My Top Ten Horror Films
Some while back the London Film School invited me to select a film for their club night. After, the invited audience had dinner together and discussed what they had seen (this month Rita Tushingham is introducing ‘The Innocents’) On that occasion I chose ‘Witchfinder General’, Michael Reeves’ astonishing examination of the breakdown of law and order in civil war-torn England.
But was it ever right to be billed as a horror film? I really don’t think so. It caused outrage for its violence at the time but now looks tame indeed, and was made by a company seeking to make easy money from the horror genre, at that point riding high (1968). It had been intended to star Donald Pleasance in the title role, which would have created an entirely different tone for the film, one of the banality of evil, and would have felt more realistic, less epic. Vincent Price, as a horror star, brands the film wrongly, even though he gives his most (some would say his only) controlled performance. Now, I think we have a very different set of parameters for horror films. So, from the list I’ve carried in my head for years, this would also rule out ‘Spoorloos’ and ‘The Wicker Man’, a crime film and a pastoral fantasy respectively.
Choices fluctuate but these are currently mine.
Interesting to go back to this now and see how very realistic it appears against other films – the first twenty minutes, in particular, feels like a National Geographic documentary. Paul Schrader’s alternative cut to the fourth part, ‘Dominion’, is entirely different to the released version and is almost its equal.
No finer ghost story has ever been filmed, or is more psychologically ambiguous. It repays visits, and has the most unnerving kiss in cinema history, a moment which may well not be filmed in these over-cautious days. When I first saw it, I failed to read Deborah Kerr as sexually frustrated and overly imaginative. Looking at it a third or fourth time, the cracks appear in her psyche. I particularly love the sound, which falls to silence prior to the disturbing moments – the opposite of modern cinema bombast.
It strikes me now that this is as much about the rise of the so-called Me Generation as it is about the Devil. Again, evil is banal, in the form of a comically interfering neighbour, but the real horror lies in Guy’s decision to abandon his wife for success. It’s breathtakingly concise filmmaking, with not one word or scene unnecessary to the plot.
A lurid homage to Hitchcock, yes, but what a tribute! Carmen Maura, avaricious, loud, awful, seeking a better life in the form of a decent apartment, finds a lottery win and can’t remove it from the house because of the neighbours. Death, mayhem and real estate ensue in blackly comic style, ending in an amazing rooftop chase across Madrid.
This moving fable of lost innocence (the Peter Pan motif) is also an unstoppable tragedy, destined to play out from the moment Laura moves back to the home where she was raised and sees a child walking the corridors. The twist is heart-wrenching as well as awful, and like all great tragedies, could have been so easily avoided before setting a terrible chain of events in motion.
Grace moves into a house with her photosensitive child to await her husband’s return, but there are ghosts afoot. Perhaps it does telegraph its twist too early, but that doesn’t prevent the climax from possessing immense power. Old houses should have locked rooms, missing keys, strange servants, and this piles them all on to beautiful effect.
It’s an outrageous premise, but cleverly presented. Julia’s twin sister is murdered by a serial killer, but Julia has her own troubles – she saw the murderer and now she’s going blind. Worse, he may be someone she knows. A brilliant sleight-of-hand hides what she sees, and forces us to side with her (fading) visions.
There had to be one film from Italy’s Mr Noisy, possibly the only really great film he made, a string of insane set pieces painted in reds and blues that almost make sense. Susy Banyon arrives to study ballet in the world’s creepiest academy, and gets rained on, peppered with maggots and chased by witches. Favourite line: ‘The director doesn’t go home at night – she’s here, right…behind…that…curtain!’
Let Me In
A controversial choice over the original version, I know, but the additions to the remake feel like improvements and allow for better modulation through the film. The only disappointment here is that the ferocity of earlier attacks, underplayed in the original, reduce the effect of the swimming pool scene a little. But there’s a clearer sense here that our young hero has been duped into his Renfield role by the power of evil masquerading as innocence.
In with a rocket, the more I think about this film the more nightmarish it becomes, suggesting a deeply cynical society that only consists of those who make money from cruelty and those who perpetuate it. The clever thing about ‘Kill List’ is the political implication behind the obvious story – that, and the profound sense of unease that builds throughout.
Depending on how the third [Rec] movie turns out, the quarantined-building series may displace something else on the list after the sudden twist its first sequel took. I would also have liked to include ‘Day Of The Beast’, ‘Ferpect Crime’ and ‘Agnosia’. What surprises me most is that there are only two Hollywood films on the list, and Spain predominates with what is becoming an astonishing body of work.