As the seasons change and autumn arrives, I find myself drawn to horror movies. With a chill in the air and the nights drawing in (for us Northern hemisphere folk), the prospect of Halloween and scary movies seems like just the right combination. Let’s face it – it’s just not the same during the summer!
From all the films I’ve watched in my lifetime (a rather unhealthy amount), horror movies have always been a personal favourite. So it is with some fiendish relish that I present to Guru Magazine my (very subjective) ten best horror movies of all time. Read on, if you dare…
10. Scream (1996, dIr. Wes Craven)
Partly based on the real-life case of the Gainesville Ripper, who murdered five students in Florida in 1990, Scream redefined the ‘slasher’ movie. It brought a previously popular genre up-to-date through a wry, self-referential look at past films, sending up slasher clichés that left knowledgeable audiences smiling between killings. Directed by horror stalwart Wes Craven and penned by Kevin Williamson, Scream was a huge success, spawning a host of sequels over the next decade. A few were good, most were absolutely dire.
The franchise has been so popular that, earlier this year, the original cast – Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox Arqu…(correction: just Cox now…) – reunited for Scre4m, the fourth in the series. And despite disappointing box office sales, it’s nevertheless rumoured that future instalments may be on the way…
For influence on pop culture alone, watch see the original Scream. And 2 and 4, if you fancy. But trust me – leave the third one well alone.
9. The Blair Witch Project (1999, dir. Daniel Myrick/Eduardo Sánchez)
Sadly, the marketing campaign used to build anticipation for The Blair Witch Project would never work in today’s social-media savvy world, where spoilers are the order of the day. But back in 1999, the team behind BWP used online viral marketing to sublime effect, suggesting for months prior to release that the film footage was, in fact, real.
I saw Blair Witch at the movie theatre, and the result of the online publicity was magical – never before had I been so drawn into a film and so scared by the slightest on-screen ‘action’ (terrified by twigs snapping in the distance – I mean, really?!) The Blair Witch Project made for a marvellous work of fiction and a terrifically influential film. It also demonstrated that creating an effective scary story didn’t need a big budget: with a meagre outlay of around US$22,500, it netted US$249 million worldwide. Who says investing in gold is the way to make money?!
8. The Ring (1998, dir. Hideo Nakata)
Adapted from the novel by Japanese author Koji Suzuki, the premise of The Ring is frighteningly simple: a videotape is doing the rounds, and if you watch it, you will die exactly one week later. Yes, I know exactly what you’re thinking – “how ridiculous!” I couldn’t agree more. I mean, who really watches videotapes these days?
The highest grossing horror film of all time in Japan, The Ring is truly terrifying. It culminates in arguably one of the most grotesque final scenes ever witnessed (I won’t spoil it) and the successes of the original spawned an inevitable American remake. Ignore that one: the Japanese version is the one to watch.
I’d love to know if you agree… if you survive the week.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, dir. Wes Craven)
Possibly the definitive ‘slasher’ movie, the original Nightmare On Elm Street is also notable for being the debut film for a young Johnny Depp (who’s not done too badly for himself since).
Nightmare was to become the first in a long franchise of mostly terrible and borderline comedic films; but the original Nightmare is tense stuff – a group of teenagers terrorised by a demented monster, killing them viciously in their dreams.
Nightmare’s Freddie Kreuger proved to be one of the most iconic horror monsters of the last century. Much of the film’s success is owed to actor Robert Englund, who manages to mix horror with the blackest of comedy to terrific effect.
Oh dear – I’m starting to feel sleepy…
6. Nosferatu (1922, dir. F.W. Murnau)
Murnau’s German Expressionist flick Nosferatu was the first cinematic depiction of Dracula (except officially it wasn’t – the studio couldn’t obtain the rights to the novel). Since its original release, this all-time classic has been pastiched dozens of times.
Starring Max Schrenk as Count Orlock, the film follows Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), sent to Transylvania by his employer to visit a new client – the mysterious Orlock. On his travels, Hutter finds The Book of the Vampires, a book he initially dismisses. But, as he spends time with Orlock, he realises it may come in handy after all…
Almost a century after its original theatrical release, Nosferatu still packs a punch through Murnau’s masterful use of shadows and suspense. Whilst more sophisticated audiences may now scoff at the acting and pace, it’s easy to imagine how truly terrified 1920s audiences would have been.
5. Let The Right One In (2008, dir. Tomas Alfredson)
Yet another terrific horror film to receive the unnecessary Hollywood remake treatment (sigh). The original Swedish Let The Right One In is difficult to define – part horror, part romance.
With a screenplay written by original novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist, the film centres on the relationship between a bullied schoolboy and a young girl whom he befriends in Stockholm. Unaware that his new chum is, in fact, a vampire (it’s fairly obvious, to be honest), the two develop a great friendship bordering on romance.
With terrific performances from 11-year-old leads Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, the macabre ending of Let The Right One In ultimately leaves the viewer conflicted in terms of how to feel.
4. Peeping Tom (1960, dir. Michael Powell)
In my opinion, a far stronger film than Psycho (with which it often draws comparisons), Michael Powell’s exploration of voyeurism is simply frightening. Peeping Tom focuses on a serial killer who murders women. But there’s a twist: he derives pleasure from filming them and capturing their final moments and expressions on film.
