Parasite provides astute commentary on late-stage capitalism, colonialism, and social inequality, and in this short video I focus on the aspect of social inequality as represented through the parasite metaphor.
Music: jung jaeil (from Parasite)
Warning: the video features spoilers for the film. This video is for educational purposes.
This post is an update from my original 50 must-see horror film list (2013).
In our house, we watch an intense thriller or horror film about once a month. We ramp it up every October to around 8-10 horror films to celebrate Hallowe’en. I admit there were a couple films on this list my wife couldn’t finish and I don’t blame her … although she did make it to the end of Martyrs, so who knows what qualifies as too much? And why do we enjoy scary films, anyway? Probably, on some primal level, they are purgative and cathartic to watch. Catharsis is employed by Aristotle in the sixth chapter of his Tragedy as a defence of literature for its ability to release us from the reception of our experience of shock and horror.
I’ve also included atypical horror films: the Pasolini film, Salo: 120 days of Sodom, which is not a horror proper but is still included on this list, is a visual representation of the Sade novel; the film is full of abject horror, grotesque materiality and torture, and yet the violence in that film is infused with representation— symbolizing fascism, corruption, and power. Horror films provide both abject representation and escape, and some—perhaps the Saw and Human Centipede franchises—might be simply what is often referred to as “torture porn.” Brazilian theatre director and pedagogue Augusto Boal argues against theatre as an Aristotelian construct because he saw it in this form as coercion to support the dominant ideology. And while Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed clearly states that the only liberating theatre is the kind that directly engages the spectator in action, hence allowing the people (spectators) the means to production in order to rehearse and potentially engage in revolution, I wonder if Boal somewhat misjudges the power of the directly uninvolved spectator, or at least his reading of spectators who, while they might not be able to control the production of a fixed text, they do, in fact, control its interpretation. And while theatre and film serve different yet similar purposes, I think it’s important to remember that horror and tragedy and their representation have a history that extends to the earliest of artistic practices.
All humans experience fear and nightmare. The horror genre was born out of a cultural need to confront and vicariously conquer something frightening that we do not fully comprehend. We will continue to find ways to represent those experiences. Here’s a list of some of my favourite horror films—although the list is hardly exhaustive and it is always evolving—in time for All Hallows’ Eve. I use Psycho as a turning point for modern horror as it set a new level (especially in American cinema) for the acceptability of violence, sex, and deviance. 60+ years later and we’ve nearly seen it all. A pre-1960s horror list is a task for another day. And, of course, this list is just my opinion; ultimately, I focus on the horror films that have stayed with me the most. Enjoy these cinematic nightmares!
Any suggestions for other films I should watch that are deserving to be on the list?
Updated, Oct 2022.
113 MUST SEE HORROR FILMS (1960-2022)
113. Dr. Sleep(2019): I was surprised by how good this film was. Sure, it has its flaws, but it is a near impossible task to follow The Shining.
112. Mandy (2018): Gonzo and blood-soaked madness featuring an inspired performance from the one and only, Nic Cage.
111. Don’t Breathe(2016): This intense film from Fede Álvarez is well written, acted, and it maintains its tense atmosphere throughout.
110. Honeymoon (2014): Leigh Janiak was badass in Game of Thrones and she’s just as badass in this slow building thriller.
109. Army of Darkness(1993): A well mixed horror brew of action, gore, and comedy.
108. The Dead Zone (1983): A strong Stephen King adaptation from Canadian director David Cronenberg. Both Cronenberg and King (unsurprisingly) appear on this list multiple times.
107. Watcher (2022): It’s fantastic that many more women are bringing their spin on the thriller/ horror genre, getting at the feeling of being watched in a way that women truly understand. Chloe Okuno is a director to be watched (see what I did there), and Maika Monroe is terrific in the leading role.
106. Fright Night (1985): Lots of thrills and humour in the original Fright Night.
105. Session 9 (2001): While the ending feels a little abrupt, this film is a masterclass in creating atmosphere.
104. Frozen (2010): Not to be confused with the Disney musical, Frozen is a tense film about three snowboarders who must fight for their lives in the freezing cold after getting stranded on a ski lift.
103. Scanners(1981): An older sci-fi horror classic from David Cronenberg with mind-blowing visuals.
102. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016):Of the Cloverfield franchise films, this is the one I enjoyed the most. It utilizes its confined setting to great effect and the acting is quite outstanding.
101. In Fear (2014): A high tension and immersive experience where most of the fear and violence takes place in your head.
100. A Field in England (2013): Ben Wheatley’s A Field in Englandis a British historical (although revisionist) thriller/horror shot entirely in black-and-white and set during the mid-17th century English Civil War. The film is a gumbo concoction odyssey that breaks free of the historical thriller genre through the use of experimental film techniques: mixing humour, horror and hallucination, with a dissonant kaleidoscopic audio score—an homage to 60s psychedelia. See my full review, here. Also, for another unconventional “horror” film from Wheatley, see Sightseers.
99. Barbarian (2022): Another recent horror film that lives up to a lot of the hype. It is smart, darkly humorous, and fairly scary.
98. High Tension/ Haute tension(Switchblade Romance) (2005): One of the crazy bloodbath French slashers you need to see to believe. The ending could be a little stronger.
97. Host (2020): The first quarantine horror film that takes place entirely over Zoom, Host is scarier than you’d think. Given I teach on Zoom these days, this film gave me real anxiety.
