There is nothing on this earth quite as spectacular as a good film list, am I right? Okay, yes, the artform (and trust me, IT IS) has been played out, beaten within an inch of its life and ultimately done to death more times over than I could possibly think of – but for me, I rarely grow tired of it. For me, there is nothing more fulfilling than promoting something that doesn’t receive press elsewhere and turning people on to knowledge of something I happen to really dig. I am of course as guilty, if not more-so, than anyone else of perpetuating movie lists. Film lists work so well because it does something for everyone who reads them. Note that I am talking about well written “lists” and not exclusively mine, I’m not that pompous to think that the following list is going to change lives. Lists are great because they help out both the uninitiated, like those of you who haven’t dealt a whole lot with Italian or Japanese cinema, as my following list is going to reflect a lot of my foreign influences and for those of us who are familiar with the items being discussed, it is often interesting to find out the opinions of others on something we can all reflect on together. Film lists are also great because they give people the opportunity to send in hate mail, which I sadly have not had the opportunity to experience. Maybe a slightly controversial film list will do the trick and get a few insane horror fans sending me their poetics words of disgust. I think to truly succeed though I’d have to slaughter a cow, burn a tree and vote Republicans (all things I have done and enjoyed) to really get a spurt of hatred from my audience… but, oh well, I guess I’ll take the ignoring of the masses as a deep-seeded hatred just waiting to escape and some day destroy me. So, with that, I’ll start up a fairly random list. Any one of these films would be perfectly reasonable to list at the top of any horror geek’s favorite film of all time list, but this article isn’t for you guys – go google search strangulation porn or whatever it is people other than myself do (okay, I do that too…), this article is for those of you who have yet to see every horror film ever released… in other words; the noobs. Films listed in level of importance that the n00bz of the world should see.
10. City of the Living Dead – Okay, so the ending doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s a film with no real conclusion, but up until those final moments City of the Living Dead was heading down the path of a true masterpiece. It is indeed a shame that whatever happened to the original ending did happen (some say a foreign substance was spilled on the film negative) – but even with the obscure finale, Fulci put in some of his best work here. Amazing atmosphere, beautifully shot, gore scenes far more inventive than just about anyone else and a plot that moves along at a brisk pace. What can you say though, every came to see the drill through the neck and the girl literally vomit up her intestines. Those scenes trump all, and yeah, that’d be the biggest reason to see the flick. I know, I’m cheap.
9. House on the Edge of the Park – I personally just want more and more people to see this one. The man who brought you Cannibal Holocaust shows a very different form of inhumanity, in an urban setting. House on the Edge of the Park is one of the greatest “home invasion” type flicks you will likely ever see. It isn’t constant gore from the get-go, but far more psychologically damaging than any slasher on the market. Featuring some brutal and realistic mental torture from David Hess, who essentially plays the same type of character as he did in Last House on the Left but with a slightly more down to earth take. It’s the gritty realism and brutality of the Hess character that sells the film. It is without a doubt one of the best pieces of Italian exploitation made during its era.
8. A Blade in the Dark – If House on the Edge of the Park is one of the greatest pieces of pure exploitation and sleaze to come from Europe, Blade in the Dark is one of the most underrated and amazing Giallo/slashers to come out of Italy in that same era. Competing against Dario Argento is by no means an easy thing to do, but with this film, I think Lamberto Bava did just that. A tightly crafted and beautifully executed tale of crime and mystery taking place in a rich villa setting. Like many filmmakers from that time attempted, Bava created something that was uniquely beautiful with his camera-work – and also a film that was graphic and disturbing in its excessively brutal death scenes.
7. In the Mouth of Madness – Not only one of John Carpenter’s most underrated films, it is just all around one of the most underrated horror flicks of our time. I rented it on a whim long ago when I was first discovering John Carpenter and his early works like Assault on Precinct 13, from the get-go there is no way I could have expected the lunacy and horro that ITMOM had in store for me. Like an H.P. Lovecraft story come to life in the modern age, Carpenter twists and turns logic completely around for the audience until they are questioning their own sanity much like the lead characters in this story. Highly recommended for those looking for something to put the horror back into their favorite genre.
6. Tenebre – Tenebre is the type of flick I usually point people to for them to test the waters of both Italian horror in general, or the filmmaking style of Dario Argento. Argento’s films aren’t for everybody, and granted Tenebre isn’t as completely surreal a film as something like Suspiria, but it features the same beautiful cinematography mixed with the graphic bloodshed he is well known. I also think it is one of his most compact and tightly knit stories to boot. Even if you check out Suspiria and find it isn’t your cup of tea, I recommend everyone go out and search for Tenebre immediately.
