Silence of the Lambs would have been at the top of the list, but it's listed as a crime/thriller and I decided it was ineligible.
Directed by William Friedkin
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair
Like The Omen, here’s a film that relies on building suspense. The most frightening thing about the film is what it makes you think, rather than anything shown on the screen. It deals with possession and we see a sweet young girl transformed into a growling demon. Imagine if that were your child. How would you handle the situation? Would you resort to prayer even if you were an atheist? The main actors do a wonderful job of keeping the scenes serious. If they believe it, maybe we can believe it. The effects all had to be produced using whatever props were available and most look pretty good. This is a film that relies on mood and your ability to think beyond what you’re being shown. It’s genuinely frightening if you allow yourself to be drawn in to the story.
4. The Mist (2007)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden and Laurie Holden
Are you starting to notice a pattern in my choices? The Mist shows what happens when people are forced to abandon the normal rules of behavior. A group of customers take refuge in a supermarket when a strange mist descends. One man rushes in and shouts a warning that there’s something in the mist. Some people believe him, but most don’t. The plot develops and the incidents become more serious, until someone is finally killed. A small group witnesses the event and has to convince the other customers that there’s a real threat. People start to form into groups. One is led by a religious fanatic (Harden) and thinks that some form of human sacrifice is the answer. Another is led by the logical local artist, David Drayton (Jane). It’s interesting to see how people perform under pressure and who the true leaders are when the situation demands it.
3. The Birds (1963)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor and Suzanne Pleshette
Hitchcock loved to deceive audiences and The Birds is a prime example. The first part of the film shows Melanie Daniels (Hedren) randomly encountering Mitch Brenner (Taylor) in a store which sells birds. After Brenner has left, she decides that she would like to know more about him. She purchases two birds and takes a long drive to his hometown. After questioning a few locals, she tracks down his address. The whole setup makes the film look like a traditional romance, but things change when she’s attacked by a bird while rowing across the bay to his home. The attacks start to become more serious and she eventually becomes trapped with Brenner, his mother and his daughter. Hitchcock never explains why the birds are behaving aggressively and doesn’t need to. The group has to battle to survive and the resolution doesn’t completely reveal whether they will be safe. It’s a snapshot in the lives of a few people in an extreme situation.
2. Psycho (1960)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles
More Hitchcock and another deceptive plot. If by some chance you haven't seen the film, please skip the rest of this summary. The plot is fairly simple, but unexpected. A young woman (Leigh) steals money from work and decides to flee the town. The setup leads us to believe that the story will be about her struggle to evade pursuit. But she stops in a motel for the night and is murdered by the owner, Norman Bates (Perkins). I like how Hitchcock makes us root for Bates and we almost want him to avoid being caught. Perkins plays the role perfectly and appears logical and nervous at the same time. The strength of the film is that it could happen. It's more psychological horror than slasher movie and Bates is a character that we can pity. Some of the shocks were original at the time, but probably seem pretty lame now that we know about such techniques. Imagine seeing this 50 years ago. The Blu-ray presentation is incredible.
1. The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd
Kubrick was comfortable working in any genre and The Shining was his attempt at horror. I like so many of his films, but this might be his best. It’s not a strict adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, but I like the changes that he made. Technology probably wasn’t capable of showing Danny’s solo encounter in the hedge maze, but it would have been great to see it. Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is a writer who takes a winter job as caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. The setting is perfect for a horror movie. He takes his wife (Duvall) and young son (Lloyd) and they plan to live there alone until the hotel re-opens in the spring. All three family members witness weird events. Torrance is a recovering alcoholic and finds that the bar is full of people. The hotel is supposed to be empty. He drinks and talks to the barman. We start to see ghosts of people who lived, stayed or worked at the hotel. The story is about how Torrance loses his grip on reality and becomes a danger to his family. It’s full of mysteries and many are never explained. Kubrick’s film creates its own atmospheric world and it’s good to visit when you’re in the mood.
Click here to see #6-10 on my list.
Did I mention any of your favorites? Feel free to let me know what you think of the list or post your own Top 10 in the comments section.
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