Greatest Horror Movies Ever Made Part 8: The 62 Greatest (# 31-1)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski’s brilliant horror-thriller was nominated for two Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for Ruth Gordon. The director’s first American film, adapted from Ira Levin’s horror bestseller, is a spellbinding and twisted tale of Satanism and pregnancy. Supremely mounted, the film benefits from it’s strong atmosphere, apartment setting, eerie childlike score and polished production values by cinematographer William Fraker. The cast is brilliant, with Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as the young couple playing opposite Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer, the elderly neighbors. There is ominous tension in the film from first frame to last – the climax makes for one of the greatest endings of all time. Rarely has a film displayed such an uncompromising portrait of betrayal as this one. Career or marriage – which would you choose?
Directed by David Lynch
Filmed intermittently over the course of a five-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.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
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. The entire film builds to a third act that elevates the film to level of greatness, and solidifies Aronofsky as one of the best working filmmakers today.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Spain / Mexico, 2001
As director Guillermo del Toro explains, “It’s a very moving and very dark fable about war. And within its walls is contained a ghost story.” Backbone is a supernatural allegory set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. A multi-layered tale, following ten year-old Carlos in a remote orphanage which provides him refuge from the horror of war but leaves him vulnerable to the supernatural. Del Toro, working with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, create a genuinely scary, exquisitely shot and eerie, unnerving mood that holds to the very end. In a nutshell, it’s a ghost story with soul.
Directed by John Carpenter
Bill (son of Burt) Lancaster’s script ignores Howard Hawks’s original The Thing from Another World, and instead hews more closely to John W. Campbell’s short story Who Goes There. The Thing was John Carpenter’s first theatrical film for a major studio (Universal) but was a tremendous box office flop during its initial release. However, the film gained a largem faithful cult following over the years and many consider it one of the best entries into the genre of sci-fi horror. The Thing is a paranoid masterpiece, and that rare remake that surpasses the original. Carpenter keeps the creature hidden for much of the movie, but when we do see the beast, he and special effects wiz, Rob Bottin, don’t shy away from showing off some of the most ground-breaking and disturbing special FX and the most spectacular scenes of body horror ever put on screen. The Thing is now recognized as a nerve-shredding masterpiece of suspense, paranoia and outright, nihilistic terror. Ennio Morricone’s Carpenteresque synth score of simple drones and repetitive bass lines punctuates the picture, as does the touch of comedic dialogue uttered by a fabulous ensemble cast, led by the one and only Kurt Russell.
Directed by Wes Craven
In both concept and execution, the first A Nightmare on Elm Street has a great deal more to offer than most slasher films. Wes Craven intended Nightmare to be an exploration of surreal horror as opposed to just another slice-and-dice slasher movie. Elm Street was New Line’s first genuine mainstream cinematic venture (after Alone In The Dark), and made the company a huge pile of money. The film was shot in 30 days at a cost of roughly $1.8 million, but it made back its figure and then some on opening weekend. Robert Englund based the physicality of Freddy on Klaus Kinski’s performance in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979), making Freddy one of the most recognizable modern horror villains: vicious, but with a sense of humour as sharp as the blades on his gloves. Nightmare was both the feature debut and breakthrough for actor Johnny Depp, but the film acted more as a launch pad for its director, who despite having turned out two great pictures prior, became a household name. Craven masterfully disguises dreams as reality and vice versa, and the idea that injuries sustained in dreams also exist outside helps to further blur the already murky distinction between the two.
Directed by John Carpenter
A historical milestone that single-handedly shaped the future of the entire genre. This seminal horror flick actually gets better with age; it holds up with determination as an effective thriller that will always stand head and shoulders above the hundreds of imitators to come. Halloween had one hell of an influence on the entire film industry. You have to admire how Carpenter avoids explicit onscreen violence, and achieves a considerable power almost entirely through visual means, using its widescreen frame, expert hand-held camerawork, and terrifying foreground and background imagery.
