It’s Halloween time, and I felt like I should do something to celebrate on my blog. So I figure what better than listing my favourite horror film. Now I’m not the horror expert that HT Schuyler is, so horror fans might find a lot about my list to criticize. Regardless, these are my favourites and I stand by them.
5. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Release date: September 2nd, 1978
Running time: 127 minutes
Written by: George A. Romero
Directed by: George A. Romero
Starring: Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, David Emge, and Gaylen Ross
One of the arguments that constantly divides film fans is what’s better, Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead? While I love both, it’s no question that Dawn of the Dead is my favourite. The story is simple, a group of people hold up in a mall during a zombie apocalypse. All the characters are likable and interesting in their own way, with Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger being especially cool. There’s also a lot of great lines and the music kicks ass. And of course there’s Tom Savini’s classic make-up effects. But what I think really makes this film work is the incredible balancing act it pulls off. It manages to be an effective horror film, but it’s also a fun film that has a sense of humour. On top of that, the film has several themes revolving around materialism and society, yet none of it feels forced. The film is also one of the most re-watchable films of all time. I could watch it again and again and I never get tired of it. Zombies are just as popular today as ever, with movies like Zombieland and shows like The Walking Dead being very successful. If your a fan of these and wanna brush up on your classics, you gotta check out Dawn of the Dead.
4. The Shining
Release date: May 23rd, 1980
Running time: 144 minutes
Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
Based on: The novel of the same name by Stephen King
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers
I’m sure any fan of the novel reading this is gonna hate this choice. A lot of people, including author Stephen King himself, criticize the film for not being very true to King’s novel. Maybe it isn’t a good adaptation (I’ve never read the novel) but I really don’t care since The Shining is an example of good film making, plan and simple. The plot revolves around a family spending the Winter season as caretakers of the Overlook Hotel. The son is plagued by super natural premonitions and the father is a writer who slowly loses his sanity. Stanley Kubrick was an extraordinary director, and The Shining is one of several great films from him. Kubirck’s visual style brings a lot to the film, and the direction really ramps up the suspense and terror. The cast is really good too, with great performance from Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, and an unforgettable appearance by Joe Turkel. But it’s Jack Nicholson who really steals the show here. It’s an iconic performance that has been the subject of tribute and parody since 1980. Hell, his “Here’s Johnny” line alone has gone down in history as one of the greatest movie quotes of all time. But really, there’s something interesting about every line Nicholson says. What’s really scary about the film isn’t just when Jack loses it near the end, but also just the sheer psychological effect the film has on the viewer. For whatever reason, The Shining opened to a lukewarm reception and was only of Kubirck’s final nine films to not receive any Oscar or Golden Globe nominations. But in recent years, critics have come to see The Shining for what it is; a masterpiece.
3. The Terminator
Release date: October 26th, 1984
Running time: 108 minutes
Written by: James Cameron, Gale Ann Hurd, and William Wisher, Jr.
Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger
I know a lot of people don’t view The Terminator as a horror film, but it is. It’s pretty much a slasher where the slasher uses a gun instead of stabbing weapon. But if you look at it, it’s a mostly silent, masked killer, stalking a young girl. On his path of destruction, he kills several others on his path. He’s indestructible and will stop at nothing to get his prey. The movie even ends with a young girl on her own, terrified and hurt, desperately trying to bring down her assailant. But it’s not just the structural details that make this a horror film. The film has a very dark and chilling atmosphere, one which is reflected in it’s colour and cinematography. The film has a very dark and bleak look to it, and the music has a techno nightmare sort of feel, fitting given the nature of the story. The film also has one of the scariest and most iconic villains of all time with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, the role that launched him into super stardom. I also think Michael Biehn is awesome as the film’s hero, Kyle Reese. While it’s often over-shadowed by it’s equally good but larger scale sequel, The Terminator is a classic in it’s own right and one of the most overlooked horror films of all time.
Release date: September 22nd, 1995
Running time: 128 minutes
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and R.Lee Ermey
Not just one of my favourite horror films, but one of my favourite films of all time. Two detectives are trailing a serial killer who kills his victims based on the seven deadly sins. There are two things that make this film scary. One is the atmosphere. Se7en is easily one of the most depressing and bleak films I’ve ever scene. Every scene is covered in rain, and dark skies. Hell, the character of Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is tired and broken down by the world. He looks at life with a cynical perspective and just doesn’t want to deal with it anymore. The movie also ends on an incredibly dark note (the infamous “box” scene), with the final line especially being one that really hits you. The other think that makes this film scary is the killer John Doe, and his motivations for killing. All his victims are technically sinners and when Doe talks about why he killed them, you understand where he’s coming from, even if you don’t agree with him. It’s scary the way the film makes you understand the monster. John Doe is also played brilliantly. I won’t say who the actor is, because the film goes out of it’s way to make it a surprise. I will say it’s an amazing performance from one of my favourite actors. I also should acknowledge how good Brad Pitt is, with this being one of his first big roles. Se7en also benefits from a great script with tight pacing and dialogue so good you could just listen to these characters for hours. Se7en is intense, disturbing, scary, and quite possibly David Fincher’s best film.
1. The Silence of the Lambs
Release date: February 14th, 1991
Running time: 118 minutes
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: The novel of the same name by Thomas Harris
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glen, and Ted Levine
I have to admit, I gave a lot of thought to putting Se7en at number one. But I guess at the end of the day I’ll always come back to The Silence of the Lambs, the story of FBI agent Claurice Starling (Jodie Foster) tracking down serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) with the help of the incarcerated mad man Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). It’s interesting that a lot of the imagery in the film has become somewhat dated. The images of mutilated bodies and corpses aren’t far removed from what can now be seen on typical crime procedurals on TV today. Yet this film still manages to be absolutely horrifying. Why? Because of the characters and the situations. Buffalo Bill is one of the most underrated and scary villains of all time. Bill is a serial killer who is kidnapping women and keeps them around for a few days before shooting and skinning them. There’s also an element to Bill that the audience sort of pities. The scenes in Bill’s house are some of the most deranged bits of cinema I’ve ever seen. And of course you have Bill’s night vision goggles, those god damn goggles. What helps make the film scary is the attachment you feel to the main character Claurice Starling, who has some issues of her own. And of course, I’ve saved the best for last. We still have to talk about Hannibal. What can be said about Hannibal Lecter? He’s rightly considered one of the greatest villains of all time, all the more amazing considering he only has sixteen minutes of screen time. He leaves such an everlasting impression. Anyone who has seen this film will remember Hannibal Lecter forever (or at least until the dementia kicks in). Hannibal spends most of the film in a cell, yet he still manages to be scary. He doesn’t need to be outside to hurt you, he can break you down without lifting a finger. All it takes is a cold stare and a few words. And of course the scene where Hannibal fully reveals the monster (I won’t spoil what happens) is completely brilliant and one of the greatest horror scenes of all time. I know a lot of people don’t consider this a horror film, but I personally can’t think of a film that has filled me with as much fear and dread. The Silence of the Lambs, one of my favourite horror films, and one of my favourite films of all time.