THE FIFTY BEST HORROR MOVIES OF ALL TIME
A Personal Selection
follows are my fifty favorite horror movies of all time. I like “Best of” lists
as much as the next guy, and anyway, a number of you have asked me about my
favorite horror movies, so here they are.
In drawing up
this list, I’ve endeavored to be strict in my definition of Horror. Hence,
faves like MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, TAXI DRIVER, SHOGUN ASSASSIN, THE FACE OF
ANOTHER, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN and STALKER, although they may be close to
horror (and considered as such by many), don’t make the cut.
you may notice some “classics” missing from the list. FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA
may be widely respected, but neither are particularly good movies in my view.
I’m not looking to impress anyone with the sophistication of my selections (I
like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and EYES WITHOUT A FACE, but neither is a
favorite) and I’m not choosing based on historical relevance (I respect M and
PSYCHO for their precedent setting originality, but I’m partial to neither,
particularly PSYCHO, which strikes me as overly calculated and mechanical).
Quite simply, what follows are the horror films I LIKE the most.
Yes, David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD is the scariest, strangest, most unrelentingly
nightmarish film I’ve ever seen. Did I say nightmarish? The whole thing’s a
nightmare, and certainly the ONLY
movie you’ll ever need to see. There have been many unclassifiable black and
white horror-oddities in the years since ERASERHEAD, but none have gotten under
my skin in quite the same way. Demands to be viewed at least nine times.
THE SHINING (1980)
I find Stanley Kubrick’s films scary even when they’re not horror-themed
(the business with HAL the murderous computer in 2001 is damn freaky, as are the
unforgettable basic training sequences of FULL METAL JACKET); here, making an
all-out scare fest, he wasn’t kidding. This film’s deceptively well-lit
Overlook Hotel is one singularly shivery place, with ghosties of every variety.
Kubrick’s calm, cool style of calculated perfection works stunningly well in
imparting an atmosphere where undying evil holds sway. Jack Nicholson’s
increasingly over-the-top emoting makes for a worthy counterpoint to Kubrick’s
cerebral filmmaking, and Shelley Duvall’s controlled hysteria is in turn an
equally potent tonic to Nicholson’s work. Some dorks still insist the lame 1997
TV remake with Steven Weber and Rebecca DeMornay (snicker!) is
superior—don’t believe ‘em!!!
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)
A classic of “quiet” horror: subtle, stately and gore-free. Yeah, I know
what you’re thinking: Yech! Add to that a painfully low budget that’s
obnoxiously evident throughout (the optical effects are extremely
primitive, even by 1962 standards), much bad acting and a story that, at least
in synopsis form, sounds like fodder for a mediocre TWILIGHT ZONE episode, and
you’ve got...well, one of the most powerfully unsettling horror movies of all
time. No, this film really shouldn’t work, but believe me it does,
imparting a profound sense of near-otherworldly unease that gets me every time!
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
THE classic of head-banging, ass-kicking uber-horror. Its grimy
realism, shocking violence, imaginative art direction and sheer, undiluted
delirium (particularly in the beyond-outrageous climax) have yet to be
surpassed, and the final shot is among the all-time greatest.
PEEPING TOM (1960)
Quite simply the last word on voyeurism, this Michael Powell production
shocked critics worldwide upon its original release and was suppressed for
years. It’s still shocking today, being the bizarre account of a madman
who kills attractive women with a spiked tripod leg while they watch themselves dying
in a distorted mirror...and captures it all on film! Other movies have probed
the connection between psychosis and moviemaking, but none so potently as this
I can’t see how anyone could NOT be freaked out by this politically
incorrect movie, which is nonetheless a complex and intelligent look at freaks
and our reactions to them. The human oddities on display here—all of them
entirely REAL—are by turns cunning, sad, petty, heroic and, ultimately,
terrifying. The blood-curdling climax is a guaranteed nightmare-inducer.
Catherine Deneuve goes nuts? Sounds good to me! This is Roman Polanski’s
greatest film, and introduced quite a few elements that have become genre
staples. The tiny-apartment-invaded-by-demonic-hallucinations has been recycled
in quite a few lesser films, and I simply can’t tell you how many times I’ve
seen the hands-bursting-out-of-the-walls sequence copied in the years since.
