Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Top 8 Horror Films

I'm supposed to be taking a break this week but it seems I can't keep away from the keyboard. For a while I've quite fancied blogging about my favourite horror films - today I finally got on with the job. 

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! 



18 comments:

  1. I no longer have the bottle for horror films, but once upon a time... Saw the Japansese Ring. Most terrifying film ever. The third time i tried to watch it I had to stop, I was practically having a panic attack. Also love Event Horizon - so dark and creepy. There's a Dario Argento called The Church - very scary moments with a statue turning around of its own accord... The The Exorcist, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Brr!

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  2. Oooh - I've never seen The Church so I will definitely try to see that! The only one I'm NOT seeing is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre...saw the opening scene on YouTube and decided that was all I ever wanted to see!!! :-O

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  3. NB The only reason I watched that first scene was that someone asked me if a bit in The Glass Demon was based on it (it wasn't; I hadn't seen the film).

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  4. The Orphanage is a great film. Orphan is too, which may be a retake of the Spanish film, and always has me screaming at the same bits. Gothika's another good one.

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  5. I've got a feeling I've seen Gothika...is that the one which is very blue/grey toned most of the way through? Will put Orphan on the list to see!

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  6. No The innocents or The Haunting -- Cat People? I Walk with a Zombie?

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  7. I agree with your observations concerning "The Ring". The film was very unsettling, and continues to remain so despite the passage of so many years & comments. I also have "The Mothman Prophecies" and "The Woman in Black" in my shelf, but somehow (probably something to do with me staying alone in a considerably spacious flat) managed to avoid them while choosing films to watch after coming back from work.

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  8. Kate, I've seen all of those except I Walk with a Zombie. I'm not denying their excellence! Esp. The Innocents. I've simply listed the eight films that hit the spot for me more than any others. And I kind of knew that I would think of loads later that ought to be on the list...
    I'm loving all these suggestions, BTW.

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  9. Definitely with you on The Ring, and also Mothman Prophecies which is under-appreciated and very creepy.

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  10. Yes! Love that film. Seen it twice already and the first time was only just before Xmas.

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  11. Have to agree with you about The Fog (original) - it's one of my all time favourites. I stayed in a lighthouse on holiday once and made my scaredy-cat brother watch it. It may be cheesy but the right atmosphere certainly helps.

    I'd have to include Alien and The Thing (John Carpenter again) also - both incredibly creepy, visceral movies with great characters that you actually care about.

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  12. Also agree about The Mothman Prophecies. I was always surprised that it bombed because it's a fantastic movie. Too slow burn for the action crowd I suppose

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  13. My two favourites are The Eye and The Orphanage. Both are original, creepy and very memorable. I saw the 1963 version of The Haunting on DVD recently, which was pretty creepy, but reminded me too much of other haunted house films.

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  14. I love all these suggestions! I like Alien and The Thing too...and The Eye. I also went to see the new Hammer film, The Quiet Ones, the other day, and thought that was good too, and v scary in places, although it wouldn't make my top eight.

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  15. I'm with you on The Ring, The Backbone of the Devil, The Orphanage and The Woman in Black. I might add Mermaid's Scar (beautiful and scary anime), The Mist (Stephen King) and Let the Right One In (the swedish one).

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  16. I haven't seen Mermaid's Scar but I've seen the Swedish LTROI and The Mist. In fact when I was watching The Mist, I was live tweeting about it, and several of my (mean!) film loving friends were laughing to themselves because I didn't know how it was going to end. Argh....the trauma.

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  17. It was quite traumatic. The book was different but I really liked the movie, and I really like The walking dead because of it. Same director. I recommend Mermaid's Scar, I think its the kind of story you will appreciate.

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