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.”
190. When A Stranger Calls
Directed by Fred Walton
Written by Steve Feke and Fred Walton
When a Stranger Calls originally started out as The Sitter, a short film made by director Fred Walton, but because of the massive success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, it was expanded to form the basis of a feature. The slow-burn approach is book-ended by some truly excellent classic horror movie moments – the opening alone serves as the entire basis for Wes Craven’s Scream — and Walton does an incredible job of mounting the tension almost entirely using sound. Everything from the constant phone ringing to the killer’s creepy voice to the powerhouse score keeps viewers at the edge of their seat. Charles Durning gives a more than capable performance – virtually stealing the show when he breaks down, completely nude, in front of his reflection in the washroom mirror. Highly recommended!
189. Frightmare (Cover Up)
Directed by Peter Walker
Written by David McGillivray
Genre: Cannibals / British Horror
From genre director Pete Walker (The Flesh, Blood Show, House Of Whipcord, and The Confessional) comes Frightmare, one of my personal favourite British horror films ever made. Apart from border-lining the slasher genre, Frightmare displays an overwhelming distrust of psychiatry and related professions and examines the idea of nature vs. nurture. There’s an artistry to Peter Walker’s work — his fluid, studied camera movements and intentionally abrupt edits, project the gore and provides a disarming atmosphere. The entire cast delivers superb performances, but this is Sheila Keith’s show. Her Dorothy is the epitome of the passive-aggressive mother, alternating between smart and feeble-minded, attentive and disoriented and so on. But don’t be easily fooled, as she eventually makes it very clear that she is always two steps ahead of everyone else. Frightmare is a marvel, a genuinely shocking film that features a fabulous ending.
Directed by Richard Franklin
Screenplay by Everett De Roche
Genre: Australian / Sci-fi Horror
Patrick was not only a pivotal film and a commercial success but it was nominated in three categories, including Best Film, at the 1978 AFI Awards and director Richard Franklin took home the Best Director prize at the prestigious Sitges Fantasy Film Festival in Spain.
Patrick is a truly original film in that its villain remains in a comatose for the entire film. Everett De Roche’s script is surprisingly vivid and punchy; developing its characters well beyond your usual fright-flick archetypes and Richard Franklin’s direction is elegant and suspenseful, relying on mood and atmosphere rather than blood and gore. The strong cast includes some of Australia’s finest actors, from Julia Blake as the mastiff of a matron to Robert Helpmann as the dangerous doctor. As the titular character, Robert Thompson is utterly mesmerizing on screen despite the fact that he doesn’t utter a single word and Susan Penhaligon who plays the feisty nurse pulls off a rather difficult act of looking convincing while having a conversation with a man in a coma.
187. Zombi 2 (also known as Zombie, Island of the Living Dead, Zombie Flesh-Eaters and Woodoo)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Elisa Briganti
Genre: Italian Horror / Zombies
For the uninitiated, Zombi 2 is a 1979 horror film directed by Lucio Fulci. It is perhaps the best-known of Fulci’s films, banned in some countries, censored in others and is in my opinion one of the best zombie films ever made. Fulci’s direction is confident, the makeup and special effects done by Giannetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani are fantastic (especially for the time) and the pulsating electronic score courtesy of Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci is one of the best in horror history. The movie also features two very famous scenes: One features an eyeball-popping out of the socket and the other has an underwater sequence in which a shark battles a zombie.
186. Next of Kin
Directed by Tony Wilson
Written by Tony Wilson
The slow, measured pacing may be too much for mainstream moviegoers but if you have the patience to sit it out, Next of Kin offers one of the best payoffs of any film mentioned on this list. Next of Kin starts as a gothic style mystery-thriller with a hint of the supernatural and then jumps to a full on giallo-style third act – culminating with an unforgettable final shot. While it may be influenced by Robert Wise’s The Haunting, Next of Kin is the closest I have seen to matching the atmosphere of The Shining. Along with an absolutely breathtaking distinctive musical score by Klaus Schulze (drummer of Tangerine Dream) and incredible, stylish visual imagery, Next of Kin is a must see.
185. My Bloody Valentine
Directed by George Mihalka
Written by John Beaird
My Bloody Valentine was made at the height of the slasher/holiday trend and is noteworthy as one of the most distinctly Canadian horror films ever made. Produced by Happy Birthday To Me gurus John Dunning and André Link, and directed by George Mihalka, My Bloody Valentine is one of the best in the slasher genre for several reasons: Mihalka’s direction is first-rate; the score by Paul Zaza is effectively creepy; the small town location and mining mill makes for a refreshingly unique setting; the film features a decent body count (though not much blood); and finally, the killer has bragging rights on wearing the best costume of all slasher villains (the unstoppable miner’s identity is hidden by a gas mask and he has a construction helmet complete with its own headlight). My Bloody Valentine is competently made, well shot, expertly paced and features a great cast along with some creative ways to kill them off one by one.
184. Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil
Directed by Eli Craig
Written by Morgan Jurgenson and Eli Craig
2010, Canada / USA
Genre: Horror Comedy
Backwoods horror is a sub-genre that can be safely labeled as oversaturated but Eli Craig’s twisted throwback puts a clever spin on things. Tucker & Dale unfolds not so much as a horror film but a comedy where most of the characters are convinced they are in a horror film. It’s about a case of mistaken intentions wherein our two unsuspecting hillbillies, Tucker & Dale (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) fall victim to the wild imaginations of a group of rowdy college kids. When Dale rescues one of the college co-eds from drowning, her friends mistake him for a backwoods redneck killer.
First-time director Eli Craig pulls off a good mix of splatter and laughs and helping things immensely is the fact that his two leads are perfectly cast. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine have a great rapport and the chemistry between them is outstanding. Splat-stick is hard to do right, and blood-spattered comedy is a hard sell, but their pitch-perfect comic timing is the driving force of the pic. Twisting genre conventions, Tucker and Dale finds new and innovative ways to kill off the characters and while it’s often very funny, it can also be gut-wrenching. Shot on a small budget with the Red camera in 25 days, cinematographer David Geddes provides a varied visual style while editor Bridget Durnford keeps things perfectly paced. At a lean 90-minute running time, the clever premise is played to maximum effect and the end result is an effective genre mash-up that flips stereotypes on their proverbial ear.
