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10 Must See Horror Films
As part of our DVD Reccomendations we have drawn on the expertise of film graduate Joe Walker in providing and reviewing his top 10 must see horror films. If you would
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Formulated and Reviewed by Joe Walker
1. Freaks (Browning, 1932)
There is something somewhat contradictory about describing a horror film as "moving", yet Todd Browning's Freaks shows that not everything that surfaces from the Id is without compassion. Telling the tale of a troupe of circus freaks Browning manages to correlate the voyeuristic spectatorial experience with that of the films subject matter. The real monsters in this film is the "ordinary" performers, the beautiful woman and the strongman who manipulate the diminutive dwarf. An extraordinary film with a gruesome climax, this is a brilliantly uncomfortable piece of cinema.
2. Suspiria (Argento, 1976)
The grand master of Italian horror directed this sledgehammer assault to the senses. Chiaroscuro lighting is oft contrasted with intensely vibrant colour creating a viewing experience that is as captivating as it is shocking, and with the bespoke soundtrack written and performed by Italian metal outfit Goblin the cinematic elements are as unnerving as the narrative. Set in a ballet school the film tracks Suzy -a new arrival- who falls inexplicably ill during her stay. As it turns out a coven of witches practice their diabolical black magic and intend to eliminate anyone who doesn't fall into their way of thinking. Criticised for its depiction of violence towards women, this film is nevertheless a testimony to Argento's directorial vision for colour, drama, and suspense.

3. Rosemary's Baby (Polanski, 1968)
Made by Polanski before it was discovered his relationship with an underage girl was not entirely wholesome, Rosemary's Baby - along with Romero's Night of the Living Dead - arguably kick-started the cycle of intelligent and progressive horror films that came out of the US and Europe in the 70s. A story of warlocks and devil worship this film deals allegorically with the bourgeois sensibilities of the sixties, rendering them figuratively horrific in the form of Rosemary's monstrous pregnancy.

Rosemary's Baby

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4. Don't Look Now (Roeg, 1973)
Dark, haunting, and dramatic, Don't Look Now contains one of the most famous prolonged and climactically terrifying sequences in horror history. Set in Venice (a masterstroke location with its literal twists and turns) Donald Sutherland and spouse Julie Christie (oh yes) come to the city following the death of their daughter. Upon meeting a brace of psychic blind women Christie is told that their daughter is alive but that her husband will die if he does not leave the city. Sutherland spends the rest of the film fruitlessly searching for his daughter only to "find" her in the final shocking scene.
5. The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973)
There are few things that are more likely to scare the bejesus out of me than scary children in horror films, and this is where it became part of cinematic lingua franca. Little is needed by way of a synopsis other than to say that it is as frightening thirty four years on as it was when it was released; I have friends who refuse to watch it. Few films have reached the level of notoriety that The Exorcist achieved given it managed to upset just about everyone. There are few things left sacrosanct at the end of this film as it breaks just about every taboo there is going: incest, blasphemy, sexual defilement of a child, vaginal mutilation and so forth. In my view one of the greatest horror films ever made, The Exorcist 's influence is still seen today. The low-angle shot of a window in a suburban house has been recycled by horror film directors seeking to pay homage to this masterpiece.
6. Black Christmas (Clark, 1974)
Whichever way you lean in terms of affection, this film is responsible for the cycle of films that emerged in the late seventies and early eighties known most prominently as the "slasher". Halloween aside they tended to get cheaper and nastier as time went by so a return to the slasher's roots is necessary for a bit of a refresher course in what could have been right about the genre. The great thing about this film is its whodunit narrative. Jessica and her sorority house are plagued by a series of phone calls with the caller making animalistic noises down the line. As the film progresses and housemates get bumped off one by one it is discovered that the calls are coming from inside the house. Jessica, the first "Final Girl" is left to confront the killer at the last only for one further twist to emerge.
7. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Murnau, 1922)
To understand where horror cinema originated one turns here to a film that -along with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari- is the best known and loved example of German Expressionist cinema. Based upon Bram Stoker's Dracula (obviously the novel rather than the film) Murnau was required to alter much of the plot for fear of being sued by Stoker's estate, or more accurately his missus. Max Schreck who plays the diabolical Count Orlok is genuinely creepy and is alleged to have stayed in full make-up and character for the duration of the film's production. For a film that was made in 1922 Nosferatu is an incredible example of what can be achieved without today's dependence on CGI, blood, and torture.

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des GrauensMore Info
8. The Brood (Cronenberg, 1979)
Sorry to include another film with monstrous children but as you probably gather they have the capacity to irk me more than anything else. In fact the government probably ought to exhibit this film in schools as a health warning given it would be a sure-fire way of reducing the risk of teenage pregnancy. The other reason for including this is that it is genuinely excellent piece of horror cinema and is an oft overlooked example of Cronenberg's work, eclipsed in reputation by Videodrome, Scanners, and The Fly. Oliver Reed plays the dubious "pyschoplasmic" therapist who encourages his patients to go so far in their therapy that they develop physical symptoms as an outward expression of their inward rage. In this spirit he councils a woman (Samantha Eggar) whose anger towards her mother becomes physically manifested by a series of extra-natal pregnancies. Her connection to these mutated children is so strong that when she gets angry (which is most of the time) they get really cheesed off (which is most of the time) and commit horrible murders on her behalf. Honestly, there is little in the public forum that could match The Brood for effectiveness in promoting birth control.
9. The Wicker Man (Hardy, 1973)
Please, please, please, if you're going to watch The Wicker Man then watch Hardy's 1973 original rather than the abject 2006 regurgitation starring Nicholas Cage - you won't be disappointed. It is such a shame that of late directors seem to have run out of ideas and recreated (very badly) original horror films; Black Christmas, The Hills Have Eyes, and even Psycho* have been remade and packaged to a new audience with absolutely none of the effect of the original. The Wicker Man is not particularly scary but is a kind of mediation on the split between modernity and tradition, that in our technologically and media constituted selves creates an uncomfortable sense of fascination and anxiety. Set on a Scottish island, a policeman arrives to investigate the alleged disappearance of a young girl. As walls appear before his every turn the happy and good natured pagan community begins to appear more menacing. The climax to the film sees Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle playing the archaic tribal leader in a ritual that is believed to have been extinct.

*As a rule of thumb, you don't mess around with a Hitchcock -even if you are under the misapprehension that by recreating one of his films scene for scene you are indulging in some kind of postmodern tribute, you aren't, and it will be crap.      

If you are only going to buy one Horror Movie...

10. The Ring (Verbinski, 2002)
The US adaptation of Nakata's Ringu (well worth watching if you prefer your horror a little more cerebral). The Ring is part of the new-wave of US horror production following the exhaustion of the post-modern slasher cycle typified by the Scream series. All about the inbuilt horrors of our technologically savvy age, there are few things more likely to make you jump out of your skin than a young girl with dark, dank hair popping out of your television screen. Ultimately though it's all about the video which could have been released on it's own given its sheer creepiness. 
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The Ring

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Copyright 2007
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