A terrifying premise, the success of the film lies in Powell’s cinematography – through the then-innovative use of point of view cinematography which puts the audience in the eyes of the killer, the director creates an uncomfortable but compelling experience.
3. The Birds (1963, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Hitchcock has a lot to answer for. Thanks to The Birds, I go into a mild panic every time I see a group of more than ten birds in one place. I grant you, it’s not very manly.
Based on a Daphne du Maurier novella, The Birds stars Tippi Hedren (one of Hitchcock’s many beautiful, blonde leading ladies) as a wealthy socialite who falls for a lawyer she meets in a pet shop whilst purchasing a pair of lovebirds. What follows is a barrage of avian attacks, each increasing in intensity, and culminating in an incredibly violent conclusion.
The effects may now seem very dated in comparison to the sleek CGI that we have become accustomed to, but the premise has more than stood the test of time.
2. The Exorcist (1973, dir. William Friedkin)
Almost everyone knows the story of, and myths surrounding The Exorcist. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’ve probably heard about the on-screen incidents and controversy. Allegedly the movie was cursed, with stories of priests blessing the set, the studio catching on fire, and actors – including lead Linda Blair – seriously injuring themselves due to harnesses breaking during filming. And even if you didn’t know about the film’s dark side, chances are you’ll still instantly think of the film whenever you hear Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.
Despite the hype, the film isn’t actually that frightening at all – in fact, at times, it’s rather amusing (if you, like me, have a very dark sense of humour). The Exorcist is, however, one of the most renowned horror flicks of the 20th century, with stories about the making of the movie helping to secure its place in urban legend, and ensures that this film will be seen by new generations of thrillseekers.
1. The Wicker Man (1973, dir. Robin Hardy)
1973 might have been the year of The Exorcist, but ask any true horror aficionado and they will agree that there was only one true horror triumph from that year: Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man.
For me, horror simply doesn’t get any better than this. Edward Woodward puts on an acting tour de force playing police sergeant and devout Christian Neil Howie, who arrives on the small island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a missing girl.
As Howie hunts for the missing girl, he is confronted by locals who claim that the girl never existed. The eccentric Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee at his very best), and endless temptations threaten to compromise Howie’s faith. A fascinating mystery that slowly unravels culminates in a gripping finale, where The Wicker Man ultimately triumphs is that it manages to be truly terrifying by eschewing typical horror conventions. There is a distinct lack of night time scenes and there’s no filling of the screen with blood, guts and severed limbs. Rather, the film is shot almost entirely during the day and features no on-screen violence whatsoever until … well… that would be telling.
Sadly, it was remade in 2006 with Nicolas Cage in a version that completely failed to deliver the subtle nuances of the classic. I only hope that audiences seek out the superb original and boycott the terrible ‘updated’ version. I cannot recommend the original The Wicker Man highly enough.
SCREAM LIKE A GIRL!!
Are girls really the biggest wimps?
When the killer is lurking behind the door – come on, admit it ladies – how could you cope without a hunky man to hold on to (or, failing that, the nearest trouser-wearing dweeb)?
It’s not very politically correct, but this stereotype could have some scientific backing: surveys show that women have a tendency to admit to getting more scared than men. An Italian team of researchers found that women said they felt much more repulsed by watching gruesome movie scenes men. And in separate study of 1,000 adults, women had significantly higher rates of being scared by spiders, heights and closed spaces than men. So at first glance, the evidence is clear: women get scared more easily (and need men to look after them)!
But there may be an alternative… what if men just don’t admit to getting scared? Our lab-coat wearing friends might also have the answer to that question. By strapping pulse, blood pressure monitors (and various other medical-type regalia) to men and women whilst watching horror movies, our academically-inclined film researchers discovered that men and women’s bodies react in almost exactly the same way to onscreen frights: pulse, blood pressure, skin reactions were pretty much identical. The conclusion? Men and women (physically at least) get just as frightened – men just don’t admit it!
There you have it: women are more honest than men when it comes to bangs and bumps in the night. As if you needed research to discover that…
Link to the research:
Codispoti, M.; Surcinelli, P.; Baldaro, B. (2008) Watching emotional movies: Affective reactions and gender differences. International Journal of Psychophysiology, Vol 69(2), Aug 2008, 90-95. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.03.004
The Perfect Scary Movie?
You watch a horror movie to get scared, right? If you could design the ultimate scary movie, what would be in it?
One in five of us have a phobia of some sort. So, if we were to take a scientific approach to constructing a horror flick by tapping into our deepest insecurities, the most common phobias in both men and women are:
- Closed Spaces
So, the perfect scary movie would be a combination of these. Let’s think of some ideas:
“People stuck in a box on the top of a cliff” No, I can’t see the story progressing well…
“OK, how about: a killer spider attack at the top of a skyscraper”? That sounds pretty daft.
“Got it! Killer snakes unleashed in the tight confines of an airliner whilst at high altitude!”
Wait, Snakes on a Plane – I think it’s already been done…
Link to the hardcore science stuff:
Fredrikson, M.; Annas, P.; Fischer, H.; Wik, G. (1996). Gender and age differences in the prevalence of specific fears and phobias. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34(1):33-9