Thursday, May 31, 2007

In honor of Dream House's production and it being a horror film, I proudly present:


I've always been a huge horror fan, since I was a kid I used to read books about slasher films (much to my mother's chagrin) and makes jokes about Chucky killing people (again, the school thought I was "dangerous"). So without further ado, here are 25 horror films that are as varied as they come, with some very well known, some not so well known.

1. Dawn of the Dead (1978, George A. Romero, USA)
Dawn of the Dead is like The Empire Strikes Back to the original Night of the Living Dead's A New Hope: bigger, better, more action packed and more badass. The characters are way more likeable, Tom Savini's zombie makeup and gore is far superior and here George Romero really lets loose with his political commentary. Plus the film is an incredibly entertaining ride. George Romero truly has more talent in his pinky than Zach Snyder has ever known.

2. The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy, UK)
The best Anglo horror film, bar none, making everything Hammer and Amicus has ever made look like Baby Geniuses 2. The mystery unravels itself nicely and like such films as Ridley Scott's later Alien and Takashi Miike's Audition, the film builds up tension very, very nicely until exploding at the end in a cavalcade of visceral horror. Yeah, the ending is fucking incredible and for those who haven't seen the movie I'm not going to even consider spoiling it. The performances are excellent (particularly from Woodward and the always masterful Christopher Lee), Anthony Shaffer's script is superb and the film boasts an eerie "something is seriously fucking wrong here" feel through and through. I'm one of those few who are actually torn between the director's cut and the theatrical version, I love the additional character development and new opening to the director's cut but it also reveals something about the plot which the theatrical version does not, spoiling the ending just a little bit.

3. Carrie (1976, Brian DePalma, USA)
While his movies are of lesser quality nowadays, I think Brian DePalma is one of the most underrated directors on God's Green Earth. His run from Sisters to Body Double was simply fucking incredible. His movies are just how I like them: all about flamboyant visuals and high style, but still looking like films and not like horribly overdone music videos like the films of fucking Michael Bay. Among his 70s to mid 80s work there is a standout: Carrie. Carrie, while still highly stylized, is also one of DePalma's most character driven and emotional movies, with Sissy Spacek's Carrie being a nicely developed, very complex character. That and Piper Laurie's performance as Carrie's domineering, Christian fundamentalist mother is fucking terrifying and the "Prom Rampage" scene is pure cinema. I wish people would view Brian DePalma's films with less contempt and more awe.

4. Matango (1963, Ishiro Honda, Japan)
I really am starting to agree with the likes of the now sadly deceased Guy Mariner Tucker that Matango, not Godzilla, is probably Ishiro Honda's masterpiece. It really feels like his most personal, most heartfelt movie and it's actually very different from any of Honda's monster epics. In Honda's kaiju eiga and tokusatsu films, the scenes Honda actually directed himself, ie, the human drama scenes, play second fiddle completely to the monsters and special effects sequences. Here it's just the opposite: Eiji Tsuburaya's special effects work is a lot more subtle than usual and the film is dominated by the performances of the likes of Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Seven Samurai's Yoshio Tsuchiya, etc. The cinematography is much prettier than usual in a Toho Honda production and the film has a highly atmospheric quality to it. I wish Honda had done more horror oriented films like this, The H-Man and The Human Vapor.

5. The Whip and the Body (1963, Mario Bava, Italy)
Mario Bava is a fucking master. Bava never got the respect he so truly deserved until after his death. His fans are now numerous, even several famous directors are followers. Tim Burton turned to Bava's films often, particularly for Sleepy Hollow and even once plotted to remake Black Sunday with his then-partner Lisa Marie in the Barbara Steele role. Martin Scorsese is quite a fan and put several Bava references in Cape Fear. Guillermo Del Toro is a huge Bava fan and often puts nods to Bava in his films; Pan's Labyrinth is particularly Bava-esque. Quentin Tarantino is a huge fan, as is Joe Dante and without him, there would be no Italian horror genre in general. The Whip and the Body, however, is what I regard as his masterpiece. It's a sort of sadomasochistic ghost story with better than usual character development and is also likely Bava's most visually accomplished film with Christopher Lee playing a wicked nobleman who returns to his family's castle only to be killed at the end of the first reel. However, he soon returns to haunt the castle. Just the opening shot, of Christopher Lee riding up to the castle as a blood red sun sets is impressive enough, but the film features some of Bava's best expressionistic lighting and staging. The film's only real fault is it's weak dubbing (yes, Christopher Lee is dubbed in this, sadly).

6. Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento, Italy)
Suspiria is such a fucking cool movie! It's brutally violent, bizarre and gorgeous to look at, with superb use of vivid color and lighting. Dario Argento's direction is stylish as they come, the film is a barrage of stunning set piece after stunning set piece and Goblin's score is breathtakingly creepy. Argento's masterpiece without a single doubt. The film would have been even better, scarier and far more fucked up, however, if Argento was able to go with his original idea of using children as the ballet students in the film but the world ain't perfect.

