If you’re planning a Halloween movie night, or if you just want to get into the spirit of the season, here’s a list of my Top 10 Favorite Horror Movies, roughly in order. I’ve tried to keep my descriptions as spoiler-free as possible. So, turn down the lights, lock the doors and enjoy an evening of cinematic thrills and chills!
1. Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror (1922)
Nosferatu is the origin of the cinematic vampire. Bela Lugosi gets all the credit, but Max Schreck and Count Orlok got there first. Unsettling and hypnotic, F. W. Murnau’s expressionistic sets and shots create an atmosphere of dread and doom with barely a single drop of blood shed or a word of audible dialogue. Almost 90 years later, it still hasn’t lost a single bit of potency.
2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
It’s not only one of the most effective horror films ever made, but also a major high point in the careers of both director Roman Polanski and star Mia Farrow. A masterful meditation on the violation of the scared spaces of home and body, the film gains its power from the natural feel of the settings and characters. Even toward the climax of the film, the supernatural is only implied, making the final act that much more powerful. It is, of course, helped along by Mia Farrow’s powerful and magnetically sympathetic performance.
3. The Ring (2002)
Perhaps the only film in the wave of American J-horror remakes that actually outshines the original. Naomi Watts is perfect, and Gore Verbinski shows a deft hand at conveying the horrors of the video age. The cursed videotape at the center of the film is itself a captivating short film, and both it and the script never give too much away about why everything happens the way it does. It’s terrifying precisely because of what it leaves out, something the more straightforward Japanese original was never able to achieve.
4. Suspiria (1977)
The first in Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, and inarguably the best of the three. Colors that are too vivid and focuses that are too deep add a dream-like feel to one of the finest Italian horror films ever made. Nobody stages a death like Argento, and he doesn’t disappoint here with his creative set pieces and almost inappropriate sense of dark humor. Aided by a psychedelic score by the band Goblin, it’s a hypnotic waking nightmare.
5. Cthulhu (2007)
Possibly one of the finest Lovecraft films ever made, and one of particular note to FBOTU for its atypical gay protagonist. While not a direct adaptation of any one Lovecraft story, it’s a distillation of several of them into a film that’s awash in cosmic horror and a slow climb toward insanity in a world literally going to Hell. Micro-budgeted and featuring a cast largely made up of unknowns, it’s a bold, daring take on Lovecraft that any fan of weird horror should see.
6. The Others (2001)
Nicole Kidman gives a masterful performance in a film that takes a new look at the traditional haunted house story. With its monochromatic palette and whispering sense of unease, it’s awash in mood and atmosphere. The script twists and turns, happily upending expectations and assumptions, and constantly making the audience re-examine the evidence before it. Best watched by gaslight.
7. Poltergeist (1982)
Although credited to Tobe Hooper, this film is often claimed to actually be the work of Steven Spielberg, and it’s easy to see why. The film takes Spielberg’s typical themes of the mystery of childhood and turns them into the basis for one of the most memorable supernatural home invasions ever. By taking the most innocent childhood whimsies into nightmarish traps, the film disarms us before leading us down a trail of intense terror. Bonus points given for Zelda Rubeinstein’s highly memorable (and career-defining) supporting role as psychic Tangina Barrons.
8. Hellraiser (1987) / Hellraiser 2 (1988)
Although both films can be appreciated on their own, the first two films in the long-running Hellraiser series are really best appreciated as a double-feature. Besides introducing one of the most wicked cinematic bogeyman in the sadistic Pinhead, the films take a different angle on the horrors visited upon its characters. The terror is largely self-induced, punishment for the unchecked and voracious appetites of humanity for pleasure. What’s most effective about the series, though, is even though we know what monster a Pinhead is, he’s unquestionably and disquietly alluring.
9. Silent Hill (2006)
Otherwise known as one of the few video game movies that gets it right. Based on the first three games in the Konami survival horror series, Chrisophe Gans’ shadowy, creepy, film holds a very European sensibility in its frame. It has a mainly female cast, and a highly satisfying knack for uncertain resolutions. The most effective part of the film is its monsters, largely played by dancers and contortionists, with CGI used only to enhance appearances. Radha Mitchell trying to navigate a hall filled with psychotic, demonic nurses makes the heart race, because you know all those nurses are actually there.
10. The Omen (1976 version only)
When the remake of this seminal horror film came out in 2006, it became shorthand for “unnecessary remake.” Indeed, there’s little that can be improved upon with the film that teaches us that children are inherently evil. Or at least one child is, but when your father is Satan, there’s little you can do about that. Lee Remick and Gregory Peck are fantastic, but they don’t compare to Billie Whitelaw’s menacing Mrs. Baylock. But the most terrifying part of the film is Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score, starting with the foreboding chant in the opening credits.
That’s my Top 10. What are yours? Feel free to post your own favorites or anything you think I may have overlooked in the comments section.
From the wicked mind of Johnny M
(Originally ran October 27, 2010)