Yet no matter how often they’ve been ripped off, these elements all retain their
full power in this timeless shocker.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
Funny, scary, curiously touching and totally outrageous--the finest zombie
movie of all time! With great Tom Savini gore FX, some potent social commentary
and a most unlikely central location—a suburban shopping mall—that George Romero
somehow turns into one of the most memorable horror movie settings EVER. Accept
DEAD RINGERS (1988)
This David Cronenberg skin-crawler is a flawlessly rendered masterwork that
charts the horrific descent into madness undertaken by twin gynecologists.
Then-radical special effects, allowing Jeremy Irons to appear as twins cavorting
in a single shot, remain seamless, enhanced by pitch-perfect performances from
Irons. Cronenberg’s smartest move was to direct the film like a tragic (albeit
creepy) drama rather than a conventional scare fest, which only enhances the
story’s underlying horror.
BLIND BEAST [MOJU] (1968)
Excepting ERASERHEAD, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a weirder movie than the
Japanese BLIND BEST. A blind sculpture kidnaps a beautiful fashion model and
imprisons her in his eye-popping chamber of giant body part sculptures. You’ve
never seen anything like this place, nor have you seen another movie like this
stunningly filmed blend of art and exploitation.
NEAR DARK (1987)
This film was released in the US the same week as HELLRAISER. As I
remember, NEAR DARK seemed the lesser of the two back then. Guess what? NEAR
DARK, it turns out, is one of the VERY few movies that actually get better with
time (the same can not be said, unfortunately, for HELLRAISER). The spare,
poetic quality of the visuals remains hypnotic, and the central band of
sadistic, punked-out vampires make THE LOST BOYS look like the teenybopper
dweebs they are.
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)
Australia’s Peter Weir now makes Hollyweird flicks like DEAD POETS’ SOCIETY
and THE TRUMAN SHOW. His best work, however, was done much earlier,
particularly in his two genre excursions, of which
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is the
first and best. Set in the early 1900’s, it’s the quiet, dreamy, allegedly
based on fact tale of three schoolgirls and a governess who mysteriously vanish
during a sojourn at Hanging Rock, a prehistoric formation located somewhere in
the Australian outback. Weir never explains the disappearance of the girls, but
superbly communicates the presence of an ominous, unknowable supernatural force
at work, concentrated in the mysterious Hanging Rock.
THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1970)
This tawdry fact-based black and white production could have sprung
full-blown from the pages of TRUE DETECTIVE magazine. Its mock-documentary
veneer is entirely convincing, bolstered somehow by a music track consisting of
Mahler symphonies(!). Tony LoBianco plays Raymond Fernandez, a suave Latin
charmer who scams lonely women out of their money. He meets his match in
Shirley Stoler as the obese Martha Beck, who tracks him down after he swindles
her. What follows is one of the most twisted love stories ever, with Martha
assisting Raymond by tagging along as his “sister” on a series of mock marriages
that turn murderous. Stoler’s sad yet menacing performance is
Only PEEPING TOM surpasses this film’s intelligent and unflinching
dissection of the link between real and reel life violence. TARGETS features
Boris Karloff, essentially playing himself as an aging horror icon facing down a
much younger, more modern monster: Tim O’Kelly as a clean cut suburban
psychopath who out of the blue decides to embark on a random killing spree.
Neither character is aware of the other until the very end of the film, but
director Peter Bogdonovich makes it clear throughout that these two are headed
for a collision, as are our conceptions of what is scary now (O’Kelly) and then
(Karloff). TARGETS is over 30 years old, but its concerns are startlingly
relevant to today’s world.
VIY [a.k.a. THE VIJ] (1967)
This Russian fantasy film has some truly amazing, jaw dropping imagery.
Sure, it starts out slowly, but once the horror kicks in, with the hero locked
in a church with a witch, the film reeeeeeeally takes off, with an
incredible barrage of monsters literally crawling out of the woodwork. The
special effects are primitive by today’s standards, but remain astoundingly
effective nonetheless, proving that talent and imagination can actually
trump a big budget.
