40 Greatest Horror Movies
Special Mention: Un chien andalou
The dream – or nightmare – has been a staple of horror cinema for decades. In 1929, Luis Bunuel joined forces with Salvador Dali to create Un chien andalou, an experimental and unforgettable 17-minute surrealist masterpiece. The film went on to influence the horror genre immensely. After all, even as manipulative as the “dream” device is, it’s still a proven way to jolt an audience. Just ask Wes Craven, who understood this bit of cinematic psychology when he dreamt of the central force behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film intended to be an exploration of surreal horror. David Lynch is contemporary cinema’s most devoted student of Un chien andalou – the severed ear at the beginning of Blue Velvet is a direct allusion to Buñuel’s blood-curdling famous closeup on the slashing of an eyeball with a razor. Technically, that scene alone could classify Un chien andalou as the first splatter film. Though it is not a horror film per se, the film does contain a number of disturbing images: an army of ants crawling through a hole in a man’s hand, dead animals strung on top of a piano, and children playing with dismembered hands. Buñuel and Dalí compile images and scenes that will make you cringe and, in the case of the splitting eyeball, look away. Buñuel exploits the viewer through these horrific images, understanding that people enjoy seeing something macabre.
40. Blue Velvet
David Lynch mixed film noir with horror in Blue Velvet, placing a heavy emphasis on camera placement and sound to articulate the emotional state of his characters. This hallucinogenic thriller probes beneath the belly of suburban America to uncover the moral rot underlying the American Dream. Dennis Hopper stars as Frank Booth, one of cinema’s most memorable maniacs, and Lynch directs his greatest achievement – a film both poetic and powerful. A controversial film often criticized for its depiction of aberrant sexual behavior, this surrealistic, psychosexual small-town film is really a coming of age story, specifically a phase of transition from adolescence to adulthood, juxtaposed against sadomasochistic violence, corruption, drug abuse, mental illness, and prostitution. This is a must-see for Lynch’s breathtaking command of sight and sound and his idiosyncratic style, along with the lush cinematography by Frederick Elmes, the seedy production design by Patricia Norris, and the insinuating score by Angelo Badalamenti. Famously, Roger Ebert denounced Blue Velvet as “sadistic” and “marred by sophomoric satire and cheap shots.” Meanwhile, The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael called it “the work of a genius naïf.” Where do you stand?
Loosely based on Tod Robbins’ 1923 short story Spurs, Freaks is the 1932 American Pre-Code horror film about sideshow performers. The film was directed and produced by Tod Browning, who had been a member of a traveling circus at a young age. He drew inspiration from his personal experiences and instead of using costumes and makeup, he chose to cast real people with deformities as the sideshow ‘freaks’. This peek behind the curtains of a circus sideshow caused quite the outrage on its initial release and still manages to shock and touch viewers to this day due to its unflinching portrayal of disability. But it isn’t the physically deformed who are the monsters here, but rather two of the seemingly “normal” members of the circus group who conspire to murder a colleague and obtain his large inheritance.
Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, may be the finest of all vampire films; it’s certainly one of the best horror films ever made. In addition to being one of the first horror movies to delve into the mythology of vampirism, it’s one of the first horror movies, period. Nosferatu is the definitive screen adaptation of Dracula. And, while other versions, such as the 1931 Bela Lugosi interpretation or the 1958 Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing Horror of Dracula, have their adherents, none can match Murnau’s take. Nosferatu still holds up surprisingly well, including the special effects to represent the sun rising, or doors opening by themselves — all of which were ahead of its time. Nosferatu is a valuable milestone in the history of cinema. It is additionally a fascinating study of mood and carefully constructed mise en scene, using shadows and mirrors to construct a weighty sense of impending doom. Mentioning Max Schreck’s unforgettable portrayal of Count Orlok deserves to be the final word on Nosferatu. Whereas vampires usually are viewed as seductive, dangerous creatures whose sexuality goes hand-in-hand with their need for blood, Orlok is just as grotesque on the outside as he is on the inside. That his insatiable hunger prevails despite his off-putting demeanor lends the film an added macabre touch missing from future vampire stories. Schreck doesn’t so much play the character as he seemingly becomes him. It is because of him, above all else, that ensures Nosferatu will live on in the annals of horror’s history forever.
