In continuing with this test piloting of the Rank My Ranks collaboration between Mike and I, the next group of lists one of the things I recognized in my overglut of horror movie lists was movies that I constantly see considered a horror film and am truly fond of enough to consider them at least for my personal canon, but I personally just can’t register or categorize as horror films myself. After all, most categories of genre are less aesthetic-based than realized and more on the reaction we’re given for each type of film – comedies are usually meant to make us laugh rather than look a certain way, horror films are meant to shock or scare us (although they do usually have a consensus look to them), romantic comedies are meant to provoke group suicide, and so on.
Mike gamed on by providing his own modest list as well of not-horror movies in his eyes that he saw as scary and full of craftsmanship enough to earn Ghost’s Mention. And so we lead into our own discussion of our lists in chronological order of film, with the usual order of things:
STinG’s comments are in blue. Mike’s are in red.
God bless your eyes, especially if you’re looking at this in 3-D Glasses, as I am while arranging this.
I’m in the middle of a masochistic-yet-annual-obligation-as-a-horror-fan Friday the 13th marathon (God save my soul) and I’m on the 3-D film of the series (There is no God).
Before I begin I want to give the most undead of mentions to Charles Laughton’s 1955 The Night of the Hunter, which absolutely always finds itself on every horror movie list I’ve ever seen worth a damn and has enough rustic fantasia qualities in its cinematography to warrant being called the best type of any fucking movie. Mike has not seen it yet (thank Odin he agreed to do Criterion reviews *wink wink*) and I simply out-and-out refuse to call it horror, period. I don’t even entertain the idea of it being a horror film. Nearly every element of it – narrative and aesthetic – puts it firmly into the noir territory and while the argument that shadows are scary can be made (and that Robert Mitchum in shadows is scarier), I plug my hands on my ears and go “lalala!” at that.
Call me a philistine. Let’s get to the list already.
Never seen the full movie but had to watch part of it in some theater history class or some shit. Compelling imagery.
Compelling imagery and larger-than-life mythologizing. The tale of Faust has always been one I’ve been immensely fond of and this is the one film adaptation (albeit a loose one) of Faust I love most (it probably helps that it is a silent movie for one and one by no less than F.W. Murnau – my pick for the best filmmaker who ever lived). Emil Jannings plays Mephisto exactly the way you’d expect such a role to be performed in a Gothic Opera and the limited resources of 1926 never once prevent this from feeling like a globe-trotting adventure. Of course, it’s also melodramatic to a point that in spite of being a tale of a deal with the devil, it’s not nearly as creepy in its atmosphere – beyond Faust’s first summoning scene – in the same manner as Murnau’s Nosferatu.
As a bonus, I like watching it to a soundtrack of Kamelot songs – namely from the albums Epica and The Black Halo. Which are also based on the tale of Faust.
King Kong (1933/dir. Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack/ani. Willis O’Brien/USA) – on STinG’s list
Never seen it. Is it better than the Jessica Lange one?
Bruh, the Jessica Lange film is better than Citizen fucking Kane, it’s so good. When RKO’s Kong died, nobody fucking gives a shit, but when Dino de Laurentiis’ Kong dies… we all bawling like babies, dude.
No, I’m just kidding, gonorrhea was better than the Lange/de Laurentiis picture. Anybody with even the slightest enthusiasm for Ray Harryhausen’s work (which I like to think is every guy into movies) should see the film that inspired him and it’s my favorite monster movie, but by this point it’s diluted enough into an adventure that I think it’s very easy not to categorize it as horror anymore.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943/dir. Maya Deren/USA) – On STinG’s list
Never even heard of this one.
It’s a 13 minute short film from 1943 and a damn good ‘un at that. Sits in my top ten movies and completely engrossing as a repeated nightmare to the point that I recently learned David Lynch has NOT seen this movie which just stopped me in my tracks. It feels like the biggest spiritual predecessor to Mulholland Dr. But of course, the real scare doesn’t happen until, well, the end. Before that, it’s all surrealism of the highest order. Like most short films not produced by Disney, you could probably find it in a quick internet search – though try to find it with the “original” soundtrack (original insofar as it was added after the fact with Deren’s involvement) by Ito Teiji, cyclical and sharp that it is.