Directed by Bob Clark
We never did find out who Billy was. Maybe it’s for the best, since they never made any sequels to Bob Clark’s seminal slasher film, which predates Carpenter’s Halloween by four years. Whereas Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released the same year, blends backwoods horror with the slasher formula, Black Christmas is widely considered the first proper slasher and is noted as one of the earliest films to present some of the sub-genre’s defining characteristics: a mysterious stalker, a set of adolescent or young-adult victims, a secluded location with little or no adult supervision, point-of-view camera shots representing the “killer’s perspective,” and graphic depictions of violence and murder. Like Carpenter, Clark avoids graphic bloodshed, focusing instead on suggestion and careful mise-en-scene and editing. Clark leads us through a labyrinth of red herrings and skillful handling of such plot devices as obscene phone calls from within the house. More importantly, unlike many of the slashers that followed, Black Christmas cannot easily be accused of misogyny; the violence against the female protagonists isn’t the picture’s raison d’etre. If there was ever a character from a slasher film to be chosen for a thesis on feminist work, it would have to be the film’s “final girl,” Jessica.
Directed by Jaromil Jires
Set in a vaguely-defined Transylvanian town sometime in the last century, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a bizarre gothic fable of a young woman’s descent into womanhood. There is no clearly-defined story, but essentially the film works as a parable of menstruation. Directed and co-written by Jaromil Jires, a key member of the Czech New Wave, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is one long, erotically charged nightmare of sexuality and death. And yes, there are vampires. Think Alice in Wonderland meets Nosferatu, with stunning visuals and a remarkable score. Easily one of the most influential fantasies ever made. Schallerová (13 at the time) gives a tour-de-force performance.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino’s homage to the road-fury genre is really two movies in one, offering two manifestations of the same story: Two separate groups of beautiful women are stalked by a homicidal maniac who uses his “death proof” car (his weapon of choice) to terrorize and eventually kill his victims. Death Proof is essentially two slasher films, with the second half acting as a sequel, offering new, beautiful victims for the murderous Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) to menace.
As Tarantino clearly identifies in the film, the obvious reference points of Death Proof are such movies as Vanishing Point, Roadgames, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and even Steven Spielberg’s Duel, but Proof is influenced by more than just vehicular horror. It’s a grim stalk and slash picture, and a blaring commentary of female empowerment. It’s also a small masterpiece, dredged up from a cinematic human encyclopedia. Toying with genre rules, Tarantino doesn’t attempt to follow the “grind-house” formula step by step and create a carbon-copy, instead taking a more ambitious approach. Replace the typical sharp edged blade with a car, and Death Proof is every bit a slasher film as Halloween, Final Destination and A Nightmare On Elm Street. Death Proof is a masterwork of film criticism, commenting upon genre and gender roles.
Directed by David Lynch
You either love or hate David Lynch. So to sum up Inland Empire, I will quote the Village Voice’s J. Hoberman: “It’s an experience. Either you give yourself over to it or you don’t. And if you do, don’t miss the end credits.” I am not even going to attempt to describe this mind fuck of a film in a brief capsule review, except to say that it is utterly brilliant, haunting, bewildering and totally unforgettable.
Directed by Roman Polanki
Polanski’s masterpiece. This subtle horror film follows an isolated, sexually repressed, schizophrenic woman’s descent into madness, stunningly played by Catherine Deneuve, who gives her best performance ever at the age of 22. Polanksi’s determination to dismiss as much baggage to explain the proceedings only intensifies the pic. There are no explanations of Catherine Deneuve’s behaviour and more importantly, one cannot make any clear distinction between reality and hallucination. Watching the film, we are entirely situated inside the mind of a mad woman. The sense of isolation we feel through Deneauve’s performance is only heightened by Polanski’s astonishing control of the medium of film. His second of the “apartment trilogy” (Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant being the other two), Repulsion remains his best. The apartment itself becomes a deranged character of sorts, as the very dimensions of the surroundings continue to change. Hallways extend to infinity, rooms enlarge or shrink and the floors slowly tilt. If you can’t trust the floorboards beneath your feet and the walls that surrounds you, you know you’ve got some serious issues.
Directed by Matt Reeves
The pressure in adapting a story or remaking a film is that the filmmakers already have an archetype to which everyone will compare their work to. Some people will be unwilling to give this film a chance, but those who do, will be thankful. Let Me In is a film that achieves the rare feat of remaining faithful to its source material while emerging as a highly accomplished work in its own right.