Vampyr is just one of many reasons why Carl Theodor Dreyer is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and ranks in many circles as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Almost entirely devoid of the outright scares we’ve come to expect of the genre, it creates instead a sense of unease, even more now than 75 years after its release. With the help of Rudolph Maté’s luminous photography, Dreyer creates a poetic psychological horror film. The coffin-carrying sequence and live-burial scene towards the end will forever be etched in your memory.
36. The Wicker Man
There is no denying that this early ’70s British export crisscrosses genres as easily as it defies audience expectations. Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is a film that rejects categorization; it can be considered a horror film, but also a psychological thriller, a musical, a melodrama, but perhaps it is best described as a prime example of a short-lived sub-genre known as folk horror. Arguably one of the greatest cult films to emerge from England, The Wicker Man presents the pagan elements objectively and accurately – accompanied by authentic and stirring traditional Celtic music, a believable, contemporary setting (shot around a remote Scottish isle), and with riveting performances by the ensemble cast. The film’s production history is as infamous as the movie itself. The Wicker Man was a misunderstood work of art passed through several unsympathetic distributors, butchered through several versions, and receiving only a minor, apathetic release, before being shelved outright. It has seemingly defied the odds, picking up a powerful reputation along the way and surviving despite what feels like a conspiracy to erase it from cinematic history: The master negative was lost when it was accidentally packaged along with a shipment of disposable material buried beneath the under-construction M3 freeway. Thankfully, The Wicker Man has endured, in large part due to the persistence of actor Christopher Lee, who calls it the best film he ever appeared in. First-time director Robin Hardy does a stellar job; his modest directing keeps things tense and scary, despite giving the film a brightly lit, sunny shine. The movie is chilling but bloodless – there is evil here, lurking about, but it doesn’t become quite clear until the unforgettable and shocking third act. The ending is brilliantly realized, keeping things provocative, unsettling, and outright bizarre. Those final images will burn in your memory long after the end credits roll, a scene as painful to watch as is the expression on the detective’s face. Like many of the best horror/thrillers, The Wicker Man works best in continuously surprising audiences by relying on carefully disciplined suspense rather than cheap, theatrical shocks. The Wicker Man is quite simply a one of a kind, a masterpiece and a film that demands to be seen.
35. Peeping Tom
Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is a methodical look at the psychology of a killer and a meditation on violence and voyeurism. The extremely controversial picture was branded as “sick” and “nasty” by major critics upon its 1960 release and banned in the UK. These harsh and despicable responses effectively destroyed Powell’s career, but later generations embraced the film and many regards it as a chilling work of voyeuristic cinema. The film revolves around a serial killer who murders women while using a portable movie camera with a blade attached to its tripod. In doing so, he is able to record their dying expressions of terror. Peeping Tom has been praised for its psychological complexity. On the surface, the film is about the Freudian relationship between the protagonist and his father, and the protagonist and his victims. However, several critics argue that the film is as much about the voyeurism of the audience as they watch the protagonist’s actions. A thoroughly opaque and gritty London atmosphere permeates the grisly proceedings, carried off by a powerful performance from Carl Boehm, who has the difficult task of convincing us he is a cold-blooded killer while eliciting sympathy for the trauma of his childhood. Powell’s roaming camera work and Otto Heller’s shadowy cinematography makes Peeping Tom a work of cinematic art.
