With Halloween night only a few lingering hours away, you are probably, more than ever, getting into the mood to catch up on the scariest horror movies ever made. If this applies to you, you’re in luck. After speaking to the acclaimed scholars of our School of Arts, also known as your lecturers, I’ve composed a list of the spine-tingling, hair-rising, eye-popping, life-scarring horror flicks enjoyed by your teachers. Is your favourite scary movie amongst them?
Psycho (1960) – Alfred Hitchcock
Taking a shower will never feel quite as safe, after seeing this low budget, black-and-white masterpiece of psychological horror. Besides being among the best works of the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho is considered nothing less than one of the `most shocking and effective pieces of cinema ever shot`. Among the critics and scholars that praise the film is Senior Lecturer Dr. Cecilia Sayad, who celebrates its influence over the slasher genre and psychoanalytical take on voyeurism.
The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick
Cecilia Sayad also salutes the `incredibly craftiness` of The Shining for being terrifying on a psychological level. Stanley Kubrick’s screen adaption of a Stephen King novel tells the story of a family spending a winter isolated in a hotel, only for father Jack (Jack Nicholson) to turn mad and hunt his wife and son with an axe. Nicholson’s wild performance of mania is blasted out of proportions and combined with the atmospheric dread of the hotel that seems just as evil as himself. By the end of the film it remains unresolved whether Jack simply turned crazy or whether he was hypnotized by the place he is in, demanding further debate with a typical `Kubrickian aura of discussion`.
The Exorcist (1973) – William Friedkin
When a young, 12-year old girl gets possessed by a demon and turns into a disfigured perversion of its former self, nobody can help but shiver at the savage destruction of a universally familiar image of innocence. Cinema has given us a lot of grotesque sights, from Zombies with rotting skin, to chain saw wielding serial killers getting busy. However, nothing seems to be as hard to watch as a cursing and spitting little girl, with scars all over her young face and a mother crying next to her. It is the perversion and mutilation of the puritan it is frightening on a primal level.
Prof. Dr. Mattias Frey watches The Exorcist annually for its masterful narrative storytelling, characterization and editing. He recognises a quality of filmmaking, beyond the third act vomit and gore, in which “no detail is superfluous, as each contributes to propelling the story forward and furnishing the mood”.
Audition (1999) – Takashi Miike
The gruesome story of Takashi Miike’s Audition begins with a grieving widower staging a fake movie audition in search of a new partner. The choice falls on the beautiful and mysterious Asami. A decision he will soon regret. As we familiarize ourselves with Asami we can’t brush away the feeling that there is something off about her. The creepiness and eeriness increases as they keep dating, until climaxing in one excruciating final scene. Audition is a personal favorite of prof. Mattias Frey, largely due to the creative way it applies usual rules of engagement, only to subvert our expectations.
Dead of Night (1945) – Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer
After suffering from a series of nightmares, Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) decides to spend some days at a house in the country. Upon arrival at the cottage and meeting his fellow guests, he realises that he has seen each and every one of them before, but only in his dreams. In order to soothe his paranoia, the 5 other guests decide to each tell a story about them encountering the supernatural, each of which has a different style and each of which was filmed by a different director.
The 5-segmented anthology film, Dead of Night, stands out from British 40s cinema, as horror films had been banned from production in Britain during the war. Most remembered for The Ventriloquist’s Dummy (Cavalcanti), the creepy story of a ventriloquist driven mad from talking to his dummy, Dead of Night has been heavily praised by renowned filmmakers such as Martin Scorcese. Deputy Head of Film, Lawrence Jackson applauds the powerful effect the movie has over its audience, particularly The Haunted Mirror (Hamer), a suspenseful story about a married couple purchasing an antique mirror, only to realize that it is haunted.
Suspiria (1977) – Dario Argento
Lawrence Jackson also recommends Dario the Italian supernatural horror film Suspiria, for its effective use of music and art direction. Directed by Dario Argento, the renowned director of the heavily stylized giallo genre, Suspiria stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who joins a prestigious dance Academy, in Freiburg, only to realize that the school is hiding a horrifying secret, which is being protected with murderous intentions. With its highly saturated colours, insanely bold colour pallets and daring camera angles, the film’s cinematic effect has is stunning and arguably unique. With a remake coming to UK cinemas this November, Halloween is the perfect occasion to catch up on Suspiria and loose one’s self its beautiful, yet ferociously brutal, aesthetics.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – Tobe Hooper
Prof. Peter Stanfield recommends The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for its socio-political implications.
“When slaughterhouse workers are made redundant they have to find something to do to fill in their leisure time!”
