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: