Okay. So my choices on my favourite horror films will probably not correspond with yours and the beauty of this being my blog is that they don’t have to. However I have always wanted to write about my favourite horror/ terrifying films and as it’s the season to be scared, I am wasting no more time in fulfilling my dream.
One thing to note, these might not necessarily be my All-Time Top Five, but they are certainly ones that I remember as having an effect on me at various points in my life for the reasons explained.
5. Scream (1996 dir. Wes Craven).
Or rather, That Film That Explains The Rules On How To Survive a Horror Movie Whilst Ironically Needing The Same Tactics To Help The Cast Survive In This One – How Clever! With a wealth of horror movies to his name, Wes Craven most famously gave the world Freddie Krueger amongst his many accolades, and after being a main disciple in defining one of cinema’s major genres, how ironic it was that Craven found himself some twenty years later producing a movie that challenged all the rules he himself established decades earlier in ‘how to survive in a horror movie’.
Scream was very cool. It was slick, it was witty, it was funny, it was very bloody and it was very sexy. Comprising a cast of young, good-looking High School teenagers and a cameo from The Fonz, the only unfortunate thing about Scream was that it went on to bastardise a whole raft of bad spin-offs, parody movies and after the terrific Scream 2, terrible sequels of its own. Critics will argue that’s the real horror story of Scream, but I prefer to focus on how good Scream is and how it completely revitalised horror and made it fresh, modern and new in the 90s. Imagine the cast of Friends, a bit younger, all at High School and watching endless reruns of Halloween and Friday the 13th. Then imagine two of them identifying with Anthony Perkins a bit too much and one by one, picking off their fellow students in a murderous vendetta which came to its rather long drawn-out conclusion after its three sequels. Scream was great fun, the biggest star of the movie dies in the first fifteen minutes and the irony continued in the fantastic sequel as they discussed the debate of, could sequels surpass their originals. Scream defined my teenage years and this is why I love it so much; it made it sexy to be a serial killer.
4. Se7en (1995 dir. David Fincher).
Perhaps not so much horror in the conventional slasher sense, but more psychological thriller in a similar vein of Silence of the Lambs. A large part of Se7en‘s genius was how maleficently David Fincher forced the imagination to fill in the blanks of how the victims died; if you notice, there isn’t any on-screen violence until Wrath at the end. You come in during the aftermath of the shocking discovery of each murder; long, slow scenes panning out so you can get a good grim look at the bodies. And that can be just as equally scary. Claiming martyrdom as his defence, Kevin Spacey’s brilliantly-played sadist John Doe takes it upon himself to ‘punish’ seven people across seven days for having committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins. His victims include a lawyer, a prostitute and a severely obese man… and who can ever forget the horrific torture of Sloth? Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s homicide detectives must find clues to the identity of their serial killer within the texts of Dante and Shakespeare and frustratingly spend the majority of the movie one step behind Doe as he orchestrates his pantomime of murder.
Most horror movies do at least forge a happy ending or leave you with some kind of hope that things will ‘all be okay now’. Se7en doesn’t do that. And quite frankly if you don’t know how Se7en ends, where the hell were you in the 90s?
3. The Shining (1980 dir. Stanley Kubrick).
The Shining is without doubt the one film that terrified me to my very soul when I first saw it and never fails to continue to do so each time I watch it. It’s a film I need years – and I mean this literally, years – between viewings to overcome the trauma of the previous watch. But don’t misunderstand me, I am fully aware of its genius and it’s a film I begrudgingly hate loving. The Shining’s impact laid within the cinematography and the music – the establishing shots of the what looks like a normal, mountain resort hotel looking innocently idyllic in the snow; the sinister, interrupted sounds of Danny’s tricycle trundling over the carpets and floorboards in the hotel; the complete hedonism of the bar scenes and those bloody twins which put together with outstanding performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, The Shining is one of the most psychologically-chilling films about atmosphere, isolation and the hold the mad woman in the attic has over you.
2. Watership Down (1978 dir. Martin Rosen).
Okay. So I know you’re reading this thinking, really? You’re putting an animated film about rabbits above The Shining? Just hear me out, will you.
The worst thing you can do when you’re a child is watch Watership Down. It is no way a ‘fluffy bunny movie’. I know people who are my age that saw it when they were as young as four years old and to this day are too emotionally scarred to watch it again. It is not just a simple tale of a group of wild rabbits trekking through country to find a better life in pastures new. There are Nazi undertones which cannot be dismissed with horrific representations of its own Auschwitz being controlled by the tyrannical dictator, General Woundwort. Fight scenes involve rabbits savagely tearing bloody lumps out of and killing each other; dogs and cats fight in balls of rage, blood and foam. Throw into this the immortal question of the afterlife and man’s destruction in the name of development and at thirty-one-years old, Watership Down mercilessly still has the ability to reduce me to a huge emotional mess by the end. Just imagine what all that does to a four-year-old.
1. Jaws (1975 dir. Steven Spielberg).
Not for a minute bashing the work of Peter Benchley, but the plot of Jaws is very simple. Rural US East-side coastal town can’t quite believe that a huge 25ft great white shark has taken it upon itself to assist with population control. Local fisherman and law enforcement go after it, kill it and save the day. Job done.
Except that is not where Jaws begins and ends. How many horror films can you say that have frightened you so much they’ve actually stopped you from doing something? The Birds was scary, but it didn’t stop you from owning a budgie. The Shining didn’t stop you from staying in hotels. Even in the most unlikely of places a great white could realistically be found, in 1975 Jaws made people terrified about going back into the water for years afterwards. And that’s power; Spielberg’s masterstroke was being able to frighten an audience so much that the impact spilled over into their daily lives. Sadly Jaws spawned three dreadful sequels, each one more desperate than the last. But don’t focus on these. Focus instead on the brilliance of the acting and script, the cinematography, that score, the incredible animatronics – CGI, who? – and above all, its influence. I give you my greatest horror of them all.
You’re mad – why on earth did you choose that?
Many horror films, regardless of their BBFC, live on in the mind because it’s about what you find scary. It’s like snakes, rats, cockroaches or flying. Some people will find all four, none at all, or a combination of all of them frightening. One person may watch Jaws and think, well, it never stopped me from going back into the water. But I defy you to find at least one person in your life who wasn’t too scared to do so afterwards for fear of having their leg torn off from below. Fear is not rational. Sometimes it’s not always about the amount of chainsaws, aliens and twitching curtains. It could be something that makes you question your own safety and mortality. Horror in cinema is beautifully shown in many different ways, but ultimately, it’s about what you find frightening.