Halloween is nearly upon us, so the only thing to logically do for this week’s Top 5 is to look at horror films. So I have actually done a Horror Top 5 before so whilst my guest, returning contributor John Parker, will be picking his favourite horror films I am instead going to focus on some more modern horror films, specifically those released after the year 2000, as all my favourite horror film picks were all from before then. Even in this short time there have been so many staggeringly original additions to the genre, and as you’ll quickly pick up, that plays a big part in my picks.
- Shuggie: A Field In England – Ben Wheatley really made a name for himself after directing the incredibly tense Kill List, but for me 2013’s A Field In England is the one to make my list because it is just such a brilliant idea. A psychological horror/thriller set in Civil War England is such a wonderfully fresh and original concept for a film. Featuring a small cast of about half a dozen characters just in some fields it doesn’t sound like a particularly interesting film. But when you add the more psychedelic elements brought on by hallucinogenic mushrooms you really get something so unique and different. It might surprise you that a historical drama, mixed with a touch of psychedelia, and in a horror and thriller genre is so effective, but it’s such a bizarre and original mix that it somehow comes together incredibly well.
- John: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) – This is one of the all time great, memorable horror films. It follows the familiar pattern of a group of dumb American teens, a format familiar to fans of the Halloween films among many others, who get chopped to pieces in particularly gory fashion by the chainsaw wielding, skin wearing villain: Leather Face (Thomas Hewitt). Having grown up with the Halloween film franchise and enjoyed the suspense and excitement of Michael Myers stalking and murdering American teenagers; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre encapsulates everything I found thrilling about Halloween but without the less than attractive special effects and ‘charming’ cinematography. The high budget, admirable acting and the fact that the film is based on a true event move this film away from the early slasher movies and combine to make it a truly terrifying watch.
- Shuggie: Sinister – Revolving around a series of video tapes that true crime writer Ellison, played by Ethan Hawke, is using to investigate murders that took place in the house he is living in. Sinister is probably the most traditional modern horror film that you’ll find on this list, as it does fall into a fair amount of horror clichés. But what made it really stand out to me is just how horrifying the videotapes in the film are to watch. They’re not gratuitous for the sake of it, but they are a real shock, as is the final revelation of who perpetrates the murders. Whilst the supernatural elements are a little hokey Sinister is a genuinely unsettling film, and well worth watching.
- John: The Exorcism of Emily Rose – Religious bound horror films and anything that includes a well-acted exorcism I have always found particularly frightening. The story follows the trail of Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) following a failed exorcism and the death of the possessed girl- Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). The acting is nothing short of superb, the writing brilliant and the complexities of the trail itself make this a perfect Halloween watch. The detail of the trail and the brilliance of the legal arguments explored within put the film on a par with other brilliant trail films such as ‘A Time to Kill’. Court case films have been used to explore a diverse range of social issues; be it racism (To Kill a Mocking Bird) or homophobia (Philadelphia). The exorcism of Emily Rose deserves to be added to such lists, the religious and mental health issues explored openly in this make it worth watching even for those who don’t traditionally enjoy horror films.
- Shuggie: The Babadook – The Babadook is such a strange film for me, because it is one that is so incredibly well received by critics, and rightly so I think, but at the same time just didn’t really hit with audiences. This is probably because it doesn’t fall on the horror clichés of loading the film with jump scares, but instead manages to tell a surprising moving story about motherhood living with your demons with some real moments of psychological horror. The skill that first time director Jennifer Kent demonstrates is brilliant, managing to blend that powerful story with an atmosphere of real horror. If you’re looking for a traditional and basic horror film then The Babadook isn’t that, but if you want something better then look no further.
- John: The Other Side of the Door – I watched this in the cinema on a date earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised. The story tells of a young boy who is tragically killed in an accident, the mother, stricken by her grief is told of a ritual in which she would get the opportunity to say goodbye to her son. The ritual comes with great risk and stark warnings which the mother disobeys thus upsetting the balance between life and death. This is by no means a brilliantly scary film nor is it particularly outstanding in its acting or fear factor. It makes my number three because of the originality of the story. True, some of it is predictable but the premise is new and different making it a thoroughly enjoyable watch. The real selling point of this though is its ending. The issue with the majority of horror films or even films in general is that the ending is either something you kind of expected or thoroughly disappointing. The ending of The Other Side of the Door, while again not spectacular, is really rather satisfying and this makes it a very rare find indeed.
- Shuggie: Let The Right One In – 2008’s Swedish Vampire film is brilliant. It really brings a fresh idea to the vampire film genre. It’s about the relationship between a 12-year-old boy, Oskar, and a vampire who appears to be a girl around the same age called Eli. It doesn’t follow the usual vampire story traditions and instead tells a beautiful story, that isn’t afraid to go to a far more violent and dark place when it needs to. The two main actors, both young children, give great performances, and really sell such a complex relationship between the two main characters. There was an English language remake made, but it doesn’t really add anything to the brilliance of this original, so the subtitled Swedish one is the way to go.
- John: Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1994) – Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, John Cleese, Celia Imrie the list goes on and on in this brilliantly cast epic. This is a film I watch every Halloween, beautifully dramatic and sublimely overacted in a way that suits the 16th century European setting. To me this is a masterpiece; the best treatment of what is a really rather dry novel by Mary Shelly, this film elevates her ideas and transports you into a world that is simultaneously distant and yet familiar enough for you to settle into it with ease. It fills you with pathos and horror, and as the tale develops you change to whom you feel those emotions. The acting, the wardrobe, the sets and the emotional rollercoaster on which this film truly does take you makes it a firm number two for my all time greatest horror films.
- Shuggie: Cabin In The Woods – A lot of my picks for favourite horror films have been things that are different from most of what we see in the genre. But Cabin In The Woods is both a film that follows a lot of the tropes, but also completely subverts them at the same time. This is really Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s commentary on horror films. I love every aspect of Cabin In The Woods. I love the first acts that explain every horror situation ever, I love the all hell broken loose final act, and I love the very ending that won’t spoil here for those who are yet to see it. This is a masterpiece exploring horror movies themselves, one that is accessible to fans of horror and those who aren’t.
- John: Alien – By no means the most out and out terrifying film on this list but it is a truly masterful film. The suspense, terror, and originality of this sci-fi horror makes it surpass all others. The cast is truly one of the finest ever brought together, there’s no competing for the limelight, just sheer perfection in acting that transports you to a world so distant; Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) shines as the main character and sole survivor of the alien attack (if you discount the cat). It has everything I love about a good horror film: genuine suspense, moments of complete originality, and good characterisation that makes you care about their survival. This is one of the all-time greatest films ever made irrespective of the genre.
So that is our picks for this, the second, Top 5 Horror Films. What do you think of our choices? What are your favourite horror films? And you can follow me @shuggiesays on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.