It seems that every decade has at least one incredibly bleak, indie, low-budget masterpiece of horror cinema that comes out of nowhere and surprises everyone. In the 1960’s it was Goerge A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead — and in the 70’s it was Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In the 1980s John McNaughton made Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, his acclaimed but extremely controversial thriller, loosely based on the true-life story of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Like many of the great horror films, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was banned in several countries and it took three years to finally get a release in the United States. What makes Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer so disturbing isn’t so much the graphic killings, but its documentary-like feel. Many of the killings are presented as crime scenes, with only the sounds of the murder echoing on the soundtrack, and most of the film follows Henry stalking his victims and spending time with his only friend Otis and his sister Becky, who Henry takes a liking to. That said, the few murders that do appear onscreen will no doubt, shock and disturb most viewers — specifically the notorious home invasion scene filmed by the killers themselves and seen only on playback on a television set. John McNaughton did not dress his direction up in horror film trappings — instead, his movie is free of overt sensationalism and slasher clichés, setting it apart from almost every film made about a famous psychopath. Instead, the camera seems to just blankly focus on the characters, specifically, the titular character played with incredible restraint by Michael Rooker. His performance naturally garnered most of the attention for his still, quiet work as Henry, but Tracy Arnold as Becky and Tom Towles as her repulsive brother Otis, are equally great. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is powerful viewing, and one of the most disturbing and terrifying examinations of mass murderers ever filmed. Not for the weak of heart.
Jack Finney’s 1954 novel The Body Snatchers has been adapted to the big screen numerous times. In 1956, innovative director Don Siegel gave us the first adaptation. His tense, offbeat psychological sci-fi thriller is superbly crafted and remains potent to this day. It can be read as a political metaphor or enjoyed as an efficient, chilling blend of sci-fi and horror; either way, it works. The 1978 version directed by Philip Kaufman, and starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Leonard Nimoy, is even better. It is one of those rare sequels that holds on to both the spirit and political allegory of the original. The film was also a box office success and is considered by many to be among the greatest film remakes. This is a classic – a must-see and features one of the greatest endings to any horror film.
32. The Evil Dead
This advantageous feature debut from out-of-school filmmaker Sam Raimi remains a benchmark of modern horror. While many will argue the sequel is far more entertaining, The Evil Dead works far better as a straight-up horror film. It actually received an X rating (mostly due to the infamous tree-rape sequence), was banned in many countries, and was later cited as a video nasty. One of the most remarkable things about The Evil Dead is how much it was able to accomplish on such a small budget. The film was shot on 16mm in the woods of Tennessee for around $350,000, and yet the final product looks five times more expensive than the cost. Injecting considerable black humor, Raimi brings his pic to life by drenching the screen in copious amounts of fake blood. The woods come alive with the imaginative camerawork devised by Raimi and cinematographer Tim Philo, and Tom Sullivan’s amazing make-up effects climax remains a thing of beauty.
31. God Told Me To
In writer/director Larry Cohen’s occult/sci-fi thriller, Tony Lo Bianco (The French Connection, The 7-Ups) plays police Lieutenant Nicholas, who unravels a mysterious spree of murders in New York City, committed by regular citizens who each claim that God compelled them to commit the crimes. Cohen wrote and produced, as well as directed, this weird low-budget B-movie that blends sci-fi, occultism, pseudo-religion, crime mystery, and horror. Other elements that Larry Cohen throws into this melting pot of genres and themes include infidelity, paranoia, religion, extraterrestrial abductions and even a supernatural ‘Christ’-like figure with a vagina in his ribcage who was the product of a virgin birth. This stark police procedural succeeds thanks to all its truly bizarre otherworldly themes, surprising twists, solid direction and strong performances.
