Okay, it’s that time of year again.
A well-received reboot of Halloween just arrived, with Jamie Lee Curtis reprising the iconic role that would forever cement her as the scream queen — and, further, create a “last girl” with brains, her performance paving the way for many more strong female leads to follow.
And yet another reboot is slated to arrive, for some reason, a few days after Halloween (why not before?). Director Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria stars Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton in an update of Italian maestro Dario Argento’s seminal surreal vision from 1977. I’m not necessarily fond of these remakes (Psycho, anyone?). After all, and to loosely paraphrase Argento himself, if you’re not remaking the film as it was originally written and intended to be presented, then why bother using the same name? Why not call it something else? Why not further the genre and the conversation? Still, I have to say the 2018 Suspiria does look good. Stylish. Moody. Artistic. All qualities I associate with the original and appreciate when enjoying a movie.
But since the updated Suspiria and Halloween films won’t hit the home market for a while yet, here’s my picks for top 10 Horror Film of All-Time. No easy feat to pull together a list. Still, I’m willing to give it a try. This from a guy who prefers art-house and abhors cheap jump scares. Also, I prefer to include films that have a high re-watchability factor. I’m not sure how to measure that. You just kind of know them when you see them that you’d want to watch time and time again, for the story, the cinematography, the colors, the soundtrack… the experience.
Top 10: Best horror movies of all-time
The Witch (2016, d. Robert Eggers)
Black Swan (2010, d. Darren Aronofsky)
One is about witchcraft and religion, the other a potentially unreliable narrator and the blurred lines between reality and the imagined. Both outstanding films, and, yes I’m cheating a bit by sneaking in two films in this slot. Both are modern examples of outstanding writing combined with equally outstanding presentation and direction. Many who don’t give the “horror” genre any merit when it comes to film, typically bucket the lot into the slasher sub-genre. Modern directors like Eggers and Aronofsky demonstrate that everyday horror, be it from 17th century New England or a ballet school in New York, needn’t require a cliched masked killer. After all, a disintegrating mind is a perfectly good thing to waste.
9. Psycho (1960)
Because only Hitch himself would have the cahones to kill off his major star (Janet Leigh) in a thrilling and surprising cinematic twist. The rest, of course, is shot-for-shot perfection. Too bad about that slightly awkward epilogue though.
8. Halloween (1981, d. John Carpenter)
He’s coming to get you! So much innovation here from the legendary John Carpenter. He wrote the film. Shot the film. Scored the film. And thanks to a scrappy and skilled crew pushed a lean budget to the max. Although the POV (point-of-view) shot may have been used previously, it was perfected in the opening scene when a young Michael dons a mask, climbs up the stairs of his family home, and does the unthinkable. But Michael might not be the only lunatic loose in Haddenfield. Let’s not forget that Loomis (Donald Pleasence) would drive himself to near insanity trying to convince anyone who would listen that a killer was stalking the streets on Halloween night.
7. Suspiria (1977, d. Dario Argento)
Yes, that’s stage blood. The terrible 1970’s kind. Thankfully that artifice in art direction only enhances the surreal experience to be had with Dario Argento’s original Suspiria. While the world was awestruck by Star Wars, this Italian gem would forever alter how filmmakers treated visual aesthetics and influence generations of future directors. Gorgeous blues, pinks, and purples. Neon Demon (2016) by Nicolas Winding Refn comes to mind as an obvious Argento/Lynch-inspired work. But no one has brought together such disparate elements — hells-bells metal score (by Goblin), outlandish visuals, wonky side-stories and death sequences — with such acumen as Argento in this, his fantastical masterpiece.
6. The Shining (1980, d. Stanley Kurbick)
I never could understand why Steven King didn’t take to this adaptation of his famed novel. Stanley Kubrick. Jack Nicholson. That Overlook set. What more could you want? Yes, Nicholson is very Nicholson. So much so that it’s plausible to believe that Jack Torrance is already a little bonkers before starting his new winter job at the remote hotel. Cinematography here is astonishing. That camera movement! We hear “mood” used often to describe a film experience. I’d put The Shining high on the list of works that just ooze dread and discomfort.
5. Repulsion (1965, d. Roman Polanski)
Ah, the little sister! Ah, the unreliable narrator! Which is it? Or both? The first in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” is the proverbial descent into madness. Given the Metoo movement, a film like Repulsion seems even more apropos than ever before. Grabby men doing grabby things to an innocent and incredibly convincing Catherine Deneuve (as Carol). What I especially love about Repulsion aside from its slow burn and oddness of its lead, is that it reveals more of itself the more you re-watch the film. There’s irony here too, and sadness. Perhaps no film has better captured loneliness and despair as effectively. Rape. Violence. Not exactly a fun date movie, but a historic bit of cinema for sure.
4. Nosferatu (1922, d. F.W. Murnau)
When they say “shadows and light” they must be talking about Nosferatu. German impressionist reached its peak, or at least presented its most thrilling example in Murnau’s Nosferatu. For all horror film fans specifically, and film students at large, this masterpiece should be required viewing. A gothic legend is born.
3. Alien (1979, d. Ridley Scott)
Forget the sequels (much like you can do with almost every horror franchise). Stick with this one, Ridley Scott’s one and only Alien. Can they hear you scream in space? Well, I do know, that if an alien were to exist and were to set its sights on the crew of an unwitting merchant vessel, it will have met its match in Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Apart from outstanding performances, most notably from Weaver, the cast here is positively enshrined in glorious art direction and sets. Jaw-dropping stuff. The finale has us on pins-and-needles, with a resolution that unfolds beautifully. Do we need Alien 2? No. But it’s okay, and Alien 3 shows us what an up-and-coming guy named David Fincher can do with a dull script. Stick to the first one, Ridley Scott at the top of his game.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, d. Wes Craven)
Does Nightmare deserve to be so high on this list. Maybe not. But this is a different Freddy. Before MTV, before the celebrity, this was a disturbed individual, the son of a thousand bastards. In 1984, Freddy Krueger hadn’t yet mastered the Bond-like one-liner quip. He was simply contempt to chase the hell out of you and your friends while you slept. And you parents? Not exactly innocents. Dig into that backstory. NOES is rich with metaphor and allegory. On the surface it’s exactly what we want in a fright fest: an eternal bogey man wants us dead. The late, great Wes Craven takes a simple concept — based apparently on true events he read in a newspaper — and spins a highly entertaining, scary, atmospheric story that I believe influenced the genre for the next thirty years.
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968, d. Roman Polanski)
Many cite The Exorcist as the best horror film of all time. Okay, fair enough. No question it’s a scary, impeccably made film. But, for me, the honor goes to Rosemary’s Baby. Hands down. There’s no need for head spinning, or vomit, or even cursing. Rather, this is the story of a woman and her unborn. A joyful pregnancy. Soon turned nightmare. By that test, this is a film that could feel more relatable and, hence, the impact potentially more horrific. Besides, who doesn’t regard their neighbors as a coven of nosy, annoying witches. Apartment life in NYC can be such a drag. Once again, as in Repulsion, Polanski presents to us a series of scenes that eventually boil over, and we’re left in Rosemary’s shoes wondering: is this really happening? Is she carrying Adrian and setting off in motion Year 1, or is she simply in need of rest, a few meds and a session or two of Scrabble?
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), The Others (2001), Audition (1999), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Babadook (2014), Friday the 13th (1981), Blood and Black Lace (1964), Angel Heart (1987), Eyes Without a Face (1960), Goodnight Mommy (2014), The Exorcist (1973), The Sentinel (1977).