Tuesday, 30 October 2012


And here's more...

20. The Descent (D: Neil Marshall, 2005)
Brit director Neil Marshall's second film is a super tense claustrophobic underground scarefest which sees a band of six female friends go exploring an unmapped cave system, getting lost, surviving a cave-in, only to then have to deal with hideous underground cannibalistic monsters called Crawlers. The Descent of the title not only refers to the descent underground but also to the psychological descent in to guilt, terror and madness by the main character Sarah after her husband and child are both killed in a car accident that she survived. All the actresses are excellent, especially Shauna Macdonald as Sarah, and the script by Marshall is character driven and intelligent. His direction is fantastic too, piling on the tension, atmosphere and scares. Marshall is helped no end by inspired set designs (all of the caves are interchangeable studio sets, which you'd never guess watching the film) and stunning cinematography from his regular DP Sam McCurdy, one of the best DPs currently working. To note, Marshall’s werewolf flick Dog Soldiers remains my fave of his films but I’ve left it out of this list as it’s more of a monsters vs. soldiers action movie than a horror movie, in the same way Aliens isn’t in this list either but Alien for sure will be.

19. The Eye (D: The Pang Bros., 2002)
The Pang Brothers pan-Asian chiller is a brilliantly creepy and imaginative tale which sees blind twenty year old Hong Kong classical violinist Mun getting an eye transplant which allows her to see for the first time since she was two. Unfortunately her new eyes also let her see angry spirits and ghostly apparitions of terrible tragedies which have already happened and which may yet happen. The Eye is simply a great story filled with atmosphere, strong performances, visual creativity, pant wettingly scary moments (the ghost in the elevator springs to mind) and an ending which is nothing short of horrifically spectacular. Brilliant film. Just don't bother with the lame US remake.

18. Bram Stoker's Dracula (D: Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)
Coppola's lush, bloody, romantic, erotic, grandly theatrical and wonderfully overblown take on Stoker's classic novel is my favourite film version of the story for exactly those reasons. And for Gary Oldman's startlingly original and utterly compelling take on the titular character, recast here as a tragic, romantic antihero. Simply, Oldman is amazing! His performance as either creepy wizened old man or elegant romantic lead or bloodthirsty bat demon or sex hungry Wolfman is jaw dropingly awesome. Alongside him Anthony Hopkins makes for a gloriously mad Van Helsing. Winona Ryder is lovely and full of repressed eroticism as Mina, the object of Drac's affections. Sadie Frost is adorable and sexy as flirty Lucy. And Tom Waits, Richard E Grant, Carey Elwes and Bill Campbell all provide solid support. The only duff link in the acting chain is poor old Keanu Reeves, atrociously miscast as Jonathan Harker, his being one of cinema's most embarrassingly awful performances of all time. But not even the terribleness of Keanu can sink this movie. Bram Stoker's Dracula is a visual and storytelling tour de force that harks back to old style movie making on grand sets with imaginative camera work, make-up and in-camera FX rather than snazzy editing farts and glossy CGI. It looks like a wondrously produced stage play with the actors going big as if they are indeed performing to a live audience. And it works. Also, the film doesn't skimp on the blood and the horror. The sequence where Van Helsing and co. track down and kill vampire Lucy in her tomb is stunningly shot and edited and gloriously gory. A special call out goes to the thunderously dramatic and doomladen score by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. It's one of my all time faves. I know that this film has as many critics as it does fans. And I do understand why many don't go for it. But I do. Big time. For me, Coppola’s film is the most all round enjoyable, visually arresting and compulsively watchable version of Dracula yet made.

Vampire Lucy

17. Interview with the Vampire (D: Neil Jordan, 1994)
Neil Jordan's film of Anne Rice's classic 1976 novel is a classy and beautifully mounted production. That it stays hugely faithful to Rice's text is down to Jordan and to producer David Geffen who employed Rice herself to write the screenplay with help from Jordan. It was only when Tom Cruise was cast as the inimitable Vampire Lestat, the brat prince anti-hero of many of Rice's vampire novels that Rice and much of her fandom balked. However, after seeing Cruise's work, Rice admitted she was wrong and took out a public ad in Variety saying as much and praising Cruise's performance. As well she might. For though the story of Interview is really that of morose vampire Louis who Lestat turns back in 18th century Louisiana, it is Cruise as Lestat, a part-time presence in the film, who electrifies. He is pure savage charisma, a selfish, cruel and utterly amoral monster that enjoys inflicting pain and suffering for his own amusement. He is elegant and charming, then feral and furious. He is pure swaggering ego with fangs and an endless lust for blood. The scene where he toys with and tortures a young prostitute before killing her all to make a point to Louis is cruel and ghastly. But as we follow the undead existence of vampire Louis as he recounts his tale to a writer in a dingy contemporary San Francisco room, it is one other character and actor who comes to truly steal the film. Kirsten Dunst in her screen debut is Claudia, an orphan child who Lestat and Louis turn in to a vampire, taking as their immortal daughter. She is a child who over the decades will mature in mind, but will never grow up in body. The then twelve-year-old Dunst is fabulous as this tragic and ultimately doomed woman child. Her scenes with Brad Pitt's Louis are as touching as her scenes with Cruise's Lestat are tense and combative. Rices' script is rich and thoughtful, pondering often on the nature of life and death, of good and evil, while being filled with such tangible despair (Rice wrote the original book in order to deal with the loss of her young child). On a technical level Dante Farretti's sets are beautifully designed, being often exaggerated versions for their period. Phillippe Rousselot's photography is both lush and gloomy as needed. And the mournful choral score by Elliot Goldenthal is highly effective. Also worth noting is the FX. Digital Domain provided many subtle digital FX along with matte paintings and set extensions. The subtle CG morphing as both Louis and then Claudia become vampires is a lesson in how to do great unobtrusive CGI. And the make-up and animatronics by the late Stan Winston are some of the best he ever did. The sequence where Claudia cuts Lestat's throat and he slowly bleeds to death on the floor is a marvel of FX work combining Cruise's performance and gory make-up merged with an amazingly life like animatronic of Cruise as he writhes, bleeds, desiccates and dies in front of our eyes. As a long time fan of Rice's first tranche of Vampire Chronicles books (from Interview up to Memnoch: The Devil) I couldn't have wished for a better film version of her original beloved text. Sympathy for the Devil indeed.

