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Recently, Fango staffers were polled to come up with a list of the best horror films ever made. That is the hardest of jobs….impossible really. How can you judge? By craft alone? By the manner in which critics and crowds have responded? To me, horror is personal. A horror film affects me for different reasons, subjective reasons. If the lights are down just so, if the time of night is after twelve, if I’m sad, happy, alone, with company…
But most importantly, a horror film – well, any film for that matter – gets on my personal best list if I can watch and re-watch it and always discover something new, always get sucked into the sound, the story, the sights and the style.
So here’s a list of 20 horror films that mean something to me….
1. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) - Epic, scrappy, sad and sickening...the best zombie film ever made, ripe with Romero's trademark eccentricities and Savini's gushy melted crayon gore.
2. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) - Charles Laughton's gorgeous and strange expressionist morality tale pitches Robert Mitchum's nutso false prophet Harry Powell against two innocent children during the great depression. Dark, dreamy and nail biting thriller that was Laughton's first and last kick at directing.
3. THE TENANT (1976) - No one makes movies like Roman Polanski and this nightmarish psychological thriller is proof. Polanksi casts himself as a foreigner in Paris who is getting increasingly paranoid. Abstract and hypnotic with a great supporting turn from Isabelle Adjani.
4. NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT (1979)- Werner Herzog's art house revisit of the landmark 1922 German horror classic casts Klaus Kinski as the melancholy, hideous Count Dracula, drifting across the land looking for love...or death. Isabelle Adjani once more lends her impossible beauty to dazzle the eye and lift the, um, soul.
5. ANGEL HEART (1987) - Alan Parker directs Mickey Rourke as down and out gumshoe Harry Angel, running afoul of the mysterious Louis Cyphre (Robert DeNiro) in 1950's New York and, later, in New Orleans. Horror and film noir have never been better matched.
6. THE DEVILS (1971) - maybe not a horror film by definition, Ken Russell's sensationalistic approach pushes this unhinged based-on-fact melodrama into genre territory. The most delirious, blasphemous (an uncut version is still elusive and the film itself languishes in Warner's vaults) and beautiful film ever made about the hypocrisy of faith.
7. THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) - Punk rock, new wave and talking, brain eating ghouls collide in this breakneck, breathless horror comedy that amuses while never, ever sacrificing the deep, dark chills. James Karen, Don Calfa and Clu Gulager add class and laughs and the blood and brains splat with bravado.
8. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) - John Landis's werewolf fable is a perfect film. Not just a perfect horror film, but a perfect film period. Every inch of it works even after dozens of viewings.
9. ANTICHRIST (2009) - Ultra disturbing and confrontational avant-garde horror from Danish bad boy Lars Von Trier. Full of weird stuff (talking dead animals), surreal imagery, sickening violence and explicit sex, this is also the single most powerful primal scream I've seen and is a serious examination of loss.
10. BRIDES OF DRACULA (1961) - Christopher Lee-less sequel to Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA is even better, with David Peel prancing about as the dashing and decadent brat, Meinster and Peter Cushing in top physical form as Van Helsing. Wicked climax and thrilling James Bernard music.
11. CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1963) - Hammer's answer to THE WOLF MAN rocks in every way imaginable. As a period piece, a character study, a love story, a tale of father and son and a monster mash. Oliver Reed's first film. He's magnificent.
12. SUSPIRIA (1977) - Italian maverick Dario Argento has always excelled when forgoing narrative and making rock videos and SUSPIRIA is nothing else if not the greatest longform rock video ever made. Stylish gore, prowling cameras, fetishized femininity and blaring Goblin music rule the day here. There’s nothing else like it.
13. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) - Lucio Fulci certainly borrowed from Argento's arty approach to the genre but his more spaghetti western aesthetic always left his work a bit more unpredictable and frightening. This towering metaphysical gorefest is his masterpiece.
14. THE WICKER MAN (1973) - Another fascinating, enduring picture made by a specific sensibility and whose power is difficult to pin down and articulate. Edward Woodward stars as a virginal middle-aged police inspector who ends up on the pagan island of Summerisle to search for a missing child. He finds wanton sex, temptation, mystery, conspiracy, smutty folk music and death instead. Masterpiece alert.
15.THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) - Of all the Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Poe pictures, this creepy melodrama is my favorite. Richard Matheson's script is fantastic, the score is eerie, the low budget set-dec is superb, Price freaks out better than ever and Barbara Steele adds a dose of ugly beauty. Great climax, great everything.
16. FREAKS (1932) - What can I say? Tod Browning's career killer stands alone.
17. VAMPYRES (1974) - One of the last - and best - of the lesbian vampire pictures coming out of Europe in the 70's, this semi-explicit sex and death orgy is a poem of lust and death. Two hot phantom ghouls wander the English country roads looking for sex and blood and they find both by the coffin-full. Slow, moody, erotic, savage and daring exploitation art film.
18. DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971) - Delicious and sensual blood spattered ballet with Delphine Seyrig as the smooth vampire queen Elizabeth Bathory, trapping nymphomaniac newlyweds John Karlen and Danielle Ouimet in an Ostend hotel off season. Kinky, stylish, smart and tons of fashionable fun.
19. CARRIE (1976) - One of the best Stephen King adaptations and perhaps Brian DePalma's best film. This is not only a horror film, it's a mercilessly sad look at the cruelty of teenagers and the consequences of child abuse. Wow all the way...from Sissy Spacek's perfomance to Pino Donnagio's score to DePalma's ingenious show-offy camera work....just wow.
20. THE SENTINEL (1977) - I like it better than THE EXORCIST. It's weirder, darker, gaudier and uses veteran Hollywood actors to perverted effect. And pulls a climactic Tod Browning thing that made it a wee bit hot button in its day. And FYI: the great Michael Winner - the director of this and scads of other tasteless genre films like DEATH WISH - is now a food critic in London.
There are other contenders to be sure. Hundreds of them. I probably should have put THE OTHERS on there. And FRIGHT NIGHT . And THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. And THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. And A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. And THE SHINING. And SALEMS LOT. And INSIDE. And.….oh hell, you see what I mean?
Impossible and frustrating.
This list is subject to change.
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