Greatest Horror Movies Ever Made Part 7: The 62 Greatest (# 62-32)

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Choosing my favourite horror films of all time is like choosing between my children – not that I have children, but if I did, I am sure I would categorize them quite like my DVD collection. As with all lists, this is personal and nobody will agree with every choice – and if you do, that would be incredibly disturbing. Also, it was almost impossible for me to rank them in order, but I tried. I based my list taking into consideration three points:

1- Technical accomplishments / artistry and their influence on the genre.

2- How many times I’ve revisited the films and how easily it makes for a repeated viewings.

3- Its story, atmosphere and how much it affected me when I first watched them.

Finally, there are many great films such as The Witchfinder General, The Wickerman and even Hour Of The Wolf that won’t appear here. I tried to keep my list to 60 films. However I have been creating individual lists for sub-genres. Already I have written my lists for slashers, giallos, werewolves, vampires, found footage and even the best from New Zealand and Australia. Next year I will continue with other sub-genres.

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I originally wanted to make this a list of 75 but I ran out of time. I intend on posting 100 next Halloween. For anyone who may be interested, these are the remaining unlucky 13 who didn’t make it in (this year).

1- Wickerman

2- The Devils

3- The Witchfinder’s General

4- Freaks

5- Opera

6- Shaun Of The Dead

7- Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

8- Dead Ringers

9- Village Of The Damned (1060)

10- Pulse

11- Hour Of The Wolf

12- Hasta El Viento Tiene Miedo (1967)

13- The Uninvited (1944)

Here are what I consider my 62 all time favourites.

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Special Mention

 

Spirits Of The Dead (Histoires extraordinaires)

Directed by Federico Fellini (segment Toby Dammit), Louis Malle (segment William Wilson), Roger Vadim (segment Metzengerstein)

France, 1968

First thing to notice is the three directors: Federico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim. Secondly, take notice of the cast, which includes Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Alain Delon, Terence Stamp, Salvo Randone, James Robertson Justice, Françoise Prévost and Marlène Alexandre. Spirits Of The Dead is an adaptation of three Edgar Allan Poe, one of which demands to be seen.

The first segment of the film, Roger Vadim’s Metzgengerstein, is unfortunately the worst, but is still great in its own right, and features a marvelous performance by Jane Fonda. Louis Malle’s segment is the second of the three. Malle turns Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 story into an engrossing study in cruelty and sadism. Malle’s episode is an engaging enough entry, but pales in comparison to what follows.

They really do save the best for last. Episode three is the reason to see this anthology. Even if it hardly qualifies as horror, it is still deserves to make my list. Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit, which stars Terence Stamp, is a visual wonder. Fellini and his cinematographer shoot with an intensifying palette – the most brilliant mix of blues and reds, bittersweet shades and extraordinary camera movement you will ever see in any horror anthology. Stamp is truly terrifying as the dysfunctional Toby, and the world that Fellini creates perfectly mirrors the inner turmoil and self-destructive nature of his character. Toby Dammit feels like a stylish nightmare – a truly unsettling and intriguing film that makes the perfect gateway into the director’s oeuvre.

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62 – Carnival Of Souls

Directed by Herk Harvey

USA, 1962

This low-budget, independently made black-and-white film, produced and directed by Herk Harvey for an estimated $33,000, did not gain widespread attention when originally released, and was billed as a B-movie, but it’s actually one of the greatest under-seen horror movies ever made. Without Carnival Of Souls, you would have no Sixth Sense. Set to the funereal organ score by Gene Moore, Carnival of Souls relies strictly on atmosphere of melancholic, surreal dread to create a mood of unease and foreboding. It has been cited as a major influence on the films of both David Lynch and George A. Romero. The film’s subdued black and white photography contributes considerably to its creeping mood of eerie otherworldliness and poetic nightmarish palate.

61 – Alucarda, La Hija De Las Tinieblas / Innocents From Hell 

Directed by Juan López Moctezuma

Spain, 1978

Part nunsploitation, part possession/satanism movie, and part vampire flick, Alucarda (yes, that’s “a Dracula” backwards) finds satanic going-ons in a convent after orphan Justine comes along, only to be seduced by another orphan named Alucarda. Director Juan López Moctezuma came along during the new wave of 70′s 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 fifties, sixties and seventies, 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. 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, including myself, consider it an unrecognized gem. Seriously, this movie is batshit crazy and a must see!

