First up, I have to say that these are my personal top eight. I don't claim that they are the best horror films of all time - they are the ones that I personally like best, and I have watched each of them at least twice - in most cases half a dozen times.
I like creepy films, but I'm not fond of extreme offal so most of these films are scary but not an absolute gore-fest. Dutch slasher film Sint is a bit of an exception but hey, it's my list; I can award myself the inconsistency badge if I like.
The other thing is - obviously - the minute I'd finished compiling the list I thought of loads of other films that ought to be on it. The Hunger. Nosferatu. Sigh. I'm not adding any more, though, because otherwise I'll never get this posted.
So here are my eight, and I'd love to hear what other people's fave horror films are, especially if they fall into the creepy-not-gory camp.
My 8 favourite horror films (in no particular order):
The Ring (US version). OK, I know this will horrify Ringu purists but I saw the American version first and it seriously scared the hell out of me. I was alone at home, watching late at night, and amazingly I had no idea what was going to happen in the final scenes (though they have now been parodied so much it’s hard to imagine a first time viewer not knowing what to expect). When it got to that bit I actually backed away from the tv...
I love The Ring (I’ve read the original novel too) because not only it is very scary, it is almost perfectly structured. I’m a fiend for structure – I can’t stand rambling tales with loads of atmosphere and nothing else. The countdown from seven days to zero is fabulous; the sense of time pressure is appalling. And I love the fact that you think the mystery has been solved...and then realise it hasn’t.
The Devil’s Backbone. I don’t get fangirly very often but I do about Del Toro, and I think this film is such a masterpiece that I hesitate to describe it as "horror" because it is so much more than that. It is the story of a ghost – but not the ghost you think. There are some fabulously creepy moments in this film but one of the things I love about it is that it doesn’t follow the dreary old cliche of handsome hero/gorgeous heroine battling the scary thing. The only fit handsome young man in the movie is a spectacularly nasty piece of work. The lead character, through whose eyes we see much of the action, is a child. The most sympathetic adult male is (literally) impotent. The woman he desires is not only mature but disabled...and very sexually enthusiastic. And the end of the film is beautiful and sad.
Sint. This is a Dutch-language film (though available with subtitles) by director Dick Maas. It’s a seasonal slasher flick set in Amsterdam and infused with fabulous black humour: Saint Nicholas is not really the apple-cheeked cuddly old guy we all think of, but a murderous thieving mediaeval bishop who was burnt to death by villagers whose kids he had stolen. Now he comes back every time there is a full moon on Saint Nicholas’ Eve, and kills as many people as he can. I saw this film when we were still living in Flanders; a Flemish friend told me it was on and as soon as I heard what it was about, I was desperate to go. It takes a special film to persuade me to take the bus to and from Leuven on my own, and sit there in the cinema like a nobby no-mates (my other half wasn’t keen and the kids weren’t old enough). It was worth it. Fabulous. I nearly cried with joy, especially at the bit where the „Saint“ is galloping along the rooftops of old Amsterdam with the police shooting at him.
The Woman In Black (2012 version). I feel kind of guilty including this one because I feel it throws absolutely every well-worn cinematic trick in the book at you – eg. ghost rising out of the ground (The Grudge); heart-attack-inducing shock moments (just about every horror film ever); etc. Also, I saw the much more low key TV version made in 1989 and thought it was genuinely chilling, so why gild the lily by chucking special effects at it? And of course the 2012 version has Harry Potter in it (can’t he just shout "Expelliarmus!"?). And yet...and yet...this film really did give me the creeps, big time. It wasn’t the shock moments either, though I duly jumped out of my skin like everyone else in the cinema. It was those glimpses of the Woman In Black in the corner of rooms, at the edge of your vision – watching, glowering....Brrrr. I can’t go out into the back garden after dark any more without the skin on the back of my neck prickling, thanks to that film...and to my daughter, who informs me that the Woman watches me from under the trees when I am putting the rubbish out. Sob.
The Mothman Prophecies. I can’t believe it took me so long to come across this movie. Perhaps I automatically screen out anything with Richard Gere in it after seeing Pretty Woman. Anyway, a friend suggested it because he knows I prefer creepy to gory, and this did not disappoint. Strange creatures (are they angels? demons? aliens?) appear before disastrous events. But are they trying to warn people, or are they causing these things to happen? There is plenty of weird in this movie – the mothman introduces himself to Gere as "Indrid Cold" for example, and I am still trying to work out why that name is so creepy-sounding. There is enough mystery to keep you guessing until nearly the end. There are also many fleeting half-glimpses of the mothman that are genuinely chilling – and one that made me jump out of my skin. I like Richard Gere much better in scary movies than romantic ones.
The Orphanage (Spanish with subtitles). Hmmm, how to say much about this one without a gigantic spoiler? Laura and her husband Carlos open a children’s home in a former orphanage that Laura attended as a child. Laura and Carlos have an adopted son, Simon; after a series of bizarre and sinister events Simon vanishes. Laura continues to search for him after her husband has let go. Like The Devil’s Backbone, The Orphanage (which Del Toro helped to produce) does not concentrate on conventional romance; instead it’s all about the love of a mother for her child, which is refreshing and moving. There are some supremely chilling moments – eg. when Laura plays a Spanish version of What’s the time, Mr. Wolf? with a group of ghost children – but the thing that grabbed me most about this film is the paradigm shift at the end. Not everything that seems innocent is; not everything that seems grotesque and frightening is.
The Fog (1980 version – what do you take me for?). I love this film – it’s one of my most-viewed movies. It’s also one that sounds irredeemably daft if you try to explain it to someone who doesn’t like scary movies. "Drowned leper ghosts." Ah, but it’s so much more than that. It combines creepy (ghost stories at midnight round the campfire, a resounding knock on the door at night, the drifting fog) with physically threatening (marlinspike through the eye, anyone?). And I like the fact that the characters look like real people, unlike the glossy-looking ones in the remake. Also, I think Spivey Point sounds like a scary place all on its own.
Prince of Darkness. I’m running out of adjectives now (just as well I’m doing Top 8 and not Top 10). I first saw Prince of Darkness at the cinema many moons ago (I have a feeling that was another of those solo cinema trips). It’s about a rambling urban church, fairly modern in appearance but with an ancient crypt underneath it containing (or indeed, barely containing) something diabolical, which (obviously) wants out. There are some gruesome scenes, but for me these aren’t what makes the movie scary. The thing that gives me the creeps is the recurring dream everyone keeps having if they fall asleep in the church. The very indistinctness of it makes it ultra sinister. There’s that, and what happens to the heroine. Not gory, but all the same, terrible. Also to look out for: a cameo by Alice Cooper(!) as a white-faced down-and-out, and Donald Pleasance as a priest who desperately wants to save the day but doesn’t quite have the gumption.
So, that was my top eight. What are yours?
Above: Oooh, no - get behind the sofa!