Top Ten Horror Films
by Dennis Campbell
Playing off the idea of previous, ‘Best Of’ lists, I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at some of the best films to watch this Halloween. While writing this list I tried to stay away from the classic Horror films such as the Exorcist, Halloween or Suspiria, though I do highly recommend you look into those. Despite these films not being as well received as those three I mentioned, I stand by them as terrific examples of how to scare someone with film. So, without further delay here is the top ten Horror films you should watch this Halloween.
10.) The Houses that October Built (2014)
Starting off our list is the 2014 surprise hit about a band of filmmakers looking for the ultimate haunt. The film follows a group of friends, Brandy (Schaefer), Zack (Andrews), Jeff (Larson) and Bobby (Roe) as they go across the country looking into the best haunted houses. Along the way they interview the crews of the houses and learn that some of them have sinister means of scaring people, such as using actual corpses for props or utilizing criminals as actors. As they interview each person the same name keeps being brought up regarding the scariest house, ‘Blue Skeleton.’ This mysterious group travels to an unknown location every year, and reportedly uses real torture to scare people. Jeff grows tired of the haunted houses and demands they search for the Blue Skeleton. One of the reasons this film is so good is that it toes the line between reality and fiction. Almost all the houses that they go to are real and the people being interviewed thought this was a documentary. When it does come time for the scares to happen it feels more real because of this. The acting is spot on and for a Found Footage film the camerawork isn’t too shaky. Altogether it is a solid film to start off any Halloween list.
9.) Oculus (2013)
Lack of control is a theme that will be explored several times on this list, but the first entry to touch on this topic is Oculus. Karen Gillian stars as Kaylie Russell alongside Brenton Thwaites who plays her brother, Tim. The two of them are intertwined in a story that goes back a full decade. When the two of them were both eleven Tim murdered his parents, placing the blame in a supernatural mirror that he claims controls anyone who looks at it. Most of the film takes place after he is discharged from a mental facility. By this point he no longer believes the mirror convinced him to kill his parents, but Kaylie feels differently. In fact, she managed to track down this mirror and plans on proving its supernatural powers before destroying it. The rest of the film cuts back and forth from present day to the murder scene eleven years ago. It is a terrific Psychological Thriller that does everything in its power to make you question what you’re seeing. At times the film does find itself being bogged down in medical terminology, trying its best to make the case that it is Kaylie who should have been committed. Through its inventive concept and brilliant acting, Oculus shines as a great Horror film.
8.) Maggie (2015)
Nathanial Hawthorne once said that the only thing worth writing about is the conflict within the human heart. I feel that belief is at the core of our next film on the list, Maggie. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Wade, the father of our main character Maggie (Abigail Breslin), a teenager who was recently bitten by a zombie and is told she has eight weeks before she becomes fully undead. The story picks up two weeks into this countdown and follows Maggie every step of the way. It is gut wrenching seeing her slowly morph into a zombie, and the anguish can be seen on her fathers face as well. The worst of it comes when she can no longer control her newfound zombie tendencies and scares even herself. Every year when it comes to unproduced Horror films, the best scripts are judged. Those that are the best are put on ‘the Blood List.’ Prior to being made, Maggie was the winner of the 2013 Blood List, and it is very apparent why. Schwarzenegger was so impressed by the script that he agreed to work for free. Of all the films on this list, Maggie is by far the grimmest and depressing. However, it still deserves a spot on this top ten list.
7.) The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
Going back to the Psychological Thriller genre, the Blackcoat’s Daughter is an absolute rollercoaster that leaves you speechless at the end. The film is about Kat (Kiernan Shipka), a freshman at Bramford Academy, a Catholic school in New York. Early in the film it is shown that she is under the control of a demonic spirit, one that convinces her to commit several murders. While that in of itself would make an interesting film, the Blackcoat’s Daughter does not stop there and pushes the envelope repeatedly. Much like Oculus this film is told in a non-linear fashion, while most films fall apart with this style, the Blackcoat’s Daughter seems to thrive on it. The feeling of isolation is strong in this one, and the idea of being alone and not in control of anything is one of the scariest situations that film can provide, and this film provides some of the darkest chills on this list.
6.) The Ring (2002)
It is very rare that remakes make it high on any positive list, and it is even rarer when another country tries to replicate a genre central to another. Despite this hurdle, the Ring offers us one of the more engaging mysteries this side of the Pacific has to offer. Concerning a reporter by the name of Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her quest to investigate a mysterious death that occurred just a few weeks ago. The murder seems to revolve around a cryptic videotape. Once someone has seen the tape, which consists of random images such as a tree, a barn and bugs, their telephone will ring and a voice will tell them they have seven days to live. Rachel views the tape, as does her son. What plays out is a day by day breakdown of Rachel trying to solve the mystery, and keep both herself and her son from dying. When it comes to the quality of the film, I would go as far as saying that it is actually better than the original Japanese film Ringu. The acting is incredible and while the green tint of everything can throw you off at times, this is a film that when its moments hit, is truly terrifying.