Special Mention: Thriller
Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking dance routines and unique vocals have influenced generations of musicians, dancers, and entertainers. He was one of the entertainment’s greatest icons, and like most gifted individuals, he was always pushing boundaries, reinventing himself, and testing his limits. One of his biggest accomplishments was Thriller, a 14-minute short film featuring choreographed zombies performing alongside Jackson. The campy horror-fest was directed by John Landis, who had previously directed the hit film An American Werewolf in London, and was choreographed by Michael Peters, who worked with Jackson on his previous video Beat It. The video contains a spoken word performance by horror film veteran Vincent Price, and co-stars former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray. The short was shot on 35mm film, includes expensive sets, multiple shooting locations, and impressive dance choreography. Landis would also call in a favor from American Werewolf in London collaborator Rick Baker (the Oscar-winning makeup artist behind the creature effects) and ask him to design Jackson’s man-to-werewolf transformation. Incidentally, the short also contains original music by Elmer Bernstein, the man who composed the score to American Werewolf in London. The video’s high-in-demand reception, whipped up by multiple daily showings on MTV, would more than double album sales, driving Thriller to become the biggest selling LP of all time, a record it holds to this day. In January of 2010, it was designated a national treasure by the Library of Congress, the first music video to be inducted into the National Film Registry. After its release, music videos would never be the same again.
30. Dead Ringers
Dead Ringers is arguably David Cronenberg’s masterpiece, and Jeremy Irons gives the most highly accomplished performance of his entire career – times two. This is the story of Beverly and Elliot Mantle (both played by Irons), identical twins who, since birth, have been inseparable. Together, they work as gynecologists in their own clinic, and literally, share everything between them including the women they work and sleep with. Jealousy comes between the two when Beverly falls in love with a new patient and decides he no longer wants to share his lady friend with Elliot. The twins, who have always existed together as one, have trouble adapting and soon turn against one another. As the tag-line reads, “Separation Can Be A Terrifying Thing.” Unlike the director’s previous films, the biological horror in Dead Ringers is entirely conveyed through the psychological exploration of the two main characters. Cronenberg’s film is actually based on the 1977 novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, which is, in turn, based on a true story. The real-life twins died by committing suicide together in their Manhattan apartment, but Cronenberg’s ending seems ideally appropriate. In Dead Ringers, the identities of the Mantle twins have become so embroiled that they can no longer go on living with each other, and so they do everything in their power to separate themselves. Cronenberg’s true-life tale is wholly original and quite disturbing.
29. The Fly
Cronenberg’s The Fly is more a re-imagining as opposed to a remake. The movie uses the premise found in the original short story and the original film but changes everything else including names and basic plot points. Cronenberg has always been fascinated with the reshaping of the human body in various forms and the horror that comes with that change. With The Fly, Cronenberg focuses on the slow transformation and decomposition of a mad scientist, both mentally and physically. Chris Walas’ groundbreaking makeup and creature effects won him an Oscar, but they would be nothing without Jeff Goldblum’s strong emotional performance. In the last act, The Fly veers into a more traditional horror setting, but the picture is less about the gory effects than it is about Cronenberg’s obsessions. The Fly was released in what could arguably be called the most fertile period of David Cronenberg’s career. To date, it is still his most commercially successful motion picture and even spawned a sequel a few years later.
28. Cat People
One of the first films to reference the work of Sigmund Freud was Cat People, a story about an American man who marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into a cat-like person if they are sexually intimate. Cat People plays out as a dark and fearless study of sexual repression and anxiety, underlining what would later make psycho-sexual supernatural horror popular. It was ahead of its time in many ways, and it was also the first film in a series of nine brilliant literate horror films produced by Val Lewton in the ’40s. Of the nine, it is arguably the best, and an evocative reminder of how powerful ‘less is more’ can be. Take for example the scene in which Alice is stalked by the feline Irena through the city streets at night. Just as the threat seems to creep up behind her, the sudden arrival of a bus terrifies her. It’s so simple yet so effective because Lewton is a master at creating mood and atmosphere. After Cat People was released, cinephiles would refer to jump scares as the “Lewton Bus” moment. The film is also blessed with the beautiful expressionistic cinematography courtesy of Nicholas Musuraca, and Roy Webb’s melancholy score, which accents the romantic and tragic love story at the center.
