Top 10 Horror Films


10.)  THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (USA 1974).   Not as bloody as its reputation (or its imitators), but an intense, visceral experience nonetheless.  Like most of the great horror flicks, CHAINSAW has a sense of humor--the scene of grandpa attempting to kill a woman at the dinner table is both horrifying and hilarious. 

9.)  CARNIVAL OF SOULS (USA 1962).  The J.D. Salinger of low budget horror films has to be Herk Harvey, the writer/director of this creepy ghost story.  Harvey made one masterpiece and dropped from sight.  The prestigious Critereon Collection recently added SOULS to its ranks and actually found Harvey to do a commentary.  One revelation: the extraordinary silent scene with a woman disconnected from the world around her came about because the broke filmmaker was experiencing sound problems with the equipment 

8.)  NOSFERATU (Germany 1922).  A shameless Dracula rip-off that somehow soars above its source material ("Dracula" is famous and oft-filmed, but lets be honest, its not a very good book).  Murnau virtually invented shadow filming, and his influence pops up throughout film history.

7.)  THE EXORCIST (USA 1973).  Its recent re-release proved its power to still startle.  Horror films often assume the existence of supernatural good and evil--more than most genres-- but few address the ideas of God and the Devil so directly.

6.)  EVIL DEAD 2 (USA 1987).  Wildly inventive and insanely funny.  Buckets of blood, some red, some green, some black, all of it exaggerated to surrealism.  Many inspired moments, but the capper must be Bruce Campbell's battle with his own hand.  The DVD features a hilarious, Mystery Science Theater 3000esque commentary by Campbell and director Sam Raimi.  Followed by the amusing (and less gory) ARMY OF DARKNESS.

5.)  DAWN OF THE DEAD (USA 1978).  Perhaps the goriest social satire ever made.  DEAD, a sequel to the good but less ambitious NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, takes aim at  nothing less than the structure of human society.  Even those who despise horror films catch the funny mass consumerism angle (zombies wander a deserted shopping mall), but the satire digs deeper than that.  The film examines how we live together, why society works and why it doesn't.

4.)  ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (USA 1933).  A pre-Code shock to people who think of '30's horror films as quaint.  The best and creepiest of the many adaptations of the H.G. Welles story in which a mad doctor crossbreeds humans with animals.  The finale is especially grisly.

3.)  CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (Germany 1919).  Expressionism never looked so great.  Avant-garde (for the time, at any rate) silent which features the requisite mad doctor and monsterous killer.  The sets are truly amazing, and the mood is genuinely chilling.  An interesting look into the mind of post-War Germany.

2.)  FRANKENSTEIN (USA 1933).  We all have a God complex at times, an issue explored with humor and skill in this James Whale classic.  Many critics regard its sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, as the superior film.  For me, the first is more primal, more of a parable.  Karloff was not just a guy in make-up--his is a beautiful, subtle performance.

1.)  ROSEMARY'S BABY (USA 1968).  At their heart, horror films are reassurances.  They let us know that no, its not just us, life if terrifying for everyone.  Indeed, it is the fearless who usually die in these films, overwhelmed by terrors they refuse to acknowledge.  Perhaps the most basic fear is paranoia--our sinking despair in the realization that ultimately we can't know anyone, not even those we love the most.  ROSAMARY'S BABY is the most potent film dealing with this idea.  The decadence it portrays is that quiet, sociable middle class sort, where mild blasphemies at cocktail parties are taken to their darkest conclusions.  It is the escalating horror of fitting in.  In the end, Rosemary understands this.  She chooses to love the damned.  She surrenders to her role.


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