5.) Saw (2004)
This might be hard to believe, but there was a time when the Saw franchise was not focused around gore and relied more on building a suspenseful atmosphere than providing shocking imagery. We must go all the way back to the first entry for that to be the case, but I do want to stress that the initial Saw movie is quite unlike the remaining films in the series. Taking place primarily in one room, the film follows Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) as they attempt to survive a ‘trap’ by the notorious killer, Jigsaw. The movie offers them a way out from the very beginning. Both men are chained to a pipe, and they are given a hacksaw. As Dr. Gordon correctly points out the intent is to saw through their feet. While they race against the clock to find a way out of the room that doesn’t involve mutilation Detective David Tapp (Danny Glover) heads an investigation to uncover who the Jigsaw killer is. These two stories unfold together in real time and it is genuinely enticing seeing how close the detectives are from solving the case, while also seeing the desperation in Dr. Gordon and Adam. For better or worse this was a film that changed the landscape of the Horror genre for well over a decade, it should be viewed on that merit alone.
4.) Sinister (2012)
This is a movie that I began recommending the moment I left the theater seven years ago. Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswald, a True Crime writer who has hit a career roadblock after publishing a very successful novel. In order to get his creative juices flowing again, he decides it is a good idea to move into the house where a well-publicized, unsolved, quadruple murder kidnapping took place. As he researches the case he uncovers darker and darker secrets, ranging from Snuff films to Demonology. Supernatural elements begin to come into play, and Oswald soon has to decide whether revitalizing his career is worth his family’s safety. Out of all the films I’ve listed to this point, Sinister has by far the best acting. What is great is that you do not just get the reliable performance out of Hawke, but also Juliet Rylance shines as his wife, Tracy. The atmosphere in the film is brooding all throughout and you are rarely given a chance to breathe. What helps this movie stand out from the rest of the pack is that it is equally a Mystery/Crime film that the viewer tries to solve. This keeps us engaged even through the slower parts, and when it all comes together the ending is just that much more satisfying.
3.) REC (2007)
Moving back to the Found Footage genre we see a survival film that takes place inside a quarantined apartment complex. It is similar to the Houses that October Built in that the characters are creating a documentary. While filming at a fire station a call comes through about an old woman trapped in her apartment who is screaming. When they try helping the woman, she acts aggressively and bites the neck of one of the firemen. As it turns out the apartment complex has several people who are infected with a virus similar to Rabies. We follow two people, Reporter, Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso) as they try to survive the night. Being a Found Footage film is necessary for this story to take place, but the level of shakiness can be bothersome at times. Where the film is frustrating in that respect it more than makes up for it with atmosphere and imagery. Especially when the camera switches to night vision you will be on the edge of your seat. The acting in the film is par for the course in a Horror film, no one is too over the top and at times Manuela shows why she was perfect for the role. Rather than the terror being something supernatural this time, we have a very real and plausible threat that is not expanded to the point of unbelievability. The likeability of the characters is what cements this film so high on the list, you want them to survive and with every failed attempt at escape you feel their despair.
2.) The Descent (2005)
When it came to writing this list I wanted to save the very best for movies that really got a response out of me. While Sinister has its jump scares and Saw is a tension filled roller coaster, the following two movies provoked genuine terror and sadness from me. The first of these two films is, The Descent. The film is about a group of six friends who go on a spelunking trip. The main focus of the film is Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), who just one year ago survived a car crash that claimed the lives of her husband and daughter. The trip is meant to be a reunion of sorts between friends and when they enter the cave, everything seems to be fine. However, after a collapse near the entrance the leader of the group Juno (Natalie Mendoza) admits that they have entered an unexplored cave and that rescue is unlikely. As they press on though, they find evidence of prior expeditions, leaving the group to wonder why the cave remained unclaimed. Deeper into the cave they come across humanoid creatures that attempt to drag off and kill each one. What remains is a fight to survive and escape. The acting in the film is top notch and given the claustrophobic setting, it is easy to get chills even when the group is standing still. This is by far the most intense film on the list and convinced me to never seek out caves.
1.) Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Taking place over the course of three days, Drag Me to Hell is the story of Loan Officer, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) and the fight for her soul. After rejecting an old woman’s request for an extension on her mortgage, a curse is placed on Christine. She will be tormented by a dark spirit for three days, and on the final day she will be dragged to Hell. This movie does not waste any time in trying to scare the viewer. Almost immediately after the woman places the curse on Christine, dark and mysterious things begin happening to her. She hallucinates, furniture is thrown around her house and she is driven to the brink of insanity. The lengths she goes to undo the curse are frightening and will strike a chord with any viewer. The fear experienced in this film is not so much because of what is on screen, but because of the emotional ordeal the main character is going through. This was the film that evoked that feeling of complete and utter despair. The movie does such a good job connecting you with the main character that you feel every emotion she does. While all ten films would make a good inclusion on a Halloween movie binge, Drag Me to Hell is where the conversation should begin and end.
Until next time.
Dennis Campbell is a Circulation Clerk at the Willowick Library.