So there I was sitting on my couch on Wednesday afternoon, trying to come up with a list of 20 horror movies in response to the prompt over at Final Girl.
I pull out my pen — fountain, purple ink — and a piece of paper — ripped out of a Moleskin; yes, I am a writing supply snob, thank you — and started listing:
Silent Hill. Solid, no-one can argue that’s horrible and use ‘horrible’ in any way you like. Personally, I like it, but that might have a lot to do with the fact that I’ll follow Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean just about anywhere to say nothing of Laurie Holden as the eye-candy cop. And I like the fact that not only is the protagonist female, but the antagonist is, too. And, lordy, there isn’t a lot creepier than Alice Krige when she gets rolling.
Jaws. Might be marginal, but still, I doubt anyone can argue it’s at least half in the horror genre.
Pitch Black. Now I start to wonder: horror? sci-fi? thriller? action? Well… Yes. It does all those things. Every box ticked, I’d say. It’s got undeniable horror elements (situation you can’t get out of; unreliable partners; unknown/uncombatable opponents); sci-fi (space-ship; aliens); thriller (darkness; time-linked challenge); action (I’m not even listing anything here!)
28 Days Later. Okay, I’m off the thin ice now. Zombies, infection, brain-munching, lots and lots of blood — this is horror.
Alien vs. Predator. Still firm, I feel. Cheesy, but firm.
Resident: Evil. Ditto. And how can you resist Alice’s one-liners? “I’m missing you already.” Love it!
Day of the Triffids (1962). I feel unsteady again. IMDB.com, interestingly, has it listed, under its “Genre” tab as both “horror” and “sci-fi.” I’ve always felt personally that it verges more onto the sci-fi end of things, but there’s no doubt that it has a lot of horror elements — the couple locked in the lighthouse; the implacable enemy you can’t escape who kills you and then eats you; the blindness epidemic — it’s got a lot of boxes ticked here. And Carole Ann Ford who was one of the first companions on Doctor Who — in fact, the very first given that she was the Doctor’s granddaughter — is in it.
From Hell. Firm again! Yeah, I know Johnny Depp’s accent comes from no known location and it’s really only loosely tied to the events it claims to portray, but I love the movie anyway.
Sleepy Hollow. Another bizarre accent from Mr. Depp, but this is Tim Burton being bloody and creepy and weird all at once — three things he does very well and doesn’t really go for again until Sweeney Todd unless I’m totally out of my reckoning. And there’s Ian McDiarmid. How can I not have this movie on here? But — horror? Ye-ee-es…I guess? Maybe? There is a pretty convincing “can’t kill the boogeyman” bad guy in the shape of the Horseman; there’s Depp’s whole weird flashback childhood with his mom and the iron maiden; Miranda Richardson;…I think there’s enough here to justify inclusion, yes?
The Thing. No explanation necessary.
The Orphanage (El Orfeneo). Weird-ass Spanish movie. I think it can carry itself on weirdness alone. And when my father watched it, he offered all sorts of analogies to Psycho, the great horror classic of all time, so I think that’s sufficient, don’t you? Yes.
Underworld. I’m shoehorning this one here because I adore it and its two sequels. I love Kate Beckinsale in latex; I love Scott Speedman; I love Bill Nighy (have I ever mentioned this was the first movie I ever saw him in?); I love Michael Sheen. The whole thing, really. But — is it horror? Vampires? Those would seem pretty horrific. Werewolves? Well, if Teenage Werewolf in London and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (oh, god help you, Michael Landon) count, then, yes, weres are horrific. There’s a lot of blood, plenty of rending, lots of skin-shifting…plus the dude who played Kraven chewing the scenery. Oh, and Sophia Myles.
The Faculty. God, I love this movie. It is such campy crap and it never really takes itself seriously and it’s just a great “high school is hell” movie. Horror? Oh, yes, thank you. We’re on nice solid ice here.
The Craft. Okay, I’m elbowing this one a bit, too. It isn’t quite horror — I don’t think…? — and I don’t honestly love it, but it is pretty fun if you have some popcorn (some to eat; some to throw at the screen) and a moderately good sense of humor.
So that’s 14 — and there I stick. By the time this post goes live on Friday morning, perhaps I will have solved my dilemma — but I have also created a new one. I would like to add things like The Proposition and Ninth Gate — but are those legitimately “horror” films? In the case of The Proposition — indubitably not. It wasn’t made as one; it isn’t filmed as one; it doesn’t sound like one; and it really doesn’t have any of the tags of one — but the violence, the motivations of some of the characters, what happens to some of the characters — unarguably horrific on any level, by any standard.
I watch Predator to soothe myself to sleep when I’m sick; I have to feel able to run a marathon in order to sit down and watch The Proposition.
I think there’s a larger point to be made in here about the spectrum of horror: there’s the really damn obvious alien bursting out of your chest (ooh! ooh! ALIEN! I forgot ALIEN!) kind, all sorts of things in between, and then the less obvious interpersonal kind which can be much worse. But, by that token, does Notes on a Scandal count as a horror movie? Not really — I mean, yeah, Judi Dench’s character is pretty messed-up, but she’s not about to grab a kitchen knife and start carving her way out through the schoolkids. But, taken a step or two further and slightly to the left — and she’s not far off a Bette Davis/Joan Crawford-style psycho poisoning the neighbor’s cats or introducing the local kids to Satanic worship with their hopscotch chalk.
And what’s scarier, really: the alien embryo or the policeman who’s willing to take a horsewhip to a 15-year-old boy?