60 -Day Of The Beast (El Dia De La Bestia)

Directed by Alex de la Iglesia

Spain, 1995

Former comic book illustrator Alex de la Iglesia took Spain by surprise in 1991 with his short film, Mirindas Asesinas. Four years later, he returned with his feature-length debut Day Of The Beast, a tongue-in-cheek thriller which picked up no fewer than six of Spain’s Oscar equivalent, the Goyas. Spiked with extreme violence and over-the- top performances, The Day of the Beast mixes comedy, horror and a considerable amount of dark humour to the story, without ever feeling like a parody or spoof. The film’s shocking and darkly comic opening sets the tone right away, and it’s a testament to the director’s talent that he is able to continuously up the ante as the film progresses.

59 – Onibaba

Directed by Kaneto Shindô

Japan, 1964

OniBaba brings Kurosawa-esque neo-realism to bear on the traditional Japanese kaidan (ghost story). A landmark in fantasy cinema, this lyrical ghost story is bleak, sexually charged, decadent and dripping with depravity. Symbolism runs rampant and the dialogue is minimal in this harrowing study about the rotten nature of humanity and the useless wars they wage. Kiyomi Kuroda’s startling black-and-white cinematography, the excellent percussive jazz soundtrack, and the final twist (one which might seem obvious today but not back then), is reason enough to watch this gem.

58 – Janghwa, Hongryeo (A Tale of Two Sisters)

Directed by Ji-woon Kim

South Korea, 2003

Inspired by a Korean legend, this is the odyssey of two sisters, who after spending time in a mental institution, return to the home of their father and cruel stepmother. There’s a reason why Hollywood has been so busy in recent years remaking Asian horror movies. There’s more rank dread, inexplicable cutaways, overwhelming suspense and and inscrutable mystery in this South Korean psychological thriller than in most American mainstream horror films of the past 10 years. Mixing classic horror in the vein of Hitchcock and Argento, A Tale of Two Sisters is a groundbreaking film, and well worth seeking out for fans of Asian horror.

57 – Suspiria

Director: 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. Argento’s first major non-Giallo directing job doesn’t stray too far from the style he established in his previous film Deep Red. 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 quite 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.

56 – Kwaiden

Directed by Masaki Kobayashi

Japan, 1964

Kwaidan (Kaidan) is a 1964 Japanese portmanteau film directed by Masaki Kobayashi; the title means ‘ghost story’. Based on stories from Lafcadio Hearn’s collections of Japanese folk tales, this impressively mounted anthology horror film consists of four separate and unrelated stories. It won the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Kwaidan’s haunting poetry is conveyed with what might possibly be the most beautiful horror film you will ever see. The soundtrack is equally impressive, and although it might not outright scare, you can’t help but admire the craft and artistry.

55 – The Descent

Directed by Neil Marshall

UK, 2005

This creepfest may not only see more feminist deconstruction than the original Alien, but is also one of the most tightly effective horror films in a long time. Much like his previous film Dog Soldiers, director Neil Marshall relies on our familiar memories of past horror films, but the fascination of this film is anticipating how it will morph these familiar elements, particularly the inferior ones, in creative new ways.

54 – Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone) (One Against All)

Directed by Gaspar Noé

France, 1998

I’ve noticed many lists online include Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible. However, I cannot justify placing it on my list. Apart from being one of the most homophobic films I’ve ever seen, it also doesn’t quite fall in the spectrum of horror, despite its gruesome material. Instead, I am including Noé’s previous feature, I Stand Alone, a French nouveau Taxi Driver – that is sure to arouse controversy with its scenes of explicit sex and bloody violence. The film opens with these words of narration: “morality is made by and for the rich, power comes from the barrel of a gun,” and Noé proceeds to prove this point, while attacking what he sees as the social and cultural complacency of mainstream French cinema and television.

