Horror cinema is a monster. Mistreated, misunderstood and subjected to vicious critical attacks, somehow it keeps lumbering forward, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. For some, horror films are little better than pornography, focused purely on evoking a reaction – be it terror, disquiet or disgust – with little thought for ‘higher’ aspirations. For others, they’re just a bit of fun: a chance to shriek and snigger at someone’s second-hand nightmare.
But look again, and the story of horror is also the story of innovation and non-conformity in cinema, a place where dangerous ideas can be expressed, radical techniques can be explored, and filmmakers outside the mainstream can still make a big cultural splash. If cinema itself has an unconscious, a dark little corner from which new ideas emerge, blinking and malformed, it must be horror.
Here are my fave horror films. Most of them should make the cut for ‘the all-time best movies’ list, regardless of genre:
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Memorable for Mia Farrow’s pixie cut and the most frightening bunch of old people to appear on film.
- Alien (1979). Also the best blurb: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
- Birds (1963). The film that heightened my fear of winged creatures and monkey bars. I love Hitchcock’s precise camera work here; the absence of logic, resolution, and lengthy dialogues. Great locale, too. Bodega Bay in Northern California must be a nice place to visit.
- Psycho (1960). The film that’s been dissected and extoled for just about everything (direction, casting, photography, the shower scene, music, design, the mother-son love story, etc.). For me, it’s groundbreaking for its pioneering use of drag as a scary prop.
- The Shining (1980). There’s hardly any gore. The terror is all in your head. Shelley Duvall is brilliantly ugly when she screams. The clickety-clack of Jack Nicholson’s typewriter is so terrifying that you’d thank Silicon Valley for inventing the soft keyboard.
- The Exorcist (1973). In high school, the Salesian priests forbade us from watching this movie. It took two decades before I had the guts to see it. I must have lost 250 calories after watching it.
- Shake Rattle & Roll 2 “Aswang” (1990). I never imagined myself rooting for Manilyn Reynes. When the townsfolk started their ritual for the virgin sacrifice, it felt so real. Proves that all the computer wizardry can’t replace a great narrative and directorial technique.