So Hallowe’en is just around the corner and it would be pretty irresponsible of us as new parents not to share our top ten scares for the season.
Now these are just our favourites at the moment and some of them may not even feature in a top 10 of the greatest horrors every made but sure what do critics know anyway. In chronological order – P denotes a Páraic pick, N a Nigel – simple science.
Psycho (1960) – P
Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates the hotel owning Mammy’s Boy and to say he’s a bit touched is quite the understatement. It’s quite hard for a film such as this to keep its shock or intrigue when it’s been parodied so much by modern culture but when I first came across Psycho it was incredibly unsettling, especially the ending.
Hitchcock is a master at doing what so many horrors fail to by letting you make up what you see, as we never in fact see the knife stabbing Marion Crane. Another key ingredient of a master horror movie is the music and Psycho’s key shower scene score is probably the most recognisable in film.
The Birds (1963) – N
Hitch was a lot of things. Master of suspense. The most influential film-maker of the 20th century. Cameo-fiend.
He also had a knack for making very good films one after another. I’d challenge anyone to find a better run of 4 films than Vertigo (1958) – North by Northwest (1959) – Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider excepted.
P-man has already written about Psycho but I’d nearly think that it’s his next film that is a better horror film. It’s chilling and unsettling and has left me dipping out of the way of seagulls and crows ever since I saw it. Respect the birds dagnabbit!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – P
A good contrast to Psycho is Tobe Hooper’s Chainsaw Massacre and its lack of music which gives the eerie documentary feel to the film. It took me a second look at this to get what everyone was going on about it and why it’s such a classic, the first time I was pretty dismissive and thought it almost laughable but it was when I watched it alone one night that it really got under my skin.
The screaming, dear Lord the screaming.
It’s such an unrelenting vision of being captured and tortured with no hope of escape and as with Psycho there are no zombies or vampires it’s your mate who owns the abattoir down the road you need to be weary of.
The Shining (1980) – N
“Here’s Johnny!”, the twins, the bathroom scene, early use of steadicam, The Overlook Hotel, Scatman Crothers, the imaginary friend Tony, the hedge maze, the snow, the carpets, these bunnies, the fact it was shot in 4:3, The Simpsons’ The Shinning, the sound of Danny’s tricycle, the dog mask, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, the ghost of Grady, Shelley Duvall’s amazing face, Lloyd and of course… REDRUM.
The Evil Dead (1981) – N
“The film is a story of five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in a wooded area.“
Don’t you feel like you’ve seen this premise a million times? Well you probably have. But “that film where the tree rapes the girl” was innovative, funny and for some weird reason quite moving. The audience empathising as Ash (Bruce Campbell) suffers the indignity of having his friends die after they become possessed by an evil book. What a feel-good everyman tale.
Of course its troubled history of censorship, seized VHS copies and status as a fabled “video nasty” hasn’t hurt its legacy either.
And yes the sequel (or should I say “retcon” sequel) may be a more well-rounded production but it lacks the charm and DIY-feel that this oozes. I’ll bet I know what’s coming next… *predictable*…
Evil Dead II (1987) – P
This film isn’t scary, not even slightly, well for me anyway. It’s hilarious and Bruce Campbell’s role as Ash cements him in history as the cult coward hero.
Raimi’s second outing is basically a re-make of the first with some more humour and better special effects thrown in and we see the brilliant technique of cutting about 4 shots together quickly giving a super fast montage.
It’s not every film that has Hemingway jokes and a man who attaches a chainsaw to his severed stump, need I say more?
The Blair Witch Project (1999) – P
I would love to have seen this at Cannes when no one knew if it was real or not only to have the three actors walk from behind the screen revealing themselves to the audience.
I missed it in the cinema but it had such an impact on me I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t go camping in the woods to this day, I wouldn’t even walk to the bottom of our garden in the dark after we’d watched it.
The first person view shaky documentary type footage is used to amazing effect making you feel that you’re right there in the woods with them. Well timed reveals throughout keep ramping up the tension and sense of dread and with the ending it’s your mind that scares the bejesus out of you!
Dawn of the Dead (2004) – N
You didn’t think we were going to try and make a horror movie list without fitting in at least one zombie movie did you?
The second the recently deceased Johnny Cash’s “Man Comes Around” kicks in with the opening credits five minutes in, you know you’re on to a winner. We’ve just seen a homely nurse get attacked by her recently-reanimated zombie husband who just moments before had been killed by the neighbour’s daughter. She fights him off, runs to the car, proceeds to crash the car. Cut to black. Here’s Johnny.
It’s one of my favourite openings to a film in years and even if the next hour and a half was muck I’d still speak positively about Zach Snyder’s directorial debut. But thankfully it’s fantabulous and proof that Hollywood could still do zombie.
Paranormal Activity (2009) – N
So has anyone noticed that this Hallowe’en’s release schedules don’t feature a new Saw movie for the first time since 2003? No me neither. Anyway, it’s OK as we can replace our need for derivative horror with Paramount’s Paranormal Activity franchise which is now hitting its third installment.
But I hope this re-hashing prequel nonsense doesn’t take any from the achievements of the original movie. Starting with a production budget of $15,000, premiering at Screamfest 2007 to a small passionate audience, being bought by Dreamworks with the intention of remaking it, impressing test audiences so much that it was left as is until Stephen Spielberg said the ending needed to change, getting fans to request their local cinema played it and then going on to make nearly $200m worldwide. Phew. Still with me?
Paranormal Activity uses silence, darkness and the oldest Hitchcockian trick in the book – fear of the unseen and unknown – as its primary tools of terror. I watched this alone in the dark the week before it came out in 2009 as nothing more than a time-filler on a typically anti-social night in Drogheda. I’m not sure any film has superceeded my expectations quite as much.
Insidious (2011) – P
The best horror film to come along in years. What made it stand out for me was the music – a throw back to the great 70s and 80s horror movies – it invested in a proper score to complement the tension making it almost unbearable to watch at times.
Like Poltergeist and The Shining it uses the vulnerability and innocence of a child to compound our worries and fears. In most horror films it’ll be either what you don’t see that scares you or having something terrifying that you didn’t want to see in the first place and with Insidious it’s the later and the red faced demon is forever burned into my mind. A problem I have with going to see horror films is the audience laughing at bits that aren’t funny but I know this is just a nervous reaction they have as actually they’re petrified.
Insidious deals with this brilliantly by introducing two “Ghostbusters” who act as a comic relief allowing us to get all our nervous tension out. I haven’t managed to watch this since seeing it in the cinema and don’t know when I’ll be returning to it but surely that can only be a good sign.
and to keep the Catholics happy, an honorary #11…
The Exorcist – M.K.
but we’ll leave it to Mr. Mark Kermode to talk about his favourite film…