Friday, January 30, 2009

Eight days of favorite films VI: Horror

Day six of my eight day examination of my favorite films organized by genre brings us to the Horror genre.

I'm not a massive horror fan in any medium, but here and there I find something that I like:

  1. Psycho (1960)
  2. The Birds (1963)
  3. Tales From the Crypt (1972)
  4. Dead of Night (1945)
  5. Jaws (1975)
  6. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  7. Matango (1963)
  8. The Sixth Sense (1999)
  9. The Thing From Another World (1951)
  10. The Fly (1958)

I handed out placements for Aliens (Science Fiction) and Shaun of the Dead (Comedy) in earlier entries, but both of those films have claims to being bona fide horror; they would've easily charted in the top four if I had listed them here. I was also a little unsure about where to put Jaws, but felt horror fit it better than anything else.

Once again, another showing for the master of suspense at the top of the list with Psycho and the Birds, his only films which really fit the horror model. Tales From the Crypt and Dead of Night both share an anthology format in common. Since my favorite form of horror in the printed page is short fiction, it's probably why I feel those two films are particularly effective.

The remaining films are a bit of a hodge podge and include some schlocky material (although Matango is particularly great schlock).

When I was a young teen reading voraciously about film in every book I could grasp, I noticed repeated accolades delivered to the horror film the Cat People (1942). It was a low budget picture concerning a woman turning into a cat, only the filmmakers couldn't afford their own monster. Their genius was to suggest the transformation scenes and leave the viewer guessing whether she really was a Cat Person. The important message I gathered from this oft-repeated example was that sometimes horror could be more palpable when it is left off-screen to the audience's imagination.

What I'm leading up to is an admission: splatter films do nothing for me. I used to be nervous about watching gory films because I was very impressionable and easily repulsed. However, upon seeing Day of the Dead (1985) - notably the climactic scene where the cast are consumed by zombies in graphic detail - I made two interesting observations about my reaction: "Hey, I can handle watching extreme gore!" and "Hey, this isn't scary."

This is probably why the recent upswing in fascination with zombies in film, comics, novels & television leaves me cold. It's just splatter, you know? That's not scary. M.R. James' Lost Hearts...that's scary! Why? Because it engages my imagination. The ten films I listed above have the power to startle me because they engage my imagination; splatter films give me nothing to work with.

I leave you with a sample from the master of imaginative horror: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Tomorrow: a ten gun salute to the War film genre!

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