I wasn’t sure how to write about my favourite Horror movies, there are so many, what do I include? Should comedy horrors (Evil Dead 2) be included? What about action horrors (Aliens)? I decided with nothing that easily slot’s in another genre. This does exclude some great movies that have great horror elements, for example the two previously mentioned, ED 2 being heavily weighted with comedy as well, and Aliens being more (to me) an action movie, also I covered them in another post, linked here. This also eliminates one of my favourite movies of the modern era, Get Out, which perfectly blends various genre’s to create a stunning, masterpiece of a movie, but it’s not straight up horror. Anyway, in no particular order, what’s on the list of my favourite Horror movies?
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a movie you want to watch more than once, there is so much going on that you will miss a lot of it with one viewing, even on multiple viewings some things will pass you by. But, Kubrick’s genius in direction and his absolute insistence on perfection leads to tiny details that can easily be missed. But, and here is the genius, your subconscious will register them, for example, the hotel is wrong, the layout is impossibly wrong, corridors that go places they shouldn’t, doors open one way, and in a different shot close the opposite way, rooms that shouldn’t be there. Watch out for them, and you’ll see. But what this does is confuse you, you’re watching something that can’t possibly be real, which heightens the maddness of the Hotel, even if you don’t realise while watching it.
Jack Nicholson plays a smiley Jack Torrence, happily bringing his family to the Overlook Hotel, ready for the winter when he will be the caretaker and they will be cut off from civilization. He get’s warned when he meets the hotel manager that a previous caretaker went psycho killing his family and himself, “Well, you can rest assured Mr.Ullman, that’s not going to happen with me” says Torrence with his wide beaming smile. The smile is important, as it twists and distorts during the movie as Torrence degenerates into utter madness.
This is pure claustrophobic horror, Kubrick molds the Hotel into a maze of corridors and rooms, let alone the actual maze outside the hotel, the Steadicam technique he uses perfectly bringing the viewer into action with no where to hide. For gore fans, you’ll be disappointed, you’ll want Near Dark for that, this is disturbing, psychotic journey into hell, crafted by Kubricks deft direction and the incredible performances from the whole cast, of course Jack Nicholson steals the show with his journey into madness, but a lot has to be said of 6 year old Danny Lloyd, whose role of the son with the gift of “shining” is incredible for someone so young. Kubrick when filming said he didn’t want Danny to know he was in a horror film, so filmed in a way to make him think he was in a drama, one thing is for sure, the viewer certainly is well aware not all is good at the Overlook Hotel.
I was 10 when I saw an American Werewolf in London, sat round a friends house, we sneaked a VCR into the player and sat down to watch this movie without any parent noticing. Well, if there was any reason for age ratings, I certainly realized why they were on movies after seeing this. This movie scared me so much, even so much that whenever I heard the theme tune at the end (Blue moon) I got flashbacks to the horrific scenes in the movie.
In what seems to be a theme of great films, the premise is very simple. Two Americans, hiking through the countryside ignore some locals about staying on the path and get lost in the moors, they soon get found, but unfortunately for them it’s by the local werewolf. David, the survivor out of the two starts his journey to werewolf when he wakes in a London hospital, and this is no ordinary, oh I feel a bit odd and now I’m a werewolf journey. He has visions that haunt his dreams, horrific and unsettling, David feels like he’s going insane, but it is just his mind adjusting to the werewolf inside of him, we follow him on that journey, his mind breaking down bit by bit until the full moon rises and it takes his body, the transformation scene is a terrifying scene, although for 1981, now it seems a bit tame, what hasn’t lost any impact is the sound, the breaking and cracking of bones as his body contorts into its new form, all the while playing Blue Moon. Then, in another classic scene, we see the London underground, again, as is a theme in the best horror movies, the victim is stalked through a claustrophobic environment, twisting and turning, we never get to really view the werewolf, only seeing from the werewolf point of view, until the last few moments, panic fully realized and the werewolf slowly approaches the unlucky commuter.
OK, so this Horror does have a fair share of comedy, when David’s massacred and now undead friend turns up at the hospital and quips and laughs at David, the introduction of his victims in the porn theater, there are a few lighter moments, but even in the comedy, it quickly turns to horror, just giving us that pause for mere minutes before it flies headlong into carnage again. I couldn’t leave this one out as it affected me so much on first seeing it, although that’s probably to do with my young age, but seeing it when I was older, it still had a punch that you don’t get with modern horrors. The last third of the film is where everything really happens, David doesn’t go full wolf until about an hour in, and from there on, it’s no holds barred. Teen Wolf this is not!