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Vampyr ranks in many circles as one of the greatest horror films of all time, and I agree. Almost entirely devoid of the outright scares we’ve come to expect of the genre, it creates instead a sense of unease, even more than 75 years after its release. Vampyr is just one of many reasons why director Carl Theodor Dreyer is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. With the help of Rudolph Maté’s luminous photography, Dreyer creates a poetic psychological horror film. The coffin carrying sequence and live-burial scene towards the end will forever be etched in your memory. An absolute masterpiece.
Directed by Peter Weir
Based on Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, which suggests the events actually occurred, Picnic at Hanging Rock relates the story of the disappearance of several schoolgirls and their teacher during a picnic to Hanging Rock on St. Valentine’s Day in 1900, and the subsequent effect on the local community.
Weir recalled that when the film was first screened in the United States, American audiences were disturbed by the fact that the mystery remained unsolved. The questions that linger after seeing Weir’s masterpiece reveal as much about you as they do about the film. Picnic at Hanging Rock creates a haunting atmosphere with tour-de-force imagery, score, pacing, direction and performance. Simply a masterpiece.
Directed by Peter Weir
I’ve been arguing all week long as to wether or not The Last Wave should be considered a horror film . Well I think it is. In fact the tagline reads, “The Occult Forces. The Ritual Murder. The Sinister Storms. The Prophetic Dreams. The Last Wave.”
The Last Wave is an especially evocative horror film, but a horror film nevertheless. Peter Weir follows up on his critically acclaimed masterpiece Picnic at Hanging Rock with this visually striking and totally engrossing surrealist psychological thriller. Weir’s film expresses a rather apocalyptic sensibility – a doomsday machine derived from native Aboriginal mythology. Absolutely brilliant.
Directed by Jack Clayton
If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad because most people haven’t – but just take my word that it deserves its rightful spot on any list of great horror movies. Co-written by Truman Capote, the movie has the most startling opening of any ghost film to date, with a creepy song written by Paul Dehn and Georges Auric sung over a black screen. The lush photography is by two time academy award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, who would go on to direct his own features. The film also features an amazing performance of intense, neurotic seriousness by Deborah Kerr and two great child actors (including Martin Stephens, previously known as the lead child in Village of the Damned). Stylish, intelligent and creepy, The Innocents ends with one of the most brave and devastating finales of any horror film. Truly one of the greatest ghost stories of all time.
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, 1973’s Don’t Look Now remains one of the great horror masterpieces, patiently building suspense with haunting imagery and a chilling score. Directed by noted cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now arguably bears resemblance to giallos, and leans more toward “creepy” than “horrific.” The film stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, here wrapped in an emotional blanket of fear, anger, guilt, and love. There is so much to say about this gem. Don’t Look Now is a flawless film, with a unique directorial style, stunning imagery, and powerful performances. Roeg’s ingenious editing job cutting between flashbacks and flash-forwards undermines chronology and creates a haunting meditation on fear, death and the beyond.
Directed by James Whale
The irony of James Whale’s masterpiece The Bride of Frankenstein is that Frankenstein’s creation is called the Monster, yet he is the least menacing presence in the film. Karloff yet again dominates the screen with a powerhouse performance, managing to invest his character with emotional subtleties that are surprisingly nuanced. The Bride of Frankenstein provides a searing citation of man’s inhumanity to man and still finds room for self-parody, social satire and comedy. This is the greatest of all Frankenstein movies and quite possibly the best horror film of the 30’s.
“She hate me,” he growls, “Just like others!”
Bride Of Frankenstein has spectacular direction, a thoughtful script, wonderful performances and is enhanced by the vivid Franz Waxman musical score. Whale’s genius holds it all together until the tragic, inevitable finale.
Directed by Georges Franju
Eyes Without a Face pioneered the theme of the mad surgeon, and spawned countless imitators including Circus of Horrors (1960) and at least four Jesus Franco pictures (including Faceless and The Awful Dr Orloff series). Eyes also influenced the Japanese art-house film The Face of Another (1966).
It was the feature length directorial debut of Georges Franju, who had previously made a number of shorts – his best-known being The Blood of the Beasts (1949), a documentary that unraveled the horrors inside a slaughterhouse (available in the criterion DVD release of Eyes Without A Face). The screenplay is credited to five writers – among them is Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, a duo of popular French writers who adapted a number of classics including Les Diaboliques (1955), Vertigo (1958) and even Body Parts (1991).
