I take “favorite” to mean those horror films I revisit quite often, not necessarily the most technically accomplished nor profound films.
5. The Evil Dead (1981). If any single horror film helped me solidify my identity as a teenager and created the community of friends that I still hold dearly to to this day, it was The Evil Dead. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this film (maybe the only film to surpass it in numbers is Grosse Pointe Blank), but it is a film that sits with me and makes itself known in my everyday consciousness. The imagery of the deadites, a strange visual mixture of possessed and zombie, is an enduring one in horror cinema to this day. Yes, it is violent and gory, but there is a playfulness and good-natured humor that runs underneath it all, in part because of the over-the-top performance by the much-loved Bruce Campbell. It’s fun, it’s bloody and rewards on indefinite numbers of viewings.
4. Halloween (1978). Whereas The Evil Dead was an identity-shaper for me, Halloween is probably the film I have analyzed and thought about the most deeply. Carpenter’s tracking shots, his restraint, the score, the enigmatic Myers character, among so many other things have captured my attention for a long time. It is a beautiful film and truly unnerving. It was the film that started the slasher craze, yet it is a head above 90% of the sub-genre offerings because it isn’t indulgent and prefers atmosphere and suspense over blood and gore and derivative narratives. I will be having a chapter on it in Mockingbird At The Movies coming out by the end of the year.
3. The Mist [B&W Director’s Cut] (2007). Frank Darabont is probably my favorite director when it comes to Stephen King adaptations–maybe even more so than Kubrick, because he has three solid King films–and this may be my favorite of his adaptations. I chose the black and white Director’s Cut because it was Darabont’s vision from the beginning, but the studio wouldn’t allow him to do it because they didn’t think anyone would go see it. Just goes to show that studios and people are often not concerned with art, because this is the only way to watch this film. It is more claustrophobic, tense, atmospheric and the monsters feel more hidden than in the color version. The ending to this film is one for the ages as well. Just a terrifically fun and intense homage to the 50s and 60s creature features.
2. The Strangers (2008). Home invasion films are generally pretty frightening anyways, because of the very realistic possibilities that the idea affords. The Strangers is able to pack the biggest punch of all of the home invasion films I have ever seen. There is something about Bryan Bertino’s use of space in the film and background/foreground shots that brings this film into a realm of its own. Some of my favorite aspects are the motivations behind the invasion (“because you were home…”) and how Bertino placed the actors in the set within the sound studio and refused to tell them where the bangs and noises would be coming from so he could get a very real reaction from them. By the end of the film, you know the layout of the house, you feel just as trapped as the characters and the pay-off at the end is appropriately malevolent and nihilistic. Easily in my top horror films of all time.
1. The Thing (1982). There is simple reason why there are two Carpenter films in my list, because he is one of few horror directors that is both technically brilliant and, yet, mindful of how to capture the imaginations and fears of the audience on a popular level. The Thing is a cinematic masterpiece, never mind one of the greatest horror and science fiction films of all time. What this film was able to accomplish with practical effects is something that can hardly be matched by the best of CGI effects to this day. And, yet, the narrative is a Lovecraftian twist on the old school noir whodunit except the perpetrator changes and shifts throughout the film. Twist after twist after twist and, even at the end, it is still debated to some extent who is what. This film is my favorite horror film of all time and may in fact, also, be the best horror film of all time.