The king of Italian horror, Dario Argento, directs what many consider to be his masterpiece. Suspiria is one of the most important and influential genre movies ever made and essential viewing for all horror fans. Suspiria’s overall charm resides in its technical triumphs and visual style. Taking his cues from Mario Bava, Argento, together with his director of photography Luciano Tovoli, creates a vibrant, colorful film apart from the standards of the genre. Argento’s masterful use of intense primary colors (he acquired 1950s Technicolor stock to get the effect) and stunning set designs gives the whole film a hallucinatory intensity. The dissonant, throbbing score, composed by Argento and performed by his frequent collaborators, Italian rock band Goblin, drives the picture with the occasional distorted shriek of “Witch!” A strange combination of the arthouse and horror film, Suspiria, although cited as one of the scariest movies ever made is, ironically, one of Argento’s least violent films. It relies more on tone and atmosphere than on blood and gore. Surreal and frightening, Suspiria still shocks audiences decades after its original release.
Many will argue Suspiria is Argento’s full-fledged masterpiece, but Deep Red is a slightly better film. Argento’s trademarks are all visible here in copious amounts; every elaborate stylistic choice he would carry on for the remainder of his career is present and accounted for. From a technical standpoint, Deep Red is a masterwork, featuring stunning cinematography and a superb, jazzy score by Argento’s band Goblin. Deep Red is one of the most distinct sounding and looking horror films of the 70s and undoubtedly Argento’s finest picture. But more importantly, the film also excels where most Giallos fall short: it carries an engaging narrative heightened by an unpredictable course of events and a truly surprising twist ending.
25. Don’t Look Now
Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, 1973?s Don’t Look Now is one of the great horror masterpieces that are criminally overlooked. The film stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, wrapped in an emotional blanket of fear, anger, guilt, and love. While the plot of the film is preoccupied with misinterpretation and mistaken identity, its primary focus is on the psychology of grief, and the effect the death of a child can have on a relationship. Directed by noted cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now arguably bears resemblance to giallos, but it leans more toward creepy than gory; patiently building suspense with haunting imagery and a chilling score by legendary composer Pino Donaggio (who won Best Soundtrack for his work). Roeg designs his film like an intellectual puzzle with a distinctive color scheme. Watch closely as recurring visual motifs combined with unorthodox editing techniques foreshadow key events that follow. Roeg’s ingenious editing job when cutting between flashbacks and flash-forwards creates a haunting meditation on fear, death, and the beyond. Don’t Look Now is frequently regarded as his greatest film, and its influence can be felt everywhere from Peter Weir’s The Last Wave to Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man. If you are seeking a film with a unique directorial style, stunning imagery, and powerful performances, look no further.
Eyes Without a Face pioneered the theme of the mad surgeon and spawned countless imitators, including Circus of Horrors and many Jesus Franco pictures such as Faceless and The Awful Dr. Orloff series. Eyes also influenced the Japanese art-house film The Face of Another. It was the feature-length directorial debut of Georges Franju, who had previously made a number of shorts – his best-known being The Blood of the Beasts (1949), a documentary that unraveled the horrors inside a slaughterhouse (available in the Criterion DVD release of Eyes Without A Face). The screenplay is credited to five writers, among them Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, a duo of popular French writers who adapted a number of classics including Les Diaboliques, Vertigo, and even Body Parts. Along with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (all released in 1960), this mad-scientist fairy tale helped shape the modern slasher film with its dark themes, general air of malevolence, visual lyricism, jarring score (by Maurice Jarre), and its fairly graphic scenes of slicing through the skin. The film’s title has a double meaning, referring both to the surgical procedure of removing facial features and to the character of the daughter played brilliantly by Edith Scob: because of the mask, she wears, her eyes are the only visible moving part of her face.
