Throughout the month of October, Editor-in-Chief and resident Horror expert Ricky D, will be posting a list of his favorite Horror films of all time. The list will be posted in six parts. Click here to see every entry.
As with all lists, this is personal and nobody will agree with every choice – and if you do, that would be incredibly disturbing. It was almost impossible for me to rank them in order, but I tried and eventually gave up.
Four months after the death of her husband, a pregnant woman is tormented by a strange woman who invades her home with the intent on killing her and taking her unborn baby. This movie is not recommended for women on the brink of motherhood. Inside is one of the most vicious and cringe inducing horror thrillers on this list. It is bloody, gory, unsettling and chock full of suspense. Without a doubt, Inside is the best of the French new wave of horror. This is the perfect film to watch on Christmas Eve with a group of your friends.
The feature debut of Belgian co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani is a delirious pastiche of the blood-spattered Italian giallo genre. There’s no conventional story really; Amer is rather a psychodrama split into three parts. Stripping away the whodunit plots and violent murders always featured in giallos, Cattel and Forzani have boiled the sub-genre down to its purest essences: sex and fear. This is art-house horror; a thriller with the poetic touch of Mario Bava and the cutting precision of Dario Argento.
For the uninitiated, Zombi 2 is a 1979 horror film directed by Lucio Fulci. It is perhaps the best-known of Fulci’s films, banned in some countries, censored in others and is in my opinion one of the best zombie films ever made. Fulci’s direction is confident, the makeup and special effects done by Giannetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani are fantastic (especially for the time) and the pulsating electronic score courtesy of Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci is one of the best in horror history. The movie also features two very famous scenes: One features an eyeball-popping out of the socket and the other has an underwater sequence in which a shark battles a zombie.
Patrick was not only a pivotal film and a commercial success but it was also nominated in three categories, including Best Film, at the 1978 AFI Awards, and director Richard Franklin took home the Best Director prize at the prestigious Sitges Fantasy Film Festival in Spain.
Patrick has a truly original screenplay, wherein its villain remains in a comatose for the entire film. Everett De Roche’s script is surprisingly vivid and punchy, developing its characters well beyond your usual fright-flick archetypes, and Richard Franklin’s direction is elegant and suspenseful, relying on mood and atmosphere rather than blood and gore.
The strong cast includes some of Australia’s finest actors, from Julia Blake as the matron to Robert Helpmann as the dangerous doctor. As the titular character, Thompson is utterly mesmerizing on screen despite the fact that he doesn’t utter a single word and Susan Penhaligon who plays the feisty nurse pulls off a rather difficult act of looking convincing while having a conversation with a man in a coma.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark has been often described as “the best vampire movie you’ve never seen.” What Near Dark does better than so many other vampire movies, is keep us off-balance and never knowing what to expect next. It is an amalgam of tropes and motifs from familiar genres, mixing in the likes of vampire legends and westerns but reconstructed in such a way that the end result is creepy, smart, and at times funny. The film also benefits from some wonderful performances, stunning visual texture, and music by Tangerine Dream.
After the success of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the Italian film industry set out to produce a slate of thrillers with animal-related titles. One of the first was Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Despite its Giallo status, Fulci’s film is a different beast from those made by his colleagues, and earned a reputation as one of Fulci’s finest works. As a convoluted thriller, Lizard works extremely well, though its climax falls somewhat short. The highlight of the film is an 11-minute chase sequence through the catacombs of a church, a nerve-wracking scene involving killer bats and ending in a bloody rooftop encounter. The strength of the movie (as with most Giallos) lies in the visuals. Fulci’s innovative camera work helps reinforce the sense of illusion throughout, and Ennio Morricone’s score complements the picture’s strange mood perfectly. At times it’s a bit slow, but Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a unique and wild experience. Keep an eye out for the obvious ripoff/homage of Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Genre director Pete Walker (The Flesh, Blood Show, House Of Whipcord, and The Confessional, among others) gives us one of the my personal favourite British horror films ever made. Apart from border-lining the slasher genre, Frightmare displays an overwhelming distrust of psychiatry and related professions and examines the idea of nature vs. nurture. There’s an artistry to Peter Walker’s work; his fluid, studied camera movements, intentionally abrupt edits, project the gore and provide a a disarming atmosphere. The entire cast delivers superb performances, but this is Sheila Keith’s show. Her Dorothy is the epitome of the passive-aggressive mother, alternating between smart and feeble-minded, attentive and disoriented and so on. But don’t be easily fooled, as she eventually makes it very clear to the audience that above all else, it is her character who is always in control of every situation. Frightmare is a marvel, a genuinely shocking film that features a fabulous ending.