I Stand Alone is a violent and verbally vulgar assault on the sense, but the far more deeply disturbing element at play isn’t the onscreen violence, but how Noé takes us inside the mind of the protagonist. What elevates I Stand Alone from an average horror film is the way it refuses to cut its umbilical tie with the butcher. Instead we get his point of view from the first frame to the very last. The butcher never for a moment becomes a sympathetic character and Noé doesn’t for a moment try to justify or excuse his behaviour. Philippe Nahon’s performance is strong and fearless and Nahon refuses to make the character a stereotype or cartoon.

Three quarters into the film, Noé takes a page from legendary schlockmeister William Castle’s 1961 Homicidal by giving the audience a 30-second warning to either leave the theatre or avert their eyes, before continuing to the film’s bloody climax. The flashy scope cinematography – the twisted, bitter and cynical voiceover – the aggressive shooting style – the deliberate widescreen close-ups – the endless shots of empty corridors, vacant, industrial streets – the repeated uses a swish pan and/or a skip frame, and the marvelous score accompanied by a sharp electronic sound like a gun shot – all help make I Stand Alone one of the nastiest entries into the genre you will ever see.

53 – We Are What We Are

Directed by Jorge Michel Grau

Mexico, 2010

Unlike most cannibal films, We Are What We Are eschews the easy options of excessive gore, graphic violence, sex and and cheap laughs, instead creating a deeply moving drama with a spoonful of black comedy and a healthy serving of horror. It’s a slow burning film with an engulfing atmosphere that occasionally leaves you feeling uneasy and other times laughing along. For every moment of bloodshed (of which there is surprisingly little), there are subtleties and surprises that transcend this exhausted subgenre. Though the violence is nowhere near as brutal as the cannibal movies of the late ’70s or early ’80s, We Are What We Are hasn’t forgotten its roots, administering just enough bloodshed to upset mainstream movie-goers. It also provides us with nice, small moments of color for the characters, short but clever lines of dialogue and plenty of room for development. Director Jorge Michel Grau (who also wrote the script) conjures up one of the best, most imaginative and resonant family-themed horror stories to date. The picture’s leading attribute is Santiago Sanchez’s dazzling photography, a dark and dirty pallette which beautifully highlights the sleazier neighborhoods of Mexico City. Grau balances beautiful, long, static shots while at times having the camera move kinetically, juxtaposed with a remarkably eerie and complex score composed by Enrico Chapel. It is without a doubt one of the most layered, atmospheric, and textured movies in recent memory. Beautifully crafted and expertly acted, We Are What We Are is a haunting, emotionally involving journey into the macabre.

52 – House of the Devil

Directed by Ti West

USA, 2010

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) who makes a small cameo. 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 makes great use of long sequences and static shots with an assortment of oddly askew camera angles, each camera positioned deliberately for creative reasons. He’s 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 likes to test the patience of his audience before rushing into its climax. The harsh, jarring tone of the musical score steals the show and makes for one of the most nerve wrecking scores in recent memory. 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 – yet West still makes room for an eclectic selection of rock/pop tunes, highlighted by a sequence in which Samantha dances about (Walkman replacing iPod) to the sound of Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.” Eliot Rockett’s cinematography nails the feel of the early 80s, and the film is almost entirely shot at night or in dark interior spaces, befitting the horror awaiting Samantha. The film is so carefully detailed and perfectly attuned to the style of the 80s that one could actually mistake it for an 80s production, and the Quantum Creation FX gang (who gave us the effects for Splinter) once again showcase their talent despite a minimal budget.

51 – Dead Alive (Braindead)

Directed by Peter Jackson

New Zealand, 1992

Originally released as Braindead, Dead Alive is the Godfather of Kiwi gore and the magnum opus of Peter Jackson’s early career. Jackson’s second feature gleefully eclipses the gross-out quotient of not only his splatter-fest debut, but of any movie ever made before. The finale is the greatest gore-fest ever put on celluloid, using 300 litres of fake blood pumped at five gallons per second. The tone is cartoonishly comic, and the premise is simple, but Dead Alive is one of the most inventive and outrageous splatter-fests ever made.

50 – The Blair Witch Project

Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez

USA, 1999

The Blair Witch Project is an homage to sitting by the campfire and listening to urban myths and various ghost stories, something most of us can relate to. However the primary reason for it’s success is that it keeps audiences in the dark about its titular villain. The Blair Witch Project remembers that nothing onscreen can be as scary as your own imagination. It understands how to build anticipation and deliver the scares at precisely the right moment. Unlike most horror films, The Blair Witch Project isn’t simply designed to make you jump nor ever gross you out. Instead the film focuses on having the viewer feel discomfort, nausea and terror – and thus some people respond by saying it is the scariest film of all time simply because it feels so real.