Angry Claudia

16. The Company of Wolves (D: Neil Jordan, 1984)
Neil Jordan's other horror movie (at least until his new one Byzantium comes out) was partly what got him the gig for Interview with the Vampire. The Company of Wolves is a strange, lyrical, dreamlike fable based upon Little Red Riding Hood and adapted by Jordan together with the late author Angela Carter from short stories by Carter in her book The Bloody Chamber. Carter's book is a reworking of several famous (and some not so famous) fairytales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, but with a strong feminist slant, as tales of burgeoning womanhood and sexual awakening. In the movie, in contemporary times, a young girl, 14 or 15, takes to her bed and falls asleep. In her dreams now we are in a small village in a deep dark forest in long ago times. Here, the same young girl, now called Rosaleen, is being constantly warned by her parents and her granny to beware the wolves who prowl the forest and also nefarious men who will try to take her virtue. Granny tells her too that some wolves can disguise themselves as men, making them doubly dangerous. What follows are several tales told by granny of men who become wolves and all the terrible things that then happen. But Rosaleen’s sexual awakening is more powerful than any scary old tales. And she soon ignores granny’s warnings when she meets a handsome huntsman out in the woods who charms her and challenges her to a race to granny’s cottage. Of course, we all know what happens next. “Oh granny, what big eyes you have...” I'm a huge fan of fairytales and of how they can be reinvented and reinterpreted. I've read The Bloody Chamber and it is a beautifully written, hugely evocative and deeply intelligent text. Jordan's film keeps the same feel as the book and plays like a beautiful nightmare filled with classic fairytale imagery and added blood and gore and some very, very icky werewolf transformations. The film looks gorgeous with the intricate sets and lush photography making it appear far more expensive than it actually was (a budget of only £410,000.) But it is Jordan's overall style of direction – the dreamlike quality – and the thematic depth that makes this something so very special. It is the best, most fully realised, most intelligent adult fairytale ever put on screen. The cast is uniformly excellent including such luminaries as Angela Landsbury, Stephen Rea and David Warner. And George Fenton's score is darkly melodic and quite lovely. A beautiful, lyrical, scary film, The Company of Wolves stays with you, especially in your dreams...and nightmares.

The Wolfgirl

15. Candyman (D: Bernard Rose, 1992)
Bernard Rose’s film adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden transplants Barker’s tale of horrific urban legends from England to the US, specifically to the run down public housing estate of Cabrini Green in Chicago. Virginia Madsen is Helen, a graduate student doing a thesis on urban legends, who is investigating the legend of the Candyman, a slave who fell in love with a white woman only to be tortured and murdered for doing so. Apparently if you say his name five times in to a mirror he appears and splits you open with his hook for a hand. Several murders have happened on the Green, which the locals attribute to the Candyman. Fascinated, Helen delves deeper in to the legend and in to the world of Cabrini Green…only to find more than she ever bargained for - a bloodbath with herself as the number one murder suspect. Rose’s film is a grim, poetic, scare and blood filled nightmare of murder and possible madness. Is Candyman real? Is Helen really mad? Candyman is all about the power of legends, of folklore, of combined belief where what is real and what is believed to be real becomes blurred. It is also damn scary with several sequences that will make you jump out of your skin and cringe in horror. Madsen, always a good actress, is perhaps at her best ever here. And as Candyman himself, Tony Todd creates one of cinema’s finest and most iconic scaremongers. Also worth noting is Philip Glass’s odd, jarring and brilliantly haunting score. Be my victim!

