Friday, 4 November 2016
1200th Post - 40 Coolest Horror Movies
My 1200th Post
40 of the Coolest Horror Films
If you’re reading this now you might realise that there has been a week of inactivity on this blog and, at the very least, this combined Halloween/1200th Post celebration is more than just a little late going up.
Sorry folks but, what happened is that, two days before this post was due to be published, I got taken ill and it was all very... painful and worrying. It knocked me out of my day job and I have been unable to get out from under it for a while so... yeah... I apologise for being away from the blog all week. The output may be a little sporadic getting back into the swing of things here (assuming I don't relapse again this weekend) but I will do my best to get back to updating three times a week as soon as I’m able. So, if you’re going to read the following post, maybe read it in the context of it still being Halloween.
Really sorry I missed it guys and gals.
Okay... I really didn’t know what to do to mark the occasion of my 1200th post but, luckily, the timing of it was serendipitous in that I realised it would be going up on Halloween. So I figured I’d do a Top Ten favourite horror movies list. Of course, it’s almost impossible to stop at ten and so, here I now have this monster mutated into a Top 40 coolest list.
As you can imagine, I had a lot more favourite horror movies filled with groovy ghoulies and sexy slitherers but... I had to cut things down somewhere. Didn’t want to end up with a top 200 or I’d still be writing this now. Be warned though... it adheres to my rigid standards of horror movies not being part of the genre unless they feature either a mutated, alien, constructed or supernatural presence. Man as monster driven films really aren’t part of the genre... so you won’t find any classic gialli such as Deep Red or The Bird With The Crystal Plumage here. Neither will you find slashers or serial killer movies such as Psycho, Silence Of The Lambs or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As far as I’m concerned, those are thrillers... nothing more or less.
I now offer you the usual disclaimer about the list not being definitive and, truth be told, it would probably change every year if I decided to ever contemplate such things on an annual basis. Even now I’m regretting not putting one of the Spanish Blind Dead movies on here. Or one of Naschy’s Wolfman movies. Or the unimaginably cool language based zombie virus movie Pontypool. There’s nothing too obscure here... you’ve more than likely seen the majority of them... but if there are any on this list you haven’t looked at, maybe you could give them some consideration at some point. Enjoy.
40. Zombi (aka Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) 1979
Lucio Fulci’s zombie classic is quite graphic and, although I don’t enjoy this nearly as much as some of his giallo movies, this features the classic scene of a topless lady being chased underwater by a zombie who then fights and bites a shark. Seriously... how can this movie not be in anyone’s horror list with a cool scene like that in it? You can sift through the earth and find my review of this one here.
39. The Exorcist 1973
William Friedkin’s adaptation of Blatty’s best selling book is actually a pretty good horror movie with some really great sound design... sometimes using that old but effective technique of pitching a slow building cacophony and then bringing in a sudden, crashing silence. Still very effective.
38. The Omen 1976
Richard Donner’s franchise opener about a demonic, adopted baby is still the best in the series with some wonderful performances and, more importantly, Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score, for which he won his only oscar. My review of the five Omen movies to date can be found here.
37. Cat People 1942
Val Lewton produced this classic ‘is she or isn’t she’ horror directed by Jacques Tourneur. One of the scariest jump scares in cinema is created when the roar of a 'big cat' turns into the sound of air breaks on a bus screeching to a halt, thus giving future jump scares in horror movies the nickname ‘bus’. An expression which I believe is still in use today, to some extent.
36. Drag Me To Hell 2009
This Sam Raimi movie is pretty much an update of M. R. James ghost story Casting The Runes, which was turned into a TV production some years before (and reviewed by me here), not to mention also being the basis for another entry in this list. It’s basically the same ‘pass the curse on or you’ll be gobbled up by a demon at the end of the week’ plot but it’s so well done here and served with a large dose of black humour. Definitely worth a look. You can drag up my very old and short review of this film here.
35. Phantasm 1979
Don Coscarelli’s very weird but ultimately satisfying seventies movie has given us a couple of horror movie icons. One is The Tall Man, played in the Phantasm films by Angus Scrimm. The other one being the flying steel balls which use retractable razor blades to affix themselves to a victims head before a little drill comes out to mush up your brains.