I’ve always been one of “those guys” who criticizes Brian De Palma for ripping off Alfred Hitchcock a little too often. With that said, I am still a huge fan of his early work. His films, like (but not as creatively as) Tarantino’s, are a cinematic mash-up of influences from the past. Dressed to Kill borrows heavily from the Italian giallo and once again Hitchcock, more accurately it is De Palma’s homage to Psycho. Still, one cannot deny how incredibly stylish Dressed is. The highlight here is an amazing ten-minute sequence with Angie Dickinson, set in an art gallery and conducted entirely without dialogue. There are a number of other well sustained set pieces including a chase in the subway and even yes, a gratuitous shower murder sequence. Dressed features an excellent cast, a mind-blowing score courtesy of Pino Donaggio, and some of the best camera work of any film featured on this list, via Ralf Bode.
Originally titled Communion, Alice Sweet Alice, despite its considerable cult following, has slipped into relative obscurity. Released in 1976, it was given glowing reviews by critics and won the top prize at the Chicago International Film Festival. The film was made not long after The Exorcist and it capitalized on that film’s themes of Catholicism and evil children. Alice features some of the more disquieting set pieces in any movie appearing on this list, and also features the big-screen debut of Brooke Shields at age 11. The most memorable aspect of Alice comes from the tour-de-force performance given by the killer, one of the absolute best in the pantheon of movie murderers. Director Alfred Sole subsequently made two further genre films: Tanya’s Island (1980), and Pandemonium/Thursday the 12th (1982), a slasher film parody.
My Bloody Valentine, made at the height of the slasher/holiday trend, is noteworthy as one of the most distinctly Canadian horror films ever made. Produced by Happy Birthday To Me gurus John Dunning and André Link, and directed by George Mihalka, My Bloody Valentine is one of the best in the genre for several reasons: Mihalka’s direction is first-rate, the score by Paul Zaza is effectively creepy, the small town location and mining mill makes for a refreshingly unique setting, the film features a decent body count (though not much blood), and finally, the killer has bragging rights on the best costume of all slasher villains: an unstoppable miner, his identity is hidden by a gas mask and a construction helmet complete with its own headlight. Competently made, well shot, and expertly paced, Valentine features one hell of a “voice of doom,” a great cast and some creative kills.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is an overlooked, extremely eerie low-budget chiller, and one of the finest horror pictures of the 1970s. Director John D. Hancock is more content with examining the pure madness of the human psyche than he is with bloodshed or cheap attention- grabbing shocks and thrills. The more somber, subdued approach may disappoint many, but patient moviegoers will find themselves rewarded with the smart direction and slow burning tension. Like its central protagonist, it is a movie that remains extremely ambiguous. Is Jessica just outright insane or is there something more sinister at work in the small country town?
An insane mother (Zelda Rubinstein) telepathically directs her middle-aged son (Michael Lerner) to seek out deadly revenge on those who have done her wrong. When he’s finished murdering his victims, he gouges their eyes out and adds them to the family collection. But that’s only a movie within a the movie: The real horror is in the theatre where the audience watching is being murdered one by one. Spanish director J.J. Bigas Lunas does a stellar job of pulling off the story’s unconventional narrative. Although other “movie-within-a-movie” tricks have been tried, this one stands out from the rest.The story flows for the most part and seamlessly switches from the reel to real world. Anguish is certainly an unusual movie but an extremely well made film with first-rate performances, special effects, and wide-screen camera work that defies its small budget.
C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)
Directed by André Bonzel and Rémy Belvaux
Written by Rémy Belvaux
Some like to classify Man Bites Dog as a horror film but I don’t necessarily agree. Yes it follows around a serial killer but more in the tradition of Natural Born Killers than, say, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Like many first time filmmakers who can’t afford much film stock, Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde set out to make the cheapest movie possible. Intended as a calling card, Man Bites Dog would spoof documentaries by taking a fictitious serial killer around as he exercises his craft. He spends the majority of the pic talking in great detail about art, politics, music, society, and life as he murders various random people. Every frame of this film is shot documentary-style in grainy black-and-white and the pseudo-realism, rough uneven editing and shaky hand-held camera work, give a frightening air of legality to it’s deeply compelling charge of screen violence as entertainment.
