While there are many movies that I loathe there are far more that I adore. So as a companion set of reviews to my “Movies I hope I never have to see again” posts I will also from time to time post a list of movies I consider to be wonderful.
There are only two rules to make it onto one of my favourite movie lists an those rules are very simple.
1: The movie has to have had a general cinema release. That’s it. I’ll end up dealing with straight to television or DVD movies on their own at a later date.
2: They have to be a movie which I have or would have paid to go see at least twice in the cinema. The would have simply because so many of my favourite movies are significantly older than I am. Not a difficult feat when you consider that as an art form film is over a century old.
Just as with my lists of bad movies I won’t be giving much in the way of a synopsis with each entry. If you’re unfamiliar with the movie and interested I will be including in the movie title a link to its Wikipedia page, at least where one exists. (I will also be adding these links to my older movie reviews also.) These will be about why I think they are the best of their genre.
So we shall begin today with a treat for myself, my second favourite genre. Horror movies. I have almost no horror movies in my DVD collection. This probably strikes the people who know me well as odd when they consider how I truly adore them. But I have done this quite purposefully. Horror movies are my illicit viewing treat. Something which I use very occasionally to reward myself with. But despite this I have seen a huge number of them. In this list I will share with you my top five horror movies and though they are numbered one through five in all honesty it’s virtually impossible for me to set them apart.
Typically unnerving shot from the 1979 classic.
Released in 1979 this is the movie that has gone on to fuel half of my teenage and adult nightmares. It’s set on a huge but somehow incredibly claustrophobic spacecraft where the crew are being hunted down one by one by an alien creature which they have accidentally set on themselves. Though really if you haven’t seen this movie by now where have you been for the last 32 years?
There are two things which really make this movie one of the best of its type . First the cast are top-notch. In there you have Tom Skerrit, Ian Holms, John Hurt and best of all Sigourney Weaver who was a virtual unknown in film at the time. As a cast they just work. By the time everything starts to go wrong for the characters you actually care a lot for them. This is in part due to the great, real feeling of everything said in the script. But mostly it’s down to the brilliant performances by the entire cast. Ian Holms especially is wonderful as the sort of villainous Ash.
The second thing that makes this movie unforgettable is the atmosphere of it. It’s dark, dingy, cramped and vaguely unpleasant throughout. This is not the bright clean future of Star Trek. Everyone smokes, they swear and while the living areas of the ship are clean, it’s not sterile. It’s more like the cleanliness of the average home; clean but would you really want to eat off the floors?
Then the planet is dark. The alien spacecraft is like an erotic nightmare. Basically to me the whole movie feels kind of like a science fiction film noir set in your worst nightmare. And that’s without even mentioning the Alien itself and the way it’s even more terrifying when you don’t see it.
This movie is everything a good sci-fi horror should be. It’s not wall to wall technobabble. It’s a good human story with a brilliant script, cast and story. And even though the sequels and spin offs are all far more thriller/action movies the original is pure horror through and through.
A much lampooned image, but imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery so...
Released in 1922 this is the first, though unauthorised Dracula movie. If you’ve seen any version of Dracula you already know the story but this movie even ninety years after it was shot is still far more creepy than any of the others. Not even the great Béla Lugosi could make his Dracula as horrifying to watch as Max Schreck did in Nosferatu.
While the story does deviate a lot from the novel in places, such as in how the vampire eventually dies, I have since my first time seeing it considered it the best Dracula movie to watch. Especially with Schrecks Count Orlac creeping through every scene, a scrawny, ill-shaped creature who moves in a disturbingly non-human way.
Being silent it has no script as such but what it does have is the ability to make you start feeling anxious from the moment it begins. And after all that anxiety, the sitting on the edge of your seat when you don’t know why combined with disquieting imagery is at the heart of great horror.
3: Prince of Darkness
The poster for one of the most unnerving movies ever made.
The second of John Carpenter’s trilogy of apocalypse horrors this 1987 release is one that I was so tempted to put at number 1. It combines classic Satanist horror with some really odd metaphysics to give us the story of Satan’s attempt to escape into our world. I won’t say too much about this one because it really needs to be seen to be believed. But I will say that it was all shot through a weird lens that distorts every shot and man does it start to mess with your head eventually.
Also it has Donald Pleasance in my favourite of his roles as the head of a small group of researchers. He really is at the top of his game in this and so is Carpenter. Leaving us with a movie which I feel is far superior to either it’s predecessor The Thing or the third film in the series In the Mouth of Madness.
2: Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
Nothing in common with the other Halloween movies but to my mind the best of them.
The only episode of the Halloween movie franchise not to include Micheal Myers as a character this one is an often overlooked gem. It is also the movie that started my love affair with horror. Sent into the world in 1982 this was the only attempt to make the franchise into what it had always been intended to be. A series of horror films each of which explored a different horror theme each year.
Yes that’s right Halloween was never intended to be just a slasher movie series.
I have to say that the other Halloween movies leave me cold. Slasher films just bore me and whenever I try to watch them I always end up drifting away to do something genuinely scary. Like try to edit the grammar or punctuation in one of my novel projects.
But Halloween 3 is different. It feels almost like a 1980’s attempt at an American Hammer horror set in the modern age. Though this really is more in feeling than anything else. The story is a bit silly, the sets vary from very normal to overblown and the villain of the piece is almost Brian Blessed-like in his over acting.
But this is all good stuff because it leaves you more open to the rare and never really expected moments of intense gory, violent horror. This movie gave me nightmares for a year after I first saw it and to this day I still get unnerved when I see people wearing those rubber hood type Halloween masks.
1: The Omen
Simply the best.
I am speaking here of the original 1976 version here. The 2006 version while a good movie with a strong performance by Julia Stiles just doesn’t have the same impact as the original. But anyway this is simply the best horror movie ever made.
It was shot on a small budget with very few special effect shots. Though the impalement and decapitation scenes are both spectacular to watch.
But this movie is not about horrific violence in the scenes. The true horror in The Omen is all in your own mind. Everyone involved in this movie created a piece of cinematic perfection where everything from the script to the score, the casting to even the weather winds the viewers anxiety levels up and up from beginning to end. Speaking of the score it is the most disturbing but most beautiful collection of pieces of music ever written for any movie.
I think this is Gregory Peck’s greatest work. Through out the movie he becomes the rock your control over your own fears is built on. You just know that somehow he will win in the end and good will prevail. Of course he doesn’t but that makes the ending all the worse emotionally to watch.
The Omen puts you through a ringer and leaves you in the end with a deep sense of dread that takes an age to go away. And isn’t that what a good horror should do?
So I guess there’s only one thing left to say;
Damien, it’s all for you Damien!