Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reader Top Ten Greatest Horror Films (1960 - 2000): Jeremy Meyer

Reader, horror enthusiast and friend, Jeremy Meyer contributes our second list of the day, vis-a-vis the greatest horror films of the period 1960 - 2000.

Jeremy writes:

"Another great question, but one that was almost impossible to answer satisfactorily. I've had to settle for a very personal set of choices and I'm not convinced at all about my ordering - it's changed maybe five or six times over the last 24 hours.

10. Phantasm (1979) [Coscarelli] - Widely regarded as one of the seminal indie horror titles, Coscarelli and his game group of friends proved that a surplus of ideas can more than make up for a shortage of cash. Phantasm is a luridly imaginative and visually powerful metaphor for how children learn to cope with death and accept their own mortality. The closing scene cements this, and unlike similar scenes in other titles (A Nightmare On Elm Street for instance) it is the key to the narrative rather than a cheap scare.

9. The Iron Rose (1973) [Rollin] - The name Jean Rollin normally brings to mind lesbians, vampires and twins, but his best work for me is the simple story of two lovers trapped in a cemetery for the night, 1973's La Rose De Fer. The narrative or lack thereof is largely unimportant; this is a gorgeous visual meditation on the entwined nature of death and love. The inseparability of Thanatos and Eros is the sort of idea you'd expect to be explored by an auteur like Bergman, but Rollin's hugely underrated lyrical gem proves that he had depths people seem to forget.

8. Carrie (1976) [De Palma] - Sissy Spacek in Carrie is surely one of the most inspired casting choices of all time. Spacek has such a strange, ethereal type of beauty that there was somehow no explanation necessary for her outsider status; her looks set her apart from her peers but were alluring enough to utterly engage the viewer. Aside from Spacek, the real star here is the magnificent cinematography and direction - the opening and closing scenes are the stuff of legend.

7. The Shining (1980) [Kubrick] - Like Carrie, The Shining is carried by a sterling performance and outstanding cinematography. Jack Nicholson gives a stylized but unnerving turn as troubled writer Jack Torrance that ranks for me as the second best descent into madness portrayed on screen. 

6. The Last House On The Left (1972) [Craven] - One of the most powerful anti-violence movies ever produced. Sure, the direction is occasionally ropey (this was Wes' first feature after all) but they key to its success is how the final third is handled. The frank brutality of the gang's crimes has the audience baying for their blood, but the cold, antiseptic portrayal of the Collingwoods' revenge leaves only a hollow feeling once it's over. Violence dehumanizes everyone, no matter how 'good' or 'just' our intentions.

5. The Wicker Man (1974) [Hardy] - The genius of The Wicker Man is how it manipulates the sympathies of its audience. From the outset Sgt. Howie is stuffy and humorless, whereas the inhabitants of Summerisle are fun loving and free-spirited. Before long however the sinister nature of islanders becomes apparent; the menacing undertone of their bawdy songs and pagan rituals is brought to the fore while the previously unlikable Howie is thrust into the role of righteous martyr. Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle and Ed Woodward as Sgt. Howie are marvelous, and the music will stay with you for years.

4. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986) [McNaughton] - A film so controversial it languished unrated and unreleased for three years, Henry is one of the very few true horror movies. It coldly oscillates between showing the banalities of Henry's life and the unimaginably brutal crimes he commits to alleviate that boredom. What elevates Henry to the status of a great movie, albeit one that is difficult to watch, is its overt criticism of horror voyeurism. Those lengthy tracking shots circling discarded corpses, that infamous and stunning scene with the suburban family... we are Henry and Otis, re-winding for our own sick pleasure.

3. Repulsion (1965) [Polanski] - Polanski's first foray into English language cinema is one of his best. Repulsion is the most committed and disquieting portrayal of madness on film. Polanski's beautiful, twisted visuals combine with Catherine Deneuve's chillingly catatonic performance to create an inimitable and devastating picture.

2. The Thing (1982) [Carpenter] - The Thing has it all: incredible non-digital effects (courtesy of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston), beautiful location work and cinematography, a fantastic and nihilistic ending, and some brilliant character work from the talented cast. The tension is palpable throughout, and Carpenter expertly juxtaposes feelings of claustrophobia and isolation to create one of the most atmospheric movies ever made.

1. Rosemary's Baby (1968) [Polanski] - One of those rare moments when the stars align and a near-perfect movie is possible. Given Polanski's nature and his previous explorations of female sexuality and the male gaze (see Repulsion), this was the perfect story for him to tell. Couple that with one of history's great performances from Mia Farrow, a wonderfully creepy and overbearing ensemble cast, and a haunting score, and you have one of the finest horror movies in history. Polanski's direction is deliberate and methodical, building tension until it froths into paranoia and then pure terror.

Close but no cigar:
Halloween (1978) [Carpenter]
The Beyond (1981) [Fulci]
Videodrome (1983) [Cronenberg]
Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979) [Herzog]
Profundo Rosso (1975) [Argento]."

