I’ve got chills, they’re multiplying. Part Two.

24 Mar

As you may or may not have seen I have been constructing my Top 30 Horror films. In part one I spoke about how the horror genre comes with a lot of subjectivity, how one persons idea of ‘horror’ is completely different to that of another person. I ask you to bare that in mind as you continue reading, and hopefully my opinions wont be too frightening. So here goes with part two, films 20 to 11. Enjoy.

20. The Mist (2007)

the-mist1To me, Frank Darabont is one of the best out there. Writer, director, producer, he dabbles in it all and comes out on top. In The Mist, his third Stephen King adaption (the first two being The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption), Darabont cements his stunning story telling abilities. As a thick mist descends over a small town, a large group of local residents find themselves trapped in a supermarket as it quickly becomes apparent that the mist contains deadly and otherworldly creatures.

Boasting an incredible cast that includes Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn and Chris Owen (better known as The Sherminator – probably much to his disappointment) the main protagonists are a real treasure to watch, slowly being driven insane by the deadly predicament they find themselves in. Partnered with some great visual effects and one of the best endings I have ever seen on film, The Mist has it all. Humour, intrigue, attitude, atmosphere, action, drama and of course horror.

It is also the home of one of my favourite pieces of dialogue; “As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?” Trust me, in context it will be beautiful. So watch it.

19. Zodiac (2007)

ZodiacDuring the late 1960’s and early 1970’s a serial killer known as ‘Zodiac’ terrorized the civilians, the press and the law enforcement of Northern California. The killer taunted investigators with hand-written letters containing cryptograms and claimed to have killed almost 40 people, although in years to come investigators only ever agreed on 7 confirmed victims, 2 of whom survived. Although there have been a number of suspects over the years, most notably a man named Arthur Leigh Allen, to this day the identity of the Zodiac killer is unknown. Even from the 4 cryptograms sent to the Bay Area press, only 1 has ever been solved.

David Fincher’s film tackles the complex subject matter to absolute perfection. The main performances are of the highest calibre, as you would expect from Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo, as they capture what it is to be wrapped up in an investigation filled with mystery and intrigue that has spanned decades due its unsolved status. Zodiac is a long film at 157 minutes, but Fincher uses that time carefully and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. To hold the attention of audiences who will for the most part already know the ending, is an impressive skill, but the eerie, unsettling and shocking world he creates is one you are more that happy to stay in.

Until the credits role and you are reminded that the killer may still be out there…

18. Funny Games (2007)

funny gamesIMDB’s synopsis of Funny Games is, ‘Two psychopathic young men take a family hostage in their cabin.’ The explanation is concise, blunt and cold. Appropriately, it is much like the film.

Writer and director Michael Haneke made Funny Games in 1997. It was in Austrian and the intention was not for it to be a horror film but to be a message about the over-exaggerated links between violence and the media, a subject the director is very passionate about. For the 2007 version, Haneke replaced the Austrian actors with American ones and replicated the first edition shot for shot. The change in language is a great move as it allows Michael Pitt to enter the fray. As one of the ‘psychopaths’, Pitt is the heart of this bloody affair. Softly spoken, disgustingly cruel and chillingly intentional, he is utterly superb.

It is a hard watch. Not simply for the fact that ‘shot for shot’ means that it has the incredibly sluggish pace of the original, but because it is unbelievably dark and troubling. The films setting is clinical and claustrophobic but with it being the families stereotypical holiday home it adds a reality and a familiarity that truly makes you want to stay at home. Additionally, some of the violence is presented through the power of suggestion so when you find yourself filling in the blanks, it becomes an astoundingly disturbing place to be in.

Not originally created to be a horror film in the conventional sense, Haneke’s story telling is so brilliantly cold that Funny Games becomes one of the most horrifying films you will ever see.

17. Cube (1997)

The-CubeCube is about 7 strangers who wake up in a room, wondering how they got there and why they are there. They soon realise that they are trapped in a never-ending maze that contains deadly traps, and the key to their survival lies within themselves. You may be thinking, ‘This sounds vaguely familiar…’ but trust me this is no Saw 2. For Saw 2 is atrocious, Cube is not.

I wanted to write something about this film that would help you to understand just how incredible it is. I couldn’t. I wanted to put a trailer on here to that you could see just how incredible this film is. None of them did it any justice. I thought to myself, what can I do? What can I say?

Honestly, there isn’t anything I can do or say. Except for, it is INCREDIBLE. I implore you to watch it with as little information going into it as possible. It is a surprising, scary, intelligent and unique journey.

16. The Killing Room (2009)

the killing roomIt was quite hard to find a picture for this section of my Top 30 that didn’t give away some of the plot. So I chose Chloe Sevigney. She is in the film, I promise.

The Killing Room is what the term psychological-horror was invented for. Four individuals sign up to take part in a psychological research study that takes place in a stark white room only to find out that they are part of a much bigger and much darker government experiment. The room itself becomes a puzzle that they must solve in order to survive.

The four individuals are played by Timothy Dutton, Clea DuVall, Nick Cannon and Shea Whigham and brilliantly so. It is an interesting cast as they are far enough under the Hollywood radar to make them somewhat strangers to us an audience and far enough above it to hope for their survival. Much like Cube, The Killing Room has so many twists and turns that it would be foolish of me to reveal too much more of the plot. It is about going on the horrific journey with the characters and by the end you will not be disappointed.

15. The Shining (1980)

jack-nicholson-the-shiningJack Nicholson’s frozen dead face at the end of The Shining will haunt me forever.

Many of you may be screaming ‘Woah, spoiler alert!’ at your various technological devices right now but it is hard to believe that anyone reading this article won’t have seen the film. It is simply one of the best horror films, and possibly films of all time.

