Hallowe'en post 1 - My Top Ten Horror Films

I've always been a big fan of watching horror films late at night. Better than just one film - a double bill. When Channel 4 ran double bills of Universal movies in the 1980s I would sit up late with a black and white portable, watching from bed and floating into sleep - and dreaming up alternative endings and monster mash-ups.

It's stayed with me all my life, this doubling up of old favourites and viewing them at roundabout midnight. They have to be a very particular sort. I've no patience with too much gore or splatterfests, or with the horrible sadistic torture-porn pictures. Also, they can't be *too* psychological, either. I like a good monster or two. For me, it seems that all the best films were made in the 30s and 40s, then the 60s and 70s. It's something about the classiness of the stars, too - I need someone like Peter Cushing or David Warner to appear, even in just a cameo.

Jeremy hates lists. He thinks I'm ridiculous for agonizing over my lists of ALL TIME TOP TENS. It was Jeremy who, when we first got together, introduced me to some old horror films I'd never actually seen. Bits of my education in horror were missing! I always find it such a relief to know that there are still old movies out there to track down and hoover up.

Better still, when you vaguely remember some scary old thing you saw twenty years ago - and images from it (say, Joan Collins being attacked by a forest of evil trees) - have stayed with you all that time. Then, to encounter that film again, in some late night spooky marathon. It's like suddenly remembering an amazing dream you had...

Here's my Top Ten, anyway...

10. THE SHINING. Which I remember first seeing in an attic at the top of the Victorian building which used to house Darlington Arts Centre. It was a late Friday night, and snowing in the park outside. The film was crackly and slightly kronky - but absolutely riveting. It really made me feel like the story had somehow taken over the film, and was dangerously real, and we were all watching events unfold as if they were happening live. It was a very peculiar viewing experience - and how strange, to step out into the snow, afterwards.

9. THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR. I think of this as a cosy horror, since I first watched it on a Boxing Day morning, having taped it from a late showing. I love the testy relationship between the batty old sisters - Beryl Reid and Flora Robson. It's a 60s piece - and very much like What If Joe Orton had written for Hammer.

8. THE OMEN. Just about a perfect film. Dense with dread, every single scene. I think, because it was one of those films talked about so keenly and excitedly in the school playground, by peers who really weren't old enough to be sitting up that late on school nights, watching such scary films... it acquired early on a kind of terrible glamour. I even love all the sequels - even the made-for-tv number four, and the remake!

7. ROSEMARY'S BABY. Another dense atmosphere - grainy and realistic, with characters so well-drawn and beautifully acted, there's a feeling of eavesdropping on dreadful events. This was a film I came to relatively late and was astonished by. I love Ruth Gordon as the ghoulishly enthusiastic neighbour, and Mia Farrow - tottering about so helplessly as she realises how she's been duped. Another perfect film - transcending its genre.

6. DRACULA 1972 AD. And here's a film resolutely at home in its genre, and it ain't going anywhere else. Right at the fag end of the Hammer studios boom, an attempt to update the greatest roles of their two greatest stars - Cushing and Lee. It's all early 70s glam rock swingers and foolish young people getting into things BEST LEFT ALONE. Stephanie Beacham as the granddaughter of Cushing's elderly Van Helsing is a lovely set-up, and one that should have been spun-off, really, into a series, at least. Cushing rushing down the King's Road at night, propping himself up against shop windows and almost pegging out as he races to rescue her, is a genuinely scary and moving sequence.

5. THE RELIC. A rare example of a recent-(ish) horror movie that has managed to make it into my list of all-time greats. I don't know what it is about this one. The plotting is tortuous at times, and I'm not sure I understand the premise STILL after umpteen viewings. But there is something about the gelling of the characters in this classic base-under-siege set-up, and the novelty of trapping them all inside a natural history museum during a gala opening... plus the fact that it is an unashamed and old-fashioned monster movie... It's one of the few examples of CGI-generated bollocks that I actually believe in.

4. NIGHT OF THE DEMON. I love the 1950s world of this film. It makes me imagine a whole world - a dark kind of Ealing comedy world - in which British character actors are forever fending off the devil and all his works, and doing battle with mad professors and monsters of all kinds. I find something new in this every time I watch it. I don't think M.R James has ever been adapted so well. Not in those Christmas specials of his on TV, or anywhere. Also, his stories can be just a bit slow and creakily oblique for my tastes (there, I've said it!), and this film brings a little of the old Universal Horror sensibility into the proceedings. I adore the fact that something as simple as one man picking up a slip of dropped paper and passing it to another can become so terrifying...

3. THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. This is great because it's the best example of the portmanteau movie that I know, and it's a form perfect for the short, sour shock of the horror story. It's also great because it gives air time to all the greats. Cushing and Lee are there (Cushing sporting a dazzling array of ascots and scarves in his waxwork museum-themed episode) - but there are some fabulous turns from the likes of a sweating, cardigan-wearing, obsessed novelist, Denholm Eliot - summoning monsters to his door through the power of words. This film's also got a wonderful vampy double act from Jon Pertwee and Ingrid Pitt. It's a film unafraid to chime off other films - to gently mock them or reference them with reverence. It does all of this and manages to seem like just another cheesy old Tales from the Crypt-fest, when really, it's classy as anything.

