Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Talking of Horror...

Watching the excellent “History of Horror” documentary trilogy the other day (you see BBC – you can produce quality output when you put your mind to it), I began to return to my own list of classic horror films. There are a number that always register on people’s top lists and works such as Carrie, Poltergeist, The Shining, The Fog, The Exorcist and It are there for a genuine reason. There are also others such as Thw Witchfinder General, The Birds, Black Christmas, The Blair Witch Project and Dracula that have been regarded as groundbreaking for the time. However, here are a list of some of mine that I have recently returned to as being seriously disturbing…

Iconic for its age, this really has to be seen even if only to demonstrate that the very idea of being chilling is possible without resorting to blood and gore, or even sound. Most terrifying scene? Of course, it has to be the iconic shadow of the count as he makes his way up the stairs to his victim

The Curse of Frankenstein
One of the very first classic Hammer films from the 1950’s, this was our first true glimpse of the Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing chemistry. Everything about this film is perfect – from the chilling use of grainy Technicolor to paint a bleak vision of the nineteenth century countryside, to the grim, instrument-laden laboratory of the fiendish Baron Frankenstein. Most terrifying scene? The shooting of the creature as he appears from the gothic-strewn autumnal forest, gushing a torrent of claret blood from his mutilated eye-socket. Very advanced visual horror for the time.

The Wicker Man
Who can forget the response of Sergeant Howie as he reaches the apex of the hill and is led by the congregation towards the monolithic sight of the Wicker Man in which he is to be burned alive. “ O, Lord! O, Jesus Christ!” The best films cannot be classified by “type” and there is no better example than this folk-horror piece of disturbing uniqueness from the early seventies.

The Devil Rides Out
It would not be right to have a list of classic horror films and not include one influenced by the late great Dennis Wheatley. Though there are some departures from the novel, the essence of the story is captured brilliantly by the actors and Hammer do a fine job. The two stand-out sequences have to be the chilling appearance of the demonic figure in Simon’s astronomy tower and, of course, Charles Grey’s awesome line as he leaves Richard’s house: “I shall not be back... but something will”

Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Strange that something with such a demonic, terrifying title should seemingly be so lacking in gore. Not that this is necessarily lacking in gore – rather that it isn’t quite the festival of blood and mutilation that one would assume. The point of this film is the psychological impact - especially the bizarreness of the family in question – a sort of collective homage to serial killers and one that conjures up images of Ed Gein and Fred West. Most terrifying scene? Surely the final moments around the dining table where absurdity and horror combine towards the final climatic chainsaw dance.

The Omen
There are elements of both farce and camp in this film that almost push the boundary to something other than horror. However, the ever-present black hound and sense of foreboding doom keep this within the realms of the disturbing. Most terrifying scene? It has to be the moment when they break into the tomb of Damian’s mother in the Italian graveyard only to uncover the skeletal remains of a demonic jackal…

The definitive slasher movie – in fact I’m not convinced that there has ever been produced a movie to cause the viewer to jump as much as this. It has to be watched alone, but even if one was to view it in daylight in a room of hundreds, it would not be enough to stop you from having heart-failure.

Don't Look Now
I leave the best to last. Again, it is impossible to categorise this picture, but I have never witnessed anything so beautifully shot, edited, arranged and presented. Blood on the slide, a haunting drowning, the menace of foresight, the threat of a murderer in the streets of a wintery, foreboding Venice. Red flashes, a glimpse of the past and the shadow of what is to come. As for the final scenes in the bell tower, never has cinema ever disturbed so masterfully.

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