Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Top 200 Favorite Horror Films

To celebrate Halloween 2013 here are my top 200 horror films. This is an admittedly idiosyncratic list, so I will explain a little about my taste:

Horror is one of my favorite genres, but I often find I have little in common with most other fans. With a few exceptions, I don’t much care for American slasher movies or comedy-horror. I don’t think horror films should be given a free pass on acting and writing. I tend to disdain sequels and remakes, and rarely bother seeing them even if I like the original. I find popular blockbuster horror films largely stale and rote, with too much reliance on formula and cliche. I think shock cinema and torture porn are largely hollow and pointless (real shock, in my opinion, is about violating expectations and denying gratification, not just showing revolting images). I'm uncomfortable with the latent one-upmanship in the horror community that values senseless gore, sadism and cruelty and I dislike that cultivating a jaded tolerance to that sort of thing is considered a badge of honor.

What I do like is psychological horror, atmosphere, surprises (including a good twist, if it makes sense), really dark or ambitious themes, strong visuals and sound design, moral complexity, originality, uncompromising endings, characters who don’t behave like idiots for the convenience of the plot and explorations of fear and death that function on multiple levels, dissecting individual and socio-cultural anxieties simultaneously. I like both dreamlike surrealism that scares me by providing a glimpse of the otherworldly or unknown and disturbing realism that scares me by confronting me with actual possibilities and hard truths. I genuinely enjoy the physical sensation of terror and I want a good horror films to frighten me (just like I want comedies to make me laugh and sad movies to make me cry), so I don’t consciously resist my emotional reactions. I actually quite enjoy discerningly-deployed practical and digital special effects (and even a healthy smattering of gore), as long as they don’t smother the screenplay. I’m quite fond of art-horror and foreign horror, especially gialli (though they have their own set of conventions). Though I think it is a lesser form of greatness, I occasionally enjoy campiness and cheesiness, but the so-bad-its-good thing usually only works for me when there is quite a bit of (often misguided) talent underneath.

So with all that in mind, let’s get back to the list. It’s got a lot of weird things on it. You may disagree with my rather generous definition of ‘horror’ as it includes multiple documentaries, musicals and martial arts films. Even I'm not sure of the ordering. But if you find yourself agreeing with the titles you recognize, you’ll have fun catching up on the one’s you don’t.

For the record, I don’t consider anything on this list filler. I like everything here (though some I haven’t seen in a long time). There are several times as many films that didn’t make the cut, so any movie that made it earned its spot and just because a movie didn’t make it doesn’t mean I’m not a fan.

I enforced a rule of only one film per series (including reboots), which is why you won’t see Aliens, Frankenstein, Cat People, Dawn of the Dead or Inferno.

If you are wondering about the absence of ‘classics’ like Halloween, Friday the 13th (which is anyway a remake of the superior Italian Twitch of the Death Nerve), Dracula, Birds, Amityville Horror, Phantasm, The Blob, The Omen or The Wicker Man, the answer is that they didn’t make the cut.

If you think I’ve forgotten something or need to track a title down, put your recommendations in the comments section.

And now the list…
  1. Possession (1981) France
  2. Cremator, The (1969) Slovakia
  3. Deep Red (1975) Italy
  4. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  5. Se7en (1995)
  6. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
  7. Diabolical / Diabolique (1955) France
  8. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) Australia
  9. Videodrome (1983) Canada
  10. Eraserhead (1977)
  11. Don't Look Now (1973) UK
  12. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Spain
  13. Saragossa Manuscript, The (1965) Poland
  14. Shining, The (1980)
  15. Vanishing, The (1988) Netherlands
  16. House / Hausu (1977) Japan
  17. White Ribbon, The (2009) Austria
  18. Alien (1979)
  19. Phenomena (1985) Italy
  20. Gravity (2013)
  21. Boxer's Omen (1983) Hong Kong
  22. Peeping Tom (1960) UK
  23. Sixth Sense, The (1999)
  24. Vinyan (2008) France
  25. Memories of Murder (2003) South Korea
  26. Thing, The (1982)
  27. Death Laid an Egg (1968) Italy
  28. Ring, The (2002)
  29. Others, The (2001) Spain
  30. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
  31. Threads (1984) UK
  32. Descent, The (2005) UK
  33. Psycho (1960)
  34. Suspiria (1977) Italy
  35. Exorcist, The (1973)
  36. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  37. Orphanage, The (2008) Spain
  38. Innocents, The (1961) UK
  39. Targets (1968)
  40. Night of the Hunter, The (1955)
  41. Face of Another, The (1966) Japan
  42. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) Czech Rep.
  43. Lost Highway (1997)
  44. Lunacy (2005) Czech Rep.
  45. Scream (1996)
  46. Trouble Every Day (2001) France
  47. Cabin in the Woods (2011)
  48. Cure (1997) Japan
  49. Rocky Horror Picture Show, The (1975)
  50. Repulsion (1965) UK
  51. Chinese Ghost Story, A (1987) Hong Kong
  52. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
  53. Cloverfield (2008)
  54. Nosferatu, Symphony of the Night (1922) Germany
  55. Shout, The (1978) UK
  56. Jaws (1975)
  57. Holy Blood (Santa Sangre) (1989) Mexico
  58. Fourth Man, The (1983) Netherlands
  59. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) South Korea
  60. Paranormal Activity (2007)
  61. Shallow Grave (1994) UK
  62. Dead Ringers (1988) Canada
  63. Unknown, The (1927)
  64. Re-Animator (1985)
  65. Blue Velvet (1986)
  66. Devil-Doll, The (1936)
  67. Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes / The Psychic (1977) Italy
  68. King Kong (1933)
  69. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  70. Battle Royale (2000) Japan
  71. Faust (1994) Czech Rep.
  72. Hourglass Sanatorium, The (1973) Poland
  73. War Game, The (1965) UK
  74. Nightmare on Elm Street, A (1984)
  75. Man Who Laughs, The (1928)
  76. Mr. Vampire (1985) Hong Kong
  77. Paranoiac (1963) UK
  78. Blair Witch Project, The (1999)
  79. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  80. Heavenly Creatures (1994) New Zealand
  81. Pitfall (1962) Japan
  82. Buried (2010) Spain
  83. Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The (1970) Italy
  84. Tingler, The (1959)
  85. Southern Comfort (1981)
  86. Save the Green Planet! (2003) South Korea
  87. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (1974)
  88. Finishing School, The / House that Screamed, The (1969) Spain
  89. 28 Days Later... (2002) UK
  90. Gozu (Cowhead) (2003) Japan
  91. Eyes without a Face (1960) France
  92. Triangle (2009) UK
  93. Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The (1920) Germany
  94. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
  95. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
  96. Gemini (1999) Japan
  97. Devils, The (1971) UK
  98. Picture of Dorian Gray, The (1945)
  99. Hell (1960) Japan
  100. Dr. Jekyll and His Women (1981) France
  101. Carnival of Souls (1962)
  102. Saw (2004)
  103. Devil's Backbone, The (2001) Spain
  104. Paperhouse (1988) UK
  105. Phantom of the Opera, The (1925)
  106. Cube (1997) Canada
  107. Them! (1954)
  108. Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, The (1971) Italy
  109. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2009)
  110. Careful (1992) Canada
  111. Cache (Hidden) (2005) France
  112. Stage Fright (1987) Italy
  113. Martin (1978)
  114. Nightbreed (1990) Canada
  115. Beetlejuice (1988)
  116. Freaks (1932)
  117. Collector, The (1965) UK
  118. Deliverance (1972)
  119. Curse of the Cat People (1944)
  120. Open Water (2003)
  121. Theater of Blood (1973) UK
  122. Red Queen Kills Seven Times, The (1972) Italy
  123. Honeymoon Killers, The (1969)
  124. Ghostbusters    (1986)
  125. Testament (1983)
  126. Shaun of the Dead (2004) UK
  127. Poltergeist (1982)
  128. Severance (2006) UK
  129. Host, The (2006) South Korea
  130. Return of the Living Dead, The (1985)
  131. Phase IV (1974) UK
  132. Frailty (2001)
  133. Fists in the Pocket (1965) Italy
  134. Sunshine (2007) UK
  135. Tenebre (Unsane) (1982) Italy
  136. Dead Alive (1992) New Zealand
  137. Amer (2009) Belgium
  138. Hellraiser (1987) UK
  139. Horror of Dracula, The (1958) UK
  140. [REC] (2007) Spain
  141. Brain that Wouldn't Die, The (1962)
  142. Kwaidan (1964) Japan
  143. Blood and Black Lace (1964) Italy
  144. Last Wave, The (1977) Australia
  145. Brood, The (1979) Canada
  146. Machinist, The (2003)
  147. Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) Italy
  148. Creature from the Black Lagoon, The (1954)
  149. Legend of Hell House, The (1973) UK
  150. Man Bites Dog (1991) Belgium
  151. Killing Kind, The (1973)
  152. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
  153. American Psycho (2000)
  154. Haunting, The (1963) UK
  155. Cemetery Man (1996) Italy
  156. Cell, The (2000)
  157. Bad Seed, The (1956)
  158. Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1973) Italy
  159. Predator (1987)
  160. Blade (1998)
  161. Ghostwatch (1992) UK
  162. Seventh Victim, The (1943)
  163. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
  164. Stepford Wives, The (1975)
  165. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
  166. Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) Italy
  167. Kingdom (1994) Denmark
  168. Carrie (1976)
  169. Splice (2009) Canada
  170. Vampires in Havana (1985) Cuba
  171. Angst (1983) Austria
  172. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
  173. Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) Japan
  174. Queen of Spades, The (1949) UK
  175. Misery (1990)
  176. Bucket of Blood, A (1959)
  177. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
  178. Unbreakable (2000)
  179. Hour of the Wolf (1968) Sweden
  180. Fly, The (1986) Canada
  181. Case of the Scorpion's Tail, The (1971) Italy
  182. Arcana (1972) Italy
  183. Masque of the Red Death, The (1964)
  184. Evil Dead II (1987)
  185. Black Sunday (1960) Italy
  186. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000) Japan
  187. Devil and Daniel Webster, The (1941)
  188. Event Horizon (1997) UK
  189. Hellstrom Chronicle, The (1971)
  190. Angel Heart (1987)
  191. Crawling Eye, The / The Trollenberg Terror (1958) UK
  192. Faust (1926) Germany
  193. Troll Hunter, The (2010) Norway
  194. Cronos (1993) Mexico
  195. Incubus (1965)
  196. God Told Me To (1976)
  197. Onibaba (1964) Japan
  198. Thesis (1996) Spain
  199. Ginger Snaps (2000) Canada
  200. Tale of Two Sisters, A (2003) South Korea

