Fifty Favourite Horror Films

I more or less do this every year. Not too many new additions, but I love every one of these, so that’s something. Suggestions for future Octobers are always welcome!

1. Suspiria
2. The Birds
3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with me
4. Possession
5. Black Christmas
6. The Exorcist
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
8. The Shining

9. Ginger Snaps

10. Don’t Look Now
11. What Have they Done to Solange?
12. The Legend of Hell House
13. The Curse of the Cat People
14. Nosferatu (1979)
15. Trouble Every Day
16. Rosemary’s Baby
17. Sombre
18. Frailty
19. The Bride of Frankenstein
20. The Silence of the Lambs
21. Psycho
22. Evil Dead II
23. Eyes without a Face
24. Let the Right One In
25. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
26. Dead Ringers
27. Dawn of the Dead
28. Carrie
29. The Devils
30. American Psycho
31. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
32. Phenomena
33. House of Usher
34. Ravenous
35. Perfect Blue
36. Kill, Baby, Kill
37. The Loved Ones
38. The Innocents
39. Les Diaboliques
40. Cat People
41. The Vanishing
42. Opera
43. The Masque of the Red Death
44. Let Me In
45. The Devil
46. Isle of the Dead
47. Alien
48. The Seventh Victim
49. The Body Snatcher
50. Audition

Fantasia 2010: I Spit on your Grave (Monroe, 2010)

What is it about being in the country that makes a city girl feel as though she is being watched? Steven R. Monroe’s remake of the controversial cult classic, I Spit on your Grave, at the very least upholds the “integrity” of the original film. The film holds no punches and is as shocking and disturbing as advertised. It makes the recent remake of Last House on the Left look like a pre-school Disney sing-a-long tape. I Spit on your Grave will get under your skin, even if you don’t want it to.

For those unfamiliar with the storyline, it is fairly simple: A young woman, Jennifer, rents a cabin in the woods, only to be brutally gang-raped by the locals and left for dead. She is very much alive though, and takes on her revenge with extreme cruelty and violence.

The film’s much talked about rape sequence is one of the more “interesting” ones I’ve seen in cinema (though I think the most disturbing and affecting is still in Bergman’s The Virgin Spring). It is not entertaining, it is not alluring, and it is not exciting. It is as cringe-worthy as it ought to be, and the filmmaker gives it a fair amount of time without dragging it out unduly. The film also very effectively portrays the immediate emotional invasion felt by a victim of sexual assault. Even before the men touch Jennifer, one has a grand sense that they have robbed her of the very basic respect all humans should be treated with.

The rape becomes all the more affecting by creating realistic characters that are not simple caricatures or monsters. Their actions are not justified by their emotional, cultural or social problems, but we are allowed a faint glimpse in the make-up that allows them to act so unforgivably. The prevailing influence however is a need to exert power. The evidence of their inability to control anything in their lives, least of all women, escalates up until the actual rape. The only one of them with any influence is the police officer, and that is what makes him the most reprehensible of the group. His level of hypocrisy, corruption and cruelty is unparallel. He is one of the cruellest cinematic villains in recent memory.

After the extended assault she experiences, Jennifer is left for dead. The men involved suddenly become anxious that she will be found. They spend the next few weeks searching the swamps for her body. After having so little respect for Jennifer’s body, it suddenly takes on a great deal of importance. This perceived power is perhaps why some people have latched onto this narrative as being feminist. Though we know little of whom Jennifer is, her femininity is quite obviously seen as an extreme threat to these men, and they seek to destroy it.

Jennifer’s body remains the centerpiece of the film, aesthetically and thematically. Though the film does not completely succeed it attempts to present her figure in a non-exploitive way, one can definitely see a progression of the way her body is treated. She is the most sexualized when seen quite literally through the eyes of the men, through the lens of a video camera. Though an obnoxious cinematic technique, it is undeniably used with purpose in this case.

When enacting her revenge, Jennifer very consciously avoids using her sexuality as a tool. There is just one moment where she brings sex back into the equation and that is when she blind-sides Johnny. Re-enacting a fantasy alternative of their first meaning, she is driving the same car, but is wearing nearly nothing. This particular sequence is not lurid or exploitive, as it reveals the egregiousness of his initial perceptions. She presents him with the situation he imagined and twists it in a deliciously perverse way.

