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31 Days of Horror: 100 Greatest Horror Films: Top 50

Shock Corridor

Every year, we here at Sound On Sight celebrate the month of October with 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, making minor alterations, changing the rankings, adding new entries, and possibly removing a few titles. I’ve also decided to publish each post backwards this time for one reason: the new additions appear lower on my list, whereas my top 50 haven’t changed much, except for maybe in ranking. I am including documentaries, short films and mini series, only as special mentions – along with a few features that can qualify as horror, but barely do. 


Special Mention:

Shock Corridor
Written and directed by Samuel Fuller
USA, 1963

Shock Corridor stars Peter Breck as Johnny Barrett, an ambitious reporter who wants to expose the killer at the local insane asylum. 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 quite funny. The film deals with some timely issues of the era it was made in, specifically the atom bomb, anti-communism, and racism, and it can be dissected and discussed at various levels: psychological, sociological, and symbolic. It features everything from a raving female love-crazed nympho ward, opera-singing psycho patients, fetishism of all sorts, electroshock therapy, racially-incited brawls, and classic prison-style riots.

So why it 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 film that everyone should see and features some brilliant camera-work by Stanley Cortez, who also shot another film featured on this list, The Night of the Hunter.


50. The Last Wave
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Tony Morphett and Peter Weir
Australia, 1977

The tagline reads, “The Occult Forces. The Ritual Murder. The Sinister Storms. The Prophetic Dreams. The Last Wave.”

Peter Weir follows up on his critically acclaimed masterpiece Picnic at Hanging Rock with this visually striking and totally engrossing surrealist psychological thriller. Much like Picnic, The Last Wave is built around a mystery that may have a supernatural explanation. And like many Peter Weir movies, The Last Wave explores the conflict between two radically different cultures; in this case, that of Aboriginal Australians and the white Europeans.

It is about a white lawyer, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), whose seemingly normal life is rattled after he takes on a pro bono legal aid case to defend a group of Aborigines from a murder charge in Sydney. The mystery within the mystery surrounding the death leads the story down a rainstorm of apocalyptic proportions. Neither Picnic at Hanging Rock nor The Last Wave feature a conventional ending and truth be told, The Last Wave’s ending can be a dealbreaker for some. Unlike Picnic, which lends itself to multiple interpretations, The Last Wave seems to offer only one possible explanation in the end. Still, the film is an interesting mixture of dreams and reality – of occult tribal rituals and of modern-day society – and of mental telepathy.  


49. Daughter of Darkness (Les lèvres rouges)
Written and directed by Harry Kümel
Belgium, 1971

Belgium’s premier horror filmmaker Harry Kümel directs this lesbian-themed vintage vampire flick starring Delphine Seyrig. Having appeared in a number of art-house hits, including Alain Resnais’ masterpiece Last Year At Marienbad, Seyrig stars as the Countess, a character based, in part, on Elizabeth Báthory, labelled the most prolific female serial killer in history, who bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth. If anything, her performance is reason enough to see this movie. Seyrig evokes a sense of twisted, evil aristocracy that projects instant credibility, and her presence leaves a lasting impression.

Best described as a European art-house film that sways far away from the traditional vampire movie (the word “vampire” is never once mentioned), the film boasts bold strokes of atmosphere and psycho-sexuality. Cinematographer Eduard van der Enden, who shot Jacques Tati’s Trafic, infuses the film’s imagery with a pervading sense of the modern gothic. Daughters of Darkness is lit with the most gorgeous colour palettes and even the setting, which takes place in a deserted out-of-season Belgian resort, predates The Shining.

Daughter of Darkness is, unlike other lesbian vampire films, subdued rather than exploitative. Unlike most entries in the genre, Daughters of Darkness is not only worth watching, but worth revisiting.


48. Eraserhead
Written and directed by David Lynch
USA, 1977

Filmed intermittently over the course of a 5-year period, David Lynch’s radical feature debut mixes Gothic horror, a pounding score, surrealism and darkly expressionist mise-en-scène to create a bizarre and disturbing look into a man’s fear of parenthood. Or maybe not. Lynch claims that not one critic has come close to his own interpretation of his film. In 2004, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Lynch has called it a “dream of dark and troubling things” and his “most spiritual movie.” First shown at Filmex 1977, the movie was not widely seen until 1978, when it ran for years as a midnight attraction at Greenwich Village’s Waverly Theatre. It is known, alongside El Topo, Pink Flamingos and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as one of the first true midnight movies.


