The Globe and Mail ran five 10-film lists of horror movies today. This has inspired me to sketch out some of my own favourites (I don’t claim these to be my absolute, definitive top 10 as I haven’t seen every horror movie).
There’s nothing magical about the ordering of the films.
The Exorcist, 1973 (on two lists of five)
This film was an absolute sensation during my teenage years. It turned a young Linda Blair into the face of hell as a demon possessed her. Max Von Sydow was cast as the quietly tenacious priest battling for her soul. William Friedkin manages to mesmerize and terrorize us within the small confines of Blair’s bedroom.
Let the Right One In, 2008 (on three lists)
A personal favourite, this sparse, moody Swedish vampire film stars a 12-year-old bullying victim named Oskar who lives in a low-rise apartment complex with his mother. A new girl moves in, but he notices she smells funny. The second time they meet is after someone is murdered and drained of their blood. “Do I smell better now?” she asks. Exquisitely understated and chilling.
Audition, 1999 (not listed)
A Japanese widower and TV producer is convinced by a friend to end his loneliness by pretending to cast a movie. The demure, submissive young beauty the widower ‘casts’ isn’t at all what she seems to be. The last 20 minutes of the movie are the very essence of horror. This movie is one of director Takashi Miike’s best.
Blue Velvet, 1986 (not listed)
“I don’t know whether you’re a detective or a pervert,” says sweet Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) to Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLachlan), who is trying to unravel the mystery of a severed ear he found while out on a walk in his serene small-town America home of Lumberton. Jeffrey’s explorations take him into the community’s underbelly, where he meets torch singer Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rossellini) and Frank Booth, a psychopathic, sadistic gangster played by Dennis Hopper. What Jeffrey discovers and experiences is the stuff of nightmares. This isn’t really a pure horror film, given that it’s hysterically funny in places — as you would expect from director David Lynch. But when it’s scary, it’s really, really scary.
The Night of the Hunter, 1955 (one list)
Charles Laughton’s only film features the oily, menacing Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), a poseur of a preacher after the hidden loot of a farmer-turned-robber. The film’s setting turns from real to surreal as the farmer’s two children seek to escape Powell’s intractable menace, finally finding sanctuary in the home of gun-totin’, hymn-singin’ Lillian Gish. Although it’s nearly 60 years old, I would go see this film again in a heartbeat.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 1974 (one list)
A classic low-budget horror film by Tobe Hooper set in rural Texas. A young woman, her brother and friends venture back to her grandfather’s rural home. The next-door neighbours, naturellement, are psycho killers, including the indelible Leatherface. Critic Roger Ebert wrote in 2006 that ‘Massacre’ appears to be a movie without purpose, “unless the creation of disgust and fright is a purpose. And yet in its own way, the movie is some kind of weird, off-the-wall achievement.”
Deliverance, 1972 (not listed)
Four city-dwelling chums go canoeing down a wild Georgia river that’s slated for a hydro dam. What follows is a grim battle for survival against both the river and some hillbilly antagonists. The scene where Ned Beatty is told to “squeal like a pig” by one of his rapists cannot be watched without squirming. The beauty of the primal and the horror of the monstrous are perfectly interwined in this film.
Rosemary’s Baby, 1968 (one list)
A young couple gets a choice apartment in Manhattan when things start to get very strange. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) becomes pregnant — although in her nightmares, it’s Satan doing the impregnating. Her actor husband Guy (John Cassavettes) captures a Broadway role and elderly neighbour Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon, who would win a best supporting actress Oscar for her performance) is always underfoot. It would eventually come out that a Faustian bargain has been struck by Guy with a Satanic cult. Roman Polanski renders a movie that while supremely creepy, is also very funny — and in its own twisted way, makes a pitch for the power of a mother’s love.
Alien, 1979 (no list)
This movie creeps me out big-time. Yes, it could also be called a sci-fi thriller, but to me, this is a horror movie. Director Ridley Scott takes us on a masterful ride, from the moment an alien pod attaches itself to a spaceworker’s face through the battle for survival with a shiny alien killing machine aboard the claustrophobic confines of a space cargo ship. I’ve seen this movie multiple times and always get scared in exactly the same places. While that might say something about me, I prefer to think of it as a tribute to Scott’s craftmanship as a filmmaker.
The Night of the Living Dead, 1968 (no list, but one critic listed 1978′s Dawn of the Dead)
George A. Romero’s first zombie movie! I haven’t formed an opinion on whether it’s his best, but consider it in the context of a lifetime achievement award. Without him, we wouldn’t have had movies like Shaun of the Dead or 28 Days Later.
Romero, incidentally, will be speaking at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Oct. 31.
And if you’re looking for more horror movie titles, Rotten Tomatoes has a list of its 75 best-reviewed horror films.