14. The Omen (D: Richard Donner, 1976)
Not much needs to be said about Richard Donner’s classic 1976 tale of the antichrist coming to earth in the form of a little boy called Damien. We all know the story. We all know it is brilliant! Gregory Peck and Lee Remick are both splendid as the child’s unwitting adoptive parents Robert and Katherine Thorne, Robert being the current US ambassador to the UK. Donner’s film is a classy production, which follows the mystery of who and what young Damien really is, the evil that happens around him, and his adoptive father’s own investigations and eventual horrific discovery of the truth. The film is chock full of classic sequences and unforgettable moments that chill the blood to this day. It is helped enormously too by Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning score which is utterly foreboding in its choral grandeur and chilling Latin chants. By far the best of all the Omen films and a million times better than the dull and pointless 2006 remake.

13. The Fog (D: John Carpenter, 1980)
John Carpenter’s 1980 follow up to Halloween is an oft-overlooked classic. A gloriously atmospheric ghost story that , like Halloween, relies on mood, atmosphere and tension over gore and cheap shocks (though it does have a couple of very good shocks). The small coastal town of Antonio bay is celebrating its centenary when a creepy fog rolls in at night from the sea, sending things around town a little crazy. Soon, the ghosts of drowned lepers, betrayed by the original towns folk, return to exact their gruesome revenge on the descendants. Tom Atkins, Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau and Hal Holbrook lead the cast and do strong work. But the true star of the film is Carpenter along with his DP Dean Cundey who together create a film dripping with atmosphere and slow creeping dread. A simple but great ghost story, I never get tired of watching The Fog and always get a chill when I see a real life fog bank. Ghost lepers…brrr!

12. Evil Dead 2 (D: Sam Raimi, 1987)
Well, what can one say about Sam Raimi’s madcap surreal loony tunes horror/comedy? It’s pure bonkers genius, being a quasi remake and sequel to the first movie while utterly changing the tone from seriously grim and gruelling horror to utterly un-serious and hilarious comic book monster mash. Bruce Campbell is back as poor hapless demon fighter Ash, still stuck in that darn cabin fighting those pesky deadites as some new human arrivals turn up to make his already hard life even harder. This time, Campbell gets to unleash his inner Buster Keaton as a madcap physical comedian, beating himself up, sawing off his own hand, chasing his own possessed hand around with a shotgun… He’s brilliant! So, so funny. The monsters and gore are so cartoonish and rubbery that scares are pretty much non-existent. But when a film is this bonkers, this creative, this out and out zany, who cares about scares? Evil Dead 2 is a riot. I like the first movie but have never loved it. With Evil Dead 2 Raimi found his groove, his horror style. And knocked it outta the park. Evil Dead 2 is pure insane fun from start to end.


11. Day of the Dead (D: George A. Romero, 1985)
George A. Romero’s third zombie film is possibly his darkest, most nihilistic of them all. After the comic book styling of Dawn, Day is a grey, grim, dour look at a ruined world and its last few ruined people. A small band of scientists and military are holed up in an underground bunker apparently searching for a cure to the zombie epidemic which now seems to have claimed the world above. The scientists, led by Sarah (Lori Cardile) and the eccentric but brilliant Dr Logan (Richard Liberty) are experimenting on ‘live’ zombies with Logan thinking they can be tamed and made harmless, as demonstrated by his prize pupil Bub, the ‘smart’ zombie he’s helping learn. Meanwhile, the military types, led by the aggressive and increasingly unhinged Rhodes (Joe Pilato), are getting increasingly frustrated with the scientists and what it is they are doing. Tensions rise between the two groups and when Rhodes discovers something awful that Logan has done he loses it and things in the bunker quickly go to hell. Day of the Dead is an unrelentingly grim look at humanity and how communication between people can break down so easily and lead to terrible things. The humans ironically do not learn from their mistakes and their violent impulses, whereas the zombie Bub is the only one who is learning and controlling his horrid impulses as the humans around him descend in to violence and idiocy. Everything about Day is fabulous. The grim look of the film, the score by John Harrison, the intelligent script, and the acting – specifically Howard Sherman as Bub, the most loveable zombie ever. But above all else, Tom Savini’s make-up and gore FX reach new heights in realism and pure grossness. Real offal was used in the film. And it looks like it too. A great film filled with social commentary, great scares (the opening hands through the wall is genius) and gore by the bucket load. Just avoid the shit 2008 remake.

“Choke on ‘em!”

Top 10 coming soon.

Friday, 26 October 2012


More horror to make you poo your pants...

30. May (D. Lucky McKee, 2002)
Writer/Director Lucky McKee’s story of lonely, socially inept veterinary nurse May (Angela Bettis) who yearns for the love and companionship of the perfect friend is a disturbingly brilliant and moving little fable. May is a tragic, horrific, yet sympathetic character brought vividly to life by the wonderful Bettis, who to my mind is one of the finest actresses of her generation. Ably supported by Jeremy Sisto and Anna Faris, Bettis is compulsively watchable as she shows us the gradual fracturing of a mind and the obsessive and horrific lengths May will go to, to not be alone. McKee's script is strange, twisted, sad and poignant and his direction is artful and actor centric. He and Bettis are good friends and she appears in most of his films, almost as a muse. Their team works. More please.