THE LAST WAVE (1977)
Scary and trippy, Peter Weir’s LAST WAVE is both a disaster movie and a
serious inquiry into native Australian magic. Richard Chamberlain (not one of
my favorites but extremely good here) plays a lawyer who finds himself drawn
into the weird world of some aborigine clients. Weir’s touch, as in his
previous PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, is a disarmingly quiet one; you may just find
yourself drawn into this film’s darkly mesmerizing world of raining frogs,
underwater street corners and disquieting revelations in spite of yourself.
THE THING (1982)
This one is a controversial choice. It seems to be one of those movies
people either really love or really hate. Obviously I fall into the former
category. Unlike far too many horror moviemakers past and present, director
John Carpenter isn’t afraid to show his monster up close and personal, and the
stunningly imaginative mechanical FX of Rob Bottin make for some awesome
sights. The film’s corrosive atmosphere of apprehension and paranoia has always
resonated with me, and seems more pertinent than ever in these post 9/11 days.
I also love the grim, ambiguous ending, which for me elevates the whole thing to
another, more meaningful level.
MESSIAH OF EVIL [a.k.a. DEAD PEOPLE] (1975)
Another controversial choice. I’ve heard some pretty compelling evidence to
support the conclusion that this no-budgeter by the husband-wife team of Gloria
Katz and Willard Huyck (who’d go on to make abominations like BEST DEFENSE and
HOWARD THE DUCK) is total crap. Yes, the story blatantly rips off NIGHT OF THE
LIVING DEAD and the direction is far too self-conscious for its own good...but
somehow the film excels in spite of it all. It may well be a work of accidental
genius. Scenes of zombies invading the aisles of a supermarket or slowly
filling up a movie theater have a deeply hallucinatory, nightmarish ambiance
that’s unlike anything else. Had David Lynch directed the aforementioned
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the results might have looked something like this.
Time has not been kind to this film, but its spectacularly gruesome, surreal
imagery still startles. Nobody on Earth has a mind like David Cronenberg’s, and
in this film more than any other he really allows his imagination to run riot,
with exhilarating (to me, at least) results. A long red scar on a man’s
chest mutating into a videotape-playing vagina? A TV screen that literally
makes out with its viewers? A gun emitting long tendrils that burrow into its
user’s arm? I think it’s safe to say you won’t see anything else quite like
HAXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGHOUT THE AGES (1922)
A serious documentary about witchcraft that works today as one of the most
outrageous spectacles of all time. The “serious” aspect has been lost (if it
ever existed to begin with), but director Benjamin Christensen’s fictional
vignettes, featuring lascivious witches, naughty nuns and the Devil himself
getting his ass kissed, remain unsurpassed for sheer insanity.
A worthy successor to ERASERHEAD, this is one of the most completely
deranged movies of all time. Like the aforementioned David Lynch film,
is uncompromisingly weird and demands an awful lot from its viewers. Those
willing to put forth the effort will be rewarded with an astonishingly
imaginative, gory freak-out that seems to be about a horrific trek through a
mythical landscape precipitated by the death of God, who commits suicide by
hacking himself up with a straight razor. Yes, it’s that kind of movie!
The bleached-out, ultra-grainy black and white images, shot in 16mm and
reconfigured in a lab for maximum disorientation, add to the otherworldliness of
this cinemutation. You may be bored, disgusted or both, but you will NOT forget
Fast, intense, nasty and SCARY AS HELL!!! You might want to see this James
Cameron hell-for-leather sci fi/horror classic before proclaiming TITANIC his
“masterpiece.” Of the original ALIEN, incidentally, I don’t think all that
much; sure, H.R. Geiger’s design work is superb and Ridley Scott’s visuals are
impressive, but it’s goddamn boring waiting for the cast to be
slooooooooooowly picked off by an all-too-obvious guy in a monster suit.
Cameron’s action makeover turns out to be exactly what the material needed.
DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)
This Daphne Du Maurier-adapted film by Nicolas Roeg is a nerve-jangling
effort unique in the way it fragments time, literally making it a character in
the story. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are an American couple living
in Venice who become involved with an elderly psychic woman. Years ago their
young daughter was killed wearing a red jacket. Guess what? There’s a
mysterious figure in a red jacket running through the streets of Venice...the
ending is guaranteed to blow your mind.
THE KINGDOM (1994/97)
Not really a movie, although it was released theatrically in the US.
Specifically, 2 roughly five-hour films were put out in ’94 and ’97, comprised
of episodes of this Lars Von Trier produced Danish miniseries. It’s a furiously
compelling, hysterically funny and extremely spooky account of “The Kingdom,” a
hospital infested by quirky doctors, loony patients and vindictive ghosts. With
its jerky handheld camerawork and video stock,
THE KINGDOM can be seen as the
forerunner of the Von Trier instituted “Dogma 95” series of films, but it
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)
An extremely ambitious project that takes as its subject nothing less than
the twin concepts of Good and Evil...or, if you prefer, Love and Hate, the words
we see tattooed on the knuckles of star Robert Mitchum. His performance here is
almost certainly his best, as a murderous preacher who marries lonely women and
then murders them so he can take their money. Only problem is, two little kids
stand in the way of the fulfillment of his latest crime. A nightmarish chase
ensues, in a film whose shadowy black and white photography pretty much defines
THE DEVILS (1971)
Chilling, disturbing, outrageous, appalling and never boring—Ken Russell’s
adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s DEVILS OF LOUDON is all these things and more.
Based on a real historical incident, but Russell’s aims were far more modern; he
populates the film with recognizable, then contemporary “types” like a hippie
exorcist and charismatic (rock star?) priest, all enclosed in a bizarre
landscape composed of giant white walls (designed by future director Derek
Jarman). What goes on in this place, involving demonic possession, hysterical
nuns and some nasty torture scenes, is loony beyond description, inciting
laughter as often as it does scares (Russell, to his credit, never takes himself
or his material too seriously).
THE HITCHER (1986)
A truly shocking, nightmarish kill-fest that plays rough, so much so that an
extended L.A. TIMES piece was written on it with the headline “How Does a
Movie Like This Get Made?” It’s a horrific take on Steven Spielberg’s DUEL
that uncovers a deeply disturbing, possibly homosexual relationship between
motorist C. Thomas Howell and the psychotic “Hitcher” (Rutger Hauer) who makes
Howell’s life Hell while repeatedly imploring him to “stop me.” Written by Eric
Red, who also co-scripted NEAR DARK, another of my favorites; rather ironic, I’d
say, as Red’s other projects—COHEN AND TATE, BODY PARTS, BAD MOON—are anything
DOCTEUR JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES [a.k.a. THE BLOODBATH OF DOCTOR JEKYLL, DR.
JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN] (1981)
Poetic, erotic and deeply disturbing, this is THE Dr. Jekyll movie as far as
I’m concerned. Director Walerian Borowczyk has taken Robert Louis Stevenson’s
classic and made the story entirely his own by bringing its underlying currents
of perverse sexuality to the surface. Although nowadays he’s been reduced to
helming fodder like EMMANUEL 5, it’s important to remember that back in the day
Borowczyk was the man. See his stunningly surreal, erotic films GOTO ISLAND OF
LOVE, IMMORAL TALES and THE BEAST, as well as DOCTEUR JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES, IMO
his finest film, to see what I mean.
LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971)
It takes balls to make a horror movie whose scares nearly all take place in
broad daylight, and great skill to pull it off. The debuting John Hancock has
both in spades, and Zohra Lampert, the vastly underrated star of this
one-of-a-kind nerve-jangler, gives a flawless performance that really makes us
feel her unstable character’s slow descent into madness. The irony is
that she’s just moved into a small town infested by very real vampires...or
SANTA SANGRE (1989)
This film mixes Luis Bunuel with Dario Argento to produce a surreal
spectacle the likes of which I’ve never seen before...except maybe in the
earlier films of its director Alejandro Jodorowsky: FANDO AND LIS,
EL TOPO and
THE HOLY MOUNTAIN. A madman obsessed with the memory of his supposedly
long-dead mother finds himself trapped in an insane world, a world made even
crazier when his armless Ma appears one day and sends him on a murder spree
while using his arms in place of her own. There’s enough energy and imagination
here to fill three “normal” films—will someone please give Jodorowsky the
funds to make another movie??