2. THE WICKER MAN. In recent years its power has ebbed for me slightly, with the release of extended and mucked-about versions, with a lousy remake (though that film *does* have its own bizarre charms) - and a sequel that I am still trying to process... (and not in a good way.) I remember reading greedily about the making of this film - and loving the hints of curses, missing footage, and generally spooky goings-on. It has a weird power to it, I think. I just need not to see it again for a little while. Mind, SingalongaWickerMan - if you ever get a chance to go - is something you just have to experience.

And number one..?

1. Well, this week i think it has to be HORROR EXPRESS. Next week it might change again - but at the moment i'm looking forward to company next weekend and showing them this film, which they've never seen. I think it's like Arthouse Horror - with obviously-dubbed italian actors and a beautiful sense of howling, endless wilderness... and that lovely, closed-in feeling of a train rattling through the night. It's got a horrifying monster, just as good as the one in the Relic...  it's got outrageous star cameos (stand up Telly Savalas - as a train pirate!), and short, sinister older women who know more about what's going on then they should...  it's got a hint of daemonic evil from before the dawn of time... and it's got two marvellous performances from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. This time they are allied against the threat from beyond... in a film that somehow manages to blend Murder on the Orient Express with The Thing.

Bubbling under my top ten - I have to give honourable mentions to the likes of Countess Dracula, Tales that Witness Madness, House of Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Jaws. All of which have marked my life in significant ways, too. It seems to me that these are more than just films I love - they've each become a part of my imaginative landscape - they've each supplied pieces of my mental furniture.

So how about you? What's in your list of favourites?


  1. I'm rubbish. Horror films (even the ones with actual plastic scenery and terrible acting) frighten me, so the only one of these I've seen is The Shining, and I found the book scarier. So scary, in fact, that I couldn't finish it, and had to leave it outside my room at night in case I woke up and its very presence terrified me... I found Beeteljuice scary, that's how bad I am.

    1. Oh, Jane! You're missing out! I read The Shining recently, and it wasn't as great as I was expecting. I'm still not sure why... I think Kubick really smartens it up...

  2. 10. Baron Blood, a Mario Bava film in which Elke Sommer is chased about an Austrian castle by a belt-buckle hat-wearin' disfigured Puritan wizard who turns out to be Joseph Cotten!
    9. An American Werewolf in London (Brian Glover!)
    8. Pieces (A 1982 Spanish slasher-knock-off with a unique sense/lack of logic and an ending that makes no sense whatsoever)
    7. Quatermass and the pit (a classic)
    6. Theatre of Blood (the other Price kill-fests are good, but this has pie, Milo, Sykes and Mainwaring beheaded while Marple looks in shock)
    5. Piranha (Joe Dante and John Sayles lift a Jaws knock-off via fun, a Milfy Barbara Steele and blood)
    4. All the Colours of the Dark (mad giallo set in London, that is both classy and bonkers)
    3. Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (blimey, Cush looks lost as kung fu fights go on and on and on...)
    2. The Medusa Touch (clever, intelligent, star quality, and the most ITV film of all time, thanks to Jack Gold's direction, the ATV end-logo, the ITN cameras, Honeycombe, and other ITV stars such as Gordon Jackson, Jeremy Brett, Derek Jacobi, Jim Hazeldine, etc...)
    1. Horror Express (they're Spaniards, but a lot did appear in Italian horror including Jorge 'elderly count sugar-daddy' Rigaud who is in 4, and there's the music, the alien, the old lady who looks like Edward G. Robinson in drag)

    1. Great list, George. Some of them i'll have to look up. Glad you like Horror Express so much!

  3. Hmm. I’d say:

    Dark Water
    Ring (as above)
    Dead of Night
    Maybe Dracula’s Daughter or Bride of Frankenstein, haven’t rewatched for years
    Night of the Demon
    The Haunting
    Nosferatu actually
    The Wicker Man
    Don’t Look Now
    The Witches (Dahl / Roeg)

    And perhaps a special mention for
    Little Otik
    which freaked me out so quickly I had to turn it off and send it back to Mr Lovefilm

    Doing this makes me realise how many horror films I watched between 1999 and 2003, and how few I’ve seen since...

    1. Those are very scary films, Nick - much scarier than i expected you to chose. (is there really a film called 'Nosferatu, Actually' ...?
      Little Otik was something i couldn't sit through much of either! it freaked me out, too!

    2. Silent romantic comedy vampires, Colin Firth in a bald wig and stick-on fingernails...

      Yes, some of them are rather scary. You never knew me before I went fey, did you?

    3. I suspect the big dip in Nick's frequency graph after 2003 is partly down to me... I am usually too much of a wuss to watch anything gory or psychologically scary. But I am still looking forward to the initiation (Horror Express) at the weekend. I also fancy Children of the Stones, which we might have started that night in Levenshulme...

    4. i shall add 'Children of the Stones' to the weekend's pile! Really looking forward to it.

  4. 10. The Thing
    9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
    8. Halloween
    7. Don't Look Now
    6. Suspiria
    5. A Chinese Ghost Story
    4. Tetsuo: The Iron Man
    3. Alien
    2. Evil Dead 2
    1. The Shining

    This is the order in which they spilled out of my head.



    1. oh! Don't Look Now! i've missed that out. Suspiria was too creepy for me...


Post a comment