Top 10 Horror Flicks: Staff Picks



The Ring
Submitted by Joss Taylor Olson

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Few films do despair like The Ring. Much of the movie is shot with a blue filter, as if the colors of the chronically overcast Pacific Northwest need to be any more muted. Both the filter and the pitch-perfect score by Hans Zimmer—sometimes plaintive, sometimes oppressive—reflect the story’s atmosphere of constant dread: dread of a seven-day deadline, dread of the past horrors that create it, and dread of what those horrors will look like when they come crawling back through your television.

As is the case with many horror films—particularly psychological horror—the fear of the unknown is more terrifying than anything that can be shown on a screen. But that fear is not limited to the audience’s anticipation of Samara Morgan’s vengeful ghost; the characters themselves are driven to solve the mystery of her murder solely because the alternative is death. Yet Samara’s murder is the result of the unsolved riddle of her disturbing powers. Her short, tragic life begins a cycle of suffering—a ring, if you will—that suggests that some things are best left unknown. The curse would never spread if its victims would simply lay down and die.

The steady pacing lends itself well to the film’s doomed theme. Each clue the protagonists uncover leads seamlessly into the next, and raises questions that beg for answers even as the film’s world warns against them. We are pulled from a young boy’s surreal supernatural experiences to his mother’s insatiable thirst for the truth, told at every step that her quest can end only in disaster, and stubbornly believe the opposite to be true, right up until the horrific climax. Moment after awful moment, the entire second half of The Ring continually tops its own flair for tragedy, each time knowing exactly what to show and what to withhold. It’s appropriate, then, that the film ends with a question, and it’s a testament to the context behind that question that it is scarier than anything that comes before.



The Babadook
Submitted by Alex Driscoll

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Australia is a dark horse when it comes to the horror genre: The Tunnel, Lake Mungo and The Loved Ones are three Australian directorial debuts from the last ten years that are critically acclaimed as well as daring and innovative, but none received anything that came remotely close to a wide release. As a common occurrence, horror films worldwide are unceremoniously panned straight out of the gate. So when one like The Babadook comes along, doesn’t skimp on elegant cinematography, isn’t just out to make a quick buck from a minuscule budget, and successfully reinvents a dry haunted house trope, it’s no wonder that folk from all around the world begin to take notice, and throw awards at it like popcorn at the cinema screen.

The Babadook follows a widow and her son, who has severely disruptive behavioural problems. Even a simple task, such as reading him a bedtime story, becomes an issue when the pop-up storybook he chooses is cursed. The problem is, once you’re aware of the Babadook, there’s no getting away from him, and the longer you deny he exists, the stronger he gets. As new horror creature creations go, he’s fantastically terrifying, and his voice alone is enough to make your Halloween truly bloodcurdling. First, a rumbling sound, then three sharp knocks…

As an exploration of grief The Babadook takes on a task that the majority of horror films, being cheap shots at raking in many multiples of the original budget from teens, rarely do. It’s not just a horror flick, it’s a serious commentary on a solemn, real-life situation. Pile on the conventional but tasteful scares and you’ve got yourself a thrill ride with real depth, especially with its flawless execution. Let it be next on your list.



Shaun of the Dead
Submitted by Joey Chini

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Zombies are an incredibly intriguing concept. In media, series like The Walking Dead, films like 28 Days Later, and games like Resident Evil all take drastically different measures in depicting the human personification of death. Yet every incarnation of the zombie is instantly recognizable as such, and evokes similar themes of coming face to face with morality, literally and figuratively. In the past we’ve mostly received serious works designed to make you think about the real consequences of an outbreak, and pragmatic storytelling depicting how society would actually react. What we haven’t gotten before, is something with the gall to poke fun at it, until the genius comedic minds of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright gave us Shaun of the Dead.

The film provides a unique, yet not unheard of, social commentary illustrating society’s incessant trudge through everyday life, a zombie, mindlessly pressing on through the grind of day to day rubbish. Shown through the lead Shaun and his best friend Ed, who are presented as obviously zombified men: doing the same thing everyday in the same order and ending up at the same pub only to rinse and repeat again tomorrow. Shaun of the Dead certainly is a fun watch, but it still maintains the allure of the horror genre, even if it does have a bit of fun with its tropes and narrative devices.

Shaun of the Dead isn’t your traditional halloween movie. It takes quite a glib approach to the zombie apocalypse film, and serves as a deconstruction of the horror genre. Parody bordering on celebration, Shaun of the Dead is a masterpiece of tension and comedy, presenting the viewer with intensely real situations in such a ridiculous manner that you can’t help crack a giggle. I watch this movie every halloween (and then move on to the rest of the Cornetto Trilogy, but thats another matter entirely) and never regret it.



