Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some Thoughts On The Guardian's 25 Best Horror Films

Generally, I think these contrived lists are a waste of time, but seeing as I have a longstanding interest in macabre cinema I thought I'd have a quick read through what The Guardian considers to be the 25 best horror films ever. (Can you believe that, in their opinion, the best film ever, in any category, was Chinatown? To use a vulgar acronym: WTF? Even ignoring the fact that the director raped a 13-year-old, it's baffling to me that this film would be chosen over so many more worthy options!) 
But on to horror! What follows is their list, and my thoughts on each one.
25) Les Vampires (1915): I haven't seen this one, so I can't comment.
24) Carrie (1976): I hated Carrie on the first and only time I ever watched it: it's a mean-spirited, nasty piece of exploitative junk, showcasing more than anything else its director's callousness and unpleasantness, with a silly shock ending that makes no sense, and De Palma seems to take far too much pleasure in killing off his cast. The only thing that redeems this film is Sissy Spacek. 
23) The Evil Dead I and II (1981/1987): I'd agree on the second one, easily the funniest slapstick horror ever made, but the first film is pretty weak.
22) The Blair Witch Project (1999): I really liked this when I saw it in the cinema, and admire greatly both the directors and the actors for creating such a convincing ghost story out of practically nothing, but I still can't get over the feeling that it was a little too low-key to work effectively.
21) Audition (1999): I saw this again recently and can agree that not only is it pretty stomach turning at times, it's probably one of the most troubling and intelligent gore movies you're likely to see. Highly recommended.
20) Dracula (1958): In terms of influence and audaciousness alone (for the time), you can't argue with this one (although I think Hammer made better films). If we're going for 1960s Gothic, though, I'd have included Mario Bava's Black Sunday instead.
19) Les Diaboliques (1955): I haven't seen this one, so I can't comment.
18) Bride of Frankenstein (1935): I'm one of the rare people who doesn't care for this film as much as I do for the original, which I feel should have got the nod (and why not include both). This film is deeper and more complex in some ways, but is hurt by unfunny comedy and sentimentality, as well as the feeling that James Whale didn't really care for the material. 
17) Halloween (1978): Again, you can't knock it for influence (although its influence has been entirely negative) but I really don't like Halloween. It's very well done, and if you're only going to watch one slasher film, make it either this or the first Nightmare on Elm Street. But if you've seen Halloween once, watching it again becomes a chore as you sit around waiting for likeable characters to take their turn to die. 
16) The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920): No arguments here! A classic.
15) Dead of Night (1945): This film's popularity baffles me. It's the dullest, most uninteresting anthology of ghost stories I've ever seen, with only its bizarre ending rousing me out of a bored reverie. Despite what The Guardian says, it's not creepy; there's never the slightest frisson of either fear or mystery. Yawn...
14) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): No arguments here. The TCM is an assault on the senses that's pretty well unforgettable. One might object to the misogynistic nature of the violence (a distressingly common complaint of 1970s horror films) but it still deserves a place on this list.
13) The Haunting (1963): The best haunted house film ever! Should be higher on the list too.
12) Ring (1998): An innovative and damned creepy contemporary ghost story from Japan. Well worth watching.
11) The Innocents (1961): Up there with The Haunting as the best ghost story ever.
10) Peeping Tom (1960): I saw this years ago, and don't remember much about it except that I thought that it's one of those films that is more interesting to write a thesis about than to actually watch. And at this stage of my life I'm not too keen on watching yet another film about a predatory male murdering women.
9) Vampyr (1932): The Guardian says: " This really is a film that exemplifies the idea of dreaming with our eyes open". And they're right. A great film.
8) Let The Right One In (2008): I haven't seen it, but seeing as teenagers and vampires are two things that, by and large, bore me rigid, I probably won't either.
7) Nosferatu (1922): The exception to the rule above!
6) The Exorcist (1973): Definitely the most overrated horror movie ever! A friend and I rented this on video when it first became available in the late 1990s, expecting to be scared witless. Instead, we were bored out of our minds by the pretentious, exploitative stupidity of it all, and by the end were laughing hysterically and shouting "the power of shite compels you!" every time the priests appeared. Nasty, conservative nonsense. I remember The Exorcist III as being excellent, though (of John Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic, let us not speak.)
5) The Shining (1980): Definitely the second most overrated horror movie ever! It has a budget and a look most horror films can only dream of, but is emotionally frigid, full of things that are supposed to be scary but end up being ridiculous (the elevator full of blood), and in the later half degenerates into the Crazy Jack Psycho Pantomime. Watch The Haunting instead, or 'The Shinning', a hilariously accurate parody by The Simpsons.
4) The Wicker Man (1973): I really liked this the first time I saw it, and it's head and shoulders above most of its contemporaries, but I've never been able to watch it again. The inevitability of Edward Woodward's demise (from the moment he lands on the island, he's a dead man), combined with the film's slow pace, seem both sadistic and tiresome to me now, without any deeper philosophical resonance that would make the unpleasantness bearable. From that era, I'd have gone with Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General.
3) Don't Look Now (1973): It's an awfully long time since I've seen this film, but I remember it as being excellent. Shame on The Guardian, though, for printing a picture along with their review which gives away the twist ending! Not everyone has seen these films, you know!
2) Rosemary's Baby (1968): Ignoring the whole "raping a 13-year-old and then fleeing to Europe rather than face the consequences" aspect of Polanski's career, I guess that Rosemary's Baby is an important enough film to warrant inclusion. I'd have gone for Repulsion myself, though.
1) Psycho (1960): It's hard to ignore Psycho's importance and it definitely warrants a place here;  however, I have a big problem with the film's structure. The first 45 minutes or so - up to the scene with Norman Bates and the car - are absolutely incredible, and the notorious shower scene remains one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen, primarily because, unlike in so many horror films where characters are expendable meat whose deaths mean nothing, one gets the sense of a real person being killed. However, the film has built to this horrifying climax as Norman watches the car sink into the swamp, and this viewer is left drained and shaking, but there's another hour and a bit to go. Essentially it starts again! But it never reaches the same heights as before, and the rest of the film I've always found a bit anti-climactic. Also, if you're a person who objects to films in which beautiful young women are killed horribly with household implements, this film is pretty hard to tolerate. I much prefer The Birds.
So that's the list. It's rendered worthless, though, by the exclusion of one film, one of the most influential and important horror films ever made. Can you guess what it is? Hint: It's included in a post I wrote last Halloween which recommended some good 'orror. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Very Short Poem

