JKM’s Reader Top Ten: My Ten Best Horror Films 1960 – 2000
My good friend and author John Kenneth Muir has come up with another of his superb Reader Top Ten collaborations on his blog. A timely one at that for Halloween is just right around the corner. This time, John looked back at the critical 40 years for the horror genre that preceded the arrival of the new millennium.
Reader Top Ten: Your Best Horror Films 1960 to 2000?
“For me, this was a difficult list to compile, and it certainly reflects my bias towards the 1970s as the golden age of horror.”
How true. Seven of his ten were from this crises-filled, maligned decade — I say with first-hand knowledge, by the way. Yet, it was indeed a dynamic era for cinema, especially in the horror genre. Shouldn’t surprise that a number of them I saw first-run — now that surely ages me. A few of the same films made my list below, in fact. I’ll compare some of John’s thoughts with my own on my tensome. Drumroll please…
1. The Exorcist (1973) – likely the most memorable, spiritual film on my list. William Friedkin bringing William Peter Blatty’s iconic novel to life. John, who had the film at #5, explained its allure/repulsion quite well, I think:
“If the Devil exists, then so must God. Remembered for its climactic pyrotechnics and green pea soup, The Exorcist thrives on a documentary-style approach that makes visits to an archaeological site in Iraq and a Georgetown hospital as fearsome as any encounter with the supernatural.”
2. Alien (1979) – John’s #6 selection remains my close second, with good reason. As JKM highlighted, it featured “…a monster like no other; one always changing shape, and always out-thinking its unlucky human prey.” Ridley Scott’s film, care of H.R. Giger’s surreal biomechanical art/visuals, also freaked many (especially some men) with its penile imagery. Now, read John’s quote again and think how it still works in that context. Along with the veiled threat of male rape, to go its with well-earned scares, the film worked on multiple insidious levels.
3. Night of the Living Dead (1968) – While my friend went with the film’s well-regarded 70s sequel for his list, I’ll stick with the original shocker by George Romero. It singlehandedly transformed those voodoo-witchcraftian oddities, and the hypnotized, mindless zombies of the pre-Vietnam War era to something else altogether. The reanimated cannibalistic dead. Reaping supreme havoc, in droves, upon the living, the thought of family and friends dying was forever changed from this moment forward.
4. The Evil Dead (1981) – Continuing on with the game-changing theme of the first few here, Sam Raimi’s accomplishment with this low-budget and uniquely styled, frenetic sensation surely fits. I saw this in ’83, in one of the handful of theaters in the nation willing to run it. As John said in a reply to my comment to this year’s Evil Dead remake and his cult film review:
“…Raimi’s film is still a punch to the face, while this remake is more light slap!”
How very true.
5. The Changeling (1980) – As much as those listed above are quite visually visceral (and a bit grisly) in their scares, the next two achieve their truly creepy fright without any need of it. Peter Medak’s undervalued ghost story just gets better with each re-screening. It wretches the audience on a personal-level as the haunted story was slowly uncovered by the lone inhabitant (George C. Scott) staying at a secluded historical mansion. You’ll not look at a wheelchair, a rolling ball, or a decrepit child sitting in a tub ever the same afterward.
6. The Haunting (1963) – Robert Wise’s splendid movie adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ novel was one of the important films of the issue-filled 60s. Jackson’s evocative and figurative look at how women were locked into and strapped down in a male-dominated world was given a frank, haunting look in Wise’s film. Atmospheric and psychologically oft-putting, Julie Harris and Claire Bloom (as the tormented Eleanor and Theodora) alone against the dark were simply memorable.
7. Ringu (1998) – Japanese horror has long been influential and disconcerting. Ask any kid from my era after they watched Matango (aka, Attack of the Mushroom People) on Saturday afternoon TV, if they had bad dreams because of it. The concept of watching a VHS tape, with terrible things following, is almost a caricature these days. But, this pivotal film was its birthplace. The slow-burn and dread built ever methodically in Hideo Nakata’s milestone film, so that its payoff delivered well-deserved nightmares.
8. The Thing (1982) – Speaking of dread… John nailed it for his #3 pick:
“Once derided by film critics and audiences, John Carpenter’s The Thing is an ahead-of-its time masterpiece, one that pits alienated humankind against a cunning alien in a constant state of flux. Where man is fragile, the Thing is strong, able to re-shape its flesh and very tissue to fool its enemies. Bolstered by pioneering special effects and Carpenter’s brilliant presentation of a claustrophobic, bleak setting, The Thing is one of the greatest horror films ever made.”
9. Halloween (1978) – The film that put horror auteur John Carpenter on the map was John’s #1 list topper. Though I have it lower, can’t argue against any of his reasoning:
“Behind that white, blank, Rorschach Test mask, this “Shape” could reflect any audience or societal fear. Michael might be a developmentally-arrested kid, an embodiment of the out-of-control Id, or…The Boogeyman. A meditation on un-classifiable “Evil” in a modern society that believes it can diagnose everything, Halloween remains unmatched in terms of slasher films.”
