Poltergeist (1982) and Poltergeist II (1986)
Director Tobe Hooper and Brian Gibson
While directed by horror maestro Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Poltergeist feels firmly rooted in classic Steven Spielberg territory. Not only providing a ghost train ride but also a film filled with the imagery of childhood fear. From toys that come alive to the monster in the closet and scary tree outside your window. Poltergeist is determined to take you back to your childhood terrors and succeeds in bending those childhood fears that kept you awake into a gloriously outlandish paranormal ride.
There are echoes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, sitting alongside The Twilight Zone, each making Poltergeist extremely fun and yet also visually chilling. While Jerry Goldsmiths terrifying yet tender score further emphasises the childhood horror of the films key themes.
Meanwhile, Poltergeist II deserves an honourable mention for giving us one of the most chilling preachers ever seen on film; Kane (Julian Beck). Although the rest of Poltergeist II never managed to live up to his performance. The horror of preacher will never leave the thoughts of anyone who has viewed the sequel.
IT – Chapter One and Two (2017/19)
Director: Andy Muschietti
IT Chapter One (2017) shines with both love and care for Stephen King’s source material. With its director Andy Muschietti understanding the core themes of the book in a faithful translation to the screen. Bringing together some of the best young talents in Hollywood in creating a Losers Club, you can genuinely believe in.
Muschietti allows his young cast to own their characters. Both cast and crew understanding the need to surround the young people with the isolation and adult indifference of Derry. The town’s adults ignoring the real horror of their own lives and the town they call home
Meanwhile, Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Clown reflects the sinister presence of Tim Curry’s 1990 portrayal. At the same time adding layers of Victorian gothic horror; his clown never appearing too human.
When combined with IT Chapter Two, we are given a visceral journey into the childhood traumas that make the adult. Both exploring and uncovering childhood fears and choices that we try to forget. The choices and experiences that subconsciously gnaw away at our character, opportunity and relationships in later life. Providing us with a homage to Stephen King’s writing and character building. While never attempting to play to mindless screen horror over core literary messages.
Read our retrospective look at IT Chapter One here
Read our review of IT Chapter Two here
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Without question one of the greatest horror films ever made, Hitchcock’s Psycho remains a cinematic ride of pure psychological horror. Not only exploring the thrill and torment of murder through the eyes of the insecure Norman (Anthony Perkins) but also, delving into the sexually restrictive and confined morality of a young man held prisoner by the ghostly commands of his dead mother.
Hitchcock weaves his tale around Marion Crane, who commits a crime of passion while in the throws of an unhealthy love affair. A victim who becomes a criminal, much like the young motel owner she meets while fleeing her crime. Both characters wrapped in events outside of their control, with sexuality and desire leading to ultimate destruction. However, much to the audiences shock back in 1960, Hitchcock dispenses with his leading women early in proceedings. Creating a model of horror that would go onto inspire a whole host of films from Scream to The Godfather.
Throughout the film, Norman screams for release from the grip of his mother. Yet is equally afraid to enter the real world without her security. Resulting in an internal psychological battle, as his deceased mother clashes with his personal need for freedom.
Psycho inspired a stream of horror movies, from Halloween to Friday 13th. But, unlike many of the films that came after, Hitchcock’s ability to directly tap into human fears make it one of the most potent horrors ever made. As a result coupling the fear of listening to the distant nagging voice in your head, with the real horror of a gentle smile, and not an evil glare. All wrapped up in the terror of disappointing our mothers.
Director: Ridley Scott
From its poster design to its slogan Alien reinvented the horror/sci-fi genre. Its timeless mix of terror continuing to enthral new audiences with a trip into the coldest reaches of space. Cleverly combining the 1970s slasher film, with the haunted house and classic 1950s science fiction templates. In weaving a stark, creative, and terrifying new genre. The stark colour pallet and stereoscopic sound combining in a vacuum of isolation and terror for the viewer.
Forty years on Alien remains fresh and remarkably undated. Much of this achieved through a filmmaking process that understood the importance of balancing effects with a story. In turn, focusing on the need to build suspense and never reveal too much to the viewer. The resulting film still making new generations jump, bite their fingernails and scream in terror.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film is not your standard horror fare and continues to enthral and surprise new audiences. Playing out in a high rise apartment, over the course of a party. Rope is essentially a chamber piece of theatre. A gloriously dark exploration of murder, and revenge that manages to bathe its audience in a sublime psychological horror.
Based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play, Rope took inspiration from the case of Leopold and Loeb. Two upper-class American graduates who murdered purely to test their intellect and ability.
Opening with the murder of a college friend, Brandon (John Dall), and Philip (Farley Granger) store the victim’s body in a chest. At the same time, moving the make do coffin to ‘pride of place’ in the apartment. Both intent on testing their ability to get away with murder in front of a dinner party crowd. The victim’s body hidden in plain sight of their guests, his coffin a table for drinks and canapés.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Director Jonathan Demme
Adapted from Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel, Jonathan Demme’s 1991 masterpiece of horror built upon the foundations established by Michael Mann’s Manhunter. However, it also tore up the rulebook on crime thrillers, creating a complex, character-driven and utterly terrifying portrait of the thin line between good and evil. The claustrophobic atmosphere, enhanced by delicious dialogue that unpicks the need to embrace those we deem ‘evil’, in understanding the actions of another. The cat and mouse game that ensues wrapped in a tension that allows Silence of the Lambs to transcend the normal boundaries of thriller/horror. In turn, creating an almost theatrical aesthetic as Hopkins and Foster butt up against each other, both needing the other in a deeply unsettling marriage of convenience.