The men don’t stand a chance once Jennifer begins her vengeance. There is nary a moment of struggle, and she dominates them far more completely than they were ever able to dominate her. It is not clear if they are simply weaker than she is, or that she is far better prepared than they were. It is here that the film becomes somewhat weak. Though Jennifer is interesting and compelling, she is also underdeveloped. The brief glimpses we have into her character and history don’t support the physical strength, intelligence and expertise she would have needed to follow-through. Obviously, the film is largely a “fantasy” but I can’t help thinking or wishing someone had beefed up her history.

The implication of Jennifer’s vengeance is fascinating, as she uses so deftly the words and actions of the men against themselves. In a very obvious sense, the film embodies the ruling of an “eye for an eye”. Somehow, the film makes me wonder if she’s even punishing them for their crimes. Well, of course she is… but what I mean is she seems less concerned with seeing them suffer or die, than to teach them a very permanent lesson. The lesson is one of empathy; of human understanding. Her actions almost seem contradictory, but the men have made their nature clear, and their complete lack of mercy has made their fate ultimate.

What I like best about the film is the creativity and absurdism that is infused in the revenge sequences. It is no less cruel or nihilistic, but it does have a dose of dramatic irony that makes it palatable. Even so, even some of the most hardened horror fans will no doubt cringe and *gasp* look away. The ambiguity in the film’s final act and Jennifer’s final “mona-lisa smile” ensure that the film sticks with you, it does not offer any comfortable closure and much of the film’s events remain open-ended.

I feel I’ve written a lot about this film, without having said very much at all. I have not even touched the rather strange and disturbing screening and subsequent Q & A period which only elevated the discomfort the film inspired. The detachment, anger and giddiness on display were even too much for me. Someone fainted; another person was nearly escorted away by security, and that only briefly touches on the strangeness of the evening. IT was a disturbing night at the movies, and much of that is owed to the filmmakers. I am still unsure as to whether or not I like it, it certainly hit a chord. It is at the very least a unique experience, and one that I would not recommend for a good 95% of the human population.

And so it begins…

I have all my tickets for Fantasia, I’ll be seeing 23 films, starting tomorrow. I hope to have thoughts for each and every one of them so tune in to the next three weeks as I see…

Mai Mai Miracle

I Spit on your Grave (2010)



Feast of the Assumption: BTK and the Otero Family Murders

A Serbian Film

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

The Land Before Time

Bodyguards and Assasins

Saving Grace

The Devils

La Meute

[rec] 2

Red, White and Blue

The Violent Kind


The Last Exorcism

Deliver Us from Evil

Dream Home

The Loved Ones

Summer Wars

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and Halloween II (1981)

I rarely write about the uninspiring horror remakes and “reboots” that come each year, despite the fact I drag myself out to see nearly every one of them.  Though this year I haven’t been to the theatre as much as usual, half of my viewings have been horror films. In spite of this rather high average of genre viewings, there is only one of them that I’d deem as good (and it’s not the one directed by Martin Scorsese.)

I sometimes wonder why I torture myself and sacrifice my hard earned money when I know more than half of the time I will walk away disappointed. If only there was a critic or a consensus out there I trusted, but even if there was… I can’t imagine trusting them enough to evaporate that inkling of hope that the remake of *insert favourite horror movie ever* won’t be amazing.  I could always wait for DVD or indulge in some illegal downloading activity, but for me, nothing beats seeing a great horror film with a great horror audience. It is simply an incomparable cinematic experience.

Last week I HAD to see the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Something deep inside was telling me that I would love it; that I would see in it something that no one else did, and I would have a horrific revelation.  I had been excited for weeks; I had even planned it as a birthday event so that I could share this awesome experience with all my awesome friends. I made sure to buy my tickets in advance in case it was sold out, I chose some of the best seats in the house, I got my popcorn and I waited excitedly for the film to begin. An hour and a half later, I was not very happy. There were no scares, there was no suspense. The film had two upsides; a hallway turning into a pool blood, and the so-bad-its-good quote “Who can remember being five years old?” I could easily write a long essay tearing apart every minute aesthetic, narrative and thematic device that went wrong, but I don’t get paid to do this. There are many critics out there who have already laid out everything wrong with this film; I don’t need to reiterate what has already been said.