29. Ju On: The Grudge (D. Takashi Shimizu, 2002)
There's been lots of different versions of this coldly creepy and highly unsettling Japanese chiller about a deadly supernatural curse, including a Korean remake, a Japanese TV remake, and a US remake starring Buffy herself as directed by the original's Japanese director. I've only seen the original and the US remake. The US remake is good but its obviously larger budget and slightly awkward and unnecessary inclusion of American characters in to a Japanese mythos stymies it somewhat. For me, the original remains the best and most effective. The scene of a poor tormented woman seeking refuge in her own bed...only for the murderous ghost to creep up over her from under her duvet is one of the simplest and scariest concepts in modern horror. Brrr!

28. Black Swan (D. Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
Darren Aronofsky's psychological art house horror sees childlike Ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) taking on the dual role of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. Fine playing sweet, innocent Odette, the white swan, Nina has trouble embracing the darkness to play Odile, the sinister, devilish black swan. Pushed by her manipulative producer (Vincent Cassell) and overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), and feeling threatened by newcomer dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina begins to crack, believing she really is turning in to a black swan and doing all sorts of terrible things as a result. This is essentially a werewolf tale...but with a swan instead of a wolf. Aronofsky has stated as much. What it certainly is, is one utterly riveting film, beautifully directed, unsettling in places, and featuring a mesmerising (and Oscar winning) lead performance from Natalie Portman who is ably supported by Kunis, Vincent Cassell, Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey. The ballet sequences are stunning, while ome of the main underlying themes of confronting and embracing sexuality, though nothing new, is wonderfully and artistically handled. In many ways Black Swan reminds me of Neil Jordan's splendid The Company of Wolves in its themes and approach. Simply, Black Swan is a great film, horror or otherwise. See it.

27. Bride of Frankenstein (D. James Whale, 1935)
James Whale's sequel to his own film version of Frankenstein is a wonderfully odd, darkly camp, blackly humorous classic. Taking elements from Mary Shelley's original novel which weren't used in the first movie, Whale spins a tale that sees a chastened Doctor Frankenstein being sought out by the nefarious Dr Pretorius and then being seduced in to helping Dr P with his own bizarre life creating experiments. Pretorius has also made a deal with Frankenstein’s Monster to receive his aid and to study him in exchange for the promise of creating the Monster a companion, specifically a bride. With the eventual creation of the Bride in the stitched together form of the lovely and wonderful Elsa Lanchester, who's all too brief performance is every bit as iconic as Karloff's, we get a twisted take on unworkable and unrequited love. If you've never seen this film, do yourself a favour and seek it out. Gorgeous photography and art direction help to make it essential viewing for any self respecting film fan. And to this day Lanchester's Bride remains a classic goth fox.

Here comes the Bride!

26. The Mist (D. Frank Darabont, 2007)
Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's novella is a low budget high impact tale of humanity (or lack thereof) and how we behave when we are thrown together under the worst of circumstances. A small US town gets covered in a thick mysterious mist presumed to have escaped from a nearby military base. Within the mist there are all sorts of nasty killer creatures looking to munch on the locals, many of whom take refuge in a large supermarket, barricading themselves in as best as possible. What follows is a tense, scary and tragic microcosm of human society filled with people who may end up killing each other before the monsters get a chance to. Expertly written and directed by Darabont and filled with excellent actors led by Thomas Jane, The Mist's greatest trump card, though, is its ending: a horrifically tragic and soul crushing finale. With The Mist, Darabont proved yet again that he is a master filmmaker, especially when adapting the work of Stephen King. Please make King's Cell next, Frank.

25. Night of the Living Dead (D. George A. Romero, 1968)
George A. Romero's black and white zombie classic sees the dead coming back to life to eat the living with a small group of disparate souls hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse in an effort to try and survive the ghoulish apocalypse. And there's not much more plot than that. But, like all great horror movies and genre movies in general, NotLD is really all about us. It's about human beings and how we behave to each other, how society works and doesn't work. With NotLD Romero and co-writer John Russo created a brand new sub-genre – the zombie movie. Before NotLD, zombies were just dull-brained slaves. Post NotLD and zombies became deadly flesh hungry ghouls. Without Romero there would be no 28 Days Later, no Walking Dead, no Shaun of the Dead amongst many, many others. But Romero didn't just sit on his Laurels (an in joke there), he went on to make more zombie films with Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. Romero uses his zombie tales as social commentary on the particular eras they are made in – be it 60's Vietnam and race relations with Night, rampant 70's consumerism with Dawn, 80's militarism with Day, and 2000's gated communities, economic woes, social media and sectarian fears with Land, Diary and Survival. All hail the great god of the zombies. All hail George!

