Monday, October 31, 2016

Carl's Favourite Horror Films

In celebration of Halloween (a little late, I know) I am posting a second blog! It's my second-favourite time of year and a celebration of all things spooky, scary, spoopy, ghostly and the perfect time to sit in the dark and watching horror movies.

And because I like talking about movies, I'm going to talk about my five favourite horror movies! In no particular order:

1. Halloween
I remember seeing the VHS box for Halloween in video stores, as a child, and being entranced by it. The razor sharp knife held in a bulging fist like a weapon, the image repeated, blurred and coloured into a jack-o-lantern face with angry eyes and a jagged edge like monsterous teeth. It's an evocative image. I wondered for years what kind of movie sat locked inside this box. Surely it must be the scariest movie ever made.

After years of wondering, I became old enough and brave enough to rent the film and find out. Of course it isn't the scariest film ever, but it is frightening and it's a well made film. Although not the first slasher film, it was the earliest success and inspired all the slasher films to follow. It's also the movie that inspired my love of slasher films and horror more broadly.

2. The Thing
John Carpenter has the distinction of being the only film maker appearing twice in my top five horror movies. The Thing may be his best work. It inspires a sense of dread and paranoia like no other film, playing on the darkness and isolation of the antarctic landscape. The Thing also has enough gore and body horror to satisfy horror fans seeking more blood-soaked horror. The claymation looks a little dated by today's special effects but, in a way, it adds to the bizarre and alien nature of the creature haunting the poor humans. Despite its special effects, the movie holds up extremely well even after all these years and if the monster itself doesn't frighten you, the atmosphere, tone and the uncomfortable final moments are sure to chill you.

3. Ring
Ring was my introduction to Japanese horror films. It is a film with very few overt scares but the entire film is soaked with dread and terror and ever building anxiety. The idea of a haunted video tape (although, like the claymation in The Thing, it certainly dates the film) is unique, to say the least, and it speaks highly of the film that it can take something so ordinary as watching a video tape and make it so frightening. The climax of the film, the big reveal and the only appearance of the ghostly Sadako will either scare you silly or just look silly, depending on your tolerance for scares. When I first saw it, it gave me some serious chills and kept me awake hours into the night. These days it's not so effective, but that's fine, because the tension through the rest of the film is more than enough to keep you on the edge of your seat and chomping at your finger nails.

4. Aliens
Aliens is a film that needs no introduction. It is as much an action movie as a horror movie and is a landmark in cinema history for both genres. The eponymous alien monsters are a terrifying sight to behold and have become a pop-culture icon. But what makes Aliens such an effective and frightening horror film is that, at first glance, our human characters seem to have all the advantage. They're prepared for an encounter, they're armed and trained and dangerous. They've got all the guns and all the tech. But hubris is a bitch. And no matter how good their training, how big their guns, how smart their choices, how ready these colonial marines think they are, the aliens are seemingly unstopable. Horror movies are all the more frightening when your main characters make intelligent decisions and are still helpless against the dangers facing them. Aliens is a great example of this.

5. The Conjuring
If you like horror movies and you haven't seen The Conjuring, you are living your life wrong. I've seen a lot of horror movies. I've seen the good, the bad, the ugly, the uncomfortable, the amazing, the cheap, the disappointing. I've seen every kind of horror movie. After a while, you start to get numb. You start to think you've seen it all and nothing scares you anymore. The Conjuring is one of two films (the other being [REC]) that has come and kicked me right in the complacency and scared the crap out of me. It is a masterpiece. No other film I've seen creates the same atmosphere of ceaseless and terrifying oppression like The Conjuring. If there's a film that recreates the horror of a haunted house, it's The Conjuring.

And unlike so many haunted house films, it tells its story through a cast of likable and sympathetic characters. Too many haunted house movies feature a short-tempered, doubting husband yelling at his kids for telling lies and abandoning his wife to the ghosts because he's the only rational, sensible person in the world. The Conjuring avoids these tropes entirely.

Similarly, it avoids reliance on jump scares and fake outs and similar cheap shocks. When the ghosts appear in The Conjuring, they come like a spider creeping towards your paralysed hand. You know they're coming, you see them coming and there's nothing you can do about it. The film doesn't need fake outs because once the horror begins, it only lets up to allow tender moments between the characters. Then, when it's time to be scary, it goes all in.

The Conjuring uses every tool in the film maker's tool box to make you uncomfortable and afraid. It combines a great script with great actors, and presents the terror through carefully crafted lighting and photography, accompanied by a minimalist discordant sound track and the occasional ghostly whisper. Even as the film builds to an exciting and action filled climax, the horror never lets up.

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