This film plays into all our fantasies about new lives and second chances.
A discontented middle aged man stumbles onto a mysterious agency that fakes his
death and literally turns him into Rock Hudson...but, needless to say, the new,
supposedly better life the agency constructs isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
James Wong Howe’s mind-boggling black and white photography makes excellent use
of distorted lenses, creating a horrifically off-kilter universe of apprehension
and foreboding. It often looks more like a European art film rather than the
Hollywood production it is, but its subject matter is strictly all-American. In
other words, you should watch SECONDS in place of AMERICAN BEAUTY.
BOXER’S OMEN [a.k.a. MO] (1981)
I love Hong Kong horror flicks, and this indescribably brain-fried
concoction is the finest I’ve seen. It’s COMPLETELY nuts, features much
exploitive sex and nudity (ensuring that we’re never bored) and also provides a
thought-provoking look into Buddhism’s darker extremes. It’s got reanimated bat
skeletons, sacred text that literally flows off the page and into an adherent’s
body, snapping crocodile skulls, eel-vomiting, a melting body that reformulates
itself into furry eyeball monsters, etc., etc., etc.
GOD TOLD ME TO [a.k.a. DEMON] (1976)
The story of this Larry Cohen brain-twister is difficult for me to describe
without seeming like a babbling lunatic. Here goes: a rash of random killings
have struck NYC, all committed by seemingly normal folks claiming that “God told
me to.” The police officer hero investigates, uncovering an old woman who
recalls having been taken aboard an alien spacecraft years earlier, where she
was impregnated with twins. One of the now grown twins is loose in an old
apartment building, where he uses his extraterrestrial powers to convince people
he’s God and do his deadly bidding for him. The other twin is our hero, who
discovers his own latent supernatural abilities and takes on his bro in a final
apocalyptic conflagration. The low budget is a constant annoyance, but Cohen’s
fertile imagination and fearless genre mixing make for an unforgettable
Director Michael Mann includes far too many cheesy eighties fashions and pop
tunes in his adaptation of Thomas Harris’ classic novel RED DRAGON, but this is
still a singularly unnerving movie. It has a disarmingly placid style and
deeply scary performance by Tom Noonan as Francis “The Tooth Fairy”
Dolarhide, one of the screen’s great psychos. I like MANHUNTER better than any
of the other Harris adapted films: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, HANNIBAL and certainly
RED DRAGON, the hopelessly overrated ’02 remake of this one.
This COMPLETELY nutzoid psychodrama is a veritable primal scream of a
movie. Its subject? A disintegrating marriage brought down by rage,
misunderstanding and the fact that the wife is carrying on an affair with a
giant cucumber monster! Divorce dramas were something of a staple during the
early eighties (KRAMER VS. KRAMER, ORDINARY PEOPLE, SHOOT THE MOON, SMASH
PALACE, MY FIRST WIFE), but THIS is the one to see, IMO. Director Andrzej
Zulawski has a genius for cinematic insanity (showcased in films like
LE FEMME PUBLIQUE) and POSSESSION may well be his magnum opus. FYI, I refer
ONLY to the original 127-minute version of this film and NOT the heavily cut
abomination released by Vestron Video!
THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE [ESTA NOITE ENCARNAREI NO TEU CADAVER]
My favorite of the “Coffin Joe” films by Brazilian Jose Mojica Marins. THIS
NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE showcases a delirious mélange of grotesque and
surreal imagery, and its climactic trip through Hell is among the most striking
cinematic evocations of the Inferno ever rendered (Marins recycled the sequence
in at least one other film). The
Overlook Horror Film Encyclopedia claims this
film plays like “a very sick man’s home movies.” Sounds good to me!