The following was written by Sir Charles Sedley (1639 – 1701), described by Wikipedia as "a notorious rake and libertine, part of the "Merry Gang" gang of courtiers which included the Earl of Rochester and Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. In 1663 an indecent frolic in Bow Street, for which he was heavily fined, made Sedley notorious. In this escapade Sedley and Lord Buckhurst stripped off on the balcony of a tavern in Bow Street and assumed various indecent postures with each other before Sedley washed his penis in a glass of wine with which he subsequently drank the king's health." It's entitled 'To Julius' and seems to sum up his view of life:
"Thou swear'st thou'lt drink no more; Kind Heaven send Me such a Cook or Coach-man, but no Friend."
I'm posting this because I want to draw attention to the fact that I've modified my last post to include a short video of the hedgehog that lives in our garden, if you want to see it. I suppose it's lucky not to be a wallaby, as can be shown from this article. One of the surprising things revealed by this is that one needs a license to own a dog, but not a python or a crocodile, and these can be sold on the web without any restriction whatsoever!
Anyway, here's a song:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wexford Sights (XXI): Down The Garden At Night

I was watching the wonderful Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari last night when the hound started scratching at the front door to go out. After I'd let him out I went back to my film, but then heard an unholy racket coming from down the garden. The hound was barking with an enthusiasm unusual for that time of night, so I ventured out with the torch, as it was pitch-dark. He was down by the hedge at the bottom of the garden, staring into the undergrowth and letting out yelps of frustration because he was prevented by his electric collar from diving in at whatever he was smelling in there. I shone the torch in and saw a tiny hodgeheg - sorry, hedgehog - curled up in a ball; one could see the spines stretch and contract as it breathed, no doubt terrified of this huge creature threatening it. I dragged the hound back into the house, and got my camera. It's not the best photo in the world, but I'm chuffed with it!
An update: The hedgehog was back last night, and so I took the opportunity to get a better picture. As it was already in a state of terror from our dog's barking, I don't think it made a difference to the frightened creature that I flipped it over to get this picture (I try to avoid hurting or scaring animals unless it's absolutely avoidable (as in putting down mousetraps, and even then I feel guilty as hell when I dump their tiny lifeless bodies in the bin):
And finally: the hedgehog was out in broad daylight today, and I got this short film, which is, I promise, my final word on hedgehogs (unless he does something unexpected, like burst into song or devour our house).
And to go with that, here's a cute Russian cartoon (like a lot of YouTube videos it's framed in widescreen and doesn't fit my Blogger page, but if you go to YouTube there are several versions of it available):

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wexford Sights (XX): More Mushrooms

The appalling financial news emanating from Ireland this week has depressed me so much that it's hard to focus on it, so I'm trying to concentrate on one of the few positive aspects of life in this benighted country: the extraordinary profusion of different types of fungus (which I've already documented in previous posts). And they can be so transient: the black-rimmed, frilly mushroom in the bottom photograph popped up in a patch of waste ground up the lane beside our house, and two days later it had disappeared, probably flattened by a tractor. But here's a picture more relevant to a whole lot of people living in Ireland today: