50. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979/2005)
When it comes to creating a great horror movie experience it helps to have a good back story. Taking cues from The Exorcist (1973), whose reputation terrified audiences before they even entered the theatre, The Amityville Horror (1979) had a media whirlwind kicking up the sort of publicity studio executives would kill for. The Amityville saga had been building for some years prior to the movies release. In December 1975 the Lutz family moved into a property that was previously the scene of a multiple homicide; a year earlier Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot dead his mother, father and four siblings in the house. Just twenty eight days after moving into the property the Lutz family fled claiming they had been forced out by terrifying paranormal activity. Though most were sceptical about their story writer Jay Anson turned it into a bestselling book in 1977, The Amityville Horror: A True Story. Two years later Stuart Rosenberg landed the job of directing the movie adaptation. The mass of literature and discussion around the truth of story makes it nigh on impossible to come to any real conclusions. True or not, the movie remains a chilling watch. The mental decline of George Lutz (James Brolin) came a full year before Jack Nicholson’s turn in The Shining (1980) and curdles the blood just as much. The normality of the scares, subtle happenings such as moving crucifixes and insect influxes, ensure the thrills are creepily believable. A fine remake was released in 2005, which altered the facts of the story to create a more cinematic experience. Eighteen sequels and offshoot movies bearing the Amityville name have been released to date including the infamous Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989) which features a killer lamp as the films main adversary.
49. THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)
From the late seventies to the late eighties few directors could rival John Carpenter for quality output. Carpenter crafted film after film of soon-to-be cult classic movies up until They Live (1988) when for reasons still unknown the writer/director’s career took a drastic nosedive. His last great scary movie remains an underappreciated classic, The Prince of Darkness (1987). A group of Los Angeles academics discover an old canister under a church in the city. As they move their equipment in to study the container over night they begin to realise that it houses something much more ancient and sinister than they first realised. Taking initial cues from Night of the Living Dead (1968), Carpenter prisons his cast in the creepy, cavernous church, trapped inside by an army of possessed tramps (with rock legend Alice Cooper amongst their number). It doesn’t take long for the possessions to take hold of those inside though as the group of scientists succumb to the evil spreading out from the canister. The film has atmosphere in spades as Carpenter employs his usual blend of creepy soundtrack and eerie visuals. Another top cast, including Carpenter regular Donald Pleasance, wrestle the exposition heavy script in to a surprisingly effective plot. The only bum note is conclusion which doesn’t quite live up to the promise of an ultimate evil, but even this can’t temper the horror delights that precede it.
48. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
“If this picture doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight!” was the nonsensical tagline for this festive thriller. With advertising like that you would be forgiven for thinking that this Christmas themed horror had more laughs than frights. But there is nothing remotely amusing about Bob Clark’s presentation of A. Roy Moore’s slasher story. A college sorority house is the setting as a mystery assailant murders the female occupants one by one. The tense stalking of these nubile teens may seem a touch tame by today’s gore soaked standards but the film’s straight-laced presentation ensures the scares retain their power. The killers squealing telephone calls to the sorority girls also remain deeply unnerving. And all this was three year’s prior to John Carpenter’s supposed creation of the slasher genre with Halloween (1978). A lukewarm reception by critics and cinema patrons no doubt accounted for the lack of post Black Christmas slasher film boom (though similar American movies such as Scream Bloody Murder (1973) and Drive-In Massacre (1976) had already taken a stab at the genre). Carpenter was clearly watching though. As a predecessor for his Haddonfield massacre Black Christmas shares much of the same delights, an eerie soundtrack courtesy of Carl Zittrer, some spine-chilling point-of-view camera work, and an ambiguous ending that Clark quite rightly fought to retain in the face of studio meddling. A Glen Morgan directed remake reared its ugly head thirty two years later, Black Christmas (2006).
