Halloween is approaching like the shambling footsteps of the corporal undead, and what better way to celebrate the ghoulish holiday then by watching your favorite horror movies? Here I will be diving into my top five horror films. Some are new (ish), and some are old—but I hold each in high esteem.
1. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
I have so much to say about this film but a limited time. So, I’ll be brief in saying it is as close to a masterpiece a horror director can achieve. The Thing deals with cold isolation—from the world and from each other–and trust. This film works because both themes are never broken, and never is this truer than when RJ MacReady is trying to weed out the alien by administering heat to blood samples. Right up until the monster reveals itself, everyone is guessing as to who is still human and who has been assimilated.
The cast also does an amazing job—from Kurt Russell, who is aptly cast as the disheveled pilot MacReady, to Wilford Brimley’s pessimistic portrayal of Dr. Blair. In a documentary on the film, director John Carpenter and the cast discuss being transported on a bus into the snowy and blustery climate of Juneau, Alaska, and they also talk about nearly dying as the bus almost careened off of a cliff-side. I believe this could of attributed to the camaraderie apparent in the film.
But what really makes The Thing great are Rob Bottin’s practical effects, which rely heavily on prosthetic makeup, a double amputee, and lifelike replicas that explode with gorgeous violence. If you have never seen this movie, you simply must watch it. It’s one of the best.
2. Alien (1979)
A running theme in movies I enjoy, which I didn’t realize until I formed this list, is isolation. The idea that a group of characters have a small place to exist in while the fear of violence assails them appeals to me. With less room to move, characters must develop or the movie becomes stagnant, and the audience either becomes bored or turns on the protagonists.
Likewise, Alien achieves where so many similar films fail. This includes creating compelling characters in the midst of distress and confusion. The harrowing onslaught of a mostly unseen enemy blinds the protagonists with paranoia and speculation as to how they will survive. This is made even more poignant as Sigourney Weaver’s performance as Ripley and the subtle performance of John Hurt as Kane, whose gory death is a revelation for viewers and the crew of the Nostromo, add to the realism and effectiveness of the film. Even if you’ve seen Alien, watch it again. The throat rape and chest-bursting will continue to haunt your dreams.
3. Sunshine (1999)
I don’t hear much fanfare for Sunshine, but I know its popular among sci-fi fans because it appears on “Best of …” lists often enough. Sunshine is yet another story on my list of lonely isolation aboard a spaceship—Icarus II. After its predecessor becomes lost on a previous mission, the new space crew must chart a course toward the sun with the intention of dropping a nuclear payload, which will hopefully end a perpetual winter on Earth.
The mission is dire, indeed, and yet the actors create a believable world filled with excellent development and strong casting. The score, too, is moving and overshadows some moments of lackluster special effects. What makes Sunshine far superior, than say, Interstellar or Gravity is the balancing of storytelling which veers from science fiction adventure to slasher picture. Danny Boyle does a fantastic job directing this sharp shift with a keen eye to previous details and adequate pacing. Unlike many science fiction films, this is not just another 2001 ripoff or an attempt at mundane space horror. It’s the real deal.
4. Quarantine (2008)
Quarantine stands out as one of the finer attempts at a “found footage” title that I’ve ever seen, and it was one of the first of its genre to actually engross me into the short-lived lives of the characters. The decision to cast unfamiliar actors was a smart move and having the monsters downplayed compared to the mystery of their incarceration makes the film more jarring and definitely disturbing.
The added effect of cuing the audience to the conclusion was subtle enough as to not deem reproach. What is more, the apartment complex is claustrophobic and the narrow hallways and passages become familiar by the end of the movie. I can’t think of too many films where, as the viewer, I could probably find my way around the complex if given the chance.
I should say too that it’s scary as hell.
5. Kill List (2011)
I must admit, I watched this movie last year, and I was saddened that I had not seen it sooner. It has some flaws but subsequent viewings reveal a carefully plotted film, and disturbing implications, which while common for horror films, is uncommon to be so relevant upon further screenings.
In other words, everything in Kill List means something: every little piece of dialogue, every altercation, every character, and every scene plays into the overall narrative and conclusion. Thankfully, Kill List is on the good side of relentless—never questioning the intelligence of the audience to put two and two together. If given the chance, I guarantee it will stay high on your list of favorite horror films after the first time you watch it.