5. Audition – Everyone knows that I am a pretty hardcore Takashi Miike fan. Some might ask why exactly Audition is the only film of his I’ve added to the list, and the answer is simple really: it’s one of his only really serious attempts at the horror genre – and half the film isn’t even “horror”, but more of a set-up for a romantic comedy of sorts. It is only in the second half of the film that the tension and bone chilling horror really begins to catch up with the audience. Every other horror film I’ve seen from Miike has either been fairly by-the-numbers for his level of output, or something so far and away from the genre that it is almost parody or comedy. Audition stands heads and shoulders above the competition however when it comes to expertly executed tense psychological horrors.
4. Cannibal Holocaust – Without a doubt, one of the most horrifying films of all time and slowly beginning to get the recognition it has long deserved, Cannibal Holocaust is everything you have heard it was – and them some. Yes, real animals are slaughtered during the course of the film. Yes, the death scenes are often dramatic and shot in a realistic manner. Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most important films in horror history – and it’s not even something most horror fans will see and for a lot of them – something they don’t even want to see. That is completely understandable, because the violence to animals is absolutely deplorable, but if you can actually withstand all of this and watch the film for a gut-wrench cinematic experience – it delivers on all levels.
3. Suspiria – Do I really have to say much about Dario Argento’s undisputed masterwork? I guess I will since I’m writing about everything else – but Suspiria is one of those films I didn’t really “get” the first time I watched it, and to this day the whole premise of the film I’m not too sure on – but it is the visual beauty that catches me every time and has attracted me even before I considered it one of my favorites. It is probably the most visual horror film I can think of, outside of the work of maybe Alfred Hitchcock, but he never had the chance to really experiment quite as heavily in the colorful world of film that Argento so expertly delves into and crafts into something completely his own. I think Suspiria is one of those films that you can’t rightfully call yourself a horror fan until you have seen it.
2. The Beyond – Ooh, rating a Fulci film above Argento! Blasphemy! This is definitely the one that is going to get me the hate mail I so rightfully deserve. I will however re-enforce that this list means absolutely nothing more than whatever it is I am feeling at this particular moment, but for my money, few films meet the epic feel of Fulci’s The Beyond (it’s a film that takes its’ viewers beyond hell, deep into the wily lands of Louisiana) and still remains as fun and interesting as it so obviously is to me. I am a fan for life and consider it to be one of the greatest horror films of all time and will always have it on any “best of” list I probably ever write. It is the film that made me stand up and really give credit to the Italians and was really the one film that made me want to seek out and find out as much about the horror genre outside of America.
1. Kairo – Talk about coming from out of nowhere! Who saw this one coming? Not you I bet! Nor anyone! Muahaha! No, I am not purposefully trying to get hate mail. I really do believe Kairo is one of the most innovative, scariest and amazing horror films produced in the last decade. This list isn’t really a “greatest of all time” sort of thing, so don’t take it that way, but Kairo has impressed me as a viewer far more than any horror film I’ve seen since The Excorcist. Now that the remake has been released, and it apparently absolutely sucked, I am getting a lot of flak these days from people who simply do not understand where the film is coming from and instantly discredit it completely. Kairo isn’t simply a “scare” flick, it is one piece in a larger group of things, it is Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s attempt at showing alienation via technology and if you don’t know this director – I sincerely beg you to read more on him, and seek his films out! He is one of the most important filmmakers working right at this moment and I think Kairo so far is crowning achievement. Right alongside Cure. It is a film that showcases that you don’t have to show a whole lot to make a terrifying film, as a matter of fact, the less you show – the scarier it makes the movie! I really hope more people can get a chance to see the film now that the remake has come and gone, and I hope more people can keep an open mind and not judge the film as something an American product was made out of – but an artistic film from a man who could be considered alongside David Lynch and David Cronenberg for making absolutely amazing visual and novel films.
Need I say more? It is a controversial choice, but one not without merit. I highly recommend every film on here listed and think if you are missing any of them from your collection, that you are missing out on a whole lot. These are the best of the best, some are heavily obscure, some are not so much – but these are all must-see films and I recommend each and every one of you go out and pick up anything you haven’t seen.
— Joshua Samford