47. Suspiria
Director: Dario Argento
Written by Daria Nicolodi and Dario Argento
Italy, 1977

The king of Italian horror, Dario Argento, directs what many consider to be his masterpiece. Suspiria is one of the most important and influential genre movies ever made, and essential viewing for all horror fans. Suspiria’s overall charm resides in its technical triumphs and visual style. Taking his cues from Mario Bava, Argento, together with his director of photography Luciano Tovoli, creates a vibrant, colorful film apart from the standards of the genre. Argento’s masterful use of intense primary colours (he acquired 1950s Technicolor stock to get the effect) and stunning set designs gives the whole film a hallucinatory intensity. The dissonant, throbbing score, composed by Argento and performed by his frequent collaborators, Italian rock band Goblin, drives the picture with the occasional distorted shriek of “Witch!” A strange combination of the arthouse and horror film, Suspiria, although cited as one of the scariest movies ever made is, ironically, one of Argento’s least violent films. It relies more on tone and atmosphere than on blood and gore. Surreal and frightening, Suspiria still shocks audiences decades after its original release.

Deep Red

46. Deep Red (Profondo rosso) (The Hatchet Murders)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Bernardino Zapponi
Italy, 1975

Many will argue Suspiria is Argento’s full-fledged masterpiece, but Deep Red is a slightly better film. The alluring David Hemmings steals much of the show as a music teacher who investigates a series of murders performed by a mysterious figure wielding a hatchet. Argento’s trademarks are all visible here in copious amounts; every elaborate stylistic choice he would carry on for the remainder of his career is present and accounted for. From a technical standpoint, Deep Red is a masterwork, featuring stunning cinematography and a superb, jazzy score by Argento’s band Goblin. But the film also excels where most Giallos fall short: it carries an engaging narrative heightened by an unpredictable course of events and a truly surprising twist ending. Deep Red is one of the most distinct-sounding and looking horror films of the 70s and undoubtedly Argento’s finest picture.


45. King Kong
Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose
USA, 1933

The grand-daddy of all monster movies is arguable 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 and the title character, along with Fay Wray, captivated audiences of all ages worldwide. Kong is structured around the classic and familiar theme of Beauty and the Beast, but it is also a movie about making movies. In fact, this movie works as a meta-commentary. 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 it won’t.


44. Alucarda, La Hija De Las Tinieblas / Innocents From Hell
Directed by Juan López Moctezuma
Written by Alexis Arroyo and Juan López Moctezuma
Spain, 1978

Part nunsploitation, part possession/Satanism movie, and part vampire flick, Alucarda (“a Dracula” spelled backwards) finds satanic going-ons in a convent after orphan Justine is seduced by another orphan named Alucarda. Director Juan López Moctezuma came along during the new wave of 70s Mexican genre pics that expressed radical and subversive views. Alucarda never received much attention from critics nor audiences, but over the years became something of an underground cult classic. Moctezuma (who also produced Jodorowsky’s El Topo and Fando Y Lis) was an important intellectual figure in Mexico in the 50s, 60s,and 70s, and his three horror films (which also includes Mansion of Madness, and the American co-production Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary) were all distinctive works. The film was independently financed outside of the Mexican mainstream industry and was shot with an English-speaking cast. The set design and art direction is stunning as well as Xavier Cruz’s cinematography, and the gruelling exorcism conclusion to Alucarda reminds one of the final scene in Brian De Palma’s Carrie. While it is not widely known by many cinephiles, many fans who have seen it, consider it an unrecognized gem. Seriously, this movie is batshit crazy and a must see!


43. Dead Alive (Braindead)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Stephen Sinclair
New Zealand, 1992

New Zealand’s wunderkind and enfant terrible Peter Jackson made his big splash on the cult-movie scene with Dead Alive. Originally released as Braindead, Dead Alive is the godfather of Kiwi gore and the magnum opus of Jackson’s early career. Jackson’s second feature achieved truly remarkable heights: not only does it eclipse the gross-out quotient of his low-budget-shocker-debut Bad Taste, but of any movie ever made before or since. The finale is the greatest gore-fest ever put on celluloid, using 300 litres of fake blood pumped at five gallons per second. Tim Balme wades into battle with a bone-grinding lawnmower, taking out every zombie in sight and drenching an entire living room in showers of blood. The film is a work of both a perverse genius, and a hopeless romantic. Yes, guts fly, heads rolls and blood spills, but amidst all the carnage, Braindead is really just a sweet story of innocent love set against a tale of suppression. After annihilating every other zombie at the party, Lionel watches his overbearing mother erupt into an enormous blob-of-a-beast who pulls her son back into her womb. Lionel must fight his way back out, this time separating the umbilical chord once and for all.

