Friday, August 12, 2011

The Blahblahblah Family DVD Guide: Part 2 Horror

The second installment of my guide to DVD's has been sitting on the shelf for a while whilst other less time consuming things took precedence but finally the longest post I've ever written has been matched by Chapter 2: Horror.

For a bit of background in to what this is please see the blahblahblah DVD guide page and for those who missed it, Chapter 1: Science Fiction is here.

Horror is a genre that at face value doesn't appeal to me. Our first instinct when we think of horror movies is some guy with a big knife mindlessly killing people and those movies are just not up my alley. I've seen a fair few in my time and more often than not I fail to disengage my sense of realism and find the fact that she always runs upstairs instead of out the front door to be just a little too stupid and predictable.

But that is first reactions. Recently I saw Ben Wheatley's Kill List (review kept here) and then rewatched the British classic horror Wicker Man and I saw how I could make this chapter work.

A few rules I shall place on this:
1. Movies that have become a part of the public consciousness will not be included. If you need a guide to tell you whether to watch these movies then you've been living under a rock.
2. Movies that are primarily another genre such as comedy or romance will not be included. If you flip to this section chances are you aren't looking for a comedy or a romance.
3. Must have been released at the cinema longer than 2 years ago, otherwise you'd just hit up the new release section of your local video store. I shall use 1 June 2009 as the cutoff date.
4. Animation and films not in English will be discounted for pretty much the same reason as other genre. And they have their own chapter.
5. Anything with less than a 4 star rating isn't good enough to be in a guide to the best movies available and will be cut.

The Guide lists:
Eight Legged Freaks (****)
Frailty (****)
House of Wax 1953 (****)
Identity (****)
Jaws (****)
King Kong (****)
Open Water (****)
Red Eye (***)
The Proposition (****)
The Ring 2 (***)
The Thing (*****)
Van Helsing (***)
White Noise (***)
Blade 2 (***)
Blade Trinity (***)
Constantine (***)
Dawn of the Dead 2004 (****)
Hellboy (****)
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (***)
The Exorcist (*****)
28 Days Later (*****)
Underworld (****)
Saw (****)
Saw 2 (***)
The Hitcher 1986 (****)
Wolf Creek (*****)

That's 26 movies, 9 of which Rob Lowing only gave three stars so aren't really worth recommending. Plus I must take offense at being told that some of those movies are horror movies in any sense of the word. The films Hellboy, Underworld and King Kong are more like action/adventure movies, I certainly don't remember feeling any fear. Identity may technically be about a serial killer but it's more of a psychological thriller, along with Frailty. And The Proposition is a brilliant and enjoyable piece of beautiful Australian cinema but horror, it is not.

Removing another 6 films from the original list leaves a measly 11 considered horror movies worth watching and of those 11 I can't really argue with any of them, apart from maybe Open Water which was a bit of a let down and massively hyped. Having said that it's a totally different type of horror to Saw or slasher movies and I would be happier watching that again than something like Saw 9.

15 horror movie recommendations? That's a huge beast of a task. Horrifying perhaps? I can't believe I went there.

This is really quite tough, Ringu and Audition from Japan are two of my absolute favourite scary movies but they're Japanese so I can not include them for my western audience. Films like John Carpenter's Halloween, Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street and Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre are all excellent examples of what the genre can be but have been remade, rebooted, had sequels, had prequels and generally been done to death that it's quite conceivable that they are three movies that are part of the social consciousness.

First I'm going to add my personal choices, those movies I instinctively go to when I think of a good and enjoyable horror movie.

I've already mentioned The Wicker Man (1973) in this post and it's fitting that the inspiration for the post be the first inclusion. A truly horrifying sight, the first time you see the Wicker Man itself on top of that hill and you know what's about to happen. A movie filled with intrigue and mysticism, you're sucked in to this seemingly innocent police procedural peopled with bizarre characters and you leave on a truly horrifying note. I hate that Nic Cage version, it's an awful dumbed down, idiotic remake that should never have been greenlit. Don't Look Now, the Donald Sutherland & Julie Christie psychic thriller is also from 1973 making it a pretty good year for disturbing movies. It is a very creepy movie that's loaded up with atmosphere and strange unexplainable happenings in small increments until you're left haunted by what you've just experienced for years afterwards.

The two most important horror movies of my lifetime come next, one made the genre cool and the other made nighttime walks in the woods with the explicit intention of scaring the shit out of each other a regular weekend excursion.

The importance of Scream in reviving an entire genre is incalculable. It's post modern referencing of the tired old cliches and the young hip cast having "real" conversations turned it into the Pulp Fiction of horror. Kevin Williamson really understood and had a clear love of everything that had come before and his script combined with Wes Craven's direction has led to what feels like a million remakes, sequels and ripoffs of the entire history of slasher movies, none of which could have happened without Neve Campbell. The Blair Witch Project truly was a phenomenon, it's utilising of the internet alone was ground breaking but the way it blurred the lines of documentary and fiction was also very exciting from a film making perspective. Take a look at movies like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, they wouldn't exist if it wasn't for this movie. I was tempted to include it in the social consciousness group of movies but it feels like the movie has been forgotten a little and it deserves a lot more than that.

Picks 5 and 6 are probably a little less well known, although Rob Zombie has gone on to great and not so great things in the genre so his debut may well ring a few bells with you all.

I cannot recommend House of 1000 Corpses highly enough, as far as movies at the slasher end of the genre go this is without a doubt, hands down, my favourite. What is most apparent when watching it is how much Rob Zombie loves classic horror movies, it's like it's instinctively a part of who he is, all of the great aspects are there. The film hits the right beats and it's suitably graphic and gory and most important bloody scary for a modern audience. The Devil's Rejects was also a superb piece of film making but I just didn't enjoy it as much as this one. Dead End is one that I always recommend, it seems to have gotten lost amongst the multitude of movies that all hit around the same time. It's a French/American co-production about a family driving a back road on Christmas Eve. It's both humourous and scary and very well made on a low budget. Starring Alexandra Holden and Ray Wise with a brief appearance from Karen Black I very much enjoyed it and everyone I've screened it for has too.

6 down already, but that's the easy part out of the way. 9 left. How about a pairing of movies with dead in the name? It's a popular word in horror circles after all.

The movie that launched Sam "Spider-Man" Raimi and set Bruce Campbell and his chin on to the world. A humourous yet serious horror movie shot on the tiniest of budgets that forced an incredible amount of ingenuity out of the film makers. Mocking and becoming part of the genre at the same time The Evil Dead might not be as slick as The Evil Dead 2 but it's arguably a better movie for it. George A. Romero is the Godfather of zombies and a horror list that allows a Zack "300" Snyder remake to be feature but not recognise the importance of Romero's earlier much more intelligent work would be making a mockery of itself. The Night of the Living Dead is where it all began, stumbling slow moving zombies may not be as scary as ones filled with rage that just can't wait to eat your brains for some viewers but if it's good enough for Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg it's good enough for me.

Two movies that came either end of the 70's wave of New Hollywood pictures demonstrate two complete different approaches to horror, but exceedingly scary in their own way.

David Cronenberg's The Brood is an eerie disorientating film about a crazy woman undergoing psychotherapy which causes her anger to manifest as little mutant children that kill anyone she's upset with. Freaky and disturbing. Roman Polanski's second best film is next, Rosemary's Baby features a woman being raped by none other than Satan himself. Unlike The Exorcist this late 60's horror is a lot more subtle with it's brooding macabre atmosphere.

Five to go. Three pre 60's classics next. Two cornerstones of the genre and one movie that doesn't have Jeff Goldblum in it.

Nosferatu, often called the very best of the Dracula adaptations, despite them not being able to afford the rights to adapt Bram Stoker's classic horror novel. The iconic imagery alone means that this one should be seen by lovers of both horror and the vampire legends. No sparkles here that's for sure. Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster is another icon of the horror genre. I feel certain that there's more people alive today who have seen the Brannagh/De Niro version than this one. Just look at the makeup and tell me that's not exactly how you imagine the monster when you think about it. Vincent Price as The Fly had to beat the remake, yes the Cronenberg version was disturbing but the effect that the original had on the movie industry and the shocked viewers together with it's much stronger message (anti television among other things) makes the original a much better choice. And you can always watch Jeff Goldblum afterwards.

Now my final picks may be slightly controversial if you're a horror fan. But for one of them I asked a lot of people who came through my shop in the last few days what their favourite scary movie was (and none of them got the Scream reference so I'm not sure how meaningful their responses were) and the other I thought outside of the box.