49 – [REC]

Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

Spain, 2007

A brilliant horror / thriller which may start slow but eventually accelerates to a fever pitch of complete and utter terror and hysteria. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza quickly became rising stars in the Spanish horror scene with this short, stripped-down, first-person horror picture that delivers some unforgettably effective shocks while gradually building a haunting atmosphere of ever-increasing panic and despair.

48 – Nosferatu: The First Vampire

Directed by F.W. Murnau

Germany, 1925

The earliest surviving film based on Dracula is Nosferatu, an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. One of the first vampire movies, it is perhaps still one of the best vampire movies ever made. Thoroughly creepy from first to last frame.

47 – Daughter of Darkness (Les lèvres rouges)

Directed by Harry Kümel

Belgium, 1971

Belgium’s premier horror filmmaker Harry Kümel directs this lesbian-themed vintage vampire flick heightened by a stunning performance from Delphine Seyrig. I’m generally not a huge fan of lesbian vampire films but Daughter of Darkness is subdued rather than exploitative. Best described as a European art-house flick that sways far away from the traditional vampire movie, the film boasts bold strokes of atmosphere and psychosexuality. Cinematographer Eduard van der Enden, who shot Jacques Tati’s Trafic, infuses the film’s imagery with a pervading sense of the modern gothic. Unlike most lesbian vampire films, Daughters of Darkness is not only worth watching, but worth buying.

46- The Others

Directed by Alejandro Amenábar

Spain / US, 2001

Some say The Others is a one trick pony, and once you know the secret, the gig is up. Regardless of its twist ending, one of the greatest in cinema, the film holds up in other respects. In fact, I have seen this film multiple times and each time it scares the bejeezus out of me, thanks to its spooky vibe, stylish photography and great cast. The plot is well thought-out and its secrets and mysteries are revealed in a slow and clever manner – and did I mention it’s scary as hell? Marking his English-language debut, Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes) impresses with his ability to evoke the supernatural in a convincing manner.

45- Häxan

Directed by Benjamin Christensen

Denmark / Sweden, 1922

Häxan (a.k.a The Witches or Witchcraft Through The Ages) is a 1922 Swedish/Danish silent documentary about the history of witchcraft, told in a variety of styles, from illustrated slideshow to dramatised events of alleged real-life events that are comparable to horror films. Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen, and based partly on Christensen’s study of the Malleus Maleficarum, Häxan is a fine study of how superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts. While the film does a great job exposing the horrors of superstition and hysteria, it really doesn’t feature any witchcraft – but still deserves to appear on this list. At the time it was the most expensive Scandinavian film ever made, costing nearly two million Swedish krona. Although it won acclaim in Denmark and Sweden, the film was banned in the United States and heavily censored in other countries for what were considered at that time graphic depictions of torture, nudity, and sexual perversion. Depending on which version you’re watching, the commentary is either in the form of intertitles or narration by William S.Burroughs, recorded in the mid-1960s. A fascinating historical document, and, more surprisingly, a very entertaining film, and one of the earliest films that takes misogyny and sexual repression as its subject.

44 – Even Dwarfs Started Small (Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen)

Directed by Werner Herzog

Germany, 1970

Barely released in 1971 amid great controversy from just about every corner, Dwarfs essentially went on to influence many filmmakers, most notably Harmony Korine, who borrowed heavily from it for his feature Gummo. Dwarfs is as unapologetic and affirming as Tod Browning’s Freaks. Even in the director’s extensive oeuvre, there are few films in the his portfolio that are as beautifully shot, impressively scored, and strangely composed as this one. Whether you see it as a powerful political/philosophical allegory or as exploitation, Dwarfs will linger in your thoughts for a long time.

The cast includes 28 dwarfs and midgets, a tormented one-legged chicken, and a limp camel that at one point defecates amidst his frustration of being handicapped.