Love Hate Night of the Hunter

42. Night Of The Hunter
Directed by Charles Laughton
Written by James Agee
USA, 1955

This American Gothic, Biblical tale of greed, innocence, seduction and murder is based on the popular, best-selling 1953 Depression-era novel of the same name by first-time writer Davis Grubb – and adapted for the screen by famed writer-author James Agee. Actor-turned director Charles Laughton unfortunately never made another film, even though he demonstrated such promise and skill for a first time filmmaker. With Night of the Hunter, Laughton took many risks – the film was shot in only 36 days – in black and white when colour was the new craze – and in standard ratio when theatres were beginning to show Cinemascope. The film did poorly at the box office and critics were extremely harsh in their reviews. Nevertheless, the film has found a wider audience over the years, and Robert Mitchum’s performance, in particular, has been praised and cited as one of cinema’s greatest villains. Mitchum stars as Harry Powell, a pedophile, self-appointed preacher-turned-serial killer, who carries a switchblade and has “HATE” and “LOVE” tattooed on the knuckles of either fist. Mitchum’s portrayal of the obsessive, sexually repressed misogynous maniac is often compared to Joseph Cotton’s performance in Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt. Both men are sleek monsters, but Mitchum’s Powell has a slight edge delivering one of the most chilling vocal performances ever put on film: his terrifying religious anthem “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm” will make the hairs behind your neck stand up. The Night of the Hunter is truly a compelling and haunting masterpiece and one of the greatest American films of all time; Experimental, sophisticated, avante garde, dream-like, expressive and truly, a one of a kind.


41. Silence Of The Lambs
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Ted Tally
USA, 1991

Though Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the brilliant sociopath has always been the film’s calling card, his performance pales in comparison to Brian Cox’s less-celebrated Lecter from Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Foster’s Clarice Starling, on the other hand, deserves all the praise. She is the true star of the film, elevating The Silence Of The Lambs to greatness. To track Buffalo Bill, Clarice has to get inside Lecter’s mind; to catch a psychopath you have to be able to think like a psychopath, but in return, she must allow Lecter into her mind as well. What starts as a few effortless mind games quickly spirals into a fascinating back-and-forth game of chess, and mutual need. In Silence, it is a woman who is the hero and pursuer rather than the victim, and the pursued, a rarity in the genre. Clarice’s vulnerability and determination make her a winning combination and the spellbinding time spent between her and Hopkins is genuinely riveting. Hopkins is no doubt still a blast to watch, but it’s entirely to Foster’s credit that she holds her own during scenes of spine-chilling chatter.

Based on the novel of the same name, The Silence of the Lambs grossed over $272 million and is one of the few movies to score Oscars in all five major categories: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Silence is a smart, taut thriller and features one of the most memorable prison break sequences. This is no doubt Jonathan Demme’s best film.


40. Donnie Darko
Written and directed by Richard Kelly
USA, 2001

Although Donnie Darko was removed from the big screen after a few weeks, it never disappeared, finding its audience on home video and at midnight screenings. Recurrent chats on the Internet indicated a rapidly growing fan base for the movie, as people in and out of the industry just couldn’t stop talking about it. It became a cult film in the truest sense of the term and its audience base continues to grow. No other movie (post-1989) is able to capture that late ’80s feel with such accuracy and as a result, Donnie Darko already seems nostalgic. Darko is a movie that demands to be explored, analyzed, and debated among its aficionados. There is little doubt that this movie is open to interpretation but regardless, it can be enjoyed by just about anyone, even if you walk away clueless as to what it is about.