Directed by Gyorgy Palfi
Screenplay by Zsófia Ruttkay, Lajos Parti Nagy and Gyorgy Palfu
2006 / Hungary, Austria and France
Genre: Drama / Comedy / Horror
Taxidermia is a tough watch, but director Gyorgy Palfi has assured its cult status thanks to its many disturbing scenes of sex, violence, and body horror. The film is a perverted family saga split up into three chapters, each one symbolizing Hungarian history before, during, and after communist rule. It’s a film full of bizarre images that includes a man ejaculating into fire, a 360 degree pan of athletes vomiting into a trough, a beautifully shot scene of a rotating wooden tub that turns into a coffin and then a cradle, and a truly shocking finale that will linger in your mind for years to come. This bizarre cross-generational saga is the type of film you need to see to believe.
182. The Beyond
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti
Genre: Italian Horror / Undead
Sometimes labeled “Fulci’s masterpiece,” The Beyond is loaded with more than enough graphic gore to please the most jaded genre enthusiast. There are acid face-lifts, killer tarantulas and a scene reminiscent of Suspiria, in where a blind girl has her ear ripped off when attacked by her seeing-eye dog. The Beyond is littered with Fulci’s iconic imagery, alternating between genuine frightening moments of gore and shocks and unintentionally funny and awkward interactions between the cast of odd characters, that despite its discernible lines of logic, one can’t help but be entertained. The gore here is splattered about in high style and the Italian prog-rock soundtrack is one of the best of all the Italian horror films. You’ll love the excellent camera work by Gand Fulci, the Gothic locales, the terrific sets and the well-executed jump-scares.
181. Twins of Evil
Directed by John Hough
Screenplay by Tudor Gates
Genre: Vampires / British Horror
How does one begin to choose which of the many great Hammer films to include on this list? Twins of Evil, though a far cry from a Hammer masterpiece, manages to be one of the best from the 70’s — a decade when Hammer was quickly running out of ideas. This entry in the studio’s long-running vampire series is one of the most evocative and original of the bunch — starring voluptuous identical twins (and Playboy models) Mary and Madeline Collinson who, after their parent’s sudden and tragic death, are sent from the cultural capital of Venice to live with their oppressive uncle (Peter Cushing) in the repressive, superstitious, northern European town of Karnstein.
There’s plenty of reason to why Twins of Evil makes the cut. For starters, Peter Cushing is as good as he’s ever been as the pitiless zealot, a true believer who has clear misconceived definitions of right and wrong and would not think twice about burning innocent women at the stake if he saw fit. The images of maidens burning at the stake are horrific and made all the more effective by the men who stand by and watch because they believe they are doing the work of God. Although Cushing is known for some of the greatest performances in the genre, Twins of Evil is a rare film that asks the great actor to play more than just a one-dimensional villain or a charming hero. The scene when he is forced to make a decision on the fate of his niece is heart-breaking, especially given the clever plot twist as the count switches the twins before one is about to be burned at the stake for her supposed crimes against religion.
Brit filmmaker John Hough (Escape from Witch Mountain, The Incubus, The Legend of Hell House) directs with style and passion and many would argue that this is the best looking film in the Karnstein trilogy. Hough presents a handsome picture with moody atmosphere and dramatic images and caters to the Hammer Horror fan base by providing a spooky 17th century mood, supernatural events, and some truly shocking scenes. If you’ve never seen it, I guarantee you’ll love the costumes, setting, set design and gorgeous cinematography. Twins of Evil isn’t a perfect film but holds up better than most vampire pics, even decades after its release.
Special Mention: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Directed by Jim Sharman
Screenplay by Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman
Genre: Musical Comedy
For the unfamiliar, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the film adaptation of a popular musical stage production composed and written by Richard O’Brien, a struggling actor at the time who was best known for his performances in such musicals as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. For O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an homage to drive-in double features and science fiction B-movies of the fifties, and ironically, the film itself went on to become the ultimate midnight movie. To this day, screenings held on and around its anniversary as well as on Halloween sell out. It has never been pulled by 20th Century Fox from its original 1975 release, and it continues to play in cinemas four decades after its premiere, making it the longest-running theatrical release in film history.
Rocky Horror is a slice of unadulterated fun – but it’s also a groundbreaking and important film when taking into account its sexual themes and the relentless array of gay iconography. It’s a musical spin on Frankenstein about two clean-cut squares who never stepped outside their comfort zone until one day they happen to cross paths with Dr. Frank N. Furter and his strange circle of friends. The Rocky Horror Picture Show helped to open the conversation on issues of sexuality and gender, demonstrating that gender roles and stereotypes are socially constructed and that everyone would be happier if conformity was no longer the norm. But more than that, some would argue that the movie also addresses female empowerment. This gaudy pastiche of B-movie science fiction and horror is like no other. Everything from eccentric shooting angles, vibrant colors, cheap sets, cheap props, flamboyant costumes, and bright lighting fits perfectly with the overall tone of the film. Nearly every frame, every angle, every cut works despite the film’s many technical flaws. The set pieces are cheap, the props childish, the choreography is wonderfully out of sync — the film dialogue is clumsy and the acting is suspect, but the magic of Rocky Horror is emphasized by the fact that its creative team, writer/composer Richard O’Brien and director Jim Sharman were working on a low-budget with limited resources. They did what they could with what they had and the result is something truly special. Rocky Horror is a prime example of the right people working together at the right time and working out ways to create something without ever giving up. There had never been — and, since its release — never has been — a movie like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It isn’t something you can recreate, remake or try to imitate, although many have tried. The outrageous rock musical has become a staple of the pop culture scene and a one of a kind cult masterpiece.
180. The Children
Directed by Tom Shankland
Screenplay by Paul Andrew Williams and Tom Shankland
Genre: Killer Kids / British Horror / Holiday Horror
Many of the greatest horror films ever made revolve around the concept of killer kids (The Omen, Home Movie, The Exorcist, The Innocents and Village of the Damned), and many others take place during the holidays (Silent Night, Deadly Night, Halloween). The Children just happens to fall into each of these categories. The film is directed by Tom Shankland who also adapted the script from a story by Paul Andrew Williams, the director and writer of London to Brighton and The Cottage. Shankland delivers a simple film, with a simple set-up and a simple pay off. What’s not simple is how well he cleverly blends the two subgenres together. The Children delivers a fair share of legitimate scares, a bit of gore and some truly creepy moments while mostly avoiding genre clichés. Solid work in the departments of cinematography, editing, and score help make this one of the best horror films of the decade and a film destined to become a Brit Classic.
