Music Features

Romero To Bergman: A Belated Horror List By The Movie Kids

This is not a top ten list (we have an even nineteen entries here, thank you very much).  These are picks from the No Ripcord film staff that reflect our ill-considered favorites, horrorwise.  I've got some rather orthodox representation, George Smith boldly defends some modern hits that elitists may sneer on, and Gary Collins brings a keen eye to some international classics, so I think it is a nice balance.  The whole point, as with any list, is to start an argument.  I look forward to it.  Comment, people!

-George Booker, Film Editor

The Dead Cycle, George Romero

It would be folly to try and single out any of Romero's hallmark zombie series as being the "best," so this list will instead give the honor to the entirety of the series, stopping only to remove the ill advised 4th entry, Land of the Dead, from the ceremony. A fantastic premise and the illustrious Dennis Hopper are wasted. Perhaps budget issues kept Romero from making the film he wanted to make, as has been the case his entire career. Or perhaps someone should have told him that even on a shoestring, you can pull a better 2nd lead out of your ass than John Leguizamo.  (George Smith)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tobe Hooper

Years later, when a filmmaker decides to make a horror flick on little or no money, this remains his inspiration. Though the "based on a true story" gimmick was a little ridiculous, the carnage was terrifying, largely due to the lack of reason for the mayhem and the camerawork, which was largely director Tobe Hooper putting a camera in a room while Bad Things Happen, thus making the usually detached audience culpable in the onscreen violence. Michael Bay, He Who Has Ruined Film, gave this a spit shine in the second part of this decade, but to polish the Massacre is to ruin the Massacre.  (GS)

The Shining, Stanley Kubrick

Inititally, many genre junkies will complain about the languid pace and esoteric introspection of Kubrick's psychological horror epic, even going so far as to say this is not a scary movie.  The Shining, however, is an "anti-horror" in the same way 2001 is an "anti-sci-fi".  That is, Kubrick shows little orthodoxy to genre conventions and creates his own uncanny effects that have a tendancy to linger profoundly and disturbingly in the mind, accumulating power over time and only growing stronger on re-visitation.  If nothing else, The Shining gave horror some of its most indelible images and found an ideal use for Kubrick's anti-naturalistic direction of actors in the realm of protracted, isolated, communal nightmare.  (George Booker)

Nosferatu, FW Murnau

Devoid of sound, Nosferatu becomes infinitely more chilling through the power of its images. With his otherworldly, sub-human appearance and mysterious aura, Max Schreck’s Count Orlock is infinitely more creepy and far more unnerving than Klaus Kinski’s interpretation of the character in Herzog’s 1979 remake. In a word: haunting.  (Gary Collins)

Black Sunday, Mario Bava

Adapted from a short story by Nikolai Gogol, Black Sunday is an aesthetically stunning low-budget period horror film. Featuring a cruel and sexually sadistic storyline, Mario Bava’s film remains a cult item through the director’s resoundingly inventive visual trickery and atmospheric mood.  (GC)

Halloween, John Carpenter

Along with Hooper's aforementioned Chain Saw Massacre, one of the most skilled and influential films in the history of cinema.  Cribbing from classics like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and great cult items like Bob Clark's Black Christmas, John Carpenter immortalized himself as a master with a minimal premise that never allows the focus to sway from elemental terror and cinematic virtuosity.  One of the most successful independent productions ever, Halloween sparked one of the more disreputable genres to infect screens, the slasher.  Like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, however, this one defies its reputation by using minimal gore and maximal ingenuity.  Few films, ever, have more effectively used space, composition, sound and ambiguity to create an atmosphere of real, seat-jumping terror that lasts long after the credits roll.  (GB)

Eyes Without A Face, Georges Franju

A wonderfully poetic tale of parental guilt taken to the extreme, Eyes Without A Face is one of the horror genre’s greatest slices of melancholy. Scorned upon its initial release, Franju’s Cocteau-like visuals have grown in stature. Alida Valli’s character Louise is arguably one of the genre’s most underrated assistants and features a wonderfully distinctive soundtrack following her travails around the streets of Paris.  (GC)

28 Weeks Later, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Yeah, you can expect certain things from a zombie holocaust, including the indulging of baser instincts by our fighting boys and the absolute crumbling of society, but when those closest to you leave you for dead to save their own asses, well, no spoilers here, but karma is a gooey, bloody mistress; culminating in one of the most awesome action sequences ever seen in the genre. "Days" was arguably eerier in ambience, but "Weeks" gets the nod for its claustrophobic choke-point setting and themes of abandonment at the end of the world.  (GS)

Hostel 1+2, Eli Roth

Saw made all the money, but Eli Roth's underrated genius continues the genre's longstanding tradition of taking shots at society when "respectable" film loses its marbles. Often panned as little more than torture porn, this pair of modern genre classics about an Eastern European slaughterhouse that, for a fee, offers the idle rich the ultimate thrill of slaughtering a young, attractive foreigner hides a biting commentary on the idiocy of gender relations. The first film indicts the yo-brah mentality of the average college-aged male, while the second goes for the jugular of what passes for modern feminism. And, of course, if you're only looking for sadism, it's got that in spades.  (GS)

Final Destination 2+3, David R Ellis and James Wong

A slasher film typically has some hideously deformed and/or psychotic creep(s) stalking their vapid prey. The people in the audience who have personalities resembling those of the victims will undoubtedly begin any critique of the film with something along the lines of "God, that guy/monster/thing was soooo creepy," shifting the blame to the killer (who, as any true genre fan knows, we are supposed to cheer on).