43 – Dead Of Night

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (segments Christmas Party and The Ventriloquist’s Dummy), Charles Crichton (segment Golfing Story), Basil Dearden (segments Hearse Driver and Linking Narrative), Robert Hamer (segment The Haunted Mirror)

UK, 1945

Considered the greatest horror anthology, the classic British chiller Dead of Night features five stories of supernatural terror from four directors. The whole film ends with a bravura final sequence recapitulating the stories ultimately making them all feel like a unified whole. Cavalcanti’s story about a mad ventriloquist played by Michael Redgrave is the best, a brilliant precursor to Hitchcock’s Psycho, featuring an early uncensored gay relationship. Even the weakest segment – Golfing Story directed by Charles Crichton – is still pretty amazing.

42 – Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny And Girly (aka Girly)

Directed by Freddie Francis

UK , 1970

One of the best and most bizarre films of the late early ’70s Brit psycho-horror entries. Girly isn’t exactly suspenseful, and it’s not a horror movie in the traditional sense, but a sordid affair about perversions and power games. Imbued with disquiet and unease, Girly will get under your skin. Based on the play Happy Family by Maisie Mosco, Girly is stuffed with clever, literate dialogue, features great performances and boasts confident direction from Freddie Francis, who served as cinematographer of The Innocents. Girly is a macabre and highly entertaining tale that plays up the absurdity of the story and keeps most of the violence and sex offscreen.

41 – Deep Red (Profondo rosso) (The Hatchet Murders)

Directed by Dario Argento

Italy, 1975

Many will argue Suspiria to be Argento’s full-fledged masterpiece, but for my money it is Deep Red – gorgeous, gory and gruesome, and undoubtedly his finest picture. 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, as it prefigures some of the elaborate stylistic choices that he would carry on for the remainder of his career. Add in the superb, jazzy score by Argento’s band Goblin, and you have one of the most distinct-sounding and looking horror films of the decade. From a technical perspective, the film is a masterwork, but Deep Red 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.

40 – An American Werewolf in London

Directed by John Landis

UK / USA , 1981

One of the all-time great horror movies, with a pitch-perfect mix of comedy and genuine scares. Directed by the brilliant John Landis and made well before the advent of CGI, it features werewolf transformations (courtesy of genius effects wizard Rick Baker) that are more realistic than those of recent horror films. Landis – who was 19 when he penned the first draft – delivers a clever mixture of comedy and horror which succeeds in being both funny and scary. Along with the thrills, atmosphere, romance, sex, nudity and a witty assemblage of moon-themed songs (“Blue Moon”, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Moondance”), American Werewolf In London remains the best werewolf movie to date – so good that Rick Baker received a well deserved Oscar for his makeup (in the first year of that category).

39 – Re-Animator

Stuart Gordon

USA, 1985

Stuart Gordon’s first feature film after years as a director of experimental theater has since become a cult film, driven by fans of Jeffrey Combs (who stars as Herbert West) and H. P. Lovecraft. While Re-Animator fails as a faithful adaptation of Lovecraft, the injection of gristly humour and a plethora of downright disgusting visual gags and extreme gore, make this one incredibly demented movie in its own right. A brilliant tour-de-farce – Combs delivers an iconic performance as the title character, updating the mad scientist role for a whole new generation. For my money his performance stands in the same league as Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the Evil Dead series.

38 – Audition

Directed by Takashi Miike

Japan, 2001

This art-house cult horror film will be talked about for a long time to come. The last section of the film features some of the most harrowing, graphic closeups of torture ever put on celluloid, but even in its gore-filled moments, the film is a monumental achievement by a director willing to take chances and challenge his audience. Based on a novel by Ryu Murakami, Audition isn’t nearly as gory as Ichi the Killer, but it has to be Miike´s most disturbing and most powerful film. In fact, it was listed at #11 on Bravo´s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Not for the faint of heart.