179. You’re Next
Directed by Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett
Genre: Home Invasion Thriller
You’re Next might be structured as a classic home-invasion horror movie, but it also comes with a number of fresh ideas, keeping viewers guessing all the way until the end. Written by Simon Barrett, this indie horror opus from director Adam Wingard is effective at keeping the atmosphere creepy and tense as we witness a group of black-clad killers in animal face masks and brandishing crossbows take a country home and its family under siege. You’re Next features a killer retro ’80s-horror synth score, a blood-soaked finale, and a superb cast that includes Larry Fessenden; Re-Animator star Barbara Crampton; prolific mumblecore filmmaker Joe Swanberg; director Ti West (House of the Devil), and Upstream Color co-star Amy Seimetz.
178. The Battery
Directed by Jeremy Gardner
Written by Jeremy Gardner
If you think you’ve seen it all — think again. The Battery breathes new life into the over-saturated zombie movie sub-genre with a whip-smart script that follows two average guys wandering the backroads of New England in the wake of a undead apocalypse. The film works best as a two-person character study and a buddy road movie, but horror aficionados will appreciate its unique slant on the undead narrative. Made with a microscopic $6000 budget, this lo-fi hipster flick is clever, honest and thoroughly engaging. There’s something to be said about a director who’s patient enough to keep his two leads confined within a small area for ten minutes while they contemplate how to survive. Blessed with a sun-drenched pastoral atmosphere, two charismatic leads, and an amazing soundtrack, The Battery introduces the world to a promising young filmmaker.
177. The House with Laughing Windows (La casadalle finestre che ridon)
Directed by Pupi Avati
Written by Pupi Avati
Genre: Italian Horror / Mystery
The House With Laughing Windows opens and ends as a meditation on suffering and art. The film begins with a series of highly disturbing images juxtaposed with the opening title cards. The first scene (which plays out in sepia tones) features a man chained, tortured and repeatedly stabbed by two hooded figures. We hear his tormented cries of pain amidst the blurry imagery, and a grating voiceover speaks: “colours, my colours, they run from my veins, colours, sweet colours.” Right from the start, it becomes clear that The House With Laughing Windows isn’t your typical Giallo. While it does feature a familiar meta-narrative with a mystery homicidal maniac stalking in the night and a half dozen or so suspects at large, the premise borrows from H.G. Lewis’s Bloodfeast and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, and follows a killer who is obsessed with capturing on canvas the reactions of people at the precise moment of their death.
The House With Laughing Windows suffers from a middle section rooted too deeply in an unconvincing love interest, but it’s the bookends that make this picture great. The intricate plot will keep you guessing until the very end, and the shocking conclusion (and I do mean shocking), will burn in your memory for a very, very, long time.
176. Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny And Girly (aka Girly)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Brian Comport
UK , 1970
Genre: Dark Comedy / Thriller
Adapted from a play written by Maisie Mosco titled Happy Family, Girly is an offbeat, low-key horror melodrama about a family of psychos who lure strangers into their home, and play twisted mind games with their playmates before murdering them. One man who has been drawn in, realizes his precarious situation, and decides to beat them at their own game and turn the various members of the family against each other.
Girly (also known as Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly) was directed by Freddie Francis, who first became famous for his work as the cinematographer on The Innocents, The Elephant Man, Dune and Cape Fear before directing such notable films as The Skull and Tales from the Crypt. Girly is one of the best and most bizarre films of the early ’70s Brit psycho-horror entries, stuffed with clever dialogue (that often rhymes), great performances, and confident direction. But Vanessa Howard steals the show as the titular character, alternating between childlike simplicity, teasing sexuality and downright crazy. Sadly she would retire from acting a few after starring in Girly. Watch for the “axe through the door scene” which predates The Shining.
175. Inside (À l’intérieur)
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
Written by Alexandre Bustillo
Genre: Slasher / French New Wave
Four months after the death of her husband, a pregnant woman is tormented by a strange woman who invades her home with the intent on killing her and taking her unborn baby. This movie is not recommended for women on the brink of motherhood. Inside is one of the most vicious and cringe-inducing horror thrillers on this list. It’s bloody, gory, unsettling and chock full of suspense. Without a doubt, Inside is the best of the French new wave of horror and a perfect film to watch on Christmas eve with a group of friends.
174. The Changeling
Directed by Peter Medak
Screenplay by William Gray
This creepy tale of horror stars George C. Scott as John Russell, a recently widowed music professor, who has moved to Seattle in the hope of forgetting his personal tragedy. Unfortunately for him, his new residence (an old home owned by the local historic society) is haunted. Although many critics consider this one of the best in the haunted house sub-genre, the film was criminally underseen when released in 1980, a time when slasher films starring young goodlooking teens were en vogue. It’s a shame because this good old fashioned ghost story is a skillfully-made thriller, one that unfolds slowly, choosing to take its time in setting up the characters before any real horror begins. This is a textbook example of how to do horror right without relying on any special effects.
Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn
Genre: Splatter / Sci-Fi Horror
This tongue-in-cheek horror flick was the first film directed by James Gunn before he went on to direct Guardians of the Galaxy. What is it about? In a nutshell, Slither is about clueless rednecks brainwashed by slimy acid spewing extraterrestrial multi-tentacle mutant slugs. The film’s aliens enter their victims through their orifices and turn them into flesh eaters who grow so morbidly obese that they literally explode.
It’s the best kind of B-horror movie — one whose laughs are just as effective and intentional as its imaginative gross-out effects, and a labor of love made by a horror aficionado who knows his shit. Along the way, he references everything from John Carpenter’s Thing to the Troma cult favourite The Toxic Avenger (spot Lloyd Kaufman’s cameo) and so much more. But more importantly, Gunn probes the genre’s cliches without ever mocking them while skillfully blending horror, action and comedy all at once.
Slither doesn’t aspire to be anything complex or high-brow; instead it is knowingly in touch with its audience. All in all, a very fine genre film, and one that deserves higher praise. Regardless if Slither is your cup of tea or not, the film is so skillfully executed, you have to admire it. Besides, what other movie would gleefully exploit Air Supply’s 1980 hit “Every Woman in the World” for such darkly comic purposes?