Godzilla (1954/dir. Honda Ishiro/Japan) – on STinG’s list
What’s a Godzilla?
A Blue Oyster Cult song.
Persona (1966/dir. Ingmar Bergman/Sweden) – on STinG’s list
Haven’t seen this Criterion Collection yet, but a friend of mine requested I review it because she couldn’t understand what the hell was going on and needed another opinion on it.
I promise you once you watch it, you will give me the exact same incredulous reaction to putting it on a horror film list as Barton Fink – maybe even moreso. I should probably note that the only reason it is one here is that fulfills two criteria – 1) It’s one of my favorite movies 2) Wikipedia says it gets categorized under horror by some (same as Barton Fink). So I’m not nearly as committed to putting on this list as everything else, though I’d think any movie that inspires Mulholland Dr. should be given some acknowledgement of how unsettling and broken it is as an experience.
Jaws (1975/dir. Steven Spielberg/USA) – on Mike and STinG’s lists
One of the best action/adventure/thriller but definitely not horror blockbusters ever made. Spielberg brilliantly builds tension by barely showing the shark (a technique that Ridley Scott would later adapt for Alien) and he also lets the characters breath. Jaws isn’t just about a shark, but about three wildly different people hunting a shark all for different reasons. Richard Dreyfuss and Roy “Fosse” Scheider are great, but the real standout is Robert Shaw who delivers a flawless monologue penned by Hollywood legend John Milius.
Every time I don’t put Jaws in a horror category (I agree on calling it an adventure film), I get thrown at least one objection to that. This is a pleasant first to see somebody on my side about not putting it in that box, but I see why people think it is such a horror film. The first half has all the makings of a slasher (except with an aquatic predator rather than an edge-wielding madman), the second half is obviously where it delves into adventure, yet there’s still a manic psychological threat in Robert Shaw’s performance once they’re isolated – they’re stuck with this clearly broken and violent man (that monologue is so obviously John Milius in all the right ways) to worry about inside the ship, while outside, an incredibly large and aggressive maneating monster is waiting for them to fail. And both halves got at least one effective untelegraphed jump scare.
For what it’s worth, Jaws was the one time eight-year-old Salim would have rather done homework instead of watched the movie and did so. Also, it’s my favorite Spielberg (I LOVE MY SPIELBERG, fuk wit me) and if I had put it in my favorite horror movies list, Jaws would go straight to the top. It’s a top five movie for me. As much as it’s a happy accident, the restraint Spielberg and Bill Butler have from showing the violence in usual grindhouse fare, and Verna Fields’ creative runaround with what she can’t show to spread around some tension every time we go in the water, it’s brilliant, it’s exactly the sort of sophisticated and intelligent craftsmanship you ought to expect from the best era of American cinema, even if it’s also the movie that allegedly killed New Hollywood by being such a success.
One last thing and I’m done gushing the fuck out, I’ve seen the movie a million times (I always catch it when a theater close by is showing it no matter what)…
… in the final moments of the film as Brody or the shark going toe to toe and Brody’s sinking into the water with the rest of the ship and trying to shoot the shark… my heart never stops racing. No matter how many times I watch that scene. It’s fucking zooming.
Really good Lynch, but definitely not up there with his best work. Claymation is off the charts and is it weird I find that mutant baby kinda cute?
Considering that you’re supposed to feel bad for the mutant baby, I don’t think that should hurt that you find it cute at all. Of course, then there’s the fact that you’re supposed to be repulsed by its appearance like Henry is and I don’t think that’s happening with something you find cute. In any case, Lynch has enough top-notch work that Eraserhead has always just about been my THIRD favorite work of his – the other two showing up later in this very list (as well as my fourth favorite). It’s just as avant-garde and ambiguous as Under the Skin and Meshes of the Afternoon, but unlike those, it’s something it’s very easily to apply your own personal emotional narrative to since Henry is such a blank space (the most popular being of course fear of fatherhood and being the head of a household).
