Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Top 13 horrors for Halloween

Okay, as this is an occasion for my favourite film genre I'm doing two unusual things in my tops lists: there are more titles and Eraserhead isn't one of them.

What's the same is that this is not an attempt at a definitive list. Horror is my favourite genre and I like far more than thirteen. I left the inclusion entirely up to what I could think of at the time. This would almost certainly change if I thought about it again this time next week. So, sorry if your favourites aren't here, a lot of my own aren't either.

Halloween: This bloodless coup of a film was the most profitable independent American film until The Blair Witch Project. Through the kill scenes and an atmosphere of undiluted and understated creepiness there is a powerful arc of nerd girl Laurie finding her courage and standing up to the monster. It was this where the masked killing machine who just keeps coming back originated. Original still best. Oh, and one of the best realised music scores for any film in any genre, by director Carpenter himself.

Dark Water: Shivery ghost tale remembers that the best of them include a tragedy at their centre. The convergence of this and the haunting results in a powerful and heartrending climax. Wash this down with a creepy and crushing coda and you have the logical end to the J-horror genre.


The Blair Witch Project: Campfire tale as cinema verite. Three students try and make a film about a witch in the woods and either fall under her control or get literally scared out of their wits. Not the first found footage film but still the most effective.

Ringu: The man who ended J-horror also began it with this tale of a curse and race against time. Like Dark Water this is also the story of a mother's bond with her child and the rediscovery of mutual respect between a woman and her estranged husband. Climax still freezes me and it's still better than the exponentially higher budgeted American re-bloat.

Suspiria: Giallo maestro Dario Argento's apex drives to the heart of why our nightmares scare us (we have no control over them) and serves one up with frozen blues and thick blood reds. Some of the most tightening murder scenes you'll see and a music score on a par with Halloween.

Martyrs: Outside of Asia contemporary horror has fallen to cliche and uninterestingly slick digital effects but this French/Canadian entry not only gives us gore that is painful to the eye but concepts that make us feel ashamed to be alive. The really nasty stuff has less gore but the ideas behind it are petrifying.

The Haunting: Citizen Kane alumnus Robert Wise made one of the finest haunted house movies of all time with this adaptation of a popular novel. Some still impressive special effects, almost three dimensional lighting design support a very very sad central story. Could watch this on a weekly basis.

The Exorcist: A story of doubt, faith and mother and daughter. You don't need to be religious to get into this one anymore than you need to believe in ghosts to dig The Haunting. As a girl goes through severe changes in mind and body her famous and inevitably neglectful mother is drawn to attention. The father who is only suggested by the gaps in an international phone call has been absent for years. As the tumult within the girl explodes into freakish violence the priests are called in. One is a skeptic, grieving for his recently deceased mother and the other is an old stager who has met this demon before. A mix of tough seventies drama and supernatural pyrotechnics, The Ex remains a wonder of the medium. Try to find the original cut as the "version you've never seen" aka the director's cut just adds bloat and removes power.

Night of the Living Dead: Throw out the magic and ritual of the traditional zombie story and all you have is the dead come back to life. All? Romero's fable of fate, made for the shoe polish budget of a contemporary quirky indy gets everything it tries for right.

The Changeling: Effectively eerie haunted house film builds to a conclusion of real dread. Atmosphere and strong performances lift this already fine story into the ether.

Kairo: Would you like to meet a ghost? So asks the website visited by most of the characters in this apocalyptic tale. No you wouldn't, is the correct answer, not if they're anything like the ones here. A chaos of mass loneliness, Kairo (or Pulse or Circuit as it's variously known in English) was once beautifully described as The Omega Man as directed by Tarkovsky. Yup!

Prince of Darkness: Dismissed even by Carpenter fans my near favourite JC film has ideas worthy of its chief inspirator Nigel Kneale and a human diminishing concept at its centre AND another great music score by Johnno himself. I can watch this just for the atmosphere but love the rest of it too much.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari: Silent wonder as sleepwalker terrorises town at the same time as sinister bullish carny seems also to run the local asylum. Crazy expressionistic backdrops suggest a constantly unsettled state of mind which might be as easily fallen into as a gutter. Like a nightmare that has sneaked out from an Edvard Munch woodcut.


  1. What no Gremlins?!! :-)

    Fantastic list Peter – I agree whole-heartedly about Prince of Darkness –so very under rated - the lady typing randomly ‘I live’ on the computer screen gets me every time. Dibs for also including Dark Water, BWProject and the masterful waves and troughs of suspense in Halloween. I haven't seen Martyrs - i'll check it out.

    Hope you don't mind, you’ve inspired me to do a fav horror List (with quotes)...
    13. Alien - "Priority One. All other priorities rescinded"
    12. Blair Witch Project - "I saw her right above the creek, pulled little gladdis in"
    11. Jaws - "We're gonna need a bigger boat"
    10. Grudge (Japan Ver) - "eeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr"
    9. Candyman - "I am the writing on the wall"
    8. Prince of Darkness - "Hello? hello? I’ve got something to tell you. I'm afraid, you're not going to like it"
    7. Silence of the Lambs - "You know what you look like to me Agent Starling with your good bag and your cheap shoes?"
    6. Psycho - "They'll see, they'll see, they'll look and they'll know, and they'll say... 'she wouldn't even hurt a fly....'"
    5. Halloween "the darkest eyes... the devil's eyes"
    4. Omen - "Have no fear little one. I am here to protect thee"
    3. Shinning - "I was meaning to change my jacket anyways, before the duck and goose soiree"
    2. Wickerman - "I trust you find the sight of our fertility rituals refreshing?"
    1. American Werewolf in London - "You made me miss... I've never missed that board before"

    And some honourable mentions..... Let the right one in, Exocist, Ring (japan ver), Dark Water, The Thing, Texas Chainsaw massacre (the original -naturally)
    Cheers, Ewan

  2. Heh.
    Outstanding list Ewen and a line of dialogue from each one! That's real value :)