The Shining (1980 – Stanley Kubrick)
A film that tops most “top horror film” lists, and for good reason. The horror works on many levels, isolation, supernatural and more importantly the domestic manifestation of the loss of creative control and masculinity. All this adds to a cinematic experience which is very unique and some would say arguably the best Stanley Kubrick film.
Audition (1999 -Takashi Miike)
A slow-burner of a horror film from Japan, this is an unusually understated affair from director Miike (until the vicious final act). A film that has fascinated me for several years since my first viewing, it starts off almost as a melancholic drama before cleverly and insidiously introducing unsettling elements that work the viewer’s perception of events. At its heart it’s an observation on loneliness and the consuming need for love and affection. Miike explores the darker side of infatuation with some brilliant composition and layered performances from his actors. It can be read several ways and is one of the most innovative horror films you’ll see.
The Others (2001 – Alejandro Amenabar)
Fresh from the fast and vibrant Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman produced a masterclass of a performance as a socially repressed housewife looking after two children who are unable to be exposed to light. Alejandro Gonzalez Inniartu plays beautifully on the conventions of the genre, never opting for jump scares but utilising mood, lighting, acting, an unexplained mist and his own quite brilliant script to create a magnificent ghost story. Kidman may get most of the praise but it’s the small ensemble that create the magic with experienced hands Eric Sykes and Fionulla Flanagan playing off brilliantly against newcomers James Bentley and Alakina Mann. From the opening credit sequence to the memorable revelation, this is a perfectly crafted supernatural chiller.
The Exorcist (1973 – William Friedkin)
The definitive battle of good versus evil, cynics say it doesn’t scare but a) I disagree and b) don’t think that is the point. I have only seen it fully once but it has stuck with me ever since. There are so many readings – obviously the religious overtones but also broken homes, horror happening in everyday (as Mark Cousins pointed out in Story of Film), teenage awakening and psychoanalysis (the infamous crucifix scene). Over time the film has risen above the controversies (quite how religious groups could be so angry about a film in which God defeats the devil can be answered with the simple argument – they hadn’t seen it) and its impact is so powerful, it’s no wonder Mark Kermode champions it at every opportunity.
The Thing (1982 – John Carpenter)
When horror goes below the surface and examines the human condition, few genres can match it as an allegory for our behaviour and deep-seated fears. In this bleak atmosphere of swirling Arctic blizzards, enigmatic relationships and lonely scientific outposts, I believe John Carpenter found the height of his artistic powers. Built as it is on minimal dialogue, high concept and thematic mise-en-scene, this has the make-up of an art-house horror, expanded by the brutal alien effects. Exploring the fear that resides in man and our conflicting mistrust and need of each other, Carpenter beautifully plays on the audience never truly understanding what The Thing actually is (the alien reference is vague and the creature only appears as distortions of man). The claustrophobia, paranoia and atmosphere are all vice-like and the acting is subtle and meaningful. A menacing, composed treat that elevates the exploitative side of the genre to an art form.