I had some correspondence recently, with the worthy James Curnow, (curnblog.com) on this very subject. What is Horror to some, is comedy to others, and some even regard Science Fiction films as Horror; perhaps ‘The Thing’, or ‘Alien’ are good examples of that. After dwelling on this for a few weeks, I have decided on my five suggestions in this genre. As usual, I have tried to avoid the obvious, so there is no ‘Exorcist’, and nothing from Hammer Films, or the silent classics. Not that they are bad, just far too well known. I have tried to choose five very different examples, and I hope to explain that they are representative of their type.
The Night of The Living Dead. This choice is the original film from George A. Romero, made in black and white, in 1968. There have been many remakes since, including a whole series by Romero himself, as well as too many other Zombie films to list here. The latest films have the benefit of all the advances in technology over the last 45 years, and many have taken the representation of gore on screen to new stomach-churning heights. However, it is hard to imagine the impact that this film had at the time, unless, like me, you were around then. The small group of people, trapped in an isolated farmhouse, surrounded by the flesh-eating living dead, was a terrifying new idea then, and had us all rooted to the spot with fear. The group in this film have to try to survive through the night in question, with tensions among them running high, and panic setting in. A noticeably low budget, together with a cast of unknowns, gave this an almost documentary feel, and that just added to the terror. It is a tribute to this early production, that it still retains its sense of menace, almost fifty years later. Here is the original film in its entirety, now in HD.
Stigmata. The religious theme in some horror films, has occurred ever since they were first made. They are all essentially ‘good versus evil’, in one way, or another. Having a character who is a priest, a monk, or a member of some religious order, is commonplace. This film, made in 1999, has a modern take on this theme, and in this respect, recalls some elements from ‘The Omen’, made over 20 years earlier, in 1976. The central performance from Patricia Arquette is praiseworthy, both for the demands of the script, and the physical aspects too. Gabriel Byrne plays the agent of the Vatican, a priest whose job is to discredit false miracles. When Arquette’s character begins to suffer the wounds of Christ, visited upon her body in all sorts of venues, from her workplace in a hairdressers, to a subway train, he arrives to investigate, and ends up staying to help. You won’t see this film high on the list of many critics, and I really don’t know why. It is well constructed, well-acted, and grips from start to finish. In my humble opinion, you can’t ask a lot more than that. Here is the cinema trailer.
Hellraiser. Based on his own book, and directed by him also, Clive Barker’s fantasy horror from 1987, ticks every box from jump to gore, and then some. The lead character has been toying with a devilish box, and his body has been torn away, and taken by the Cenobites, into the land of the demons. This leaves him trapped, as a terrible half man-half beast, and he must get others to kill for him, to use the flesh of the victims to re-build his form. This story is complex, and feels it. This is part of a trilogy, and therefore does not result in a complete film. Despite this, the characters, especially the demons, and their amazing leader Pinhead, will stay in your mind always. Incredible ideas, and effects that will have you looking away, or shading your eyes; all in all, a tremendous contribution to Horror in film. Here is the whole film, in very good quality, sourced from You Tube.
The Mist. A Horror film where the fear is generated by a monster, or many monsters, is another well-used theme. We can all recall one, or indeed many, where this has been used to good effect. From ‘Them’, a 1954 film about giant mutated ants, to ‘Cloverfield’ , in 2008, when New York is devastated by a giant reptile, this has proved to be an enduring, and popular theme. I will concede, in advance of criticism, that this does blur the boundary between Science Fiction and Horror, though I will assert, in this instance, that Horror is the main theme here. In 2007, Frank Darabont adapted this Stephen King story, and directed the resulting film. We are essentially back in George A. Romero territory once more, as a disparate group, this time stranded in a large supermarket during a power cut, find themselves having to survive against an attack from a swarm of monsters. But these are no ordinary monsters, they are from another dimension, and have appeared as a result of the military tampering with time itself. This film is just brilliant. Not only are the monsters different, and really terrifying, the plot twist at the end of the film is also just so good, that I dare not reveal it here. The group of survivors are all different, no surprises there, but their interaction feels genuine, and the sense of panic and desperation has an authentic ring. If you have a penchant for this sort of film, and you have never seen this one, you will be blown away by the invention. The trailer follows.
Martyrs. On this occasion, I have left the best until last. Be warned though, if you watch this, it takes some endurance. I own the DVD, yet I have only watched it once, and I am not sure if I will ever see it again. This film is French, from 2008, and is not of any typical Horror genre; but it is truly horrific. It includes abuse, revenge, torture, and murder, but is not about any of those alone. Visually, it is magnificent, though also distressing, and at times, very hard to watch. Trying to explain the story does not do it justice, but I will attempt to give a flavour. The film flashes back to events fifteen years earlier, and deals with two young women trying to get revenge on their abusers and torturers. They believe they have done this, after exacting such revenge on a seemingly normal family. But that is only the beginning, and they find that a sinister organisation exits, at the root of it all, so they must do their best to get to the heart of it, and try to bring it down. I have never forgotten this film, and can recall scenes from it, at will. The lead performances are simply riveting, and nothing is spared the viewer. If you think you have seen it all, think again. This trailer is official, and gives little idea of what to expect!
There you have it. Zombies, Religion, Fantasy, Monsters, and something very different. Turn out the lights, settle down with something to grip onto, and frighten yourself silly.