Monday, October 30, 2006

15 Horror Films You Should See

I appreciate the response given by fellow bloggers and their 15 favorite horror films. Below you'll find a link to each site, and I'll update it daily.

My 15 stands as these:

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968), dir. George Romero- This was one of the first horror movies I remember watching, and more directly, watching through the slits of my fingers as I held them over my eyes. Even today, Romero’s black and white zombie-fest is light years ahead of the social commentary and the gory bleakness of modern horror films. “Night of the Living Dead” is a perfect example of a filmmaker creating the right movie at the right time with an ample understanding of its context in history.

2. Demons (1985), dir. Lamberto Bava- Carrying on the horror tradition of his father, Mario, this Italian zombie movie (like Romero’s above) constantly exerts a sly gesture of political and cinematic winks, while remaining wholly true to its gore-induced roots. A group of people are trapped inside a movie theater while flesh eating zombies claw away at them. While fellow Italian filmmakers were creating horror films whose splintered narratives made them feel choppy (see any Lucio Fulci film) Bava’s intention was clear- entertain. And in the process, he infused new life into a deflated genre. Extremely bloody and sometimes shocking.

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) dir. Tobe Hooper- Besides the obvious reasons, Hooper’s masterpiece feels unlike any other horror movie- raw, unfiltered, dirty… all of the things that give this movie a “lived in” feel. Hooper never quite regained his chops after this debut, but the existing result is a terrifying and perverse portrait of madness that fits perfectly into any midnight movie extravaganza. This is the kind of film that forces you to take a shower after watching it.

4. Ju-On (2004) Takashi Shimizu- Only 2 years ago and the J-Horror movement was beginning to take shape. Now, Hollywood has drained the life out of the genre, substituting teen cleavage for harsh psychological thrills and abrasive editing in place of subtle, jarring movements in the corner of the frame. And while it’s hard not to partially blame Shimizu for this (seeing as how he re-directed 2 of his Asian films for Hollywood with Sarah Michelle Gellar), this 2004 J-Horror film really pushed these films into the limelight. Tremendously creepy and eerie, Ju-On works best in a dark movie theater with the sound cranked up and no where to hide from the images. While the film’s story- ghosts in a big bad haunted house- lacks some spark, the energy of the film lies in the small scares and the suffocating mood that slowly boils as the film rolls along.

5. Dawn of The Dead (1979) dir. George Romero- Mass consumerism- both human and un-human- is the real shocker here. While Romero’s sequel is certainly just as socially pointed as the first, Dawn of the Dead spares no limb as a group of survivors fight to stay alive inside a shopping mall. This is fun from start to finish, with more humor and interesting observations than 10 horror films combined.

6. Don’t Look Now (1973) dir. Nicholas Roeg- While there are very few outright scares in Roeg’s 1973 psychological thriller, there is that final scene when Donald Sutherland suddenly finds the thing he’s been chasing for the previous 2 hours… and it’s a downright disturbing moment, and some of cinema’s most devastating final images. Before that though, Roeg amps up the psychological tension to an unbearable level, utilizing sound and mirror reflections to chilling lengths. This is one of the true gems of the 1970’s.

7. The Evil Dead 1 and 2 (1983 and ’87) dir. Sam Raimi- So I cheated here a bit and lumped together two films at once, but can you blame me? Both of Raimi’s hyper-energized flicks cull two distinct generations of horror into two wonderfully realized projects. By morphing the zombies of Romero into the low-budget antics of the independent film movement of the early 80’s, Raimi essentially re-defined the genre in moving and incredibly inventive ways. The reaction shots of Bruce Campbell throughout these films is reason enough to find them, but it also satisfies the gore hound in anyone.

8. House of 1,000 Corpses (2003) dir. Rob Zombie- One of the most disturbing horror (and grindhouse) films of the last 10 years, Rob Zombie’s descent into madness recalls all the B-movie excesses he soaked up as a youngster, but nothing could prepare you for the assaulting final 30 minutes of this film, where sanity and good taste go flying out the window. A group of teens are stuck (where else) in the country when they come across a truly sadistic family who make them their own play toys. Like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, director Zombie has opted for seedy, dirty settings that graphically underscore the malignance of the film’s attitude.

9. Pulse (2004) dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa- If there’s a common theme among a majority of the films on this list, its mood. Kurosawa has mood in spades. While very few of his films are categorically horror, his films often express a deep rooted sense of dread, and none so brilliantly as “Pulse”. What would happen if spirits from another world use the internet to transfer their presence into our world and slowly bring about the demise of our society? “Pulse” never easily identifies itself, but images of dark rooms as a contorted shadow looms towards us or the solemn quiet that builds throughout certain scenes are highly unnerving. This is one that crawls under your skin, collects in your head and rattles around for days.

