Head Writer Rachael Cheeseman, with Contributions from Simone le Roux, Chad Echakowitz & Grae Westgate
Halloween is just around the corner and we at Forge and Flint have been reminiscing about all the spooky movies that left us sleeping with the lights on.
Our love of horror is a tricky thing: we enjoy being scared but only to a point or in a certain way. We want a scary film to stay with us, but not to where it interferes with our ability to function, much like the original IT film that led to 8-year-old me refusing to shower for far longer than I am willing to admit.
Everyone has a different opinion on what it is that makes a horror movie great, be it tension or gore or jump scares. There’s so many ways to leave an audience with a white knuckle grip on the arm of their chair but combining that pulse pounding terror with a compelling story, believable characters and enough light relief to stop people losing their minds, now that is a delicate balancing act.
So without further ado, here is a selection of what we consider to be the very best Horror movies of all time.
1. The Orphanage (2007) – Rachael Cheeseman
I love a good horror movie. The nerves, the tension, trying to second guess when the next scare will come, yelling at the characters for being idiots who can’t demonstrate even a modicum of common sense in a life threatening situation, the whole experience. I am a horror movie addict. However my love of the genre has also made me somewhat picky. I can’t stand films that rely on gore, the “found footage” trend is, in my humble opinion, a load of low quality, shaky, out of focus rubbish and an over reliance on CGI has ruined many a decent horror flick.
Yes, there are plenty of movies I could grumble about, but one that never ceases to impress me is The Orphanage directed by Guillermo Del Toro.
When I sat down to watch this film I knew I’d be getting a visual spectacular, Del Toro never fails to deliver on that front. I knew it would be atmospheric and unique but I did not expect to feel genuinely frightened and that was a wonderful surprise.
For those who have not seen it, The Orphanage is about a woman named Laura returning to the orphanage where she grew up, she moves in to the abandoned facility with her husband and son with the plan to turn it into a centre for disabled children. Laura’s son begins seeing the ghost of a young boy and on the centres open day he goes missing. The movie then follows Laura’s desperate attempts to find her son and puzzle out the increasingly mysterious goings on within the orphanage.
Aside from being beautiful, the thing that really drew me in to this film was how unrelenting it was. The sinister nature comes in to play early on and it never really lets up. The story is gripping, the acting is superb and really what can be scarier than creepy old buildings, a mother’s fear for her missing child and ghost children? On top of that the film is subtitled, so it demands your constant focus which just adds a whole other immersive element.
The Orphanage is simply an excellent all round horror movie that has left more than one person I know a little bit ill at ease for quite a while after watching. I adore it, and with an 87% rating on rotten tomatoes, I’m clearly not the only one.
2. The Cabin in the Woods (2012) – Chad Echakowitz
Horror movies are crucial for the development of art. If you think you have a novel idea, there’s probably some little indie horror film that has done it first. Because there are so many of them, they must be innovative to gather any kind of interest. As a result, horror movies begin to sway the trends and techniques that other genres adopt. But none of these facts are why this film has made this list. Above all the brilliant cinematography, above the horrific monsters, this film is just great. There is no other way to describe it.
For those who haven’t watched it yet (emphasis on the yet), The Cabin in the Woods follows a group of teenagers on their completely clichéd trip up to their clichéd uncle’s clichéd cabin. Everything about the first 20 minutes of this film is set up to be just a horrifically ordinary slasher flick. But then things turn metaphysical. It turns out that the whole trip is staged and a group of scientists are controlling every interaction the teens make.
At its essence, this film takes the traditional slasher tropes and flips them on their head by controlling everything that happens. The interactions are manufactured, the murders (though real) occur under completely predetermined outcomes, and even the monsters are controlled by the scientists behind the scenes. The film then takes a complete left turn, with the dénouement revealing something no one would have ever seen coming.
