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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Tuesday Top 10: Most Well-Made Horror Films

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.


Unknown said...

I keep re-watching The Shining, also to find new insights. However, my search is more related to figuring out how it's so beloved when I find it overwrought and tediously self-important. I love Kubrick, love him love him love him, so The Shining has always been a frustration for me.

Still, I soldier on. My tastes change as I grow older and new insights come to me. For instance, can you believe that at one point in my life, I actually thought The Exorcist was good horror?

(I also do not care for The Haunting. Apparently I'm trying to stake my claim in the Unpopular Opinions sector of the horror world)

Dr. Charles Forbin said...

You forgot Rosemary's Baby.

B-Sol said...

A very worthy choice, doc. Ah... the pitfalls of only limiting it to ten...

Max the drunken severed head said...

An excellent list.

BJ Colangelo said...

muy bueno.
ltroi ftw.

im sure that was my most eloquent comment.

Tiffani said...

Its nice to see other ppl agree that 28 Days Later can hold its own amongst the classics! Great list as always =)

Rick Bman said...

This is a great list and I think I would agree with most of it. Someone mentioned Rosemary's Baby so I'll throw in The Omen. I thought that was really well made and it terrified the hell out of me. Like you say though, that is the peril of limiting your list to 10.

I am also one of those that holds Frankenstein (1931) in higher esteem than Bride of Frankenstein (1935). I thought Bride of Frankenstein added a some unnecessary camp to the story that took away from the movie for me.

I don't think I have seen The Haunting. I will need to add it to my list.

DM said...

I have to disagree with 28 Days Later. Though impressively made, the film is not well shot; some scenes are hard to watch because the lighting is so terrible. Logic problems with the story also prevent the film from attaining greatness.

Was my comment snobbish enough? I think so!

RayRay said...

As always, well done. I of course, abhor any such list that omits Carpenter's The Thing [<8^P], but like you said, it's about great films.

While I can understand your reticence to include Silence of the Lambs as horror [more crime fiction and/or suspense], it was very scary at points, like when Clarise investigates Ms. Moffet's garage.

However, if Jaws isn't horror, than what is? It has the frights, the unseen menace revealed later to be a very terrible, albeit natural, monster, with it's own throbbing theme music. And remember, it ruined beach summers and night swimming for millions over decades.

As one of the bigger Alien and Aliens fans out there [I can pretty much recite both movies, end to end], I do agree that Alien is the better film. Aliens, though, is one of the superior sequels, especially in the horror category.

You pick of The Shining at # 1 is spot on, though. Great director, great [small] cast, fantastic setting. Creepy, haunting, the kind of movie you watch in the middle of winter with all the lights off, preferably in a country house. I will say that I would not have been disappointed with either Silence of the Lambs or The Exorcist in the top spot.

gord said...

How have people not seen The Haunting?!

It's amazing how many people I know also haven't seen it. I honestly thought it was more popular.

Anyways, great and interesting list B.

Anonymous said...

Man, if I were to make such a list, it would probably match this, spot for spot. I don't think there is a better example of a perfectly made film (in any genre)than the Shining. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great List! All Films Excellent!

AndyDecker said...

Interesting list. Some good choices. PSYCHO is a favorite, same goes for THE HAUNTING.

Of course we differ about your No.1. I can´t stand THE SHINING. I find Duvall just awful, Nicholson is playing crazy from the first minute, and the movie doesn´t do much with the themes of the novel. I was truly disappointed when I watched it for the first time in the cinema back then, and I still hate it. :-) Ah, well, I guess I am not a Kubrick fan. For every of his movies I liked there is one which should never have been greenlit IMHO :-))

Christopher Zenga said...

Hey B,

I'm on board with your top 10 films and I have to admit, allot of my favorite films would not be considered well made films. (I also Love, Love, Love DOTD). But like I have said before, what qualifies as well made Art, Film or Music is all in the individual. The problem with the Academy or Ebert and Roper or Rotten Tomatoes is that just because 9 out of 10 people hate it doesn't mean it's bad, ask 10 more people or 20 or 60 more people and you'll probably get the same amount of yea's as you will nay's.

I take reviews with a grain of salt, If enough people give the thumbs up I'll most likely check it out ( your seemingly never ending love for Let the right ones in drove me to see that film, I was great)

In the end, If a film gives me what I expect it to, and if I'm lucky, a little more, then I'm happy with my time spent.

on a side note, everyone can try this at home, have you seen the new Friday the 13th? no, ok,....... close your eyes.......are they closed, now SCREAM!!!!!!.............. that's the film!
Why in the hell is that movie so God Damn dark? you next topic should be "movie budget cuts, don't' start with the DLP"

Later days B,

Christopher Zenga

gord said...

@Chris Zenga

I agree. I watched it in HD on my cable box (something that I've heard can fix overly dark films ie. standard definition vs. high definition) but yeah, the film was annoyingly dark. Not so much that it ruined anything though (say like Alien v Predator Requiem). Though to be fair its overall shittiness already ruined it.

It's a sad day for the film, and franchise in general, when I can safely say it was a terrible film and still one of the best in the series.

Unknown said...

I really hate the part in "Let the Right One In" with the cats.

B-Sol said...

Is it the special effect that you don't like?

F-Man said...

Perfect #1 choice. So perfect it caught me by surprise. I actually watched this movie two days ago with a friend and obviously we couldn't stop talking about it.

Psycho also deserves to be up there, and Jaws which I've actually seen for the first time rather recently really is one of the most well made movies I've ever seen. Nice list, and thank you for reminding me to check out The Haunting one of these days.

B-Sol said...

I never cease being amazed at how many big-time horror fans have managed to avoid the original Haunting. It is without doubt the finest ghost story ever filmed--a superb movie that a horror fan owes it to him/herself to check out.

Christopher Zenga said...

Hey Gord, how great was that scene in Jason X where he has the two lesbians trapped in a sleeping bag and he's smashing them up against a tree. Horror GOLD!

later days,


Anonymous said...

Days Later can hold its own amongst the classics! Yeah u r true...

Thanks for sharing...


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