6. Ghost Stories (2017)
Ghost Stories is the passion project of writer, director and star Andy Nyman who adapts the film from his own stage play. A spiritual sceptic who spends his time debunking the supernatural is challenged by his intellectual hero to solve three ghost stories that have been deemed unexplainable. What follows are three separate tales that allow Nyman to cleverly rework classic horror stories.
On one level, Ghost Stories is a celebration of pulpy horror stories that will play well with horror fans. It really enjoys having its characters chased through scary buildings, or have something breathing down their necks or whispering in their ear, definitely making it one for people who enjoy being scared. But it also, like a lot of the titles on this list, has deeper layers of horror that make us question darker aspects of humanity.
The central character is so adamant that ghosts aren’t real he goes out of his way to find explanations, there is a real arrogance to him when he tells people who are traumatised by their encounters that they’re delusional.
When he is faced with something from his past that he can’t or won’t explain his beliefs seem less solid than we previously realised. Whether ghosts are real or not is not important: this film accepts that fear is real and in exploring it delivers something that doesn’t just celebrate ghost stories but proves they’re part of what makes us human.
7. Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
A horror movie about a sound technician working on a horror movie. Berberian Sound Studio, from Peter Strickland, is a surreal and bizarre film but it manages to find its horror in a really unique way. Toby Jones plays a Foley artist who is hired by an Italian, Dario Argento-esque, horror director to provide the sound effects for his latest movie.
What’s ingenious about Strickland’s film is the way he uses sound, exclusively, to build the same frights and dread you get in any other horror film. To begin with, the Foley artist is out of his depth because he cannot speak Italian and whole scenes go by where he cannot understand a word that is being said. He’s a stranger in a strange land, and his paranoia is starting to grow.
Secondly we never see the film he’s working on, instead, all we hear are blood-curdling screams and watch as he, over and over again, in perfect synchronisation, stabs fruit with knives to create the sound of wounds.
Exactly how nasty and gory the film is exists only in our imagination and the effects of this are reflected in the draining sanity of the Foley artist. Despite this being a work of fiction, about a work of fiction Strickland manages to develop a real feeling of being complicit in some horrible murder. This film bends and flips the worlds of pretend and reality developing real fear from something openly artificial.
8. The Wailing (2016)
Set in a small mountain town of South Korea The Wailing works as a strange blend of Twin Peaks and The Exorcist; at its centre is a family drama, but what’s happening to them only scratches the surface of some bigger evil affecting the town, which the residents can just barely comprehend.
Police officer Jong-goo is warned by a mysterious woman about the presence of a stranger from Japan who is living in the forest above his village. Meanwhile, a sickness is spreading throughout the town, killing entire families and eventually infecting Jong-goo’s young daughter.
Determined to put an end to everything Jong-goo goes to confront the stranger but finds, instead, an unusual shrine of worship full of pictures of the infected and dead villagers.
While the film does have one particularly impressive exorcism scene it generally plays its horror very low key. Concentrating instead on unpicking the normal life of the little town and its residents. The film itself reflects this; jump-scares are oddly played for laughs while each plot point nearly always ends in anti-climax, serving only to deepen the sense of mystery.
This is not a film you watch for answers, in fact, its strength lies in misdirection with characters directly lying or contradicting one another and who (or what) they are getting more and more confusing. The film is incredibly well made and will keep you guessing right to the very end as it builds to a conclusion that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
9. The Happiness of The Katakuris (2001)
Offered as a bit of ‘light relief’ The Happiness of the Katakuris is one of the best horror-comedies of all time delivered to you by the brilliant sensationalist, Takeshi Miike. The Katakuris are struggling to make money from their failing guesthouse, made all the worse by each of their guests mysteriously dying. Refusing to give up they bury the bodies and pray the news doesn’t get out, but the dead won’t stay dead for long.
It’s often described as ‘Dawn of the Dead meets The Sound of Music’ for all the zombie guests and for the Katakuri’s habit of repeatedly bursting into very surreal musical numbers.
The film is certainly crazy; it blends family comedy with grotesque stop-motion animation, strange suicide cults, and throat-ripping pixies with coming of age drama. For its sheer entertainment value alone it will have you laughing more than screaming, but Miike still delivers the balance of horror and comedy.
The film delights in the horror of each new guest arriving and the Katakuri’s having to deal with them all over again. However, at its heart is a genuinely inspiring message as the Katakuri family tries to teach their youngest member to laugh and enjoy life while their world, quite literally, explodes around them.
10. The Girl With All The Gifts (2016)
Rounding out the list is one of the most interesting and original zombie movies of the last few years, Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All The Gifts. Based on the popular novel by M.R.Carey, its title is a reference to the myth of Pandora (the girl) and her box filled with the world’s evil (the gifts).
Beginning in an underground military bunker the story is told through the eyes of a little girl, Melanie, who is kept there. She and other children are locked in cells, kept out of reach of their captors and are daily strapped into wheelchairs and taken to classes where they are taught school lessons. They are supposedly kept for their protection from the zombies on the surface, and yet all the adults are scared of them.
Different from typical Zombie films, The Girl With All The Gifts is driven by a mystery (who is Melanie and why are she and her classmates so special?) rather than a struggle for survival. Taking elements of zombie lore that we are familiar with, from things like The Last of Us and 28 Days Later, McCarthy and Carey create something unique and deliver, arguably, the most satisfying conclusion to any zombie film.
With a fantastic score from Cristobal Tapia de Veer that creates an eerie vibe over scenes of a barren and nearly empty England, makes this a more contemplative than action heavy zombie film. Not that there’s not plenty of high stakes action and tension but that’s only one string on this film’s bow. It’s main achievement coming from exploring how the world must live when evil is released upon it.