7. Onibaba (1964, Kaneto Shindo, Japan)
A masterpiece of cinema made by Japanese director Kaneto Shindo (who, now into his 90s, is still directing films to this day). The film's grinning Hanya mask visage is an image one will not ever forget and the film is haunting erotic and highly creepy and unnerving. It also boasts gorgeous monochrome cinematography and with a high level of nudity and intense violence making it really quite ahead of it's time. Shindo's next foray into the Japanese feudal horror world would be Kuroneko, which, while certainly a great film, would not match this.

8. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott, USA/UK)
Alien could be the scariest film ever made and likely the best sci-fi/horror hybrid. Why? It's believable, that's why. Second, it's highly claustrophobic. Yes, it's plot is ripped wholesale from It: the Terror From Beyond Space with a sequence straight out of Bava's Planet of the Vampires, but that does not make the film any less well made. Director Ridley Scott, who would later lead a lavish career directing big budget films, some of them good, some of them not, really infuses a nice feeling of tension here. The film starts out almost boring, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, before suddenly morphing into a high octane thrill ride as soon as the pace threatens to lag. Films like Alien are really the reason why we go to the movies in the first place.

9. Eyes Without a Face (1959, Georges Franju, France)
Made over a decade before the onslaught of sex and violence that was horror in the 70s, this French film could be one of the creepiest movies around. Everything, from the creepy porcelain mask that the film's doctor's horribly disfigured daughter wears to the film's incredibly graphic for the time "face transplant" scenes, are throughly unsettling. The film plays almost like a French version of the American B-horror film The Brain That Wouldn't Die, itself a rather underrated and surprisingly creepy and gruesome little film, but Eyes Without a Face is far more beautifully made, acted and filmed.

10. Night of the Living Dead (1968, George A. Romero, USA)
No doubt the greatest low budget horror film ever made, Night of the Living Dead is intensely creepy, claustrophobic and genuinely nightmarish. George A. Romero really did for the zombie film subgenre what Sergio Leone did for the Western: he revitalized it and created an entirely new genre from it. Is a prime example of what can really be done on a meager budget and without it, I don't think the likes of such later indie-horror films as The Last House on the Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre could have existed.

11. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979, Werner Herzog, West Germany)
At the risk of being stoned (no pun intended) by coffee drinking, beret-wearing cinema snobs, I will say I much prefer Werner Herzog's remake to Murnau's original. It's just a lot more real and beautiful, featuring an actor that to Herzog was like Mifune to Kurosawa: Klaus Kinski. Kinski is genuinely terrifying as the rat-like Count Dracula and Herzog's direction is quite brilliant as usual, with lots of poignantly beautiful and poetic sequences, particularly a sequence where plague infected rats infest a village.

12. Halloween (1978, John Carpenter, USA)
Halloween, like Star Wars was for science fiction, would be both the birth and the death of horror cinema. It, being more or less the first American slasher film, was highly influential, put director Carpenter on the map and spawned numerous knock offs ranging from decent to really fucking bad. Still, it's a highly suspenseful film and Carpenter makes excellent use of the film's meager budget.

13. Jigoku (1960, Nobuo Nakagawa, Japan)
Jigoku is one fucking incredible film from Nobuo Nakagawa, essentially Japan's own Alfred Hitchcock who prior to this gave us such films as Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (Ghost of Yotsuya), still one of the most well known versions of Japan's Yotsuya Kaidan story. For this film, Nakagawa goes way further, taking us into, where else, but the depths of Hell itself. After an amazing intro, the film actually plays it pretty subtle for it's first half, with everything simply playing out as a drama. However, no sooner does it start to get boring than does, literally, all Hell break loose as the main characters are all mercilessly sent down into the infernal depths of Hades, where they, for the next thirty minutes, wander around eerily lit landscapes and breathtaking sets that would have made Mario Bava jealous and are subjected to various grisly tortures that predated H.G. Lewis' Blood Feast by three years.

14. Deep Red (1975, Dario Argento, Italy)
Deep Red is another amazing piece of high octane filmmaking from Dario Argento. It's gory and brutal as all get out and is more or less the first Argento film in which the director would experiment highly with color, with absolutely stunning results. Argento, up until now, worked primarily with Italian master maestro Ennio Morricone as his composer, however, Deep Red would also mark Argento's first collaboration with the hard rock group Goblin. Goblin's loud and at times almost cacophonous music lends the film's already stunning visuals an even more surreal and eerie feel.

15. The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin, USA)
I feel almost guilty putting this film on the list as it really has terrible karma. The cast and crew suffering the torments of the damned making this film, with the egomaniacal, psychotic William Friedkin at the helm, making everybody suffer. Still, despite the film's unpleasant subject matter and backstory, it's an amazing piece of super gritty horror cinema. Friedkin brings his raw documentary-like style that he employed with The French Connection to a horror film with superb results. Still, why has almost every film Friedkin has made since been a miserable failure?