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Now I Can Die!

A couple days ago I watched the last film from Steven Jay Schneider's book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die thus freeing me up to expire, pursue other hobbies or, as is most likely, continue watching more movies. I recommend the book and enjoyed the choices, though of course not everything will appeal to everyone. The choices are culled from a number of critics and film writers who explain what the films are about and why they were included. It's a fun book, given to me by my parents some years ago, that has served as a wonderful source for my exploration of the medium.

A few years ago I mentioned my love for top 1000 movie lists, which continues to this day, although I have yet to complete perhaps the definitive one curated by They Shoot Pictures Don't They. The TSPDT list is a meta-list combining top 10s from directors, critics and other film experts and it gets updated based on new material every year, an event which, I'm ashamed to admit, I anticipate with glee and terror. I've come as close as 5 films from the finish line (all damnably hard to track down), but the 2013 update has knocked me 20+ films back.

For those who care about this time of thing the 2013 update was a fairly dramatic shake-up mostly due to the 2012 once-a-decade international Sight and Sound poll which introduced 124 changes. This was the first year where I think the list got more highbrow (some of the entries go too far, but everyone has their opinion); the tendency being for more mainstream films to rise to the top and rare/challenging works to drop off as more lists are contributed. I am pleased to see a lot of my favorites movies join the list including a whopping 10 from my personal top 100:

Possession (1981), Synecdoche New York, Tree of Life, The Intruder (2004), El Topo, Harakiri, Yellow Submarine, Repo Man, The White Ribbon, No Country for Old Men, WALLE, A Separation, Dancer in the Dark, The Holy Mountain, Stardust Memories, Amelie, Koyaanisqatsi and Tale of Tales are among my favorite newcomers!

I've still got my work cut out for me finishing the TSPDT list (especially if I actually intend to sit through Empire, Andy Warhol's 8 hour shot of the Empire State Building) and no end of other movie lists, but finishing 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die leaves a certain void that I need to fill. Fortunately the 1001 series has branched out to other areas! I'm at 255 from 1001 Books You Must Read and 343 on the rather dubious 1001 Videogames You Must Play.