96. A Quiet Place (2018): If you would have told me back in 2013 when I first started this list that I would include a post-apocalyptic science fiction horror film directed and starting John Krasinski I would have laughed at you, but here we are.
95. We Are What We Are (2013): I guess there is such a thing as a smart cannibal film. Honourable mentions for Cannibal the Musical and Ravenous.
94. Titane (2021): This body horror drama film written and directed by Julia Ducournau won the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top award, and Ducournau was the first female filmmaker to win solo. Does this mean you should watch it? It is disturbing, but I think it is a brilliant film. Read the synopsis and decide for yourself.
93. Pontypool (2009): A fantastic Canadian psychological thriller in which a deadly virus infects a small Ontario town. Pontypool is a tense, abstract, and unique contribution to the zombie canon.
92. Shaun of the Dead (2004):Who says the zombie apocalypse can’t be funny? Shaun of the Dead has earned its status as a bonafide cult classic.
91.Candyman (1992): I love the score from Philip Glass, which fits well with the nuanced and chilling premise of Candyman.
90. The Invitation (2015): This tension-rich and slow-building thriller from Karyn Kusama is confident and adds something new to the “dinner party from hell” subgenre.
89.Requiem for a Dream (2000): If one of the main components of the horror genre is to elicit fear in the audience, then Requiem for a Dream is truly a horror film. Rather than talking to my kids about drug addiction when they’re teenagers, I plan to have them watch this. And then we can have the talk … about how crazy this film is.
88. The Lighthouse (2019): Between this and The VVitch, Robert Eggers is on a role. This visually stunning black-and-white film takes place in a lighthouse (filmed in Nova Scotia) and loosely adapts a Poe story to great effect. The performances from the leads as lighthouse keepers—Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson-—is also a masterclass in acting.
87. The Conjuring(2013): Well-crafted horror film that reminded me of classics like TheExorcist and The Amityville Horror.
86. Hush (2016): Michael Flanagan proved he is a formidable talent in the horror genre with his followup to Oculus. Hush provides an original take on the slasher and home invasion thriller.
85. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986): A chilling and disturbing portrait of a psycho killer.
84. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane(1976): A young Jodie Foster plays the title role in this taut Canadian thriller.
83. Calibre(2018): A twisted film that takes an unexpected turn. I caught this one on Netflix and was surprised by how good it was.
82. The Host (2006): This excellent monster feature from Bong Joon-ho (Okja and Parasite) is full of scares, humour, and astute political commentary.
81. Misery (1990): James Caan and Kathy Bates are both fantastic in what is certainly one of the better adaptations of Stephen King’s work.
80. Funny Games(2007): Michael Haneke remakes his own film (1997) with a strong performance from Naomi Watts. Easier to watch than the crime drama Irreversible, but that isn’t saying much. Is this voyeuristic sadism? Is Haneke successful in turning the camera back at us? You decide.
79. Red White & Blue(2010): Well-acted and taut thriller that is also a severely distressing revenge film with a surfeit of torture. Need I say more?
78. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): A powerful remake that expands on the themes of the original.
77. The Descent(2005): Great performances from an all-female cast in this creepy and claustrophobic decent into nightmare.
76. Inside/ À l’Intérieur(2007): I think the French make the most messed up horror films, and this film, which is part of the New French Extremity, is about as bloody, visceral, disturbing, and engrossing as they come. As Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic put it, “Leave it to the French to make Suspiria look like a ’30s drawing-room comedy.” I can’t actually recommend this one, and kind of wish I could un-see it.
75. Salo: 120 days of Sodom (1975): The film updates Marquis de Sade’s most extreme novel to fascist Italy in the final days of WWII. You probably won’t enjoy watching it, but it does a great job in showing how we are often complicit voyeurs of the world’s most disturbing and real horrors.
74. Suspiria (2018): While Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of Suspiria was certainly polarizing, I appreciated how daring and original it felt. The soundtrack from Thom Yorke is also excellent.
73. Scream (1996): Nice homage to early slasher flicks—many of which were Craven’s own—and revival of the genre.
72. Don’t Look Now (1973): With haunting imagery and and a bone chilling score, Don’t Look Now is a must see for fans of the horror genre. It seems that Donald Sutherland was in a lot of these kinds of films in the ’70s.
71. The VVitch (2015): This directorial debut from Robert Eggers is visually compelling and unsettling as it shows that so much of the horror genre is about atmosphere.
70. Black Christmas [also released as Silent Night, Evil Night] (1975): One of the first slasher pics ever made, and it’s Canadian! Interestingly, it is one of Steve Martin’s favourite films.
69. Under the Skin (2013): With feet firmly in both the sci-fi and horror genre, Under the Skin offers a fresh take on both genres while taking the audience to strange new places. Also recommended in a similar vein: Annihilation (2018).
68. Carnival of Souls (1962): The surreal and dreamlike imagery in this film was a major influence on David Lynch and it is easy to see why. An example of effective storytelling that proves once again that less can often be more.
67. Jaws(1975): Spielberg’s Jaws remains a benchmark in blockbuster thrills, and has given sharks a bad name to this day. Da-Dum:It’s incredible that two simple notes can inspire so much terror. Check out the impressive new 4K restoration of the film.
66. 28 Days Later(2002): One of the best zombie movies out there; in addition, it has a fatal political bend to it.
65. [Park Chan-Wook’s Revenge Trilogy] Sympathy of Mr. Vengeance (2002); Oldboy (2003); Sympathy for Lady Vengeance(2005): While these films fall more into the mystery/thriller category, their grimy violence and high style allow them to verge into the horror genre (certainly in gore and subject matter) and presents the viewer with both shock and thought.