172. Cabin In The Woods
Directed by Drew Goddard
Screenplay by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Genre: Cabin In The Woods Horror / Comedy
The clever, high-concept Cabin In The Woods is without a doubt the best and most inventive cabin-in-the-woods picture since Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. It is also the most clever genre deconstruction since Wes Craven’s Scream. Screenwriters Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon tease us with a simple set-up, only to turn the joke upside down and on its head. Crammed with small unanticipated and unexpected incidents and comical twists, director Drew Goddard defies conventions while demonstrating a strong understanding of modern horror. With two interwoven narratives taking place at once, Goddard’s multi-layered approach is ambitious – digging deeper than a self-reflexive game of name-checking. A horror film embedded in a conspiracy flick embedded within another horror movie; Cabin in the Woods is a must see, if only for the final 20 minutes, in which all Hell breaks loose.
Directed by Brian Yuzna
Written by Rick Fry and Woody Keith
Genre: Horror Comedy / Satire / Cults
After the suspicious death of his sister’s ex-boyfriend, a teenage boy discovers the shocking reality behind the society that surrounds him. Directed by Bryan Yuzna and starring Billy Warlock, Society is a warped, mind-bending, and clever satire about paranoia, social outcasts, and the relationship between the upper and lower class. The inventive, over-the-top and utterly shocking final act–with moments of incest, insane orgies, rabid cannibalism and more–must be seen to be believed. The scene finds Billy at a large, formal party where the upper class guests engage in shunting and begin to physically deform into a writhing, liquefied mass of flesh. These rich literally feed on the poor, sucking their poor victims free of nutrients. The last ten minutes–crammed full of Screaming Mad George’s special effects–have become famous in the annals of low-budget horror. When the truth is finally revealed, Society takes body horror to an extreme level of insanity so perversely grotesque that it’s no wonder the film was shelved for years. It’s a scene you’re sure to never forget, although you may wish you could.
Special Mention: Shock Corridor
Written and directed by Samuel Fuller
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Shock Corridor stars Peter Breck as Johnny Barrett, an ambitious reporter who wants to expose a killer hiding out at the local insane asylum. In order to solve the case, he must pretend to be insane so they have him committed. Once in the asylum, Barrett sets to work, interrogating the other patients and keeping a close eye on the staff. But it’s difficult to remain a sane man living in an insane place, and the closer Barrett gets to the truth, the closer he gets to insanity.
Shock Corridor is best described as an anti-establishment drama that at times is surprisingly quite funny despite the dark material. The film deals with some timely issues of the era, specifically the atom bomb, anti-communism, and racism. It features everything from a raving female love-crazed nympho ward, a group of opera-singing psycho patients, electroshock therapy, racially-incited brawls, a classic prison-style riot and fetishism of all sorts. Fuller is at his most brutally unhinged, and Shock Corridor is his possibly his best film and an outright masterpiece. So why include it as a special mention? The final scene, without giving anything away, could very well label Shock Corridor a psychological horror film. Either way, it is an amazing movie that everyone should see and features some brilliant camera-work by Stanley Cortez, who also shot another film on this list, The Night of the Hunter.
170. Just Before Dawn
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Written by Mark Arywitz and Jeff Lieberman
Genre: Backwoods Horror
Just Before Dawn doesn’t do anything new in terms of backwoods horror slashers, but fuck is it ever good. The film is beautifully shot, competently acted — and it features great locations, a brooding atmosphere, and early work from music composer Brad Fiedel, who wrote and performed the films eerie minimalist score. It’s also deeply unsettling, and the twist ending is surprisingly effective. Just Before Dawn carefully plays with gender roles and queer stereotypes and by the time the climax rolls along, the passive, quiet good-girl-next-door type (played by Deborah Benson) is kicking ass and taking names. Lieberman cites the 1972 film Deliverance as the main influence, and calls Just Before Dawn his personal favourite of his works.
169. The Addiction
Directed by Abel Ferrra
Screenplay by Nicholas St. John
Produced by Russell Simmons, Abel Ferrara’s 1995 black and white experiment blends the urban vampire adventure with philosophical analysis. Scripted by Ferrara’s longtime collaborator Nicholas St. John, the film stars Lili Taylor as a philosophy student in New York who goes out walking one night and gets bitten by vampire Annabella Sciorra. Pretty soon she must prowl the gritty New York streets sticking homeless people with a syringe and shooting it into her veins. Later, she runs into another immortal vampire (Christopher Walken) who teaches her a painful lesson about her ever-growing addiction.
The Addiction is only superficially about vampires as it is really a meditation on human nature and its fundamental predisposition toward evil. The Holocaust, the My Lai massacre, and the philosophy of Heidegger and Nietzsche are just some of the themes and ideas addressed in the film, and these topics really do help make The Addiction an original reworking of the classical vampire mythology. Although unintentionally funny at times, the films is always entertaining and beautiful to look at. Fans of Christopher Walken will especially enjoy this.
168. Vampire Circus
Directed by Robert Young
Written by Judson Kinberg
Genre: Vampires / British Horror
By the beginning of the 1970s, British Hammer Films began to dwindle. William Hinds had retired from the company, and the studio struggled to produce successful films in the face of the shifting interests of young audiences. The post-modern movement was changing the cinematic landscape, and while the existing Dracula series continued to unleash a string of films, they were met with mostly with mixed results. So in the early 70’s filmmakers began to tweak the standard vampire mythos in strange and innovative new ways in hopes of breathing new life into the genre. One of those entries is Vampire Circus.
English filmmaker Robert Young made his directorial debut with Vampire Circus, and while it features neither Peter Cushing nor Hammer counterpart Christopher Lee, Young keeps things stylish, gory, silly and right out entertaining. Less a standard Hammer melodrama, Vampire Circus is reminiscent of Jean Rollin’s erotic vampire series with its erotically charged imagery. There’s so much sex and nudity here that one could easily label this a ’70s sexploitation film, albeit with rich subtext and multiple readings. But above all, Vampire Circus is far more violent than previous entries in the Hammer cannon. Throats are slashed, bodies are torn apart and characters have their heads blown off by shotgun blasts. Director Robert Young tosses in some striking set-pieces as well and shows a real flair for innovative kills. Along with its outlandish art direction, colourful cinematography (shot in Technicolor), lavish sets, circus freaks, and more, Vampire Circus is one of the studio’s most stylish and interesting projects. Undermentioned and underrated, Vampire Circus packs more punch than many of the other titles from the production house.