Jeremy: A fantastic list, and two things stick out.  First, your admiration for Polanski's genre work (which I share).  I also think his The Ninth Gate (1999) is extraordinary.  The second thing is that you included Phantasm, a film that I also included on my list, but which hasn't had a great showing here with readers.  

Great list!


  1. Thanks for posting this John, delighted as ever to contribute to the discussion. I am similarly bemused that Phantasm has been overlooked to such an extent!

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      Yeah, it's weird, right?

      I'm going to re-post my review of Phantasm next week for the Halloween-a-thon just to show that film some more love.

      I really adore that movie...


    2. I'm waiting with bated breath for your review of The Conjuring, next week some time I hope...?

    3. Halloween day! I watched it this weekend, finally! :)

  2. Anonymous3:16 PM

    Now this is a great list, but looking at it, it sort of explains why films such as Phantasm made it to the list only on a couple of occasions.

    When you do a Top 10 list for such a wide time frame it's really hard not to succumb to temptation and just pick 10 films that almost everyone would agree were the best or at least most significant. But I'm not talking about peer pressure or anything like that - it's just that there's a certain number of movies that are rightfully considered classic and they're so good that you can't ignore all of them. For example, the following list is practically flawless but it allows for absolutely no surprises:

    The Thing
    The Wicker Man
    Dawn of the Dead
    Rosemary's Baby
    The Exorcist
    The Shining

    I mean, I love all of those movies dearly but if I just picked them, it wouldn't be a very interesting list, now would it? I think most people would agree so we all threw in a few lesser known movies that we felt deserved more attention or were just our personal favorites. In that sense, I'm not at all surprised that much of the submitted lists may seem a bit samey, but I'm also certain that on a Top 20 list films such as Phantasm would have made a lot more appearances.

    Personally, I love the whole Phantasm series (even if they weren't all "great" movies) and I did contemplate putting the first Phantasm on my list. Alas, creating a Top 10 list is, by its very nature, quite restrictive. Perhaps a future Top 10 of underrated horror movies would do the trick? Though I know it's sometimes hard to say what exactly constitutes an "underrated" movie.

    Ratko H.

    1. Hi Ratko H,

      You make a great point about the flaws inherent in doing top ten lists.

      I still think it's a worthwhile exercise because what one person concludes is "tops" (so-to-speak) may still differ from what another person believes, at least enough to reserve two or three slots for different or off-beat titles.

      Maybe that's what Phantasm is. I had it in my top ten, but kicked off Jaws or maybe The Haunting to do so. Good call or bad call? I don't know, but I think one virtue of such lists is self-discipline.

      We have to really crystallize our thoughts about what makes for great horror (or whatever the subject may be..).

      For me, I know that this sense of discipline drilled me down to the idea of structure in my list. I consider great horror films to be ones that, in some way, play with structure.

      Hence the inclusion of Psycho, BWP, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

      Phantasm, meanwhile, was structured brilliantly in terms of narrative structure: it is what it says it is, a dream or fantasy, about death.

      Anyway, great comment, my friend. I love reading your thoughts about this...


    2. Anonymous4:39 PM

      Indeed, I agree with your assessment, and I think we're seeing that reflected in the lists. There's definitely a few unique or more off-beat choices in every list, obviously due to differences in taste as well as differences in approach. In that sense, your approach had to do with the inner structure of a horror film, whereas I was more interested in two points: a) does this movie make me think? b) does it just work wonderfully on a visceral level? It's a matter of priorities, really. Take "The Blair Witch Project", for example. That film was without a doubt a game changer, and structured beautifully, yet it didn't work for me on a visceral level. Why? I couldn't really say, but it did make me leave it off of my list. So yes, there's certainly some worth in doing top 10 lists as they really force us to zoom in on what it is that really makes us enjoy horror movies so much. But for different people, it will be different things.

      Besides, a top 10 list like this is a great way to remember some worthwhile movies that we've forgotten or, perhaps, never even seen in the first place. Speaking for myself, thanks to the list by Jeffrey Canino, I've already watched "Messiah of Evil" (1973), a true gem of a movie that was previously completely unknown to me.


  3. I think Ratko's nailed it. Horror is a genre with well defined tiers, and there are certainly more than 10 or even 20 films sitting in that top tier. As such, I included those from the very top tier that I've watched over and over again (i.e. they 'worked' for me, think The Shining or The Thing) and a few movies that certainly aren't flawless but that I feel personally add a lot to the genre and deserve to be seen more widely (e.g. Henry or The Iron Rose). It can be hard to strike a balance, but ultimately the lists being somewhat similar is not only expected but surely the point? John aggregates these lists to produce a consensus, and naturally that consensus should contain the classics. For people who watch a lot of horror, the interest lies in the off-beat choices each contributor will make. For other people stumbling onto this blog though, seeing that consensus might convince them to take the plunge and maybe watch Rosemary's Baby or The Wicker Man for the first time. That can only be a good thing in my opinion.


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