House is everything and nothing. It is one of a kind, unable to be even slightly copied, a gigantic toybox of moods and thrills for the imagination of Obayashi Nobuhiko and Chigumi to take anywhere they wanna make it. It’s really tough to figure if the girl’s screams are of fear and joy, considering how fun it is while still remaining firmly in haunted house territory.
I definitely consider this one a horror picture and it’s even in my top 10 horror films of all time list. It has creepy imagery in the second half and takes place in a haunted house. That’s how I figured it was a horror film.
One of the most original and hilarious films I’ve ever seen.
House is the fucking shit!
That darn cat!
Ghostbusters (1984/dir. Harold Ramis/USA) – on Mike’s list
This is hands down my favorite 80s comedy. I mean, who the hell doesn’t like Ghostbusters?
It’s brilliantly combines action/adventure elements with comedy thanks to the incomparable Bill Murray and the incredible writing skills of Dan Aykroyd and the late great Harold Ramis. Supposedly the original script was around three-hundred pages because Aykroyd added Kubrick-level detail to everything. What we get on screen is about a third of that, but that insane level of detail still shines through the wild creativity of events in the film like a giant marshmallow man attacking New York City or Aykroyd receiving a blowjob from a horny ghost.
I don’t think it’s close to perfect, but it’s so feel good and a whole lot of that is simply from the chemistry of the irreplaceable cast – John Belushi could have easily been Peter Venkman and Eddie Murphy as Zeddmore and that would have been a disaster if that happened. Instead, we get a very well-structured and distinctive main cast, some worthy enough effects work to at once match the smokey presence of poltergeists and menace without dipping its hand into horror territory and best of all, while Aykroyd (especially Aykroyd) and Ramis have enough energy within their project to make it all exciting and fun, Murray might not have thought the script was bullshit (I hope he didn’t because I’d disagree), but he acts like it’s bullshit and so gives the perfect central foil of sarcasm to every single motherfucker on-screen.
Movies just don’t get more fun than Ghostbusters.
Like I’m saying, only assholes hate Ghostbusters. Assholes with no dick.
Mulholland Drive is great, but Lynch’s magnum opus will always be Blue Velvet about the gritty underbelly of good old fashioned clean society. Isabella Rossellini is heartbreaking but Dennis Hopper steals the film by creating a boogeyman far more frightening than any xenomorph or masked killer. Hopper and Dean Stockwell share an awkward sort-of duet of Roy Orbison’s In Dreams (or CANDY-COLORED CLOWN!) in one of the film’s most hauntingly strange and iconically Lynch moments.
And behold my fourth favorite Lynch! And just because I rank it below Inland, Mulholland, and Eraserhead does not mean I’m giving Blue Velvet anywhere near faint praise. Twin Peaks may have expanded on the idea that an idyllic community doesn’t mean there isn’t some real shit underneath it, but Blue Velvet is the one where it’s at the very core of it (which would of course be necessary since we know damn well that it’s a noir). It’s full of icky grit that makes us not want to go outside (well, I mean, assuming we stop in the middle of the movie, since it IS a happy ending) but Lynch is still just as willing to turn the fields and town into black fantasy before our very eyes (it is surprising the tonal differences we get between daytime naivete to nighttime evil) and that all starts with – as you mentioned – Hopper’s unhinged performance as the motherfucking motherfucker Frank Booth himself. I haven’t seen such an nihilistic energy exuded in any creation without a hint of camp to it in any other performance save for Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Here’s to your FUCK!
If you like, Mike. To your fuck.
Barton Fink (1991/dir. the Coen brothers/USA) – on STinG’s list
Salim, I think you’re the only person in the entire goddamn universe that would consider Barton Fink maybe being a horror film.