64. Los ojos de Julia/ Julia’s Eyes(2010): Full of Hitchcockian suspense. Your eyes will be glued to the screen.
63. Carrie (1976): Teen angst horror-prom blood fest at its best.
Rewatching Carrie a little while ago I noticed that Buck 65 samples the theme in his song, “The Centaur.“
62. Night of the Living Dead (1968): George A. Romero’s debut is a seminal horror classic and it almost single-handedly created the template for the zombie film.
61. An American Werewolf in London(1981): Pitch perfect genre-crossing horror-comedy.
60. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): Featuring Johnny Depp in his screen debut, Nightmare on Elm Street showcases Wes Craven at his finest. Freddy Krueger remains as frightening as ever.
59. The Fly(1986): Wow, horror films before all the special effects crap were so inventive. The Fly is a macabre romance with all the early fleshy Cronenberg trademarks. Oh, and Goldblum.
58. Eden Lake (2008): This British horror film is brutal, but features incredible performances from both Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender.
57. Goodnight Mommy (2015): There’s been some fantastic horror films in the last five years, and this one by duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala is one of them. This unsettling identical-twin psycho-thriller is a riveting nightmare.
56. The Wicker Man(1973): While the Cage remake would likely end up on a slew of worst lists, the original is a classic with a truly unforgettable ending.
55. Videodrome(1983): Videodrome is a disorienting, wholly strange experience about technology and cybernetic flesh and lust that still resonates today.
54. Ringu(1998): I have to go with the Japanese original. Elemental nightmares with a dose of technological anxiety create an unnerving mix.
53. The Cabin in the Woods(2012): Meta-horror flick that is funny, scary, weird and wonderful, often within the same scene.
52. Re-Animator (1985): Stuart Gordon’s take on a H.P Lovecraft story is full of blood and gore and is a perfect mix of humour and horror.
51. Pulse (2001): Fantastic Japanese horror flick that uses the power of suggestion to provide real scares.
50. The Innocents(1961): Atmospheric British classic based on Henry James’s TheTurn of the Screw.
49. It Follows (2015): While it falters at times, It Follows is a smart and terrifying offering that reminds us that modern horror has plenty to offer.
48. Drag Me to Hell(2009): Horror veteran Sam Raimi delivers a modern campy thrill ride.
47. The Babadook (2014): Jennifer Kent’s film relies on genuine scares rather than gore. A modern classic in my opinion. Her latest film, The Nightingale is brutal and shows the full force of settler and patriarchal colonialism and its machinations of violence on women and Indigenous people.
46. The Brood(1979): The perfect example of David Cronenberg’s body horror cinema, offering a take on how repressed demons of the psyche worm their way to the surface. The Criterion print of this film is a work of art.
45. Revenge (2017): With a feminist edge, Coralie Fargeat infuses new life into the exploitation revenge flick.
44. What We Do in the Shadows (2015): One of the funniest horror-comedy films I’ve ever seen, and a great update on the modern vampire flick.
43. Train to Busan (2016): Entertaining South Korean Zombie apocalypse film that takes place mostly on a train.This one is lots of fun!
42. Halloween (1978): A Hallowe’en horror film list would feel inadequate without this film that set the bar for modern slasher films like Scream.
41. You’re Next(2013):This film has it all: energy, brutal gore, a strong female lead, and pitch black humour.
40. Spoorloos/ The Vanishing (1988): The original, of course. I mean how many great foreign horror films has Hollywood unnecessarily remade? This film slowly unravels until we are presented with one of the most shocking endings in any film.
39. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974): While host to a surfeit of bad remakes, the original is low-budget exploitation gore at its optimum. Is this where chainsaw nightmare are made?
38. Rosemary’s Baby(1968): Polanski’s iconic thriller is a spellbinding film that will turn expectant mothers to prayer for safe passage.
37. A Tale of Two Sisters(2003): This South Korean psychological horror drama film written and directed by Kim Jee-woo is intricately structured and full of enough twists to reward multiple viewings.
36. Let the Right One In(2008): This film reenergizes the vampire genre. See Twilight if you want bad horror romance (I assume, as I haven’t actually seen it), but watch Let the Right One In if you want an intelligent film with affecting storytelling.
35. Eyes Without a Face(1960): This 1960 French film is both beautifully poetic and deeply disturbing, often within the same frame. While there’s not much in terms of character development, this film provides an interesting take on the mad-doctor saga and the heterografting scene still disturbs.
34. Us (2019): Jordan Peele has opened up the horror genre to show how America’s racism continues to haunt the present. Us expands on some of the themes in Peele’s debut film, Get Out, and critiques the interconnected territories of race and class. Moreover, Lupita Nyong’o’s performance is a thing of wonder. It’s also a genuinely creepy film and while some critics had a hard time classifying Get Out, this is a full-on horror film.
33. Mulholland Drive(2001): “Silencio.” In many ways this film parallels Lynch’s Blue Velvet as we gradually awaken into a living nightmare. Once Pandora’s box is opened the film enters into a mysterious realm that few, if any, films can travel, traverse, and transcend as beautifully and as well as this film does.
32. Antichrist(2009): Shocking and controversial art house horror. Another film on this list that is not for the squeamish.
31. Repulsion (1965): Schizophrenic decent into psychosis. One of Polanski’s best.
30. American Psycho (2000): This violent and sharp satire from co-writer and director Mary Harron exposes the shallow nature of American culture. It is also nearly impossible to imagine any actor playing Patrick Bateman other than Christian Bale.