24. Near Dark (D. Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
Kathryn Bigelow's stylish 1987 vampire western is a revolutionary film in the vampire movie sub-genre. For the first time vampires move well away from their usual gothic image, becoming feral, blood hungry nomads who prowl the vast lands of the US mid-west sadistically preying on rednecks in bars and on whoever else crosses their paths with a pulse. In this tale, easygoing cowpoke Adrian Pasdar falls for cute vamp Jenny Wright who also takes a shine to him. Unbeknownst to Pasdar, she goes and turns him in to a vamp too (though the term vampire is never used in the film and there are no fangs or glowy eyes, just throat slashing and blood drinking). Pasdar then joins her band of vamps for a while before deciding its not the (un) life for him and goes and sets out to return home to his dad and little sister. Near Dark is a stylishly bloody lesson in how to successfully reinvent a classic monster. Unfortunately it was a box office flop, losing out hugely to the other vampire movie of 1987 – the glossy big budget pop video antics of The Lost Boys, another attempted reinvention of the vampire myth. Nowadays Near Dark is rightfully regarded as a classic genre changing film, while The Lost Boys is mostly thought of as just a fun little teen movie with a great soundtrack. And what became of Near Dark’s director Kathryn Bigelow? Point Break, a divorce from James Cameron, and an Oscar for The Hurt Locker is what.

23. Martyrs (D. Pascal Laugier, 2008)
Part of the current French new wave of horror, director Pascal Laugier's Martyrs is one truly horrible film. It is also utterly brilliant! The central idea doesn't reveal itself until fairly late in to the movie, after the film has led its audience on a twisty turny tale full of bloody revenge and potential madness. In the end, what this film is about is something so disgustingly ingenious that you have to applaud it. This is deeply intelligent filmmaking. But also almost unwatchably painful filmmaking as it delves deep, deep down in to horrendous cruelty and brutality, driving home its ideas like a repeated sledgehammer to the gut. To describe any of the plot in more detail would be a disservice. If you like intelligent horror and have a strong stomach and a reasonably stable mind then seek this out now. But be warned! It is a deeply unpleasant experience. I loved the film but I fear it too and have no wish to see it again any time soon.

22. The Blair Witch Project (D. Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick, 1999)
If you don't like the ongoing craze for found footage films then you know who to blame. Back in 1999 when the internet was still young two aspiring filmmakers with no money but lots of new media savvy had a great idea. Make a zero budget horror movie pretending it came from found footage discovered after a band of students went in to the woods to investigate the local legend of a child killing witch. Then promote the resulting movie through its own interactive website, selling the events caught on cam as real while also filling in the whole witch mythology via fake historical documents and reports. And lo, the audiences did buy it. To the tune of $240 million world-wide. It didn't hurt that the movie itself was actually brilliant, being an edgy, highly creepy, highly effective little spook story that relies on characters, atmosphere and subtle sound effects as well as the power of suggestion to scare. I still think that its end sequence is one of the best end horror film sequences ever – no gore, no shock, just that utterly creepy and unnerving final image. Great movie then, plus a genuine phenomenon and trendsetter. Shame the sequel was pants.

21. Night of the Demon aka Curse of the Demon (D. Jacques Tourneur, 1957)
The second film in this countdown by French-American director Jacques Tourneur is a wonderfully creepy and classy British supernatural chiller based on the story Casting the Runes by M R James. American professor of psychology Dana Andrews travels to the UK to attend a conference only to get caught up in the dark world of curses, demonology and black magic. For much of the film we are led to believe that the nasty goings on are most likely nothing but a bunch of hocus pocus and psychological suggestion. However it eventually becomes clear that this is not the case as Andrews' investigations in to a possibly murderous sorcerer lead to him being cursed with a demon coming to take his soul. Like all Tourneur's films Night of the Demon is beautifully shot and is full of tension, mood and atmosphere and has a couple of very effective jump scares, the best involving the sudden appearance of a loudly hissing black cat. Creepy and effective, this was a film ahead of its time in many ways. Yes, the actual demon FX are a bit ropy, but by then you have been well and truly pulled in to its deadly serious and coldly creepy world of black magic and murderous demon worship.

20 to 11 will follow soon.

Thursday, 25 October 2012


The countdown continues...

40. Prince of Darkness (D. John Carpenter, 1987)
John Carpenter's often overlooked sci-fi/supernatural/horror from 1987 may not be up there in the premiere league of Carpenter’s work but it is still a stylishly intriguing affair. In the basement of an old church is a huge ancient canister of green goo apparently having been kept by the church for millennia. But the canister has recently shown signs of activity, which leads a priest (Donald Pleasance) to call in Professor Birack (Victor Wong) to investigate. Along with his team of science students, Birack makes a shocking discovery about the nature of the canister. And very soon we have possessed people stalking the dark halls and the zombie-like homeless surrounding the church, creating a siege for the scientists and priest inside. Prince of Darkness is pleasingly gloomy and creepy rather than being outright scary. The characters may be just a tad too bland but PoD makes up for its shortcomings with a real sense of slowly creeping dread, a brilliant central concept and a killer Carpenteresque ending.