The Silence of the Lambs
Submitted by Zoe Simmons

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“A census once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Seriously, how could you not love Silence of the Lambs? The 1991 film by director Jonathan Demme is a classic based on the novel by Thomas Harris, perfectly blending the thriller and crime genres. The infamous and deliciously creepy quote above alone should prove the film’s undeniable awesomeness.

It all begins when detective-in-training Clarice Starling seeks the help of the imprisoned, brilliant, psychopathic, and cannibalistic Dr Hannibal Lecter in order to catch an up-and-coming serial killer. Buffalo Bill likes to skin his victims before he kills them, and time is ticking before his latest victim, the daughter of a senator, meets the same dismal fate.

Not only is this film heart-stopping and action-packed, but it addresses issues of the representation of gender and femininity in the film industry. Typically, female characters are secondary to male characters, usually reserved for the damsel in distress role. Clarice takes this stereotype and destroys it. She’s strong, she’s smart, she’s resourceful, and she’s resilient—traits necessary for a lone woman in the male-dominated FBI. She experiences frequent adversity from her male colleagues, who often assert she’s only achieved what she has due to her attractive appearance and sexuality, even going as far as suggesting she’s there to gain information by turning male characters on. Ironically, Dr Lector  is the only person who isn’t judgmental of Clarice’s gender, and treats her as an equal. To her, he’s polite and helpful, which forces the audience to ask “who really is the criminal here?” Obviously, the guy who eats people and ends up escaping from prison wearing someone else’s face isn’t a great person, but we are still forced to ask “Are we as a society really  so inherently sexist?” The answer: yes.

Despite all of this adversity and abuse, it’s Clarice who finds and follows clues no one else can. She suggests ideas no one else can even think of, and  when push comes to shove, it’s Clarice who is at the right place at the right time to save the day through her wit and unique perspective.

Silence of the Lambs also explores the psychological reasons of why people do what they do. Buffalo Bill, for example, is incredibly unhappy with himself, his body, and his sexuality. He longs to transform, and believes that skinning women for a butterfly suit will allow him to change. Hannibal Lecter also has reasons: from an incredibly troubled and horrific upbringing, Lector only kills who he believes is deserving of death. Clarice is desperate to save Catherine to stop the screaming of the lambs set to be slaughtered she was unable to save as an orphaned child. She believes if she can save people, she won’t wake up at night, hearing that haunting sound.

“Well, Clarice. Have the lambs stopped screaming?”



In Fear
Submitted by Ellis Whitehouse

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In Fear demonstrates the raw power of a stripped down psychological thriller, and considering how it was made and shot, the result is a fantastic achievement. Set in the Irish countryside, it follows a newly dating couple travelling to a remote hotel, only to end up getting lost along the windy forest roads, driving around in circles, growing increasingly uneasy as they fear someone is stalking them.

Director Jeremy Lovering wanted to keep the audience in as much doubt as possible as to what was going on, gently revealing small developments that allow the general arc to be pieced together. However, he also wanted to keep his cast in the dark. The two stars of the film, Ian De Caestecker and Alice Englert, were not given a complete script when filming began. They knew they would be getting lost in the woods in their car, but absolutely nothing else. They would drive around for a while and the director would surprise them with new twists along the way.

This means that the actors were generally just as scared as the audience, and the hell they go through is at its most authentic. So, when the pair drives up to find their clothes strewn over the dark, wet road, they are just as confused, shocked, and nerve-wracked as we are. This approach could have easily drawn mixed results, but the paranoia that Lovering conjures works brilliantly – there is nothing like the fear of being completely lost in a remote area as the sun goes down, and the claustrophobia of the dark surroundings from the inside of the care really tighten the knot of anxiety.

When certain revelations eventually come, and things start to progress from scared running around to all out feelings of powerlessness, the film gets even better. Desperation kicks in, fears increase, and it gets a lot more visceral. It never lays anything out on a plate, it tells its story through the visuals and the general sense of paranoia and dread, and as the fears of the actors grow, the cinematic qualities do nothing but improve.

Naturally, even with a minimal script the standard farcical horror film behaviours aren’t entirely absent – walking away from your car in a dark forest with the engine left running is something that no one with a few brain cells would even consider. But the strength of performances, the level of dread and anxiety and its cinematic qualities make In Fear shine as an excellent minimalist horror piece.



