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BP Top 50 Horror List

2 Nov

1. THE SHINING
2. ALIEN
3. PSYCHO
4. THE THING
5. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
6. HALLOWEEN
7. ROSEMARY’S BABY
8. THE EXORCIST
9. JAWS
10. DAWN OF THE DEAD
11. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
12. SCREAM
13. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
14. THE FLY
15. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
16. CABIN IN THE WOODS
17. AUDITION
18. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
19. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
20. NOSFERATU (1922)
21. THE DESCENT
22. FREAKS
23. VIDEODROME
24. POLTERGEIST
25. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

(more…)

1. The Shining

31 Oct

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directed by Stanley Kubrick

There’s a reason cinephiles flock to Stanley Kubrick’s unsolvable 1980 puzzle film as the greatest entry into the horror genre – it uses purely the instruments of cinema to inflict its terror. Twin girls, kindly old men, bartenders, lavish parties, and a series of brightly-lit rooms are not subjects of fear. Yet somehow, by putting everything out in the open and twisting the behavior of his characters juuuuuust so, Kubrick takes the welcoming and makes it absolutely repulsive, if only we weren’t so damn taken in by the whole thing. Sure, it might not be the alcoholic analogy Stephen King wrote about, or even a meditation on domestic abuse – by asking Jack Nicholson to go so overboard with his performance, his contribution to our fear is actually diminished, but Kubrick’s fears are much greater than any of that. His forces far exceed ghosts or insanity or isolation or any of that. It’s within us, it’s completely outside of us; it can be readily identified yet remains completely intangible. There’s no defeating the evil at its core. It’s an elevator full of blood, but it’s also a zoom on a smile. It’s the quiet voice that whispers that all is not right with this world, and never will be.

2. Alien

30 Oct

ALIEN

directed by Ridley Scott

If horror is a genre about atmosphere then Alien stands as an all-time great amongst its peers.  Ridley Scott’s masterpiece is one of the few science fiction films that actually feels like space – a cold, dark, silent void that quite simply does not care about anything, where only your own ingenuity, intelligence, skill, and luck can save you.  Back this up with H.R. Giger and a good amount of phallic horror, and you have Alien.  As the titular alien slowly works its way through each crew member, and as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley emerges as protagonist, Scott’s social criticisms become more apparent, throwing light on a society bent on economic capital at the expense of the entirety of its population, culling its herd even as a beast preys on the flock.  Alien is a film where the hard truths of existence take pure, monstrous form and lay eggs in your chest to feed on you later, where human arrogance is humbled into oblivion, where the thing most alien, most untrustworthy, unknowable, and dangerous, is ourselves.

3. Psycho

30 Oct

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directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Sometimes the difference between a horror film and a thriller is the difference between a gun and a knife. Alfred Hitchcock’s landmark 1960 film skates the edge of the two genres, certainly high enough on violence and mystery to work in the more earthbound genre, but its status as a horror film is unquestionable by the time it reaches its chilling final shot. Psycho is ultimately about the hidden terror, from an otherwise trustworthy companion or even buried within oneself. Hitchcock removed the most basic assumptions of safety so deftly that he’s kept audiences returning, decade after decade, to scream their way down the drain of sanity. Any film that made people wary of their own bathroom has innumerable terrors lurking within, but Psycho’s are so boundlessly present, poking and prodding you until it’s ultimately living under your skin.

4. The Thing

30 Oct

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directed by John Carpenter

It was always an act of supreme foolishness to remake/prequelize The Thing (itself a remake, but that rare bird, a remake that is better than the original), because John Carpenter’s 1982 classic was already a kind of self-contained trilogy, with each part gradually revealing more information until it is clear that the same thing is happening again and again.  Part One — an unsteady flying saucer falls to Earth, seemingly experiencing technical difficulties; Part Two — a Norwegian outpost in the Antarctic is discovered to have suffered some kind of horrific catastrophe; Part Three — as the film’s protagonists sift through the Norwegian detritus and the spacecraft and piece things together, we begin to realize that the same fate that befell the Norwegians is what befell the aliens… and what will eventually happen to everyone else in the picture.  And then it does, in ways that virtually nobody who has ever seen the film for the first time could have anticipated, thanks in no small part to the spectacularly groundbreaking work of makeup effects maestro Rob Bottin.  Carpenter never made a better picture; his knack for depicting Hawksian male interaction is as assured as his knack for unrelenting body horror. The Thing didn’t fare well at the box office upon its original release — two weeks after E.T. — possibly because nobody at that time was ready for its particularly dour message: that at any given moment, your body could betray you in any of a hundred ways, some quiet, others ghastly and terrible.  And what’s going to save you — a manly can-do attitude?  American exceptionalism?  A big stupid hat?  Nope.  All you can do is hope that when your number’s up, your head doesn’t fall off and grow legs.  As Robyn Hitchcock said, “We are all doomed… but some of us are more doomed than others.”

