Every year, we here at PopOptiq celebrate the month of October with a series of articles we like to call 31 Days of Horror; and every year, I update the list of my favourite horror films ever made. Last year, I released a list that included 150 picks. This year, I’ll be upgrading the list to 200 movies, making minor alterations, changing the rankings, adding new entries, and possibly removing a few titles.
Note: Since there are so many great horror films and so much to choose from, I am not including documentaries such as Haxan — short films such as Outer Space – a mini-series such as Stephen King’s It — nor animated films such as Perfect Blue, Ninja Scroll and Coraline. I am, however, including some films as special mentions along with a few movies that some people consider horror films, but I don’t.
Special Mention: King Kong
Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose
Genre: Adventure / Fantasy
The granddaddy of all monster movies is arguably King Kong. Decades after its release, no other monster movie approached the high standard of this one. King Kong remains not only a milestone of movie-making, but a heartbreaking experience. The stop-motion photographic effects by Willis O’Brien were groundbreaking for the time and the title character, along with Fay Wray, have captivated audiences of all ages worldwide for decades. Kong is structured around the classic and familiar theme of Beauty and the Beast, but it is also a movie about making movies. Robert Armstrong’s character Carl Denham is modelled on co-director Merian C. Cooper and like him, he is seeking out Kong in hopes to star him in the world’s greatest motion picture. And that is exactly what King Kong became. Every time we watch Kong climb the Empire State Building with the damsel in distress wrapped gently in his giant palm, we hope that things will end well, even though deep down inside, we know they won’t.
200. (TIE) The Host
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Screenplay by Won-jun Ha and Joon-ho Bong
2006, South Korea
Genre: Sci-fi Horror, Creature Feature
Barely five minutes into The Host, it was already clear that a classic movie monster had been unleashed. The Host is chock-full of strong performances, unexpected slapstick humor, political and social commentary, family conflict and satiric references to some of the more absurd aspects of Korean cinema. This is a beautifully made, thoroughly enjoyable monster flick that stands head and shoulders above most sci-fi / action movies. Depsite the mix of genres, the film works best when it is trying to scare and the best scenes are those involving the cat-and-mouse game with Hyun-seo and the sea monster in the creature’s lair. Joon-ho Bong generates a good deal of tension and nail-biting suspense and combines scares, laughs, and satire into a riveting, monster movie that the whole family can enjoy. As creature features go, the biggest box-office hit in South Korea’s history is outstanding from start to finish.
200. (TIE) The Ordeal (Calvaire)
Directed by Fabrice Du Welz
Written by Fabrice Du Welz and Romain Protat
2004, Belgium / France
Genre: Backwoods Horror / French New Wave
Director-co-writer Fabrice du Welz takes a clichéd premise and infuses it with slick stylish perversity and the gory surrealism of early Wes Craven. Apart from the bravura direction and the sharp cinematography of Benoît Debie (whose camera work in the climax features an overhead shot in a slow 360-degree spin), the main draw comes from the gut-wrenching performance from actor Laurent Lucas. This is a strange, compelling horror film – often described as a mix between Misery and Deliverance. Calvaire’s premise may be familiar, but it is still one of the better backwoods horror entries in recent memory.
199. Otto; or Up with Dead People
Written and directed by Bruce La Bruce
Genre: Zombie / Comedy / Drama
With each film, Canadian-born queer auteur, Bruce La Bruce (No Skin Off My Ass, Hustler White, The Raspberry Reich) improves his filmmaking excellence. The filmmaker has spent decades making fierce, hilarious, and generally haphazard indie films with a sharp political edge. Only with Otto, he’s made a genuinely touching pornographic horror film. Once more straddling the line between art and smut, Otto; Or, Up With Dead People, carries the director’s trademark touch of dark humour and pointed politics. Otto revels in zombie genre clichés and uses them as a metaphor for AIDS, homophobia, and for the brutish compliance within the gay community. And as the story progresses, the film becomes a harsh examination of urban life, the film industry, and the gay sex scene. Otto slowly realizes the living have no respect for the dead, much less the living, and LaBruce goes far beyond the limits of cinematic good taste to express this. His take-no-prisoners-approach offers plenty of opportunities to mix sex and violence, often cutting between images from horror films, war crimes and pornographic sex, including a zombie orgy. But despite all this, Otto’s story is surprisingly moving, and the film has a lot to say about how society will only accept someone if they abide by their personal definition of normality.