29. Martyrs (2008): If you want to watch something utterly horrifying and violent (it is part of the French extremity movement), but also smart and daring, Martyrs might be the film for you. Even though I’ve only seen this film once close to when it was released, many of the images continue to haunt me.
28. [REC] (2007): One of my favourite zombie films and perhaps the best uses of POV found footage.
27. Kill List (2011): Slow burn crime-thriller that gradually becomes a corporal horror.
26. Raw (2016): Another crazy French horror film (big surprise!). This one, directed and written by Julia Ducournau, provides something new to the cannibal horror genre, and it is very atmospheric and full of symbols that stay with you.
25. Blood Quantum (2019): An Indigenous zombie film from writer and director Jeff Barnaby. Barnaby’s “bare knuckle” approach to cinema is an important cinematic intervention (see his excellent Rhymes for Young Ghouls), and this zombie horror film feels all the more pertinent during COVID-19.
24. Blue Velvet(1986): A surreal blend of psychological horror with film noir, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet still disturbs and perhaps tells us even more today about the horrors of small-town American life.
23. Hausu (1977): This surreal Japanese horror flick is the stuff of legend. The script was influenced by the ideas of director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s pre-teen daughter. He asked her what she found to be truly scary, which is why it is likely the only film where a piano eats someone!
22. Come and See(1985): With a title that references the Book of Revelations, Elem Klimov’s Come and See is a harrowing and graphic anti-war film (about the horrors of the fascist genocide in Belorussia). It is also surreal and poetic. I realize choosing an anti-war film opens up the discussion of horror, but the last 45 minutes of this film really do feel like you’ve descended into Hell.
21. Alien(1979): A poetic sci-fi horror tour de force. I watch this film every few years and it never gets old.
20. I Saw the Devil (2010): You’ve likely noticed that I am a big fan of South Korean cinema and horror. If you are looking for something intense and full of action, I highly recommend this Korean film. The chilling performance from Choi Min-sik as a psychopathic serial killer is a sight to behold.
19. Hereditary (2018): Speaking of great performances, it is a blunder than Toni Collette was not nominated for an Oscar for her role in Hereditary. Most people reading through a horror list have likely seen Ari Aster’s debut film at this point, but if you haven’t you should get on that. Aside from Collette’s great performance, it is full of shocking twists and scares.
18. Audition (1999): kiri, kiri. This Japanese psychological drama will stay with you, and nothing can prepare you for the shocking ending.
17. Possession (1981): This psychological horror drama film from polish director Andrzej Żuławski is a hard one to describe and needs to be seen to be truly experienced. It is one of the most uncompromising horror movies in the history of cinema.
16. The Evil Dead (1981): Its careful mix of black comedy with supernatural horror made The Evil Dead an instant milestone in graphic horror.
15. The Loved Ones (2009): This Australian film mixes horror and teen drama well and the ending is one of the best of any horror film. It gives new meaning to the challenges of going to prom.
14. Eraserhead (1977): Shockingly, or not, David Lynch calls Eraserhead his most spiritual film. A surreal and experimental body horror about a man’s fear of being a father, the film is engrossing and disturbing. The creepy sound design for the film is also really incredible.
13. The Exorcist (1973): Considered by many to be the scariest film of all time, Friedkin’s The Exorcist is a horror classic with some of the most blood-curdling scenes (the spider walk scene!) on celluloid.
12. The Wailing (2016): This lengthy South Korean horror gem has it all: Asian mythology, exorcisms, shamans, zombies, and the devil. It starts off as a comedy, but quickly turns quite dark.
11. Midsommar (2019): While it is only his second film (after Hereditary), Ari Aster proved he is a true horror auteur with this one. I enjoyed this even more than Hereditary and although it is more unsettling than it is scary, the images are disturbing and the hallucinatory tone of the film lingers long after it’s over.
10. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me(1992): Some might disagree with having this rank so high, but I think it is David Lynch’s most pure horror film. It is also his most misunderstood and denigrated work. The film’s subject matter is not only difficult, but its narrative complexity can feel impenetrable at times. According to David Foster Wallace: “[Fire Walk with Me] sought to transform Laura Palmer from dramatic object to dramatic subject … Laura was no longer ‘an enigma’ or ‘the password to an inner sanctum of horror.’ She embodied, in full view, all the Dark Secrets that on the series had been the stuff of significant glances and delicious whispers.”
9. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014): Such an amazing debut from Ana Lily Amirpour. It’s not often you’ll come across an Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western let alone one with a lonely chador-wearing feminist-vampire-vigilante on a skateboard who fights against the oppression of women. It’s also beautifully filmed and scored.
8. Silence of the Lambs (1991): Both Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster give incredible performances (in which they both won Oscars) in a film that legitimized horror in the eyes of the general public. As a psychological study and horror film, it has it all. However, I tend to agree with some of the criticisms of the film by the LGBTQ+ community around the portrayal of Buffalo Bill.
7. The Thing (1982): John Carpenter’s remake is such a fantastic and engrossing film. The fear and paranoia of a mutant disease spreading while in isolation takes on new meaning in 2020. After seeing this, watch the episode called “Ice” from the first season of The X-Files for some close parallels.
6. Deep Red/ Italian: Profondo Rosso (1975): Of all the Argento and giallo films I’ve seen, this one is the best. Even though I enjoy Suspiria slightly more for its abstraction and incredible cinematography, Deep Red is more compelling and complex and you can see its influence on later horror films and murder mysteries. The soundtrack by Goblin is also great.
