(Of right now, because let’s face it my mind changes a lot).
“Favorites” lists are awkward. They’re uncomfortable. Ask me what my favorite is of anything and you might as well be asking which of my kids I prefer best – not that I have kids, but the metaphor makes more sense if you imagine me with a few.
At first picking ten sounded hard; “only ten?” I thought, but actually picking ten movies that I not only have watched, but also recommend to the world suddenly seemed daunting; like I’d be imparting nightmares with my strikingly subpar decisions. But it’s my list, and I can promise that there will be no Leprechaun 1,000s or ThanksKillings on here – we can save those for another type of list (imagines writing Bottom Ten Horror Movies list). Generally speaking, these are films that have had lasting effect on me, whether it be with a sound and haunting storyline, or a terrifyingly good use of suspense and scare-factor. Forgive me for the puns and enjoy!
#10 I know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Okay, as far as things-I’m-ashamed-to-be-afraid-of-but-totally-still-am, this one is top of the list. And realistically, if I were to sit down and watch IKWYDLS, I likely wouldn’t find it scary at all. In fact, I’d probably agree with the glaringly mediocre reviews the movie received; “A depressing routine slasher film,” said Rob Gonsalves, ok, I see it; “a tedious, distinctly by-the-numbers slasher flick,” chimes in David Nusair from Reel Film Reviews – that’s fair. “This horror movie is too intense for kids.” YES Charles Cassady, yes it IS too scary for kids, which is exactly why it’s number ten on my list.
Flashback to a younger, more sensitive version of myself watching this movie and consequently being RUINED for the next ten years of my life. Was I a desperate prom queen struggling to hold onto her beauty or a roid-raged jock-jerk? No, but I was wholly convinced there was – lurking in every single dark crevasse in my home – a looming man waiting to jump out and slash me. Ruined. But it did set a nice foundation for some desensitization and an eventual love of the horror genre.
#9 Saw One and Two (2004 & 2005)
Yes I can count, and I realize this is two movies, but there are enough of them in this series to mash a few together, and really, what are you going to do about it anyway? (Has rekindled fear of stranger-danger after provoking the Internet). The first two movies in the Saw series blew me away when they came out in theaters. I remember having my knees to my chest in the questionably sticky seating; my sweater wrapped almost entirely around my head with only small slits that I could see through with my eyes – when they were open, that is.
The storyline in each of these movies is extremely unique and comprehensive, and what was so glaringly terrifying about them was that they happened to average – albeit especially terrible – people. Let the morally unsound grow beads of sweat as they reflect their depraved decisions. It was an especially intelligent man taking out his anger on an ethically lax and altogether ungrateful world; his targets were at random and his punishments for folly growingly heinous each time. And there were plot twists. So in the middle of deep inhalations and between nearly closed fingers, I’d see a small detail or notice some subtle trope between the two; which was always something I relished before someone’s appendages were traumatized again.
#8 The Descent (2008)
Three things I love about this movie: it’s an all-female cast, it wound up being much scarier than I expected it to be (always a treat), and it happened in an environment that I am 99 percent sure I’ll never find myself in (feels false sense of safety from a clearly fictitious scenario). That’s right, I will never take interest in spelunking and therefore will never be trapped in a cavernous tomb of doom; which made it all the more satisfying to watch these poor women have their experience go so horribly wrong.
It’s a monster movie in essence, but its addition of claustrophobic discomfort, selective lighting use and overall embodiment of separation anxiety are what elevate it beyond the basics. Small – and often collapsing – passageways, total darkness broken only by headlamps and night-vision cameras, and characters that spend most of the movie alone; confirmed. If it were me in the cave, I’d be the first to go.
#7 The Ring (2002)
This is the first movie on the list that employs more suspense and thrill, rather than raw horror. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that the movie isn’t scary though; for about a week after watching this the first time I practically jumped out of my skin every time the phone rang. I was twelve, what do you want from me? (Gives sideways glance to phone, making sure of no incoming calls from Samara).
What’s so special about this film is its artful story. It’s scary, but beyond that it’s complex, with a lot of subtle components that come together to form one really well-done picture. Certainly at the forefront of urban legend horror films, it torments the characters up until the very end, almost giving them a sense of hope – which it then goes and tears away when they realize the only way to stop the power of the cassette is to die and make sure no one watches it after that; which they’re totally unwilling to do and proceed to save themselves by sending it out unto the world for the next unsuspecting victim. Real cool, guys.
#6 Insidious (2010)
I thought I’d name the things about this movie that I absolutely love, but then I realized an even shorter list would be the things I didn’t love, since there was only one. The Demon reveal; I hated the Demon reveal. In fact I almost always prefer movies that avoid a monster reveal altogether since fictitious beings are hard to embody in an entirely non-fiction world, but I digress; this one was, goofy. That being said, just about everything else about Insidious is great (and the third one comes out soon!).
A cerebral story, Insidious invites us into the lucid world of a young boy’s dreams (SFW, I promise). Astral projection, parallel realities, and a super terrifying vintage gas mask-like device, combined with solid acting and elusive – yet strong – effects, earn this movie its central placement. It’s another movie that keeps you guessing in between its borderline cheap-scares, with an ending that isn’t your typical happy, rainbows-and-sunshine, everyone wins. I love that (closet sadist, perhaps?).
#5 Let the Right One In (2008)
DO NOT let the subtitles scare you away from this movie; it is häftigt! (Man I hope Google Translate told me the Swedish word for “awesome” and not something less, couth). It’s a Swedish movie – yes there is a domestic version, but like almost everything else the foreign version is so much better – which may explain why there’s a staggering amount of juvenile violence – in a good way!