Inspired by the crimes of American mass murderer and body snatcher Ed Gein, Tobe Hooper’s slasher classic tells the story of a group of teenagers falling victim to the violent acts of a psychotic butcher family. Made from a mere 140,000$ budget, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has made its large mark on horror-cinema, mostly remembered for the character Leatherface, a cannibalistic half'-wit' that wears a mask made of his victim's skin and goes after horny teenagers with sledge hammers and chain saws.
It Follows (2014) – David Robert Mitchell
A sexually transmitted curse terrorizes a group of teenagers in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. This curse is manifested as a shape changing demon who is constantly hunting its victims in order to brutally desecrate them. With escalating terror, the film combines the primal fear of ´stranger danger´ - suspecting everybody of being the demon in disguise, from terrifying tall men to benign old women - with the personal responsibility of passing on the curse.
Peter Stanfield enjoys the film’s use of post-industrial Detroit as a site for modern horror. Set and shot in the Detroit suburbs, It Follows isn’t shy to present the run down houses and ruins of the declining city, thereby creating an almost surreal feel of the abandoned urban blight.
Don’t Look Now (1973) – Nicolas Roeg
Don’t Look Now is psychological thriller that gives an honest portrayal at how the grief of losing a child affects the parents’ relationship. In the attempt to process their grief, the couple (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) moves to Venice. Once there, they meet a nun who claims their dead child is trying to contact them and warn them of impending danger. The film is renowned for its effective use of montage, the way Nicolas Roeg mixes frightening and symbolic images with the romance of the city and a sex scene that was both innovatively edited and controversial for its time. Don’t Look Now is one of the favorite horror films of Senior Lecturer Dr. Maurizio Cinquegrani.
“The way in which it both captures the atmosphere of Venice and it distorts it in the most horrific ways is striking and, when I first saw it, it affected me a lot given that Venice is a familiar site for me, the city where I grew up. This is a film I still watch after so many years and through time I have appreciated different aspects of the film - including its Gothic occultism and the way in which it articulates the theme of the doppelgänger.”
Black Christmas (1974) – Bob Clark
It’s Christmas time. Final preparations are being made, as everybody is looking forward to the big day. But then the holiday mood finds an abrupt ending, as a girl disappears without a trace. The police is of no help when, again and again, obscene calls scare the girls, a gasping voice always ending with the same threat: "I will murder you all."
Head of our Film Department, Dr. Tamar Jeffers McDonald, recommends Bob Clark’s genre-defining Christmas slasher Black Christmas. She enjoys it for its engaging use of typical horror elements, such as suspense, dread and gore, but also for its villain, a killer as monstrous as he is mysterious.
Hellraiser (1987) – Clive Barker
What’s your pleasure? The question at the beginning of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a thematic introduction into the movie. After plumbing the world for its earthly delights, Frank Cotton’s search for pleasure leads him to the door of an alternate dimension. This other world is ruled by the Cenobites, a grotesque, yet strangely beautiful, deformed versions of humans to whom pleasure and pain are alike.
On first viewings Dr. James Newton didn’t consider Hellraiser as more than an effective body horror exploration with a moral about the human desire of pleasure. When recently coming back to it however, he discovered a surreal quality to it which elevated his experience. Several gaps within the narrative, such as inconsistent accents and a disfigured creature living in a family’s attic without them noticing, give the sense that the movie operates on a “dream-like logic”. This seemingly accidental effect to the already daunting film and added a surreal layer to it, in a way that truly exemplifies the elusive power of cinema.
House of Usher (1960) – Roger Corman
Roderick Usher (Vincent Price) is convinced that a curse is on his family, which is inherited from generation to generation. Therefore, he is almost obsessed to prevent the wedding of his sister at any circumstances. When her fiancé arrives at the Usher’s dark castle to bring home the bride, he has to make a terrible discovery: This house is not a home - it's a grave!
House of Usher is the first of Roger Corman’s 8 Edgar Allan Poe screen adaptions – a series of haunting stories that form an everlasting monument to the cruelty and lunacy of Vincent Price. James Newton frequently enjoys House of Usher for the movie’s primary use of deep colors, its gothic atmosphere and (SPOILER!) the way is addresses the primal, human fear of being buried alive.
The Craft (1996) – Andrew Fleming
Dr Kaitlyn Regehr has a passionate appreciation for witches. A love that was engendered partially from growing up in the 90s, a decade of pop-culture obsession over witches, but also by the role that these shunned women with supernatural powers have recently played for feminist groups, such as W.I.T.C.H. (Wildly Interrupting Typical Capitalist Habits). One of her favorite witch-flicks is The Craft, a creepy tale about a group of high school girls who discover magic. With 90s badass girl power, these self-proclaimed outsiders practice witchcraft against their high school tormenters, not suspecting the cataclysmic repercussions.
I feel that every 9th-grade girl could do with watching "The Craft". Not only does the film tackle serious teen issues such as sexual violence and suicide, but it is ultimately about high-school outcasts and the power of female friendships.