34. Gojira (aka Godzilla) 1954
Given his character arc over the years in Japan, it’s almost hard to remember when Godzilla was Tokyo’s nemesis, rather than its protector. This movie is actually still quite sobering in places and stars my favourite actor Takashi Shimura in a role (which he also reprised in the first sequel). Watch the Japanese original and not the butchered, rescored, dubbed, ‘with added Raymond Burr’ US version of the movie.
33. As Above So Below 2014
Absolutely beautiful, handheld, first person camera style horror movie set in the tunnels beneath Paris which lead into hell. The main characters are, unusually for this kind of movie, quite well drawn and I would love to see a sequel to this movie. Lovely sound design moments in here too and, coupled with some genuinely terrifying sequences, these elements all make this a winner for me. You can wander around in my review of this here.
32. Dracula Ad 1972 1972
One of my favourite Hammer movies... this one has a small role for the wonderful Caroline Munro and, furthermore, it has Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee battling in contemporary London. It’s groovy and, although not that many people rate this entry in the Hammer Dracula series, for me it’s definitely the best of the lot.
31. The Girl With All The Gifts 2016
This recent British movie, based on a well loved novel, is so wonderful and it feels like what would had happened if anyone had ever asked John Wyndham to write a zombie movie. Truly great performances and a great plot set up make this one of the greatest zombie ‘road movies’ ever made. A true classic of the sub-genre. My recent review of this is here.
30. Le Viol du Vampire 1968
Jean Rollin’s first feature is as surreal and erotic as most of his vampire movies. Some beautiful imagery and with such a confused, inscrutable plot (if there really is one) that it caused outrage, death threats and objects to be hurled at the screen on it premiere. It’s a movie that lives up to that violent reaction of a recommendation.
29. Vampyros Lesbos 1971
Jess Franco’s lesbian remake of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in all but name, is erotic and also has a lot going for it in terms of shot design and music. It also has the wonderful Soledad Miranda playing the film’s main antagonist. My review of this one is here.
28. The Descent 2005
A group of lady spelunkers meet a terrifying fate in an unknown cave system filled with hungry, humanoid creatures. The timing and jump scares in this are all pitch perfect. The original, 'sequel proof' UK ending is much more convincing than the US recut version... which allowed for that unsatisfying sequel to be made after all.
27. Kwaidan 1964
Beautifully shot, colourful and engrossing Japanese portmanteau film of ghost stories. Has a beautiful Toru Takemitsu score which, criminally, is still not commercially released on CD, as far as I’m aware. The UK Masters Of Cinema version is even longer and more complete than the already gorgeous, previously released Criterion version.
26. Kuroneko 1968
This film directed by Kaneto Shindo, who gave us the wonderful Onibaba, teaches us an important lesson and that lesson is... if you are going to get interested in a couple of ladies, make sure they were not previously raped to death and are now supernatural entities who can turn into cat demons at will. This is always a good thing to remember while out shopping.
25. The Earth Dies Screaming 1964
Quite short but quite wonderful low budget sci-fi horror involving the few humans left alive in the world and the invading aliens who they are trying to hide from. Some truly gob smackingly scary and suspenseful scenes in this. It's all so very English and "let's all have a cup o' tea" in it's attitude too... which is kinda cosy.
24. Paranormal Activity 2, 3, 4, and 6 (2010, 2011, 2012 & 2015)
Yeah, this is a bit of a cheat entry because I’ve included four in one. However, I like this series and, although I haven’t included the first here because it doesn’t quite scare like the majority of the others, that's also quite a good movie. Unfortunately, the real clunker in the series is the fifth one, subtitled The Marked Ones. Sad that this series seems to have stopped with the fantastic sixth movie. My review of the entire series can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.
23. Night of the Demon/Curse of the Demon 1957
I can never remember which of these two titles of this movie represents the slightly shorter, truncated American cut of this but it’s a great film and worth watching in its full version. The second on this list to be directed by Jacques Tourneur, this is also another adaptation of the M. R. James story Casting The Runes. My review of this movie is here.
