Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Army of Darkness: 31 Films That Give Me The Willies

In the finest spirit of the Halloween season,Ed Hardy Jr. at his blog has posted the official 181 titlesthat make up the final ballot for 'the 31 films that give you the willies'. This is the culmination of over 60 ballots from fellow bloggers, and all the films listed received at least one mention on three ballots. I'll be casting my final vote soon, but in the meantime, as is the usual custom with all Internet balloting, there's no secrecy in the accumulation (I hope). Here is my ballot for the 31 films that truly give me the willies:

31. Silent Hill- Say what you want about this hackneyed crap-fest, director Christophe Gans knows how to build nightmarish tension from sets. Just thinking about that thing wrapped in barb wire in the toilet and the mannequin nurses that swing knives based on sound give me the creeps. Too bad the story didn't live up to the visual vibrancy.
30. Nightmare on Elm Street- Released right at the height of my adolescent years, this was that ONE movie that friends and I would try to sneak peaks at while at each others house, but could never make it through for parental interruption (yes, folks, horror movies were my porn). When I finally did see it, it was just as scary as I'd imagined.
29. Tales From the Crypt- Remember this late 70's movie featuring a hit and run driver ("Thanks for the ride, lady!!!!"), and the story about a woman who makes a wish after her husband's death, and she's forced to live with his terrifying screams because she wished from him alive AFTER being embalmed? That really gives me the willies...
28. Near Dark- Katheryn Bigelow's vampire tale is as stylish as it is scary, but nonetheless, it packs a resonate punch.
27. Hellraiser- Along the same time as "Nightmare on Elm Street", forbidden horror movie for a 13 year old.
26. Legend of Hell House- One of my dad's favorite movies, and a pretty creepy haunted house story.
25. The Eye- One of the first J-Horror films I saw in the theater and the big screen only emphasizes the tension in this film because you can't hide from the flickers at the edge of the screen. Their later efforts have been disappointing, but in this one, the Pang Brothers knew how to elicit fear from things in the background and quick reflections.
24. The Beyond- Lucio Fulci's outrageous and hallucinogenic treat.
23. The Others- Very atmospheric and moody and a great full theater experience.
22. Rosemary's Baby- Probably the master of psychological horror, Polanski's masterpiece is a slow boil, but when the denouement finally hits, it still sends shivers through me today.
21. Slither- The most recent film on this list, James Gunn's film about body snatchers is more fun than scary, but it also revs up the gore to unbearable levels and I won't soon forget some of its grisly images.
20. The Tenant- Another slow-boil from Polanski, and a film that still deserves another viewing from me to fully understand what the hell's goin on, but its undeniably a textured, atmospheric thriller (sensing a trend here?)
19. Audition- Vengeful lovers and acupuncture needles. That's all I need to say....
18. Prince of Darkness- An under appreciated Carpenter flick that I'm very glad to see made the final ballot. One of the more skin-crawling accounts of satanism on celluloid.
17. The Brood- Ohh god those little things in the snowsuits are terrifying enough, but then you've got all the usual Cronenberg undertones to make this film even more unsettling.
16. Shivers- Dare I call it the most blatant AIDS film ever?
15. Nosferatu- Black and white... Max Schreck... was he really a vampire? The back story to Murnau's silent epic is legendary, and the film is equally disconcerting. One of the first (and best) takes on the vampire tale ever.
14. In the Mouth of Madness- Several Carpenter films will make the list, just not the one I'm sure everyone expects. This tale of a writer going through hell rocked me to the core when I first saw it. The scene of a boy on a bike at night time... you have to see it to believe it.
13. The Shining- Ahh those lovely low angle shots of the red headed twins. Is there a more definitive example of giving the willies?
12. The Haunting- The Wise original, this 1963 classic earns its reputation. That final scene, of a face in the attic, literally gave me nightmares for several days afterwards.
11. The Thing- Along the same lines as "Slither", Carpenter's remake is gory, grisly and features some outstanding scares. I wasn't really prepared for this film's greatness when I first watched it a few years back. This is what horror films should be.
10. House of 1,000 Corpses- While director Rob Zombie has made more and more shit since this feature debut, this is one truly disturbed vision.
9. The Evil Dead 2
8- The Evil Dead- One of the rules of Ed's ballot was that one can't list two films together, hence the separation of these two. Though tongue is firmly pressed in cheek throughout Sam Raimi's two efforts, these are also wildly exciting diversions of the horror genre. The sound work is great in both films and that gives me the willies.
7. Pulse- Amazing that Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film ranks so high on this list, but if you've seen it, you can respect that. 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.
6. Don't Look Now- 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.
5. Dawn of the Dead- Mass consumerism, both human and inhuman, 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. Some don't find 'the willies' in comatose-speed zombies, but I do.
4. Ju-On- Only 5 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.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre- 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.
2. Demons- 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.
1. Night of the Living Dead- 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.


Adam Ross said...

Demons -- Good God man, yes! It's such a literal study on our silent fears of the horror we're watching on screen becoming a reality. There are three distinct tones in it that shift so gradually, from creeping dread in the beginning, to frantic tension in the middle to ridiculous fun at the end (the motorcycle?!).

Great list, "Rosemary's Baby" and "House of 1000 Corpses" probably should have made mine.

Joe Baker said...

Thanks, Adam. "Demons" is staple movie-watching every Halloween and it never gets tired. I wish more people would see it.