Dan Owen’s Top 10 Horror Movies
I think definitive Top 10’s are impossible to compile, so I’d rather consider this a loose ranking of my 10...
I think definitive Top 10’s are impossible to compile, so I’d rather consider this a loose ranking of my 10 favourite horror movies. And even then I could probably rewrite this a dozen times, swapping out a few of the lower entries. However, I definitely think my #1 choice is the best horror movie ever made, although the rest are interchangeable. But they’re all recommended if you want to watch a scary movie in the runup to Halloween. Anyway, I hope you enjoy my list:
10. The Ring (2003)
Imaginative, high-concept horror about a cursed video-tape that, once watched, results in the viewer’s death some days later. Naomi Watts plays an investigative journalist determined to investigate the video’s creepy origins, having already watched it and thus triggered a countdown to save her own life by finding a loophole in the curse, or appeasing the spirit of the drowned girl who’s the star of the footage. The Japanese original is also very good, but because I saw the US remake first (in a cinema screening that worked liked gangbusters with a terrified audience), this version is the one that lodges in my memory.
9. Candyman (1992)
Atmospheric chiller from British director Bernard Rose (inspired by a short story from horror legend Clive Barker), about an urban boogieman known as Candyman (Tony Todd); a hooked fiend who allegedly appears to kill those who speak his name aloud five times in a mirror. An underrated movie, the concept predates the similarly-minded Ring franchise by a decade, Tony Todd makes for a frightening villain (given an interesting back-story), and there’s a wonderful performance by Virginia Madsen as the movie’s plucky heroine. If nothing else, those who’ve seen it are still hesitant if asked to say “Candyman” too many times in front of a mirror…
8. Carrie (1976)
Stylish teenage horror about a cloistered teenage girl called Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) whose aching for acceptance appears to come true on Prom Night, until a cruel practical joke awakens latent telekinesis and prompts vengeful carnage on those who have wronged her. Brian De Palma’s seminal horror is a brilliant piece of work, probably because it takes its time getting you into the mindset of the bullied Carrie, an outsider who’s led such a sheltered life she’s freaked out having her first period in the school shower, humiliated in front of her classmates. By the time blood of a different kind has drenched Carrie in public, ruining her one perfect evening, the ensuing chaos (with its excellent use of split-screens) has you unsettled by Spacek’s hundred-yard stare… yet secretly urging her on to slaughter her bullies.
7. Evil Dead II (1987)
Sequel to the notorious 1982 “video nasty” that’s essentially a loose remake, but with a more comedic attitude to the material, as cabin-dweller Ash (Bruce Campbell) comes under attack from malicious spirits lurking in the woods outside. It’s a Sam Raimi joint that’s become a cult classic, provoking gasps and giggles with equal aplomb, together with a brilliant physical performance from Campbell (in a career-defining role he’s never bettered). Twisted and demented, this is a whirling dervish of gore and bloodthirsty slapstick. Flying eyeballs, geysers of blood, iconic use of a chain saw, cheesy catchphrases and giddy camerawork — it’s a wild ride from start to finish.
6. The Omen (1976)
Classic religious horror about a childless American couple who adopt a little boy called Damian, unaware that he’s the spawn of Satan and poised to assume control of the world via their political connections. The movie that popularized “666” more than The Bible, and condemned kids called Damian to a lifetime of apprehensive looks from adults, The Omen is a very entertaining and joyously spooky horror movie. Part of its appeal is the disquieting performance of Harvey Stephens as the demonic boy, but director Richard Donner also crafts some indelible images — like a nanny committing public suicide in reverence of the Antichrist’s birthday, and the moment when Damian kills his mother in a tricycle “accident”.
5. The Thing (1982)
Claustrophobic sci-fi remake from John Carpenter, about a group of Arctic scientists whose remote facility is infiltrated by a shape-shifting alien unearthed by a Norwegian crew it’s already killed. Featuring some great early-’80s “body horror” effects (the “spider head” moment being a particular favourite of mine), it’s the tension and cold ambience that gets under your skin, with Carpenter at the top of his game.
4. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Academy Award-winning crime thriller from Jonathan Demme (adapted from a Thomas Harris novel), mixing accurate cop procedural with plausible human horrors. FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) tries to stop a transvestite serial-killer by picking the brains of another in the notorious Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Part Faustian pact, part twisted romance, part grisly crime drama, this movie is immaculately told and performed. It’s perceived as cool to denounce Hopkins sly performance as Lecter, in favour of Brian Cox’s version in prequel Manhunter, but I find Hopkins far more magnetic and creepy. He’s the one we all do impressions of…
3. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
Still the yardstick for mixing horror with comedy, John Landis directs this horror about two American tourists trekking through Europe who are attacked by a werewolf while crossing the moors in rural Yorkshire, England. One tragically dies, but the other suffers an arguably worse fate: cursed to transform into a giant wolf at the next Full Moon, while suffering the frightening visions of his victims. The story is formulaic and rather predictable, but the atmosphere and balance of tone is what really works, capped by the remarkable werewolf transformation sequence. In nearly 30 years, it still hasn’t been eclipsed.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
Iconic horror masterpiece from William Friedkin (adapted from a novel by William Peter Blatty, itself influenced by a reported case of possession), this renowned horror drama finds an everyday girl possessed by a demon, to the horror of her family and consternation of two priests who try to rid her of the evil presence. The reputation of this film is becoming a problem, as expectations are sky-high for anyone discovering it 30-odd years after it horrified ’70s cinemagoers, but it still works. But while the images that burn into your mind include crucifix masturbation, levitation, stomach welts, projectile vomiting and 360-degree head rotation, what really unsettles is the corruption of an innocent little girl. For me, the most effective image is seeing young Regan (Linda Blair) come downstairs and wetting the floor in fright of what’s now sharing her bedroom.
1. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s esteemed classic (based on the novel by Stephen King) is both a brilliant haunted hotel story and study of a man’s descent into madness. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son to the ominous Overlook Hotel, there to caretaker the building over the harsh winter and use the time to write his novel. Trouble is, malevolent spirits have other plans and start to prey on his sanity, while tormenting his family.
So many iconic horror moments adorn this movie (an elevator gushing blood, the twin girls in the hallway, the tricycle follow shots, the croaky incantations of “Redrum”, the wrinkled old woman in the bath, the “All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy” typewriter reveal, the axe-wielding climax with Jack’s “Here’s Johnny!” catchphrase), but it’s the palpable feeling of tension and dread that lingers in the memory. It’s one of the most atmospheric (almost mesmeric), movies every created, and I dearly wish Kubrick had made a few more horrors. I feel my mind slip into an altered state every time I watch it. Exemplary filmmaking.