47. WOLF CREEK (2005)
The unexpected success of Saw (2004) kicked started another love affair between cinema goers and gore laden movies. What most filmmakers eager to cash in on this new phenomenon forgot was that Saw had an incredible script behind it. Most purveyors of “gorenography” failed to create solid scares and attention holding storylines to go along with their limb lopping. One of the few movies that got this formula right was director Greg Mclean’s self-penned Wolf Creek (2005). The Australia set film follows a trio of backpackers that fall foul of a murderous bushman who stops to help the group fix their car. The movie stated that it was “based on true events”, though the only occurrence that appears to have influenced the story is the Bradley John Murdoch case of 2001. Though the story of apparently helpful stranger turning on the innocent has been seen before, it was Mclean’s presentation that set the movie apart. Whilst most movies of a similar vein strive to create a harsh environment but only achieve the cliché, Wolf Creek had a genuine grubbiness. Mclean made full use of the dusty outback settings and effortlessly achieved the “no help is coming” feel that all such horror movies rely upon. John Jarrett as the protagonist Mick Taylor works wonders, turning what could have been Crocodile Dundee’s evil twin into one of the best cinematic killers of the last twenty years. His turn on-a-dime insanity is revealed and expertly portrayed at a tense campfire scene. Wolf Creek 2 (2013) was a surprisingly adept sequel that upped the action and saw Mick on a murderous rampage from start to finish.
46. THE MIST (2007)
With The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999) already under his belt director Frank Darabont secured his reputation as the go-to-guy for successful Stephen King adaptations with this 2007 blend of old school and new school horror. Darabont’s adaptation of the writer’s 1980 novella cuts right to the thrust of the story mere minutes into its running time as a small town in Maine is engulfed in a dense fog. Caught up in the vapour are Dave Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble). The pair take refuge in a local supermarket with a group of panicked town’s folk. The mist hides man-eating creatures of undetermined origin but equal to this danger is the growing religious fanaticism inside the shop spearheaded by the wicked Mrs. Carmody (a deliciously evil Marcia Gay Harden). Frightening character studies are neatly interwoven with the growing panic induced by the mist’s arrival. The sense of blind terror as to what is occurring and what might occur is tangible and heavy. We are not treated to any expositional scenes or explanatory footage, and the viewer is dumped unceremoniously in the supermarket with the rest of the terrified locals. Darabont invokes all the best elements of 1950’s sci-fi creature features combining them with instances of shocking gore and alien body invasion that only modern censorship would allow. The tragic ending written entirely by Darabont and labelled by King as the ending “he wished he’d come up with” has a sickening finality (though you could question the logic of it considering the effort Drayton put into keeping the group alive up until then). On this basis Darabont should definitely revisit the scary movie further down the line.
45. JU-ON: THE GRUDGE / THE GRUDGE (2002/2004)
The success of Ringu (1998) caused a flood of horror movies in the Asian markets, all trying to emulator the financial accomplishments of Hideo Nakata’s film. Whilst many went for the lazy option of grafting J-horror clichés onto thin scripts, some filmmakers strived for originality. In 1998 Japanese director Takashi Shimizu made two short films, Katasumi (aka In The Corner) and 4444444444 (aka Ten Fours) as part of an anthology movie entitled Gakkô no kaidan G (1998). Renowned director Kiyoshi Kurosawa was also involved in the project and encouraged Shimizu to explore the ideas introduced in the shorts. Two years later Shimizu released two direct-to-video films, Ju-on (2000) and Ju-on 2 (2000) that furthered the death curse themes of his short films. Their success led to a theatrical movie, Ju-on (2003) that re-explored the ideas of the video releases. We follow a number of characters over a fractured timeline as they become involved with the old Saeki house. The property was the scene of a grisly murder some years before and the death has left a resonant curse that stalks anyone that comes into contact. The movie was the natural successor to Ringu, an intriguing new mythos, with portmanteau story telling, and ghostly imagery that one-upped Sadako’s television crawl (hands in hair, spectres under bed sheets and in lift shafts). A solid sequel quickly followed Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2003) before Shimizu was tasked with remaking his original for American audiences. The Grudge (2004), with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role, is perhaps the best Western remake of an Asian horror to date. Two inferior American sequels followed, The Grudge 2 (2006) and The Grudge 3 (2009), whilst two more Japanese instalments in the saga, Ju-on: Shiroi Roujo (2009) and Ju-on: Kuroi Shoujo (2009) cropped up in the east.
44. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) with its fear-of-Communism undertones was a classic of slice 1950’s American sci-fi cinema. Its tacked on happy ending was in line with the optimistic finale from Jack Finney’s 1955 novel The Body Snatchers. But a more terrifying adaptation was made by Philip Kaufman in 1978. Assembling an excellent cast, including Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and a rare but impressive non-Star Trek outing for Leonard Nimoy, Kaufman shot one of the greatest cinematic examples of paranoiac fear. Sutherland’s Matthew Bennell grows increasingly frantic as the world around him grows ever more dehumanised. The invasion of replicated persons seems terrifyingly all-encompassing, with the unaffected having nowhere left to turn by the films final act. The messy replication affects add a creepy touch of gunge to proceedings, particularly in the eerie mud bath scene. The movie builds to one of the best horror climaxes ever (an ending that only Siegel, Sutherland and screenwriter W.D. Richter knew about prior to shooting the scene), with that famous last shot of Sutherland’s elongated face. Two more adaptations followed; the Abel Ferrara directed Body Snatchers (1993) that moved proceedings to an Army base, and The Invasion (2007) by Oliver Hirschbiegel with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig which restored the original’s upbeat ending.
43. 28 DAYS LATER/28 WEEKS LATER (2002/2007)
George A. Romero may be the zombie master but when he decided that his villains should stagger rather than sprint he missed out on an excellent plot device. Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the Alex Garland story 28 Days Later (2002) capitalises on Romero’s oversight to tremendous effect. A deserted London, wiped clean by high-speed-fiends the “Infected” (Boyle did not want his monsters referred to as zombies), is the setting and a small group of survivors are our heroes. Only chilling clues as to the horrors that took place remain, none more harrowing than the thousands of “Missing” posters littering the streets. The opening half of 28 Days Later makes for some of the most staggering and innovative scary cinema of all time. Unfortunately, once the group make it out of London and into the arms of Christopher Eccleston and his company of horny soldiers the movie becomes a tad predictable. A surprisingly good sequel followed in 2007, directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Though it shares only some of the originals inventiveness 28 Weeks Later is a much more evenly paced movie. With a nasty habit of dispensing with its lead characters, the sequel leaves you guessing right up until the final shock ending as to who might make it out of London alive. Robert Carlyle sees us through the slower moments with his talented acting chops, the father of a family chosen as the first to begin living in the abandoned British Isles once again. The set pieces are razor sharp and lead to an ending that cries out for a global part three.
42. AUDITION (1999)
One of the very best Asian horror films to find a home in the UK is Ôdishon (1999) from the renowned director Takashi Miike. Miike has forged a reputation as a pusher of cinematic boundaries. It was with surprise then that his latest offering in 1999 seemed to be anything but the outrageous thriller that his fans were expecting. The movie’s first half introduces us to Aoyama, a widower who cautiously decides to find a new female companion. Aoyama is convinced to sit in on movie auditions by his film executive friend who explains that the part they are casting is a woman who would be very well suited to him. Aoyama comes across Asami, a meek but cultured ballet dancer, and the couple build a tentative relationship. But Asami is not as she seems and Aoyama’s investigations into her shadowy past lead to a shattering climax. Rather than bludgeoning his viewers from the outset Miike lulls the audience into believing they are watching the Asian version of Pretty Woman (1990). At the halfway point Miike begins to unleash wave after wave of lurid imagery, climaxing in a foot lopping so harsh that it makes Saw’s (2004) look like a mere toe-nail trimming. Miike’s twisted imagination, complete with dog bowls of human vomit and disfigured men in sacks will shake your viewing foundations. Combining it with a story tailor made for Western markets created a movie that crossed geographic boundaries with ease, often a rarity in the Asian horror genre.
41. GREEN ROOM (2015)
The right-wing neo-Nazi is a fairly cheap thriller villain. Shave someone’s head and slap a swastika armband on them and you have instant negativity. Used effectively though they can be one of the most effective heavies in cinema, a fast track to tension and shady doings. One of the finest skinhead outings is Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015). Conceiving of a thriller film set in the green room / dressing room of a music venue back in 2007 Saulnier made a short film entered in to a film festival. Still not satisfied that the idea itch had been scratched, Saulnier ditched the supernatural element from his short film and started down the long road to a full length feature. After the critical success of his crowdfunded feature Blue Ruin (2014), Saulnier managed to get Green Room green lit. We follow the four young band members of The Ain’t Rights; desperate for paying work they take a gig at a secret right-wing social club deep in the Oregon woodland. When one of the band inadvertently stumbles on a murder The Ain’t Rights are holed in their grubby green room as the perpetrators try to fight their way in to do away with the witnesses. A great cast including the late Anton Yelchin sell the script well, the highlight being Patrick Stewart revelling a rare villainous turn at the patriarch of the skinhead clan. The film is drowning in tension, the band and the viewers heckles up from the moment they arrive at the hellhole of a venue. Things only get more taut from there as the band have to fight their way through an army of evil thugs to freedom.