To further emphasise my point, this film holds a sublime cast (featuring Chris Hemsworth), a director who has made his chops working on projects such as The Martian, Lost, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a writer who can only be described as Joss Motherf***ing Wheden. You cannot ask for a better combination. It’s like peanut butter meeting chocolate all over again. And a score of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes just further proves what I am saying. Actually, I’m going to go watch this film again right now.
3. Sinister (2012)– Simone le Roux
As everyone who’s known me for more than an hour is aware, my favourite thing in the entire world is settling in with a horror film. It doesn’t even have to be good. And, much as I appreciate the trend towards stylistic, well-written horror movies with an over-arching theme and a commentary on society today (I see you, It Follows and The Babadook), that’s not what I really want. I want tense, jump-scary, scenarios with as much creepiness as is physically (or metaphysically) possible. That’s why Sinister will always be one of my top horror movies.
For the unfortunates about to watch this movie (you don’t have a choice), here’s a quick summary: A crime author (played by Ethan Hawke) is desperate to revive his career so he moves himself and his family into a house where a gruesome, unexplained murder took place. Upon discovering a box of super-8 tapes in the attic, along with some eerie drawings, he begins to unravel the horrifying mystery of what happened at the house, and with previous families.
It has all the elements of a properly scary film: creepy children, unexplained deaths, a murder house, scratchy old films on super-8, a demon, an “imaginary” friend, a helpful detective, and a man obsessed. You would think that that combination would be tired by now, old news when haunted house movies come out in flocks every year. You would be wrong.
Rather than lazily relying on the characters doing inexplicably stupid things to move the plot forward, the movie instead gives you characters that do everything right, and it’s ultimately their undoing. Any irrational behaviour in the main character’s part is easily explained by his obsession with solving a mystery and finding success, rather than being a tit who keeps watching awful footage for no reason. This is flawlessly acted out by Ethan Hawke, who swore he would never do horror up until he read the script for this film and fell in love.
This movie is scary the entire way through, with an appropriately eerie soundtrack and just enough jump scares to keep it interesting. Quintessential horror, I think.
4. Train to Busan (2016) – Grae Westgate
I’ve always been a sucker for zombie movies. It stems somewhere from my childhood obsession with Goosebumps combined with having seen George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead at far too early an age. At somewhere around twelve years old, I remember being absolutely horrified at the scene where Kyra Schon’s Karen is revealed to be one of the dead before stabbing her distraught mother to death with a trowel. Grotesque. Shocking. I was hooked.
Of course, it’s a well-known fact that the late, great Romero lost some of his spark after the first three films in the series, and, in a sea of equally trite zombie fayre, it’s rare these days to find something with a bit of bite.
Cue one of the greatest films to have ever stumbled out of East Asia, the Korean masterpiece, Train to Busan.
Telling the story of busy busy businessman Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) who, after forgetting his daughter’s birthday, decides to make amends by taking her home to Busan to see her mother. This should-be-simple-enough train ride quickly derails, however, when a sickly young woman stumbles onto the train, rapidly unleashing a zombie virus upon its unfortunate passengers.
On paper, the film sounds quite silly; indeed, there is a bizarre amount of similarity to the Sam Jackson outing, Snakes on a Plane. And yet, it’s riveting. As the film progresses, we get invested in each of the survivors as they try to battle their way through red-eyed deadites, and, much like the early seasons of The Walking Dead, there really is no way of knowing who is going to make it through the journey to safety. With each subsequent death, the audience is left increasingly heart-broken, and even in its final moments (a wonderful tribute to that Romero flick that started the whole trend), we are holding our breathes in hope for sanctuary. You will never hear ‘Aloha Oe’ in the same way again.
Filled with suspense, terror, and special effects that would make even the biggest of Hollywood studios jealous, Train to Busan is arguably one of the finest films in an over-saturated genre. And with an enviable 96% on the Tomatometre, director Yeon Sang-ho has certainly put zombies back on the right track.
And there you have it! Go forth, get spooked, feel the chills, they’re good for you, and if necessary, keep the lights on.
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