As it’s Halloween the time is right to look at my horror favourites. It’s a list that is debatable, not least of all within my inner monologue, but I’ve made it easier by the decision to avoid works that simply have elements of horror for my top ten. These are films unquestionably classifiable as horrors that I personally love and would gladly revisit, and the reasons why are set out below in an undoubtedly controversial order….
Director: Takashi Miike
Few films feel as fresh twenty years on as this does, a horror with all the ingredients for a masterwork. It’s an intriguing study of relationships that moves from drama to horror with melancholy, beauty, good, and evil all swirling around in this precise mixture. It’s too refined to be deeply affecting, but it’s so compelling and original that it merits a yearly rewatch.
Director: Nicolas Pesce
This is a fairly twisted character study and unique on the screen. It looks at two characters predisposed to differing forms of violence, and a horrific, witty, and utterly unusual bond that develops between them. It’s not an immersive work due to its absurdist style but is alluringly complex — and cinema is richer with its existence.
8. The Exorcist
Director: William Friedkin
Unquestionably this remains one of the most iconic horrors of all time and certainly earns its place here. It’s not as terrifying or shocking as it might once have been, but its pacing is perfect and so, too, is its tone. The demonic entity that possesses twelve year old Regan (Linda Blair) is violent, swearing, grotesque, and this balances brilliantly with the solemnity of those who witness that horror. A slow burner that, as testament to its craft, leaves you almost convinced in this metaphysical struggle.
7. Saw III
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
This second sequel in the infamous horror franchise is not one of the greats, but for a keen fan it proves exceptional. There are good twists, devious traps, and brilliant characters; a combination that makes for a remarkably satisfying watch. Its success is due to evident passion behind it that isn’t even so evident, or infectious, in much better known works.
6. Suspiria (1977)
Director: Dario Argento
Suspiria might have recently seen its profile raised by a remake, but this somewhat clunky original is still, in its originality, unmissable. It isn’t a perfect film and feels stilted fairly frequently, yet it has such beautiful imagery and transcendentally eerie music that you’re transported into it’s its weird, janky world.
Director: Lars von Trier
You’ll find the reputation of this to precede it, the bulk of opinion being that it’s gruesome and misogynistic. It’s a gruesome work, yes, but cerebral; it challenges the audience to understand the complexity of its message. It’s perhaps not easily approachable but left me feeling I’d seen something surprisingly meaningful.
4. Suspiria (2018)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Remakes hardly come as bold as this inventive, uncompromising work. It has a style cleverly positioned between camp and sombre, allowing its dense and unclear journey through good and evil to be both fun and rigorous. It never bores in its lengthy runtime thanks to Luca Guadagnino’s typically bold vision, and its intelligence means it demands rewatches.
Director: James Wan
Gleeful, neatly plotted fun can be found in Saw. It’s not a deeply disturbing film but one with a carefully constructed mystery and, amidst that, delightful nastiness, great characters, and unforgettable iconography. It’s not often near nail-biting in its tension but is a smart melding of the slasher and thriller genres, the result being an exceptional piece of Halloween entertainment.
2. The Descent
Director: Neil Marshall
This really is the ultimate in cinematic terror. It has many layers of horror, and wrings all possible tension out of every situation. It’s got a realism which draws you in, well-acted characters who make you care — and a raw relentlessness that is incomparable. Pure brilliance that will still distress on repeat viewings.
1. The House That Jack Built
Director: Lars von Trier
Is this truly horrifying? The foundation is horror, if the killings of its central character are anything to by, and it builds something remarkable around that. It’s a stunning work that melds depravity, humour, and an intelligent, pathetic protagonist to portray evil and to increasingly skewer it. To indulge evil is to reject sensitivity and feeling; creator Lars von Trier portrays without remorse how the loss of those is life’s ultimate horror and punishment.
Director: Christophe Gans
Some films transcend their limitations because of them, and this does as such with panache. The source material is twisted, bleak, iconic, but also in a B-movie vein; this leans into that with horrifying monster designs, an unsettling atmosphere, and a sense of unvarnished ambition. It’s a little too campy, sure, but feels like Guillermo del Toro meets a haunted house sensibility. The result is as memorable as that sounds.
This selection of films, being an unusual mix of highbrow and lowbrow films, the critically acclaimed and critically drubbed, is one I suspect that could land me firmly in the territory of film bro. These works, however, each have evidence of craftsmanship and care behind them that have resulted in vital, memorable entertainment and art. The House That Jack Built, however, melds those two states elegantly for me in a way that suits my tastes and, naturally, perfectly fits the remit of this blog.