Methodical and haunting, Eyes Without a Face is an anomaly in the horror genre: a mad-scientist fairy tale. Along with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (all released in 1960), Eyes helped shape the modern slasher film with its dark themes, general air of malevolence, visual lyricism, Maurice Jarre’s mad jarring score and of course it’s fairly graphic scenes of slicing through the skin. The film’s title has a double meaning, referring both to the surgical procedure of removing facial features and to the character of the daughter played brilliantly by Edith Scob: because of the mask she wears, her eyes are the only visible moving part of her face.
Directed by William Friedkin
1973 – USA
The phenomenon, that was The Exorcist was a studio’s dream come true. With rumours that it was supposedly based on a true story, masse audience walk-outs, protests, vomiting and fainting in the theatres, and even the legendary claims that the production itself was cursed, all helped make The Exorcist the second highest grossing film at the time ($441 million to be exact). The film earned ten Academy Award nominations – winning two (Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay), before losing Best Picture to The Sting. The film was released during a cycle of ‘demonic child’ movies produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and featured the incredibly talented cast of Jason Miller, Ellen Burstyn, and who can forget, Linda Blair – whose transformation from sweet innocent to demonic incarnate is one of the most terrifying performances of all time. The Exorcist has been influential in the genre, spawning several sequels, and similar films such as The Omen, none which have come close to matching it’s power.
This ever haunting journey into demonic possession is likely just as disturbing today as it was back than, and will always be an important film historically. A must see for any true horror aficionado, The Exorcist is creepy, atmospheric, and contains some truly unforgettable and viscerally shocking scenes – not to mention spectacular special effects for it’s time. I still have no idea how they created the “spider walk” sequence.
The Exorcist makes an interesting contrast to Ken Russell’s The Devils, a film also about the Catholic church and demonic possession. However in Ken Russell’s movie (also featured on this list), demonic possession is viewed as something not real but instead, a product of religious hysteria.
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Even in a pop culture landscape littered with the bloodthirsty undead, Let The Right One In stood out as a poignant coming of age story as well as a bone-chilling horror film. The haunting mediation on the difficult and often painful transition into adolescence garnered plenty of praise on the festival circuit in 2008 and earned a loyal cult following through word of mouth. Based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, Sweden’s Let The Right One In is hypnotic, horrific, and it groundbreaking. It follows the classical rules of vampire mythology but takes those very same rules we are accustomed to and updates each of them in new and exciting ways. Perfectly paced, and patient in building its atmosphere to set us up for some horrific moments. It has its moments of restrained fright, but never shies away from the gore when it’s called for. An instant classic of modern horror cinema and easily the most fascinating recent film to appear on this list.
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Henri-Georges Clouzot (dubbed the French Hitchcock) created this masterpiece in 1955 – a film which served as the template upon which most of the psychological thrillers that were made in the aftermath of the success of Psycho were based. Hitchcock reportedly wanted to make this movie himself, but Clouzot bought the film rights to the original novel, supposedly beating Hitchcock by only a matter of hours. Based on the novel Celle Qui N’etait Pas, the script was adapted by the French duo Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, also responsible for a few other films appearing on this list. Not wanting to miss another opportunity, the Master of Suspense snapped up the rights to Boileau and Narcejac’s next thriller, D’entre les Morts, which would become Vertigo.
Les Diaboliques is a timeless classic. Clouzot delivers a despairing character study masquerading as a thriller, jacking up the suspense with grueling intensity, presenting a bleak world full of suspicion, manipulation, fear and loathing. Much like Hitchcock’s work, Les Diaboliques is peppered with perverse atmosphere and dark humour. The lead performances are all incredible, particularly Clouzot’s wife Vera Clouzot, who stars as the vulnerable lead. The twist ending is shocking – one of the greatest of all time – but what is even more amazing is that the murder plot is in many ways the least disturbing element at play.
Directed by George A. Romero
George Romero set a new standard for horror with his low-budget directorial debut. The film, made in 1968, broached many taboos (cannibalism, incest, necrophilia) and changed the face of American horror movies forever while setting the template for zombie films to come. The racial subtext speaks volumes even today, and the film still looks better (despite the shoestring budget) than the majority of its future imitators. One of the best films of the 60’s, and possibly the most influential horror movie ever made. Night Of The Living Dead actually gets better with age.