5. Get Out (2017): Rarely does a film come out that changes the landscape of the conversation happening within a given genre, but Get Out manages to do that and more. American comedian and writer Jordan Peele recognized lacunas in the genre and crafted a film that uses the metaphor of the sunken place to address the pain of commodified black bodies in cinema/horror. It’s also a lot of fun to catch all the references to The Shining in the film.
4. Dead Ringers (1988): A progenitor of a genre typically referred to as body horror, Toronto-born and world-renowned auteur David Cronenberg remains one of the most audacious narrative directors working in cinema. One of Cronenberg’s most controlled and creepy films, Dead Ringerscentres on twin-brother gynaecologists who share everything, including a patient, and despite their best efforts, cannot be severed from one another. The “Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women” are a haunting metaphor for male desire to control reproduction. I had a chance to see this at TIFF as part of David Cronenberg: Evolution, and before the screening Cronenberg discussed how Dead Ringers was a critical turning point in his career; after the screening, the first words Jeremy Irons spoke were, “That’s a pretty strange film.” Indeed.
3. Suspiria (1977): This abstract, glossy, and gory horror is full of phantasmagoric style. The soundtrack is incredible. While most horror stories take place in settings with isolated victims, Argento takes things one step further by placing his young protagonist, Suzy (Jessica Harper), in a particularly creepy ballet academy located in rural Italy. The movie is violent, jarring, and also full of breathtakingly beautiful cinematography and vibrant colours. Goblin’s score is one of the best in all of horror. Check out the original theme, and then listen to hip-hop producer RJD2’s use of the sample in his track “Weatherpeople.”
2. Psycho (1960): There’s before Psycho and after Psycho. While it seems hard to believe, Psycho was the first film to show someone flushing a toilet. With that said, we can see why the famous shower sequence (consisting of 78 set ups and 52 cuts in 45 seconds) sent some people running out of the theatre. No longer were our private domestic spaces safe. Hitchcock imagined the shower scene without sound, but fortunately Bernard Herrmann convinced him otherwise as it is one of the most recognizable sonic moments in all of cinema.
1. The Shining (1980):
blood: redrum, RƎⱭЯUM what’s in room two-three-seven? surprise: here’s Johnny!
There was a time when Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was not considered to be the great horror film many people and critics see it as today. The film opened to derisive laughter. As Pauline Kael wrote, “Who wants to see evil in daylight, through a wide-angle lens?” Over time The Shining’s stature as a classic has grown and it introduced nearly all the elements that are part of horror’s popular lexicon: jump-cuts, modernist music (Kubrick uses six pieces from Polish composer, Krzystof Penderecki), subliminal inserts (Danny’s visions), and all kinds of visual metaphors. The film itself is structured like a piece of music with various movements and recurring rhythms. It is a film you can get lost in and think through every time you watch it. It was innovative, especially in its use of Steadicam (see Danny’s pedal car).
The most arresting element about Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s book is the engrossing labyrinthine structure of the film, which adds a dizzying effect as we get lost deeper and deeper in the film’s maze. Replacing King’s topiary (hedges that come alive) with a maze adds plenty of cinematic verve to the adaptation. Topiary just isn’t scary; on the other hand, a demented Minotaur of a man running through a maze to kill his kid in the dead cold of winter is bone chilling. For me, Kubrick’s version was much more terrifying because instead of ghosts—although mysterious elements are present—we are shown a more mythic and immediate evil. Evil exists in the world of the living and it is our responsibility to contest it. Kubrick’s finale is ice cold: the world freezes over and evil still waits in the halls of the Overlook Hotel.
Need a reprieve from all the scary carnage? Here’s The Shiningà la Seinfeld with a laugh track.
Spending more time indoors (due to COVID-19) means that I have more opportunity to catch up on films from my massive watch list. From those recent viewings, I am recommending three phenomenal films directed and written by women, all of which shared themes of psychological isolation and featured women finding their worth outside of the definitions and limitations imposed upon them by a patriarchal society.
The first film is Anna Rose Holmer’s debut, The Fits (2015). The film tells the story of Toni (played by Royalty Hightower): an 11-year old who trains with her brother at the boxing gym and then decides to join and fit into a girl’s dance troupe in the same community centre. The troupe begins to inexplicably suffer from a wave of violent fits. Holmer did a lot of research into real-life stories of seizure-like attacks affecting young women, going all the way back to cases like the dancing plague of 1518. On the surface, the film is a typical bildungsroman, but it is a much deeper film about what it feels like to be psychologically isolated while trying to navigate a fledging sense of self. The film does an excellent job of establishing mood and the final sequence is pure cinema. In fact, much of the film defies traditional dramatic convention in order to take us directly inside the head of Toni who is often framed looking at herself (through mirrors), her peers (through windows), and directly at the audience.
The next film is Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (2018). Of the three films, I recommend this one with some reserve and a warning that this is an extremely graphic and potentially very triggering movie. Where Kent’s The Babadook (2014) relied on implied psychical terror, The Nightingale is brutal and shows the full force of settler and patriarchal colonialism and its machinations of violence on women and Indigenous people. The story’s backdrop is colonization in Australia in 1825, and the film brings the violence through which the colony was established to the forefront: rape and violence inflicted upon children are prevalent throughout. I definitely got vibes of Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993), except where Indigenous people are mostly silent in Campion’s film, we do get a somewhat larger perspective of the effects of colonialism and racism through an excellent performance from Baykali Ganambarr as “Billy”: an Indigenous tracker who accompanies our central character as she seeks revenge on her oppressors. Roughly, the film is about an Irish women convict named Clare (played by Aisling Franciosi) seeking retribution for the atrocities committed against her and her family. The film deals directly with her psychological isolation and her lack of support, although she finds shared grief and solace with Billy who has also lost much to colonial violence. Kent’s film provides an unflinching look at the British penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now the Australian state of Tasmania), and while it is hardly a film many would want to endure, its palpable anger and themes of redemption are ultimately rewarding: “I belong to me and no one else!”