Here are some other lists I may (or may not) work on:
1001 Disc Golf Courses You Must Play Before You Die (I only wish)
1001 Kittens You Must Snuggle Before You Die
1001 War Crimes You Must Commit Before You Die (worthwhile just to see who contributed)
1001 Yarns You Must Spin Before You Dye (for Sarah)
1001 Odors You Must Smell Before You Die
1001 Animals You Must Taxidermy Before You Die
1001 Trains You Must Spot Before You Die (this probably exists)
1001 Pages You Must Turn Before You Die (abridged edition)
1001 1001 Lists You Must Check Off Before You Die

Friday, January 4, 2013

Reasons I Don't Review Romances

Part I

In case you didn't read the reviews before you went the theater, here's a cheat sheet:

If you're watching a film about a man trying to decide between women, odds are pretty goods it's billed as Serious Drama and will be applauded for its "insight into life and love."

If you're watching a film about a woman trying to decide between men, odds are pretty good it's billed as romantic comedy and it won't win any awards.

Part II

A woman is courted by two men.

This is how is plays out in the movies:

    90.0% - One turns out to be a total jerk and the other is Mr. Right. The choice is easy and destined to work out.

    9.0% - It's a tough choice but one of the men nobly bows out or dies, or they both do, or the woman does, usually by suicide or she ends up with some unexpected third guy.

    0.9% - It's a tough choice. She chooses ones. The other is heartbroken but eventually gets over it.

    0.1% - She chooses to remain single.

This is how it plays out in real life:

    90.0% - It's a tough choice. She chooses ones. The other is heartbroken but eventually gets over it.

    9.0% - She chooses to remain single.

    0.9% - One turns out to be a total jerk and the other is Mr. Right. The choice is easy and destined to work out.

    0.1% - It's a tough choice but one of the men nobly bows out or dies, or they both do, or the woman does, usually by suicide, or she ends up with some unexpected third guy.

Part III

In case you are watching a movie about romantic pursuit and have to leave before you catch the ending, here's what happened:

If you're watching a film about a guy under 16 pursuing a girl, he'll impress her in a sport, competition, disaster or alien invasion by succeeding, through hard work and a zany unconventional last-ditch-effort plan while gaining enough confidence to finally ask her out directly, but instead choose his loyal but Hollywood-plain best-friend since childhood.

If you're watching a film about a guy 16-30 pursuing a woman, he'll disguise himself and/or get close to her under false pretenses but when it all comes out she'll forgive him. Otherwise he'll end up with the cute (but not necessarily sexy) outcast who helped him with the ruse.

If you're watching a film about a guy over 30 pursuing a woman, she'll be younger than him and either re-invigorate his routine life with her refreshingly spunky sense of adventure and carefree charmingly-bipolar personality or she'll draw him into committing a crime, betray him and leave him to die.

If you're watching a film about a gal under 16 pursuing a boy, she'll disguise herself and/or get close to him under false pretenses but when it all comes out he'll forgive her. Otherwise she'll end up with the clean-cut (but just a little dorky) school outcast who helped her with the ruse.

If you're watching a film about a gal 16-30 pursuing a man, they'll be fiercely competitive school or career rivals despite their obvious chemistry until they unite against a common threat and instantly forgive all their past insults. Later they'll ignore the fact that their highly-driven, competitive natures mean that they'll probably go back to fighting when, post-adventure, they try to have a real relationship, but by then the movie will already be over so who cares, right?

If you're watching a film about a gal over 30 pursuing a man, then it's a movie no one has heard of because the studio didn't believe in it, pulled the marketing and dumped it on a few screens in March.

If you're watching a film about anyone pursuing anyone and it doesn't work out (gasp!) and someone ends up (double gasp!) single, then it is must have been either Melodrama and somebody died just when their perfect love had beaten all the odds or it was Art and the characters were talky intellectuals/artists with iffy ideas about fidelity and the lesson will be that emotional entanglements suck, but we can't live without them, enjoy the good times while they last and have a laugh at its absurdity now and then (but don't bother re-evaluating your life or, you know, being a self-centered jerk).

And if the film was about anyone pursuing anyone of the same gender (triple gasp!), then it was definitely Art, though it might still be Melodrama too. The ending was that society couldn't tolerate their forbidden love and at least one person got killed. We definitely won't get to see a complicated long-term sustainable homosexual relationship or find out that it looks a lot like a complicated long-term sustainable heterosexual relationship, but nobody wants to see a movie about complicated long-term sustainable relationships anyway so no big deal.