There is no doubt in my mind at all that Halloween and Bonfire Night are my favourite times of year. This is simply because I'm allowed to use my sick mind to it's fullest!
Anyone who knows me knows I'm a HUGE horror film fan. And not just one kind of horror, I love the lot; from classics such as 'Nightmare on Elm Street' or 'Friday the 13th', to teen screams 'Scream' and 'Urban Legends', all the way to gore fests 'Saw' and 'Hostel'.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking at these films for their brilliant writing or stunning cinematography (although the original 'Saw' script, production design and budget still impresses me) and I'm not even looking at them for the SFX make-up which is one of my biggest passions. Truth be told, I'm not sure why I'm such a big horror fan. I don't scare easily, I hate the thought of people being in situations they can't control and I don't deal well with the fact that no-one would go outside to investigate a strange noise - you'd turn the TV up or go to bed and hope it's gone in the morning.
But maybe in that paragraph I've hit the nail on someone's head. Control...or rather the lack of it. If things are taken out of our control, it's scary. Whether it's the bank manager threatening to cut your overdraft or some dude with a machete about to hack off your head - it's out of your control and therefore it scares you. And that's what makes a good horror film, taking away your safety net and putting you somewhere that just doesn't fit right.
Here's just a few horror films that unleashed my unease...
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)
'Carnival of Souls' is considered a B movie classic and one of the best. It almost feels like an early David Lynch film, although Lynch would have been only 16 when this was released but this clearly was an influence on the young chap.
After surviving a watery car crash a young woman takes a job as an organist in Salt Lake City, but she is haunted by a ghostly apparition and becomes drawn to an abandoned carnival pavilion. The film is set to a score that is purely played by an organ and relies on atmosphere, not effects, to put you on edge. And it does just that. I won't give away any spoilers but if you like horror and you like unease, this one tops the list.
Ok so technically a TV mini series and not a film but 'IT', adapted from the novel by Stephen King, still makes me squirm. Clowns are some people's biggest fear. In fact I once worked with a guy who had a huge fear of clowns and so we photocopied lots of pictures of Pennywise from 'IT' and stuck them all over his desk...including over his wife's photo...but that's another story. But it's not the clown that gets me.
'IT' stirs something in me because it addresses going back to our childhoods and confronting bullies and childhood fears. I was bullied at school, and didn't really stand up for myself. Not because I couldn't, but because I naturally don't like confrontation. In 'IT' the kids form 'The Losers Club', a club for youngsters who didn't fit the social norm. In adulthood they reunite and return to their hometown to confront the horror that lives there. This horror presents itself in the form of a razor toothed, child killing clown, portrayed chillingly by the brilliant Tim Curry.
Unfortunately the ending of 'IT' does slightly let it down but the journey of 'The Losers Club' is a touching one and the film does a great job of getting under your skin while also showing you the unconditional loyalty of friendship. And it has Jon Boy Walton in it.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Arguably the film that put the late, brilliant writer and director Wes Craven on the map. Nightmares. We've all had them. We've all woke up screaming from awful dreams that seemed so real. As a child I had a recurring dream that often woke me up in a cold sweat. As an adult with insomnia, they still get a little out there every now and again!
So put that together with my biggest fear - being burnt alive; and you have the film that puts the shits in me like no other! Freddy Krueger; I love him and fear him all at the same time. The fact that he penetrates the dreams of a group of high school kids is bad enough, but offing them in spectacular slasher style just does it for me, told you I was sick. This absolute masterpiece of a film (which did not deserve a cruel remake in 2010) is high up on the list as one of the best horror films in history. If you haven't seen it, do it now, and do it alone in the dark with the fire on. One, two, Freddy's coming for you...
I possibly wouldn't class 'Jaws' as a horror film, but many do so here it is. One of my all-time favourite films. Stellar cast, brilliant writing, great effects, bad fake shark. However, 'Jaws' taps into one of my biggest fears, the sea. I really do have a love hate relationship with the sea. I was raised by it and it still gives me clarity and comfort but have almost drowned as well, swings and roundabouts. I also recently discovered there is a name for my fear of submerged man made objects (planes, ships etc); submechanaphobia. Yep, I had to look it up several times too.
So 'Jaws' gives me the willys for having the 'fear of the unknown' factor. What really is in the murky depths that we can't see and only our imaginations can conjur? Well in this case it's a 25ft man eating Great White Shark. From the opening scene where you don't even see the shark, the atmosphere is set, largely due to the two-note 'Jaws' theme that has become as infamous as the 'Psycho' shower stab shrill. For someone who freaks out if seaweed touches her leg and wears shoes into the water in case she steps on a crab, you can imagine what 'Jaws' does to me. I do, however, think Richard Dreyfus gives one of his best performances here.
I make no apology, I love the 'Saw' films. There is no doubt that the first one was by far the best in the franchise before the gore really kicked in throughout the sequels. There are two things I love about the first 'Saw'. The first is the production itself. It is largely based in one room with a few location shoots, it has a good script with one of the best ending twists ever, a well named cast and it's a good length to build suspension and leave you wanting to know more. The second thing I love about 'Saw' is the premise of; What would you do to save your own life or the life of the ones you love? Because the truth is, you don't know. You don't know how far you will go until you are in that situation. And I love that. A psychological horror that makes you question yourself...a lot.
From the second film, the franchise saw more investment. The traps get more elaborate and eventually become the stars of the films themselves; the gore gets more intense and Jigsaw's body count gets a lot higher. 'SAW 7' is the final film in the series and does sew the pieces together nicely but by now you haven't got the same sense of unsettle that the first brings, it's altogether a different film. The psychological aspect doesn't really feature as heavily as the continuing storyline.
UPDATE: In 2017 another Jigsaw instalment hit cinema screens, simply titled 'Jigsaw'. Clever. Sadly it was not clever enough to resurrect the thrill of the first couple of Saw films. Still, it was nice to see Tobin Bell back in his iconic role from the first seven films. Not bad for a guy who died in the 3rd one!
The original 'SAW' had an estimated budget of $1.2Million (pretty low for a feature) and grossed over £55M. By 'SAW 7' the budget was £20M and the gross $45M - you do the math.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
Possibly the most quoted horror film in recent history thanks to it's superb script, adapted from the book by Thomas Harris, 'Silence of the Lambs' is a modern classic. For me, the fact that it feels so real is where the unsettlement comes from. There have been serial killers in our generation, and before, where you have simply thought 'how can that be true? How can a human being do that to another?' 'Silence of the Lambs' allows you to step inside a serial killers mind.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter is an imprisoned serial killer who ate his victims, hence the nickname 'Hannibal the Cannibal'. When FBI agent in training Clarice Starling is sent to talk to him, to try and gauge information about a current serial killer, she is charmed by him. As are we. Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Hannibal is simply stunning. He manages to make you like the character for that charm, his humour and his warped sense of humanity. The respect between the two grows and you find yourself wanting this friendship to develop. 'Silence of the Lambs' was given it's sequel in film ten years later. 'Hannibal' was released in 2001 and many found it disappointing. I, however, thought it was an incredibly beautiful film with some of the best cinematography I've seen.
More a psychological thriller than horror, 'Silence of the Lambs' is timeless, classy and slick. Definitely filmmaking at it's best.
A SERBIAN FILM (2010)
It's banned in several countries, the filmmakers almost faced prosecution. I can't even talk about it, just look it up...maybe have a drink first.
So there you go - not necessarily the best horror films ever made but ones that bought out a reaction in me, which is pretty hard being immune to horror as I am! I could talk about horror films for hours but I'm sure we all have work to do and pumpkins to carve!