The final film is Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, or Portrait de la jeune fille en feu in French (2019). Portrait is a historical drama set in France during the late 18th century. It tells the story of a forbidden affair between an aristocrat and a painter. The painter—Marianne, played by Noémie Merlant—has been summoned to a remote seaside estate to paint a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) to send to the family of her suitor (because Héloïse resists arranged marriage, Marianne is charged with painting in secret). The film is full of tension as the two women come to know each other through sustained gaze, expression, and eventually through physical intimacy. Spectacularly, this romance unfolds outside the world of men (and without men on screen) as these two women (and the house servant Sophie, played by Luàna Bajrami) learn to see themselves outside the confines of patriarchy. This film said so much about the nature of the gaze and the frames (boxes) in which the women felt confined. I was captivated by every second of this film and found Claire Mathon’s cinematography a revelation (her stellar work can also be seen in Atlantics, another film I highly recommend). Lastly, the extended use of music for the final shot— Presto from “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons—reminded me of the great French director Claire Denis, and is a moment that lingers long after the film. If you enjoyed this film, make sure you check out other excellent work by Sciamma including Tomboy (2011) and Girlhood (2014).
A few other recent films by women with similar themes to the above that I would recommend include Dee Rees‘ Pariah (2011), Ana Lily Amirpour’sA Girls Walks Home Alone at Night(2014), Lulu Wang’s The Farewell(2019), andMati Diop’s Atlantics(2019; Diop was the first Black woman to direct a film featured in competition at Cannes).
What did you think of the films if you’ve seen any of them? Feel free to drop a comment below, and happy watching.
Also, remember to wear masks and social distance (as excellently demonstrated in Portraitof a Lady on Fire).
“A riot is the language of the unheard.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
We are still grappling with what, in 1903, W. E. B Du Bois defined as the most divisive issue in America: “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” What Du Bois was getting at when he was talking about “the problem of the colour line” was to show that race is ultimately about how racism and power are correlated and socially constructed. Despite this construction, cultural theorist George Lipsitz argues, “Race is a cultural construct, but one with deadly social causes and consequences.” We like to think in 2014 (especially for those of us living under the banner of multicultural Canada) that racism is a problem of the past. In many ways we are still living with the vestiges of a slavery system, what Saidiya Hartmen refers to as “the afterlife of slavery” once practiced in America and Canada.
Last night it was announced that the police officer who shot an unarmed Michael Brown (at least 6 times) was not indicted by a grand jury. Even though Brown’s family called for non-violent change (stating, “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change”), soon after the grand jury announcement riots in Ferguson spiraled out of control. In many ways Brown’s death—like the death of other unarmed black men, such as Oscar Grant III and Trayvon Martin—became symbolic and systematic of a broken justice system. How are oppressed people supposed to do the right thing, irrespective of whether the approach taken is Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr. in strategy? The problems are so deeply rooted that the entire system requires a complete overturn. It’s like terrorism, which too cannot be stopped by addressing symptoms and not the causes that bread violence: poverty, inequality, and other violence. The same goes for a riot: we are quick to condemn a riot rather than ask, what is at the root of such public outrage?
It is fitting that I had Spike Lee’s seminal film Do the Right Thing—a powerful work of cinematic verve—scheduled to watch in one of my English classes this morning. Although released 25 years ago in 1989, Do the Right Thing remains as pertinent as ever, particularly against the recent backdrop of race riots and social unrest in Ferguson. Lee was instrumental in launching a new wave of Black cinema in 1986 with his renowned protofeminist film, She’s Gotta Have It (although bell hooks takes Lee’s work to task as antifeminist). In the way that She’s Gotta Have It draws its energy from Brooklyn, Do the Right Thing too uses Brooklyn as the backdrop for a slowly brewing race riot. As the thermometer goes up, the film intensifies. The last act of the film is so powerful that some in the media contended that white people should not see the movie in theatres because there might be riots. This is racist because it assumes that only white people can tell the difference between reality and representation.
For many film critics, much of the focus was on the loss of Sal’s Pizzeria while the murdering of Radio Raheem in a brutal chokehold didn’t register. One of the critiques of the film is that Spike Lee does not provide an answer to racism or prejudice at the end of the film. In my opinion this is the real strength of the picture. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “He’d [Lee] made a movie about race in America that empathized with all the participants. He didn’t draw lines or take sides but simply looked with sadness at one racial flashpoint that stood for many others.” Ferguson stands for so many ongoing racial malaises in the West that we could spend entire books unpacking them. In this short post, I hardly have the space to delve into them, but I make the comparison between the film (representation) and the current reality (Ferguson) to draw attention to how racism (and the fiction of race) continues to dehumanize those who are non-white as lesser and inferior. Racism like colonialism is a matter of power: it is about who gets to decide who is more pure, more capable, more right—essentially, more white. The protestors in Ferguson are fighting for a voice because historically they have been silenced.
