One of my two favourite film genres of all time is horror, and whether you love it or hate it you cannot deny the impact that horror films have had in film history. Some of the best directors of all time have been horror directors, and horror has majorly evolved from the start of the 20th-century to now. We are also in the midst of a new renaissance of horror thanks to directors such as Jordan Peele and Ari Aster. As it is the month of October and everyone is getting ready for Halloween, it only seemed fitting to make this month’s version of The Ultimate Choice focus on the horror genre. Take a read of me and my fellow film blogger’s picks below.
Chosen by Amy Smith (me)
I have already written a full review of this film over at Filmotomy, but I was lucky enough to actually study the horror genre in a media class at school. This was the moment when I knew I wanted to watch and analyse films for a living, and it was thanks to the love of this particular film: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. To me, it is one of the biggest influences in the horror genre. Whether it is being one of the first films to start the slasher trend which would popularise in the 1980s, to the iconic shower scene, many films have taken homage to this classic.
What makes this film work so well is the villain, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). To me, Anthony Perkins’ role as Bates is the best-acted performance of all time. It is such a complex role with so many layers to break down, and yet you always get a somewhat creepy and unsettling vibe from Bates. Even without seeing his mother on screen due to her death, you realise the emotional abuse he went through to turn into the monster that he became.
This film does not fit into one type of horror film, which I appreciate. It is a thriller, as you have no idea what is happening and when Bates will strike again. It deals with the mental illness of an abused son, so it talks about the psychological aspects. As I mentioned before, it is one of the first films to start the slasher horror trend. This film has so many aspects of horror in it, and yet it feels balanced between them all. These are just only a few reasons why Psycho is not only my favourite horror film but in my top three films of all time.
Narrowing down any genre to a single film is a daunting task. How can one possibly encapsulate all that a particular type of story can be into just one piece of cinema history? When it comes to horror, the criteria — at least to this student of pop culture — are clear.
First, you need a filmmaker who is synonymous with thrills and chills. With horror masters like Wes Craven, George Romero and Tobe Hooper to choose from, you need a director who is in the same league or arguably eclipses their contributions to the genre. Next, you need to ensure that your selected film represents both the low-brow and high-brow aspects of the genre. Horror, after all, can be elegant and polished just as much as it can be grimy and visceral. But it’s the rare film that can pull off both these styles simultaneously. Finally, you’ll want to gauge how much influence your horror film has had on the genre since its release. After all, if it has greatly shaped the evolution of horror — and, therefore, audience expectations — then it by proxy represents the many films that it helped to inspire.
What film does that leave us with? To my mind, the answer has got to be Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hitchcock is known as “the master of suspense” for a reason, and Psycho is his signature work not only because of its legendary production or the director’s meticulous release. The film marks the birth — or, at least, the popularization — of psychological horror and serves as the original slasher film in much the same way. Even now, nearly 60 years after its release, we’re still discussing and analyzing it (as we did on my own podcast). Hitchcock’s classic has weathered three sequels, an ill-conceived shot-for-shot remake and a TV prequel series. Yet, the performances by Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, that piercing Bernard Hermann score and, of course, the flawless direction have kept Psycho’s legacy in check. Perhaps most unforgettable of all is the film’s shocking twist ending, yet another beacon of Psycho’s impact on modern cinema. For all its flourishes, the film’s ultimate power lies in that final reveal: that the most disturbed, dangerous beings out there, the ones we most need to fear often look just like us.
Chosen by Percent Reviews: Blog | Twitter
I generally place horror films into one of three buckets: the internal, the situational, or the apocalyptic. Internal horror movies, like Repulsion or The Innocents, generally revolve around (or in the mind of) one individual and can be very personal. Situational horror usually focuses on a single place or environment, though such stories can often expand outward, such as Night of the Living Dead. The apocalyptic are tales that affect the general population and involve widespread disaster, like Dawn of the Dead, even if they mostly focus on one subset of the population. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse) is the rare horror movie that starts with a story so personal and specific and melancholic that you can easily see yourself mirrored there, but as the story progresses it encompasses more people and more horror until it becomes apocalyptic in scope. A girl visits a friend, casually chatting with him as he fashions a noose and hangs himself. A boy who is practically already a shadow literally becomes one. A computer virus leaches into the real world. Suicide becomes rampant. Lonely people become spirits as spirits become physical. Fear has many flavors, and Kairo lets us taste them all. Bleak metaphysical horror, world-ending hysteria, and the always lovely “g-g-g-ghost!” But the tendrils of loneliness spread throughout: Humans are lonely, the dead are lonely, and all any of them are seeking is something, anything to close the distance between. Unfortunately, their desire ends up spanning worlds and causing mass destruction. In the end, almost as an epilogue, as planes are crashing and our heroes are escaping the collapsing city, we get drawn back into the personal with a coda so heartrending it overpowers the fact that the whole world might be ending. I’m a happier guy than I was when I first saw Kairo, 15 years ago. But the feelings and fears it engenders still immediately wrap me in a cloak of isolation and despair. What more can you ask for in a horror film?
