So you wanna freak yourself out? JACK LEONARD brings you his list of the best horror films from the last 50 years. Get ready to be sleeping with the light on for months.
There is a tediously long list of things that vaguely irk me in the world of film. One of these minor atrocities is the fact that the majority of films that carry the label 'horror' aren't actually scary in the slightest.
To be fair, I did once consider myself so jaded by media that I couldn't find fear in the context of cinema because I felt no immediate danger. But, rather than just give up on the prospect entirely, I've spent many a dark night trying to find films that set off my insomnia. Here are a few that I've dragged back from the abyss, cliches and all.
#1. The Blair Witch Project (1999) Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Did I mention cliches?
If there's a perfect time and place to watch this film, I truly think I nailed it. Watching this in a dark, isolated house surrounded by forest was the first experience I ever had with a movie where I was actually frightened (if we brush aside my irrational fear of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child). The film plays the supernatural card perfectly, by being very selective about what it shows you and how you're shown it.
The Blair Witch Project certainly isn't for everyone, as some are thrown off by the found-footage approach to making a film, but it's nothing short of a cult classic and a staple of the genre that's well worth trying out.
#2. Pi (1998) Darren Aronofsky
Aronosfky's first feature length film did more than just establish his career-long motif of obsession, it was also pretty damn disturbing. Pi won't have you jumping out of your seat at any particular moment, but its bleak visual style and paranoid, psychological exploration of a gifted mathematician may well cause you a lot of stress towards the end.
#3. Suspiria (1977) Dario Argento
I'll admit, the idea of a witches coven isn't very scary any more, for some reason or other, but Suspiria's hectic soundtrack and colourful sets give this film an unsettling atmosphere that's impossible to ignore (no, really, the soundtrack is too loud to ignore).
#4. Sinister (2012) Scott Derrickson
Sinister makes it clear from the word go that it's not messing around. The first act or two of the film is entirely plausible, and all the more disturbing for it. Supernatural elements are introduced – and eventually abused – but the film still holds up better than most other modern horrors despite this.
#5. The Shining (1980) Stanley Kubrick
The Shining is the only film on this list that is an absolute must-watch for anybody with an interest in cinema. It is visually stunning, with an astoundingly creepy soundtrack and some great performances (although some people would debate this point). Dread is a word that comes to mind when watching The Shining, as something just always seems off; whether it's the strange architecture of the film's hotel or some erratic behaviour from its inhabitants.
#6. Anything by David Lynch
No, “anything” is not a movie title. I cheated a little bit.
David Lynch has a predilection towards surrealism in his works, which can lead to equal parts shock, humour and horror. Some of Lynch's projects space their scares apart, like the supernatural periods in Twin Peaks or the mysteries of Mulholland Drive (the diner scene gets my nod for scariest film scene of all time) and some of his films play out like feature-length nightmares, leaving you no time to catch your breath (Eraserhead in particular).
Lynch is competent beyond just scares too, and what I've perused of his work has been quite rewarding (if a little cheesy at times).
#7. Rosemary's Baby (1968) Roman Polanski
If you're looking for jump-scares, monsters and excessive gore, this is the wrong movie for you. If you're looking for a film that remains extremely unsettling for over two hours and slowly ramps up to an outlandish climax, give Rosemary's Baby a shot.
#8. Videodrome (1983) David Cronenberg
Videodrome largely deals with the very real horror of how society seeks vicarious thrills through media, but does so in creative fashion, through its dystopian setting and bodily horror. Videodrome's messages are as, if not more, pertinent in the age of the internet than they were upon the film's release. This one deals with a fair amount of controversial content, so discretion is advised.
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