39. 28 Days Later (D. Danny Boyle, 2002)
Danny Boyle's low budget not a zombie zombie film is a bleak, raw, nervy exercise in nihilistic terror as seemingly last man alive Cillian Murphy awakes in an abandoned London only to discover the nation has succumbed to an outbreak which turns people in to mindless rage fuelled monsters out for blood. Storywise there's nothing new here, with Boyle riffing on Romero and Richard Matheson along with other survivalist and disease outbreak flicks. What is new, though, is the way the material is presented - a rawness in shooting and editing helped a lot by the use of new digital cameras. And unlike traditional zombies, the infected are fast, agile and noisy, roaring at you as if the devil himself were inside of them. Terrifying. Nice one Danny.

38. Suspiria (D. Dario Argento, 1977)
By far Italian horror legend Dario Argento's finest work, Suspiria is a visual tour-de-force; a colourful, bloody, hypnotic nightmare which sees Jessica Harper enrolling in an isolated Italian ballet school only to discover it holds a horrifying supernatural secret built on murder and bloodshed. There really isn't any other film out there that looks anything like Suspiria. The photography is quite astonishing, and the Goblin score is a classic. Argento has never come close to making anything this good again I'm sorry to say. But at least we have this classic horror from him. And what is it with scary ballet? I have two films in my top 50 that centre on ballet and ballerinas. Maybe its due to the physical hell they put themselves through to try and perfect their art. I dunno. But it does seem to lend itself nicely to strange tales of horror.

37. Frankenstein (D. James Whale, 1931)
James Whale's classic film version of Mary Shelley's novel needs no explanation from me. Suffice to say it is a beautifully made film with Colin Clive on great mad scientist form as the good Doctor F. But of course it is Karloff who truly makes this movie what it is. His take on the Monster is definitive and beyond iconic. His performance is subtle, affecting, filled with childish innocence which is countered by often explosive tantrums. He is the model for all misunderstood and sympathetic monsters to come. A true classic.

36. The Wolfman (D. George Waggner, 1941)
Has there ever been a sadder more hopeless, helpless hero in a horror movie than poor lycanthropic Laurence Talbot as played here by Lon Chaney Jr? So much we take for granted about werewolf lore was either pulled together for the first time in this film or was actually created by its writer Curt Siodmak. “Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” Classic. And all from Siodmak. Most people know the story so I won't repeat it. In the end, The Wolfman is a wonderfully melodramatic atmospheric tale with a wonderful central performance by Chaney and some equally wonderful monster make-up by FX legend Jack Pierce. And I love every minute of it.

35. Switchblade Romance aka High Tension aka Haute Tension (D. Alexandre Adja, 2003)
Alexandre Adja's ferociously brutal, unpredictable stalk and slash is an evil little gem. Rural France and two young women, Marie and Alex, go to stay with Alex’s parents in their remote farmhouse. Later that night a stranger breaks in, brutally murders the parents and wounds badly Alex. Marie manages to escape, taking Alex with her, the savage stranger hot on their heels. What follows is a chase and slash as the two girls, one badly wounded, try to evade capture...at least until the shocking truth is finally revealed. A nasty, bloody, clever little movie, Switchblade Romance marked Adja as a name to watch as well as marking the start of the current French new wave of horror.

34. The Others (D. Alejandro Amenabar, 2001)
A classic ghost story with a twist, Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others is a moody, elegant and splendidly old-fashioned chiller. It’s the end of World War 2 and Nicole Kidman in a wonderfully brittle performance, is Grace, a widowed mother living with her two young children in a big isolated house on the island of Jersey. It soon transpires that the house is most likely haunted as strange goings on abound, with sudden noises, doors opening, strange sightings all making for an extremely effective scare show for poor mummy Nicole and the audience alike. The film looks beautiful too and Kidman has never been better. The Others proves you don't need elaborate effects or gore to make for a truly scary film. It's only a 12 certificate for cripes sake. Marvellous!

33. Zombie Flesh Eaters (D. Lucio Fulci, 1979)
The other Lucio Fulci film in my countdown is his most obvious cash in on the success of Romero's Dawn of the Dead. But it is also Fulci's most accomplished film too. Zombie Flesh Eaters sees New York journalist Ian McCulloch accompanying Tisa Farrow (Mia's sister) on a trip to an island in the Caribbean to find Tisa's missing scientist father. Once at the island our heroes meet up with another young couple who are there doing scientific research. And together the four of them along with local doctor Richard Johnson attempt to discover what is happening to the island's inhabitants who appear to be dying from a mysterious plague. Pretty soon, though, the dead begin returning to life and munching on the living in good ol' zombie style, leading our heroes to try and escape the island before they too become walking corpse food. I love this movie. It's a full-on gorefest with all kinds of bloody kills and offal eating. It also contains two of the most memorable zombie related sequences ever: a girl's eye vs. a broken piece of wood, and an underwater zombie vs. a real shark. Like City of the Living Dead, Flesh Eaters has a strange, dreamlike quality to it. It feels slightly surreal, disjointed. Strange camera angles and random editing is employed to enhance the feeling of unease. And it works. It is also very, very gory and has a wonderfully apocalyptic ending. One of my all time fave zombie films.

32. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (D. Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Tobe Hooper's black humoured tale of red neck cannibals vs. annoying kids is a great movie, if not the grisly terrorfest the myth leads us to believe it is. For a start, you don't actually see much of any graphic violence. Most of it is implied or happens just off screen. The horror comes from the idea and the situation and the grotesque family who ply their human slaughterhouse trade. The first time I ever saw this film was on a cinema re-release back in the 90's. And I was severely disappointed. I thought it was just very silly and not scary at all. But having watched it since... I've got the joke. It IS a black comedy, a satire on the state of Vietnam era America. Not that horrific then, but still a great movie.

31. Ginger Snaps (D. John Fawcett, 2001)
John Fawcett's brilliant werewolf film is a bloody and darkly humourous coming of age/entry in to womanhood parable for young girls. Moody, death obsessed teen sisters Brigitte and Ginger (Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabelle) live in a bleak and boring Canadian suburban housing estate menaced by a wild animal that's killing and eating the local pets. While out one night, the sisters are attacked by the very same animal. And Ginger is bitten before the animal goes and gets mashed on the road. It turns out the beast was a werewolf. And now Ginger is slowly turning in to a werewolf too, complete with growing tail, sharpening teeth, yellow eyes and a thirst for sex and blood. Can Brigitte find a way to save her sister before she goes full wolf? Karen Walton's script is keenly observed and full of sharp jabs at suburban family life as well as the horrors of growing up and 'maturing'. Ginger is horrified at the idea of her period and all that it means. To Ginger, becoming a werewolf is nowhere near as revolting as becoming a woman. Fawcett's direction is steady and assured with some decent frights and plenty of wry black humour, and the two lead performances of Perkins and Isabelle are pitch perfect. Teen angst body horror at its finest.

30 to 21 coming soon. MWAHAHAHAHA!

Sunday, 14 October 2012


Halloween Pictures, Images and Photos

Greetings fellow horror hounds!

This year, to celebrate Halloween, I thought I’d do a countdown of my own personal favourite horror films of all time.

Now, I don’t claim these to be the ‘best’ horror films, just the ones I find I enjoy the most and can watch the most. In doing this I’ve tried where possible to steer clear of comedy/horror and to concentrate on pure horror, though there will be a few notable exceptions to that rule. I’ll aim to post my fave fifty in blocks of ten starting here with fifty to forty one, leading up to the final top ten being posted around Halloween itself.

This has been far from an easy task and almost certainly isn’t gonna be definitive as I’ll probably end up remembering titles after the fact that I should have included. But hey ho, it’s all just a bit of ghoulish seasonal fun.

Feel free to comment and slag off my choices and to suggest your own faves.

So, without further ado, here numbers fifty to forty one:

50. Ginger Snaps 2 (D. Brett Sullivan, 2003)
Brett Sullivan's sequel to John Fawcett's brilliant Ginger Snaps is a rare beast: a direct to dvd sequel that is not only a worthy follow up but a logical and smart continuation of the story begun in the first film. The excellent Emily Perkins returns as Brigitte, who after the death of werewolf sister Ginger in the original, is also now infected and is regularly injecting herself with wolfsbane to keep the curse at bay. This soon leads to a mix up with Brigitte being locked up in a drug rehab centre. Separated from her wolfsbane she must try to stop her change while also avoiding a new werewolf who is apparently tracking her down, looking for a mate. Smartly written, crisply directed and with two excellent performances from Perkins and Tatiana Maslany as a strange young girl called Ghost, GS2 is a sequel almost as good as the original.


49. City of the Living Dead (D. Lucio Fulci, 1980)
The first of two films in this countdown from Italian horror legend Lucio Fulci, City is the first instalment of Fulci’s unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy, which also includes The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. City is a weird surrealist mash-up of atmospheric Lovecraftian horror and Romero inspired zombie flesh munching. The story is something to do with the gates of hell about to be opened in the small US town of Dunwich, New England due to the suicide of a local priest. For some reason this suicide has gone and unleashed a horde of ghostly teleporting zombies to eat people up as well as various nasty curses which sees one young girl literally (and grossly) puke up her own guts. Like the best of Fulci, City doesn't make much sense but it is stylish, weirdly dreamlike, supremely atmospheric and utterly gross. Great demented fun.


48. Rec. (D. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, 2007)
This Spanish found footage/mockumentary about a city building under quarantine after some kind of deadly outbreak is a swift, intense, super tense, super scary rollercoaster ride. Being shot almost in real time lends extra urgency and desperation to the whole affair with the dark hallways and rooms of the labyrinthine building being a non stop terror trap with hostile zombie types ready to leap out and attack at any second. The final ten minutes in the pitch-black attic is one of THE scariest sequences in horror history. The sequels are pretty damn good too.