Interestingly the majority of bookshop customers questioned mentioned a Will Smith film as their favourite horror movie, it is a well known fact that I love Will Smith movies and I probably wouldn't have thought to include this one in this list, so I go on record as stating that there was no prompting from the interviewer to try to get this included. I really enjoyed the film but what did my customers think when asked why it was scary? "Being alone, the last person alive" versus "those zombie things were fucken scary." Those two responses means I am useless at picking horror movies and that in my new opinion I Am Legend is one of the better horror movies ever made; it meshes that horrible psychological fear with that shit your pants horror that other movies have one or the other of and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable movie. So on to the final movie to be added to the blahblahblahgay family DVD guide, Requiem For A Dream. You won't find this movie in the horror section of any video store or anywhere that classifies movies BUT for me the way the lives of these people spin in to oblivion is one of the most horrifying things I have ever experienced, even more so on film than in the original novel. It's fantastically well made and the acting is superb and should definitely be watched but don't expect an uplifting experience. It's the kind of movie that makes you want to hold your loved ones close and promise yourself that nothing will ever cause your life to fall so low.

With the decisions made I have a 26 movie horror chapter for the guide. I'm a little disappointed that I couldn't think of a suitable horror movie "for the whole family" but you can't have everything.

The chapter will read as follows:
Eight Legged Freaks (****)
House of Wax 1953 (****)
Jaws (****)
Open Water (****)
The Thing (*****)
Dawn of the Dead 2004 (****)
The Exorcist (*****)
28 Days Later (*****)
Saw (****)
The Hitcher 1986 (****)
Wolf Creek (*****)
Requiem For A Dream (****)
I Am Legend (*****)
The Brood (****)
Rosemary's Baby (*****)
Nosferatu (*****)
Frankenstein 1931 (*****)
The Fly 1958 (****)
The Night of the Living Dead (****)
The Evil Dead (****)
House of 1000 Corpses (*****)
Dead End (****)
Scream (*****)
The Blair Witch Project (****)
Don't Look Now (****)
The Wicker Man 1973 (*****)

I know there's got to be some arguments over some of this. What did I do wrong? Can any of you name a great horror movie that's suitable for kids? Leave me your thoughts in the blahs below.


  1. The Wicker Man and Don't Look Now are two of my favourite horror films and they came out the same year. Interesting that you include House of 1,000 Corpses. I actually really liked it too, but I think The Devil's Rejects is an even better film. Some of these films I haven't seen, but of the ones you select that I have, I agree with. Especially Nosferatu; such an amazing early film.

    Three others that I haven't found here that I really like are: The Shining, The Thing and Audition.

  2. andy - i know what you mean about devils rejects but there was something about the scuzziness of corpses that made it feel more authentic.

    the thing was in the original list by rob lowing (he gave it 5 stars) so i didn't need to think about that one, audition is japanes so it goes against the rules. the original guide has seperate sections for anything not in english. and i thought baout all of the stephen king movies and none of them struck me as horror. if i was going to add one it would be the shining though, it's a pretty good movie.

  3. I remember seeing Evil Dead when I was eleven years old. My brother sneaked the tape out of my Dad's video library and told me to watch it with him and not to tell anyone else we saw it. I agreed and we watched it. A few nights later I was having trouble sleeping and my mother asked me what was wrong. I confessed. Evil Dead had a profound effect on me even at that young age, and it was a while before I was allowed to watch a horror movie again.

    Strangely, when I was fourteen, my Dad let me watch Audition with him, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

  4. tyler - i had the same problem with howard the duck. i don't think it was supposed to be scary though!

    audition was amazing, do you think it is because we are men and the psychological effect of being tortured by a woman has a greater effect on us?

  5. Here's a few recent English speaking horror films that I enjoyed Session 9 (2001), May (2002), The Descent (2005).

    As for a good film that is also suitable for kids, how about Picnic at Hanging Rock?

  6. dammit bt! that's an australian book/film, i should've thought of that.

    session 9 sounds like it could be pretty good. and you reminded me that i really liked the silent hill movie. i should've included that.

    for someone who doesn;t really like or watch horror films i had to leave a lot of great films off of this list. it was quite an eye opening experience.

  7. Some good recommendations there. Horror is a genre that spills over into others so easily that this list could get over populated very quickly. It's also one of the cheaper ones for filmmakers to work in so you get a lot of clones. As Bonjour Tristesse mentioned The Descent (which was a film you should wear brown trouser while watching), I thought I'd point you at The Tunnel. It's of the same ilk but has the Blair Witch Documentary aspect and it's Australian to boot.

    Horror films for kids are hard to think of but I remember being a bit freaked out by The Dark Crystal. The Skeksis were quite disturbing and I was 4 so I didn't know they had hands up their bums.

  8. bbf - it doesn't just spill over in to other genres, it's one of the most subjective genres to choose in. what i find scary others don't. as you mentioned before you just don't find dont look now scary at all.

    i just googles skeksis, that's a very disgusting thing. the hand up the bum aspect just enhances the freaky.

  9. I have to second Bonjour Tristesse's recommendations of both Session 9 and The Descent! Also, a film that I saw at TIFF a few years back called The Loved Ones is worth checking out as well.