10. Exorcist III (1990) – Might as well bookend my catalog with what started it, The Exorcist. I daresay the only sequel to this notable (some say infamous) work that is worth a damn, is also the most undervalued in my Top Ten. A film John said, was “…criminally-underrated, and which features one of the most effective jump scares in horror history.” Adapted from his Legion novel by the author himself, serving as screenwriter/director (though messed with via studio interference). Like the original, the film* remains impressive, intelligent, and yet highly spiritual amid this underestimated genre.
* Yay, Amanda Davis for also picking these two film in her Reader Top Ten.
21 Responses to “JKM’s Reader Top Ten: My Ten Best Horror Films 1960 – 2000”
I agree completely that EXORCIST III deserves more of a mention and love THE HAUNTING – Sorry to see that ROSEMARY’S BABY didn’t make the cut and CARRIE and THE WICKER MAN would probably have to get in there too if I were doing this – but as I’m not, great post chum.
Yeah, so many I would have loved to fit into this list but couldn’t. The three you’ve mentioned deserve high placement in this genre, for sure. Many thanks, Sergio :-).
As always, an interesting list fueled with persuasive commentary( Hurray!), especially concerning “Exorcist III” which is that rarest of rarities- a genuine sleeper worthy of the designation. However, in the spirit of competitive criticism, let’s not forget “Les yeux sans visage”, “Onibaba”, “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”, “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” and I’ll throw a real wild card in there which I believe is the most underappreciated horror film in decades: “The Ninth Gate”.
To Michael: As an adolescent moviegoer in the 50s, to this day, my two favorite horror movies are the first two I saw as a kid. The first, Frankenstein (1931) with Boris Karloff. The New England movie house even had a Frankenstein performer trolling the aisles, and it scared the beejesus out of us. The second, House of Wax (1953 in 3-D) with Vincent Price, which I saw with one of my sisters. When we got home, I tried to recreate the stalking scene to later scare my sister after the move using my father’s long coat and fedora. It was good enough acting to have my sister levitate out of her bed. Needless to say, my father had some corporal punishment waiting in the offing. Both movies are still good vintage viewing:
A great pair of films to begin a road with horror! Great story, too. Thank you very much for not only a great comment, but that clip and link. Cool!
Thank you very kindly, Chandler. Wonderful you’ve included such grand examples of this genre. I’ve heard of “Les yeux sans visage” and “Onibaba” but have yet seen them. Certainly “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” and “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” are favorites, and I have “The Ninth Gate” in my video stack to watch — which I’ll move up because you gave it special mention 🙂
Great list! I was hoping to see some Prince of darkness in there but The Thing and Halloween will do nicely. 😉
Yeah, I hated to leave off ‘Prince of Darkness’, Mark. So many I wanted to include! You should think of offering up your picks to John, Mark. I’d love to read what you’d put together. Many thanks, my friend.
An excellent list to which I would ad ‘The Shinning’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’.
The Perfumed Dandy
Excellent choices, TPD! Two films that really know how to creep out an audience. Many thanks, my friend.
Your list is very similar to mine. Love that you included “The Haunting” and “Ringu” two films that did give me full blown nightmares after viewing them. “Ringu” especially gets slammed on these days because of the countless imitations it spawned. But this original version is one of the few films that really captures dread as an atmospheric horror. Great stuff.
Hey, Roman. Great to hear from you! What can I say, but great minds think alike 😉 I totally agree that ‘Ringu’ not only captured dread and atmosphere perfectly, but gets unfairly slammed for being so great (and therefore oft-copied). Many thanks :-).
THE THING!!! Love it 😀
Good list mike 😀
Thanks so much, Tim :-).
Great list here, cannot really argue against any of them although I have never seen the Exorcist III and Halloween would be most likely top 5 for me! Great to see this.
Thank you very much, mummbles 🙂
Good lists from both of you. The only film listed that I’m not crazy about (among the ones I’ve seen) is The Evil Dead. The rest I love. Alien is probably my favourite horror film.
Thank you very kindly, Daniel 🙂
A terrific list and one I wholly agree with. It was great to see The Exorcist III creep in there at the end. There are some that I would have to include in my top 10 but I think it would be tough tackling such a large expanse of time. That said, The Exorcist is the greatest of them all and there’s only one place for it!
Thank you very much, Dan. Yeah, a large expanse of time to cover. But the genre, a favorite of mine, made it worth the effort. Have you publish a list? I’d be interested in reading it, Dan.
[…] like John Kenneth Muir’s Reader Top Tens gather loads of responses for the horror category around that time, […]