39: Gojira (Godzilla)
Written and directed by Ishirô Honda
Japan, 1954

Ishiro Honda’s grim, black-and-white post-Hiroshima nightmare stands the test of time. This allegory for the devastation wrought on Japan by the atomic bomb is quite simply a powerful statement about mankind’s insistence to continue to destroy everyone and everything the surrounds us. With just one shot (a single pan across the ruins of Tokyo), Honda manages to express the devastation that Godzilla represents. Since its debut, Godzilla has become a worldwide cultural icon, but very little is said about actor Takashi Shimura, who adds great depth as Dr. Yamane; his performance is stunning. Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya originally wanted to use classic stop-motion animation to portray Godzilla, but time and budget limitations forced him to dress actors up in monster suits. Despite this minor setback, Tsuburaya’s scale sets of Tokyo are crafted with such great attention to detail, that in some scenes they don’t even appear to be effects. The film spawned 27 sequels (and counting), inspired countless ripoffs, imitations, parodies, homages, video games, comic books, cartoons, a series of novels for young adults, an American remake and even an American reboot, soon to be released.


38: Videodrome
Written and directed by David Cronenberg
Canada, 1983

Like all of Cronenberg’s films, Videodrome works on several levels: It is a morality tale, a neo-noir, and a virtual reality sci-fi horror film about a sleazy cable TV producer who’s searching for perverse sexual content to boost the ratings on his TV cable network. Videodrome has a lot to say about the danger of media overexposure and its effect within. Cronenberg views how people are not only influenced by media but how they can also become addicted to it. In a way, Videodrome foretold of popular reality TV shows that would emerge a decade later. The film was so ahead of its time, it even predates The Matrix in its exploration of a flesh-and-blood world merging with cyberspace. And while Cronenberg’s obsession with the relationship between machinery and man reappears in several of his films, Videodrome is a bit more raunchy, walking a fine line between pornography and sadomasochism. Videodrome might just be Cronenberg’s most visionary and audacious film of his early career, and in hindsight, it might just very well be his best. This is a remarkable film that continues to be debated and analyzed, and one of the smartest and most bizarre films ever produced.

Dead Ringers

37.Dead Ringers
Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by David Cronenberg and Norman Snider
Canada, 1988

Dead Ringers is arguably David Cronenberg’s masterpiece, and Jeremy Irons gives the most highly accomplished performance of his entire career – times two. This is the story of Beverly and Elliot Mantle (both played by Irons), identical twins who, since birth, have been inseparable. Together, they work as gynaecologists in their own clinic, and literally share everything between them including the women they work and sleep with. Jealousy comes between the two when Beverly falls in love with a new patient and decides he no longer wants to share his lady friend with Elliot. The twins, who have always existed together as one, have trouble adapting and soon turn against one another. As the tag-line reads, “Separation Can Be A Terrifying Thing.”

Unlike the director’s previous films, the biological horror in Dead Ringers is entirely conveyed through the psychological exploration of the two main characters. Cronenberg’s film is based on the 1977 novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, which is, in turn, based on a true story. The real-life twins died by committing suicide together in their Manhattan apartment, but Cronenberg’s ending seems ideally appropriate. In Dead Ringers, the identities of the Mantle twins have become so embroiled that they can no longer go on living with each other, and so they do everything in their power to separate themselves. Cronenberg’s true-life tale is wholly original and quite disturbing.


36. Freaks
Directed by Tod Browning
Written by Tod Robbins
USA, 1932

Loosely based on Tod Robbins’ 1923 short story SpursFreaks is the 1932 American Pre-Code horror film about sideshow performers. The film was directed and produced by Tod Browning, who had been a member of a traveling circus at a young age. He drew inspiration from his personal experiences and instead of using costumes and makeup, he chose to cast real people with deformities as the sideshow ‘freaks’. This peek behind the curtains of a circus sideshow caused quite the outrage on its initial release and still manages to shock and touch viewers to this day due to its unflinching portrayal of disability. But it isn’t the physically deformed who are the monsters here, but rather two of the seemingly “normal” members of the circus group who conspire to murder a colleague, and obtain his large inheritance.


35. An American Werewolf in London
Written and directed by John Landis
UK / USA , 1981

Directed by the brilliant John Landis, and made well before the advent of CGI, An American Werewolf in London features the greatest werewolf transformation ever put to screen, thanks to the special effects by Rick Baker. The various prosthetics and robotic body parts used during the film’s extended werewolf transformation impressed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences so much, they decided to add a category for make-up and effects, which of course Baker deservedly won. Landis, who was 19 when he penned the first draft, delivers a pitch-perfect mix of comedy and genuine scares. Apart from the thrills, atmosphere, romance and witty assemblage of moon-themed songs (“Blue Moon”, “Bad Moon Rising,” “Moondance”), An American Werewolf In London remains the best werewolf movie, if only, for the very tragic ending.  