10. The Thing (1982) dir. John Carpenter- I rented and watched Carpenter’s version on a whim one day. What I found was an utterly disgusting and disturbing series of images and transformations that changed my perception about Carpenter’s directing skills. There are so many surprises and gross-outs in this film, that it doesn’t seem fair to other horror films. Plus, like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and Cronenberg’s earlier efforts, Carpenter was able to scare and create a snide comment on things sexual and political.

11. The Haunting (1963) dir. Robert Wise- Atmospheric and undeniably eerie, Wise accepted this project as a worker under contract and turned it into an instant classic by maintaining smart camera angles and accentuating the presence of the gothic house in which the film’s main characters reside. The final moments, and a face in the attic, are impressive.

12. In the Mouth of Madness (1995) dir. John Carpenter- I know at least a couple of Carpenter flicks has to make the list, I just imagine it’s not the one that will make plenty of them. While I have respect for “Halloween”, I saw it too late in life to recognize its greatness beyond being one of the slasher trendsetters for later generations, and “In the Mouth of Madness” rocked me to the core upon first viewing. Sam Neill plays a novelist whose novel begins to turn people insane as well as calling to life the novel’s nightmarish narrative. While the film’s denouement turns a little tepid, there are some imaginative and jarring moments- a boy riding a bike over and over at night time namely- that gives you a few goosebumps.

13. The Shining (1980) dir. Stanley Kubrick- Ahh those lovely low angle tracking shots. Kubrick, like Polanski, was a director who understood the ramifications of camera placement. That and those weird, eerie red headed twin girls. It’s almost a cliché to list “The Shining”, but it’s a film of immense intellect and wonderful pacing that elicits some twisted moments.

14. Nosferatu (1922) dir. FW Murnau- Black and white is just creepier. While Herzog was able to capture some of the unnerving intricacies of “Nosferatu” in color, the poetry and engraved images of Max Schreck crawling around the screen as the original vampire can never be duplicated. Sensual and scary, Murnau had to speak in purely visual ways, and he created a masterpiece that has stood since the early 20’s.

15. Shivers (1974) dir. David Cronenberg- A bunch of parasitic mutations invade the bodies of people in an apartment complex and turn them into horny zombies. Sounds like the stuff of genuine B horror movie, but Cronenberg’s debut is much more than that… and probably the most overt attack on sexually transmitted disease ever placed on film. While a majority of Cronenberg’s films use genre to comment on other things, “Shivers” speaks volumes while maintaining a tongue in cheek attitude.

And joining in on the fun is Weepingsam over at his blog. He conducts a list of oldies but goodies and even manages to throw some theory into the mix.

Adam over at DVD Panache also throws up a list and his number 1 will probably surprise you.

Evan Waters at Club Parnassus scares up a top 15 at his site as well.

Dennis at Sergio and the Infield Fly Rule gives us a link to a list he created last year with the promise of a new one any day now! In the meantime, his blog has been on a Halloween roll anyway, documenting some lost classics and giving us some great old posters to feast our eyes on.

And last but not least for now, Moviezzz at his busy blog has also added a list.

Updated 10-31! Dennis at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule has included a new list, detailing his 13 underrated and lost horror classics. He then goes further and lists 13 more, then tops off the whole affair with a "guest writer's" favorite 13. Great stuff.


Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to see "Demons" and "Shivers" for quite awhile, now I have no choice but to put them at the top of my queue. I too am a big fan of "House of 1000 Corpses" and am quietly hoping for the long-rumored directors cut to surface (you could tell that a bunch was chopped -- pun intended).

Joe Baker said...

I doubt Zombie will have a hard time coming up with a director's cut. Have you seen his hosting gig on TCM Underground? That's a pretty big endorsement of his chops within the film biz, I'd say.

Chris Gaubatz said...

Here is my list of top ten. List

Anonymous said...

You don't have a clue do you Joe Man, How can you leave the number one best horror film of all time off of your list, even Chris had this one on the money dude, it's the Exorcist, your slacking off in your old age joe man, i gotta keep you and your blog, naw just kidding, good job, but i do mean it about the best horror film of all time.

Anonymous said...


Good call on combining Evil Dead 1+2 ... they're practically the same film.

Nosferatu = scariest vampire ever. Ingenious direction by Murnau. Startling for its time.

The Thing is probably the most underrated and underseen horror film ever.