Halloween (2007)
Submitted by Pat Fenton

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When it comes to sequels and remakes, the horror genre has a dismal record. While some may call Rob Zombie’s other cinematic works masterpieces, I found The Devil’s Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses to be seriously lacking in many key areas. So when I found out he was remaking Halloween, I said no thank you. That’s a mistake I don’t have to live with thanks to the wonders of home video.

Some stories deserve retelling, especially when the original was made in 1978 in the era of boring and bland slasher flicks. Sorry, “classic” horror fans, but bad fake blood and cutting away from actual violence just don’t do anything for this bloke. If I’m watching a horror movie, I’m paying for HORROR. Rob Zombie’s Halloween delivers on that front in ways the original never could. Right from the beginning of Zombie’s movie, a ten-year-old Michael Myers shows us true horror when he butchers a local boy, along with his whole family, leaving his baby sister and mother alive. We also witness the brutal conditions in his life that helped to create this perfect monster. Then, in the next twenty minutes, we watch this boy lose whatever humanity remained. Locked away in an insane asylum, he finally snaps on a nurse, and butchers her with a knife, and fifteen silent years later, kills all the guards after two rape an inmate in his room.

This origin story has no competition from the original Halloween, in which we get a lame from-the-mask view of his first kill with no context for why the kid is nuts. Within moments it is fifteen years later, and without even knowing anything of Myers, he is somehow out of the loony bin walls and stealing a car. From twelve minutes in it becomes The Babysitter’s Club. Zombie’s rebooted Halloween is masterful bold in creating and following the monster for the first half of the film. While the second half focuses on his now-teenage sister and some may say devolves into standard babysitter nightmare fare, I say you can’t tell the story of Halloween without that stuff. Zombie’s film keeps the viewer disgusted and tense by taking the time to sell the monster for the first half, and it helps keeps the audience entertained while we put up with the dumb teenage girls in the second half. Thankfully, Zombie pays attention to “the rules” and keeps the blood flowing as they show their chests and get laid, which leads to their horrible demises. Also, the dilapidated house in the climax is the best use of an old trope I’ve see in many a full moon.

Unfortunately, Zombie couldn’t keep it alive for his sequel, which was even worse than H20 or whichever awful Halloween sequel you hated the most. Maybe the true curse of Michael Myers is sequels. While many may have dismissed 2007’s Halloween, it is definitely worth revisiting this October. It restores the franchise from the dismal mess the 15 or so sequels left it in while adding new layers to the twisted tale of Michael Myers in a truly horrific fashion.



The Shining
Submitted by Drew D. Carter

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“Here’s Johny!!!” It’s that time of year again! And the movie that made us all believe Jack Nicholson is most likely as crazy in real life as he appears on screen is ready to scare you to the core. While Stephen King and his most loyal fans will say that the movie is a horrible representation of the book, it’s hard to deny that The Shining is a classic.

You’re most likely familiar with the setup: a  family stays at the Overlook Hotel in order to keep up repairs in the off season, and soon find it’s inhabited by tormenting ghosts of a few of its long dead residents. Thanks to Stanley Kubrick,  The Shining has some of the most memorable moments of any horror movie, with scenes like the creepy twin girls at the end of the hallway, the elevators gushing with blood, the father chopping at the door with an axe to kill his horrified wife, the climactic chase through the hedge maze, and the list goes on and on. It’s such a well made movie, along with performances that are both over the top and horrifying at the same time, that it makes for a fun watch no matter how many times it’s viewed.

And if you’re feeling especially brave, you can watch the documentary Room 237 and listen to people’s theories about what The Shining is actually about. While some make good cases , such as the well known conspiracy of Kubrick faking the moon landing and admitting to it subliminally in The Shining, a few theories come way out of left field and you realize the people stating these are genuinely crazy. My personal favorite theories include: the one about a skier on a poster that a lady claims to be a minotaur, a ghost window that doesn’t belong in a certain room (It just can’t be there!!), and that there is a secret message in the movie if you watch it forwards and backwards at the same time. Pretty spooky stuff right?

So whether you’re a long time fan of the The Shining or you’re a first time viewer, this is a must watch for that horror movie marathon you’re planning for the Halloween season. And with some skill, you too could make up a crazy theory of your own.