22. Rabid 1977
Early Cronenberg classic which stars porn star Marilyn Chambers as she is taken over by a sex virus which turns everybody into mad, bloodthirsty creatures as the film heads towards its downbeat conclusion.
21. Nosferatu, A Symphony Of Horror 1922
This famous, unauthorised German adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was, if memory serves, the first and probably only German Expressionist film to use actual location photography rather than just elaborately constructed sets. Still a bit of a classic and still worth a watch every few years. Fans of this one would also do well to check out a neat movie called Shadow Of The Vampire, about the ‘fictional’ shooting of this movie.
20. Inferno 1980
The second of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy, this shares a similarly saturated, Bavaesque colour palette as his earlier hit Suspiria. It is the epitome of an Argento film to the point where it’s almost a cliché in that it has... bad acting, a not so great script, wonderful music (by the late, great Keith Emmerson) and some astonishingly beautiful visuals. It’s also worth it for the 'third mother' sequence in the lecture theatre near the start of the movie...which has an absolutely enthralling, captivating and spooky atmosphere to it.
19. The Thing From Another World & John Carpenter’s The Thing 1951 and 1982
Okay, so out of the two of these, I still prefer the original Christian Nyby film, produced by Howard Hawks... but both his and Carpenter’s films are still out and out classics of the genre and, as it happens, are very different to each other in some ways. Both important films.
18. Quatermass And The Pit 1967
The scariest of the Quatermass productions, at least in terms of movies (the fourth serial is quite unsettling too). This one hooks up a truly great science fiction premise and also manages to tie it into supernatural shenanigans in a credible way. Probably the greatest Hammer movie ever made. You can unearth my review of this one here.
17. King Kong 1933
What a wonderful movie the original King Kong is. So much expression in Willis O Brien’s monster model that you will always feel sorry for him. A lost scene which was truly terrifying to the very first audiences was excised after previews and has, sadly, never turned up since. Apart from kick starting giant monster movies, this film is also very important because Max Steiner showed that a 'talking picture' could also have a non-diegetic musical score to enhance the film to its advantage. If it wasn’t for this movie they might never had figured that out... and John Williams would be out of a job. John Williams did, however, pay homage to this score musically in his score for the second Jurassic Park movie, The Lost World.
16. Rec and REC 2 2007 and 2009
The first two of the four REC films are found footage movies and are... truly pant wetting. Although the storyline doesn’t quite include zombies, the antagonists in this movie are, for all intents and purposes, the living dead and they’re not slow about going in for the kill either. Most zombie movies are just body count movies... these Spanish ones are intense, frightening affairs. The real deal. My review of the second movie is here.
15. It Follows 2014
Another variation on the pass a curse on legacy... this fairly recent addition to the genre is stylishly made, genuinely unsettling and has a truly cool, retro 1970/80s style electronic score similar to what you might find in a John Carpenter movie. I can’t believe there hasn’t been at least two sequels to this thing already. You can follow my original thoughts on this one here.
14. The Blair Witch Project 1999
This movie re-popularised the found footage horror movie and is pretty scary. It’s just as famous for its early viral internet marketing campaign, which was a bit of a ground breaker at the time. Love the ending to this movie. The recent sequel was reviewed by me here.
13. Dawn of the Dead 1978
Zombie King George Romero’s sequel, around a decade later, to his break out hit Night Of The Living Dead. The first movie spawned what we think of today as the modern zombie movie. This one does it all again but in colour and with the main protagonists holed up in a shopping mall. It has a few different cuts and all of them are worth watching to get a different vibe off them. It also has, in some versions, a biker gang versus zombie custard pie fight so... what’s not to love here?
12. Ringu 1998
Based on the novel of the same name, Hideo Nakata’s adaptation is another updated ‘pass the curse’ movie for the video age. Ironically, in the recent franchise crossing sequel Sadako Vs Kayako (reviewed by me here), the technology used to pass the curse in the original is now outdated enough that the characters have to find an old videotape machine in a junk shop. How quickly times change.
11. The Conjuring 2013
Based on the true life adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren, this first entry in the franchise is an instant classic. Everybody in this movie is completely likeable and that makes the demonic horror element of the story all the more effective. The sequel, set locally to me in Enfield in the UK (which I reviewed here), was also great but not quite up there with this one. You can conjure up my review of this one here.
