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 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!

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