A Month Of Horror

I’m not exactly doing the 31 days of Halloween thing, but a couple of weeks back I compiled a list of horror films on which to gorge myself in the lead up to Halloween. Now, with it finally being the month of ghosts, ghouls and creepy things, I’m going to share with you each film as I watch it, culminating in a final weekend of my favourite frights.


The Haunting

the-haunting

That is, of course, Robert Wise’s The Haunting, not Jan De Bont’s 1999 abomination. This is one of the most underrated horror films around. Don’t be fooled by its black and white “innocence” or assume that it shares the frivolity of House On Haunted Hill. This movie is dark and frightening. Martin Scorsese has even described it as the scariest film he’s ever seen.

Robert Wise’s masterful use of sound, space and framing creates such an unnerving atmosphere which keeps the audience perched on the edge of their seats. It’s an awareness of environment not commonly seen in the genre, and it’s a shame he didn’t even get a nomination at the Academy Awards. Meanwhile, Julie Harris’ burdened and emotionally complex performance as the tormented Eleanor Lance elevates her from scream queen to the most compelling heroine.


Jaws

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Spielberg’s masterpiece for many. It’s in my top 5. A notoriously difficult shoot in which scenes were rewritten in the evening to be shot in the morning, props repeatedly broke down (like the mechanical shark ‘Bruce’), and cast members didn’t get along (you can read more about that here), ended up leading to one of the most iconic films ever made.

Just as ‘less is more’ is applicable to most horror, subtlety is the key in Jaws, and it’s probably a blessing in disguise that they couldn’t get the shark to work. Catching only glimpses of the man-eating antagonist makes it all the more scary, as we spend most of the picture peering out to sea and wondering where the beast might be lurking, with suspense percolating the fear within us rather than…well, a pair of jaws. In the sequels (which I also watched, but don’t worry, I won’t talk about them*), that’s all we see and it completely loses all effect.

*Not that that’s the only reason they’re crap. Jaws 4: The Revenge is literally about a random shark out for vengeance on the Brody family.


Insidious

patrick-wilson-insidious-copy

While I can never find a winner, I could still argue that Insidious scared me the most of any film when I first saw it. The raw, guttural frights have faded since then, but I still love this movie.

It’s a film with presence, where evil seeps through the walls and up through the floors, suffocating us like the mist of The Further, and we genuinely believe these entities haunting the Lambert family mean to cause them harm. We don’t know where they’ll come from next, we never feel secure, and it’s this displacement of safety that makes us feel so scared and vulnerable.

There is, admittedly, the odd misstep (the lipstick demon in his workshop strays a bit too close to Jeepers Creepers territory), but for the most part it’s a relentless poltergeist of a movie. Malevolence pulses through the film’s veins, Joseph Bishara’s score is skin crawling, and it’s atmospheric beyond belief – a signature characteristic of Wan’s work.


Scream 1-4

Scream, Ghostface, horror, slasher

Still, probably always, my favourite slasher franchise. I must have watched Scream at least four times in the last year.


Dead Silence

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I love that Dead Silence has developed a bit of a cult following. It’s not the most impressive horror movie you’ll ever see, but it’s certainly worth looking back at. True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten plays a recently widowed man who must return to his sleepy hometown in search of answers surrounding her death, only to discover that a creepy ventriloquist’s doll he mysteriously received shortly before her passing could have played a menacing part.

There are some creepy moments which allude to Wan’s future frights, but the reason Dead Silence has garnered such underground love is its slightly irreverent and playful undertones. It’s a film which has fun with being a bit camp and overcooked, epitomized by the wonderfully hammy performance from Donnie Wahlberg as the cop who follows Kwanten around on suspicion of murder, but spends most of the time making fun of him. Hidden gem might be a step too far, but this is a really fun little flick.


The Cabin In The Woods

Cabin in the woods, Joss Whedon

It seems like no matter how many times I watch The Cabin In The Woods I can never remember how it ties everything together. But sure enough it does. It’s such a wild and original idea for a horror movie, made all the more ironic by its ostensibly cliche set-up: five college kids head to a cabin in the woods to party, but end up accidentally awakening an ancient horror.