LTROI doesn’t ask for permission to be violent, but its trauma is dished with intent. Its Children of the Corn – kids-make-things-so-much-scarier – antagonist is the best vampire archetype I’ve experienced since Dracula (the book, naturally); something about the eternal damnation of a puerile soul is so, creepy. The main characters being children made me realize two things: kids make poor choices despite thinking they are mature enough to decide otherwise, and pretty much anyone is capable of killing so long as they have vampiric powers (side-balls all kids as a precaution from now on).
#4 Silent Hill (2006)
Let’s get one thing straight: by Silent Hill, I mean the atmospheric thrill-ride that graced the silver screen in 2006, NOT its inferior counterpart that flopped out sometime in 2012 – in 3D no less. (Reserves special spot on aforementioned bottom-dwelling list). Silent Hill is a movie I’ve seen multiple times, and every time I watch it I remember exactly why I chose to bust-out my DVD player in order to play it again.
It’s a film based loosely off of a video games series – not unlike the Resident Evil franchise, except actually good – but it definitely doesn’t leave behind story and emotion in areas where the games might come up short. A mother loves her daughter literally to death, and finds herself trapped in a sort-of limbo until she realizes she’s dead. Wow. But the extremely looming cinematics – not to mention horrific creature characters – allow this film to stand confidently next to its interactive brethren (which I highly recommend, too – PT nearly gave me nightmares).
#3 The Babadook (2014)
At the risk of sounding like a complete fan-girl (see my previous review of The Babadook for a reference), I added The Babadook to the list because in my eyes, this movie is damn-near horror movie perfection. It’s a psychological thriller in tandem with a monster-film; that paired with phenomenal acting makes this movie deliver everything and more than what’s expected of a great horror flick – especially these days.
No cheap scares. No over-done music or dramatic lighting effects. Just raw, unapologetic psych-horror. Ahh. . . Employing the chilling nature of children (why are they so inherently terrifying?!) yet again, The Babadook takes you on an emotional roller coaster that will have you throwing up that deep fried dose of anger and repressed fear of wardrobes while simultaneously lining up for another ride filled with sadness and a small amount of hate for a kid you don’t even know – oh, just me? Well anyway, there is a lot more happening here than just a scary story, and it’s a movie that’s definitely worth of its almost full-star ratings across the board.
#2 VHS One and Two (2012 and 2013)
Yes I can count, and I understand that multiples are well out of the jurisdiction of concise lists, but it’s my human right to abuse numerals as I see fitting! And besides, the VHS movies are equals in my eyes (deliberately ignores the stunted number three, a good review for that can be found here). They are on this list for a number of reasons, but the most important is simple: they’re scary. Really scary; as far as a movie goes anyway. I was tense pretty much the entire time I was watching, and the stories do NOT set you up just to let you down again. They deliver; every. Damn. Time.
Don’t let the low budget, handycam film style fool you into thinking that the atmosphere and effects aren’t going to be good; the gore is thorough and abundant, and the CGI is convincing every time. There are multiple stories within the story that build to an eventual climax, and my sadism screams at the fact that none of the characters meets a happy ending. Not. Even. One. (Let the evil within me celebrate).
#1 As Above, So Below (2014)
If there has ever been a film that contrasts its online reviews, it’s As Above, So Below (and The Love Guru, but we don’t need to talk about that here). I’ve watched this movie countless times for the sheer fact that it’s fantastic – absolutely nothing less. It’s thrilling, scary, original, and even a bit historical and fantastical. I watched it for the first time on an iPad. With headphones. In public; and I was still jumping, and gasping, and maybe even lightly squealing, entirely despite the fact that the other airport patrons were staring and “mommy why is that girl crying”? I digress.
It’s a story about the folklore of alchemy and a hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone; so the eight year old Harry Potter fan-girl inside of me screamed with excitement – especially when the characters reference Nicolas Flamel.
But the paranormal instances, grueling circumstances, and ultimately horrific deaths make this movie killer (ha ha). There are demonic rituals (also literally The Devil, if that’s your thing), the tight spaces of The Catacombs (oh yeah, that’s where it takes place), and the exact same feeling you get when you’re walking through a haunted house on Halloween – you know the feeling. You fear that there’s something lurking around every corner because – there is! And it’s waiting to push you down a cavernous hole. Or burn you inside of a car. Or show you your deepest fear that only you know about but somehow this thing knows about too; it’s good. And you never have to figure out what it is exactly because As Above, So Below doesn’t care about monster reveals. It doesn’t care about a solid monster figure at all because the characters might be dealing with The Devil, or ghosts, or evil in its darkest and purest form – the point is that they prodded the bull, and are most definitely getting the horns.
Runner Up – Eraserhead
I know, this is more than ten, I know; but real quick I wanted to mention two runners up for the sheer fact that they were competitively scary, just not in all of the right ways.
Eraserhead: inherently, this movie isn’t technically horror. In fact, the only thing horrific about it is the cinematography and effects; the storyline of “having children is horrible” is only scary to people like me that fear kids in general, thereby finding all of them terrifying, not just the sub-human kind (see, I don’t discriminate). But there’s something about this movie that is just so, awful. And unpleasant. And 100 percent give-you-nightmares, get-in-your-head creepy. The music is eerie. The film is black and white. The effects are disturbing and sometimes just gross, and the random, nonsensical nature of the plot is irksome to watch.
Believe me, you won’t leave this film feeling anything close to rainbows and sunshine. In fact you’ll probably never feel happy again after watching it. Just go ahead and crawl into a fetal position, questioning your life choices and what the hell is wrong with the world (not to mention David Lynch).
There. Ten. Done. I’ll think I’ll go watch something positive for a change. Maybe a comedy even. And in the meantime I’ll get to work on that Bottom Ten monstrosity (with full-on monster reveal at the end).