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.