25 October 2013

TFE: Top Ten Horror Movies Before and After THE EXORCIST

I was asked to contribute to two polls at The Film Experience recently: top ten horror films both before and after The Exorcist. Below are my submitted top tens for each poll and my allocated write-ups for Eyes without a Face and Halloween.

My ten picks before The Exorcist:

01. Psycho (1960)
02. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
03. Eyes Without a Face Les yeux sans visage (1960) *
04. Daughters of Darkness (1973)
05. The Haunting (1963)
06. Carnival of Souls (1962)
07. The Mask of Satan Black Sunday (1960)
08. Night of the Demon (1957)
09. Les Diaboliques Diabolique (1955)
10. Hour of the Wolf Vargtimmen (1968)

Georges Franju's Eyes without a Face is grand, eloquent, horrible and dark. Real dark. Dark dark. It looks at the base experience of human depravity and the deeply pained and sacrificial provision of life that a father is willing to bestow upon his daughter. Oddly, it’s the pursuit of life, not death, that drives the film. The inherent terror and harsh beauty of Eyes is contained in its desperation. The film is filled with memorable, desperate acts. It’s brimful of tense and horrifying moments that prod us to feel both disgust and compliance. It’s sly, clever, engrossing; the trajectory of the plot never feels stable. That’s Georges Franju’s genius. He serves up both victims and perpetrators as fascinating, pitiable characters (and in horror these are the kinds of characters that thrill us the most). Eyes compels and disquiets in an austerely grandiose fashion. It has Alida Valli adding dark night work in a headscarf and pearls like a demented femme fatale who’s long traversed the wrong path. It also has an ethereal Edith Scob, lost and curious about the world, commanding both dogs and doves in a tragic symphony of release. And that music, cinematography and direction! Fifty-three years on, everything about Eyes without a Face is perfectly tuned to unsettle and undermine complacency with horror cinema.

My ten picks after The Exorcist:

01. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
02. Halloween (1978) *
03. Alien (1979)
04. The Thing (1982)
05. Session 9 (2001)
06. The Brood (1979)
07. Audition Ôdishon (1999)
08. Pulse Kairo (2001)
09. The Vanishing Spoorloos (1988)
10. Inferno (1980)

Along with Psycho, John Carpenter's Halloween is the horror film I’ve probably seen the most. For this reason, it is one of my favourites and, what I consider, one of the most effective made. As with the Hitchcock film, I’ve watched it roughly once a year since I first saw it in 1987. (Not always on October 31st, though it does help, and not always all the way through.) Sometimes, especially if I’m alone, it freaks me out too much to carry on watching. Even now. It’s a film with real staying power. The first time I watched it I was alone, it was late, on Halloween, and in a dark house not entirely dissimilar to Annie Brackett’s (Nancy Loomis). Oh, how I had trouble sleeping that night. Its power truly resides in what it leaves in your mind. It’s that music. The sense of dreadful expectation. The half-glimpsed “shape” of a man in a bad William Shatner mask and a boiler suit just standing there in the garden, in the street. It, He, Michael Myers, even has the balls to appear in broad daylight, allowing for no avenue of next-day escape; watching it in the daytime doesn’t ease the situation — it often makes it worse. The way Carpenter plays horrible, clever games with screen space and ominous pause — suggesting in the emptiness of Haddonfield just what lurks in the darkest corners of our imaginations — is tinged with just a dash of sly, knowing genius. But it’s those shots near the end that make the fear resoundingly concrete. The camera returning to the locations of Myers’ kills after he’s... vanished. The once familiar but now-empty areas visited by death. It’s the potent horror of these snapshots of sheer terror that I remember most. Thanks for eternally terrifying me, Mr. Carpenter.

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