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

29 Oct

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directed by Tobe Hooper

Though his profile may not be as high as Freddy, Jason or Michael, Leatherface remains one of the strangest horror killers to exist — because of his mental state, he’s basically a 3 year old boy in a gigantic body. Because of this, I’ve always found him sympathetic, even with his horrific acts. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most affective films ever made. Despite being nearly bloodless, whenever I watch this film I walk away from it thinking I’ve seen the goriest film I’ve ever seen. Director Tobe Hooper achieves this with bizarre set environments and a completely anarchic sensibility without much else. Modern horror films could really learn something from this flick.

6. Halloween

29 Oct

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directed by John Carpenter

The film that started a long run of slasher films set in the suburbs, Halloween proved that horrific things could happen to us white middle-class types — playing directly off of the old Universal horror film trope that monsters were from strange European-ish backgrounds. It not only started this trend, but is the best of it, with superior cinematography and one of the top three horror soundtracks ever (can be argued with Jaws and Psycho as the best). Carpenter proves himself a master director, building tension through his camera movement in a first half that doesn’t otherwise offer much in pure horror. His use of perspective, giving us in the vision of Michael Myers, makes every shot worth something. You never really know where Michael might be lurking with this technique — he could be just off screen at any moment. Pound-for-pound, it is arguably  the best shot horror film ever.

7. Rosemary’s Baby

29 Oct

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directed by Roman Polanski

Aside from a supernatural plot, the true terror of Roman Polanski’s 1968 game-changer is saved until the very final scene – for all the possible plots the titular protagonist imagined, she could not possibly envision just how truly horrific her fate would be, or, ultimately, how complicit she could become in it. Along the way, it offers enough genre elements, from Satanists to conspiracies to suicides to that indelible dream sequence to heaps and heaps of Catholic guilt, to satisfy anyone out for the more tangible pleasures of the form. But it ultimately comes down to Mia Farrow, shutting herself off in that phone booth, trying to convince the world that her insanity isn’t a dream – this is really happening.

8. The Exorcist

28 Oct

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directed by William Friedkin

The Exorcist is that rarity seemingly made just for movies – a pulp horror film with depth.  Couched in the battle between God and the Devil, with an old priest and an unleashed horror as stand ins, this fight over the soul and body of a young, unsuspecting child is absolutely riveting and completely terrifying.  The Exorcist is a movie about the horror of belief – the thought that there are unseen, unknowable powers that can and do strip you of your agency, playing war with your tattered body in a fight as old as time.  Unlike every other exorcism movie out there, existing for cheap thrills and a catalogue of body contortion, this film is about addressing this belief system as reality, undeniable and often malevolent, and asking what, exactly, is the worth of the creatures these powers play with?  If He exists, is it possible God can love us, despite the horrors of existence, of human, and superhuman, depravity?  A pulp horror that places the beliefs of billions in extremis, The Exorcist is a searing, horrifying examination of belief and the place of humanity in the cosmos.

9. Jaws

28 Oct

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directed by Steven Spielberg

The shark in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is described as “an eating machine. All this machine does is swim, and eat, and make little sharks.”  There is something chilling about that simplicity.  While other monsters of horror may have some kind of gimmick or even a disturbing personality, the shark is merely an animal, operating solely on instinct.  That instinct is to consume anything in its path.  It could be a grown man, a dog, or a child.  It will do anything to fulfill its evolutionary purpose.  And it doesn’t matter how much expertise the characters have; the shark will eventually get to them.  The expert goes into his anti-shark cage, and our shark smashes right through it.  The seasoned shark hunter feels safe aboard his boat, only to have the shark leap onto the stern and swallow him whole.  Jaws may not be the first creature feature, but it is probably the best, specifically because it emphasizes the single-mindedness of its monster.  No matter who we are or what we’ve done with our lives, to the shark, we’re all just food to keep it going until its next meal.  Kind of humbling, when you think about it.