167. Attack The Block
Directed by Joe Cornish
Written by Joe Cornish
Genre: Sci-Fin Horror / British Horror
In 2011, Brit comedian Joe Cornish, previously known for TV’s The Adam and Joe Show (and its radio spinoff), surprised audiences worldwide with his low-budget directorial debut, Attack The Block. Pitched as “inner city vs. outer space,” Attack The Block turns its modest budget into a virtue by focusing on character first, and it’s here that Cornish displays his skill as a writer and director. That’s not to say that Attack doesn’t feature any thrills – the writer-director provides plenty of scares and nail-biting suspense while his motley crew of anti-heroes go from hoodrats to heroes. There’s a terrific efficiency to every scene and plenty of laughs to boot. Attack The Block never once slows down as the quintet of teens defend their tower block from an invasion of shaggy-haired aliens. But where Attack the Block excels is in the areas of sound and image. The dynamic score by Steven Price along with the drum and bass sounds from dance music duo Basement Jaxx adds a jolt of energy to every frame – and cinematographer Tom Townend makes savvy use of the urban setting as the kids dash back and forth through the projects armed with baseball bats, samurai swords, firecrackers and kitchen tools. Science-fiction movie buffs looking for a change of pace from Hollywood fare will appreciate this thoroughly entertaining and clever genre mashup. On its surface, Attack the Block is about unlikely heroes saving the world from an alien invasion, but it’s really a metaphor for all the obstacles these kids face on a daily basis. Without a doubt the most energetic film on this list, blessed with a star-making performance from John Boyega and original looking alien creatures with glow-in-the-dark teeth.
Directed by Richard Stanley
Written by Richard Stanley
Uk / USA – 1990
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Upon its initial release, Hardware was dismissed by most as a rip-off of The Terminator, but in fact, the film was actually inspired by a 2000 AD comic called SHOK! Walter’s Robo-Tale. Richard Stanley’s bizarre post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller has rightfully earned a cult following through the years and for sci-fi fans growing up in the 90s, Hardware was a hidden gem that found an audience on VHS.
The low-budget indie horror has its roots in earlier films featuring killer robots, but adds components of spaghetti westerns, 80′s slashers, and even ’70s exploitation cinema – and the bag of influences results in a film which is, in many ways, very original. Stanley stretches his shoestring budget to impressive lengths, creating a despairing, barren future under blood-red skies, radiation clouds and desert wastelands. Despite being restricted by financial realities, Hardware still remains one of the most stylized science fiction film films of all time. Stanley’s retro-futuristic set design takes some visual and thematic cues from the films of James Cameron and Ridley Scott but incorporates colour schemes that mirror Giallo films of the 1970’s. Composer Simon Boswell does an admirable job providing a churlish mood with his synth guitar solos, and the soundtrack became a personal favourite amongst the industrial and metal music scene, with music by Iggy Pop, Motörhead, Ministry and Public Image Limited. Also worth noting was the guest appearances by Lemmy (of Motörhead) as a taxi driver, Carl McCoy (of Fields of the Nephilim) as a zone tripper, and Iggy Pop as Angry Bob, a radio personality. Hardware sees a society under Big Brother surveillance and population control and amidst the violence and chaos, it features some social and biblical commentary. This is a movie about man and machine in a time where it’s difficult to tell the two apart.
Fans of sci-fi action will admire Stanley’s cyberpunk thriller. He delivers an action-packed, thought-provoking and quite disturbing thrill ride with the American flag painted on its killer android and a hero sporting a duster, a robotic hand and a sawed off shotgun.
165. Who Can Kill A Child? (Island of the Damned)
Directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Written by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Genre: Killer Kids
Narciso Ibañez Serrador’s 1976 cult classic Who Can Kill a Child?, which was adapted from Juan Jose Plans’s novel, is arguably one of the best Spanish horror films ever made. Due to haphazard distribution and the studio constantly changing the title (including Island of the Damned and Death is Child’s Play), Serrador’s film barely surfaced but despite the limited exposure, the film eventually found a devoted following. Horror aficionados passed around bootleg VHS copies and occasionally the film would appear on late night television until it would receive an uncut release on DVD in 2007.
Working from the template established by George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Who Can Kill A Child takes place in a remote Spanish island where children who are afflicted by a kind of supernatural plague begin to kill the entire adult population. Replace the flesh-eating walking dead with killer kids, and the result is genuinely unsettling.
164. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Una lucertola con la pelle di donna)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Lucio Fulci
After the success of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the Italian film industry set out to produce a slate of thrillers with animal-related titles. One of the first was Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Despite its Giallo status, Fulci’s film is a different beast from those made by his colleagues, and earned a reputation as one of Fulci’s finest works, though its climax falls somewhat short. The strength of the movie (as with most Giallos) lies in the visuals. Fulci’s innovative camera work helps reinforce the sense of illusion throughout, and Ennio Morricone’s score complements the picture’s strange mood perfectly. The highlight of the film is an 11-minute nerve-wracking chase sequence through the catacombs of a church, ending with a bloody rooftop encounter. At times it’s a bit slow, but Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a unique and wild experience. Keep an eye out for the obvious ripoff/homage of Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Directed by James Wan
Written by Leigh Whannell
Genre: Extreme Horror
James Wan’s indie horror Saw was shot in less the three weeks for a miniscule budget, but became a huge box office success and introduced a new iconic villain, Jigsaw, to the world of horror. Many like to classify Saw as torture porn, but as writer Luke Y. Thompson of OC Weekly argued, unlike Hostel, Saw actually has less torture than most in the sense of sadism or masochism, as Jigsaw believes that those who survive his methods will be stronger people for it. He called him a kind of a (deranged) philanthropist. Saw is twisted, constantly surprising, unbelievably tense and features one of the best endings of any horror film to date.
