9. The Thing (US, 1982, John Carpenter)
Man is the warmest place to hide.
Nightmare Fabric: Outpost 31, Antarctica. An American research team rescues a dog trying to escape the murderous intent of desperate Norwegians. In the security of the US station the dog reveals its true self: a parasitic extraterrestrial xenomorph that consumes its victim, then imitates it perfectly. The humans’ days are numbered.
Screenwriter Bill Lancaster delivers a nail-biting adaptation of John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There? (keeping much closer to the source material than the original filmed version from 1951), while 21-year-old Rob Bottin’s special make-up effects continue to repulse and astound more than thirty years down the track.
Despite its poor box office performance on release it is now regarded as one of the finest examples of body-horror ever made, not to mention, a snake pit of paranoia and dread, due in part to Ennio Morricone’s pulsating score.
Nightmare Logic: Sly.
Nightmare Impact: Horrendous.
10. Videodrome (Canada, 1982, David Cronenberg)
First it controls your mind … Then it destroys your body.
Nightmare Fabric: Max Renn, an opportunist, runs a cable television station. He is introduced to Videodrome, a pirate broadcast depicting torture and seemingly murder, a kind of snuff TV, apparently from Malaysia. Renn wants it for his own station. He meets Nicki Brand, another opportunist, and they enter into a sadomasochistic relationship.
Meanwhile Renn’s involvement with Videodrome begins to have a catastrophic effect on his mind and body, the further he delves into the broadcast’s mysterious origins. The Canadian Baron of Blood delivered one of his masterstrokes, a grim, and prophetic parable of consumerism, and the potentially devastating effects of reality TV.
Nightmare Logic: Unwieldy.
Nightmare Impact: Cathartic.
11. Come and See (Idi i Smotri, Soviet Union, 1985, Elem Klimov)
“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see! And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”
Nightmare Fabric: A teenage Belarusian peasant boy, Flyora, is recruited into the partisans during the Nazi invasion and occupation of WWII where he unwittingly experiences first-hand a debilitating odyssey of degradation and destruction across the rugged beauty of the Russian landscape. This is War Film as Horror Movie.
Taking its title from a passage in the Bible concerning the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, shot almost entirely with a Steadicam, and featuring a blistering performance from Aleksei Kravchenko, this was director Klimov’s final movie. An expressionist inferno of anguish and misery shot through with a melancholy edge of elegance.
Nightmare Logic: Sobering.
Nightmare Impact: Devastating.
12. Demons (Dèmoni, Italy, 1985, Lamberto Bava)
They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.
Nightmare Fabric: Two young women are invited by a mysterious man to attend a free screening at a recently renovated cinema. The session is busy, the movie is a brutal, supernatural horror movie. One of the patrons, who before the movie had scratched herself when trying on a display mask in the foyer, feels ill and goes to the bathroom, where the scratch wound bursts full of pus, and before you can say fourfliesongreyvelvet she has transformed into a ravaging demon!
Like a black plague the demon infection spreads with evil fire intensity. Gore galore! Dario Argento co-wrote and produced this wild, cartoon surreal, ultraviolent rampage, which even features a helicopter crashing through the roof of the cinema! Notable Argento cohort Michele Soavi plays the Man in Mask.
Nightmare Logic: Diabolical.
Nightmare Impact: Hellish.
13. Jacob’s Ladder (US, 1990, Adrian Lyne)
The most frightening thing about Jacob Singer’s nightmare is that he isn’t dreaming.
Nightmare Fabric: Jacob Singer is fighting in the Vietnam War and he is badly wounded. In his post-war life he is a mailman suffering from severe posttraumatic stress disorder, trying to make sense of his wartime flashbacks and also nightmarish hallucinations. He attempts to unearth what he believes to be a ‘Nam cover-up involving chemical warfare and soldiers as guinea pigs only to find himself sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire of delusion and psychological chaos.
From a ten-year-old screenplay by producer Bruce Joel Rubin director Lyne fashioned an unusually uncompromising narrative for Hollywood standards. The startling hallucination sequences were achieved in-camera, and combined with the non-linear narrative structure provide the film with a profoundly disturbing sense of unease.
Nightmare Logic: Fractured.
Nightmare Impact: Crippling.
14. The Blair Witch Project (US, 1999, Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez)
In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkitsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary … A year late their footage was found.
Nightmare Fabric: Three student filmmakers (the characters using the actors real names) embarked on a hike into the Black Hills armed with a map (which they lose early on), a 16mm film camera, and a video camera. Their mission is to make a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. A year after they went missing their cameras and footage were found near an old stone wall foundation. Police decided to make the footage public and the result is the movie.
Myrick and Sanchez, who penned the movie’s concept, and edited the movie (directing duties were done by proxy), created the most successful found footage movie ever (and arguably the most effective, considering the brilliant internet publicity campaign). Not since Cannibal Holocaust (1980) had this sub-genre been so cleverly mined. In its wake dozens of found footage movies have been made, but very few have packed the same fear intensity. Found footage movies are demanding by default, but few capture such palpable emotion.
Nightmare Logic: Earnest.
Nightmare Impact: Legendary.
15. Ju-on (Japan, 2002, Takashi Shimizu)
When a grudge from the dead passes to the living – Who is safe?
Nightmare Fabric: A social worker visits a house where a curse has enveloped the abode and affected all who lived there prior and beyond. The original wife, Kayako, murdered by her jealous husband, is the central spectre that continues to terrorise all who come into contact with the house or its associates, including retired detective Toyama, who had worked on the original case. Shimizu remade his own direct-to-video feature, which in turn had followed two short videos, all made for Japanese television.
Ju-on: The Grudge, to give its complete series title, spawned an impressive cult following rivaled only by another J-Horror masterstroke Ringu. Shimizu’s uniquely disturbing imagery reverberates long after the final death rattle.
Nightmare Logic: Confounding.
Nightmare Impact: Petrifying.
16. The Descent (UK, 2005, Neil Marshall)
Claustrophobia. Disorientation. Hallucination. Fear.
Nightmare Fabric: Six women, most of them close friends, go on a caving expedition, not knowing until it’s too late that the underground adventure is an unmapped cave system. Tempers flare, relationships are tested, but there is something far, far more confronting than any petty bitching they’re involved in.
From the darkness their fear will explode. Marshall’s career high point and – US alternate ending aside – one of the most gut-wrenching and claustrophobic UK horrors ever made. It’s extraordinary discovering that all the cave interiors were filmed on sets. The less the viewer knows about the plight of its female cast, the more effective the nightmare impact. And this one packs an absolute doozy of a wallop.
Nightmare Logic: Tenebrous.
Nightmare Impact: Troglofaunal.
17. [REC] (Spain, 2007, Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza)
Nightmare Fabric: Television reporter Angela and her trusty cameraman (whom is never seen) are covering the night shift of a local fire station when they are invited to join a call to rescue an old woman trapped in her apartment. The woman becomes savage and bites one of the policemen present.
The military seal off the apartment block, and those within, including Angela, have to fend for themselves against the infected, who are exhibiting symptoms like some kind of demonic rabies. The fevered insanity that possesses this movie is contagious. Balageuro and Plaza execute a tour-de-force of camerawork, performance, and a tone of sustained hellishness, culminating in a revealing scene of bone-chilling jeopardy in the dark. [REC] 2 is essential viewing. And it is worth noting that the Hollywood remake, Quarantine, is almost as good.
Nightmare Logic: Irrational.
Nightmare Impact: Corpulent.