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The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time
The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

70

Sisters (1972)

As a butcher knife repeatedly pierces the protagonist’s crotch a third of the way into Sisters, Bernard Hermann’s score erupts in hysteria, as wild and out of control as the dark half of the Margot Kidder character’s split personality. The scene is confirmation that Brian De Palma’s by turns playful and frightening citational stew, with split screens, phony accents, grotesque medical sequences, and William Finley’s Caligari-esque villain, has no intention of trotting through any semblance of conventional horror. The film, in its allusions to Psycho and Rear Window, signals De Palma leaving behind the political satire of Hi, Mom! for a clattering simulacrum of Hitchcock’s aesthetic that would come to define much of his filmmaking over the next decade. Dillard

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

69

God Told Me To (1976)

Larry Cohen, that mad genius whose A-list ambitions were thankfully preoccupied with funky, B-list concepts, had already plunged his rusty instruments into the heart of the feminine mystique and racial identity (Dial “Rat” for Terror) and the sanctity of the womb (It’s Alive) when he dared to connect the diseased dots between rampage shootings, religious revivalism, alien abduction, original sin, and bicentennial apocalyptic dread. More than any other film in any genre, God Told Me To, a grindhouse basilica that practically craves for oblivion, could only have been made during the collective insanity that was 1970s America. Henderson

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

68

The Birds (1963)

Every Alfred Hitchcock film could be said to be about the world’s fragile appearance of balance, and how complete chaos seems to be just a shot away. And arguably no Hitchcock film expresses that sense of breakdown in as wide and vivid a scale as The Birds, his stunning vision of nature itself turning ferociously against humanity. Startling with peculiarly Antonioniesque scenes of would-be romantic couple Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) complacently pecking at each other around Bodega Bay, the narrative takes a radical turn and becomes nothing less than the prototype for future zombie apocalypses. Under Hitchcock’s mordant gaze, we’re all headed toward the precipice with vengeful seagulls tangled in our collective hair. Croce

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

67

Dressed to Kill (1980)

An elegant fusion of giallo tropes, grindhouse transgression, and art-house cool, Dressed to Kill is a checklist of the auteurist trademarks that earn Brian De Palma constant comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock. Chock-full of Hitchcockian fetishes like doubles, blondes, and voyeurism, it plays like Psycho dialed up to 11 for a post-Hays Code audience—relentlessly violent and casually provocative. The lurid story, in which a sexually frustrated housewife, creepy psychiatrist, and beleaguered call girl cross paths, is almost irrelevant. The film is about the manipulation of image and audience. It’s a dazzling display of craft, wielded like a straight razor to dissect the viewer’s id. Every shot is visual perfection, forcing you to look exactly where you’d rather not. Das

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

66

The Old Dark House (1932)

Director James Whale is unparalleled for his masterful blending of camp and horror elements, and The Old Dark House could be his most skillfully sustained balancing act. What begins as an account of strangers seeking shelter from a storm at the Femm estate, trading acerbic barbs with the eccentric owners with a deftness that rivals the Marx Brothers, gradually turns into an atmospheric study in repression. Throughout, Whale pays special attention to the behavior of the film’s characters, as the house seems to cause them to disclose untold secrets—including the Femms’ 102-year-old patriarch, who, in a squeaky woman’s voice, reveals through macabre ramblings that the family’s eccentricities, amusing on the surface, are products of a shared psychosis. As characters move through rooms and up and down floors, the film seems less a tour through the creaky titular house than a dark journey through a collective psyche. Greene

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

65

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Writer–director Wes Craven codes his supernatural killer Fred Kreuger as a sexual assailant—he has knives for fingers!—personifying a menacing flipside to his teen victims’ healthy biological urges. Most slasher movies punish promiscuous adolescents, but Craven takes it a step further: Kreuger polices their very unconsciousness. If John Carpenter’s Halloween suggested that the urban violence white people were fleeing had followed them to the suburbs, Craven circumvents conventional geography altogether, pushing his victims into an oneiric dimension and proving that A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s baby-boomer parents are even more incapable than Carpenter’s to protect their children: You can run from the boogeyman but not from your dreams. The film advanced Craven from the grindhouse to the multiplex, as his reality-blurring editing and balletic violence elevate spectacular gore to grand artistry. Stewart

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

64

Re-Animator (1985)

Among the great debuts of the 1980s, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator landed like a rusty fork in the eye of the sterile values trafficked by Reagan’s America—a breathless cornucopia of premarital sex, mutilated cats, bloody entrails, zombies, and, to quote Matt Zoller Seitz, “Barbara Crampton being subjected to the most ridiculous visual pun of all time.” Where it stands above so many of similar aim is in its sincere affection for its characters and refreshing abstention from irony. Like Frankenstein for Generation X, Re-Animator‘s shock factor suggests the absurdities of life (and death) writ large, a sublime reminder that sometimes we must laugh so we may not cry. Humanick

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

63

The Thing from Another World (1951)

Though Howard Hawks’s frequent editor Christian Nyby received the directing credit, some historians believe Hawks actually directed large portions of The Thing from Another World—but maybe Nyby simply learned everything he knew from the master. After all, the film is in the mold of Only Angels Have Wings: a tight ensemble of flyboys and others rapidly firing off overlapping dialogue, providing wit and romance in between the action—here, the fallout from the discovery beneath a sheet of arctic ice of a killer extra-terrestrial. The recklessness of The Thing from Another World‘s scientists suggests an atomic-age skepticism of science while the film also accidentally establishes the central theme of all future climate-change horror: When you melt polar ice, you unleash terror. Stewart

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

62

Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s two-hander psychodrama Antichrist draws heavily from a rich tradition of “Nordic horror,” stretching back to silent-era groundbreakers like Häxan and Vampyr (and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s later Day of Wrath), in particular their interrogation of moral strictures and assumptions of normalcy. In the wake of their son’s death, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) follow a course of radical psychotherapy, retreating to their wilderness redoubt, Eden, where they act out (and on) their mutual resentment and recrimination, culminating in switchback brutal attacks and His and Her genital mutilations. Conventional wisdom has it that von Trier’s a faux provocateur, but that misses his theme and variation engagement with genre and symbolism throughout, which renders Antichrist one of the most bracingly personal, as well as national cinema-indebted, films to come along in a while. It’s heartening to see that real provocation still has a place in the forum of international cinema. Bill Weber

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

61

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mario Bava’s mixing of emotionally motivated color and object-centric tactility set the visceral template for the giallo. Thematically, Blood and Black Lace offers the giallo an irresolvable obsession with female violation that’s simultaneously cruel and heartfelt. Here, the murders are understood to reflect a debasement that suggests a furthering of the debasement of modeling, a suggestion that’s literalized by the killer’s placement of the bodies in hideous poses, and by a purposefully fake substitution of a dummy for an actress in a drowning scene. This thematic is complicated further by the identity of the killer, who reflects the fashion industry’s self-loathing and self-consumption, driven by a mixture of profound self-interest and neurosis that would be enormously influential to the subgenre at large. In a giallo, a woman’s worst enemy is often a woman driven to shirk the chains of status quo that shackle her. Bowen

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