162. The Reflecting Skin
Directed by Philip Ridley
Written by Philip Ridley
Genre: Mystery / Vampires
The Reflecting Skin is not your average vampire movie. This independent feature was the directorial debut of Philip Ridley, a British painter-illustrator-novelist who had supplied the script to Peter Medek’s mesmerizing 1990 gangster film The Krays. The Reflecting Skin was celebrated as one of the unique films of its year and received a good deal of favorable reviews. Part horror story and part coming of age tale, The Reflecting Skin is a true American Gothic, shot from the point of view of an impressionable young boy named Seth and crammed with twisted religious symbolism. Ridley is said to have conceived The Reflecting Skin at a time in his life when he was reading Alice in Wonderland and studying the paintings by Andrew Wyeth. The influence of Lewis Carroll is evident with its hyper-imaginative child roaming about what appears to be a dark fairy tale; meanwhile Wyeth is even more apparent with the overall aesthetic. The Reflecting Skin is many things, and one of the most beautiful and most intriguing films of the 1990’s thanks to the stunning cinematography from the legendary Dick Pope. The breathtakingly blue skies, majestic shots of golden wheat fields and beautiful landscapes are a strong contrast to the universally bleak story.
The film seems relentlessly pessimistic and offers absolutely no hope or any sort of happiness for Seth and his family. It appears to be a film about the trauma of growing up, and more importantly, growing up with a dysfunctional family that is haunted by their past, and Ridley fills each frame with metaphors that boil just below the surface. But what it all means is left for the viewer to decide. I believe The Reflecting Skin argues that we are all vampires, sucking the life out of from one another, day to day. In the final reel, Seth is seen running as fast as he can through the golden fields. It soon becomes evident that no matter how fast he runs, Seth has nowhere to go. You can’t escape death, and in the end, we are all just rotting away.
161. Berberian Sound Studio
Directed by Peter Strickland
Written by Peter Strickland
Genre: Psychological Thriller
British filmmaker Peter Strickland’s sophomore effort is many things: a sly deconstruction of 1970s hallucinatory Grand Guignol cinema, an audio geek’s wet dream celebrating the art of foley magic, a stylistic tour de force, and a blend of comedy and horror with a Lynchian twist. Strickland’s meta-horror film begins as a dream before spiraling into a nightmare of sorts. Set entirely in the offices of a sleazy Italian film company in the 1970s, a British sound technician, played to perfection by Toby Jones, travels to Italy to work on the sound effects for a gruesome blood-soaked Giallo film called The Equestrian Vortex. His nightmarish task slowly takes over his psyche as Gilderoy is unable to distinguish between the perverse fantasies of the film he is working on and so-called reality. As things get increasingly, insanely bizarre, a pervasive mood of exploitation and corruption seeps through every frame.
Berberian Sound Studio reminds us of the power of sound over the visual image, and can surely join the ranks of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Brian DePalma’s Blow Out as a fully absorbing appreciation of sound design. Although shot on a limited budget, the detail in this film is exquisite. Cinematographer Nic Knowland’s dreamlike imagery is mesmerizing and the Goblin-esque music from a fake band called Hypnotera is terrifying.
Special Mention: Battle Royale
Written and directed by Kinji Fukasaku
The concept of The Hunger Games owes much to Koushun Takami’s cult novel Battle Royale, adapted for the cinema in 2000 by Kinji Fukasaku. The film is set in a dystopian alternate-universe, in Japan, with the nation utterly collapsed, leaving 15 percent unemployed and 800,000 students boycotting school. The government passes something called the Millennium Educational Reform Act, which apparently provides for a class of ninth-graders to be chosen each year and pitted against one another on a remote island for 3 days. Each student is given a bag with a randomly selected weapon and a few rations of food and water, and sent off to kill each other in a no-holds-barred fight to the death. With 48 contestants, only one will go home alive. Yes, this has been often cited as the original Hunger Games; whether or not Suzanne Collins borrowed heavily from Fukasaku’s near-masterpiece or the novel is ultimately unknown. In the end, it doesn’t matter since art has always imitated art. The fact is, both films share the same premise but stand at opposite ends in tone, style, genre, and narrative shape.
Battle Royale is part exploitation, part teen angst drama, part black comedy, and part survival thriller. This is about as bleak and cruel as they come, but it remains endlessly entertaining. Fukasaku’s direction is far from subtle, but like all great films, Battle Royale has something to say. This is a harsh critique and a darkly funny satire of a wide array of elements of modern Japanese society. Think of it as a cross between reality TV with Lord of the Flies. The targets of satire vary: there is the unsettling social commentary on our tolerance for violence and thoughtless self-preservation, Japan’s obsession with authority and obedience, how adults place far too much pressure on their children’s educational achievements and the obsession with violent video games and anime. But put aside the social commentary: Battle Royale is downright cartoonish, hilarious, and exciting. Even during the deliberately provocative violent teen-hunts, Fukasaku maintains the right tone, never slipping into seriousness or preachiness.
Battle Royale aroused international controversy and was either banned or excluded from distribution in many countries, yet it became a domestic blockbuster and is one of the 10-highest grossing films in Japan. It received near-universal acclaim and gained further notoriety when Quentin Tarantino was quoted as saying he wished he had directed the movie himself.
160. Janghwa, Hongryeo (A Tale of Two Sisters)
Directed by Ji-woon Kim
Written by Ji-woon Kim
South Korea, 2003
Inspired by a Korean legend, A Tale of Two Sisters is about a pair of siblings who, after being committed to a mental institution, return home to their father and cruel stepmother. Things go bump in the night, shadows move mysteriously across the walls, ghosts spring out of dark corners and strange and creepy items mysteriously turn up. Kim weaves these clichés into effectively nerve-wracking set pieces thanks partially to his framing and sinister score. Although his third feature, A Tale of Two Sisters was a career-making film for Ji-woon Kim, and well worth seeking out for it’s precise direction, startling twists and overwhelming suspense. There are moments that recall Kubrick’s The Shining and scenes that are clearly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock ‘s work — but A Tale of Two Sisters finds it’s own identity with clever direction and an ambiguous script. In the end, it is left deliberately unclear if the unpleasant and inexplicable events that unfold in the family’s dark labyrinth of a house are real or imagined by the girls. Whatever the case, A Tale of Two Sisters is about grief and guilt, as much as it is about horror.
