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My 13 Favorite Horror Films: A Preview

If I had been on the ball I would have thrown up this post last Friday the 13th. Oh well–this will be quite topical on July 13, 2012!

I think I’ve been asked, “Do you like horror movies?” more than any other film-centric question. People LOVE horror films of all kinds, but I’ve always felt somewhat out of the loop because I’ve never responded much to them. So when people would ask if I like horror, I generally responded by saying I just like good movies, some of which end up being horrific by genre; meanwhile, all I could think is how much I hate things like Final DestinationI Know What You Did Last Summer, or the Leprechaun films. Torture porn like the Saw or Hostel franchises don’t do much for me either. This overall judgmental attitude was wrong, however, because the term “horror” evoked the wrong feeling in me. I shouldn’t have thought of bad acting, hokey music, and goofy violence when thinking of horror. Just like anything else, there’s good and there’s bad, so I started to focus on what makes a great scary movie rather than what makes a bad one.

Maybe it’s years of systematic desensitization or maybe I’m a born sociopath, but I don’t frighten too easily anymore. Even if a loud burst of music cues while a mirror breaks onscreen, that brief moment of surprise doesn’t leave me feeling scared. I need an assault on my morals that leaves me feeling disturbed. I need depravity and debasement. I need to see the worst of human behavior on full display. When a horror film points out the worst in people and leaves no hope, I’m all in. Horror needs to cut deep.

I’ve compiled my 13 favorite horror films (subject to change by the day) after reading an impressive comprehensive list of the 100 best horror films of all-time as determined by Time Out London. Not all of my picks are on Time Out’s list, but many are, so feel free to refer to their opinions for some British perspective. I don’t know what their criteria was for choosing, but mine’s simple: I really like these movies. Many of my choices have common themes–genre blending, realism, paranoia, vulnerability– but I ultimately made my picks based on the gut feeling I get when I watch them. Horror, like comedy, is highly effective at evoking an emotional response, and these 13 all resonate strongly with me in some way. So, in reverse order, here… we… go… (Fair Warning: There may be some spoilers, but most of these movies are quite old, so get over it)

  • 13. Diabolique (dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1954): With hints of noir and dripping with Hitchcockian sensibility, Diabolique is terrifically dark and twisted while managing to be extremely fun. The wife and mistress of a sadistic headmaster team up to put his lecherous ways six feet under, but their plan inevitably hits something of a snag when his body goes missing. The performances from the two jilted lovers are spectacular and the big twist is still shocking in spite of being nearly 60 years old.
  • 12. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (dir: Robert Wiene, 1920): One of the first horror films and an early example of surrealist film makingCaligari is one of the most visually impressive/disturbing films of all time. It may be from the silent era, but the dark characters and terrifying imagery rival any modern day fright film, and its influence has carried through the decades to modern horror directors just as much as Chaplin has inspired modern comedy.
  • 11. The Vanishing (dir: George Sluizer, 1988): Well, I’ve gone from French to German, so why not move on to Dutch horror? I’m not sure another film has ended with such despair and terror as this. When a man’s girlfriend is abducted in broad daylight, an obsessive multi-year search for her whereabouts ensues. While we see the boyfriend’s struggle to find some answers, we also witness the normal lifestyle of the kidnapper, a family man who enjoys the hobby of snatching young women. I know I said this film ends with despair, so you might think you know what happens–trust me, you don’t. This one is a right hook you never see coming, and it will break your goddamn jaw.
  • 10.  An American Werewolf in London (dir: John Landis, 1981): Like salty and sweet, horror and comedy are a perfect blend when done correctly, and director John Landis brought his Blues Brothers experience to this spooky werewolf tale and ended up with a truly distinct film. Two young friends are on a European tour when one of them is attacked and gruesomely killed by some creature. When the survivor, David, begins to notice some changes in himself (along with some warnings from his dead friend), hilarity and terror being to intertwine effortlessly. Rick Baker’s legendary special effects frequently steal the spotlight, but a fun script and some serious shock moments make this more than just a technical exercise.
  •  9. Misery (dir: Rob Reiner, 1990): It doesn’t get much more terrifying than being seriously injured and left completely at the mercy of a psychotic nurse (the AMAZING Kathy Bates) in her secluded mountain home, which is exactly what Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan) faces. She seems harmless enough at first, but Paul quickly learns that he ain’t leavin’ without a fight. In fact, arguably the most-painful-to-watch moment in movie history occurs when he loses a fight with a rock hammer. Owwwwwww. Bates won a well-deserved Oscar for playing one of the most disturbing characters ever conceived, you dirty birdy…
  •  8. Antichrist (dir: Lars von Trier, 2009): Easily my most controversial pick, I can’t even really recommend this to you. Antichrist uses some of the most disturbing imagery I’ve ever seen, which makes the gore of Hostel look borderline childish in comparison. Along with some of the horror movies coming out of Japan and South Korea, this violence is almost unbearable to look at at times. That being said, if you can handle babies falling from windows and gruesome genital mutilation (yuck), this tale of a cold psychoanalyst who takes his disturbed wife to their cabin in the woods for some therapy is a real feast for the mind and eyes. Like many of the movies coming up on this list, Antichrist shows how frightening the prospect is of someone you deeply care about completely turning on you and becoming your worst enemy. But again, I don’t recommend it.
  •  7. Se7en (dir: David Fincher, 1995): Ooph. Much like the aforementioned The Vanishing, this ending is one of the best, but it is draining. A modern day noir blended with horror aftermath, David Fincher’s visual flair perfectly complements a bleak and brilliant script from Andrew Kevin Walker. They subvert the conventional detective story and transcend the cliches of a police/serial killer procedural at every turn. A killer on a rampage is dispatching victims in various gruesome ways inspired by the seven deadly sins, so the visceral horror elements are obvious; however, Se7en is more psychologically terrifying than anything else due to its confrontational questions about the true nature of man. Revealing the evil of mankind is far more frightening and difficult than merely showing a bloodbath (I’m looking at you, Saw).

I’m sorry, but I lied a little–that’s all for now. I will continue on with the cinematic terror when I write about my remaining six faves, and I’ll make a few other adjustments as well. I’ll update this posting soon, but enjoy the first few choices in the meantime! If I haven’t chosen one of your favorites yet, maybe it’s coming…

Thanks for reading and please stay tuned!


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