Per the request of a dear, delightfully Dark Prince and friend, I’m delving into the realm of the Top 10. If this journey into the depths of the film critic is important, I certainly shall allow my readers to know a little more about my personal taste.
Starting off the pack, we creep to the crypt and explore my inner Gothic. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you my Top 10 Scream Worthy Horror flick picks, in no particular order. Warning some of these choices may bend the genre a bit into Suspense/Thriller.
When I was a young little lady, I remember my mother watching this film and being completely horrified. Not that my mother raved about the film, but I walked in on her watching it, nearly frightened her to death in the act and demanded a synopsis at the conclusion. Naturally, in the restraints of the conservative household, I was not allowed to see this film until I was of age and I’m rather glad I waited. Aside from the fact that this film is truly eerie in the best way possible, my childlike fear of the film was still alive and present and helped me truly appreciate the creepy premise around which the film is built. Let’s face it, no women are out there shouting this aloud from the rooftops, but pregnancy is a frightening and rather creepy thing, in this case, made creepier by the baby daddy captured in Rosemary’s Baby. Polanski does an excellent job constructing the build in this film and revealing piece by piece in a manipulative way that leaves you always wanting more. Besides, who doesn’t love a little Mia Farrow via the 60’s – that haircut is so posh.
2. The Birds, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock – who will certainly make another appearance on this coundown
This film is another of childhood nostalgia. This film however, I was actually allowed to view after the age of thirteen or there about. For some reason my father found predatory, carnivorous birds far less disturbing that Satan’s baby – he couldn’t have been more wrong. The most unsettling aspect of The Birds is the plausibility – these birds were not injected with radio-active juices or bit by a vampiress, etc., they just turned an aggressive page. Have you every watched birds such as these? Crows, ravens, seagulls even? There is something very unsettling and restless about these animals which makes the plot of The Birds entirely believable. Hitchcock was a master of the psychological thriller – he knew how to play into the fears of the mind and the limits of the imagination. The storyline of The Birds also has excellent build, which I believe is a mark of most successful horror films. Alright, I admit – I have a WILD imagination, which I thankfully keep in check. However, this film has always left an impression on me, especially when I pass a large flock of birds just hanging out, darting their eyes about, waiting for something or someone.
3. Let’s fast forward to 2009 and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Directed by Niels Arden Oplev – not the new American version, cough, cough.
True, this film is not your typical “Horror” flick but the actions and experience of the main character in the film are nothing short of alarming. What made this original (I’m going to use this term “original” with pure spite for the fabricated new American version – sorry) production so successful started with a thrilling story, which was executed by an excellent director and compelling performances from the main actors. This film is fast, so fast you can feel the breeze of the cool Northern wind as your follow the characters through their complicated labyrinth of a tale. There is no way to watch this film without feeling like you are simultaneously sitting on the edge of your seat while sneering back in disgust from the ugliness that is gradually revealed throughout the film. The two lead actors are superb and if you have read the books, you will certainly agree that the execution is spot on. This film also left me with a taste for the second…and I am not usually a sequel girl. You find yourself asking; how much more shit can these people put this girl through? There may not be any fabricated “monsters” in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – but you quickly learn that we (human beings) can be the monsters, in the end.
4. Pan’s Labyrinth, Directed by Guillermo del Toro
This film is as stunning as it is terrifying – such a beautiful film capturing the ugliness of a dark time and a darker place just beyond the limits of our imagination. Mr. del Toro is no stranger to creature creation and his work in Pan’s Labyrinth is some of his best. The most captivating aspect of these creatures is their ability to metamorphose from something of a sad, strange beauty to that which is horrifyingly chilling and fearful. Del Toro plays with our imagination and our emotions in the best way that a director can. You love the strange beauty of these creatures and in a moment, the ground under you shifts. In Pan’s, del Toro has created a world of startling allure and painted with his dark paintbrush – its as if everything occurs in the dark and you can see each shallow breath you take lingering in front of you. Del Toro is an artist of the fantastical horror.
5. The Fly (1958), Directed by Kurt Neumann
Once again I ask my father, “why did you think this film appropriate for a young impressionable and imaginative girl?” My parents must have had something for the horror films because here is another and there is one yet to come starring a lovely red head. Now, I’ve head the remake starring Jeff Goldblum is far better and perhaps more effective but the original is enough for me. Please raise you hand if you do not think that turning into a fly or fragments of one is absolutely disgusting and hair-raising. If you hand is raised, you have not seen this film. Perhaps my little girl lens is the largest influence but this whole concept is entirely shocking, disturbing and horrific! What’s worse is this poor chap seems utterly trapped in these unimaginable circumstances, but his fear and his emotions are real, which creates a rather jarring viewing experience. Don’t take my word for it…just see the film. I’ll get back to you on the remake.
