100 Greatest Horror Movies (pt.5): 50-26

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.

****

50: Thundercrack!
Directed by Curt McDowell
Written by George Kuchar
1975, USA

Thunderstruck! is by far the most obscure film you will find on this list. It is without a doubt one of the true landmarks of Underground cinema. With a screenplay by veteran underground film maker George Kuchar (story and characters by Mark Ellinger) and directed Curt McDowell (than student of Kuchar),

Thundercrack! is a work of a crazed genius. While it starts out as an atmospheric gothic horror tale, it quickly turns into a ultra-bizarre, ultra-low-budget pornographic black comedy. Thundercrack! is raunchy, graphic and extremely warped. Because of its graphic conent including masturbation, and sex between heterosexual and homosexual couplings, the film is unavailable in many areas of the world. The inclusion of full hard core sex runs the gamut of crude, messy, and honest, but the sex is masterfully weaved into the film’s structure and becomes an essential element of the plot. You won’t soon forget Mrs Hammond’s voyeuristic bedroom which includes a vacuum operated ‘blow job’ device, nor the collection of dildos and blow up dolls. Crass, sick and hilarious, this no-budget b&w feature revels in taboo-shattering shocks. Imagine if John Waters and Jack Smith had a child and their deranged offspring grew up to direct a film while smoking crack! It’s wonderful!

49: Re-Animator
Stuart Gordon
Written by Dennis Paoli
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, the injection of grisly humour, 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, updating the mad scientist role for a whole new generation – a performance which stands in the same league as Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the Evil Dead series.

48:-An American Werewolf in London
Directed by John Landis
Written by John Landis
UK / USA , 1981

American Werewolf in London is 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).

47: Audition
Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Daisuke Tengan
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. Listed at #11 on Bravo´s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, Audition is not for the faint of heart.

46: Twink Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Directed by David Lynch
Written by David Lynch and Robert Engels
1992, USA

David Lynch’s prequel to his cult television series Twin Peaks is every bit as strange and twisted as the popular TV show. The story concerns the last horrific seven days in the life of Laura Palmer.

Perhaps more than any other Lynch film, Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me contains a great deal of nightmarish imagery and every frame leaves a clue to the mysteries behind both the film and the television series. This is a seriously underrated work and one of Lynch’s finest films.

45: Shaun Of The Dead
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Edgar Wright
2004, UK

Like all self-respecting zombie flicks, Shaun of the Dead has that most vital ingredient, an underlying layer of social commentary. But if that’s not enough, director Edgar Write manages to mix a bit of genuine romance, ridiculous gore, riotous comedy, and somber drama, making it the funniest film to appear on this list. Shaun Of The Dead is an instant cult classic.

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44: Dead Ringers
Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by and Norman Snider
1988, Canada

Dead Ringers is arguably David Cronenberg’s masterpiece, and Jeremy Irons gives the most highly accomplished performance of his entire career – times two. This is the story of Beverly and Elliot Mantle (both played by Irons), identical twins that since birth have been inseparable. Together they work as gynaecologists in their own clinic, and literally share everything between them including the women they work with and the women they sleep with. Jealousy comes between the two when Beverly falls in love with a new patient and decides he no longer wants to share his lady friend with Elliot. The twins, who have always existed together as one, have trouble adapting and soon turn against one another. As the tag-line reads, “Separation Can Be A Terrifying Thing”.

Unlike the director’s previous films, the biological horror in Dead Ringers is entirely conveyed through psychological exploration of the two main characters. Cronenberg’s true-life tale is wholly original and quite disturbing and without question, my personal favourite of Cronenberg’s oeuvre.

43: Let Me In
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist and Matt Reeves
2010, US

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.

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42: Eraserhead
Directed by David Lynch
Written bu David Lynch
USA, 1977

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.

41: Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz
USA, 2010

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.

40: A Nightmare On Elm Street
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Wes Craven
US, 1984

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 directed two cult classics 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.

39: Halloween
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
US, 1978

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.

38: Black Christmas
Directed by Bob Clark
Written by Ray Moore
Canada, 1974

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.

37- Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divu)
Directed by Jaromil Jires
Written by Jaromil Jires
Czechoslovakia, 1970

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.

36: Antichrist
Directed by Lars Von Trier
Written by Lars Von Trier
2009, Denmark

Antichrist is perhaps the most divisive horror film made in the last ten years. Often the film community grumbles about filmmakers seldom creating original works, yet Lars Von Trier and all his artistry and ambition is continuously frowned upon. Antichrist is a fine horror film – and one that understands that genuine terror is what resides within people.

I quote the fox:

“Chaos Reigns”

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****

Special Mention:

The Kingdom
Directed by Lars Von Trier
1994, Denmark

I’m not including TV shows on this list but I just wanted to give a quick shout out to The Kingdom, originally made for Danish television, but released in the North America as a theatrical film. The Kingdom is four episodes long and all four are directed by Lars Von Trier. The best way to describe the series is; an E.R.-like medical drama intertwined with a ghost story. The closest thing to it in recent memory is perhaps David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

35: Funny Games
Directed by Michael Haneke
Written by Michael Haneke
1997, Germany

Two psychotic young men play “home invasion”. They terrorize a family of three (a mother, father, and son), hold them hostage and then force them to play sadistic games for their own amusement. There’s no better, nor more difficult filmmaker in the world than Michael Haneke today. I’ve always praised his work and if time as thought us anything, he gets better with age. Funny Games is one of his earliest films (later remade in the US by the director himself), and it remains one of his most controversial and divisive pics to date. Nevertheless Funny Games is a fine piece of filmmaking – even if Haneke thinks you’re in the wrong to enjoy watching it.

34: Death Proof
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
USA, 2007

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. Yes he toys with genre rules, but Tarantino doesn’t try to follow the “grind-house” formula step by step and thus avoids creating a carbon-copy. Replace the typical sharp edged blade with a car, and Death Proof is every bit a slasher film as Halloween, Black Christmas and A Nightmare On Elm Street.

33: The Thing
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster
1982, USA

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. Thankfully, the film gained a large 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 in some of the most spectacular scenes of body horror ever put on screen. The Thing is now recognized as a nerve-shredding masterclass 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.

32: Donnie Darko
Directed by Richard Kelly
Written by Richard Kelly
2001, USA

Although Donnie Darko was removed from the big screen after a few weeks, it never disappeared. Thrown away by its distributor it ended up finding its audience on home video and at midnight screenings. Recurrent chats on the Internet indicated a rapidly growing fan base for the movie. People in and out of the industry continued to talk about it. It became a cult film in the truest sense of the term and its audience base continues to grow. No other movie (post 1989) is able to capture that late ’80′s feel with such accuracy and as a result, Donnie Darko already seems nostalgic. Darko is a movie that demands to be explored, analyzed and debated among its aficionados.

31: Possession (The Night the Screaming Stops)
Directed by Andrzej Zulawski
Written 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. 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.

30: Repulsion
Directed by Roman Polanki
Written by Gérard Brach and Roman Polanki
UK, 1969

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 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. This marks his second entry in his “apartment trilogy” (Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant being the other two), and also the 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.

29: Vampyr
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Written by Christen Jul
Denmark, 1932

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.

28: Silence Of The Lambs
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Ted Tally
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 straight up horror.

27: The Last Wave
Directed by Peter Weir

Written by Tony Morphett and Peter Weir
Australia, 1977

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.

26: Rosemary’s Baby
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Roman Polanski
USA, 1968

Roman Polanski’s brilliant horror film 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 –and 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?

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By Ricky da Conceição

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast and I edit.

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