Broken up into three segments spanning Hungarian history before, during and after communist rule, this cross-generational saga about an extremely bizarre family is undoubtedly a one of a kind. It’s the type of film you need to see to believe. Visually striking and provocative, Taxidermia is a tough watch, but director Palfi has assured its cult status thanks to its disturbing scenes of sex, violence and body horror. And, yes, a man lights his penis on fire, as seen in the poster.
112: The Birthday
Directed by Eugenio Mira
Written by Eugenio Mira and Mikel Alvariño
A young man and his girlfriend attend her father’s birthday party, held at a luxury hotel. Just as they arrive, strange things start to happen and guests and hosts alike become exceptionally aggressive. Shot in real time (a la Hitchcock’s Rope), The Birthday begins as an extremely unusual black comedy only to slowly unravel into a horror film reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby. From its opening titles to the abrupt ending, The Birthday is a gem waiting to be discovered. A slick, good-looking picture beautifully photographed in cinemascope with award-winning art direction and ingenious sound design geared for maximum discomfort. This Spanish horror film, shot in English, stars an international cast and at the center is none other than Corey Feldman doing an odd, feature-length Jerry Lewis impersonation (a la The Bellhop). Feldman’s performance, easily the strangest in his career, reaches surprising levels of intensity. This film is quirky, campy and carries a hypnotic and seriously foreboding atmosphere.The Birthday is a unique and refreshingly inventive genre film that also features an unforgettable climax of complete hysteria. Director Eugenio Mira put it best at the 2004 screening at the Fantasia Film Festival when he quoted Back to the Future and said, “You may not like it, but your kids are going to love it.”
111: Wild Zero
Directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi
Written by Tetsuro Takeuchi
Wild Zero is the 2000 Japanese “Jet rock ‘n’ roll” zombie horror comedy cult classic, directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi, and starring the Japanese garage punk band Guitar Wolf. Borrowing many elements from other popular B-movies such as Psychomania and Evil Dead 2, Wild Zero would best be described as The Ramones remaking Night of the Living Dead under the wing of Roger Corman. Wild Zero is exuberantly silly and bursting with unstoppable energy from start to finish.
Just Before Dawn doesn’t do anything new in terms of backwoods horror slashers, but fuck is it ever good. The film is beautifully shot, competently acted – it features great locations, a brooding atmosphere, and realistic dialogue. It’s also deeply unsettling, and the twist ending is surprisingly effective. Just Before Dawn also carefully plays with gender roles and queer stereotypes. It featured early performances from actors Chris Lemmon (Jack Lemmon’s son) and Gregg Henry (Slither), as well as early work from music composer Brad Fiedel, who wrote and performed the films eerie score. Lieberman cites the 1972 film Deliverance as the main influence, and calls Just Before Dawn his personal favourite of his works.
Here is 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 rather a sordid affair about perversions and power games. Based on the play Happy Family by Maisie Mosco, Girly is stuffed with clever dialogue (that often rhymes), great performances, and it also boasts confident direction from Freddie Francis, who served as the cinematographer for The Innocents. The film is imbued with disquiet and unease, but Francis plays up the absurdity of the story by keeping most of the violence and sex off-screen.
Spirits Of The Dead (Histoires extraordinaires)
Directed / Written by Federico Fellini (segment Toby Dammit), Louis Malle (segment William Wilson), Roger Vadim (segment Metzengerstein)
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 stories, one of which demands to be seen.
The first segment of the film, Roger Vadim’s Metzgengerstein, is unfortunately the least impressive, 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. This 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 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.
Narciso Ibañez Serrador’s 1976 cult classic Who Can Kill a Child?, a film adapted from Juan Jose Plans’s novel, is arguably one of the best Spanish horror films ever made. Due to haphazard distribution and saddled with a number of other titles (including Island of the Damned and Death is Child’s Play), Serrador’s film barely surfaced. Despite the limited exposure, the film eventually found a devoted following. Horror aficionados passed around bootleg VHS copies and occasionally the film would appear on late night television until it would receive an uncut release on DVD in 2007. The film was was made on heels of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge massacre in East Timor in 1976 and actually opens with a montage from those recent atrocities against children. Working from the template established by George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Who Can Kill A Child takes place in a remote Spanish island where children who are afflicted by a kind of supernatural plague, begin to kill the entire adult population. Replace the flesh-eating walking dead with killer kids, undercut by a gratuitous Rosemary’s Baby subplot, and the result is genuinely unsettling.
