What’s Your Favourite Scary Movie?
Here at The Big Picture HQ, we thought it would be fun to ask some of our regular contributors what their top ten favourite horror movies are. Do you agree with our writers’ choices?
Horror has been a staple part of my movie watching since I was a teenager. I can remember getting collywobbles the first time I watched Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) at 3am on my own; being genuinely freaked out by the end of Ringu (Nakata, 1998); and sitting through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper, 1974) thinking it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. However, no other horror film has stayed with me like George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968). It was a game changer, not only for cinema in general, but also for my appreciation of what an often-derided genre can be capable of.
1. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)
2. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
3. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
5. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
6. Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998)
7. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
8. The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)
9. Rec (Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza, 2007)
10. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
Unintentionally, a distinct pattern that emerged in creating my top-ten was a preference for prominent and engaging female characters. As my most enduring favourite horror film, Suspiria (Argento, 1977) is visually stunning and technically complex; a beautiful nightmare with a soundtrack by prog rock band Goblin that jangles my nerves every time I hear it; Argento’s style of filmmaking during this period is similarly why Profundo Rosso (Argento, 1975) is on this list. However, Jessica Harper (Suzy Bannion), follows more in a tradition of ‘final girls’ of the American slasher movies of the 1970s. It is her inquisitiveness, intelligence and strength, and admittedly also her grace and beauty, that appeal to my imagination.
A final note: I have perhaps stretched the boundaries of this list by adding an entry from the Showtime horror anthology series Masters of Horror. Cigarette Burns (Carpenter, 2005) was introduced to me when I was studying film, for the purpose of saying something about horror fandom. In some ways, it depicts the constant search of some fans to hunt out the rarest films, perhaps the most gruesome and shocking. and watch the most gruesome, and the most shocking. This still resonates with me, and I remember particularly when I went to see Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato, 1980) for the first time – both fearing and at the same time hoping that I would see something like never before.
- Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
- Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
- Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011)
- Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980)
- American Mary (Jen and Sylivia Soska, 2012)
- Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)
- Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)
- Profondo Rosso (Dario Argento, 1975)
- You’re Next (Adam Wingard, 2011)
- Cigarette Burns (John Carpenter, 2005)
A list that changes regularly, but these are the staples. I admit that including both Maniacs as one entry is sort of cheating, but stand by it. A notable omission is Magic Magic (Silva, 2013), but one of its many charms is that I am not even sure if it is a horror movie as such. And depending on the day, Psycho III (Perkins, 1986) could be swapped with Exorcist III (Blatty, 1990), Halloween IV (Little, 1988), or even Prom Night II (Pittman, 1987) if I’d had enough whiskey.
- Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)
- Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
- Cemetery Man (Michele Soavi, 1994)
- House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)
- The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
- Messiah of Evil (Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, 1973)
- Shock (Mario Bava, 1977)
- The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
- Maniac (William Lustig/Franck Khalfoun, 1983 and 2012)
- Psycho III (Anthony Perkins, 1986)
Nearly seventy years after its release, Ealing Studios’ Dead of Night (Cavalcanti/Crichton/Dearden/Hamer, 1945) continues to haunt the dreams of anyone who has seen it. This famously elliptical anthology of claustrophobic nightmares is evermore widely regarded as a keystone in the architecture of Horror Cinema, both nationally and internationally. Released just a month after the end of the Second World War, and a dozen years ahead of the first Hammer Horror, it featured contributions from some of the finest directors and writers ever to work in British film.
It was a film that I first encountered suitably late at night on TV in the 1980s, and not to put too fine a point on it, it scared the living crap out of me. Old and whiskery it may be, but this is the Cinema of Eeriness, and those goosebumps endure. The film featured at number five in Martin Scorsese’s ‘11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time’, compiled by the director for The Daily Beast website. A capsule appreciation attributed to Scorsese, defines it as ‘a British classic’ with a collection of tales that are ‘extremely disquieting, climaxing with a montage in which elements from all the stories converge into a crescendo of madness. It’s very playful…and then it gets under your skin.’
1. Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti/Charles Crichton/Basil Dearden/Robert Hamer, 1945)
2. The Thing (John Carpenter 1982)
3. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski (1968)
4. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock 1960)
5. Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur 1957)
6. The Haunting (Robert Wise 1963)
7. The Innocents (Jack Clayton 1961)
8. The Exorcist (William Friedkin 1973)
9. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick 1980)
10. 28 Days Later… (Danny Boyle 2002)
Whilst not being the biggest horror fan or aficionado some of my most seminal cinematic moments, both in a cinema and at home, have come in the form of horror movie experiences. My top 10, listed chronologically includes two terrifying cinema visits (the last two, I’m not that old) and a variety of different types of horror. Some purists will likely baulk but hey. Just missing out were Hellraiser (Barker, 1987), The Blair Witch Project (Myrick & Sánchez, 1999), Kill List (Wheatley, 2011) and in a last ditch swap as I thought ‘how could I have forgotten Evil Dead II (Rami, 1987)?’ The Shining (Kubrick, 1980) was bumped (in the night).
- Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)
- Bride Of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)
- Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
- Don’t Look Now (Nic Roeg, 1973)
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
- The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
- The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)
- Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987)
- Switchblade Romance / Haute Tension ( Alexandre Aja, 2003)
- The Orphanage (J.A. Bayona, 2007)
Tod Browning’s choice to side with the circus sideshow folk and his use of a gut-wrenching twist provided audiences with an invaluable lesson as well as an unforgettable scare in his cult classic, and the oldest to make my list, Freaks (Browning, 1932). Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982) and The Changeling (Medak, 1980) are unsurpassed when it comes to stories of haunted houses; that they still have the power to unsettle me after all my years of watching horror films is a testament to their importance. Both [REC] (Balguero/Plaza, 2007) and Inside (Bustillo/Maury, 2007) are the only modern films to truly terrify me, ushering in a new era of European horror with an unrelenting brutality that has yet to be matched. Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) left my mind reeling the first time I saw it and improves on repeat viewings, with its cyclical narrative never failing to astound me.
Black Christmas (Clark, 1974), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper, 1974) and Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) may have been instrumental in the creation of the slasher, but Angst (Kargl, 1983) and Maniac (Khalfoun, 2012) take the basic framework of the genre to a whole new level by offering deeply disturbing insights into the minds of serial killers, earning them both a place on my list. No other director mastered as many genres as the almighty Kubrick, and The Shining (1980) is a perfect example of a technically brilliant director at the height of his game. So too is Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho (1960), which paved the way for horror directors to show more on-screen violence (the shower would no longer be a safe place) and is arguably one of the finest horror films ever made.
1. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
2. Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
3. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
4. Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982)
5. [Rec] (Jaume Balguero/Paco Plaza, 2007)
6. The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980)
7. Angst (Gerald Kargl, 1983)
8. Maniac (Franck Khalfoun, 2012)
9. The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976)
10. Inside (Alexandre Bustillo/Julien Maury, 2007)
There’s a few titles on my list that aren’t ‘horror’ movies by genre definitions, but they certainly fit the bill in terms of chilling me to the bone. I guess as a child of the 70s/80s, that period resonates the most, and for that reason Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) site proudly atop the pile. It’s grimy, depraved and a classic example of guerilla filmmaking. It’s precisely because there is no supernatural element to it that makes it so horrible. These types of people do exist, and that’s truly frightening.
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
- Romero’s Dead Trilogy (1968-1985)
- Carrie (Brian De Palma (1976)
- Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston, 1978)
- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
- Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980)
- Threads (Mick Jackson, 1984)
- Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
- The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)
- Tenebrae (Dario Argento, 1982)