37 – Seven (Se7en)

Directed by David Fincher

US, 1995

One of a handful of films that is based on the religious concept of “seven deadly sins,” director David Fincher’s Seven is a dark, stylish thriller that boasts enough horror genre trappings to justify its presence on this list. Seven pales in comparison to Fincher’s best film Zodiac, but regardless, it is one of the decade’s most influential box-office successes. This dark, creepy and relentlessly grim shocker features taut performances, polished gore effects, and an unforgettable ending that will burn in your memory long after the credits role. Seven has all the hallmarks of the giallo or serial killer genres – red herrings, a whodunnit mystery, gruesome murders and a surprise twist ending – but thankfully, it also turns out somewhat smarter and less predictable. One of its strongest aspects is the visuals. There are many unusual and innovative cinematographic techniques, including the opening credit sequence (one of the best of all time) and outstanding production, art and set design which focuses on the seedy, depressing side of Seven’s anonymous big-city setting.

36- Jaws

Directed by Steven Spielberg

USA, 1977

Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw star in this terrifying thriller about an enormous man-eating Great White Shark that terrorizes the fictional coastal summer resort town of Amity, Long Island on the Fourth of July weekend. Based on the trashy best-selling novel by Peter Benchley (who also provides the screenplay along with Carl Gottlieb), this low-budget film (operating on a reported $12 million) which had a mostly no-name cast, was a surprise cash cow. Thanks to a sophisticated, unrelenting publicity campaign, Jaws was the first film to rake in over $100 million (it grossed more than $260 million at the domestic box office and nearly $475 million worldwide). It went onto spawn three sequels (all terrible), laid out a blueprint for summer blockbusters and put Steven Spielberg onto the A-list of Hollywood directors.

Spielberg doesn’t serve up mass quantities of blood and gore but what makes Jaws work is the confident direction combined with stellar editing that draws the audience into relaxing at precisely all the wrong moments. Spielberg’s meticulous attention to creating suspense recalls the best of Hitchcock. Jaws remains tense by not showing audiences the shark for the majority of the film. For the first hour, the only glimpses we catch of the beast are fleeting and indistinct. The camera doesn’t dwell upon it until the final act. We are only treated to a long hard look at the shark when it passes by the deck of the ship, setting up the film’s most memorable line, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” In the final scenes, it becomes apparent why Jaws gets so little screen time – it simply looks fake. Spielberg openly admits that if the technology had been better, he would have shown the shark more often. Ironically, it is this handicap that resulted in the film’s greatest strength. By keeping Jaws hidden from the audience, the movie effectively builds suspense and the end result is an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

35- Alien

Directed by Ridley Scott

UK – 1979

Boasting one of the greatest taglines 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. Alien can test a viewer’s patience.This is an extremely slow burn, 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 of all dialogue – no horror and certainly no action. But patience is a virtue. The second half of the film is technically a marvel – tense, horrifying and visually breathtaking. Alien remains one of the best examples of sustained tension and despite a slow start, the first half still conjures up a sense that something very, very bad is going to happen. Hold on to your stomachs, it is going to be a bumpy ride. Oh and I just can’t go one without mentioning how incredible Sigourney Weaver is. She single-handely carries the majority of the picture as the tough resourceful,independent, and extremely bad-ass heroine. The script was written by Dan O’Bannon, who based the screenplay upon a story (Titled Star Beast), that he had written earlier on in his career. In the original first draft of the screenplay, the characters of the crew were all uni-sex, and interchangeable between sexes, referred to only with their last names, eliminating any director association with typical gender names. Aline is also cluttered with Freudian and sexually-charged symbolism and images. The creature itself was designed with a phallic head 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). Nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, it won a single Oscar for Best Visual Effects (awarded to H. R. Giger and four others). Because of the original film’s success, Scott was able to finance his next futuristic film, Blade Runner, still considered to be his best.

34 – Silence Of The Lambs

Directed by Jonathan Demme

1991 – USA

Directed by Jonathan Demme, The Silence Of The Lambs features two powerhouse perfoermance by it’s stars – Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. The film’s principle attraction stems from the thrill of the hunt, and the spellbinding time spent between Foster’s heroine and Hopkins’s chilling Hannibal Lecter. Based on the novel of the same name, The Silence of the Lambs grossed over $272 million and won the top five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. A smart, taut thriller that teeters on the edge between psychological study and all-out horror.