Chosen by Jessica Alexander: Writer on Their League | Twitter
There are, truthfully, very few horror films that capture my attention enough to be considered a favourite. Despite being a fairly passionate fan of the genre, it is still rare for one of these films to make its way into my subconscious the way that May (2002) has. The film may have been Lucky McKee’s directing debut, but what it lacks in the subtleties of a seasoned director, it more than makes up for with uniqueness and spunk. May follows the socially awkward and isolated titular character (Angela Bettis) as she desperately tries to overcome her peculiarities in order to forge bonds with those around her.
The film is not a traditional piece in any sense of the word; In fact, the majority of the film is spent laying the psychological trappings of the final few scenes. However, while many films which choose to take their time building up to the true horror can lose their audience to boredom in the meantime, there is plenty to interest viewers in May long before it invokes true fear. Perhaps what makes this film succeed where others have failed is its lack of trepidation when it comes to empathizing with its characters. Many horror films forget the importance of connecting the audience with characters before revealing their fates. Lucky McKee, by choosing to place all of the truly shocking scenes at the end of the film, instead allows the audience to forge connections with those on the screen for the majority of its runtime.
Above all, May is truly different. Seventeen years after its premiere, it is still difficult for me to identify another film which captures the moods which it invoked in me. While so many other pieces in the genre rely on overtly shocking or disturbing an audience, May instead preys upon our ability for introspection and understanding. Ultimately, it leaves us pondering one important question; who is really at fault when horrible acts are committed, those who commit them? Or those of us stand by and watch while people are groomed for violence, only to appear shocked when they finally commit it?
Chosen by Estelle: Blog | Twitter
Midsommar is my top film of 2019 and is permanently on my list of all-time favorite films, yet I didn’t look up the summary for this film or any of the polarizing reviews but I found myself hypnotised by the effort put into the production by the filmmakers particularly the world-building and the foreshadowings that make the film a goldmine for film fans who enjoy looking for easter eggs.
Like Hereditary, it deals with a family tragedy and grief but the most horrific thing about it is the messy relationship between Dani and Christian, not the Hårga cult dressed all in white (symbolizing purity) yet they are just as horrific in their ancient ways. There’s a nearly 3-hour director’s cut that gives the ending the push as to why it ended the way it did and I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the theatrical version.
Chosen by Stuart Bannerman: Blog | Twitter
That age old question. Whats your favourite movie? I think everyone’s been asked that one and every more than likely have a different answer. This year, Amy Smith from Film From Thought asked me what my favourite horror film is and could I put together a few hundred words about what my choice was. Easily, very easily. I go back to the year 2012, and as I am now, back then I also was an avid listener to podcasts which focused on horror movies. On various shows, I kept hearing whatever host it was going about the same film, talking about how great it was, how unique it was and how wonderful the performances were in the film. So when I was walking through the supermarket one day and saw the film on the shelf, I thought that was a sign of fate that I should see just how great this film was, and it was and still is! Its become not only my favourite horror film but also one of my favourite films.
Written by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee, The Woman tells the story of a country lawyer who captures and then attempts to “civilize” a wild woman who has roamed the coast of the US for decades, living off the land. With this being a horror movie, we know that this mission might not go as smooth as the lawyer plans and so you by the end credits of The Woman, you will have witnessed one of the best and unique films around. In this day and age, it’s difficult to find a unique film and so its a joy and a fantastic experience to witness one when you come across one. From the brilliant direction by Lucky McKee, to the musical tracks and score by Sean Spillane, the film to me is a perfect example of a perfect story, with perfect performances, put together by a fantastic crew, the stars aligned and The Woman is the result.
