UPON being asked by Mr. Joe Fairweather to present my Top Five horror films in the run-up to Halloween, I suddenly realised that I actually hadn’t seen all that many recent horror films. Colour me cynical, but I don’t think shit like Insidious inspires much faith in the genre right now, so you’ll have to forgive me when this list ends up being almost entirely 70s based. Amble aside, here’s my Top Five, in no particular order:
The Thing (1982)
No, not the prequel with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the CGI Thing – the original, not terrible one, directed by the man himself, John Carpenter. With a chilling soundtrack by Carpenter and Ennio Morricone, incredible animatronics work and strong performances from its all-male cast, The Thing examines isolation and masculine anxiety in the frozen wastes of Antarctica, all while a shapeshifting alien Cthulhu nightmare runs riot. Also flamethrowers. You can’t go wrong.
Long before Ridley Scott became the most infuriatingly inconsistent high-profile director in Hollywood, he managed to helm two of the most influential sci-fi films of all time: Blade Runner in 1982 and Alien in 1979. The latter remains one of the finest examples of both sci-fi and horror, drenched in claustrophobia and suspense. Its wholly believable script by Dan O’Bannon, along with stellar performances from a great ensemble cast, chilling set design by H.R. Giger and the single best monster in movies helped make Alien a legend, chestburster or no. James Cameron took a different yet similarly fantastic direction with Aliens in 1986, but the original still holds up as an astonishing example of creeping dread. Shame about the latter two sequels and Prometheus, eh?
Don’t Look Now (1973)
This is the film that made me vow two things. One: Never, under any circumstances, install a pond in the garden. Two: Never go to Venice. Starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, Don’t Look Now is a mystery thriller that’s eerie, weird and wonderful. Based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story, it’s a film that meditates on the psychology of grief and its effect on relationship, all while featuring a creepy kid in a red mackintosh running around midnight Venetian canals and two clairvoyant sisters spouting pseudo-psychic drivel. Savaged at the time for its graphic sex scene between the stars (a scene that looks positively tame these days, by the way), Don’t Look Now’s reputation has grown significantly with each evaluation. Nicholas Roeg reconciles the supernatural elements with the human and even manages to make Venice look fucking terrifying. No mean feat.
The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s finest work, The Shining is about a thousand times better than its Stephen King source material and my personal favourite horror film of all time, but don’t let that put you off. At its heart are career-best performances from both Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, the former’s slow transformation from troubled average Joe to utterly deranged psychopath being one of the greatest in cinematic history. Kubrick’s direction is flawless too, featuring symbolism so subtle and layered with meaning that Rodney Ascher directed a near-two hour documentary (Room 237) examining wildly divergent interpretations of it. There’s too many iconic scenes and lines to mention in these bite-sized love-letter, but suffice it to say it’s a goddamn masterpiece and, if you haven’t already, watch it. Now.
The Omen (1976)
What happens when you get the Antichrist, Gregory Peck and loud Gregorian chanting in a room together? Something resembling Richard Donner’s The Omen and most certainly not the remake. Riding the crest of occult-tinged horrors like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby in particular, The Omen surpasses them both by giving us a fantastic lead performance from Gregory Peck, a chilling stare from five year-old Harvey Spencer Stephens and some of the most creative death scenes in any film (which, as it turned out, would become a running theme in the film’s sequels). Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score amplifies the trepidation to fever-pitch, leading to a thrilling crescendo as it all comes together. It’s a real corker.
So that’s my top five horror films – you’ll have to forgive its relative conventionality, as I’m not really that well-versed in the annals of horror. Got any films you think should make any seasonal horror list? Stick ‘em in the comments below.