23. Les Diaboliques
Les Diaboliques is a timeless classic. Henri-Georges Clouzot delivers a despairing character study masquerading as a thriller, jacking up the suspense with grueling intensity and presenting a bleak world full of suspicion, manipulation, fear, and loathing. Much like Hitchcock’s work, Les Diaboliques is peppered with perverse atmosphere and dark humor. The lead performances are all incredible, particularly Clouzot’s wife Vera Clouzot, who stars as the vulnerable lead. The twist ending is shocking –and one of the greatest of all time. Even more surprising is that the murder plot is in many ways the least disturbing element at play. Henri-Georges Clouzot (dubbed the French Hitchcock) created this masterpiece in 1955 – a film which served as the template upon which most psychological thrillers that were made in the aftermath of the success of Psycho were based. Hitchcock reportedly wanted to make this movie himself, but Clouzot bought the film rights to the novel Celle Qui N’etait Pas, supposedly beating Hitchcock by only a matter of hours, and asked Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac to adapt it. Not wanting to miss another opportunity, the Master of Suspense snapped up the rights to Boileau and Narcejac’s next thriller, D’entre les Morts, which would become Vertigo.
22. The Innocents
The Innocents, which was co-written by Truman Capote, is the first of many screen adaptations of The Turn of the Screw. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad because most people haven’t – but The Innocents deserves its rightful spot on any list of great horror films. Here is one of the few films where the ghost story takes place mostly in daylight and the lush photography, which earned cinematographer Freddie Francis one of his two Oscar wins, is simply stunning. Director Jack Clayton and Francis make great use of long, steady shots, which suggest corruption is lurking everywhere inside the grand estate. The Innocents also features three amazing performances; the first two come courtesy of child actors Pamela Franklin (The Legend of Hell House), and Martin Stephens (Village of the Damned). Stephens’s goodnight kiss to Deborah Kerr lasts a little longer than normal, and his reading of poetry and dispensing words of wisdom seems far too advanced for his young age. Meanwhile, Franklin seems always distant, lost in her inner thoughts while never fully aware of her surroundings. The third powerhouse performance, of course, comes from Kerr, playing Ms. Giddens. Most of the film is seen through her point of view and so we are never sure what to believe. The few times we do catch any glimpse of an apparition, it is seen only through her eyes. And so it is never made clear whether the house is haunted, the children are possessed or if Ms. Giddens has simply gone mad. The Innocents opens in a most unsettling way – a creepy song written by Paul Dehn and Georges Auric is heard before and during the opening credits. The tune becomes a reoccurring motif throughout the film, played by a music box, hummed by a child, or faintly heard in the distance. The music only heightens the children’s strange behavior and Ms. Giddens’s increasing anxiety. The song alone is enough to send shivers up the spine. The Innocents is truly one of the greatest ghost stories of all time, blessed with one of the most risqué and devastating finales of any horror film. Stylish, intelligent, and creepy, The Innocents will haunt you long after the lights have been turned back on.
Wes Craven intended Nightmare On Elm Street to be an exploration of surreal horror as opposed to just another stalk-and-slash horror movie, and not only does Nightmare offer a wildly imaginative, inspired concept, but it is a solid commercial genre entry for the dating crowd. Elm Street was New Line’s first genuine mainstream cinematic venture (after Alone In The Dark) and made the company a huge pile of money. The film was shot in 30 days at a cost of roughly $1.8 million, but it made back its figure and then some on opening weekend. New Line Cinema was saved from bankruptcy by the success of the film, and was jokingly nicknamed “the house that Freddy built.” Perhaps the most influential horror film of the ’80s, Craven’s 1984 slasher about a quartet of high school kids terrorized in their dreams by a torched boogeyman in a fedora hat and dusty pullovers spawned countless sequels and even a TV series. One great thing Nightmare offered, perhaps more than anything else, was a new horror star in Robert Englund. This was the film that introduced the world to Freddy Krueger, a monster who exists in his victims’ dreams and preys on them in the vulnerability of sleep. Freddy quickly became one of the most recognizable modern horror villains with his horribly barbecued visage, his ragged slouch hat, his dusty red-and-green striped sweater, and his sense of humor as sharp as his metal gloves with knives at the tip of each finger. In addition to offering the visceral thrills that are necessary for a genre entry, Craven’s screenplay works