159. El día de la bestia (The Day of the Beast)
Directed by Álex de la Iglesia
Written by Jorge Guerricaechevarría and Álex de la Iglesia
Genre: Demonic Possession
Considered one of Spain’s hottest directors in the late 1990s, Alex de la Iglesia hasn’t slowed down one bit over time. He’s continuously directed genre-bending, imaginative films, laced with black humour and often sharp satire for over two decades. His tongue-in-cheek sci-fi thriller The Day of the Beast won no fewer than six of the Oscar equivalent, the Goyas. Best described as a comic precursor to End of Days, The Day of the Beast follows a Catholic priest and professor of theology (Alex Angulo) who tries to thwart the coming of Satan on Christmas Eve. In a rather slapdash manner, he befriends a metalhead record store clerk (Santiago Segura) and the host of a paranormal-themed TV talk show (Armando DeRazza) to help him on his quest. Convinced that Satan’s spawn will be born somewhere in Madrid, Father Angel sets out into the streets, conducting acts of evil, to earn his way into the Devil’s inner circle, and to destroy Satan himself.
This ambitious horror film has garnered a sizeable cult following over the years, and with good reason. Comprised of equal parts high-concept horror and scathing social satire, The Day of the Beast remains the director’s finest work to date – and the best holiday horror film ever made. It was a box office smash in Spain and earned de la Iglesia the gig to direct the sequel to Wild At Heart, titled Perdita Durango. Much like the director’s peer and former collaborator Pedro Almodovar, de la Iglesia throws in a tidal wave of black comedy. While the film is rife with violence and profanity, Day is fuelled by de la Iglesia’s fast-paced slapstick sensibilities – and brought to life by the incredible performances from his cast. De la Iglesia borrows from Russ Meyer, The Exorcist, Network, H.P. Lovecraft, Larry Cohen, and Sam Raimi, to name a few, but his style isn’t all homage; the genre of Biblical prophecies concerning themselves with The Book of Revelations, the Anti-Christ, The Rapture and the Number of the Beast, has never looked so fresh. The Day of the Beast is one of the most original horror films made in the past 30 years and after 104 minutes of de la Iglesia’s mayhem, you’ll be wishing for more. Day moves at a fast pace, and every frame is used to maximum effect – every character, gag, line of dialogue, prop and location serves to move the plot forward. And boy does de la Iglesia push forward, despite the limited budget. Delirious, demented and diabolically funny, The Day of the Beast is essential viewing.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
M. Night Shyamalan’s ominous alien-visitation thriller is set in the clear-skied American Gothic farmlands of Bucks County, Pennsylvania and focuses on Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a widowed father and former reverend, and the family patriarch at the center of the story. The sudden death of Graham’s wife has triggered a loss of faith in the preacher, who has left his parish and hung up his clerical apparel. When mysterious crop circles appear on the family farm, echoing frightening events on their television screen, Graham questions his lack of faith and is tested in his journey to find the truth behind the mystery unfolding.
Clearly influenced by Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock, Shyamalan creates a sense of pace, atmosphere, and mood that is near-flawless (until maybe the last reel). The first hour is all about eerie suggestion and ominous disquiet, and like The Sixth Sense, Signs forces you to watch carefully in anticipation and dread. Shyamalan has tricks up his sleeve, but he’s not interested in providing the sort of twist ending he’s become famous for. The script is clever, drawing a parallel between faith in God and the belief in intelligent alien life forms, and so despite its supernatural elements, Signs, is really a story of faith masquerading as a thriller. It’s a deeply serious film with a healthy dose of humor, but it’s also incredibly unsettling at times and is guaranteed to make you jump and scream at least twice.
157. The Mist
Directed by Frank Darabont
Written by Frank Darabont
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
There is no other director that has had more success in adapting the work of writer Stephen King than Frank Darabont. Along with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, The Mist is the director’s third film based on King’s work, and while not the best, it is my personal favourite. Darabont successfully taps into the heart of King’s dark, twisted story, and keeps it pumping until the very end. The film is dark, tense and keep viewers on edge — but it isn’t the creatures that makes The Mist a terrifying experience. Instead, The Mist strives to be more about the conflict surrounding the townspeople trapped in a local grocery store by the strange, otherworldly force. The film also features one of the ballsiest endings in a mainstream horror film. You’ll either hate it or love it.
The two-disc special edition DVD of The Mist contains the entire film in black-and-white, which has been unofficially deemed the “director’s cut” of the film. This is the version I recommend watching if you can.
156. The Tenant
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Gérard Brach and Roman Polanski
Le Locataire (The Tenant) is the final film in Polanski’s unofficial ‘Apartment Trilogy’ following Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. Polanski stars as Trelkovsky, a Polish-born French citizen who moves into a spooky apartment whose previous tenant (a beautiful young woman) committed suicide. His neighbours eye him with suspicious dislike and over the course of the film, Trelkovsky becomes increasingly paranoid believing that the other tenants are engaged in a conspiracy to drive him to suicide. The Tenant was poorly received on its release and even today it is still overshadowed by Polanski’s more famous efforts, but the film is a perfectly crafted paranoid nightmare about a man’s loss of identity and descent into madness. Polanski expertly places viewers in the head of Trelkovsky in the same way that he placed us inside Catherine Deneuve’s mind in Repulsion and the result is often maddening. The Tenant is often described as a cross between Franz Kafka and William Castle, and if that isn’t enough to sell you, the shocking twist ending will leave you with plenty to discuss after the credits role.
155. Night Of The Creeps
Directed by Fred Dekker
Screenplay by Fred Dekker
Genre: Horror Comedy
The debut feature by writer/director Fred Dekker is notable as an earnest attempt at a B-movie and a throwback to the genre. Paying tribute to everything from subplots, themes and to the filmmakers that created them, Night offers alien parasites, zombies, extra-terrestrials, a sorority house, Prom Night and a 50′s opening prologue involving an axe murder. Dekker goes so far as to pay tribute to his idols by naming every character after a famous filmmaker. There is the love interest, Cynthia Cronenberg, a police sergeant named Raimi, three other characters named Miller, Carpenter, Landis and of course, Detective Cameron, played by Tom Atkins. Atkins steals the show, delivering the film’s most memorable lines including the classic: ‘I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.’ He perfectly embodies the hardboiled detective – worn out, all attitude, sarcastic and tough as nails. Jason Lively’s likable lead Chris Romero, and Steve Marshall, his sidekick J.C. (James Carpenter) share some sharp and witty dialogue and work well off each other, particularly in a couple of scenes that prove quite unexpected and touching (one involving a message on a tape recorder).
