This is all Simon Aitken’s fault. He tagged me in a Facebook post, as part of an ongoing meme which seems appropriate for this, The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. In short, he challenged me and his friends to list our top 15 horror films, and give a reason why we like them so much. His list is here, and I can’t argue with any of his choices.
As I started thinking about my list, I realised that some of my favourite horror moments weren’t films at all. So, as it’s me, and I believe in doing things a little differently, what comes next is a countdown of my favourite horror things. I hope you’ll find some surprises. In no particular order, then…
John Carpenter, front and centre, of course. I’ve chosen this one in preference to Halloween or The Fog because of the sense of creeping dread and the sheer inability of our heroes to escape the creature that is gradually taking them over. Rob Bottin’s extraordinary effects work, of course give the film most of it’s visceral impact. Their creation gave him a nervous breakdown. To my mind his work on The Thing has yet to be bettered. And oh, that ending…
Carnival Of Souls
Herk Hervey’s 1962 black and white film is a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere, which gradually, slowly, starts to creep you the heck out. It’s a simple story, told with a spare grace. Although there are no outright shocks, it’s deeply un-nerving. The figure of The Man reminds me a lot of the Somnambulist in The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari (which very nearly made this list), and David Lynch has to have been influenced by this dark little gem of a film.
The Sandman (short)
9 minutes of absolute nerve-shred. Paul Berry’s 1992 Oscar-nominated short takes an old European folk tale and crafts something almost unbearably creepy from it. I first saw this as part of a late-night animation show on Channel Four, and got absolutely no sleep that night as a consequence. The full thing is up on YouTube. Knock yourself out. I can’t watch the bloody thing. Speaking of which…
That same season also showed Raoul Servais’ Palme D’or winning short from 1979, Harpya. The tale of a man who rescues a half-woman, half-bird from a savage beating only to realise that he really shouldn’t have, it piles more creepy dread and outright shocks into nine minutes than most horrors manage in two hours. Servais used a multiplane camera projecting onto black velvet to give his images an ethereal, dreamlike quality. There really is nothing out there like it. Thank god.
Once again, for your viewing “pleasure”, YouTube has the goods. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Return Of The Living Dead
This is more like it. A riotous blast of a film, and incredibly influential in terms of how we view zombies these days. This is the first film to feature running zombies, and the first to feature the deathless catchphrase “Braaaains.” I saw it as the headline attraction of a horror all-nighter back when The Scala at King’s Cross used to be a cinema club, and the anticipation was almost palpable. The staff put up papier-mache gravestones at the side of the screen, and the bar was open all night. Can’t for the life of me remember what else was shown that night, but Return… is still a favourite because of that night. Send more paramedics.
The last minute of Twin Peaks
David Lynch’s masterpiece. He’s never been better than when he allowed his imagination to run riot in the expanded playground that TV provided him, and in the figure of Bob, he created a demonic villain that still gives me chills. Bob’s return from the Red Lodge is a truly vicious twist, and flips everything about the story on it’s head. It’s a horrible moment, and the bleakest end to a TV series that I can think of.
All together now… ” How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?”
Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers
The 1978 Lawrence Kasden version. Grittily filmed in a verite style, acted completely straight, it feels almost like a documentary of the last days of humanity. The brutal, bleak ending perfectly suits this wintry scare-fest. The fact that all it takes to be subsumed by the alien threat is to fall asleep is a neat idea, and one that was surely filtered into the planning stages of the script for “A Nightmare On Elm Street”. Nicely done effects work as well.
I make no apologies for loving this film. As wry commentary on horror tropes and mythology it still works brilliantly. But more importantly it’s also funny, sexy and damn scary. The creature effects are spot on, and Evil Ed’s last moments are as poignant as the death of David in An American Werewolf In London. It’s a romp of the highest order, with the same tone and sensibility as other beloved 80s genre films like Back To The Future or Silverado. I’m even kinda looking forward to the remake.
