For your amusement and edification, my ten favourite horror movies . . .
10. The Amityville Horror (1979): A story with a murky gestation, to be sure – but it would hardly have taken America by storm if it hadn’t been a rattling yarn. And, for my money – contrary to prevailing wisdom – Stuart Rosenberg’s cinematic adaptation is far creepier than Jay Anson’s tawdry little book. The famous Amityville house takes on a personality of its own, and is imbued with a sense of pure malevolance that pervades the entire picture.
9. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970): This curious offering from the Hammer stable is far from being the best Dracula movie ever made; indeed, it’s not even the best Dracula movie Hammer ever made. It is, though, strikingly original and utterly compelling, featuring eye-catching performances from principals and supporting players alike – a Faustian tale that effects an intoxicating thematic blend of two of the greatest horror tales of all time: Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
8. The Last House on the Left (1972): Along with The Hills Have Eyes, this early, low budget Wes Craven flick is often cited as a touchstone by today’s horror writers and directors – and it is doubtful that we would have seen the likes of Saw and Hostel without its influence. Graphic, disturbing and undeniably powerful, the revenge sequence that closes the movie sets a standard in visceral intensity that is constantly aspired to, but rarely equalled.
7. The Wicker Man (1973): What can you say? A masterpiece of British cinema that transcends genre, and earns its classic status over and over again. If you happen to have spent the last thirty-seven years living in a pod, and don’t know the famous ending of the movie, go out and buy the DVD right now – you’re in for a gruesome treat!
6. The Last Broadcast (1998): Before The Blair Witch Project, the movie that kicks The Blair Witch Project‘s butt clean into touch. Taking the form of an impressively conceived and executed documentary about a multiple murder, and the legend of the Jersey Devil, this excellent independent feature builds to a blood-curdling climax that is truly chilling. As an added bonus for Film Studies types, its also replete with self-reflexive postmodern shenanigans. In spite of which, it remains thoroughly entertaining.
5. Hellraiser (1987): This brilliant Anglo-American production – described as “Ibsen with monsters” by writer Clive Barker – remains one of the most intriguing and enduringly potent horror hits of the eighties. The Cenobites rightly attained iconic status for horror fans, but it is the elegantly simple story, with its timeless themes of family strife and erotic compulsion, that provides the movie’s substance and adds a powerful emotional punch to the grisly spectacle that unfolds before us.
4. Friday the 13th (1980): Sean S. Cunningham’s tour de force of suspense crystallised (no pun intended) what would come to be known as the ‘slasher movie’, giving rise to one of the most successful horror franchises of all time, and spawning a legion of inferior imitations. The influence of Friday the 13th is a rather ironic legacy, given the fact that, at the time of its release, it was largely dismissed as an inferior imitation of Halloween (1978). What tosh. Cunningham and co may well have borrowed heavily from John Carpenter, but it doesn’t change the fact that they made a better movie, wiping the floor with the earlier picture in terms of tension, pacing and excitement.
3. Basket Case (1982): The chef d’oeuvre of twisted schlockmeister Frank Henenlotter, Basket Case undoubtedly retains much of its appeal as something of a period piece; the sleazy early eighties New York underworld setting, and the primitive synthesised soundtrack, have a bizarre charm that is perfectly attuned to the temper of the lurid tale. However, it is the mesmeric performance of Kevin Van Hentenryck that elevates the movie far above so much of the competition, miraculously selling the preposterous story at every turn, and endowing it with a genuine pathos that is all the more surprising, set against the studied tastelessness of Henenlotter’s vision.
2. Carrie (1976): Best remembered for the hideous prom prank, and the explosive bloodbath that ensues, it is arguably the most quotidian elements of Stephen King’s novel that are best translated cinematically: the adolescent traumas and cruelties of high school life that are so adroitly rendered in Sissy Spacek’s magisterial performance (brilliantly complimented by Piper Laurie’s manic portrayal of her demented mother). The movie undoubtedly derives much of its power from Pino Donaggio’s majestic score, and Spacek and Laurie are ably supported by a slew of fine performances from a cast of young unknowns, whose predicament poignantly mirrors that of their characters – standing on the threshold of stardom and fame, just as the high school seniors they portray stand on the threshold of Life, and all it has to offer . . . or so they think!
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): I’ve often thought that the affinities between horror and comedy are profound; both genres operate at a primal level, and make use – in distinctive fashions – of the device commonly referred to as the ‘punchline’. Also critical to both genres is a sense of strangeness, and inexplicability. And there is no doubt that everything about Freddy Krueger, possibly the most iconic horror villain of all time, is damn strange. He’s also nastier and more feral in this original movie than in most of the blockbusting sequels, tearing to shreds the midwestern, suburban dreams of the protagonists with every fearsome swipe of that famous glove.
Close, but no cigar: The Shining, Evil Dead II, Saw. Overrated, and nowhere near making my list: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Blair Witch Project.