Commonly referred to as Salò, this controversial 1975 Italian film written and directed by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini with (uncredited writing contributions by Pupi Avati) is one of the most controversial films ever made and banned in several countries to this day. If there was ever a film that earned its notorious reputation, Salo is it. Pasolini was a visionary, a provocateur, a poet, a social critic and one of my all time favourite filmmakers.
It was Pasolini’s last film; he was murdered shortly before Salò was released. Many still believe it was Pasolini’s political views and the content of Salò that got him killed. Based on the book The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, Salo is quite easily one of the most shocking movies ever, depicting intense graphic violence, sadism, and sexual depravity. This is a film of conviction, showcasing a hell on earth, a place where demented values are brutally enforced. The “circle of shit” segment is usually when most people walk out vomiting. Good luck! But seriously, this is the greatest movie I’ve only ever seen once that I never want to see again (I own three different editions). As Pasolini once said, “Artists must create, critics defend and Democratic people support work so extreme that it becomes unacceptable to even the broadest minds of the new state.”
Anyone familiar with Michael Haneke’s work will understand why he calls Salo one of his three favourite films of all time. By watching to the very end, we the viewers become voyeurs, witnessing the most sickening finale of any motion picture, and Pasolini calls us out in the most obvious way in its twisted conclusion.
Directed by Tobe Hooper
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains to this day a motion picture of raw, uncompromising intensity, a punishing assault on the senses via the most vivid extended scenes of absolute sustained frenzy ever captured on celluloid. Marilyn Burns’s doomed screams will forever be etched in your memory as will the horror icon it produced, the raging chainsaw wielding lunatic Leatherface. Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre undoubtedly ranks as one of the best horror flicks of all time, and also boasts one of the most unforgettable abrupt endings ever.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
UK / USA, 1980
Jack Torrance only kills one person, yet he is the monster of the film. No one ever questions Wendy, who not only repeatedly hits Jack over the head with a baseball bat, but also lashes after him with a knife, finally leaving him to die of hypothermia. I’m just saying.
Putting aside all violence, this is no ordinary horror film, boasting a brilliant performance by Jack Nicholson, an incredibly eerie score, beautiful cinematography and flawless direction. There has been books devoted to Kubrick’s work. I’m sure you’ve all heard of it, so let’s move on.
Directed by Michael Powell
Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is a methodical look at the psychology of a killer and a meditation on violence and voyeurism. The extremely controversial picture was branded as “sick” and “nasty” by major critics upon its 1960 release and banned from any release. These harsh and despicable responses effectively destroyed Powell’ career, but later generations embraced the film and many, including myself, regard it as a masterpiece – a chilling work of voyeuristic cinema. The film revolves around a serial killer who murders women while using a portable movie camera to record their dying expressions of terror. Peeping Tom has been praised for its psychological complexity. On the surface, the film is about the Freudian relationship between the protagonist and his father and the protagonist and his victims. However, several critics argue that the film is as much about the voyeurism of the audience as they watch the protagonist’s actions. A thoroughly opaque and gritty London atmosphere permeates the grisly proceedings, carried off by a very powerful performance from Carl Boehm, who has the difficult task of convincing us he is a cold blooded killer, while eliciting sympathy for the trauma of his childhood. Powell’s roaming camera work and Otto Heller’s shadowy cinematography makes Peeping Tom a work of cinematic art.
Directed by Sam Raimi
1987 – US
This high-octane, ferocious gross-out semi-sequel to Sam Raimi’s cult hit The Evil Dead nearly eclipsed its predecessor’s reputation thanks to an endless barrage of visual gags, hyperkinetic camera work, rapid-fire editing, kegs of jet-propelled blood and splatstick gore, and the demented comic genius of Bruce Campbell (aided by an impressive arsenal of weapons, including a sawed-off shotgun and a chainsaw). Campbell’s performance shifts to match the needs of the script spitting out the greatest one-liners of any horror comedy. Evil Dead 2 is so outrageously over-the-top that it attains a level of dizzying surrealism and is a must see for any self-respecting movie-goer.