on several levels. Here, the idea of sleep as the ultimate threat is ingenious and incredibly insidious. Craven masterfully disguises dreams as reality and vice versa, and the idea that injuries sustained in dreams also exist outside helps to further blur the already murky distinction between the two. The primary element that elevates A Nightmare on Elm Street above many other slasher films is that the storyline invites intellectual observation: At times, we’re aware that the characters are trapped in a dreamscape, but there are times when we are not, and there are occasions when we suspect they’re awake and they are actually asleep – as if the children are in a never-ending state of hypnagogia. The ultimate revelation is that Freddy is really the byproduct of parental vigilantism. The teenagers in the film are paying for the sins of their parents —and the brute is determined to exact revenge in using their children as his victims. Nightmare has been described as a reaction to the perceived innocence of American suburbs: parents in the film’s fictional suburb dispose of Krueger and hide any form of his existence in an attempt to build a safe environment for their children. There’s a clear generational divide in A Nightmare on Elm Street, with the children trying to stay awake figuratively and literally, and the parents continuing to ignore the situation, utterly avoiding taking responsibility for their hideous actions. They instead bury their memories of the crime they once committed so deep down inside, it allows Krueger to amass incredible power in his nightmare world – power he uses to exact his revenge. More so, Freddy’s actions have been interpreted as symbolic of the often traumatic experiences of adolescence. Sexuality is ever-present in Freudian images and is almost exclusively displayed in a threatening and mysterious context (i.e. Tina’s death visually evokes a rape, Freddy’s glove emerges between Nancy’s legs in the bath, a centipede crawls out of the mouth of one of the victims, and a mattress swallows up Johnny Depp only to ejaculate him immediately after). Nightmare is also the story of the courage and resourcefulness of one extraordinary girl. At the age of 19, Langenkamp portrays one of the most perfectly realized and well-expressed heroines of the 1980s. The best slasher films all have realistic heroines, and Langenkamp ranks as close to the top as Janet Leigh or Jamie Lee Curtis. Her character is one of the greatest “final girls” in the history of slasher films and goes on to reappear throughout the franchise in the only two solid sequels (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). Visually, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a real treat, hovering somewhere between Gothic, supernatural imagery, and the typical 80s slasher fare. Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin’s work is innovative and atmospheric, capturing a malevolent mood with light and shadow, most notably in the surrealistic basement scenes set around the furnace. Like so many films of this genre, its artistic ingenuity is intensified with various bloody setpieces and visual effects. A Nightmare on Elm Street boasts several impressively conceived and well-executed dream/kill sequences. During production, over 500 gallons of fake blood were used for the special effects production. The special effects, most of which are low-tech, are surprisingly effective, and this was the first film to use a breakaway mirror. Finally, there’s Charles Bernstein’s spare score, the musical cues, synthesizers, creepy sound effects and the film’s unforgettable children’s rhyme – which is all perfect for the material – eerie but never overwhelming.
Special Mention: The Last Wave
The tagline reads, “The Occult Forces. The Ritual Murder. The Sinister Storms. The Prophetic Dreams. The Last Wave.”
Peter Weir follows up on his critically acclaimed masterpiece Picnic at Hanging Rock with this visually striking and totally engrossing surrealist psychological thriller. Much like Picnic, The Last Wave is built around a mystery that may have a supernatural explanation. And like many Peter Weir movies, The Last Wave explores the conflict between two radically different cultures; in this case, that of Aboriginal Australians and the white Europeans.
It is about a white lawyer, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), whose seemingly normal life is rattled after he takes on a pro bono legal aid case to defend a group of Aborigines from a murder charge in Sydney. The mystery within the mystery surrounding the death leads the story down a rainstorm of apocalyptic proportions. Neither Picnic at Hanging Rock nor The Last Wave feature a conventional ending and truth be told, The Last Wave’s ending can be a dealbreaker for some. Unlike Picnic, which lends itself to multiple interpretations, The Last Wave seems to offer only one possible explanation in the end. Still, the film is an interesting mixture of dreams and reality – of occult tribal rituals and of modern-day society – and of mental telepathy.