The Ten Greatest Horror Films Of All Time
Guest post by Jamie Naqvi
The Ghost Diaries is always in search of opinionated writers willing to definitively state the way things are. Few tasks could be harder for an inspired cineaste and horror fan than to narrow down the entire genre down to just 10 films, but writer/filmmaker Jamie Naqvi has done so. Without further ado, here are the top 10 greatest horror films of all time (in alphabetical order, of course):
ERASERHEAD (DAVID LYNCH, 1977)
The film that made me want to make films (I make films, by the way.) When I first saw it at the age of twelve, I didn’t understand it, but it left me deeply disturbed. When I watched it fifteen years later, I still didn’t understand it, but found it oddly humorous, and, in a strange way, rather cathartic. Either way, it need be experienced at least once. What I find most inspiring is not only the film itself, but the manner in which it was made. A labor of love, it was apparently pieced together over a period of about six years on a budget of roughly $10,000 (this was long before digital) and is arguably one of the best (and strangest) debut features of the last, I don’t know, fifty years.
THE EXORCIST (WILLIAM FRIEDKIN, 1973)
As terrifying now as it was when I first saw it thirty years ago, it has certainly aged well. The pre-CGI effects make the film grittier, more (dare I say) realistic than much of today’s horror film fare. Apparently, Friedkin was a bit of a tyrannical asshole on set, shooting off guns, slapping people in the face, etc. And as much as I disapprove of such antics, it certainly paid off here. Imagine seeing this as a ten year old. Funny enough, what I found most unsettling at the time was the scene of Linda Blair peeing on the floor.
HOUR OF THE WOLF (INGMAR BERGMAN, 1968)
Perhaps a tad “artsy-fartsy” for the traditional horror-film crowd, Bergman’s Vargtimmen is, nonetheless, one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen. An amalgam of gothic horror, psychological thriller, and art-house drama, it tells the story of an artist (Max von Sydow) stricken with guilt over an incident from his past (which we don’t learn about until later in the film via a nightmarishly surreal flashback.) Or maybe the demons that he (and his wife, Alma) experience are not merely imagined figments. Regardless, the film ranks among David Lynch’s favorites, so you know it’s got to be strange.
JACOB’S LADDER (ADRIAN LYNE, 1990)
I’m tempted to call this my “guilty pleasure” merely due to the fact that the director is the same guy who made Flashdance and Indecent Proposal, but if any horror film is worthy of serious consideration, it’s this one. Part psychological horror movie, part political thriller, the film stars Tim Robbins as a Vietnam veteran/postal worker haunted by demons (literally) from his past (or is it his present?) With some of the most nightmarish imagery I’ve witnessed in my thirty-some-odd-years of movie viewing, it’s also quite the politically charged film, so, in addition to scaring the living shit of its audience, it actually does what many a horror film wouldn’t dare do: offer some food for thought.
KAIRO (KIYOSHI KUROSAWA, 2001)
Also known as Pulse, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo is a frightening, thought provoking meditation on loneliness, alienation, and technology (which seems to be the cause of the loneliness and alienation) wrapped up in the guise of a ghost story. Though grouped in with the “J-Horror” genre, this isn’t Audition. No blood, needles, or vomit-eating here, just an insane level of creepiness. My only real issue with the film is the rather cheesy, sentimental pop music at the end (though perhaps the kitsch factor was intentional, or, at the very least, intended as an ironic counterpoint.
NOSFERATU (F.W. MURNAU, 1922)
I’ve listed both versions of the film in my list: Murnau’s 1922 classic and Werner Herzog’s 1979 “remake.” Murnau’s brilliant German Expressionist film has been called “the scariest film of all time”, and for good reason. The film’s off-kilter imagery recalls The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (released just a few years prior) and Ernst Kirchner’s Berlin street paintings, with a terrifying combination of bold shadows and exaggerated forms. As has been mentioned in countless reviews of the film over the years, Murnau’s vampire is no handsome seducer (e.g. Robert Pattinson, Tom Cruise) but, rather, a horrifying, rat-faced monstrosity, brilliantly depicted by actor Max Schreck. It has also been said that the film stands as a sort of allegory for the political climate of Germany at the time, or even as a prediction of what was to come. Whether Murnau intended this or not is unclear, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.
NOSFERATU (WERNER HERZOG, 1979)
Herzog’s “remake” is not really a remake at all, but an entirely different interpretation altogether. I would hesitate even to call it a horror film, at least in the traditional sense. Like the aforementioned Pulse, Herzog’s Nosferatu is a film about loneliness, this time taking the form of a dark, haunting period piece. Herzog’s vampire is not the horrifying vision we witness in 1922, but rather, a sad, awkward, lonely old man who lives in a castle. Instead of fearing him, we end up feeling sorry for him (we “empathize” with him, to coin an overused and overrated film term.) The cinematography, combined with the ethereal musical score (consisting mainly of 70s art rock and Wagner) produces what is possibly the most beautiful horror film ever made (but again, I use the term “horror film” loosely.)
PSYCHO (ALFRED HITCHCOCK, 1960)
THE SHINING (STANLEY KUBRICK, 1981)
The master at work. The same filmmaker who brought us 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon (arguably two of the greatest films of all time) tries his hand at the horror genre with this adaptation of the Stephen King novel. More psychological than ghostly, it was apparently inspired, in part, by two other films on this list (I’ll let you guess which ones.)
Hardcore Shining fans should check out these awesome behind the scenes photos from the set of The Shining…
SUSPIRIA (DARIO ARGENTO, 1977)
What could have easily turned into nothing more than a rather poorly acted B-movie about a dance school run by witches, is saved by the film’s brilliant misc-en-scene. A sort of art-house slasher flick, Suspiria needs to be seen at least once. If you want a pathetically over-simplified reference point, imagine throwing Ingmar Bergman into a blender with Mario Bava and Alfred Hitchcock. With its ridiculously saturated colors, completely over-the-top musical score, and insanely dreamlike atmosphere, Argento’s horror masterpiece has earned a sort of cult following (and not just among horror fans.) There’s even a bar in Japan modeled after it.
Author’s Note: On any other day of the week, this list might have been different (though not by much.)