Un chien andalou
Directed by Luis Buñuel
The dream – or nightmare – has been a staple of the horror cinema for decades. In 1929 Luis Bunuel joined forces with Salvador Dali to create Un chien andalou, an experimental and unforgettable seventeen-minute surrealist masterpiece. Buñuel famously said that he and Dalí wrote the film by telling one another their dreams. The film went on to influence the horror genre indefinitely. After all, even as manipulative as the “dream” device is, it’s still a proven way to jolt an audience. Just ask Wes Craven, who understood this bit of cinematic psychology when he dreamt of the central force behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film intended to be an exploration of surreal horror. David Lynch is contemporary cinema’s most devoted student of Un chien andalou – the severed ear at the beginning of Blue Velvet is a direct allusion to Buñuel’s blood curdling famous closeup on the slashing of an eyeball with a razor. Technically, that scene alone could classify Un chien andalou as the first splatter film. Though it is not a horror film per se, the film does contain a number of disturbing images: an army of ants crawling through a hole in a man’s hand, dead animals strung on top of a piano and children playing with dismembered hands. Buñuel and Dalí compile images and scenes that will make you cringe and in the case of the splitting eyeball – look away. Buñuel exploits the viewer, through these horrific images understanding fully well that people enjoy seeing something macabre. The film has lived up to its aim to shock, as viewed in modern times it’s still shocking.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Psycho proved an unexpected sleeper hit, largely due to a clever promotional campaign where Hitchcock managed to get theatres to sign a contract that refused to let people in after the film had started. He took the idea from Henri-Georges Clouzot, who did the same back in France with Les Diaboliques. Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards and of course left the ceremony empty handed.
I figure there hasn’t been a film more analyzed than Psycho, but let me point out a few things. There are many reasons why Psycho is a masterpiece: One of the principal reasons is its structure. We follow one apparent protagonist only to have her killed off abruptly. Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under our feet, in one of the most shocking scenes in cinematic history. The shower scene in which Janet Leigh is murdered has gone on to become probably the single most famous scene in any horror film. And yes Psycho is considered the first psycho-thriller / slasher film, by most, but not everyone – Psycho invoked Freudian psychology as motivation for the killer and gave its murderer Freudian childhood traumas, split personalities and confused gender roles, everything that would inspire the slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s. Psycho is pure perfection: Bernard Herman’s score – the shower scene – the mother in the cellar – the knife wielding maniac – the creepy old house – the twist ending – even the credits font. Psycho stands the test of time!
Directed by George Sluizer
Netherlands / France, 1988
Based on Time Krabbe’s The Golden Egg, this clinical, maddening descent into the mind of a serial killer left audiences buzzing with excitement over its ending. The Vanishing could very well be the most intelligent but least influential serial killer film of all time. This is one of the most interesting character studies of obsession: both Gene Bervoets’ obsession with the missing Johanna Ter Steege and Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu’s obsession with stalking young women. Written in a non linear fashion, the egg-shaped overlapping narrative tells the same story from two points of view –the perpetrator’s and the victim’s. If it seems complex, it is, but the facts are laid out in a straightforward manner since we know so much so early in the film. The Vanishing is a simple story, but manages to build one great idea over another great idea throughout. The mystery here isn’t who the kidnapper is, but why he took her, and more importantly, where is she now? Every key sequence, every beat, foreshadows the appalling dénouement. This is potent stuff, a brilliantly crafted intellectual thriller that will leave you gasping for a breath of fresh air when it’s over.
Directed by John Landis
1983 – USA
Thriller is not so much a music video as it is a short horror film, featuring choreographed zombies performing with Jackson. It was directed by John Landis who had previously directed the hit film An American Werewolf in London and choreographed by Michael Peters who worked with Jackson on Beat It. The video contained a spoken word performance by horror film veteran Vincent Price, co starred former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray and incidentally contained music by composer Elmer Bernstein (who also worked with Landis on An American Werewolf in London). The video set new standards for production, having cost $500,000 to film and the choreography in Thriller has become a part of global pop culture, replicated everywhere from Bollywood to the Philippines. The Thriller short film marked an increase in scale for music videos, and has been named the most successful music video ever, firmly cementing the notion that videos could be something more than just commercials for singles. The result is an exciting piece full of gothic imagery that still holds up decades later.