To be honest with you, I could just fill this list with David Cronenberg and have done with it. My fascination with body horror and the way reality can blur and shift with just the slightest of changes comes from him. I’ve listed The Fly as it was the first Cronenburg I saw at the movies, and it’s the one that I’ll always stick with if I come across it while channel surfing. Jeff Goldblum is fantastic in this, and like all the best movie monsters manages to keep some pathos wrapped in with the evil. But it’s Chris Salas’ effects that really make this film sing, and the monkey-thing that Goldblum’s character creates is up there with some of the outrageous creature designs of Rob Bottin or Screaming Mad George for outright SQUICK. Speaking of which…
James Gunn’s Slither is the perfect monster movie. There, I said it. It’s an amalgam of alien invasion, body horror and zombie film that motors along like a runaway train. It’s equal parts hilarious and revolting, and features stand-out performances from Captain Tightpants hisself, Nathan Fillion and the fabulous Elizabeth Banks. It’s just a joy, and I can’t recommend it enough. Oh, and keep watching to the end of the credits…
Night Of The Demon
Back when BBC2 used to show black and white horror on a Saturday night (a period that had major influence on my tastes in film), I became hooked on the movies of Jacques Tourneur. He used mood and atmosphere to expertly build up the tension that gradually ratchets through all of his films. You get the feeling that something scary could happen at any moment, and it’s worse for not really seeing what the threat could be. Night Of The Demon is my favourite of his horrors, in that it turns that idea around. You actually see the monster, and although it’s a bit rubbery it’s still a fine-looking beastie. This makes the climax a little more satisfying for me. Films, after all, are all about “Show, Don’t Tell”, and Tourneur’s films could be claimed to do neither, leaving the audience to do all the heavy lifting. Nevertheless, this tale of an investigative journalist’s battle with a satanic cult works on many levels, and is a topnotch creepy movie for a quiet night in.
Probably my favourite film of all time. Massively influential, iconic, it still feels fresh today. I have a thing for Sigourney Weaver because of this film. I have a thing for the design work of Ron Cobb because of this film. It’s brilliantly written. It’s gorgeous to look at. Most importantly, it’s still scary. And like Tourneur, Ridley Scott knew to keep the monster hidden up until the end. The moment where it unravels from the ducting of the cabin of the Narcussis is extraordinarily un-nerving. Any list of great horror films that doesn’t have Alien in it isn’t trying, to my mind.
I’ve always felt Guillermo Del Toro works best under a tight budget, and in his native language. I love Chronos for both these reasons, and also because it’s an inventive spin on the vampire mythos. By making his Spanish gentleman an unwilling blood-sucker, Del Toro creates a tale that is both blackly humourous and unbearably sad, as well as horrifying. It has a mood and nervous energy that he hasn’t really recaptured since.
Mostly because of THAT moment. The springloaded vampire moment. Although the show as a whole is jampacked full of creepy moments, the shot where the Nosferatu-style vampire erupts from his coffin is burnt into my inner cortex and will never leave. TV has frequently served Stephen King better than film, and Salem’s Lot is the high point. Tobe Hooper nails the scary in this. Ignore the duff 2004 rehash. This is the real deal.
The League Of Gentlemen Xmas Special
There are people out there that will try to convince you that the League Of Gentlemen is a comedy show. These people are talking out of an inappropriate orifice. The writers and performers of this most excellent programme are self-confessed horror fans, and the show is stuffed full of loving homages to the genre. The Christmas Special, screened in 2000, takes those influences and comes up with something special. It’s formatted like an Amicus portmanteau film, and features vampires, voodoo curses and vets. And then there is the ending. An ending about as far from a happy Christmas as you can possibly get. An ending that has led TLC to ban the League Of Gentlemen from the house. In fact, she refuses to watch the show, and on the whole I can’t say I blame her.
Comedy? Pah. Does this look funny to you?
Happy Hallowe’en, yawl.