I know I may catch some flak for this one, and maybe be labeled a "film snob". So be it. Maybe I am one, a little. Let me explain what the concept behind this week's list is...
There is a big difference between a favorite movie and a great film. Just as when you're asked, "what's your favorite movie ever?", it's a very different question from, "what do you think is the best movie ever made?"
With that in mind, I'm putting together a list of the ten most well-made horror films ever. These are films that I would put up against any straight drama nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in its respective year--and, in fact, in some cases these films were actually nominated, or won. More than just great horror flicks, these are excellent films, period.
Let me explain the difference. As much as I love George Romero, and Dawn of the Dead is my favorite horror movie of all time, I can admit that I love it because it's a cool horror movie. It has flaws--the acting is often stiff, the editing sometimes sloppy, the soundtrack delightfully cheesy. That's all irrelevant to why I love it. As much as I adore it, if we look at the films nominated for Best Picture that year, we find movies like The Deer Hunter and Midnight Express. You can hurl tomatoes at me if you want, but I'm not going to put DOTD in a category with those movies.
On the other hand, if we look at a movie like The Exorcist, in my opinion, we're looking at a film that is superbly made from every aspect--apart from being a great horror movie, it is just a great film, plain and simple. And it was nominated right alongside films like American Graffiti and The Sting--and deserved to be. That's the difference I'm talking about. Film snob? So be it.
Got it? OK, let's proceed...
10. 28 Days Later (2002)
Before he became a mainstream darling with Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle gave us this frenetically paced and brilliantly photographed picture. I remember seeing it at the time and thinking it was made with more quality than any horror films that had come along in a while, and I still stand by that opinion.
9. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Although I hesitate to call it a horror movie, it is generally considered as such, and thus it didn't seem right to leave it off. Jonathan Demme's masterwork became the first horror film to win Best Picture, and also took home statuettes for director, actor, actress and screenplay. This was truly horror's greatest moment in the sun.
8. The Haunting (1963)
Powerhouse director Robert Wise, who made his bones under Val Lewton in the 1940s, delivered this, the finest ghost movie ever made. Without ever showing us a thing, Wise creates an atmosphere of sheer terror. The editing is crisp, the camerawork restrained and effective. This is an awe-inspiring fright flick.
7. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
While I enjoy the first Frankenstein more (and ranked it higher on my '30s movies list), I have to agree with most critics that this is a film of slightly higher quality. Working from a clever, satirical script, James Whale imbued his sequel with rich symbolism and wit. The sets are gorgeous. And that cabin scene with the blind man is one of the finest scenes in any movie--ever.
6. Jaws (1975)
Another flick I never quite considered horror, but I am decidedly in the minority, apparently. This is Speilberg at the height of his powers, and it earned him a Best Picture nom. Some of the finest performances you'll ever find in the horror genre, courtesy of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and the great Robert Shaw.
5. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott turned what could've been your by-the-numbers alien critter-in-space B-flick into a superb piece of filmmaking. With a knockout cast, flawless effects, captivating set design and beautiful cinematography, it is a true pleasure to watch. And I stand by the opinion that James Cameron's sequel, while perhaps a more action-packed popcorn flick, is in every way inferior.
4. Let the Right One In (2008)
Folks have called this the finest vampire film ever made, and I'd say that's accurate. But beyond that, this is a work of heart-breaking beauty that literally transcends the genre. Without the vampirism, it would still be outstanding. In a few more years, with a little more perspective, it is entirely possible that I would put it into the number-one position (as BJ-C suggested).
3. The Exorcist (1973)
The 1970s was perhaps the greatest decade for film, and this was horror's greatest contribution to the new movement. William Friedkin's finest moment, it's characterized by an excellent script from novelist William Peter Blatty and incredible performances from Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Jason Miller. Nominated for the big one, and deservedly so. Never gets old.
2. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock's proto-slasher has become a film school standby, and one of the most revered films ever made. And it's not even Hitchcock's best. A true master of the medium, Hitch dazzles effortlessly with gorgeous composition and a pacing rhythm that gives you no choice but to watch. Anthony Perkins is a revelation, and the landmark Bernard Herrmann score needs no hype.
1. The Shining (1980)
This whole shebang is a matter of opinion, and in my opinion The Shining is the finest horror film ever made. Stanley Kubrick's cinematic jewel is a work of absolute genius from top to bottom. This is a film so rich in texture and flawless in execution that I find it a rewarding experience to watch every single time. More than a horror movie, this film is a work of art.
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