If the twist hasn’t been spoiled already, go and watch. It’s a complete blast.


Shaun Of The Dead

Shaun of the Dead, zombies, movie, film, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Edgar Wright, horror, comedy

Hot Fuzz is terrific, but I suspect the Pegg/Wright/Frost trio will never better their first effort. It’s just too brilliant. Shaun Of The Dead is one of the extremely rare examples of a perfect horror comedy (a genre so difficult to get right), which works so well because it finds the perfect line between being hilarious and completely understanding the genre it’s parodying.


The Evil Dead

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It’s the very lack of budget, at first likely to have been so restrictive, which has made The Evil Dead so endearing. A lot of people think Evil Dead 2′s the classic with its bonkers shift into comedy, but I’ve always loved the first one. It’s cheap and some of the acting is ridiculous, yet it’s equally charming and timeless, and I distinctly remember it being one of the first movies to really scare me (I was 12 and pretended to leave the room to go to the bathroom – I actually just couldn’t handle the first possession sequence).


Red State

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Red State is Kevin Smith’s ode to Tarantino (Michael Parks’ insane evangelical speech is an obvious homage), and is a completely crazy movie. The bad guys (a group of probably inbred religious fundamentalists who hate anyone that isn’t a straight, white American and condone their own killing by calling it “God’s bidding”) are some of the most hateable characters you’ll ever see on-screen, while the good guys (John Goodman and his FBI team) spend the movie laughably taking the Michael out of them.

It’s an imperfect but fun blast of Tarantino-does-a-pantomime thrills.


Wrong Turn (all of them…)

wrong-turn

They weren’t actually on the list, but what can I tell you. I’ll just say this: if you’re looking for a way to make Wrong Turn look like art, watch the rest of them.


Psycho

psycho-bates

Arguably Hitchcock’s most famous film, Psycho sort of gave birth to the slasher genre as we know it – at the very least, it laid the foundations for films like Halloween to come along and really take the genre by the scruff of the neck. But I don’t see it as a slasher movie at all; it’s a slow-burning psychological examination of a madman possessed by matriarchal tyranny, which happens to have a few stabby bits. In any case, it’s not one of my very favourite Hitchcock films, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still excellent. Anthony Perkins is chillingly good.


Saw

saw

The film that started the whole blood-splattered franchise is also the film that started James Wan’s career – and what a film it is. Saw gained plaudits for its originality and utilization of thrills and smarts in such a confined setting; the film largely takes place within one dingy bathroom as two characters, chained to opposing walls, try to figure out who put them there and why. True, it’s let down by some laughable acting, but as opposed to the increasingly desperate sequels, Saw is so much more about the ideas and subtext than the traps set out by Jigsaw; it doesn’t revel in the violence but deploys it as a grave last resort for thoroughly depleted characters. The twist too, somewhat spoiled by now, remains terrific and (at one time) unexpected.

I also watched the sequels, but there’s not a great deal to say. The second one isn’t without merits, but they certainly get increasingly worse. They’re just quite fun to binge watch and laugh at.


The Conjuring

The Conjuring

I still feel like this is Wan’s best film. Witches lurking on wardrobes, cupboards locking people in and games of ‘clap, clap’ going awry are prominent, and with a smashingly good cast of Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor to provide firm grounding, The Conjuring is one of the most effective and enjoyable horror films in years.


The Conjuring 2

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I wouldn’t say it’s quite as scary as the first one, and a few of the Landan accents are a bit wobbly, but I still loved it. The strength this time comes largely from the development of Ed and Lorraine’s relationship; their love is strong but this time we feel them in danger more than the ostensible victims. Because of how much I now care about both characters, I can’t remember the last time a horror movie made my heart beat so fast during its climax.

Still to come…

The Fog

Paranormal Activity

A Nightmare on Elm Street

The Changeling

The Shining

Re-Animator

It Follows

Halloween

Day of the Dead

The Exorcist

From Dusk Till Dawn

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