You may very well be right on that. Barton Fink though has so many creepy otherworldly elements about its primary setting – the Hotel he’s staying in with all its walls falling apart, the noises surrounding Barton with no visual anchor, all with the characters inhabiting it being so damn lax except for Barton, the murder later on in the film that occurs, this place is literally Hell with its fiery climax – and John Goodman is such an outstandingly arms-length menace even when he smiles in that warm John Goodman-cuddly smile – sickly fluid oozing out of his ear – that I never couldn’t see it as a horror movie.
That being said, this is one of the best Coen Brothers pictures I’ve seen with amazing performances all around. John Goodman screaming with a shotgun down a burning apartment hallway is permanently etched in my mind.
If I’m going to be straight up, it is my favorite Coen brothers film. An acclaim that applies to filmmakers who not in want of films of theirs that I consider masterpieces, and yet at the same time, extremely easy for me to commit to.
Barton Fink is again another film that defies the fuck out of category. It’s not exactly drama, it’s certainly comedy but not to the point that it is its defining feature, enough of the film is dedicated to the film sets that I don’t think we can call it certainly horror either. It’s a real bitch of a puzzle of a film.
Mulholland Dr. (2001/dir. David Lynch/USA) – on Mike and STinG’s list
David Lynch’s rejected ABC drama series morphed into a two-and-a-half hour crazy masterpiece about crushed dreams and unrealistic expectations. Naomi Watts delivers the performance of her career as Diane or Betty or are they in fucking hell or maybe purgatory or what the fuck is going on this movie.
Ahhh!!! My second favorite Lynch! By this point, it seems like the consensus has rested on two readings of the film, neither of which I wanna say since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but its a puzzle box that goes down so smoothly it can hardly be considered an outright frustration. At the same time, imagery and moments are so arresting for various reasons – the Winkie’s scene is most remembered for lifting people out of their skin, the “no hay banda” moment at once blatantly demolishing our notion of the film as we know it in a manner we also see in (hey hey hey! Inland Empire and Persona) and allowing it to reboot itself in a manner that we would never have got if ABC didn’t say no to Lynch, Adam Kesher’s subplot for delving outright into farce (I mean, when you have actors as bad as Laura Harring and Billy Ray Cyrus, you better know how to use their anti-talent the way Lynch does here).
Also, you basically said it about Naomi Watts. She’s perfect, she’s game, she’s versatile, all in this one project that demands she stretch out her characters far away from each other before our eyes.
It is essential viewing for anyone with even a cursory interest of film. GO! GO WATCH IT NOW!
War of the Worlds (2005/dir. Steven Spielberg/USA) – on STinG’s list
Are you pulling my leg, Salim? This blew dick for me.
I’m totally not pulling your leg. It’s definitely not a favorite movie of mine like, pretty much all the other movies so far shown on this list (except for Godzilla which is still in my personal canon anyway). And by god it has its flaws – namely the ending of course, which even while it commits to H.G. Wells’ solution in the source material is so very deus ex machina that I didn’t even forgive the original book when I read it; Dakota Fanning’s shrill and painful screaming, although I do not think it’s out of place. She’s a little girl in the middle of Armageddon as far she’s concerned; the contrived manner of which the Ferriers encounter EVERY. SINGLE. ASPECT. of the invasion, though I forgive it since it’s also the only manner that we’d be able to experience such ungodly and cold setpieces such as the ships’ cages or the initial chase.
But I do love this movie just the same. It’s maybe the finest usage of visual language Spielberg, Janusz Kaminski’s dusty and tired cinematography, and Michael Kahn’s use of pacing between long takes to span out the destruction while we stand in it and short takes to let Tom Cruise tell us just how fucked we oughtta feel to provide a bone-chilling sense of dislocation and an atmosphere of fear to (the story of the Ferrier’s relationship to each other is another thing, but I don’t hate that either). Maybe I’m just still too attached to late Spielberg (kinda, I mean, I still don’t like War Horse or The Terminal) to be quick to hate it.
