Thursday, September 03, 2009

Top 13 Horror Films

Because I love making lists, here's my Top 13 Horror Films. There are a number of critically acclaimed and cult-classic horror films that I have yet to see (among them Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, [Rec], Scream, and Japanese classics like Onibaba and Kaidan), but I've had a good helping of many titles in the genre over the years. This list may change as I get to watch more of the older films that I've missed, but here are my favorites so far.

My honorable mentions:
The Blair Witch Project (1999) - ahead of its time, chilling, unfairly bashed nowadays; The Descent (2005) - one of the best and most genuinely frightening films of recent years; The Haunting (1963) - bar none, the best haunted house film of all time; Itim (1976) - eerie and atmospheric, quite possibly the best Filipino horror film ever made; May (2002) - creepy yet endearing, with a breakthrough performance from Angela Bettis, an instant cult classic; Night of the Living Dead (1968) - the low-budget classic that started it all; Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) - one of the pioneers, dark and mesmerizing, with a masterclass performance from Max Schreck; El Orfanato (2007) - an atmospheric Spanish horror film that proves that kids can be creepy; Shutter (2004) - the original Thai film, simply spine-tingling; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - gory and realistic, Leatherface is horrifying!

Titles I have to re-assess: Takashi Miike's Odishon (1999), and the first three Alien movies (maybe at least one of the first two should have made the list...)

Titles I have to see NOW: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Scream (1966), The Wicker Man (1973), Japanese horror classics, more zombie films, Lovecraft-inspired horror movies, and loads more!

And now...


13. Suspiria (1977)

Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini
Oscar nomination/win: None

It's one of those films that many love to hate, if only because they believe the cult following has been built on its gore and its dazzling visuals. Of both,
Suspiria has loads. But it also has hypnotically eerie music courtesy of the rock band Goblins, fine set pieces, and a terrifying premise in the existence of three witches, the evil ancient Mothers. Inferno and La Terza Madre are inferior sequels, but Suspiria is Dario Argento's best and starts off an ultimately memorable and worthwhile trilogy of mystic horror.

12. Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf; 1968)

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman
Oscar nomination/win: None

My favorite director, the master Ingmar Berman, tried his hand at horror and came up with a chilling, hair-raising masterpiece that may be counted as one of his best. Just like Bergman's most intimate films (among them
Persona, one of my favorite all-time films), it is the general sense of stillness and the interplay of characters that make Hour of the Wolf such an involving movie. While the concept of the dark hour and the talk of apparitions are in themselves already creepy, it's when the managerie of strange entities manifest their true forms that the film becomes an example of pure horror.

11. The Shining (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Oscar nomination/win: None

The word I would use to describe Stanley Kubrick's
The Shining is "claustrophobic." That, and "mesmerizing." The splashes of red, the repeated invocation of "redrum," Jack Nicholson's leering is a film strengthened by the sheer power of its individual parts. I have seen this only once, but my memories of the scenes are as vivid as when I first saw them. I have a feeling that this, perhaps the best of the adaptations of Stephen King's books (though he himself reputedly did not like it), would have ranked higher after a second viewing...which I intend to give it soon.

10. The Birds (1963)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette
Oscar nomination: Special Visual Effects

The Birds
is not a truly frightening film, and many would wonder why I consider this a better "horror" film than many people's favorite, Psycho. But birds attacking for no given reason and, at the end of the film, seeming to be an unstoppable force of violence against humans is no laughing matter. Pecked eyes, children being chased by a swarm of irate black birds, Alfred Hitchcock's interesting shots of Tippi Hedren's horror...the whole film works and stands up to repeated viewings.

9. Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters; 2003)

Director: Ji-woon Kim
Cast: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim, Geun-yeong Mun
Oscar nomination/win: None

Just like the Japanese, Koreans have come up with some of the more interesting and memorable horror films in recent years. Of all of them,
A Tale of Two Sisters may be the best. It feels a bit long and indeed takes its time to clarify why all of the strange things have been happening, but it's well worth the wait. Psychologically chilling, it's one of the smartest and most engaging horror films out there. It's also one of the most well-acted. With this and the recent Hansel & Gretel (2007), I'm convinced that Korean children are among the best child actors in the world.

8. The Sixth Sense (1999)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
Oscar nominations: Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Haley Joel Osment), Supporting Actress (Toni Collette), Original Screenplay, Editing

Inarguably still M. Night Shymalan's best. He'll have a hard time topping or even matching this one. Elegant and memorable twist aside, the film is an extremely well-crafted drama that also happens to be genuinely hair-raising. Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette give astounding performances, Bruce Willis is also in fine form (could this have been his best singular performance, aside from his John McClane in
Die Hard?), the plot is strong and never wavers...all these amidst some of the scariest ghostly apparitions put in film. The Sixth Sense has the quality that every big-budget horror film should strive for. In my humble opinion, it should have won the Best Picture Oscar over American Beauty (then again, I'm a horror fan).

7. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Nicola Cunningham
Oscar nomination/win: None

I know what you're thinking. It's definitely one of the best British comedies in recent years, if not THE best. It's a humorous homage to Romero's zombie films. Does the presence of zombies make it a genuine horror film? Well, ask yourselves how meticulous and convincing the makeup and acting of the zombies were (at par with the best of Romero's films) and how frightening they were when they were beginning to go out into the streets and when they were massing around the pub, how hopeless the situation of Shaun and his friends quickly becomes amidst the humor. Enough said.

6. The Omen (1976)

Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens
Oscar nomination: Original Song
Oscar win: Original Score

For me and a lot of horror fans, the musical score plays an integral part in making a film truly scary. There is no better example of this than
The Omen, the ultimate anti-Christ movie. Ravenous dogs and baboons, chilling deaths, scary nannies, and an unknowingly diabolical mother-hating child all play to the Jerry Goldsmith's spine-tingling chorals and Latin chants. The most prominent is the "Ave Satani," probably the Academy's bravest choice ever for an Oscar nomination (I'd love to see how it was performed on the stage, if it was). The performances by the actors, in particular Gregory Peck, are superb. Avoid the 2006 remake like the plague.

5. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Oscar nomination/win: None

Zombies in a mall! It may sound like an absurd idea, but it makes for what many rightly consider the best zombie film of all time. Notwithstanding the own mundane horrors brought about by consumerism (which Romero none-too-subtly pokes at with this film), locking yourself in a big building with swarms of mindlessly hungry undead is truly an experience in terror. I'd take being alone in a dark mall over sharing it with zombies anytime. Of the many scenes involving the living dead, perhaps the most memorable are the scene in the elevator and the jolting attack from behind a mannequin. This is also the film where we first hear the chilling words: "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

4. The Others (2001)

Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Cast: Nicole Kidman
Oscar nomination/win: None

One of the finest ghost films, also with a twist that while more predictable than that in
The Sixth Sense still packs a punch. Nicole Kidman's performance here is flawless, but the real strength of The Others lies in the visual darkness of the film, an atmospheric flavor that is tied to the entire plot. This is an example of those horror films that make one shiver in fright.

3. Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer
Oscar nomination: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar win: Supporting Actress (Ruth Gordon)

Starting off with an eerie lullaby, the film, one of auteur Roman Polanski's best, moves quickly from an exploration of ambition, married life, and raising a family to the diabolical workings of Satan and his inconspicuous minions. Or is it all a product of Rosemary's paranoia? Whatever the truth (it's likely both), this is definitely one of the gems of the horror genre: finely crafted, tense, superbly acted (particularly by Mia Farrow and Oscar winner Ruth Gordon), and, for its implications on how much we can truly ever know about our caring neighbors, genuinely frightening.

2. Ringu (1998)

Director: Hideo Nakata
Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Hiroyuki Sanada
Oscar nomination/win: None
Japanese Academy nomination: Actress (Nanako Matsushima)
Japanese Academy win: Most Popular Film

The premise of a cursed videotape may still seem silly to many, but watching how events unfold in this seminal Asian horror masterpiece should easily drive those thoughts away. Eerie sounds and tones (and the lack thereof) contribute to the dark, foreboding atmosphere that is the power of the original
Ringu. And of course, the malevolence of Sadako, in my opinion cinema's scariest creation (interpreted from the novel), takes it to an entirely different level of pure terror. Can anyone honestly say that the way they look at TV sets did not significantly change after seeing that unforgettable scene? I cannot ever agree with those who think that the American version is superior on any level.

1. The Exorcist (1973)

Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller
Oscar nominations: Picture, Director, Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Supporting Actor (Jason Miller), Supporting Actress (Linda Blair), Art Direction-Set Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing
Oscar wins: Adapted Screenplay, Sound

Is there any question? Our generation may not find Regan MacNeil's Pazuzu-possessed, mangle-faced, pea-spitting, head-turning appearance as horrifying as our parents' did (a lot of them could not sleep for many days afterwards), but the power of
The Exorcist to disturb and put to question faith and the rightness of the world has not wavered. This is as demonic as a film of such astounding quality can get. Even without Regan's spider-climb down the stairs in the director's cut, her possession is truly a horrifying abomination. It deserved its 10 nominations and should have won more than the two that it got. I don't foresee a horror film being so well made and honored with as many accolades in the near future. The Exorcist may be one of the most powerful films ever made, regardless of genre.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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