47. Trick r Treat (D. Mike Dougherty, 2007)
Mike Dougherty's gleefully nasty anthology celebrates Halloween with a slice of twisted small town Americana. It's as if Amblin had decided to make a proper horror film, if say, they'd pushed Gremlins that extra couple of notches to make it really gleefully nasty. The film's four separate tales intertwine cleverly, linked together by the presence of tricky little Halloween sprite Sam, before becoming one big and hugely satisfying whole at the end. Shot for only $12m and produced by Bryan Singer, the film looks gorgeous and is full of splendid actors including the fabulous Dylan Baker, Bryan Cox and Anna Paquin. No trick, this is a brilliant Halloween treat. Just don't be dissing the 31st October or little Sam will come get you.


46. The Ring (D. Gore Verbinski, 2002)
Gore Verbinski's US remake of the Japanese original is to my mind the superior version of the story. Verbinski manages to capture the atmosphere of the original (something no other US remakes of J-horror have been able to do) while also building a deeper and more satisfying story around the cursed videotape and the dead girl who haunts it. Tense, chilling, and featuring a great central performance from Naomi Watts, The Ring will make sure you never watch TV the same way again. Seven days!


45. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (D: Jorge Grau, 1974)
Spanish director Jorge Grau's zombie horror is a strange one. It's a Spanish/Italian co-production set in England featuring the Manchester Morgue in the title yet set somewhere up in the Lake District instead. An experimental sonic pesticide machine being tested on a farm has the bizarre side effect of raising the recently deceased as flesh hungry zombies who roam the countryside killing and eating locals. It's up to a local copper, a young female tourist and a biker dude to combat the undead menace. A weird film, TLDatMM succeeds for three key reasons. First, the English locations (mostly the Peak District) are beautiful and Grau films them with an artist’s eye for composition and capturing natural beauty. Second, there is a strong eco theme running throughout the film re. science messing with nature. And third, the zombies, though not that many of them, are fab and do some very gory kills. Thanks to Grau, a good director, the film has atmosphere and though overall it might not make a whole heap of sense, it does stay with you.


44. Audition (D: Takashi Miike, 1999)
Acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Miike's deeply disturbing tale of obsessive love and pain is a hard watch, especially once things get really full on and the wire saw comes out. Middle aged widower Shigeharu is looking for a new wife and decides to accept his film producer friend’s offer to hold an open audition for his prospective new bride with Shigeharu soon becoming smitten by Asami, a seemingly sweet young ex-ballet dancer. But Asami hides an appalling secret. And what follows is an exploration of how the search for true love can go horribly, horribly wrong, shown to us as only Miike can. Ghastly but great.


43. I Walked with a Zombie (D: Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
The first of two films in this countdown by French-American director Jacques Tourneur is a dark, dream-like tale of jealousy and betrayal set on an island in the West Indies where a young Canadian nurse relocates to look after the sick wife of a rich white land owner. The nurse is introduced to the landowner's dysfunctional family as well as to the local legends of voodoo, which may or may not have something to do with the zombie-like state the sick wife is now in. Tourneur, who previously made the seminal Cat People (a toss up for this spot), was a great director for creating mood and atmosphere and went on to become a major player in film noir. Here, a deep sense of creeping unease permeates every frame of film, which also includes sound effects of omnipresent distant drums and whispering grasses and rumbling storms. Tourneur was also one of the first directors to use and to master the jump scare, with this film having one great one. A correctly regarded classic of the period.


42. Braindead aka Dead Alive (D: Peter Jackson, 1992)
Peter Jackson's crazy, OTT, blood and gore soaked period Kiwi horror nearly didn't make this list as it also falls in to the comedy genre. And I've tried with this countdown to focus more closely on pure horror (with a couple notable exceptions). But Braindead is such a riotous affair and is so, so gory and so much horrible fun that it simply can't be ignored. A rare Sumatran Rat-Monkey is captured and taken back to New Zealand where it bites the ghastly mother of hapless put upon Lionel, turning her and then others in to depraved, flesh hungry zombie mutants. What follows is a Grand Guignol of Sam Raimi inspired sick, gory lunacy. Fun with a capital F.


41. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (D. Terence Fisher, 1966)
It took Christopher Lee eight full years to be convinced to reprise his most iconic role for a sequel to Hammer's huge 1958 hit The Horror of Dracula. And according to Lee he only did it under the proviso that all of his dialogue was thrown out and that he wouldn't say a single word on screen. A genius move as it turned out. DPoD is essentially Dracula as The Terminator – a single minded, utterly unstoppable killer focussed on tracking down and getting the one woman he wants. And nothing will get in his way. Lee is all red eyes and snarling fangs, charging around with a manic animalistic energy. In his way is the gruff gun toting friar Father Sandor played by the late great Andrew Keir who delivers a performance as charismatic and charming as Lee is intense and bestial. A simple, streamlined plot and stylish and energetic direction by Hammer legend Terrence Fisher together with Lee's intensity and Kier's gruff charisma makes DPoD the very best of the classic Hammer catalogue.


40 to 31 coming soon. Stay tuned.