I decided this morning that I wanted to be a total cliche and make a top-ten favorite horror films list for Halloween. I’m not necessarily saying that I think these films are the scariest, but they’re my favorites, and by “horror,” I’m counting any film that I think either is really fucking scary, or just gives me the willies, for one reason or another. I threw the list down on paper just off the top of my head, so I’m sure that not only am I forgetting something great and obvious, my countdown method is probably also fatally flawed.
Also, I would love feedback with what your favorite “scary” films are as well, if anyone still ever reads this blog. I will say, before I get started, that stuff like slashers and stalkers and monsters don’t scare me too much. You know what scares the fuck out of me? Ghosts. I think they’re the scariest thing in the world because they go right along with the other thing that probably scares me the second most: having no control. Being in a situation where I’m absolutely helpless and nothing I do will make a difference. That, to me, is horror. True doom.
10. Don’t Look Now (dir. Nicolas Roeg)
As I mentioned here, this slow and creepy film set in Venice about a rash of brutal child murders really gets under my skin. Not much happens, but the slow overcoming obsession of a man who’s lost his child is unnerving to watch, and the final shot (which another movie on this list so blatantly, but effectively, rips off) is genuinely shocking and may flash before your eyes for a couple of weeks every time you turn on a light in a dark room.
9. Scream (dir. Wes Craven)
Yes, I know, it’s responsible for ushering what might be the worst genre of movies to ever curse humanity, the Self-Referential Horror Film, but that’s not Scream‘s fault. Not really. This low-budget, (and at the time, anachronistic) return to form for Wes Craven in 1996 was a true jolt for the slasher fan, and after the first 15 minutes, you knew Craven wasn’t fucking around with this one. If the first scene didn’t make you forever afraid to walk past picture windows at night for fear of (literally) getting your guts ripped out and hung from a tree, then you’re braver than I am.
8. The Sixth Sense (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
Ghosts. I’m telling you. I still can’t watch this movie alone at night. Not even on cable. When I saw it in the theater, I lived alone, and I slept with lights on for over a week. I’m not joking. When I hear weird noises at night, this is still the first movie I think about when I start getting freaked out.
7. Carrie (dir. Brian DePalma)
Not a particularly scary film, as far as giving you chills when you hear bumps in the night, but it’s still considered horror, and it’s horrific in many ways. Not to mention it’s every high school loser’s biggest revenge fantasy carried out to most ridiculous, nth degree.
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. Wes Craven)
Again, monsters don’t really scare me that much, and this is no exception, but is, without a doubt, the creepiest neo-Jungian shitfest to ever hit the silver screen. I think my favorite part is when Freddy is chasing the blond girl and she says, “Oh god,” and Freddy replies, “I am God.” I always wondered why they never made a prequel/origins film for NOES. It could be extraordinarily twisted.
5. The Blair Witch Project (dirs. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez)
The true definition of horror, Blair Witch makes the audience rely entirely on their imagination, with absolutely zero amounts of violence or gore, and it’s the most effective film I’ve yet come across (and anyone who tells you this movie isn’t scary as shit has no imagination). Doesn’t quite have the payoff you want it to after the whole build-up, but still does for being in the great outdoors what (insert cliche here about Texas Chainsaw Massacre and road trips; Psycho and showering; Jaws and the ocean).
4. Halloween (dir. John Carpenter)
The movie that started it all (the slasher genre, that is) is still the best, the creepiest, and most imitated.
3. Hostel (both I and II) (dir. Eli Roth)
I cheated a little and included both Hostels because they’re basically interchangeable, except that I think this is one of the rare exceptions where the sequel is better than the original. And I know that there are people out there who would hardly even qualify this movie as “horror,” but I do, because frankly, it scares the shit out of me. As I mentioned in the introduction, few things scare me more than the idea of being totally out of control. And what’s more viscerally terrifying that knowing your very life has been purchased by a sadistic psycho who’s going to do god knows what to you in an effort to kill you as hideously as possible, and not being able to do a damn thing about it? Even thinking about it gives me chills. And that’s why I think these films are so effective (at least for me). And while they are horrifically violent, that violence comprises about 5 minutes of both films; the rest is all build-up. Slow, agonizing, heart-pounding build-up.
2. Poltergeist (dir. Tobe Hooper)
Again, ghosts. Ghosts are fucking scary. And I’m pretty sure this movie had a huge influence on me.
1. The Shining. (dir. Kubrick)
Duh. I think we all agree. You know, Alamo Drafthouse is actually doing a screening of this film tonight here at the Timberline Lodge, which is not only where th movie is filmed, but where Stephen King actually got the inspiration to write the novel. For $25 you got a bus to the hotel from downtown Portland (and back); a meal; 3 cocktails; the movie; and a silk-screened poster of the event. I was going to go with a friend, and when we tried to get tickets they were all gone. I’m a little sore about it.
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