80. It Follows
Not a lot of teen horror films have made the list so far. That’s because most of them understand nothing about teenagers and use them only as fodder for mad slashers. That’s not the case with David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, which uses a simple and ingenious premise to reflect on the terrors of growing up. As the young heroine afflicted with an STD that takes the form of a shape-shifting demon, Maika Monroe captures the dreamy sense of malaise and wonder that most teens go through as High School comes to an end. The whole film evokes those feelings as its characters meander through drab suburban neighborhoods with no sense of purpose. They barely even come up with a plan to battle the demon plaguing them and when they finally do, it’s ill-conceived to say the least. Mostly they avoid the issue by going to a friend’s house and hoping it goes away. There’s so many rich, subtle metaphors going on it’s incredible that Mitchell doesn’t forget to craft a terrifying film that works purely on a visceral level. He makes effective use of wide shots and pans, giving us a full sense of the surroundings while filling us with dread since the evil entity could look like anyone and appear anywhere on the screen. There are no jump scares present, only stunning scenes of classic terror amidst a narrative as contemplative as it is universal.
79. The Omen
Like The Sentinel, Richard Donner’s The Omen is frequently labeled as a rip off of The Exorcist and it cannot be denied that the William Friedkin film had a definitive influence on it. The Exorcist made the Devil into an actual, physical threat rather than an abstract concept and the horror genre was more than eager to capitalize on that idea. So, while it probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Linda Blair’s head spinning around, The Omen is still a more powerful and frightening piece of work. (SIDE NOTE: perhaps I will write a post detailing exactly why The Exorcist will not be making an appearance on this list seeing as people seem to be annoyed by my dismissal of it) Much of the film’s success is due to the haunting and omnipresent score by Jerry Goldsmith. It assaults you right from the beginning and never lets up. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick play their roles with the utmost sincerity which adds some gravitas to the sort of silly proceedings. It’d be easy for a film that features a bunch of red-assed baboons attacking a child in a car to come off as ludicrous but Donner and his actors know how to inject a scene like that with tension instead of absurdity. That tension carries throughout the film as Gregory Peck slowly and thoughtfully comes to the realization that his son may be the spawn the Satan. The movie misses the opportunity to explore the damage that would do to a father’s psyche but this is not meant to be an introspective film. It’s a classy affair made up of creepy and suspenseful set pieces, haunting music, solid performances, and just the right amount of sincerity to prevent it from becoming pretentious. Bonus points for featuring the best decapitation scene ever.
Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs is a flick for hard core horror fans only. It stretched the limits of meaning of the word, ‘entertaining’, for me. Can a movie that sickens and reviles you, that throws so much horrific violence at the screen you feel like you’re actually being assaulted, be considered ‘entertaining’? The answer is a firm yes, because if you’re engaged by the goings on and intrigued by, though fearful of, what will happen next, then a movie has got its hooks into you even if makes you want to vomit. This is not a geek show like Cannibal Holocaust or I Spit on Your Grave. It’s a movie about violence and insanity so you can’t fault it for committing fully to the subject matter. You can simply accept that it’s not for you. Those able to handle the journey into hell will be rewarded with a complex narrative that dives headfirst into the brutal cycle created by abuse and trauma while deftly keeping you on the edge of your seat. It’s impressive the way Laugier is consistently able to raise the stakes. Just when you think you’ve seen the absolute worst, something even more terrifying and gruesome is waiting right around the corner.
77. I, Madman
Sometimes ‘cheesiness’—for lack of a better word—can be an attribute. Such is the case with I, Madman, a delightfully silly 80’s horror flick. The criminally underrated Jenny Wright stars as a mousy book store worker who picks up a mysterious paperback titled Much of Madness, More of Sin that quickly begins to mirror events in her own life. She finds herself stalked by the novel’s villain, a mad surgeon with a fetish for cutting flesh off his face in order to prove his undying devotion to Wright. This is a kooky premise that the movie is firmly aware of. It sports a great deal of imagination and uses stop motion animation to terrific effect for a whacked out final act. John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness shares similar elements but I, Madman has much more fun with the idea of horror fiction directly influencing the people who read such stuff. It’s a shame the flick wasn’t more of a hit when it came out. I would have watched sequel after sequel to this way more eagerly than I would another Friday the 13th or Halloween entry.
Italain horror maestro Dario Argento is one of the most frustrating horror filmmakers. When he hits, he knocks the ball completely out of the park. When he misses, he knocks the catcher over and kills the umpire. Thankfully, Suspiria is one of his hits. The chilling score by Goblin is as memorable as the film itself, which functions as a dark fairy tale set at a dance academy. The opening sequence is so intense, graphic, and terrifying that it leaves you uncertain as to whether or not the rest of the movie will live up to it. It doesn’t quite but it’s still one hell of an absorbing film that pulls no punches and delivers one heart stopping scene of suspense after another. A few critics have derided it for not making a whole lot of sense but they’re missing the point. This is a waking nightmare where logic is pushed aside in favor of surreal, haunting imagery and a palpable level of dread.
