I regularly get into discussions about horror films, games and books, and the interesting thing is that while I am often in love with the latter two, I’m often not a fan of the films. I think part of it perhaps is that I get very engrossed in films, and so sometimes I find horrors almost too much to watch: over-stimulation of the senses. I think another reason is that a lot of modern horror films are saturated in trope and cliche. They refuse to let go of certain formulas: found footage, jumpscares, monsters without power limits, and I find this quite disappointing.
Having said that, when horrors are good, they are some of the most rewarding, cathartic and emotionally fulfilling films you can watch. They take you the depths and back, on your own nekyia. So, I wanted to share with you my top 5 horror movies worth watching (if you haven’t already). Let’s begin!
(5) Silent Hill (2006)
Okay, so the standard rule with videogame-to-film adaptations is that they are terrible, and Silent Hill did receive some very harsh reviews and currently only holds roughly a 29% score on Rotten Tomatoes. There were also lots of fans who felt disappointed that Pyramid Head, a haunting apparition specifically materialised in the psyche of James Sunderland, was now a more general supernatural threat who could hunt anyone.
But I’m a contrary person as you’re well know. I believe much of the film’s criticism came from its apparent ‘confusing’ plotline, which actually is, in my humble opinion, one of the film’s core strengths. It does not spell out the plot for you, you have to find it in fragments. Yes, some of the characters are strangely philosophical, self-reflective, but Silent Hill can well be seen as a euphemism for Hell itself, and in Hell, as in the legends of Sisyphus, people are trapped in the endless cycles of their own vice and inhibition.
Pyramid Head is an iconic figure in the Silent Hill universe, and to have not have included him would have left us feeling cheated. Besides, his portrayal is exactly on point: menacing, palpitation inducing, and with the sinister knowledge of what he might really represent constantly simmering beneath the surface of things.
The visuals of this film are stunning. Not simply through CGI, but how it manipulates our perception, truly bringing alive the idea of a town caught between two timelines, and caught between reality and imagination. The cinematography is breath-taking, creating so many memorable images: such as our heroine running down the deserted street into the thick mists which have become one of the iconic landmarks of Silent Hill. The acting is on point, and the ending, a truly chilling and ambiguous image that will stay with you. Horrors normally end with either mass slaughter or the happy reunion, but Silent Hill steers us into something far more subtle and spiritual.
(4) 28 Days Later (2002)
A masterpiece of low-budget British horror that turned the zombie-film on its head. Not to be tarnished with its dodgy sequel, the original 28 Days Later movie was a masterclass in pulse-pounding terror, beautiful characterisation and humanity, gorgeous visuals and enticing music. The ending, famous for the way it unexpectedly flips our assumptions on its head and the way it utilises the sinister music of John Murphy, is so compelling it puts 95% of action sequences to shame.
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this film is its relentless insight into people. Even the zombies, or rather, those infected with the RAGE virus, are metaphorical analogies for the violence and savagery already within human beings. Ultimately we are not so different from the infected – as the actions of the soldiers in Manchester indicate later in the film.
Engrossing, violent, beautiful, a classic.
(3) Bone Tomahawk (2016)
I’ve already written a whole article about this film, so if you want to know why it’s at number 3, check it out! Suffice to say this horror-western will scare the bejesus out of you and leave you scarred, whilst also giving you compelling characters you care about.
(2) Alien (1979)
Another classic – the original Alien is a film that never leaves you once you’d seen it. The clever practical effects make the slimy, insectoid horror of this film practically immortal. No monster in film will ever be quite as terrifying as the parasitical xenomorph. But again, it is not simply gross-out factor that makes this film so iconic, it is its insight into people: from scientists who refuse to acknowledge the limits of human understanding (represented in the obsessive android) to the heroic Ripley, we see the full spectrum of human nature in its faults and triumphs.
(1) The Shining (1980)
And our top entry is another classic! The Shining might be radically different from its source text, and King might not approve of the adaptation, but Kubrick’s clear and focused artistic vision is undoubtedly a masterpiece, one that has haunted generations.
This is a very different kind of horror: a subtle erosion of the mind, a subtle exposure to forces beyond our understanding and control. As deep with mystery as it is with as it with drama: who opens the door to allow Jack Torrance out? Are the spirits then not just figments, but real? And from where do Danny’s psychic premonitions issue?
Compelling from start to finish, not in the least because of Jack Nicholson’s legendary performance and the continual manipulation of the viewer’s aural experience, this film should make it to anyone’s top list, if not number 1!
+ Bonus film: Polanski’s adaptation of Macbeth (1971)
Arguably this does not qualify as a pure horror film, because it is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s most Gothic play. However, I could not fail to mention it. Polanski’s cinematic vision is nightmarish and compelling, even 40 years on. The cinematography is at all times profoundly weird and unsettling: the opening image of the ‘weird sisters’ making their way over the sludged heath-land of a battlefield is as stark as terrifying as a vision of hell. The poetry is delivered with subtle psychological realism, whilst not compromising on the power and intensity of the imagery. Certain creative liberties have been taken, such as adding a final scene suggestion a repetition of the cycle, and including an additional scene in which Macbeth kills the assassins he employs (which is totally in-keeping with Macbeth’s paranoia), to prevent them from talking about the murder of Banquo. But all the additions only serve, in my opinion, to realise the text more fully.
The origins of horror are often attributed to gothic novels such as the Castle of Ortranto and the works of Mary Shelley, but Shakespeare knew a thing or two about horror, and Polanski, a thing or two about realising it on the ‘big screen’.
This is definitely one to watch if you haven’t already – for compelling language, performances, and a truly mesmerising close.
Well, that’s me done. I hope you enjoyed this list. What are your top 5? Do you think some of mine should be changed? Are there any I’ve forgotten? Feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading.
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