It’s Ansley again with more films to get you ready for Halloween! Last time, I shared some of my favorite horror films that were creepy and atmospheric or just really bizarre and great to watch with friends. The following are the ones to watch in complete darkness—alone—with a high-quality set of headphones. You’re welcome.
1. The Thing (1982, John Carpenter, R)
The Thing is, in my opinion, the ideal horror film. It’s a perfect storm of elements spiraling together to form something that touches our basest fears: complete and total isolation, dwindling resources, claustrophobic conditions, and the breakdown of trust and relationships. The Thing works because it plays with a shared psychology with masterful execution.
2. Audition (1999, Takashi Miike, NOWVTSSWTE: No One Who Values Their Sanity Should Watch This Ever)
Okay, so Hausu showed us how insane a Japanese horror film can be. Audition gives us the Japanese version of revolting and terrifying. An aging widower’s son wishes his father would re-marry. The father decides to hold a fake film audition to check out potential dates. He falls for one woman in particular who turns out to be a very bad casting choice. Rob Zombie has said that Audition is the most unsettling film that he has ever seen. I’m going to have to agree with Zombie here: this is the only film that ever actually scared me.
3. Silent Hill (2006, Christopher Gans, R)
When I initially interact with any human being (or kitty—I like kitties), I establish that I am an über fan of the video game series Silent Hill. As I write this, I’m resisting the urge to write a 200-page thesis on the color of James Sunderland’s jacket. Instead, I’ll say, calmly, that while there were a lot of fandom-related things over which to nerd rage, it’s a pretty solid film. The insanely simplified story (although it’s composed of over a decade’s worth of in-game lore condensed into two hours that may confuse some) tells the tale of a little girl at the center of a cult.
The story feels weak and messy, but the creature execution is dead-on. Silent Hill stands out in the horror-game genre by staying away from zombies and aliens, opting instead for grotesque psychological manifestations of the protagonist’s greatest fears. The creatures in the film are almost entirely the result of practical effects, and it shows. They are also all played by professional dancers (the lying figure is a hip-hop dancer and the nurses are ballerinas, for example). This gives the monsters an uncanny humanity that makes them all the more disturbing. I’m still upset about the fan-service presence of Pyramid Head in the film, but even he looked amazing. Just never, ever, ever speak to me about a film sequel. EVER.
4. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock, R)
Psycho is my absolute favorite horror novel. It does only what it needs to do—no more, no less. The film adaption, while lacking the main character’s fascinating inner monologue, is a faithful and iconic one. It’s beautiful filmmaking that stands the test of time.
5. Rec (2007, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, R)
Rec is also known as the American film Quarantine, a shot-for-shot remake of the Spanish original. It’s another fine example of the combined elements that make films like The Thing so fantastic: limited time, limited space, and a limited cast. The difference is that Rec acts like a documentary/found-footage film and does so very well. Fortunately, the character doing the “filming” is a professional cameraman: you don’t have to endure the nauseating and frustrating shaky cam that’s characteristic of most found-footage films.
6. Ju-on (2002, Takashi Shimizu, R)
As a general rule, most media is better in its original form. This is true of Ju-on, a film that’s far superior to its American remake, The Grudge. It’s a traditional Japanese vengeful-ghost story that will have you checking between the sheets. (Note: One of my favorite horror films of all time is The Ring: the American version of Ringu. It’s not on this list, though, because it’s just a given.)
If out-and-out horror isn’t your thing, then my next installment might be more up your alley: psychological horror.