16. Zombie (1979, Lucio Fulci, Italy)
Fulci's Zombie is not actually that good of a film, but damn, it's so much goddamn fun. Come on, it's got a fucking scene in it where a "sea zombie" fights a fucking shark! I mean, how badass could you get?! Moving on, it's gory, tasteless and unpleasant, with the most grotesque bit of eyeball violence in any film and the cinematic quality is actually far below Romero, but it's actually a little more entertaining than Dawn of the Dead.

17. Dead Alive (1992, Peter Jackson)
Dead Alive is an early film by Peter Jackson, the same Peter Jackson who would later give us The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, the then most expensive film ever made. To be honest, as epic as those films are, I really miss the old Peter Jackson, the crazy madman who made nihilistic, hilariously grotesque films like Dead Alive, which to me is better than any overbloated Lord of the Rings film. That and it actually only runs an hour and a half, a runtime Jackson is now seemingly incapable of achieving. It's so fucking gory and over the top that it's impossible to take seriously, with lawnmowers pureeing zombies, kung fu fighting priests, zombies having sex and procreating and so much more madness.

18. Blood and Black Lace (1964, Mario Bava, Italy)
One of the very first gialli, Bava's Blood and Black Lace is quite an impressive film. It's gorgeously filmed with inventive use of color, as usual for Bava and is surprisingly violent and brutal for a film made in 1964, featuring torture and murder a plenty. The camerawork is especially amazing, especially considering the film's fairly meager budget. It definitely paved the way for such filmmakers as Dario Argento.

19. The Thing (1982, John Carpenter, USA)
The Thing is great and I for one much, much prefer this to the original 1951 The Thing From Another World, which is comparatively quite dull and has absolutely nothing to do with the original short story. This is gory, flamboyant and is much closer to the original story. John Carpenter's direction is superb, Rob Bottin's FX is absolutely amazing and the film shows just how much can be done with makeup and prosthetics and without crappy CGI. You know the recently announced remake will feature little else but video gamish CGI morphing scenes.

20. Black Sabbath (1963, Mario Bava, Italy)
Black Sabbath is a three story horror anthology by Mario Bava, Italy's original horror master. The first story, about a prostitute being terrorized by her former lesbian lover via telephone, while as usual expertly photographed by Bava, is marginal. The second, highly gothic story, starring Boris Karloff as a vicious vampire, is superb, a great return to Bava's Black Sunday style. The final story, about a nurse who robs a truly creepy looking cadaver, is pure Bava at his finest. Black Sabbath is where Bava really began to experiment with color and the results are always nothing less than arresting.

21. The Hills Have Eyes (1977, Wes Craven)
I really think Wes Craven was kind of a two hit wonder. The Last House on the Left and especially The Hills Have Eyes are just superb, ultra gritty and horrifically gruesome pieces of pure horror cinema. After that, however, he got kind of soft and while Nightmare on Elm Street was certainly quite good, he never quite recaptured the feel of his early "fucked up" movies again. The Hills Have Eyes is really his masterpiece, a terrifying visit to a hellish valley inhabited by inbred cannibalistic mutants. Even in it's cut R-rated form it's quite brutally violent and is disturbingly realistic.

22. Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Ruggero Deodato, Italy)
Speaking of disturbingly realistic movies, I present this film, one of the very best "extreme" horror flicks out there. Cannibal Holocaust is one of those kinds of movies that is so horrifyingly real that it feels like a real punch to the stomach. The film is a literal parade of nastiness, all shot in Deodato's unrelenting, documentary-like style. It's not, however, without some purpose, as the film is meant to reflect on the sensationalism of the media. Still, all that is almost nulled by the fact that the film features real animal killings, something which Deodato regrets to this day.

23. Cape Fear (1991, Martin Scorsese, USA)
Cape Fear is the only film of Martin Scorsese, America's own master of cinema, that would qualify as a horror flick. To be honest, it really doesn't feel that "Marty". It really looks like his colleague Brian DePalma actually directed most of this and for some reason gave credit over to Scorsese, but regardless of that, it's still a great movie. Robert DeNiro is fucking terrifying as the psychopathic Max Cady, Nick Nolte is superb and the film is highly suspenseful. Again, I much prefer this to it's original.

24. Dressed to Kill (1980, Brain DePalma, USA)
Dressed to Kill is essentially a loose, transgendered remake of Psycho. It's also, to sound quite blasphemous, a somewhat better film and feels like one of DePalma's most personal efforts, with a beautiful Pino Donaggio score, stellar acting and DePalma's usual flamboyant flair. It bears all the hallmarks of Hitchcock in full Psycho-mode, only it's a lot more stylized. The ending, which closely mimicks DePalma's earlier Carrie to a tee, is a bit of a cop out though.

25. Cabin Fever (2002, Eli Roth, USA)
I confess, I like Eli Roth and his films. I really do. I don't give a fuck what the cinema snobs and internet savages say. Cabin Fever is a lot of sick fun. It's a sort of gross out horror comedy that nicely channels the works of everyone from early Wes Craven to Tobe Hooper to John Boorman in full Deliverance mode. Sadly, Roth's later Hostel would be much inferior, but Cabin Fever is great and his Thanksgiving trailer is the best fucking part of Grindhouse.

No comments: