Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Reel Opinion: Reel Speak's Top 10 Horror Films

Horror movies are not for everybody. Not only do a lot of people dislike being scared or being exposed to grim truths, but as a whole the genre asks the audience to buy into a lot; supernatural elements involving ghosts and demons and witches, guys with machetes or knives who never die, gruesome creatures, and the accepting of leaps in logic outside of reality. Horror fans accept all this and more, and from the outside looking in, the most objective of viewers should judge a movie not on its large leaps, but on the basics; story, character, acting, technical merits.

This blogger has always been neutral on the Horror genre; neither an avid fan nor a disbeliever, but that doesn’t mean some good and great films can’t be found and enjoyed. Outside of the standard items by which we judge a Horror movie, the genre demands that a few more get thrown in; scariness, rewatchability, and how iconic it is.

This list is a combination of objectivity and of this Blogger’s favorites over the years, and that opens the creaky door for WITCHBOARD (1986). A story about a woman who gets obsessed with a spirit (or two) connected to a Ouija Board, this film scared the pants off this Blogger when the ultimate evil baddie, called Malfeitor, shows up out of the shadows in the form of a creepy old guy with a white beard, followed by a bowel-moving evil laugh. Mostly forgotten and basically obscure, WITCHBOARD is a night-terror for this Blogger and an easy entry into his Top 10.

M. Night Shyamalan’s THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) gets a little too much attention for its big-wow twist at the end which turns the entire viewing experience upside-down. It’s great, but it often overshadows how good of an old-fashioned ghost story it really is. Heavily influenced by the great Alfred Hitchcock, M. Night creates plenty of scares, and most of all, a mystery…which keeps the audience engaged at all times.

It may not be the scariest film ever made (although it has its moments), but Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) has a lot of strong points as a film. It is visually stunning, beautifully scored, has an iconic look in Gary Oldman’s Count Dracula…and as a Dracula/vampire story it draws heavily and faithfully from the book, and also pulls material from nearly aspect of the vampire legend. Above all, it serves as a love story…which also makes it one of the most unique entries in the genre.

Often considered to be the granddaddy of all Horror, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) is standard viewing for all fans of the genre every October. Carpenter’s iconic villain with the hockey mask, Michael Myers, stands as one of the most memorable baddies of all time. The film’s score is perhaps the greatest in the genre, and it was the movie that re-invented a sub-genre; the slasher flick. It takes place in a real-world with a real-life situation, and that’s what makes it all the more frightening; this could happen in your neighborhood this month.

Isolation is a scary thing. But what’s even more scary is being isolated with a killer beast hunting you. And what’s even more scary is being isolated with that killer beast in a place where there is nowhere to run or hide…and that’s makes Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979) a perfect horror flick. A nice mash-up of sci-fi and Horror, ALIEN brought about some of the most memorable scares and gut-bursting scenes in history.

Prior to 1984, there was Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolfman…and then the late and great Wes Craven introduced Freddy Krueger to the world in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A killer who only exists in people’s dreams, Craven capitalized on the isolation factor, while inserting some real scares (Freddy’s creepy stretching arms and the body bag moving on its own scared the shite out of this Blogger) and a character which stands the test of time.

If HALLOWEEN is the granddaddy of Horror, then Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960) is the great-granddaddy. Based on the best-selling book, Hitchcock solidified his legend as the master of suspense with some chilling scenes involving a staircase and a shower (simple things masterfully turned frightening), and is the earliest example of the slasher-genre. Coupled with a mystery and some shocking twists and turns, PSYCHO is a scare-fest and an exquisitely crafted movie.

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of THE SHINING (1980) often gets criticized for not being faithful to Stephen King’s book of the same name and for having an ending which Horror fans and cinema buffs debate to this day. These criticisms don’t mean much, because Kubrick creates an atmosphere which creeps those shivers down the spine at all times. From a creepy little kid, ghostly twin-girls, spectral bartenders, a gut-twisting score…and a performance by a young Jack Nicholson, who exerts pure evil with just one glance, THE SHINING is a finely crafted film which still has a presence in pop-culture.

Pop-culture may have been forever altered by Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975) as well, but that’s not the only reason this film, about a killer shark which terrorizes a resort town, makes the list. JAWS is often overlooked as a Horror movie because it takes place during the bright summer and doesn’t involve slashers or any supernatural elements. But the scares are genuine. Earlier this year this Blogger celebrated the film’s 40th anniversary by seeing the film on the big-screen, and the crowd, which contained many newcomers, jumped out of their seats in all the places Spielberg intended 40 years ago. JAWS hasn’t aged a day.

Having grown up in a religious family which truly believed that the Devil existed and could arrive at any moment, this Blogger was not allowed to watch William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST (1974) as a child, and that was probably a good thing. THE EXORCIST, which tells the tale of a young girl possessed by the Devil and does battle with two priests, taps into that primal fear deep inside…that feeling and knowledge that pure evil does exist. The film takes that feeling and gives it a body, a face, and a voice…making for a frightening experience as good tries to do battle with the ultimate evil in the universe. Faith is shaken, beliefs are tested, and pants are pissed in as the scares come in doses. Friedkin somehow creates a film in which even during the quieter times, there is always a feeling of something being off, of something being wrong. It is un-nerving, disturbing, and gets everything right in Horror, and in film. THE EXORCIST is the top of terror.


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