In every way, LaBruce’s films are pure anti-Hollywood. His poetic visual sense is closer to Jean Cocteau than George A. Romero, but as a director, La Bruce remains an unapologetic disciple of filmmakers like Paul Morrissey, Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol. Otto just so happens to be one of the filmmaker’s best, featuring the spectacular cinematography of James Carman (which continuously cuts between colour and black-and-white), and a soundtrack provided by Anthony and the Johnsons. Straight or gay, this is essential viewing for any true cinephile. That is if you can stomach the blood and sex.
198. Wild Zero
Directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi
Written by Satoshi Takagi and Tetsuro Takeuchi
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Get ready for the craziest, punk-rock zombie flick you’ll ever see! Helmed by noted counter-culture-video-director Takeuchi Tetsuro (known as Mr. MTV in Japan), this low-budget horror production starring the cult Japanese rock band Guitar Wolf along with hundreds of non-professional actors, was shot over a 3-week period with an estimated budget of $50,000, and a small team of dedicated and talented computer effects artists by their side. The zombie extras in the film are a treat to watch – with the Thai military and their families standing in for the walking dead. You haven’t seen strange until you’ve seen Wild Zero — this exuberantly silly Japanese punk trash flick, reportedly made with a cast and crew who drank themselves silly while on set, will leave you staring in amazement.
If The Ramones had decided to make a movie for Troma, the results might look similar to Wild Zero. (One of the first images in the film is, in fact, the Ramones album cover Subterranean Jungle). Think Rock And Roll High School crossed with Night of the Living Dead, crossed with The World’s End. “Thrill, Speed, and Stupid Zombies” is the tagline, but Wild Zero offers so much more, including transgendered love, fire-breathing motorbikes and a guitar that doubles as a deadly energy sword used to fight off an alien mother ship.
197. The Lords of Salem
Written and directed by Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie has always been a controversial figure and perhaps the most polarizing director in modern horror, but The Lords Of Salem represents a major step forward for the writer/director. Salem is a gaudy dance between the macabre and the art-house, too violent for the mainstream moviegoer and too bizarre for the common gore-fiend — and it just so happens to be the director’s best film to date, showcasing his versatility as a filmmaker.
The Lords of Salem is Rob Zombie’s most patient and mature film and a textbook study on how to do horror right, largely bypassing the gore galore until the climax and avoiding cheap scares that directors employ far too often. With Salem, Zombie creates a suffocating sense of foreboding dread. Much like Ti West’s The Innkeepers, mood and atmosphere are his primary concern. As the film progresses, things grow increasingly strange by the minute. Heidi’s nightmares recall the best of Alejandro Jodorowsky and the surrealistic moments (specifically within the apartment) spring up comparisons to early Polanski. The haunting soundtrack supplied by composer John 5 (Zombie’s guitarist) and music supervisor Tom Rowland is the driving force of the madness. Together, they have truly created one of the most effective and unique themes to any horror film. Along with the art direction, costume design, and Brandon Trost’s cinematography, The Lords of Salem is a fiercely imagined nightmare. Salem is essentially a 70s-style European art-house horror flick culminating with an air of ambiguity, with a take-no-prisoners final act painted with moments of crazed inspirations. Salem is an old-school horror flick sporadically interested in experimental decor and the end result is a work of phantasmagorical cinema.
196. Session 9
Directed by Brad Anderson
Written by Stephen Gevedon and Brad Anderson
Genre: Mystery / Hauntings
If there was ever a perfect setting for a horror movie, it would be the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital. Built in 1878 on an isolated site in rural Massachusetts, it was a multi-acre, self-contained psychiatric hospital rumoured to have been the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy. The hospital is the setting for the 2001 horror film Session 9, where an asbestos clean-up crew discover a series of nine tapes, which have recorded a patient’s psychiatric evaluations revealing his multiple personalities — all of which are innocent, except for number nine. With a shoestring budget and little special effects, Session 9 relies strictly on psychological horror to make its point. Director-writer Brad Anderson (The Machinist) knows how to pull all the strings to keep the audience guessing and squirming making this one genuinely creepy thriller.
195. Bubba Ho-Tep
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Written by Don Coscarelli
Genre: Horror / Comedy
If you’re tired of conventional horror movies, try Bubba Ho-Tep, a cinematic oddity from director Don Coscarelli. Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), is an old man living in an East Texas retirement home, having switched identities with impersonator Dan Haff some time before his apparent death. The problem is he never got the chance to switch back. He teams up with fellow resident Jack (Ossie Davis), who believes himself to be John F. Kennedy, and the two of them battle an evil Egyptian mummy who attempts to take over their retirement home and use it as a hunting ground for souls on which to subsist. Featuring a bravura lead performance by Bruce Campbell, Bubba is a smart comedy that dares to take on the sublime and the ridiculous. It is kitschy, lowbrow, sharply written and surprisingly moving, but above all, it is a one-of-a-kind film experience.
