Saturday, April 9, 2011
H is for Horror
"Zombies by their very nature are inconsistent," whines Steve Coogan's embarrassing creation Alan Partridge as he has a "pop at the undead" in the lobby of a travel motel.
But horror films are more about cringing in fear than laughing and they loom large through my childhood ever since I hid behind the sofa as the sight of makeshift monsters such as the cybermen in Dr Who.
We've been fascinated with horror ever since silent shorts created by film pioneers such as Georges Méliès in the late 1890s, the most notable being his 1896 Le Manoir du diable (aka "The House of the Devil"), followed by classics such as the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
And let's face it, who hasn't at some time or another stumbled around the living room with a contorted face mumbling: "The bells, the bells."
Universal Pictures made the horror film popular in the 1930s with films such as Dracula and Frankenstein and the rest is horror history.
Although I used to be a fan of horror films as a teenager my interest waned as it became clear a three hours fest of gratuitous gore can become very dull. Today I have little time for slasher movies such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street or anything involving Chucky, a diminutive doll with a seriously bad attitude.
To work for me horror movies need to have atmosphere, a smattering of subtlety and suspense. A plot that goes beyond a psycho with a large knife and bad teeth helps as well.
Here's 10 of the best in no particular order.
1 - The Curse of Frankenstein - It's hard to go wrong with Mary Shelley's classic plot and this 1957 film was groundbreaking in the development of the Hammer Horror brand and the careers of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
2 - The Birds - this 1967 Alfred Hitchcock movie was pioneering for its time, foreshadowing later Hollywood epics.
3 - The Exorcist - the hair raising 1973 classic was banned from British TV for many years, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps children would want to emulate it my making their heads do a 360. Won 10 Academy Award nominations.
4 - Carrie - this 1976 film was one of the first screen adaptions of a Stephen King novel and an object lesson on how not to pick a prom date.
5 - Jaws - Steven Spielberg announced his arrival with a bloody splash and a grinding of sharp teeth in this 1975 blockbuster. Although not in the classic horror genre, the director's use of suspense make Jaws a classic.
6 - Alien - Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt) feels more than a little discomfort when he gets a tummy ache. The rest is movie history in a film that announced the arrival of Sigourney Weaver.
7 - The Shining - Another film based on a Stephen King novel, the Shining is a powerful psychological piece directed by Stanley Kubrick. Jack Nicholson stole the show and the line "Here's Johnny!" was voted as the #68 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
8 - Bram Stoker's Dracula - For me this 1992 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola has all the ingredients of a classic horror tale, fear in a bleak castle as well as love and passion and it's beautifully filmed.
9 - Arachnophobia - this comedy horror film might not make many people's top 10s but my fear of spiders ensures I'll end up clutching the side of the sofa whenever it comes on.
10 - The Blair Witch Project - the 1999 film pieced together pieces of amateur footage and was a surprise hit. I went to see it and, although I wasn't entirely convinced, I found it eerie and unusual enough to include in this list.