My appetite for horror hasn’t diminished, despite my recent string of bad luck. I am still craving some good old fashioned heebeejeebees (ones that do not include human centipedes, no human centipedes… plz and thank you). Tonight I rented Halloween II (1981), hoping I would be cured of my slump. I wasn’t. Though not as bad as many of the horror remakes and sequels we get today, there is nothing exceptional about Halloween II. It is at least well constructed; the craft is there… it just does not live up the expectations of its predecessor.

Interesting deaths don’t compel me as much as they apparently do many horror viewers (my experience watching movies in theatres tells me, cool death = loud applause), and I tend to treasure the lead up more than the creativity of the death. Halloween II does this with moderate success, and the build-up is stressed as being more important than the shock value. That being said, my favourite death of the film is one that is “creative”, so to speak.

The death of the head nurse happens off screen, her character had long disappeared from the narrative and we could only imagine what had happened to her. When Jimmy realizes Laurie is missing from her room, he searches the hospital for her. Instead he stumbles upon the nurse who has been strapped to an operating table. Despite being dead, she seems completely unscathed. He moves closer only to notice that a needle has been stuck into her arm, and she has been drained of all her blood which now covers the floor. It is an eerie death, one that gets under your skin. It is perhaps the most unsettling moment of the film, and the overhead shot of Jimmy lying in that pool of blood (he slips), apparently dead, is perhaps the most potent in the entire film.

On the other hand, this does not seem to fit Michael Myers. A slow death is not really a part of his repertoire, and even the deliberate act of psychological torture seems well beyond his capacities, at least as presented in the first two films. If the original film did not make it clear, its sequel does; Myers is something more (or less) than human, and his methods are hardly sophisticated. At times he’ll play little games, or use strategy, but there is no real sense of joy in the death itself, as much as there is a joy in tearing living things into little pieces.  I don’t even wish the rest of the film was like this moment. I don’t particularly enjoy body-horror, with the exception of David Cronenberg who makes it smart and somehow palatable. Is this even body horror? Probably not, but torture, maiming, draining, etc. Etc. Is just not something I particularly enjoy. I don’t know why I like this moment, perhaps because as an image it is so striking, so strange… Despite the fact it doesn’t quite fit the film it is an awesome sequence of inspiring dread, and I can’t help admiring that.

Another way the film handles dread well is in the use of hallways (it uses them well, but it also doesn’t use them enough). I think surrealism uses a lot of hallways and doors to convey the anxieties of the unconscious mind, and it is a very effective image. Brutality and torture may be upsetting, but nothing beats the fear of the unknown. It is something that truly gets under your skin, because it so effectively can be mapped onto our everyday fears and anxieties. Even though I’ve been obsessing (in the worst possible away) about the horror that is the Human Centipede (a film I probably won’t see) because the idea of so absolutely disgusting and upsetting to me, it evokes a visceral kind of disgust that I don’t see as being enduring or compelling. I know for a fact, that the idea of the film is far more upsetting than the actual execution, which only supports my thesis on “less is more” in horror cinema. A long dark hallway in a hospital; that is a truly haunting image, if only because we have no idea what lurks beyond those doors.

It reminds me of the kind of horror David Lynch evokes, like the painting in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, of the room and the door. It’s eerie without any hint of violence, it is just an unnatural state of mind; one that inspires the idea of a hidden world, or the idea that death is lurking just around the corner. The film touches, very briefly, on the idea that Myers is some kind God or reaper… an unstoppable force of evil and the entire film may have been better if they followed up on that line of thinking. The original film is so great in part because there is that mystery about his existence, and his sheer inability to be killed. The fault of a lot of recent remakes, like (2010), is an attempt to explain away all the nuance and mystery of its monsters. Halloween II (1981) is also guilty of this, with it’s now infamous twist, which frankly makes no sense at all, as it adds nothing to story and is never used or explored in any meaningful way.

Maybe I am simply over-thinking these films, or maybe they just kinda suck.  Either way, I’d like to be surprised in the near future by something truly great, because I’m not giving up now. If I’m burning out on horror, I want it to be on a high note damn it. Maybe recommend me something :/