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So often, horror films are excluded from what many tentatively call 'art'. It may be that fear makes people uncomfortable, or simply that the majority of horror films today either rely on gross-out gags (the Saw franchise- crime dramas with gore...) or simply aren't scary.
However, horror has been art in the past (and will continue to be, if Lars Von Trier has anything to say about it). In order to prove this point, and celebrate it, I have made a list of my ten favorite Criterion horror films!
This film may be Number 1, but it might be a sin to say it could be a 'favorite'. So often the best horror films do not seek to scare us, but instead horrify us. Pasolini takes this as far as possible in scenario, then pushes it even farther by staging the audience as voyeurs. By doing this, he makes us implicit in the evil onscreen, and as a result we are revolted by ourselves. Superb.
As a director, Sam Peckinpah was the granddaddy of the Hollywood mavericks. After his seminal Western, The Wild Bunch, he got as far away from the arid American southwest as possible and ended up in the English moors. The horror of Straw Dogs lies in monsters. The monsters who attack David's home, and the monster he unleashes within himself. In a sense, the violence that washes over the screen is not nearly as graphic as the emotional struggle of masculinity that envelops David and his new home.
This one can be argued as not being a horror film. However, I believe it is. So much so that it might in fact define the psychological horror genre. Instead of being trapped by a haunted house, or a killer, Kichizo and Sada are trapped by their own passion. To me, nothing is ever scarier than one's self.
This to me is Polanski's best film. Many contend Chinatown or Rosemary's Baby, but I like the simplicity of the premise. Much like Aronofsky's Black Swan, Repulsion invites the audience to share in the deepening madness of a fragile young beauty. Many of the world's greatest films just elaborate on one simple idea, and here Polanski proves himself a master at manipulating tiny details.
This is another film that can be debated as to what genre it belongs, but my argument stands that it is as effect a horror film as one is likely to find. The gorgeous color cinematography works well as a stark contrast to the psychological and emotional barrenness Deborah Kerr and her colleagues encounter in their isolated mountain sanctuary.
Ingmar Bergman's film not only inspired Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (one of the most notorious horror films of all time) but also far outstrips it in every way possible. Bergman succeeds in making us more afraid of Tore (the father) than we are repulsed by the shepherds who raped and murdered his daughter. That, and everything just seems more sinister in black and white...
Producer Don Simpson wanted this film to be "Jaws with Paws". Sam Fuller however, was never one inclined to do anything he was told. The result is one of the most powerful discourses on racism ever filmed. Forget Old Yeller, this dog is not man's best friend.
What can be said about Nobuhiko Obayashi's dazzling head trip? It is confusing, mesmerizing, alternately scary and funny. And, it's a blast!
Terrifying in an age when serial child murderers were almost unheard of, Fritz Lang's masterpiece seems even scarier and more harrowing in the present when such crimes always cover the evening news. Also, M is the original vigilante thriller, and is owed everything by the likes of Death Wish (1974), Oldboy (2005), and I Saw the Devil (2011).
I have too much fun with this film not to include it. However, it is tied with a couple more...
More Sam Fuller. Insanity just makes such an ample topic for horror...
For a film to be 80 years old and still more effective and entertaining than the majority of modern horror, it absolutely must be included on this list!