34: Alien
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Dan O’Bannon
UK and USA, 1979

Boasting one of the greatest tag lines of all time – “In space, no one can hear you scream” – Alien blends science fiction, horror, and bleak poetry into what could have easily turned into a simple B-monster movie. In fact, the movie was pitched to producers as Jaws in space, but thankfully Ridley Scott, who was stepping behind the camera for only the second time, took the film far more seriously. Like Steven Spielberg’s great thriller, most of the running time relies on the viewer’s imagination since Scott carefully restricts how little we see of the creature. Be warned: Alien can test a viewer’s patience. This is an extremely slow burn and unusual for the genre. Despite the budget, stellar effects, and ambitious set design, Alien in a sense, is a minimalist film – from the simple opening title sequence to the first 45 minutes, it is all dialogue. There is no horror and there is certainly no action. But despite a slow start, the first half still conjures up a sense that something very, very bad is going to happen. The second half of the film however, is a technical marvel: tense, horrifying, and visually breathtaking.

Despite not featuring any big names, the cast for Alien is comprised of credible actors, including Ian Holm and John Hurt. Alien also has a distinction of being one of the first films to feature a female action hero. Of all the actors, Sigourney Weaver would go on to be the most memorable, playing Ripley, the tough, resourceful, and independent crew member who strikes back against the creatures with a deadly vengeance. But the real stars of Alien are the production designers. Michael Seymour designed the perfect ship for the creature to terrorize, a maze of dark passages that enhances the sense of claustrophobia and mounting tension. The titular alien designed by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger is one of unparalleled terror. Giger’s design for the Alien evoked many contradictory sexual images and creates a twisted vision of sex and death. The script, written by Dan O’Bannon, (who based the screenplay upon Star Beast, a story that he had written earlier on in his career), is also cluttered with Freudian and sexually charged symbolism and images, that the creature itself was designed with a phallic tongue and an open vaginal mouth. Note that in the film’s most shocking scene, it is a man who becomes impregnated by the creature as a surrogate mother. Also note that the name for the starship’s computer interface that awakens the crew members is simply called “Mother” (or MU-TH-R 182). The decision to not give the alien any eyes only enhances its creepiness, while its metallic, reptilian body, razor-sharp teeth, and missing eyes makes it one of the most memorable visions ever to appear in a movie.

Alien contains its fair share of genuine scares. The first occurs when the face-hugger leaps out of the egg and attaches itself to Kane. The second is when the alien explodes through Kane’s chest. But the best scene in the film comes when Ash (Ian Holm), calls it a “perfect organism matched only by its hostility,” and goes on to say: “I admire its purity, its sense of survival; unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions”.

Alien was nominated for two Academy Awards,winning Best Visual Effects but losing in Best Art Direction – and because of the film’s success, Scott was able to finance his next futuristic film, Blade Runner.


33. Don’t Look Now
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Written by Allan Scott
UK, 1973

Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, 1973′s Don’t Look Now is one of the great horror masterpieces that is criminally overlooked. The film stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, wrapped in an emotional blanket of fear, anger, guilt, and love. While the plot of the film is preoccupied with misinterpretation and mistaken identity, its primary focus is on the psychology of grief, and the effect the death of a child can have on a relationship. Directed by noted cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now arguably bears resemblance to giallos, but it leans more toward creepy than gory; patiently building suspense with haunting imagery and a chilling score by legendary composer Pino Donaggio (who won a best soundtrack award for his work). Roeg designs his film like an intellectual puzzle with a distinctive colour scheme. Watch closely as recurring visual motifs combined with unorthodox editing techniques foreshadow key events that follow. Roeg’s ingenious editing job when cutting between flashbacks and flash-forwards creates a haunting meditation on fear, death, and the beyond. Don’t Look Now is frequently regarded as his greatest film, and its influence can be felt everywhere from Peter Weir’s The Last Wave to Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man. Don’t Look Now features a unique directorial style, stunning imagery, and powerful performances.