Working on a shoestring budget, Dekker and award-winning make-up artist David Miller (Thriller music video) manage to deliver some quality effects and enough gore and blood to please horror aficionados. Visually, the film is a treat, from the opening grainy black and white photography to the vintage ’80s neon colors to the long tracking shots and the nostalgic period detail. Although never considered a genuinely scary horror film, Night of the Creeps was a film that caught attention for its original screenplay, special effects and it’s campiness. Dekker succeeded in making a horror movie that has it all: a dash of romance, scares, lighthearted comedy, nostalgia, camp, a touch of drama and a bit of gore.
Directed by Sion Son
Screenplay by Sion Son
Genre: Spatter – Japanese Extreme
Japanese cinema is alive and well thanks to directors like Sion Sono, the non-conformist genius who somehow releases up to six movies a year — most of which are worthy of praise. Sono is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today and Tag just might be his most subversively surrealistic and violent work to date. Undertaking his own adaptation of the novel Riaru Oni Gokko, Sono adds his own twist to the manhunt by removing man from the hunt.
In Sono’s film Japanese high school girls find themselves targeted by an invisible supernatural force – that slowly slaughters the girls in the most gruesome of ways imaginable. Tag is bound to anger the more sensitive viewers with its visual and narrative debauchery, but there’s a reason the first male doesn’t appear onscreen until halfway through the film, and more reason why some men are seen wearing pig masks. Equal parts exploitation and pro-feminist action-fantasy, Sono walks an extremely thin line here, but thankfully he succeeds in spades. It’s perfectly legitimate to read Tag as a feminist film in which three versions of a Japanese woman kicks ass while she survives a plethora of horrors in what is essentially one 85-minute long extremely horrifying chase. Though the film is incredibly bloody and graphically violent through to the end, Sono more or less hammers home the message, while always keeping Tag joyously entertaining. The opening scene is a masterclass of nail-biting suspense and the twisted ending will call to mind the mindfucking narratives of David Lynch.
153. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Directed by John D. Hancock
Written by John D. Hancock and Lee Kalcheim
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is an overlooked, extremely eerie low-budget chiller, and one of the finest horror pictures of the 1970s. Director John D. Hancock is more content with examining the pure madness of the human psyche than he is with bloodshed or cheap shocks and thrills. The more somber, subdued approach may disappoint many, but patient moviegoers will find themselves rewarded with the smart direction and slow-burning tension. Like its central protagonist, it is a movie that remains extremely ambiguous. Is Jessica just outright insane or is there something more sinister at work in the small country town?
152. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay by James V. Hart
A blockbuster retelling of the legendary tale, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is Francis Ford Coppola’s erotic, blood-soaked feast, and his last great movie (although I really like Tetro). Here, Count Dracula is played masterfully by an irresistible Gary Oldman and the eccentric Professor Van Helsing is played by none other than Anthony Hopkins. Oldman’s Dracula comes in all shapes and sizes including a menacing old Count, a wolf, as mist, as a younger version of himself and even the devil himself. Meanwhile, Tom Waits also makes a scene-stealing appearance as the lunatic R.M. Renfield, the solicitor who travels to Transylvania and slowly loses his mind while obtaining an insatiable appetite for maggots and flies. The casting alone (even if Keanu isn’t great) is worth the price of admission, and we are also treated to some of the best art direction, cinematography and effects in any horror film. Just the fact that Coppola opted to do all the visual effects in-camera, utilizing shadow puppets, smoke machines, miniature sets, and other classic tricks of the trade, is more reason to see this. Shot almost entirely on sound stages, the film has the feel of an old-fashioned, 1930s, studio production and Thomas Sanders’ production design, Michael Ballhaus’ lensing, Michele Burke’s makeup, and the old school special effects all help make this one of the most stunning features on this list. I especially love how Dracula’s shadow moves about independent of its owner!
151. I Saw The Devil
Directed by Yet, Kim Ji-woon
2009, South Korea
Genre: Serial Killer / Thriller
Korea has produced some of the greatest entries in the serial killer sub-genre over the past ten years, with Memories of Murder and The Chaser being the two prime examples. Kim Ji-woon’s latest epic I Saw the Devil, starring award-winning actors Lee Byung-hun (The Good, The Bad, The Weird) and Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) in the lead roles, clearly sets a new benchmark with its exceptionally graphic violence. The film had to undergo extensive re-editing before its premiere in order to get a theatrical release in Korea. The result is still a shockingly violent, disturbing, dark, brutal and painful film, that pushes the concept of revenge to some extreme limits.
Korean genre master Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters) has once again proven the versatility of his talent, effortlessly switching genres to craft a uniquely terrifying experience. Part police procedural and part serial killer, Kim finds surprising and exciting new ways to tell his story. As a crafty thriller and as a brutal horror film, I Saw The Devil will surely become a staple of late night festival strands.
In attempting to sidestep the conventional revenge story, Kim delivers a story of a once-good man taking his revenge while examining the effect it has on him. But the difference here is that our protagonist allows the serial killer to escape so he can find him again and repeat the punishment. The second aspect that makes Devil so unique is how it shows the perspective of the serial killer as both predator and prey. The hunter becomes the hunted, reverts to the hunter, and back again. It’s an increasingly bizarre and twisted game of cat-and-mouse that spins out of control, resulting in a series of blood-thirsty showdowns. As expected, I Saw The Devil shows all the hallmarks of the South Korean filmmaker: gorgeous camera work, whip-smart editorial control, several intriguing set pieces, beautiful cinematography, a brooding atmosphere, a nerve-wracking score set to maximum, some surprisingly interesting narrative twists, and stunning lead performances. The direction, writing, production, editing, music and acting are all top-notch. Devil also features what is possibly the best scene from any film released in 2009, which involves a cab driver and two homicidal maniacs. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I will say that the choreography in this one scene alone is ingenious both in the camera work and in the execution of the actors spiraling out of control.
In between moments of chisel-hacking horror, there is some impressively dark humour and top-notch acting. But be warned: even by Asian extreme standards, Kim Ji-woon’s I Saw the Devil is exceptionally graphic. Rape, decapitation/dismemberment, and cannibalism are all shown with glee, and blood and gore populate the frames.