The classic vampire movie is all about castle’s, decadence, nubile sirens and flame welding crowds. This is not that Vampire movie. Set in small town USA, vicious and unrelenting, Bill Paxton plays one of the vampires, and excels in the role of psychotic killer, playing with his victims, always wanting the next kill. He is a serial killer turned immortal, wanting more and more bloodshed. The vampires of Near Dark don’t sink their fangs into their victims necks, there is no hypnotizing to entice their victims. The hunters want their blood, and they will get it whatever way they can. Gun, knife or boot-spur.
The story in Near Dark is in essence though a tale of yearning love and wanting to find someone. Mae, who doesn’t really fit with the other vampires, shying away from the carnage, wants someone to live her endless life with, Caleb a young man wanting another life somewhere looks like her ultimate prize, and his ultimate downfall, a decision to damn him to everlasting hell, but for the love she yearns.
What I love about this movie so much is the starkness between Mae and Caleb’s growing love, and his reliance on her as he starts to turn, and the sheer brutality of the vampire gang. Caleb is the anti-vampire of the movie, not wanting to give into the blood lust urge, maybe stemming from Mae, who doesn’t seem to be much of a willing participant in the blood sport that the others engage in. Katheryn Bigelow keeps the film very finely balanced between the tenderness of the story of Mae (Jenny Wright) and Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and the savage blood-letting of Jesse (Lance Henriksen), Diamondback (Janette Goldstein), Severen (Bill Paxton) and the oldest of the bunch, but trapped in a boys body Homer (Joshua Miller). Near Dark never really lets up, Caleb tries to escape the gang, not wanting to kill, but drinking from Maes slit wrist instead, many have found the ending a bit too hollywood, a bit too much of an easy get-out, and I agree, nevertheless it still sits head and shoulders above most other vampire movies, and inspired a whole host of new ones!
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“In space, no one can hear you scream” – The tagline to one of the most terrifying movies of all time, again, as in The Shining, we are in a claustrophobic environment, this time though we have a 7ft, acid for blood terrifying killing machine as well. The genius of Ridleys Scott’s direction is not showing very much of the Alien, instead confining it to the corridors and shadows of the Nostromo and subsequently the shuttle craft. This hiding of the stalking Alien increases the horrific fear in the viewers mind, Scott knowing that the human mind creates fear from the unknown, so shows very little and let the viewer build the Alien in their own mind.
Where the Alien is kept hidden from the viewer for 95% of the movie, the one thing we are not hidden from is the look and style. H.R. Giger, the Swedish surreal painter was brought on to give Alien the nightmarish, sexual, provocative look inspired by his book Necronomicon and specifically his Necronom IV print. This design approach gave everything an organic, bio mechanical look, this was in complete contrast to the human industrial mission, with the space cruiser, the Nostromo, which was in essence a tug ship, pulling an ore refinery that dwarves the Nostromo itself.
What makes Alien so successful though, is the simplicity in the movie, the story, distress signal, crew responds and Alien hunts each crew member down, the crew itself, seven members plus the all important cat, and the alien, tall, thin, reptilian -like but still a humanoid form. In the 1970s, few movies had left the male dominated hero role, Alien would go on to place its hero as one of the strongest characters in movie history, that is of course, Ellen Ripley. In this first movie when she sees what the creature can do, there is one thing in her mind “How do we kill it?” Tough, uncompromising, with a don’t care attitude, she only wants to know how to kill the alien that her employers want so badly to preserve and study. But the real reason it’s successful is the tension building, this is not modern horror where everything is thrown at the viewer straight away with no thought of creating atmosphere, Scott builds and builds, showing nothing and letting your imagination scare the hell out of you. Only at the end is the horror revealed, and then only Ripley and her cat stands between the Alien and it returning to earth on the Nostromo.
As we’ve seen previously, claustrophobic environments are an effective component of good horror movies. So, what better than a group going spelunking in some unknown caves and getting hunted by some unknown assailants! Yes, pretty much this is Alien in caves but with the added factor of some complete darkness and a good dose of group-politics.
The set up is simple (again!), a group of friends take a girlfriend who suffered a traumatic loss caving to try to get her back to life, little do they know that Juno, the risk-taker of the group has decided to take them to an unmapped cave. Once their way out is cut off, the girls are in for a world of hurt, the already claustrophobic environment suddenly becomes oppressive, the loss of lights and then the use of night vision on a camcorder all increasing the tension running through the group. The less said about the movie, the better, it has to be watched if you like horror movies, it pays homage to many other movies during it’s 100min run time including Alien and Carrie among others. What do I love about this movie? As what might not surprise you, the atmosphere is paramount, the dread crawling through the group as they realise they are being stalked, the direction by Neil Marshall, using the darkness, shadows and incredible sound design to heighten the fear among the group. Also, I never expected what the movie threw at me, I hadn’t seen it when I purchased it on DVD a year after it’s release, I’d just been told it was a good old-fashioned horror. It delighted me as much as it scared me, and that’s what I loved.
So, what’s on your list of favourite horror movies?