75. The Crazies
Romero again. I’d be tired of writing about his work if he wasn’t so damn good. After the success of Night of the Living Dead, he made a couple middling films before helming this paranoid thriller that tapped directly into the fear of government that was so prevalent in the 1970s. His focus here is a small town that literally goes insane after a plane carrying a biological weapon crashes within its border. Focusing on the army’s efforts to contain the outbreak and a few townsfolk who appear immune, The Crazies brilliantly captures the feeling of mass hysteria. The army can’t tell which people are immune and which are mad–and don’t really care–while the few immune characters slowly succumb to madness anyway due to severe trauma. The most relevant scene follows a scientist who develops a cure moments before he’s trampled by a terrified crowd who ignore his cries. If something like this were ever to happen in reality, this is exactly how it would play out.
The 2nd and last werewolf movie to appear on the list, the Jack Nicholson starring Wolf was a big deal when it came out before being swiftly forgotten. It’s part of that peculiar era of the 90’s where producers started throwing money at the genre for the first time in ages. This was the decade that gave us Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, among others. Star studded horror films helmed by A list directors have since become a thing of the past and that’s a shame. Wolf looks and feels like a big budget thriller. It downplays the horror elements in favor of character development and satire. That’s a wise move and it makes Nicholson’s turn from a shell of a man to a cunning predator feel refreshing rather than stale. The publishing world is portrayed as a place of ruthless opportunists so it makes perfect sense that a man needs to become an actual wolf in order to get ahead. Nicholson’s relationship with Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t quite work but it doesn’t sink the movie either. Their romance isn’t terrific but their slow, steady, cautious conversations about Nicholson’s transformation are subtle and smartly written. Then there’s James Spader as the vile nemesis, a role he plays to perfection. This a refined, clever horror film that deserves a second look.
Japanese horror films are often gore filled exercises in depravity. I don’t mean that as a bad thing but Re-cycle fits that bill while also being insightful and moving. Not to mention the fact that it’s a true feast for the eyes. Made on a budget of less than 10 million dollars by The Pang Brothers, it creates a wholly fantastic, unique world that contains as many things to stare at in wonder as things that will cause you to cower in terror. More than a few critics have dubbed this Alice in Horrorland and they’re not far off. The plot is simple. A struggling horror novelist finds herself thrust into a world for lost things, be they physical objects like children’s toys or mental concepts like an abandoned character. She teams up with a little girl as her guide and what follows is one of the most visually inventive horror films of all time, using untamed imagination to create images that Clive Barker would gawk at. It builds to a stunning conclusion that awes you with its sights while delivering a rich emotional pay off.
72. The Cabin in the Woods
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s meta take on the horror genre is one of the most purely entertaining horror films. Is it too knowing at times? Perhaps but it’s hard to find fault with a film that manages to ridicule and appreciate the genre at the same time. The stereotypical teenagers are all solid and gleefully embrace their one-note characters but the film belongs to Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. Their witty dialogue and natural rapport makes the control room scenes the absolute highlight. It’s hard to suppress the urge to applaud when Jenkins explains the rules to the new intern and harder still to hold back a laugh when Whitford mourns over the fact that he’s never seen a merman. The film suggests early on that it’ll shoot for the moon and sticks the landing during its wild finale. Does it dig deep into why we like these stories so much or offer an emotional connection? No, but it’s not meant to. It’s a wild romp that entertains from beginning to end.
Resolution is a film made on a shoe string budget with no special effects that has untapped wells of imagination, invention, and heart. I came close to calling a tie between it and Cabin the Woods. They’re both dissections of the genre but Resolution is a tad bit smarter, a little more subtle, and features more fully developed, involving characters. The debut feature from the directing team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (you’ll see them again on this list) starts simply enough but soon reveals itself to be quite the mindfuck. Two childhood friends meet at a cabin in the woods after not seeing each other for years. One is married and successful while the other has become a heavy drug addict. The addict is soon chained to the radiator and his friend informs him he won’t be freed until he quits cold turkey. They argue and reminisce until a videotape arrives at the front door. It contains footage of them, some of it taken only minutes prior. Convinced someone is stalking them, they dig into the history of the area and unearth a series of gruesome events tied to it over centuries. As suspenseful as this is, we gradually realize that the film is playing a deeper game. This is a story about stories; where they come from, how they’re spread, and why they need to reach a satisfying, ahem, resolution in order to be successful. Amongst this exploration of stories is an honest portrayal of friends who share a deep history. These guys speak about past hopes and memories the way all of us do with those few close friends we’ve known forever. Their relationship gives the pitch perfect final moment emotional weight not found in most serious dramas. Seek this out immediately.