The beautiful people can't pull that rationalization here, as Final Destination 3 gleefully submits that while you may be able to hide your two-faced, self-serving narcissism from the people around you, death itself knows you're a jerk, and it's coming to make sure you pay what you owe. Though Final Destination 2's highway sequence has legs, Final Destination 3 gets a mention here for doing for tanning beds what Jaws did for the ocean.  (GS)

Kwaidan, Masaki Kobayashi

Former painter Masaki Kobayashi’s adaptation of Lafcadio Hearn’s renowed anthology of Japanese folk tales is a truly beautiful paradigm of Japanese cinema’s replication of the Edo period. Arguably a forerunner of J-Horror, Kwaidan is a slow-burning, karmic mixture of horror, history and fantasy. Gorgeous and disturbing in equal measure.  (GC)

The Thing, John Carpenter

In a sadly overlooked and derided-in-its-time big budget masterpiece, Carpenter created what is now considered a timeless classic and one horrifying movie experience.  Many of the same principals that made Halloween so unshakable apply here: expert use of space and pacing in a minimal, isolated setting and premise.  Add an epic, polar setting and some of the most shocking, imaginative, graphic effects ever seen, deployed with the skill and inspiration of a master.  This is the point where Carpenter eclipsed the original achievement of his idol, Howard Hawks, who produced the original.  (GB)

Night of the Hunter, Charles Laughton

Charles Laughton’s only film behind the camera is a dark, Southern Gothic gem. Headlined by Stanley Cortez’s expressionistic cinematography and Robert Mitchum’s utterly sinister lead performance, Laughton’s film disintegrates the nostalgic, pleasant stereotypes of Mark Twain’s Mississippi into an angular and ominously tattooed world of love and hate.  (GC)

The Fly, David Cronenberg

The second superior '80s remake of a '50s horror staple here.  I could have listed several Cronenberg works, and for my money Videodrome remains his magnum opus.  The man is simply one of the best filmmakers with the most intriguing, transgressive, poetic, and intellectually challenging ideas in all of cinema.  The Fly, however, is his most accessible, humane, tragic, romantic, thrilling, gross and satisfying work.  This is the movie that tricked the mainstream public into embracing venereal horror in all of its ickiness and pathos.  (GB)

Peeping Tom, Michael Powell

Michael Powell always seemed to have a feature-length horror film buried within his talents. One just needs to glance at the chilling denouement between Sister Ruth and Sister Clodagh in his masterpiece Black Narcissus, the frenzied finale of The Red Shoes or the twisted grotesqueries of Tales of Hoffman. Whereas Psycho demonstrated Alfred Hitchcock’s ability to expound in new cinematic directions, fellow British director Michael Powell saw his imaginative career in ruins. Like Hitchcock’s film released the same year, Powell’s film featured a mild-mannered, voyeuristic killer. In contrast, Hitchcock’s was a massive success, while Powell’s was decried as sick and disturbing. A film that rightly has earned its re-appraisal, Peeping Tom is a fantastically chilling allegory of filmmaking and is still profoundly effective to this day.  (GC)

Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch

This enormous flop had the worst Cannes reception in recent memory before Vincent Gallo's infamous The Brown Bunny (a fairly impressive negative achievement coming only a few years after Lynch won the Palme D'Or for the equally difficult and abrasive Wild at Heart), and did not fare any better with the Euro-American filmgoing public.  A prequel to Lynch's Twin Peaks, one of the best and most distinctive TV shows ever, Fire Walk With Me did not help itself by being released a year after the show flamed out depressingly after the network-imposed resolution of its central mystery, and closed the hostile-reception deal with oblique storytellyng and an unrelieved dark, violent tone.  As time tends to do with vigorously rejected horror classics, Fire Walk With Me has come into a cult recogniton of its particular genius.  Fuck the TV show (though a familiarity with the strange universe helps), fuck one's particular taste for the intuitive storytelling of Mr. Lynch (though a tolerance or enthusiasm for his nightmare logic helps even more), Fire Walk With Me is important for one general reason.  This is perhaps the most empathetic and great account ever of the horror experienced by a victim of sexual abuse, and it is appropriately terrifying.  (GB)

The 7th Victim, Mark Robson

In the 1930’s and 40’s producer Val Lewton released a series of high quality, low budget horror films such as The Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie. His last effort, The Seventh Victim continued Lewton’s interest in psychological horror and quasi-literary plotlines, but provided a far more bizarre and contemporary scenario involving satanic cults in Greenwich Village. Offbeat and unsettling, the film’s noirish logic and lesbian undertones distinguish it from other genre fare of the era.  (GC)

From Hell, The Hughes Brothers

Before Johnny Depp became the love of soccer moms everywhere as Captain Jack Sparrow, the versatile actor appeared as an opium addled detective chasing the elusive Jack The Ripper in one of this decade’s most neglected and underrated films. A dark and brooding period chiller created by a familial duo better known for their urban crime dramas, From Hell tackles a variety of sociological topics (addiction, sexism, class relations) rarely dissected in the horror genre. An outstanding and suspenseful amalgamation of the Victorian detective story and the period horror film.  (GC)

Hour of the Wolf, Ingmar Bergman

At first glance, the marriage between Ingmar Bergman and horror appears as an incomptabile duo. But on further inspection, two of the genre’s key themes- death and madness- were prevalent in such iconic Bergman films as The Seventh Seal, Cries and Whispers and Through A Glass Darkly. Containing some of the most surreal, horrific and bizarre imagery in the director’s famed canon, Hour of the Wolf is a unique experience. Positing itself as a true story, the film is a remarkable treatise on the relationship between fear and the supernatural, as logical rationalism is overtaken by the illogical and nightmarish world of dreams.  (GC)