Pretty basic needs, very relate-able. But May has a lazy eye which we are made to understand made her a social outcast in her youth and May has her (once best friend) doll named Suzie to contend with on her quest for human interaction. Dolls are scary and so too are the complexities of human sexuality and relationships. This film has a strange and ultimately potent mixture of these two frightening things, strong characterization, and well, Jeremy Sisto. Thus it makes the top four.
3. Marianne (Tegstedt, 2011)
As soon as I saw the trailer for Marianne, I knew I had to see it. I mean the guy is clearly suffering and shit looks dark and hard. Marianne isn’t a perfect film, in fact in a few years it wouldn’t make it this high on my list due to some editing choices that marr its otherwise great subject matter and characterization. However, every now and again, when I think of certain scenes, I can’t sleep with the lights off or sleep at all really. This swedish film also places importance on the location of the events, the folklore of the place, and on the most gut wrenching of human emotions: guilt and mourning. The monster reveal is kinda shitty and so I pretend it didn’t happen (just a small mental edit on my part).
2. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Levine, 2006)
The nerdy outcast in me takes pleasure in seeing the “popular kids” suffer in films: Take that you drunken horny teenagers! But what I’m an even bigger sucker for is interesting characterization. How can those two things be compatible? A bloodbath and intriguing psychologically complex characters? Well, naysayer, I didn’t say all the characters had to be well developed: one or two really interesting ones will suffice. I saw this film in theaters twice, at Fantasia of course. Then, after a lengthy discussion with a friend, I came home and wrote a small operetta about the killer. So yes, there’s something special about Mandy and this weekend away on a ranch leads to sex, alcohol, and blood … and someone in the shadows.
1. Disturbing Behavior (Nutter, 1998)
A boy named Steve moves to a small town where jocks and popular kids are acting strange: they are really intense about charity and doing their math homework. Steve hangs out with high school rejects (including a ‘skankified’ Katie Holmes) who have a (conspiracy?) theory about what is going on and it’s definitely something “bad, wrong, wrong, bad”. Disturbing Behavior is directed by David Nutter of the X-Files and stars James Marsden as our leading man. The soundtrack is heavenly 90’s, and Nick Stahl – who happens to have gone missing recently – is great in this film as Gavin Strick, the outcast who tries to warn Steve. Disturbing Behaviour reminds me of my years reading John Saul novels whilst watching the X-Files. Therefore, it takes home the prize.
Honourable mentions: Battle Royale (Fukasaku, 2000), The Ring (Verbinski, 2002), The Mist (Darabont, 2007), Absentia (Flanagan, 2011), Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, 1968), REC (Paza and Balageuro, 2007), Single White Female (Schroeder, 1992), Videodrome (Cronenberg, 1983) and Odishon (Miike,1999)