Seeing as though Halloween is nearly upon us and I am unable to post this on the actual night of Halloween, I felt it appropriate to talk about my favourite horror films. I should mention from the start as well that I mean horror films with substance, not trashy Hollywood slashers with a star studded cast, excessive budget and as much substance as a meringue. It’s interesting because I barely ever talk about horror films , mainly due to the fact people have different ways of splitting films into genres and it all becomes very confusing when opinions clash. So what I have compiled is a list of my favourite films that are widely accepted as being part of the horror genre.
First to kick us off I have to talk about Danny Boyle’s 2002 film ’28 Days Later’, one of the best zombie based films of the modern age. It’s very easy in the climate of modern mainstream cinema to make a loud and trashy zombie film that is in all honesty just plain awful and yet people will still throw money at it. What Boyle did in this case was make a film based around a zombie apocalypse and make it more human. By this I mean it had characters you cared about, ones that you follow on the journey, to the point where you genuinely care about what happens to them. Not only this but it explores the social impacts that are caused by such an event, not just the obvious flesh eating issues but the issues linked to how people respond and what happens to human behaviour. I will never forget one of the opening shots from the film in which you see this vast landscape of the streets of London completely empty. It was a huge achievement of cinema and a shot that shook me right to my bones and made me feel cold. Genius.
Before starting this post I discussed it with some of my friends and followers on WordPress and they requested that I didn’t mention Ridley Scott’s sci fi horror classic ‘Alien’ because I have talked enough about it before in the past. I’m sorry to say that I have let those people down because I’m going to quickly reference it here. It is very near perfection, to put it bluntly. Intelligent, gritty, and beautifully designed.
Next on the list, and one that arguably should be on anyone’s list for horrors and that’s Stanley Kubrick’s classic ‘The Shining’ which is a perfect display of how to make a true chiller that will scare the living daylights out of you. Some people would say it’s a cliche to like this film because it’s one that’s famous. My response to this is simple, in the words of David Mitchell “no people shouldn’t believe that, it’s b*****s”. Based on the novel by Stephen King the film is a very good adaption, with Diane Johnson and Kubrick himself doing a terrific job with the screenplay. The cast is famously knock out, with Jack Nicholson at the helm giving the performance of a life time, it was clear to see what everyone involved in the making of the film cared about the project and wanted it to be good. With stunning directing and vivid imagery you’ll never forget, I think we can all agree they succeeded?
With this next one I feel as though I should make myself completely clear; when I say I like ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ I am referring to the 1984 masterpiece by Wes Craven. Not Michael Bay’s insult to the film from three years ago. The original is one of the best horror films you will ever watch. Cleverly mastering the use of plastic in cinema, the film moves away from horrors being slashy and gory and turns it more towards being scary and absurd which works perfectly. Wes Craven spoke about the film before and even he himself referred to it as “surrealist cinema” because he wanted it to be an experience that the audience had not had before and one that would stand out. He wanted it to look so realistic that it would be obscure of the audience to witness, for example the scene with the telephone. Those who have seen the film will get the reference.
For me it’s special as a horror because it has a strong story with depths and meanings to it. The idea of Freddy Kreuger is crucial because essentially he is a representation of the sins of the parents coming back to haunt the children, it’s this whole idea of an eye for an eye wrapped in this underlying theme of parents having to accept they can’t protect their children forever. That is why I love the original so much. That is why the original is a piece of artistic genius. That is why the remake by Michael Bay is appalling because he couldn’t manage to see past the glove. He thought the main idea of Freddy was the spiky claw like glove and that he was violent which is so far from the truth, and I know I will sound like a grumpy old man for saying this but I would like a written apology from Michael Bay for making the film and ruining one of the greatest pieces of horror ever to be made.
The final film I feel I should mention, and for me this the single greatest horror movie of all time is the 1960 masterpiece from Alfred Hitchcock himself ‘Psycho’. Now I know already that some would class it more as a horror-thriller, but essentially it is a horror film. If you were to look up the word ‘horror’ in a dictionary, and let’s assume for the sake of the argument you were stupid enough to need a dictionary that has pictures in it, the defining image you would see is a black and white still of a knife going into a shower. The film is as and I dare say it: perfection. The story is incredibly strong, along with the cast who all give amazing performances, but the essential element to the film is the Hitchcock touch. The tension, the attention to detail, the camera angles, the pace, it all works superbly to build one of the single greatest pieces of cinema you will ever see.
Again, some people will say it’s cliched to have this film on my list of favourites, and again these people show that their IQ can be found on the face of a dice. The trouble with people of my age is their impatience. Because we’re all still young and used to mainstream rubbish like ‘Saw’ people under the age of eighteen don’t have the patience to watch a black and white film. And that just makes me feel slightly ashamed of the generation I am from, because they are restricting their own cultural interests and preventing themselves from experiencing a piece of artistic genius from one of the greatest minds ever to have lived. Luckily I can appreciate what a huge achievement of cinema it is, with Hitchcock breaking the mold in the 60s and presenting a film that had nudity and blood in it, along with killing off his leading lady quite early in to the film. It was a huge movement for film and one that Hitchcock was daring enough to make.
Apologies if you were expecting a list of modern slashers that are repeated every other friday on channel 5, but those are films I try to avoid like the plague. The reasons I don’t talk about horror very often is because I come from an age group that has grown up with such rubbish, and it’s made our understanding of what real horror is become somewhat warped. We see blood and guts splattered across the screen and think “that’s horror!” which isn’t what horror is about. It’s not about loud bangs, blood and gore and screaming american teenagers being decapitated during coitus in a shower. Horror is about having an experience that makes you uncomfortable, one that scares you, one that tests what you really know about the human condition and one that presents a story with substance and strong characters. It’s a diverse art form that can be done really but then can be ruined just as easily. It is about looking in to the abyss, and the abyss looking back at you. A good horror not only makes you feel sick, it makes you feel as though you have crawled through a sewer to reach the end of the film, but in a good way.
So modern film makers can carry on creating mainstream rubbish that is about as complex as a game of Tetris, but quite frankly I will not be a part of. If Rob Zombie wants to ruin the classic ‘Halloween’ and turn it into a piece of loud nonsense that teenagers think is “awesome” then be my guest. I’ll be sat at the back of the cinema screening making notes and trying not to stab my own eyes out with a biro.