    I need to see both The Wicker Man (only saw the remake) and Don't Look Know.

    Loved: The Blair Witch Project, Scream, Night of the Living Dead, Evil Dead, and Rosemary's Baby

    Hated: House of 1000 Corpses. I just do not find Rob Zombie films that interesting. He seems to only care about pushing the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope. I did not mind The Devils Rejects but I that was probably because I have such a dislike for House of 1000 Corpses.

  10. hey cs - how did you feel about the wicker man remake? did we only think it was awful because we loved the original?

    i knew rob zombie wouldn't be for everyone, i just didn't see it as boundary pushing. interesting. i am admittedly a novice at horror movies but it just felt old school with more gore.

    the loved ones is another australian movie that i forgot about. i'm a total failure. i heard good things about it but my natural aversion means i haven't seen it yet. but i will second your recommendation. see THE LOVED ONES (especially you simon at bloody bay film)

  11. Really interesting post. I do think you are missing out though when not including any films from the Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween franchise. Those are the equivalents of 30's dracula, frankenstein etc.

    Horror movie for the entire family, how about the others?

  12. hey joel. thanks for reading that giant analysis. i know what you're saying about those classic 80's movies, they were the first three that i put on my shortlist but then including them made the whole thing too easy. perhaps the beauty of the genre is that it is all part of the social consciousness and everyone knows the great horror movies?

  13. Oh I forgot to recommend a personal favorite, the art-house zombie flick, Dellamorte Dellamore AKA Cemetery Man (1994) It's an Italian film but was shot in English.

  14. BT - arthouse zombie flick? sounds crazy. i may have to recommend this one to my zombie loving friend simon too. hold on. rupert everett in a zombie movie? wtf!

  15. I hate horror movies. You should write music reviews instead.
    Cool book cover though.

  16. leah you are ridiculous. :p perhaps i should focus on costume design instead of film making too?
    i'll remember to give you full credit for the book design on the next post. promise.

  17. As you know Toby I do not really watch Horror movies. I am a little scaredy cat. So I probably have nothing to add to your list. Although I did recently watch REC and REC2 and very much enjoyed them!! But I would never choose a horror as first choice.

    I am more intrigued by the fact your have seen Kill List!! After meeting Wheatley and the cast on the weekend (post coming today) I am so intrigued by this film, and NO i still haven't seen down terrace,

    (This is Custard by the way, trying to do the growing up thing and losing the moniker)

  18. Did you see kill list? Ben wheatley is an awesome and talented new film maker - he's on my blogroll btw - and I'm quite jealous if you were at a Q&A with him. I'll be checking you out as soon as I finish work. Unlike you I don't sit on the internet all day at work!

  19. We didn't see Kill List, just some clips then the panel. Pretty cool guy though and very witty and funny.

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  21. I love Scream, and agree with you that it changed horror forever, although there's still debate raging about whether horror got better or worse as a result. I hated The Ring, I seem to dislike Asian horror in general, but I think it's that jerky movement thing the ghosts or spirits or whatever are always doing.

    As for horror for kids, I suspect that's why he's got a few suspense/thrillers on there (like Frailty). Something more horroresque might be Lady in White, which was the first horror movie I saw in theaters... say circa late 80s. I think it's only rated PG. There's also a Spanish horror film with a title that translates out to something to do with breathing, although the name escapes me. And it's not Suspiria :) Like Lady in White, no nudity, little or no swearing, little violence, all of which make it more amenable to the family milieu.

    I would argue that Eight Legged Freaks and I Am Legend aren't horror. They're more horror-adjacent. You might also be thinking too... cerebrally for this genre. These days, horror isn't so much about the film technique as about the reaction. I liked Nosferatu and your other pre-80s horror, but I'm not sure they'd hold up to viewing by the average family. I think Joel has the right idea when he says the absence of the whole Halloween/Friday the 13th thing might be an issue. If you're interested, maybe chat with Dr. Blood?

  22. alan - if it's about reaction then perhaps i am legend is horror? especially as i took a poll of regular people on the street. eight legged freaks wasn't my choice though you can blame the sydney morning herald for that. i think the fly will make a lot of modern audiences very uneasy. but yeah i'm not the biggest fan of the genre.

    as for scream, i think the genre needed to change, from what i've read it had become very stale and obvious, hence the rules for surviving a horror movie. i think without it movies like shaun of the dead couldn't have been made so that can;t be a bad thing. that it served to help studios regurgitate unintelligent genre movies by the dozen on the other hand may well be bad.