There are no simple answers to deal with the tensions and injustices that beget civil disobedience. In Do the Right Thing, as the long hot summer day wanes, you can gradually anticipate the moment where the trash can smashes through the pizzeria and sparks a riot. Racism is a sickness so imbedded in America (and Canada) that it is only a matter of time before tensions boil over. I am for peaceful protest but—especially for those who face unspeakable horror and injustice— sometimes the only response that feels appropriate is a version of Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary.”
Even Martin Luther King, Jr., who is often remembered for his approaches to civil liberty through nonviolence, once said: “Massive civil disobedience is a strategy for social change.” Of course, how we define civil disobedience is a matter of interpretation. I don’t think riots necessarily solve anything; more likely, they bring out the worst in all parties involved, but I do understand that people riot when they feel desperate. Like the “love” and “hate” brass knuckles that adorn the hands of Radio Raheem (and like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” blasting out of his portable ghetto blaster), we need to find ways to use love to battle the hate that cannibalizes contemporary North America. We need to continue to find creative, positive, hopeful, and, at times, militant ways, “to fight the powers that be.”
A progenitor of a genre typically referred to as body horror, Toronto-born and world-renowned auteur David Cronenberg remains one of the most audacious narrative directors working in cinema. Citing literary influences as diverse and incendiary as Vladimir Nabokov and William S. Burroughs (Cronenberg adapted Burroughs’s Naked Lunch), Cronenberg’s films continually blur the line between corporeality and psychological disorder, reality and hallucinatory nightmare. Currently, TIFF features a major exhibit to celebrate the director’s work, David Cronenberg: Evolution, and has been playing Cronenberg’s entire cinematic oeuvre, with special introductions to screenings and talks with those who have worked most closely with him.
My wife and I watch an intense thriller or horror film around once a month. We ramp it up every October to around 10 horror films to celebrate Hallowe’en. I admit there were a couple films on this list she couldn’t finish and I don’t blame her… although she did make it to the end of Martyrs, so who knows what qualifies as too much? And why do we enjoy scary films, anyway? Probably for the same reason we stop and gaze at a car accident: it is purgative and cathartic to live and survive someone else’s suffering. Catharsis is employed by Aristotle in the sixth chapter of his Tragedy as a defense of literature for its ability to release ourselves from the reception of our experience of shock and horror.
Even the Pasolini film, Salo: 120 days of Sodom, which is not a horror proper but is still included on this list, is a visual representation of the Sade novel: the film is full of abject horror, grotesque materiality and torture, and yet the violence in that film is infused with representation— symbolizing fascism, corruption and power. So horror films provide both abject representation and escape, and some—perhaps the Saw and Human Centipede franchises—might be simply what is often referred to as “torture porn.” Brazilian theatre director and pedagogue Augusto Boal argues against theatre as an Aristotelian construct because he saw it in this form as coercion to support the dominant ideology. And while Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, which clearly states that the only liberating theatre is the kind that directly engages the spectator in action, hence allowing the people (spectators) the means to production in order to rehearse and potentially engage in revolution, I wonder if Boal somewhat misjudges the power of the directly uninvolved spectator, or at least his reading of spectators who, while they might not be able to control the production of a fixed text, they do, in fact, control its interpretation. And while theatre and film serve different yet similar purposes, I think it’s important to remember that horror and tragedy and its representations have a history that extends to the dawn of human time.
I’m not justifying our watching of horror films so much as stating that all humans experience fear and nightmare. We as a species will continue to find ways to represent those experiences. Despite our somewhat laid-back lifestyle, my wife and I tend to watch a lot of horrifying and disturbing films. Here’s a list of some of my favourites—although the list is hardly exhaustive—in time for All Hallows’ Eve. I’ve provided micro reviews of each film with horror haikus for the top 13! Enjoy these cinematic nightmares!
50. The Conjuring(2013): Well-crafted horror film that reminded me of classics like TheExorcist and The Amityville Horror.
49. 28 Days Later(2002): One of the best zombie movies out there; in addition, it has a fatal political bend to it.
48. The Descent(2005): Great performances from an all-female cast in this creepy and claustrophobic decent into nightmare.
47. Lost Highway(1997): I love Lynch and this is a bizarre drive worth taking.
46. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me(1992): Not as good as the T.V. show, but it has many of the same themes that make this disturbing and vivid surrealist dream worth viewing.
45. Carrie (1976): Teen angst horror-prom blood fest at its best.
Rewatching Carrie a little while ago I noticed that Buck 65 samples the theme in his song, “The Centaur.”
44. Oculus (2014): A recent film that blurs reality and perception, showing that freight can be more effective than gore.
43. An American Werewolf in London(1981): Pitch perfect genre-crossing horror-comedy.
42. Leprechaun (1993): I could write an essay on all the reasons I love this B horror film. Perhaps the highlight of Jennifer Aniston’s acting career?
41. The Fly(1986): Wow, horror films before all the special effects crap were so inventive. The Fly is a macabre romance with all the early fleshy Cronenberg trademarks. Oh, and Goldblum.
40. Halloween (1978): A Hallowe’en horror film list would feel inadequate without this film that set the bar for modern slasher films like Scream.
39. TheBlair Witch Project(1999): Set the standard for all the mock-doc horror films that are now so popular.
38. Scream (1996): Nice homage to early slasher flicks—many of which were Craven’s own—and revival of the genre.
37. Salo: 120 days of Sodom (1975): The film updates Marquis de Sade’s most extreme novel to fascist Italy in the final days of WW II. I can’t actually recommend this film, as you probably won’t enjoy watching it, but it does a great job in showing how we are often complicit voyeurs of the world’s most disturbing and real horrors.
