10. An American Werewolf in London
What use is gratuitous, throat-ripping, Nazi-mutant-massacre gore if it doesn’t leave you laughing and grinning once in a while?
With the help of now-legendary movie magician Rick Baker (whose work on the film forced the Academy to create a new ‘best makeup’ category just for him), John Landis’ offbeat 1981 horror-comedy flick gleefully skips into its place among the ultimates of Halloween horror. Clueless American tourist David (David Naughton), having been attacked by a mysterious animal on the Yorkshire moors, receives unwanted visitations from his gruesome, walking corpse of a backpacking buddy (a standout performance by Griffin Dunne) and learns the heavy burden of his new ‘carnivorous lunar activities’. Laugh-out-loud funny yet strangely brutal, Landis twists the disturbing into the hysterical without relieving us from that niggling feeling of unease. Michael Jackson loved it so much he recruited Baker and Landis for his most classic video; you’ve had a taste of the blood with Thriller, now sink your teeth into the jugular with American Werewolf.
When all it takes to make you shit your pants is a few violins, you figure out fairly quickly why Psycho is considered a horror masterpiece.
Widely regarded as the original slasher film, Hitchcock’s signature slow build of tension makes most of the movie’s running time, intertwined with voyeuristic imagery and uncomfortable silences (bar the aforementioned string instruments, which know just when to catch you off guard). It was also innovative for filmmaking as a whole, setting a new precedent for violence and sexual imagery in America; who’d have thought this was the first film to show a flushing toilet? Norman Bates also remains to be one of cinema’s greatest antagonists, primarily due to Anthony Perkins’ chilling portrayal as the quintessential mummy’s boy – the film’s iconic final shot of his sinister stare is enough to make anyone want to take a shower from unease, but we all know how that turns out.
8. The Conjuring
The Conjuring was really that good because of the family of the 1970’s aspect. Their innocent involvement with the goings on in the house really extend the contrast between the witch on the wardrobe or the creepy doll, and their family life which is in turmoil because of it.
The play on typical horror stereotypes like the hanging rope, the birds around the house or the musical box really solidify the idea of a haunted house. The atmosphere of the house is portrayed brilliantly in its design and I think that adds a lot to the film through the set creation. Wan’s horror films have always considered to be very good, and I believe that this one can make someone like me scared for days of being alone with the lights off. After I came out of the cinema, I thanked god I don’t live in an old house!
7. The Blair Witch Project
Blair Witch scares you simply, often, and well. The first time I saw this, as a wonderfully naive 16 year oId, I was so confused. Was this thing really a documentary? It looked so real. Were the three protagonists, hunting the legendary “Blair Witch”, actually student film-makers? It felt so plausible, in the sense that this was apparently “found footage” and a “true story”.
These were almost original concepts back in 1999. There were no effects needed. It’s 80 odd minutes of pure urban legend. Every wrong turn. Every scream in the dark. They could happen to the most intrepid Duke-of-Edinburgh Award explorers. It’s the most effective film I’ve ever seen.
This was the first mainstream film advertised almost solely via the web. IMDb listed the characters as “missing, presumed dead”. A sister-mockumentary and investigatory website full of local hoodoo and ‘news’ reports layered the realism. Blair Witch is a proper suspension of disbelief, chilling you with your own confusion.
6. American Psycho
Truth be told, I am not a big fan of horrors, I don’t like to be scared or feel uncomfortable, so for me to be endorsing American Psycho means it’s a pretty good movie.
When I first saw it I was struck (and still am) by its lively social and political critique of the upper classes. It was the perfect illustration of money bringing power and benefit, so much so that people can seriously break the law.
But despite this, it is not a film that is preachy or dense to watch, the fabulous performance of Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, the titular American psycho, adds comedy and lifts the film’s overall tone.