THE BEYOND [L’ALDILA] (1981)
Lucio Fulci’s best film, putting all his talents to excellent use. The
carefully constructed, steadily mounting atmosphere of dread is pure Fulci, as
are the extremely copious, lovingly photographed (in extreme close-up
more often than not) gore FX. The blood-spattered set pieces are vivid and
satisfying, with an Argento-esque dreamlike craziness. The ending is
particularly fine (SPOILER ALERT!!!): the central characters find themselves
trapped in a surreal painting, which, given all that’s come before, seems like
the only possible way the film can conclude.
I’m allowed a bonafide guilty pleasure on this list, and NEKROMANTIK
definitely qualities. It’s the ONLY horror/love story about necrophiliacs
you’ll ever need to see. I admire this film for its uncompromisingly vile,
grotesque and nasty aesthetic, though I’ll also allow that it’s hopelessly
goofy, with laughable special effects. But the fact is, I love every minute of
this decayed, putrefying, maggot-ridden masterpiece.
In direct contrast to overrated horrors like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SCREAM
and THE RING, I believe SEVEN to be the state of the art in modern horror.
Incredibly grim and nightmarish, it showcases David Fincher as one of—if not
the—most talented filmmakers of his generation. He’s ably complemented by
Kevin Andrew Walker’s authentically deranged script for a film that can be
adequately summed up by a single word: DARK.
BRAINDEAD [a.k.a. DEAD ALIVE] (1992)
Often sighted as the goriest movie of all time. That alone should count for
something, but this comedic zombie mash is also sprightly, energetic and
hysterically funny. It is arguably the best work of New Zealand’s Peter Jackson
(who now makes the LORD OF THE RINGS flicks), beautifully showcasing all his
peculiar talents, as well as allowing for a Heaven-sent opportunity to go
WAAAAAAAAY over the top. In its mixture of horror and slapstick, BRAINDEAD
resembles the EVIL DEAD flicks, but you know what? I actually think it’s
JACOB’S LADDER (1990)
A surprise from the director of FLASHDANCE(!), JACOB’S LADDER is a powerful
and hallucinatory look at insanity, featuring a plethora of horrific
sights—horns popping out of people’s mouths, folks with madly vibrating
heads—made all the more disturbing by the fact that most of the horrors are
dimply glimpsed and all were filmed in camera (no lame CGI work here!).
Intriguingly alternates between past (Vietnam) and present, and then
reconfigures them in the twist ending. FYI, my favorite scene comes not in the
movie itself, but in the “deleted scenes” section of the DVD, which features an
absolutely terrifying bit where Jacob is given an antidote to reverse the
effects of his “ladder” and ends up locked in a room with an unseen monstrosity
trying to break in.
A magnificent retro B-movie from the debuting
Stuart Gordon, a guy who
really knows how to do this kind of stuff. RE-ANIMATOR is noted primarily for
its outrageous gore, which nabbed the film an X-rating upon its initial US
release. Best scene: actress Barbara Crampton strapped nude to a table in the
infamous “giving head” bit, still the end-all bad taste horror gag to beat.
NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)
It may seem downright sacrilegious to choose this Werner Herzog production,
a remake, over the original 1922 F.W. Murneau classic NOSFERATU, but the fact is
I simply like it better. Sorry. Murneau’s innovation was to take (rip off,
actually) Bram Stoker’s DRACULA and focus on the story’s underlying themes of
death, disease and decay, complete with a vampire who more than anything else
resembled a giant rat. Herzog’s film intensifies the original film’s overriding
queasiness, and features Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu. I’m a BIG Kinski fan, and
loved seeing him in pointy-eared vampire getup.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
Roman Polanski’s classic is made effective by the sheer mundanity of its
settings and atmosphere. There are no dark castles here, just a NYC townhouse
right out of an American sitcom. Polanski lures us in with a deceptively calm,
uneventful opening act, leading to a story teeming with Satan worship,
supernatural conspiracies, mutant births and pure evil concealed behind the
least likely facades, in particular that of a sweet old woman brilliantly played
by Ruth Gordon.
