I know that some of you guys don’t like lists so much but I thought that to give myself a challenge and give everyone a more personal look at my own horror experience and preferences I would attempt to define my Top 10 Horror films of all time.
It was a difficult task but here it goes
1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Though this may seem a very obvious Number 1 choice believe me when I say with conviction that this is the definitive film that got me into the genre. What more can be said that hasn’t already. The very literally example of a film whose current or future sequels have never and cannot hope to come close to the raw power that the original classic holds. Throughout my horror viewing experience I have been chasing that same raw experience ever since.
2. Day of The Dead (1985)
This is for me, what a zombie film should be – dark, gritty, gory and full of compelling characters – the two most notable – Capt Rhodes and Bub. All these characteristics suit its end of the world scenario so much better than Dawn in my opinion. Look closely and it has just as much relevant social commentary as Dawn. Day of The Dead also features perhaps Savini’s greatest work he completed while alongside Greg Nicotero – his first major film in a special effects role.
It’s claustrophobic setting is reflected in the psychological element that Romero so expertly draws from his characters and presents to the audience so well. Also features sequences of provoking dialogue as profound Dawns classic line from the pilot character John and one of my all time favourite performances in Joe Pilato as Capt. Rhodes. Romero has said that he considers fans of this entry to be the ‘trolls of horror viewers, the ones who can take the really rough stuff’. Well Mr Romero, sir, I am proud to be a troll.
3. Black Sabbath (1964)
Following the success of Black Sunday Mario Bava, encouraged by its producer, created a visual tour de force, which along with two particularly effective segments draws you into Black Sabbath’s hauntingly atmospheric gothic world. If you want to watch a truly excellent anthology I would advise anyone to skip modern anthologies such as V/H/S that pale in comparison and watch a true master vision’s at work here.
4. The Devils Backbone (2001)
A beautiful and well written ghost story from Del Toro that combines atmospheric visuals and setting with a sharp commentary relating to its backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Del Toro very successfully interweaves the supernatural concepts – with which he creates genuinely and subtly creepy sequences without using cheap tricks – and at times emotive and powerful images of war, within its narrative and the films message.
One could interpret from this film a message that in the context of Spain’s fascist past men can do acts far more chilling than the most gruesome monster the imagination can conjure. Like in the case of Day of the Dead and Dawn for me this is overshadowed by, but a far better film than his more critically acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth.
5. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)
Fredric Marsch elevates a good film to an excellent one with his portrayal of alter ego Hyde here – in the process deservedly achieving a best Actor Oscar – in this adaptation of Robert Stevenson’s original novel by director Roubin Mamoulian.
It is a powerful and never matched performance in its sexual and violent intensity that perfectly captures Hyde’s primal nature, which is supported by good performances from the rest of the cast, particularly Miriam Hopkins as Ivy Pearson.
Furthermore, though in addition, Mamoulian employs quite inventive camera techniques and angles, he still manages to capture the divide between civilised and unrepressed society that reflects the dual and tormented soul of Jeckyll and Hyde. In addition this symbolises it’s quite complex freudian undertones.
6. Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Attempting to achieve a similar success to Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein and match the explicit nature of MGM’s Freaks in a pre-code Hollywood – so explicit it was banned in Britain due to its perceived blasphemy – the standout element of this adaptation is an amazing performance by Charles Laughton as the tyrannical and power mad doctor tampering with nature.
In this he is also supported by impressive performances by the rest of the cast and some of the best make up effects of the period that come close to that of Jack Pierce.
8. Martyrs (2008)
Martyrs is what some mainstream critics describe as a ‘torture porn film’ in the vein of Hostel or the increasingly gory Saw sequels but what differentiates this european film from its american contemporaries is its significant complexity. This is reflected in its narrative, the intelligence found within its concepts, application of film-making techniques – including some quite stunning visual sequences and other imagery – and the inclusion of strong, interesting characters who are excellently played by the main actresses.
Critically it is also a very brave film, unflinching in its execution of ideas and violence onscreen which can be truly horrifying to visually experience and can be argued as justified and more effective because of its aforementioned depth in other aspects. All these factors mean that again unlike Hostel the film has a genuine, strong and lasting impression/impact for a while after the end credits roll.
8. Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)
This a contemporary grindhouse film that far more than Machete, Death Proof or Planet Terror manages to capture the feel, with its visually arresting technicolor visuals and lurid characters, the tone of New York’s 42nd street grindhouse films during the late 70’s/early 80’s such as Street Trash.
It also incorporates a sympathetic main character in Rutger Hauer’s Hobo who is, however as menacing as his enemies. Above all this also incorporates a wicked sense of humour and the greatest number of quotable lines I have yet found in a film due to an equally original and smart script.
9. Dark Water (2002)
A really good early example of the new millennium’s J-Horror. Visually very interesting with the films apartment block providing a haunting,dark and foreboding setting and atmosphere which is maintained throughout the movie and which keeps you engaged and the film intense to watch.
The relationship between the mother and daughter provides a perfect counter-point to the bleak atmosphere and helps to develop/support an effective narrative for the viewer.
This is also benefited by the actresses impressive and above average performances of the two main female characters. Overall this is one of the most impressive asian films I have seen and was immediately one of my favourites.
10. Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)
This is Lucio at his creatively gory best and perhaps the film more than any other film earned him the ‘Godfather of Gore’. It was however watching this a second time, a restored version on my Blu-Ray disc that made me realize how great this film is. It incorporates some fantastic gore effects by Gianetto de Rossi. They are in my opinion a vast improvement over that of Dawn of The Dead despite criticism from some quarters that Zombie Flesh Eaters is a cheap cash-in.
This however sadly discounts the effective and ominous score by Fabio Frizzi and during many sequences, atmospheric and haunting visuals by cinematographer Sergio Salvati. Plus how can you not love a film that has a zombie vs shark underwater fight?
Other films that didn’t quite make the cut – Candyman (1992), Fulci’s Dont Torture A Duckling (1972), Who Can Kill A Child (1976), Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981), Maniac (1980), Black Cat (1932), Black Christmas (1974) and Bedevilled (2010).