So why is it not being considered a horror film if I think it’s pretty easily shocking (Ray looking in the mirror to see himself covered in his friends and Ray and Ogilvie witnessing a man’s blood being drained come to mind)?
Even if I think it’s scary, it’s a sci-fi. It’s a solid sci-fi. It’s always been considered a sci-fi. Nobody has any illusions about it otherwise.
Dear Lord McFuck, I didn’t mean for that to turn into a mini-essay.
Inland Empire (2006/dir. David Lynch/USA) – on STinG’s list
Haven’t seen this since high school, but I remember not loving it. Maybe it’s time to revisit it. I remember the sitcom family of Donnie Darko rabbits. That was pretty awesome.
Behold, my number one favorite Lynch film. Although truth be told, I wouldn’t even know where on Earth to talk about it or how (Odin help me when I get to it in my Lynch retrospective). All I can say is that for three hours, it threw my idea of what movies and people are made of around and around so much that in the end, I don’t think I was sitting in the same seat of the cinema as I was when I started. In a career so very dedicated to crafting a nightmare experience so real you feel yourself leave your body, Inland Empire feels like the one where Lynch accomplishes that the most.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012/dir. Drew Goddard/wri. Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon/USA) – on STinG’s list
I definitely consider this a horror film and it’s in my top 25. It’s also a comedic dissection of horror films. I love it.
I totally fucking love this movie too. I think it’s not as intelligent as people say it is, but it IS witty and engaging enough to take me along the way as it gives the middle finger to both what horror has become and what horror audiences have brought us. And I see that others do see it as a horror film (hell it’s trailer SCREAMS horror movie more than comedy). But the moment I watched it, I never once got the sense that we were supposed to be scared or shocked or fear for the characters or anything which… kind of what defines horror more than any aesthetic decisions (as opposed to Scream where Wes Craven’s horror muscles are so involuntary that he can’t even make a parody scene not feel like a tense slasher scenario). Although I’d be kidding myself hardcore if I didn’t say they didn’t get the aesthetic down to a T so they could at least be in a position to break it and say “ain’t dis shit so damn ridiculous” without being winking at all (again unlike Scream, which winks so desperately it’s practically blinking).
Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are about 70% of why I love it, though.
FUCKING RIGHT?! I kind of want to see Whitford in more Joss Whedon projects, he just spits that shit so naturally, he doesn’t even need to think. Like I’m not even sure it’s Sorkin or Whedon’s effect anymore, Whitford is just the best actor to ever happen to anyone’s dialogue.
Under the Skin (2013/dir. Jonathan Glazer/UK) – on STinG’s list
This is one I admired much more than I loved. It looks gorgeous, but because Scarlett Johannson is an alien I can’t find anything to latch onto with her character. This one impressed me, but left me feeling colder than that liquid stuff in the movie with the floating skin.
Funny enough, I totally see and buy that the movie itself is cold (it tells even less than we can piece a narrative together with – the whole storytelling process is withdrawn – though not insoluble – and bare instead of full and emotive like we’re used to), but Johannsson was the one source of humanity I found, even in spite of her being literally an alien lacking in identity. Dare I say, because of that, in fact. The latter half of the film has her sympathizing with victims in a manner she didn’t expect, trying (and failing) to copy mundane human activities like meals and sex, and finally neglecting her duties (albeit duties as an alien murderer) to try to see more of the world. It’s kind of easy to see her as just another person who doesn’t have her life straight.
The obtuseness of its presentation, though, makes it hard to classify as anything more than sci-fi. The horror of it all is apparent, but hard to communicate.
Needless to say now that we’re at the end, movies that defy category but have some frightening elements will definitely be a constant here in my list.
And here’s to you guys’ fuck for sitting through maybe the longest Motorbreath post since it began as we talked through it. You ought to have a word in… any of these movies you agree on? Any you disagree on? What are some movies in the horror canon that don’t exactly fit there? Send us a love letter (read: a bullet) in the comments below!