36. Videodrome (1983): Insanely awesome. Videodrome is a disorienting, wholly strange experience about technology and cybernetic flesh and lust that still resonates today.
35. High Tension(Switchblade Romance) (2005): One of the crazy bloodbath French slashers you need to see to believe. The ending could be a little stronger.
34. Funny Games(2007): Michael Haneke remakes his own film with a strong performance from Naomi Watts. Easier to watch than the crime drama Irreversible, but that isn’t saying much. Is this voyeuristic sadism? You decide.
33. Ringu(1998): I gotta go with the Japanese original. Elemental nightmares with a dose of technological anxiety create an unnerving mix.
32. The Cabin in the Woods(2012): Meta-horror flick that is funny, scary, weird and wonderful, often within the same scene.
31. The Innocents(1961): Atmospheric British classic based on Henry James’s TheTurn of the Screw.
30. Se7en(1995): I was a little reluctant to include a mystery thriller because there are many I like even more than Se7en, but Se7en is unique for its disturbing exploration of the seven deadly sins, and does so in a more creative way than most horror films proper do.
29. The Red Riding Trilogy(2010): This British crime drama might not quite classify as horror, but it is an immersive and gritty neo-noir epic based on the Yorkshire Ripper.
28. The Wicker Man(1973): While the Cage remake would likely end up on a slew of worst lists, the original is a classic with a truly unforgettable ending.
27. Drag Me to Hell(2009): Horror veteran Sam Raimi delivers a modern campy thrill ride.
26. Los ojos de Julia/ Julia’s Eyes(2010): Full of Hitchcockian suspense. Your eyes will be glued to the screen.
25. Suspiria(1977): This abstract, glossy, and gory giallo horror is full of phantasmagoric style. The soundtrack is incredible.
Check out the original theme, and then listen to hip-hop producer RJD2’s use of the sample in his track “Weatherpeople”:
24. Let the Right One In(2008): Reenergizes the vampire genre. See Twilight if you want bad horror romance (I assume, I haven’t actually seen it), but watch Let the Right One In if you want an intelligent film with affecting storytelling.
23. Spoorloos/ The Vanishing (1988): The original, of course. I mean how many great foreign horror films has Hollywood unnecessarily remade? This film slowly unravels until we are presented with one of the most shocking endings in any film.
22. Mulholland Drive(2001): “Silencio.” In many ways this film parallels Lynch’s Blue Velvet as we gradually awaken into a living nightmare. Once Pandora’s box is opened the film enters into a mysterious realm that few, if any films, can travel, traverse, and transcend as beautifully and well as this film does.
21. Alien(1979)/ Aliens (1986): A poetic sci-fi horror tour de force. The more visceral Aliens is also fantastic and so I cheated and lumped it in with Alien. I also enjoyed Prometheus (2012).
20. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974): Also host to a surfeit of bad remakes, the original is low-budget exploitation gore at its optimum. Is this where chainsaw nightmare are made?
19. Rosemary’s Baby(1968): Polanski’s iconic thriller is a spellbinding film that will turn expectant mothers to prayer for safe passage.
18. Red White & Blue(2010): Well-acted and taut thriller that is also a severely distressing revenge film with a surfeit of torture. Need I say more?
17. Repulsion (1965): Schizophrenic decent into psychosis. One of Polanski’s best.
16. Antichrist(2009): Shocking and controversial art house horror. Another film on this list that is not for the squeamish. Check out the trailer below:
15. [REC] (2007): My favourite zombie film and one of the best uses of POV found footage.
14. Kill List (2012): Slow burn crime-thriller that gradually becomes a corporal horror.
13. Audition (1999)
the girl of his dreams?
eyes open, kiri, kiri
nope: mistress slasher
12. American Psycho (2000)
classic Christian Bale
11. Martyrs (2008)
witness grisly form
french do more than wine & cheese
take your filmy skin off
10. Eraserhead (1977)
surreal & bizarre
reptilian cries pierce night
parenthood is hard
9. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
thriller: cannibal killer
hear screams: then silence
8. Dead Ringers (1988)
a trifurcated cervix
twins: macabre game
7. Blue Velvet (1986)
she wore blue velvet
Hopper wore a bug-like mask
I read Lynch meditates
6. The Loved Ones (2012)
observe with bright eyes
lobotomize your hard skull
5. TheEvil Dead(1981)
old woods . . .
the dead come in
4.The Exorcist (1973)
Friedkin’s freaky film
fact, fiction, or fantasy?
exorcise some faith
3. A Clockwork Orange(1971)
viddy this brothers
blood oozes like eggiweg
on moloko world
2. Psycho (1960)
shower with lights on
psycho thriller that Hitchcock:
master of suspense
1. The Shining(1980)
blood: redrum, RƎⱭЯUM
what’s in room two-three-seven?
surprise: here’s Johnny!
Need a reprieve from all the scary carnage? Here’s The Shiningà la Seinfeld with a laugh track.
On this year’s Hallowe’en horror films to watch list: A Tale of Two Sisters, Inside, Pulse, Thirst, Re-Animator, Peeping Tom, Don’t Look Now, The Thing (1982), In the Mouth of Madness, Prince of Darkness, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), I Saw the Devil, and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. Maybe I’ll have to update my top 50 list next year after watching these. Happy—and spooky—Hallowe’en!