6. Mary Reilly, Directed by Steven Frears
No, not the slutty blonde porn star who apparently has the same name. The 1996 film starring Julia Roberts and the ever- enchanting John Malkovich. The story centers around this young woman, Mary Reilly (played by Roberts) who is the maid for infamous Dr. Jekyll. The unnerving aspect of the film is that we all know the story of Dr. Jekyll and his wild, mysterious and dangerous counterpart, Mr. Hyde. Mary does not and naturally, finds herself loving both men, not knowing that they remain one in the same. At times you feel that this young lady is dancing with death, that the tides could turn at any minute and there lies there horror. The fog filled, damp and eerie streets of London elevate a restlessness and unease that you feel when watching Reilly’s dance with death. The actors are all extraordinary. I fluctuate between warm and cool with Roberts’ performances, but as Mary Reilly she really captures you. Additionally, there is a lovely scene with Michael Gambon, who plays a drunken bastard of a father, involving a small closet and a very large bag of monstrous rats. Jekyll and Hyde is a true classic and this is a lovely spin on the legend.
7. Shutter Island, Directed by Martin Scorsese
Dear Scorsese, I’m a fan of your brilliance. Just thought I would let you know. Love, me. I will be the first to admit that Scorsese is a human, which means with the good come the bad. However, I do appreciate his work overall. Yes, its true – this man is INCREDIBLY talented and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Shutter Island. Not that I expected Scorsese to fail, but I was concerned that this could be another less-than-mediocre slasher. Say what you will, but I found Shutter Island entertaining and spine-chilling. I loved Scorsese’s recall of classic mystery mixed with the stunning capabilities of modern film. Maybe I’m a sucker for cinematography that Scorsese always has his thumb on, but I found the film breath-taking and spooky. Scorsese leads the viewers through the twists and turns (via Leonardo DiCaprio – who has really been on his A-game) of a complex storyline which takes place on an isolated island that houses a truly terrifying insane asylum. Add a brutal storm, power outages, suspicious personnel, madness and you have the recipe for a lovely modern horror flick.
This film maybe more camp at times and less horror but it is thrilling all the same. I think the storyline is one of the best out there, for the genre. The script is clean and the actors execute the work with ease. AND…there’s a spooky English moor – what moor do you need. Forgive me. I digress. The eerie and dangerous moor has been legendary in literature for decades, and Landis was smart enough to give it a nod. Side note, my first encounter with the moor was as a young girl reading The Secret Garden, no lie. The make-up job, as seen above is highly impressive, especially for the early 1980’s-pre-CGI days. This lack of CGI is what makes the movie that much more impressive, the actors in An American Werewolf in London are excellent with working with complex make-up and costume additions. One of my favorite scenes is the initial transformation of our title character – it is TOTALLY INSANE. Not only is the actual wolf itself damn shocking but the David Naughton’s emotional and physical commitment to the pain of the metamorphoses is alarming and astounding. Are there moments of some 80’s camp? Yes? Will you be utterly and completely entertained by this film? Yes.
9. Psycho, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
I don’t think I really need to toot the Hitchcock horn any louder – the man has two movies on my Top 10 but he truly is the genius of the psychological horror flick. I love Psycho – absolutely and completely love this film. I love the shower scene and the brilliant manipulation Hitchcock uses in the killing details of it. I love the soundtrack – possibly one of the best of all time. I love that Hitchcock sets this woman up as a thief, remember? Before she was brutally killed, she STOLE $40,000 from her employers client, which is a totally unbelievable amount of money in 1960. I love the dominating mother, are you rejoicing that she is not your monster-in-law? I love the unraveling of Norman Bates. And I love the fact that much of the film is placed in a hotel, one of the truly creepiest things out there. I think hotels are so unsettling. Who’s been there before you? What has happened in that room? There is no home base, no safe haven. Hotels are creepy, end of story. If you haven’t EVER seen a Hitchcock, which is a rather preposterous notion, please see this one. Psycho has all the elements that comprise the genius that is Hitchcock. Might I also recommend, North by Northwest, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and Notorious? Take your pick.
10. Silence of the Lambs, Directed by Jonathan Demme
How can you not have the notorious Dr. Lecter in your Top 10? This film is…I’m gonna say it, perfect. I could watch this film over and over again, yet I hold myself back because it is truly terrifying. No matter how many times I see this film and know what is coming, after a viewing…I have trouble maintaining in any sort of darkness for about a week. Besides the brilliantly crafted storyline and direction, the real star of the film is Sir Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, “Hannibal the Cannibal.” Of course Buffalo Bill isn’t too bad either but Hopkins is a master. Hopkins creates such a unique, complete and three-dimensional character of stunning intellectual proportion. You truly feel he is this individual, this madden genius psychologist that is as intellectual as he is sick and twisted. The challenging thing about the Dr. is he contains such charisma that a portion of you adores and is fascinated by him, as dangerous as he may be. You fear for delicate Jodi Foster facing this monstrous beast, as she seeks out the body of another equally sick and horrific killer. Where do you turn in a film like this? If you have seen it time and time again, you are still on the edge of your seat, sweating bullets for young Agent Starling. The following films that made to pair with The Silence of the Lambs may not be as perfect but Hopkins’ performance never lets you down. The Silence of the Lambs is a shining star in the Horror genre and we are fortunate that it also graced us with beautiful performance by talented actors.
This list is by no means perfect but it is the best of the Horror genre, for me. I tend to lean towards strong acting performances, sturdy scripts, the Brits, classical/romantic qualities and precise direction. I do my best to remain objective and appreciate the good with the bad.
My homage to additional genres to come…out of the coffin and into…