Written by: Michael Brookes
Top Ten lists are everywhere, but they serve a useful purpose, first they’re a good way of learning the tastes of a reviewer – do they like the same sort of films or books as you? They’re also a fun exercise for the writer of the list, as I compiled this list some entries were easy, others less so.
I’ve been a fan of horror films for many years, I’ve seen films get bloodier and gorier over the years. You can see things in modern films that wouldn’t have been allowed years ago, now don’t get me wrong I don’t see that as a bad thing, I don’t mind a bit of gory horror now and again. However for me, horror stands out when it builds an atmosphere, for me fear should be built through build up rather than shock and gore.
And now let’s take a look at my top ten horror movies.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, I’ve been a fan of his films and his books since I first watched the film in the late eighties. The film is a dark take on the Faust legend, by solving the puzzle box you open a doorway to another world, a world ruled by Leviathan and its cenobites, demons that introduce their victims to pain and pleasure, they have long since crossed the line so that the two are indivisible.
In many ways the film shows its age, with the effects in particular not holding up, that doesn’t matter for me, it tells an excellent story and it tells it well. It works by treading the line between gore and the dread of the demons lurking only a breath away from our realm.
It also introduces the infamous Pinhead, one of the greatest horror characters ever created. On the cenobites (and on Pinhead in particular) you can see the suffering they have endured. They wear their terrible scars with pride and delight in inflicting the same on the willing and the unwary alike.
It has since inspired a large number of sequels, the second film is ok, but for the most the rest are a mixed bag.
Another classic horror film from my youth, in it a young driver picks up a hitchhiker and discovers that it was a very bad mistake. The Hitcher is played by Rutger Hauer and for me is his greatest role (although Blade Runner is a better film, but we’re not doing a science fiction list!). After the young driver gets the better of him the Hitcher decides to make his life a living hell, although all he wants is for the driver to kill him, he’s not going to make it easy though.
The Hitcher is relentless and while it has a certain amount of bloodshed it doesn’t rely on it and in fact uses the suggestion of it to build the feeling of the poor driver being hunted, not by an evil man, but at times he feels like a supernatural force. A standout example of this is the scene with a young woman strapped between a truck and his trailer. The moment when the Hitcher slips the clutch is one of perfect horror, yet you don’t see the results.
Whatever you do don’t watch the remake with Sean Bean!
Don’t worry there will be some modern films on this list, but when you’re compiling a definitive top ten the classics tend to come first!
While Steven Spielberg isn’t a name you would usually associate with great horror films, he does have a talent for turning his hand to any genre and making a film that stands as a classic within it. Poltergeist is an example of how to build atmosphere in a movie, tricks that are still used in many films, take a look at the Paranormal Activity films if you need an example.
A normal family home is terrorised by spirits that a little girl can hear from the TV, these spirits are determined to lure the girl into their realm and terrorise the family in doing so. It all starts with seemingly innocuous strange events, such as furniture being moved and slowly ramps up the tension. The scene with the clown is a firm favourite.
Like some of the other films on the list it shows its age, that doesn’t bother me, decent effects can enhance a film, but they don’t make it. Be wary of the sequels, in a sense they are worth watching just because of the girl who is very odd, they don’t compare to the first film though.
The wonderful thing about the horror genre is that it can happily blend with other genres, Alien is a perfect example of this, it’s a horror film and a science fiction film and is one of the best monster movies are made. As an aside Aliens is actually my favourite film of the series, but I consider that to be an action film and while it has more than its fair share of tension and horror, the first film is the master for those elements.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with the story, if you’re not then go and watch the film immediately and then come back and read the rest of this post! An encounter with an alien spaceship leaves one of the crew infected with an alien lifeform that makes its grand entrance during a meal. Movie trivia states that the cast weren’t aware of the effects being used for the scene, so when the creature tore its way out of the actor’s chest many of the screams were real.
The monster design for this film was superb, based on the art of H R Giger the creature has an insectoid/bio-mechanical feel to it that is the stuff of nightmares. On top of that the creature has acid for blood that makes it a threat even when wounded. Even worse is the life cycle of the monster, a facehugger attaches itself to your face and forces its way down your throat to implant a creature that eventually tears its way out of your chest. A horrible fate indeed.