This cutthroat, bleak cautionary tale, presented in an honest, albeit provocative way, is ruthlessly violent and still unnerves audiences today. Last House On The Left emerged a few years after the Manson Family massacre and in the wake of the Vietnam war. Director Wes Craven intended it to be an evaluation of the decay of American Culture, onscreen violence, class divides and the naivete of the free-love era. It’s understandable why some may dismiss Last House as typical exploitation fare; the acting isn’t always great, several of the filmmakers and actresses worked in the porn industry at the time, the clumsy comedy feels out of place and the soundtrack, although notable for being heavily contrasted with the events on screen, is just plain awful. Thus, the film suffers from some harsh tonal shifts throughout. Craven, who had experimented in making documentaries prior, opted to shoot in a very grainy, verité style, and filmed under conditions that produced genuinely traumatized performances, making it seem and feel even more realistic and powerful. Last House On The Left is an important snapshot in Wes Craven’s career and a must see for horror fans – a genre landmark, offending nearly everyone who saw it, and more importantly inspiring a wave of “backwoods horror” films to come.
This 1989 Japanese cyberpunk film by cult-film director Shinya Tsukamoto combines Eraserhead’s monochrome industrial landscapes with David Cronenberg’s obsession with body horror. Tetsuo established Tsukamoto internationally and created him a worldwide cult following. Shot on 16 mm and on a shoestring-budget, the underground-experimental pic is unquestionably a feat of imagination with it’s creative imagery, homoerotic, nutty visuals, frenetic stop-motion, sharp editing and strong industrial musical score. Tetsuo: The Iron Man is completely surreal and off-kilter evoking an industrial flux between mankind and modern day technology. It is quite unlike any sci-fi/horror film you’ll ever see.
Many horror pioneers who’ve attempted to return to the cinematic styles that jump-started their careers have usually walked away with mediocre results (George Romero’s Diary of the Dead) and sometimes utterly embarrassing by-products (Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears). Sam Raimi on the other hand, effortlessly slips back into his Evil Dead roots with the outrageously fun Drag Me to Hell complete with all his trademark flourishes. This is horror directed with a light touch and delivered with hilarious, delightfully campy thrills.
Tucker & Dale unfolds not so much as a horror film but a comedy where most of the characters are convinced they are in a horror film. First-time director Eli Craig pulls off a good mix of splatter and laughs but wisely chooses to emphasize the comedy side of the equation. Helping things immensely is the fact that his two leads are perfectly cast. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine have a great rapport and the chemistry between them is impeccable. Splat-stick is harder to do than it seems, as blood-spattered comedy is a hard sell, but their comic genius is the driving force of the pic. Watching the duo’s onscreen bro-mance recalls best of the Apatow brand and places them alongside the most memorable protagonists in any genre piece.
The debut feature by writer/director Fred Dekker is notable as an earnest attempt at a B-movie and a throwback to the genre. Paying tribute to everything from plots, themes and to the filmmakers that created them, Night offers alien parasites, zombies, extra-terrestrials, a sorority house, Prom Night and a 50′s opening prologue involving an axe murder. Tom Atkins steals the show, delivering the film’s most memorable lines including the classic: ‘I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.’ He perfectly embodies the hardboiled detective – worn out, all attitude, sarcastic and tough as nails. Working on a shoestring budget, Dekker and award-winning make-up artist David Miller (Thriller music video) manage to deliver some quality effects and enough gore and blood to please horror aficionados. Visually, the film is a treat, from the opening grainy black and white photography to the vintage ’80s neon colors to the long tracking shots and the nostalgic period detail.
Although never considered a genuinely scary horror film, Night of the Creeps was a film that caught attention for its original screenplay, special effects and it’s campiness. Dekker succeeded in making a horror movie that has it all: a dash of romance, scares, lighthearted comedy, nostalgia, camp, a touch of drama and a bit of gore.
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 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 hysteria as the film progresses.
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). 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 has 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 makes great use of long sequences and static shots with an assortment of oddly askew camera angles, each camera positioned deliberately for creative reasons. 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. Eliot Rockett’s cinematography nails the feel of the early 80s – so carefully detailed and perfectly attuned to the style of the decade that one could actually mistake it for an 80s production. Meanwhile the Quantum Creation FX gang (who gave us the effects for Splinter) once again showcase their talent despite a minimal budget.
Amidst all the terror, my favorite scene still remains a sequence in which Samantha dances about (Walkman replacing iPod) to the sound of Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.”
- Ricky D