Evil Dead (2013)
Submitted by Ikaika Shiveley

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Typically, when a horror franchise makes its return to theaters after several decades it’s over saturated with CGI as well as a plot that insults the core fans. Thankfully, 2013’s Evil Dead is the exception as it reunites both creator Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell, who now act as producers for the film. With Fede Alvarez in the director’s chair, fans  initially were worried that the film would be a modern day knock off to the cult classic. However, Alvarez not only showed that he was a hardcore Evil Dead fan, but he created a film that respected the previous three while maintaining an authentic experience for audiences of today.

Similar to the first two films, Evil Dead focuses on a group of friends who travel to a secluded cabin in the woods. Discovering  “the book of the dead” also known as “Naturon Demento,” they unexpectedly summon the demons that inhabit the woods; thus creating a terrifying experience for both the characters and viewers.

On a visual standpoint, the film is one of the most brilliant in the last decade. The cinematography alone is astonishing as the film is filled with sweeping crane shots through the forest and angled peeks around corners, which gives the notion that the characters are being watched. The color is also worthy of praise, as dark overlays contrast flawlessly with the paleness of skin and crimson colored blood.

What really makes the film sell is its predominant use of practical effects. Everything from dismembered arms to a tongue splitting razor blade is only possible with help of realistic props that have since been missing from Hollywood. Though CGI is used within the film, it acts more as a touchup to convey the true terror that is Evil Dead.

As the film pushes the boundaries of what is both morally and physically possible, there are moments that are generally unsettling, and possibly repulsing to those unfamiliar with the series; by which makes the film all the more more frightening. 

As gruesome as the film is, Evil Dead does more than give you nightmares, it is a visual masterpiece that goes down as one of the greats in modern era horror.



Alien
Submitted by Pat Fenton

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Nothing beats a good old-fashioned haunted house story, except one set in space! Alien is not only a great haunted house movie, but also one of my all-time favourite movies. It has the obligatory monster (one of the greatest on film), a mad robot scientist, rooms full of smoke, rooms full of chains and weird equipment, a dinner party that goes horribly wrong, a cat, a damsel in distress, and of course said damsel finds a reason to strip down to her underwear for the final confrontation. Did I mention it’s set in space? It checks all those boxes too: aliens that are totally out of this world, a hostile planet, a giant ship, a mysterious transmission, and a computer that ultimately tries to kill the hero.

Alien is also one of those weird movies that can’t go wrong. There are several cuts available, with the longer ones not overstaying their welcome yet adding awesome new scenes, like when Ripley runs into Dallas cocooned to a wall. At the same time you don’t feel like you’re missing out even if you’re watching a shorter cut.

Legendary director Ridley Scott pulls no punches raising the tension for the ill -fated crew of the Nostromo, including not telling the cast what was going to happen at dinner in order to get authentic reactions. It didn’t have the pacing problems that plagued thrillers of the era, and its special effects were beyond anything done at that point (except Star Wars). So often in old thrillers, a cheesy ill-conceived effect can take you out of the moment. Even the worst shot of the alien in the movie is still chilling thanks to excellent direction.

… Though, we’ll just leave the debate about the CG-alien added in later cuts for another day.



The Cabin in the Woods

Submitted by Sam Henry Miller 

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Joss Whedon is, in the worst possible way, a by-the-book screenwriter. When it comes to form and formula, he boasts virtuosity—a venerable master of the ‘skeleton’ of visual narrative. However, to this same degree, his work is often, unfortunately fleshless: every beat and story-telling step are met in perfect time but often insipidly echoed. He is the pride of premise and the shame of execution—the savant of convention and the autistic of originality. Now, this may perhaps explain why his work flourishes with fandom: cliché fosters consistency thus security and makes a nice, light, dependable snack. Cliché also, however, absolves any writer the risk of ‘bearing self on page’ and keeps unchallenged ethical, political, and psychological themes/issues safely unscrutinized. How can this ever amount to anything other than magnificent mediocrity? One way, actually: if in fact the theme/issue challenged was convention/cliché itself. With The Cabin in the Woods, Whedon adriotly answered this call of duty.

The premise of Cabin becomes effectually a grand, light-hearted, parodic middle-finger to the overused conventions of the horror genre throughout the past 30-40 years of Hollywood cinema. The narrative slowly and cleverly unfurls a premise about the quasi-corporate manufacture of generic horror, with real victims, in real life. Consequently, the story proper becomes a parody of premise, cliché, and convention themselves, leaving Joss Whedon no possibly more ensconced in his element vis-a-vis “the flesh” of story-telling. 

With Cabin, Whedon finally delivers an un-shallow, un-mediocre product: hilarious, scary, ironic, and ‘horrible’, in the best possible way. 

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