An election is a moral horror, as bad as a battle except for the blood; a mud bath for every soul concerned with it
– George Bernard Shaw
That quote might seem somewhat tangential given that this piece is concerned with movies rather than elections, but if you think about it, the following list does represent the result of an election of sorts. If the electorate consisted solely of me, at any rate. And was purely aimed at finding out what horror films I saw this year were the best. Which would be in no way freaky at all. Anyway.
On to the Top-Whatever, in no particular order (‘cos that would just be way too much hassle):
Unrelenting, intense, soul-destroying, psychologically terrifying… A film that stays with you long after it’s 95 minutes are up. Ryan Reynolds gave the best performance of his career thus far, and boy did he need to… His acting talents are literally under the closest possible scrutiny here. The entire film takes place in a coffin, and director Rodrigo Cortes utilises every trick he knows to convey the claustrophobia and personal hell of the main character, and it pays off beautifully. For best effect, watch this on your own, in a very small room. Extraordinary film.
THE HITCHER (1986)
A movie for misanthropic paranoids everywhere. Rutger Hauer’s relentlessly murderous hitcher stalks C.T. Howell’s wide-eyed youth with impunity, for no other apparent reason other than the possibility that Howell’s character was the first of the hitcher’s victims to actually fight back at all. The wide expanse of the desert forms the perfect backdrop for this gripping road movie horror, and while there are obvious nods to films like Spielberg’s Duel, it’s still a directorial masterpiece in it’s own right. Hauer is absolutely terrifying here, on steely-eyed top form, Howell plays the everyman protagonist with a suitable amount of hysteria, while Jennifer Jason Leigh gives an excellent performance too, as Howell’s kidnappee-come-companion. A proper thriller.
THE THING (1982)
Can’t remember whether I watched this for the first time this year or last year… but sod it, sure – it’s an awesome enough film that it deserves more reviews! John Carpenter at his very best, with the sort of paranoia, body horror and mutant transformation that is almost his trademark. Great performances abound, with Kurt Russell and Keith David particularly impressive, but it’s the special effects and marvellous, tension-building pacing that make the film. Maybe it’s just me, but the almost 30-year-old effects still hold up after all this time, enough to scare the absolute shit out of me at certain moments at any rate. Classic horror.
If you weren’t already aware that this was adapted from the stage, it wouldn’t take you too long before you were to make that assumption. Almost the entire film takes place in a motel room in which the two main characters descend into madness. As a study of schizophrenia, psychotic delusion, post-traumatic stress disorder, folie a deux, and an absolute shedload of other mental illnesses, this movie is unequalled. It is all the more powerful for the uncertainty, at the odd point, of what Judd & Shannon’s characters are imagining and what is actually taking place in ‘our’ reality. Really intelligent fare, featuring two exceptional lead performances, genuine and believable dialogue, incredible intensity and some simply shocking moments… This is one of the most underrated psychological horror films ever made.
THEY LIVE (1988)
Wasn’t really sure whether to put this in, as it is less a horror film and more a sort of action sci-fi comedy caper. In the end it made the grade because a) it has John Carpenter’s name attached, and b) I fucking love it. So sue me. Roddy Piper is the blue-collar working man searching for work in recession-hit 80s America when he discovers the terrifying secret of mankind’s subservience to a technologically superior alien race, while Keith David does a nice turn as his only friend and eventual sidekick. There are a lot of laughs in this and a good bit of action – an epic fist fight halfway through is the highlight – but the political subtext of Orwellian subliminal messaging to ensure humanity’s docility is the real attraction of the film. Apparently graffiti artist Shep Fairey’s ‘OBEY’ campaign was inspired by this movie, and you can absolutely see why. A film that rages against the working man’s bondage at the hands of a controlling upper class? I wonder why I like that…
What can you say about Alien? I’m actually pretty ashamed that it took me so long to get around to watching one of the most seminal horror films ever made, but there ya go. Scott’s direction is magnificent, a tour-de-force; every shot is perfect, every image seemingly iconic, every opportunity to ratchet up the tension or terrify the viewer is taken. The performances, particularly of Weaver, Skerritt and Holm, are incredible. As for the special effects… aside from one sequence with Holm’s android, it is simply staggering that these are from 1979 – some are better than the effects we see today! A suitably tense, claustrophobic atmosphere is aided by a wonderful score from Jerry Goldsmith, conveying dread and fear in a manner unparalleled in modern cinema. The art design, particularly the sets and the alien, are inspired. Just may be the ultimate sci-fi horror film.
APOLLO 18 (2011)
I have to hold up my hands before I go any further, and admit that I am a sucker for ‘found footage’ movies. Even the Norwegian fantasy adventure Trolljegeren from earlier this year utilised this trope, and did so pretty effectively it must be said. In Apollo 18 it’s really well done, the varying grainy and clear imagery feeling so natural to the era of the Apollo missions. The visuals are top-notch for such a relatively small production. Given that I recognised actor Lloyd Owen from his appearance in Coupling aeons ago I was never going to be pulled in by the hilariously dumb, ‘is it fake or isn’t it?’ debate – but the fact that so many on IMDB seemed tricked by it testifies to the quality and believability. The acting is first-rate, the dialogue convincing, the alien arachnid beings utterly terrifying, and the suspense is built up masterfully via excellent pacing and plot structure. All in all, this was a thoroughly entertaining low-budget horror flick.
I’m sure I’ve left some out, so I’ll come back and edit this as and when my recollection sees fit. Hence the ‘possibly 10’ of the title. Until then, I bid you adieu.
Solidarity brothers & sisters…☭