Wednesday, October 28, 2009

As It's Halloween...

Seeing as it's Halloween, and therefore everyone's blathering on about 'orror, I felt that I should stick my oar in and make a list of a few interesting films for the discerning fan of cinema's dark side. However, my definition of a good horror film is based on its power to unsettle or disturb me rather than by its ability to frighten me. After all, anyone can yell "boo!" in your face and make you jump; for me, the really good stuff gets under your skin and stays there, like a bad dream. This is why I found The Exorcist or The Silence of the Lambs laughable rather than terrifying; they were so overwrought, obvious, and just plain silly that these days I couldn't even sit through them. But the following ten films have a real sense of flair and imagination, a genuine brush with the downright eerie and disturbing, and/or a nightmarish descent into the dark depths of the soul, and are highly recommended for those who haven't yet seen them. And if you have seen them, why not watch them again? (These are just off the top of my head; this list could change as I rifle through my video collection!)
1) The Haunting (1963 version)
Definitely the best haunted house film ever made, and one of the spookiest, most intelligent horror films of all time (which was remade as a ludicrous atrocity by Jan de Bont in the 1990s; for shame!). 
2) Carnival of Souls (1962).
This is one of the oddest B-movie horror films from the era and a wonderfully imaginative, strange little film. Often touted as an influence on George Romero, but I can imagine that a certain D. Lynch was also paying attention when this little gem first appeared.
3) Night of the Living Dead (1968).
The original, and still one of the best, of the modern-era horror films, as well as being the best zombie film ever made. Thought-provoking, visceral, and with the most audacious endings in the genre. 
4) Deep Red (1975).
Everyone's favourite Italian madman/auteur, Dario Argento, has been off the boil for some time now (since the late seventies, many would say, and even then his ouevre was an acquired taste: lots of style and nightmarish imagery, but let down by terrible acting, preposterous plots, and gaps in logic excessive even for the seventies) but if you're only going to watch one, make it this one: a very weird and convoluted murder mystery with some extremely startling moments and a general atmosphere of twisted decadence. May be too grisly for some, though.
5) Vertigo (1958).
Some might argue against including this as a horror film; however, I've always seen Vertigo as a ghost story (which just happens to have no real ghost). Certainly, it has moments which are truly haunting, and is one of the bleakest, darkest, and most disturbing films I've seen. (It also makes no sense whatsoever...)
6) The Innocents (1961).
This film version of The Turn of the Screw scared the bejaysus out of me when I saw it one evening many years ago, and it ranks up there with The Haunting as one of the best ghost stories on film.
7) Witchfinder General (1968).
Michael Reeves' extraordinarily dark and pessimistic tale of nasty doings in the Cromwellian era remains the best film Hammer never made, and has the performance of a lifetime from Vincent Price (although I have a great fondness for the Corman Poe films as well).
8) Brain Dead (1992).
The ultimate zombie splatter comedy, with possibly the best line ever from a kung-fu priest ("I kick arse for the Lord!") and a no-holds-barred approach to zombie dismemberment that's both utterly revolting and totally hilarious. The best horror comedy since The Evil Dead II ("groovy!"). Strong stomachs are definitely required for this one!
9) Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan (1960).
A wonderfully filmed Gothic tale has atmosphere so ripe you could slice it with a cheese knife and serve it on crackers, and the deathly beautiful Barbara Steele. The other best film that Hammer never made...
10) King Kong (1933).
Need I say more? (The original Kong, like Frankenstein, might not be scary any more, but they're still the best monster films ever. And I hated the recent remake of Kong, which was three times as long and, despite 70 years' worth of special effects' advances, still lacked the charm and pathos of the original (insofar as that which can be possessed by a film about a giant gorilla). When 1933 Kong falls to his doom, I still get a lump in my throat; when 2005 Kong finally plunges to earth, I yell "About bloody time!" )
Having recently watched The Devil Rides Out, with a magnetic Christopher Lee fighting the forces of Satan, I'm keeping the horror vibe going by watching the little-known but recommended Night of the Eagle (from 1962, I think, and about witches) and The Haunted Palace with Vincent Price (based on Lovecraft's Charles Dexter Ward). Happy Halloween, y'all! And here's a suitable song and video:


jams o donnell said...

Great choice of films, although I can't speak for Deep Red which I haven't seen. I'm glad that someone else loves Witchfinder General too. I would add the Wicker Man to the list

A Doubtful Egg said...

I do like The Wicker Man (have you seen the idiotic remake, by the way?) but I find it an oddly cold and uninvolving film, especially when seen a second time (SPOILER ALERT). There's no likeable characters in it: you've either the upright religious cop, the cynical lord of the manor, or the murderous, duplicitous locals! And there's a sense of inevitability as our hero gets dragged off to his death which I find hard to watch. (Like Halloween, another very good film I can't watch again for the same reason) That said, it's still one of the best horror films of the 1970s!

Stan said...

anyone can yell "boo!" in your face and make you jump

Lamentably, this has been the modus operandi of most commercial horror film makers in recent memory. It's a cheap and easy way to elicit scares; combined with a tiresome overload of artless gore, it testifies to a generation of bankrupt imaginations.

Your list is a very fine one. I would recommend every film on the list, which is rare considering how fussy my taste is! Night of the Eagle (AKA Burn, Witch, Burn!) is terrific, and I've no doubt you'll enjoy it.

A Doubtful Egg said...

I certainly did enjoy it; I thought it was a fine, atmospheric, and imaginative film (and I'm incredibly fussy!). I must see if I can track down a copy of Night of the Demon somewhere; I saw it years ago and remember it as being quite good...

Stan said...

Night of the Demon is superb, one of the best of its kind. Since you rate The Haunting so highly (and rightly so!), I'll recommend The Old Dark House and The Spiral Staircase as two more great examples of the haunted house genre — in case you haven't seen them.

For Halloween I watched a few old horrors: Return of the Vampire with Bela Lugosi, Hammer/Shaw brothers mashup Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, and another Hammer The Gorgon. All were watchable but none was remarkable.

A Doubtful Egg said...

I've seen them all, but none recently, so some of my memories are a bit hazy! To get into the season's spirit, my partner (not a horror fan) and I watched (not all in one day, I hasten to add) The Devil Rides Out (enjoyable but a tad overrated, I feel), Black Sunday (which my partner really liked), The Haunted Palace (an atmospheric but not top-notch Corman movie), Night of the Living Dead (again!), Night of the Eagle, and The Tomb of Ligeia (see comments for The Haunted Palace). I think that's enough for one weekend... (And I can't be bothered italicising all of those!)

Stan said...

A fine feast of fright!

(Sometimes film names look better without italics. I don't always bother, myself...)