The dark and downright terrifying tone of the story, contrasted against the sheer light-heartedness of Bale and the soundtrack results in a wonderful piece of cinema which I would name amongst my favourite films of all time. Now to see if I can snag a reservation at Dorsia…
5. Under the Skin
It’s difficult to put Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin into a genre category, and it’s even more difficult to say what makes it such a scary film.
I’ll give you a rundown to try and rationalise it: Scarlett Johansson’s nameless, emotionless alien-predator travels round Glasgow in a transit van picking up men and doing unspeakable things with their bodies. Strictly neither horror nor sci-fi, it’s a whole lot less B-movie than it sounds, and a modern masterpiece to boot, not least of all because of Johansson’s fearless commitment to the role. The realistic approach genuinely required her to drive round Glasgow in disguise and seduce men, and the entire process was filmed with secret cameras in the cab itself.
The result is a fascinating, terrifying look at humanity through cold, alien eyes, and gets surprisingly touching as it takes an unexpected turn in its final stretch. As well as that, it’s probably the best film of the new decade. Jus’ saying.
Alien takes its time. It doesn’t bombard you with horror or frightening scenes, but when they do come, they’re not unexpected either.
You’ll wait in dread the whole movie, knowing something is around the corner, but never knowing what form it’ll take when you see it. Whether you buy into the theory that it builds its horror through sexual imagery and that the movie is actually about bodily violations, it’s impossible to deny that Alien builds tension throughout the film masterfully, lingering on shots, never shying away from the gruesome, and by doing so, doesn’t need to use flashy editing or CGI to succeed in making the climax effective. It’s a film drenched in a weird retro-futuristic atmosphere (one very much a product of the 70s). I highly recommend seeing it in a cinema. Dated or not, it’s undeniably scary on the big screen.
3. The Thing
John Carpenter is renowned, most famous perhaps for his work on Halloween (1978), but the horror auteur surpassed this lofty bar five years later with The Thing (1982), his true masterpiece.
The Thing, set in Antarctica, follows a small group of US scientific researchers stationed in almost total isolation. The film begins with this tight-knit but increasingly bored group going about their day. This all changes with the arrival of a Norwegian helicopter and a black dog. What follows is two hours of truly claustrophobic, paranoid tension that could be cut with a chainsaw. The film feeds upon the cultural fears of the time but has lost none of its original terror for today’s audience. Few films match psychological horror and body horror so well and in a way that doesn’t feel over the top. Don’t watch with only one other person as your friendship may be tested after the credits role.
2. The Exorcist
The Exorcist has to be up there as one of the best horror films not only because of its content but its impact as well. The film broke boundaries for cinema and opened up a multitude of possibilities for horror that defined the genre from there on out. At one screening a woman fainted and broke her jaw, and thus preceded to sue Warner Bros for the subliminal messaging within the film’s script.
The film contains blood, gore, the ridicule of religion, the confirmation of religion, the gross treatment of the human body and also the incredible strength that can come from familial love. You leave it feeling terrified but also weirdly satisfied. As long as I don’t watch it in HD (which reveals some of the strings that make the possessed Raegan fly) I am still shocked every time that I watch The Exorcist, and I believe that says a lot considering it’s nearly half a decade old.
1. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece The Shining is the consummate horror film. Tense, chilling and utterly disturbing, the film is an imposing study of madness that terrifies without a reliance on jump scares and leaves you with endless questions.
Nicholson and Kubrick are the perfect match of star and director, as the latter’s notoriously obsessive and meticulous process draws a fiendishly brilliant performance from Nicholson, who seems revel in the unhinged insanity of Jack Torrance, while discernibly displaying the exhaustion caused by Kubrick’s perfectionism.
No other horror film can compete with The Shining’s wealth of iconic and truly unsettling imagery, whether it be the deluge of blood flowing from the Overlook’s elevator, the petrifying Grady twins or the axe through the bathroom door and the subsequent, oft quoted, ‘Here’s Johnny!’, every frame of the film is soaked in Kubrick’s genius.