There’s not much of a story in this Mexican made nunsploitation movie, but
its baroque visual design is brilliant, as are the incredible gore-and-nudity
packed set pieces. Mass orgies, levitating nuns, hideously painful exorcism
rituals, reanimated corpses arising from blood filled coffins and a brain
melting CARRIE inspired finale make
this film the mini-masterpiece it is.
THE EXORCIST (1971)
I’m not as enamored with this one as I know many of you are. It’s an
excellent film overall, certainly, and Linda Blair’s “freak-out” scenes are
demonically perfect beyond compare. I just wish so much of it hadn’t dated so
poorly: the “family drama” at the center plays like bad soap opera, and the
filmmaking often seems downright amateurish today. A slow zoom back from Ellen
Burstyn arguing with her estranged hubbie on the phone to reveal her daughter
framed in a doorway had the audience at a recent LA revival laughing at the
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s dark, murky phantasmagoria, partially based on
DRACULA, is one the screen’s most authentically dreamlike movies. The
incoherent story, about a guy stuck at a strange inn where a woman has been
bitten by a vampire, is ill constructed and perfunctory. The film’s real draw
is Dreyer’s unforgettably surreal imagery, particularly the famous sequence
where the protagonist watches himself buried alive through a coffin window, one
of the most justly celebrated in horror movie history.
BLACK SUNDAY [LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO] (1960)
There simply MUST be at least one Mario Bava movie on this list, and
SUNDAY, one of his earliest directorial outings, IMHO remains his finest work.
No other filmmaker had such a flair for horrific (yet disarmingly beautiful)
imagery. The story takes a back seat to the visuals (a recurring problem with Bava’s films), but when the images are as incredible as those on display here,
do we really care? BLACK SUNDAY also features the indispensable Barbara Steele
in a duel role as a beautiful princess and an undead sorceress.
GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA [TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN] (1959)
I just caught up with this film within the last few months, but it’s quickly
secured a place in my pantheon of all-time faves. In contrast to many of the
other films on this list, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense ghost story: a
guy wrongs his wife, so her spirit comes back to take revenge. Director Nobuo
Nakagawa’s imagery is stunning, from the heroine’s glimpse of her decaying face
in a hand mirror to her subsequent ghostly appearances. A spooktacular in the
For me, this is the closest Dario Argento has ever come to making a fully
satisfying movie. As with all his films, it’s the delirious and kaleidoscopic
set pieces that make INFERNO what it is. Storytelling was never Dario’s strong
point, and here he opted to pretty much ignore narrative logic altogether.
That’s okay, as INFERNO’S eye-popping color scheme, Goblin-esque Keith Emerson
score and dreamlike ambiance (a puddle that leads to an underwater room?) make
for a singular experience.
up: CARRIE (1976), JIGOKU [HELL] (1960),
THE HILLS HAVE EYES
(1977), THE WHIP AND THE BODY [LA FRUSTA E IL CORPO] (1963),
[a.k.a. BEYOND THE DOOR 2] (1977),
TETSUO THE IRON MAN (1988),
SUSPIRIA (1977), SEEDING OF A GHOST [ZHONG GUI] (1983), A
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), ANGEL DUST [ENJERU DASUTO] (1994),
ZEDER: VOICES FROM BEYOND (1983), COMBAT SHOCK (1986), FLESH FOR
FRANKENSTEIN (1974), BLOOD FOR DRACULA (1974),
(1998), A BELL FROM HELL [LA CAMPANA DEL INFIERNO] (1973), ENTRAILS OF
A VIRGIN [SHOJO NO HARAWATA] (1986), BAD TASTE (1987),
WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS [LA CASA DALLE FINESTRE CHE RIDONO] (1976)
more thing: in an effort (doubtless a futile one) to staunch all the emails I’m
sure to receive pointing out titles I “forgot,” I’ll briefly go into the types
of horror movies I dislike. I’m not a fan of the grossly overrated Val
Lewton productions of the 40’s, the Hammer Films of the 60’s and 70’s, or
modern-day teenybopper slasher flicks (be they “self-aware” a la SCREAM
or otherwise). And yes, I’ve seen quite a few of the shot-on-video no budgeters
so prevalent in recent years, but none of them come anywhere near to making the