As an adaptation of Stephen King’s fantastic book it’s pretty poor, it loses a lot of the mystique and tension from the original. However as a horror film in its own right, it’s one the best.
As soon as you see Jack Nicholson driving the car you know what’s coming, but the predictability is not a problem the story is told so well. It has some of best known moments in horror, like Jack chopping his way through the door and the boy encountering the two creepy girls. While Jack may be the star he doesn’t make the film great on his own, the young boy helps with the atmosphere with his terrifying visions.
As does Jack’s wife who tries to hold everything together as her husband descends rather rapidly into insanity. The loneliness of their situation stuck for the winter in the large hotel provides a stark backdrop for the film.
Unlike some of the other classic films on my list, it doesn’t rely on special effects so has dated reasonably well, not that really matters, we have an excellent story here that stands the test of time.
We return to the horror in space theme with Event Horizon, a ship with an experimental drive system is lost when it jumps for the first time. When it reappears a team is sent to investigate, the ship has been to a different dimension that dragged the crew through hell, killing them all. The investigation team discover the horror that happened to the original crew. They also start to succumb to the madness and the horror starts again.
This is one of the gorier films on my list, however it doesn’t rely on it. It also has a tense atmosphere and the descent into madness is well portrayed which is why it makes the list. The two leads (Sam Neil and Laurence Fishburne) who play the scientist and the ship captain both do a great job with their roles and help elevate this film into a horror classic.
Another classic in the genre and one that relies on building tension and a sense of menace throughout the film that peaks with a moment of horror, but also with a mother’s tenderness. I grew up in the eighties when the fear of Satanic cults was common and that is the issue that is covered in this film. A young couple move into a new apartment and meet some annoying neighbours. They gradually take over their lives and when the young wife discovers she is pregnant she becomes convinced that the child is Satan’s.
The film works by taking normal events and putting a twisted spin on them, on the face of it the old couple are pushy, but only trying to be helpful. The truth is that they are evil and trying to bring the antichrist to Earth.
I’m a fan of supernatural evil, it’s a traditional form of horror that fell out of fashion for a while, but I’m pleased to see it has been making a bit of a comeback.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
Finally a modern film makes the list! This is an excellent film that bucks the modern trend of relying on shock or gore for its horror, instead it builds a truly creepy atmosphere. It also has a metaphysical theme that I enjoyed and the tension keeps mounting throughout the film and it keeps you guessing right up until the end.
An estranged son receives his mother’s house after she dies, the house is very creepy and he doesn’t take the hint (we wouldn’t have many horror films if the characters were too sensible!), he discoveries hint of a cult that he believes caused his mother’s death.
There’s a real sense of dread to the film that I really enjoyed, it’s not easy for a new film to knock the classics from their place, but this one managed it.
This was a low budget horror release with a bit of a science fiction twist. A group of seemingly unconnected people wake up inside the cube. The cube is comprised of hundreds smaller cubes and they are a puzzle that the victims have to solve. They must find their way through the maze, however if they enter the wrong cube then it can be fatal.
The cube is full of traps and they are very nasty traps indeed. What I like about this film is the simplicity of it, the story, the premise, everything about it is simple and very effective.
There are two sequels, the second film is worth watching and adds a new angle to the story. The third film is terrible and does its best to destroy the series.
This last spot proved to be the hardest one to choose, I suddenly realised that there were so many horror films that I hadn’t chosen. I haven’t even started on the foreign language films (maybe that’s a good idea for a future article!).
Dog Soldiers is low budget British horror at its finest, a squad of TA soldiers (for US readers they’re the British equivalent of the National Guard – sort of) on exercise in the Scottish highlands. They discover the remains of a Special Forces team and not long after that, the werewolves that killed them.
It’s the practicality of the team that I enjoyed most about the film so much, I’ve known a few squaddies over the years and I can imagine that they’d react just like the soldiers in the film. They dig in and keep fighting, the decent story, pace and one-liners help as well of course!