Based on the book of the same and directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film is about Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) who moves himself and his family into the isolated Overlook Hotel where he has taken a job as a caretaker. His son Danny has the ability to see the past and future, and therefore the ghosts in the hotel, and when the family become trapped at Overlook after a freak snowstorm, Jack finds himself being influenced by a supernatural presence. The influence being that he attempts to kill his wife Wendy and his son.

The Shining is an astounding and completely terrifying film. Kubrick uses iconic long-shots to create such a terrifying feeling of isolation and the soundtrack is both humourously and chillingly eerie. Nicholson’s performance is a how-to on acting as every line, every grimace, every eccentricity in his decline into madness is timed and convicted perfectly. Overall, the film plays on your senses, leaving you in a state of total unease and exhaustion. But it’s so worth it.

“Here’s Johnny!”

14. Eden Lake (2008)

eden-lakeEden Lake is one of the few films that I never watched more than once. Obviously, as I am including it in my Top 30 Horror films it is not because I didn’t like it. The reason I have only watched it once is because it left me disgusted, horrified, shocked and ultimately exhausted. But in a good way.

When a young couple take a weekend away at the isolated Eden Lake, their peace and quiet is jeopardized by a gang of youths. In hope that they can salvage their time together, the couple played by Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender, decide to confront the youths which leads to deadly consequences.

For those of you who have seen it, you will be able to understand my unwillingness to watch it repeatedly, but it is not to say it shouldn’t be watched. The realism is what gets you. Not the realism of the plot as clearly it has been exaggerated for film but the realism of the shots, of the acting, of the terror. A scene in which the head youth Brett (Jack O’Connell – 300: Rise of an Empire and This Is England) beats up another member of his gang, is shown as an upper-shot from the kid being beaten, and by this point in the film you feel like you are well and truly being punched in the face.

Eden Lake is a complete attack on the senses. You will leave the experience shaking with disbelief, anger and sadness. The aforementioned scene physically brought me to tears when I watched it, it was that horrifying. But then isn’t that what you want from a horror film?

13. Misery (1990)

miseryJust a side note really but I am starting to notice a Stephen King obsession manifesting itself on my blog…should probably read his books at some point.

Rolling in at number 13 is another King adaption, Misery. Starring Kathy Bates and James Caan, Misery is about writer Paul Sheldon (Caan) who crashes his car whilst returning home from his Colorado hideaway and is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Bates). Annie is Paul’s ‘number one fan’ and on discovering that his final book kills off her beloved character Misery, Annie’s caring nature turns possessive and deadly, keeping her beloved writer hostage at her home.

The film, directed by the legendary Rob Reiner, has been praised world over by critic and audiences alike since its release. Bates is both mesmerizing and petrifying as Annie, the psychotic fan. The role catapulted her into the Hollywood A-List and she won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her performance, the first Oscar for Best Actress within the horror genre. Reiner places the audience completely and brilliantly in the perspective of Paul Sheldon, where you are never certain of what is around the corner, freedom or the ever-lasting fade. A claustrophobic, powerful film that leaves you breathless. Especially after the ‘hobbling’ scene.

12. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

exorcismofemilyroseIt is a rare thing when you watch a horror film that a performance stands out. Often horror’s can bread contrived, clichéd and stereotypical characters that are essentially cannon fodder for the big crazy guy with the machete. Then in walks Jennifer Carpenter.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose combines courtroom drama and horror to bring us the story of Emily Rose, a young Catholic girl who dies after experiencing signs of possession. It is up to the court to decide whether Emily’s death was the result of the supposed possession or if it was the result of her refusing medical treatment for what was believed to be a strong case of epilepsy and psychosis. Hesitantly I feel I should say that the film is loosely based on a true story but fortunately it doesn’t affect the impact it makes on your mind and your senses.

Anyway, back to Carpenter because she is mind-blowing. Shown through flash-backs of Emily’s struggle with possession, Carpenter contort’s her body in ways unimaginable, screams with raw and unbridled pain, and gains stunning sympathy from an audience in fear of her. She is the stunningly scary centre-piece in this twisted and controversial world. Her portrayal of Emily Rose, mixed with the courtroom drama makes for an extremely smart and original horror film.

11. The Woodsman (2004)

the woodsmanOK, so you may be thinking, ‘This is not a horror film’. But as I have mentioned before horror is such a subjective concept. For me, horror isn’t simply about blood and guts or exorcism’s and things that go bump in the night, it is about a mood, an atmosphere that puts you on the edge of your seat and threatens to kick you off of it at any given moment. Sometimes that scare, that fright, that kick, can come from suspenseful music or a display of the aforementioned blood and guts, but for me it often comes from a feeling of uneasiness developed from psychological suspense. Perfect example; The Woodsman.

The controversial subject matter immediately puts you on edge. Walter, a convicted child molester, returns home after 12 years in prison and finds it hard to adjust to life on the outside. See, the words child molester put you straight on edge. Kevin Bacon plays Walter beautifully, attempting to gain sympathy in every scene as he is targeted by a suspicious and abusive police officer (Lucas – Mos Def) and as he tries to redefine his existence. Ultimately though it is to no avail as pedophilia, even in cinematic terms, is a hard pill to swallow. The horror is thus created by our own rage and inner torment towards a character whose life we are seeing a brief glimpse of. An interesting horror paradigm.


So there we have it, My Top 30 Horror films from 20 to 11. Hopefully there hasn’t been too many surprises along the way and you’ve enjoyed the ride so far. Coming very soon, my Top 10 which includes a jigsaw, a nice bottle of Chianti and some delightful business cards.

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