Pollyanna McIntosh’s performance as the title character is mesmerizing and with her speaking no dialogue, her entire performance is given through body language and facial expressions and it works, oh does it work. We fear her, we sympathize with her, we care for her, yet we know what she is capable of. Pollyanna has done some amazing work in her career however I will always have a soft spot and admiration for her work in The Woman.
The rest of the cast is also at the top of their game however the majority of the cast do play unlikeable characters but they play them so well and stay with you long after the final credit has faded and you wonder what happens to the people who remain. (You can find that answer out in the follow up to The Woman which was released this year entitled Darlin, written and directed by Pollyanna McIntosh. Trust me, when someone asks you what your favourite horror film is. If you havent seen The Woman, seek it out. You might find it will become a title very high on your list.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Chosen by Emma Sewell: Blog | Twitter
My favourite horror films tend to be ones with a comedic leaning, mainly because I’m a big chicken when it comes to watching them. I’m the person who watches during the day in a brightly lit room after having checked all the doors are locked… as such, my favourite would probably have to be Tucker and Dale vs Evil.
When you say “hillbillies”, “cabin in the woords” and “college kids camping” in conjunction with a film plot you’d probably guess the stereotypical scenario, but Tucker and Dale are anything but your stereotypical hillbillies.
Our dynamic duo are heading off to the newly acquired holiday home to make repairs, drink beer and do a bit of fishing. But when they come across a group of college kids, who automatically make assumptions about them because of their looks, the trip takes a horrifying turn for the worse.
I love that this seemingly obvious scenario has been turned on its head. As a horror spoof, it does something that many spoofs aren’t able to, it doesn’t feel like a complete joke, it’s still a good film underneath the humour. The script is funny and drives the story around obvious tropes that have a twist which leaves you looking for the next one with a lingering evil smile on your face.
Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are great leading actors and we’re treated to two main characters that have a lovely little backstory and are quite adorable once you get to know them. The way that both actors manage to handle the script and situations they’re found in is entertaining every time, each moment felt genuine no matter how ridiculous. The other commendable point is that their performances felt new, so often you’ll see a hint of an actor’s previous role, but not here.
It may not be a suspenseful nail-biting thriller or the gory kill fest that some horror movies are but it does bring you the essence of the genre in a fun new way. It’s a film that I’ve been able to introduce to people no matter how they feel about horror films, it’s a bit of a gateway horror. Tucker and Dale vs Evil will always be one of my go-to movies when Halloween comes around, it has all the hallmarks of my favourite B-movie and yet it was made this way intentionally!
Freddy vs. Jason
Chosen by Jardiel Pinto of Pulp Cereal: YouTube | Twitter
Ever since its release, Freddy vs Jason has been the punchline of a joke for most horror fans. It truly was the Batman V Superman of horror fils long before Batman V Superman existed. That is to say that they were both regarded as poorly made/thought out films simply produced to goat a certain crowd into paying to see them, but I disagree. I’ve always seen Freddy vs Jason as something more than that. I’m going to tell you why.
The production design of the film is phenomenal. The opening sequence at Camp Crystal Lake is truly inspiring. The fog rolling in from the hills and the moonlight bleeding through the branches of the trees is breathtaking. The same could be said for Elm Street. It looks stunning during an evening of downpour during its introductory scene. Not to mention that every Freddy dream sequence looks just as great. The amazing production design as accompanied by cinematography that goes above and beyond what you would expect from a movie with the word “versus” in the title. There’s a lot of beautiful cinema movement and a copious amount of perfectly framed overhead shots. Along with the color correction, the film has a very specific style and I dig it.
The story itself isn’t as contrived as a crossover of this nature usually is. Simply put, Freddy is powerless what he isn’t remembered by anyone and can’t harm people in their dreams because of that. He manipulated Jason into murdering some of the residents of Elm Street to remind them of his existence. These murders, of course, shake up the small community that has spent years trying to forget Freddy. Obviously, things come between Freddy and Jason which cause them to become enemies later on in the film. It feels pretty cut and dry to me and never feels far fetched or forced. This film wasn’t looking to win Oscars. Its goal was to be an entertaining entry into the horror genre while giving its audience what it wants. I truly feel like it does what it says on the box. There are moments with horrendous CGI, but it was made in 2003 and is a product of its time. I’ve enjoyed this film from my very first viewing and I hope you will too.
What did you make of our choices? Are you more classic like Psycho, or modern like Midsommar? Let me know what your favourite horror film is down in the comments and make sure to check out everyone who participated in this edition of The Ultimate Choice.