194. The Long Weekend
Directed by Colin Eggleston
Written by Everett De Roche
Genre: Survival Horror
The Long Weekend marked the beginning of a solid run of good Australian horror films penned by Everett De Roche, who also wrote Patrick (1978), Roadgames (1981) and Razorback (1984). The Long Weekend is an extremely tense thriller that doesn’t rely on the usual standard shock strategy to deliver its scares. A well executed and innovative film (for the time), The Long Weekend ranks as one of the best “nature vs.man” films – steeped in the mid-70s statements of environmentalism, and hinting at a broader ecological agenda with mention of nuclear testing and oil exploration. The small cast all pull in great performances and the sound design is carefully layered gradually escalating to increase the tension. But the best thing about The Long Weekend is the camera work by cinematographer Vincent Monton which gives the pic a realistic feel with voyeuristic documentary-quality shots of the outback surroundings. Not a typical horror film in the standard sense but this small masterpiece is a must see for its slow, eerie pacing and atmosphere.
193. Tetsuo: The Ironman
Directed by Shin’ya Tsukamoto
Written by Shin’ya Tsukamoto
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror / Experimental
This 1989 Japanese cyberpunk film by cult-film director Shinya Tsukamoto combines Eraserhead’s monochrome industrial landscapes with David Cronenberg’s obsession with body horror. Tetsuo established Tsukamoto internationally and garnered him a worldwide cult following. Shot on 16 mm and on a shoestring-budget, the underground-experimental pic is unquestionably a feat of imagination with it’s creative imagery, homoerotic, nutty visuals, frenetic stop-motion, sharp editing and strong industrial musical score. Tetsuo: The Iron Man is completely surreal and off-kilter and quite unlike any sci-fi/horror film you’ll ever see.
192. Drag Me To Hell
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Ivan Raimi and Sam Raimi
Genre: Horror / Comedy
Many horror pioneers who’ve attempted to return to the cinematic styles that jump-started their careers have usually walked away with mediocre results (George Romero’s Diary of the Dead) and sometimes utterly embarrassing by-products (Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears). Sam Raimi on the other hand, effortlessly slips back into his Evil Dead roots with the outrageously fun Drag Me to Hell complete with all his trademark flourishes. This is horror directed with a light touch and delivered with hilarious, delightfully campy thrills. Among the pic’s many highlights is the unforgettable, and brutal, parking lot brawl between Lorna Raver and Alison Lohman — and the tongue-in-cheek style seance featuring the menacing goat-like “Lamia” (a direct homage to Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 Night of the Demon).
191. House of the Devil
Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West
Genre: Satanic Horror
House of the Devil hearkens back to the days of late 70s grindhouse cinema, complete with a synthesized rock soundtrack (one of the best soundtracks to any horror film), a freeze-frame opening credit sequence (marked with yellow title cards) and a cast that includes Mary Woronov (Silent Night, Deadly Night) and horror veteran Dee Wallace-Stone (The original Hills Have Eyes, The Howling). West is not interested in cheap shocks and scares but rather takes a simple situation and spins tension out of it through careful craft. He’s a patient filmmaker and has built a career on his preference for slow-building tension, atmosphere and suspense as opposed to fast-paced action, sex and splatter. His direction is smart, subtle, and passionate, and he makes great use of long sequences and static shots with an assortment of oddly askew camera angles, each camera positioned deliberately for creative reasons. Composer Jeff Grace and audio designer Graham Reznick create an atmosphere that suggests something terrible can happen at any moment, leaving you gripping on to your seat in anticipation. Eliot Rockett’s cinematography nails the feel of the early 80s – so carefully detailed and perfectly attuned to the style of the decade that one could actually mistake it for an 80s production. Meanwhile the Quantum Creation FX gang (who gave us the effects for Splinter) once again showcase their talent despite a minimal budget. Amidst all the terror, my favorite scene still remains the sequence in which Samantha dances about (Walkman replacing iPod) to the sound of Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.”200-191 190-181 180-171 170-161 161-150 150-141 140-131 130-121 120-111 100-91 90-81 80-71 70-61 60-51 50-41 40-31 30-21 20-11 10-1