10. A L I E N 1979
Ridley Scott and Dan O Bannon’s scary sci-fi tale borrows liberally from a few sources and is notable for giving Swiss artist H. R. Giger international exposure and fame. Absolutely beautiful acting and an effective, if misused by the director, Jerry Goldsmith score make this one that everybody should see (and hear).
9. Suspiria 1977
The first of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy is like a hypnagogic fairy tale with a saturated colour palette that, if I remember correctly, utilised the last technicolour camera left in Italy. An absolute classic and progressive rock group Goblin’s cool score is the icing on an already very rich cake. Upcoming remake not required.
8. The Shining 1980
Kubrick’s horror masterpiece is actually a little more enthralling than maestro Stephen King’s original novel... which was already pretty good. Imagery such as the twin girls, the carpet pattern of the Overlook Hotel and the elevator doors opening to release a hallway full of blood has become iconic and much referenced in the decades since the release of this one.
7. Son Of Frankenstein 1939
The third of the original seven Universal Frankenstein monster movies and the last to feature Boris Karloff playing the role of the monster, although he would return to the series later in a different role.
As far as I’m concerned this is the closest an American horror picture of that period got to showing German Expressionism on film, with its twisted sets looking like something found in the classic GE movie, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.
6. Werewolf Of London 1935
Universal’s first attempt at a wolfman movie, with Henry Hull as the titular creature, was a failure with audiences and it wasn't for another six years until they had another, more successful attempt with Lon Chaney Jr in The Wolfman (reviewed here). This movie, as far as I’m concerned, trumps any werewolf movies that came after it with its classic yet unreleased score, Star Trek rock formations (doubling for Tibet and decades before the crew of the Enterprise were filming in that location), Warner Oland and the hilarious 'two old ladies in the pub' scene. Absolutely brilliant stuff.
5. Creature From The Black Lagoon 1954
Such a good movie. I was lucky enough to catch a showing of this in 3D as a kid in the 1970s in a cinema in Soho and it’s been with me ever since. A film which never fails to weave a hypnotic spell and still has a lot of staying power to this day. My review of this walks among us here.
4. Invasion of the Bodysnatchers 1956 and 1978
I love all the Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers movies we’ve had over the years but these two are absolute masterpieces. I enjoy the first one a little more and it has some great lines in it like “A moment's sleep and the girl I loved was an inhuman enemy bent on my destruction.” The seventies version is chilly and creepy in a different way, with a more naturalistic acting style plugged into the time period and a much more downbeat ending to it... something which the director of the first version wasn’t allowed to get away with after test screenings before new bookend scenes were shot. Slyly, the ending of the first movie starring the original actor, does find itself into a scene very early on in the 1978 version.
3. The Bride Of Frankenstein 1935
Two things elevate this movie above anything else. Firstly there’s the amazing actress Elsa Lanchester, playing a dual role here as both Mary Shelley in a prologue and, later, the creature’s bride herself. The other stand out is Franz Waxman’s gorgeous score which was so well thought of that it was constantly being tracked into Universal’s serials such as Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars, Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe and The Phantom Creeps.
2. The Fog 1980
John Carpenter’s absolutely cool supernatural slasher about a team of marauding leper pirates coming back to wreak havoc on the town that done them wrong 100 years before. Features an outstanding performance by Adrienne Barbeau as the local DJ who has her radio station in a lighthouse. Also features Janet Leigh and her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, working together in the same film. Watch this alone at night with the lights off and the sound up to take in Carpenter’s masterpiece of a horror score that haunts the corners of your ears as you watch. My review is lurking here.
1. The Haunting 1963
The original, 1963 Robert Wise adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting Of Hill House, is just amazing and, even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, it still has the power to provoke an atmosphere of lurking dread. Nothing much happens visible to the camera but, when it isn’t happening in abundance, you certainly feel it. A true gem of a movie and still the greatest horror movie ever made.
So there you go. Those are my picks. I’m sure I’ll be regretting the missing stuff almost as soon as I publish this post. If you’ve not seen them and you have a love of the genre, then they are truly worth giving a watch at some point. Enjoy the darkness.