4. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

The great tragedy of Jaws is that, after nearly forty years, so many of the films that it inspired are not very good (and I’m not just talking about the Michael Caine vehicle Jaws 4: The Revenge). With Jaws, Steven Spielberg cemented his place in cinematic history by loosely and inadvertently inventing a new film genre – the blockbuster. Spielberg was an ambitious young upstart fresh from winning the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes for his debut film, the neo-noir The Sugarland Express. Then on Jaws, Spielberg had to compromise and overcome myriad challenges, from faulty mechanical sharks to budget and time constraints. He once said “I thought my career as a filmmaker was over…because no one had ever taken a film 100 days over schedule”. However, it is Spielberg’s ingenious compromises that makes Jaws not only an influential blockbuster, but also a supreme work of cinematic art.

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5. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)

Earlier in the year, I wrote an article on whether a horror movie has to be scary to be considered a successful horror movie. In reality, Rosemary’s Baby is not scary, but it is unequivocally one of the finest horror movies ever made because it strives to confront and horrify. Despite being made just before the full force of the New Hollywood movement, where the ongoing impact of the Hays code was truly dissipated, the undeniable weirdness of Rosemary’s Baby and its incredibly taut atmosphere continue to disturb audiences today. Underneath the banalities of Roman Polanski’s urban world is a land of warped dreamscapes and even more warped realities that consume our protagonist Rosemary’s psyche at every turn.

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6. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)

In space, no one can see your chest explode as a Giger alien protrudes from your stomach after impregnating you. In fact, nothing is more alien than space. The inexorable isolation of the characters in Ridley Scott’s masterful Alien is what makes the film so shrewdly frightening. The eponymous ‘alien’ is not merely an extrinsic monster terrorising the astronauts aboard the Nostromo. It is also an intrinsic force – the intrinsic force of unequivocal, sepulchral alienation and loneliness. It is an internal force that is constantly reborn, and manifested in the penetration of the external alien into the internal human body.

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7. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

After watching Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237, which offers a depersonalised menagerie of wild theories and interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, I obtained a new appreciation of The Shining. According to various theorists exhibited in Room 237, The Shining is a film about incestuous paedophilia, the genocide of the Native Americans and evidence that Kubrick faked the Apollo 11 moon landing. Some theories made me wonder why I hadn’t observed certain things before; others astounded me with their ingenious accuracy; and others are just plain nuts – but, invariably, all the theories are valid. Even though Room 237 helped me realise that, intended or not, there are infinitely complex meanings bubbling under the surface of The Shining, The Shining is still not a film that I like.

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8. The Blair Witch Project (Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, 1999)

Masked murderers. Blood and gore. Creepy kids. Some of the things that aren’t in The Blair Witch Project. Phallic weaponry. Scary monsters. Virginal ‘final girls’. Some other things that aren’t in The Blair Witch Project (and yes, that is the first time I’ve used the word ‘phallic’ in three consecutive articles on my blog). These are extrinsic horror movie conventions. The Blair Witch Project, however, plays upon universal, intrinsic fears – isolation, the woods, being lost, the dark, sightlessness, unidentifiable sounds, and subtle disturbances to normality. Consequently, few films from the last fifteen years can match the pure, primal, plausible and psychological horror of Blair Witch.

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9. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Something is rotten in the state of Illinois.

In 1963, in the small Midwestern town of Haddonfield (don’t bother looking it up, it doesn’t exist), six-year-old Michael Myers stabbed his older sister to death with a butcher knife. But the six-year-old Michael Myers was merely the mini-me to the Dr. Evil that is the 21-year-old Mike. Fifteen years after murdering his sister, Michael escapes from the hospital he has been detained in for a decade-and-a-half to stalk and kill local high-school students. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) appears to be the main target of his rampage.

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10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the few movies that truly, deeply sickens me. It belongs in a very select group of films that I probably could never watch again. While it is a film that I do not necessarily love, it is a film that I’ve come to respect because of its base ability to horrify, and because of the complex commentaries that bubble underneath its sinister surface. It is a film that uses the ‘slasher’ model to allegorise the suppression of the anti-Vietnam War movement, an American government destroying itself from the inside out, and the struggle to assert traditional masculinity in a disillusioned post-Watergate world.

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