October 18, 2010

My Top Ten Favourite Horror Films

I often get asked, "Dr Blood, what are your favourite horror films?" and I usually just give the reply, "It changes depending on what I've just seen or re-evaluated," but now, during this hiatus before yet another slew of remakes hits the cinemas, I think it's time to give my definitive answer.

I'll do my list in reverse order too just so you have to read all the way to the end.

10. Jaws (1975)
I wasn't allowed to see this when it first came out in spite of having only a PG-rating but I read the Peter Benchley books and it wasn't too long before it got shown regularly on TV. I can't remember when I first saw "Jaws" exactly but I know that it gave me a dread of sharks or anything underwater ever since. I do remember how it scared a lot of people at the time and it even affected holidaymakers who were too scared to go back in the water during the hottest ever British Summer of 1976. It's funny how they could even believe that there might be Great Whites off the coast of Devon and Cornwall but they did! Even in 1983 when I brushed a Basking shark with my foot while swimming in the North Sea where it joins Norfolk, I almost soiled myself! Yeah, I could have gotten such a nasty suck from that thing! Since then I've been scuba diving and seen sharks of all kinds in aquariums all over the world and they still terrify me. That's the impact of the movie more than any logical reasons whatsoever. As for "Jaws" now that I'm an adult, I am still in awe of the opening scenes and the great performances by everyone involved. Bruce, the fake shark, looks worse every time I see it but it's still a work of genius and very believable if you don't allow yourself to scrutinize every frame. Steven Spielberg got very lucky with "Jaws" and so did we.

9. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
This used to be my number one favourite horror film for years and years because I've watched it so many times. Although John Landis directed it (and David Naughton and Griffin Dunne star in it), it still feels like a very British horror-comedy. There's just something cosy about it. Yes, it's a predictable werewolf story but you still can't really fault Rick Baker's special effects. Seeing Jenny Agutter nude in the shower scene is also icing on the cake as well. It all just takes me back to a time when things were a lot more innocent and there were still things to look forward to. So it's a nostalgia trip for me. I know there are more brutal werewolf movies out there now and some people even prefer "The Howling" for reasons I can't even begin to understand but I still give it 10 out 10. It's just not my "all time favourite horror" anymore though.

8. The Haunting (1963)
I think of this Robert Wise film as being the quintessential ghost story. It has all the elements you need to make a ghostie film scary apart from one thing - there are no onscreen ghosts! Everything is done with camera angles and noises plus a lot of tension. It's very character driven too and you get caught up in their story even though the dialogue is very dated and often embarrassing to listen to nowadays. The four stereotypes presented, from sceptical professor to frustrated psychic spinster, have been used over and over in every "team investigates a haunted house" film since and that makes it a classic.

7. Halloween (1978)
This is the only slasher which makes it onto my list simply because it was the first other than "Fright" (1971) where the formula was laid down once and for all. It has everything from teens with bad morals getting stalked and killed by an unstoppable force to huge amounts of tension and jump scares. Even watching it 30 years on, it never gets old.

6. The Exorcist (1973)
Because it was banned in the UK for blasphemy against the Roman Catholic church, I didn't get to see this until I was a 19 year old student. I watched it in a cinema with about half a dozen other people and was totally blown away by the whole thing. Everybody was and we all left in stunned silence. It was one of the last horror movies to ever give me the "post film adrenaline rush" that I've been chasing ever since. For me it was the story of good versus evil and evil actually winning that got to me. The peasoup vomiting and Regan's outbursts are now quite comical though as I've become increasingly more warped with age.

5. The Wicker Man (1973)
Now this is a very odd film. It has a lot of the elements that I dislike in horror movies including musical numbers and a really downbeat ending but it does them all so well. While I love Christopher Lee in it, I really hate the inflexibility of Edward Woodward's character. He's a policeman and a zealous Christian so what is there to like? The way he is though is there for a reason and I can appreciate the movie a lot more now as an adult than when I first watched this back in the early '80s (yes, it was on TV a lot!). The whole thing is like a journey into a world of complete lunatics and yet it all makes sense too. Because I'm British, I know all the pagan folk customs are stupid to most people and even to me. But when you put all the weirdness together to show how a whole insane religion could be, it really does make a great horror story. Gerald Gardner did the same thing with his books on "Wicca" during the '60s and look at all the nutters who bought into that complete nonsense too.

4. The Omen (1976)
Another very British horror film but again with an American director, Richard Donner, and, of course, Gregory Peck as an American ambassador. It's still set mainly in England though and filmed quite close to where I used to live. I think it must be the very believable Christian subject matter that makes this such a classic. If there is indeed going to be an anti-christ then you can just see it happening this way. I suppose it depends on your religious viewpoint and belief in the supernatural in general as to how scary you find this but for me it really works. Damien is such a scary looking little kid that you start to look at all children as being evil incarnate afterwards... which Biblically they are as well!

3. Salem's Lot (1979)
Ok, so this was a TV mini-series really that was trimmed into a VHS "feature length" release and given a higher rating for some reason. When I first saw this on TV aged 10, the scenes of the little Glick boy scratching at the window scared me more than anything I've ever seen before or since. I can still barely watch it now! I upgraded from the "movie" version (which was the only version available in the UK for almost 17 years and bought the full two-part miniseries on DVD back in the late '90s and it's even more terrifying than I originally remembered. Lance Kerwin's character still makes me want to slap him, Barlow the vampire is underused, and some of the story is (just like the original Stephen King novel) a bit drawn out but, in my opinion, this is still the best vampire movie ever made.

2. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Now I know it's bizarre to rate a sequel higher than the first film in a series but while I found the original "Hellraiser" (1987) impressive, it wasn't until Clare Higgins came back as the skinless Julia (albeit with a body double) that I really felt that true horror had been achieved. It's a pity that all the other "Hellraiser" films are so appalling compared to this as if they'd continued to get more brutal and surreal then I think a lot more people would be buying into them today rather than discounting "Hellraiser" as a franchise which has outstayed its welcome. Every actor in "Hellbound" gives an outstanding performance which is only possible because they are all what I term "real actors". Apart from Doug Bradley and Ashley Laurence, none of the actors were known to me for doing horror and it was quite a shock to see the calibre of Kenneth Cranham, Clare Higgins and even Imogen Boormen (also known later for being the lead in the BBC's "Iphigenia at Aulis") in something like this. The surrealness of the monsters and the effects used to create them in "Hellbound" really make this extraordinary.

1. The Thing (1982)
A lot of people class this as sci-fi and I can see their point but I think of it as horror and absolutely love it. It's funny that a remake is number one on my top ten when I usually hate every remake with a passion but this is one of the few good ones. I also like "The Fly" remake from 1986 but not enough to include it here. The thing is (lol) that John Carpenter didn't so much remake "The Thing From Another World" (1951) but completely reinvented it as a practical effects laden gorefest. The alien creature effects truly are the star of the show but there's still the tension and paranoia of the original. When I first heard about "The Thing" it was while listening to trailers for it on the radio. I could only imagine what it looked like because I was too young to see it at the cinema but a couple of years later it was on TV completely uncensored (because British TV is always good like that) and it was exactly as I expected it to be. When VHS came along it was one of the first I bought and I've watched it more times than just about any other movie in my collection. There's just something about being trapped in a hostile snowy environment with a shape-changing alien who could be anybody (or anything) that ticks every box in the "survival horror" category for me.

There you have it. These are the films that define horror for me.

What are yours?

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