This October, I’ve decided to count down the top 10 movies for Halloween!
10. Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Whether in a comedic or dramatic context, Tim Burton has always understood how to use the macabre in cinema. One of his greatest films (and his best to be considered a “horror” film) is this 2007 adaptation of the Sondheim musical of the same name. Bleak, gothic cinematography, wonderfully campy blood effects and the daring choice of casting non-singers make this film a great success. Although the Depp/Burton/Carter collaboration had been going strong for years at the time of this film, it did not yet seem tired and trite, like it does today. Indeed, casting Depp, a man who has never sang, as the lead in a musical film, could have gone horribly wrong. Yet, Depp’s great acting keeps us invested.
A modern horror classic and staple of New-Hollywood filmmaking, Poltergeist endures because of its well-constructed story, great action sequences and visual economy. Like Spielberg did with Jaws, director Tobe Hooper knew that it wasn’t the “monster” that was scary, it was the atmosphere built up around them. More what is left in the dark, less what is seen. This mantra is on full display in the brilliant scene where Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robins) the young boy in the family, is afraid of the lightning storm going on outside. His father tells him to count “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc” to track the thunder until it passes. As the father leaves, Robbie begins counting. Only instead of getting further apart, the lightning is getting closer. This scene plays with fears we have all experienced and sets the perfect atmosphere for the sequence that follows it. Making the “action” set-piece that follows matter more because of the context it was presented in. Brilliant filmmaking!
8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
A campy, sex filled musical romp, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the ultimate cult films and a hilarious satire of the horror imagery we are all too familiar with. With a cast of then unknown actors like Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Meat Loaf and Tim Curry, the film is rife with talent, even while the script goes from the strange to the ridiculous! A low-budget film that still manages to reach teens the world over, making us laugh and shudder!
7. Dracula (1931)
Of all the classic Halloween stories, none are so adaptable as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Is it the class and mystery of our antagonist, Count Dracula, that makes his story so compelling? Or is it the brilliant actors who have taken on the role through the course of film history? One of the most memorable being the Hungarian Bela Lugosi, in the quintessential adaptation of Dracula, the 1931 version. With inventive cinematography and brilliant performances from the whole cast, this is the essential telling of this classic tale.
6. Throne of Blood
While not a horror film, Akira Kurosawa’s stark black and white re-telling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in feudal Japan is as visually unsettling and thematically bleak as any great film of the genre. Kurosawa employed tactics of Noh theatre for his actors, who give brilliant, stylized performances. Pairing this with a bleak visual landscape of mist and rock, the slow, meticulous movement characteristic of Noh theatre gives the unshakeable aura of dread, pulsating through the film. One of Kurosawa’s darkest films.
5. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
This little known adaptation from the great German filmmaker Werner Herzog, may appear to the outside viewer as an “Art-House Dracula,” but when measured beside the rest of the filmmaker’s canon, it is actually one of his most “normal” films. A tribute to the F.W. Murnau film Nosferatu, the film stars Klaus Kinski, Herzog’s great collaborator, in the title role. While narratively weak (Herzog doesn’t believe in the three-act structure), the film has some amazing visuals of a decaying society, including seas of rats and a bizarre feast/funeral in the streets of Wismar, Germany. To Herzog, it is a parable for the looming evil that was the Nazi Regime.
Hitchcock’s masterful horror/mystery is a film like no other in his cannon. With the terrifying Norman Bates, one of cinema’s great villains and the fantastic visual style, both informed by and informing the horror genre, making this arguably Hitchcock’s greatest work. What more needs to be said for the classic, Psycho?
3. The Silence of The Lambs
With a perfectly constructed story and harmoniously elaborate visual style, Silence of the Lambs is a strong contender on all fronts. While horribly depressing, the film is hypnotic in it’s perfect construction and fascinating subjects. The movie gives us two of cinemas great monsters. The first, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is fully a creation of director, Jonathan Demme, novelist Thomas Harris and actor Anthony Hopkins. A methodical, cannibalistic serial killer with the mind of a genius, the character is a perfect horror creation. The slightly underrated, but equally terrifying “Buffalo Bill,” played by Ted Levine, is a character closer to us. Whose inspiration is drawn from the news as much as the imaginations of its creators. In the centre of this narrative is Clarice Starling, played wonderfully by Jodie Foster, who manages to outweigh the monsters and form the heart of the film. If Lecter and Bill make us lose faith in people, Starling re-affirms that faith.
2. Nosferatu (1922)
Few films have influenced our modern iconography as profoundly as F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, a low-budget silent film that has gone on to be studied and copied in many facets. The image of an ominous castle, bleak, ravaged landscapes and the immortal character of Dracula itself were committed to the screen in a memorable way, for the first time in this film. Max Shrek, whose performance still stands as the greatest interpretation of Dracula, manages to present us a monster that is infinitely human. While out of context, the images may seem tired and pedestrian, they are the same images that have informed the symbiotics of the horror movie.
1. The Shining
When Kubrick set out to make The Shining, his attempt was to re-define horror films. Trying to compete with the new wave of horror movies being released by the New Hollywood crowd of the late seventies, Kubrick took to heart innovations in story, movement and most effectively, light. Critics called The Shining, “the first horror movie with the lights on.” Kubrick manages to create all the feelings of fear and dread, without ever relying on the horror genre’s key element: darkness. In doing so, he creates an anomaly: a classic horror film that defies the traditional symbiotics established by Nosferatu and early horror films. Kubrick also improved upon his own visual style, incorporating the use of the newly invented Steady-Cam, which gives the film an unparalleled sense of movement. Finally, Kubrick defies the common mystical elements of horror stories by leaving the direct causes of the hotel’s evil ambiguous, focusing on the human truths the film’s characters encounter. Giving us a horror film that is a work of art.