32. The Innocents
Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by William Archibald and  Truman Capote
UK, 1961 

The Innocents, which was co-written by Truman Capote, is the first of many screen adaptations of The Turn of the Screw. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad because most people haven’t – but The Innocents deserves its rightful spot on any list of great horror films. Here is one of the few films where the ghost story takes place mostly in daylight and the lush photography, which earned cinematographer Freddie Francis one of his two Oscar wins, is simply stunning. Director Jack Clayton and Francis make great use of long, steady shots, which suggest corruption is lurking everywhere inside the grand estate. The Innocents also features three amazing performances; the first two come courtesy of child actors Pamela Franklin (The Legend of Hell House), and Martin Stephens (Village of the Damned). Stephens’s goodnight kiss to Deborah Kerr lasts a little longer than normal, and his reading of poetry and dispensing words of wisdom seems far too advanced for his young age. Meanwhile, Franklin seems always distant, lost in her inner thoughts while never fully aware of her surroundings. The third powerhouse performance of course comes from Kerr, playing Ms. Giddens. Most of the film is seen through her point of view and so we are never sure what to believe. The few times we do catch any glimpse of an apparition, it is seen only through her eyes. And so it is never made clear whether the house is haunted, the children are possessed or if Ms. Giddens has simply gone mad.

The Innocents opens in a most unsettling way – a creepy song written by Paul Dehn and Georges Auric is heard before and during the opening credits. The tune becomes a reoccurring motif throughout the film, played by a music box, hummed by a child, or faintly heard in the distance. The music only heightens the children’s strange behaviour and Ms. Giddens’s increasing anxiety. The song alone is enough to send shivers up the spine.

The Innocents is truly one of the greatest ghost stories of all time, blessed with one of the most risqué and devastating finales of any horror film. Stylish, intelligent, and creepy, The Innocents will haunt you long after the lights have been turned back on.


31: Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz
USA, 2010

In Black Swan, Aronofsky shows off his skill for synthesizing influences: Black Swan is partly inspired by Giallos, Polanski, Cronenberg, Perfect Blue and even Hitchcock. Aronofsky has made sense out of the incoherent plot line of the classic ballet, in the process conjuring memories of everything from The Red Shoes to All About Eve to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and even Dario Argento’s Opera. At its bare bones this is really a tense drama about backstage anxiety in the performing arts, but Black Swan is also one of the greatest physiological thrillers ever made. There is a sense of dread that pervades the film, justifying its presence on my list. Much like The Wrestler, Aronofsky goes to great lengths to show in excruciating detail how much physical pain some artists are willing to inflict upon themselves in the pursuit of perfection. Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her career (so far), nearly in every frame of the movie, often in close-up, conveying a barrage of intense and complicated emotions: fear, confusion, excitement and so on. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique shoots with a mixture of documentary-style handheld and traditional set-ups, gorgeous visuals and deliberately jarring edits, and Aronofsky makes great use of a colour scheme featuring mostly black and white and the occasional deep, bleeding red. Composer Clint Mansell’s score is menacing and the intricate sound design heightens the horrific proceedings.


Special Mention:

Directed by Curt McDowell
Written by George Kuchar
USA, 1975

Thunderstruck! is by far the most obscure film you will find on this list. It is without a doubt one of the true landmarks of underground cinema. With a screenplay by veteran underground filmmaker George Kuchar (story and characters by Mark Ellinger) and directed Curt McDowell (a student of Kuchar), Thundercrack! is a work of a mad genius. While it starts out as an atmospheric gothic horror tale, it quickly turns into a ultra-bizarre, ultra-low-budget pornographic black comedy. Thundercrack! is raunchy, graphic, and extremely warped. Because of its graphic content including masturbation, and sex between heterosexual and homosexual couplings, the film is unavailable in many areas of the world. The inclusion of full hardcore sex runs the gamut of crude, messy, and honest, but the sex is masterfully weaved into the film’s structure and becomes an essential element of the plot. You won’t soon forget Mrs Hammond’s voyeuristic bedroom, which includes a vacuum operated ‘blow job’ device, nor the collection of dildos and blow-up dolls. Crass, sick, and hilarious, this no-budget b&w feature revels in taboo-shattering shocks. Imagine if John Waters and Jack Smith had a child and their deranged offspring grew up to direct a film while smoking crack! It’s wonderful!

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