33- Possession (The Night the Screaming Stops)

Directed by Andrzej Zulawski

France / Germany, 1981

Think of Possession as an intense drama of marital collapse amidst occult happenings, intricate political conspiracies, and the Berlin Wall as backdrop. The director has stated that he wrote the screenplay in the midst of a messy divorce, and it is quite apparent. At Cannes, the film was nominated for the Palme d’Or (taken that year by another Polish film, Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Iron) and won a Best Actress awards for Isabelle Adjani. The feature earned a place on the list of 39 ‘Video Nasties’ banned in the UK under the 1984 Video Recordings Act. Seems like most of the movies on my list were either banned or highly controversial at one point or another. The film draws similarities to David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979), Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and anticipates Lars von Trier’s Antichrist.

Possession features special effects from Carlo Rambaldi who worked prior on Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Flesh for Frankenstein. Here, he designed the ominous “creature,” an eroticised tentacular monster that looks like it was lifted from one of Cronenberg’s wet dreams. Most impressive of all is the cinematography, by Bruno Nuytten, who uses ambitious hand held takes, extensive dollies and infinite tracking shots. The shape shifting monsters reflect a film that is an amalgam of family tragedy, political thriller, and body horror.

32 – The Birds

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

USA, 1963

Although not as shocking as Psycho, The Birds is a more complex, ambitious and sophisticated film, and represents a high watermark in the prolific career of the master of suspense. Hitchcock’s inspiration for the film was an actual news report about a bird attack that occurred for unknown reasons, specifically a bird that was known to be prey and not a predator. The Birds is a precursor to nature vs. man horror films as Psycho was to slashers.It is also the second masterpiece Alfred Hitchcock contributed to the genre of small-town thrillers – the first being Shadow of a Doubt. Perhaps the aspect that stands out the most in The Birds is the long pauses between the dialogue. When one thinks of a Hitchcock film, one remembers the long well drawn conversations between the cast of characters. In The Birds, there are countless scenes in which the actors express more through physicality than in words. Hitch apparently wanted The Birds to be a silent film or at least was flirting with the idea of making a silent film, but decided it wouldn’t be marketable nor profitable. Hitchcock was also experimenting with the idea to not include a score in his film and instead opted for sounds created on the mixtrautonium, an early electronic musical instrument, by Oskar Sala. Along with Remi Gassmann, they composed a piece that consists primarily of screeching bird sounds, which provides a nerve wrecking, surrealistic backdrop to the sordid proceedings. Although the special effects are dated, they were still rather impressive for the time. Ray Berwick was responsible for training hundreds of birds, gulls, crows, etc. to act like they were attacking without actually hurting anyone (although apparently they did). By employing thousands of real trained birds intermixed with fakes, Hitchcock was able to create the illusion of a mass attack on the quiet community – the result is remarkable, featuring 370 effects shots, with the final shot composed of 32 separately filmed elements.

Two images featured prominently in the film are cages and glass: the cage representing Melanie’s own closed minded way of thinking (her own insular cage), and the glass (more importantly broken glass) that suggests the vulnerability of human life. Finally what makes The Birds a true masterpiece is the final shot. The film does not finish with the usual “THE END” title because Alfred Hitchcock wanted to give the impression of unending terror, and boy does he succeed.

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6 Comments
  1. Hugo Jasso says

    Hey! I just noticed a mistake: Alucarda is an English-language Mexican film, it wasn’t made in Spain.

  2. Zack says

    Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw were anything but “unknown cast”. The films they were in before this, The French Connection and The Sting won best picture Oscars.

  3. Staindslaved says

    Did he just refer to Jaws as a low-budget film? I’m not even sure if $12 million dollars is a low-budget film by today’s standards. Jaws was a tent-pole movie for the studio that year and was probably the most expensive movie of 1975 especially because it went over-budget due to complications in the productions (most notably the stupid shark never working). The original Star Wars had an $11 million dollar budget two years later.

    1. Ricky says

      Any film made for under 20 million is considered an indie film by Hollywood standards which is what I am going by, and so any film made for under 20 million is eligible for an Independent Spirit Award. However, I do agree it sounds ridiculous.

  4. Kay says

    Hi Ricky, this is just the kind of list I’ve been scouring the net for a long time. I’m so glad to see films from around the world and not just mainstream hollywood (which absolutely lacks the willpower to create atmospheric horror with strong story lines). Thank you and keep up the great work.

  5. Bill Thompson says

    Good stuff, interested to read what the rest of the list holds.

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