Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Filmmaker R. Shanea Williams' 11 Favorite Horror Films


First I must say this: this is nowhere near an all-time greatest horror film list ever. This list probably won’t even score me many cool points with hard-core horror fans that love their blood and gore in excess. This is simply a list of my personal favorite horror films. These films simply exemplify what I love about the horror genre.

I will be directing a short horror film that I wrote entitled Paralysis later this year. This will be my third film but my first in the horror genre. Paralysis fits in the psychological horror film sub-genre -- which is my favorite sub-genre. The following films on my list definitely played a part in me wanting to make a horror film and they continue to inspire me as I hope to make a horror film that resonates with viewers the way these films still resonate with me.

Why 11 films and not 10? Because…indecisive.

1. THE SHINING (1980)

Those two little girls standing in the hallway have forever marked my conscience. Director Stanley Kubrick knew that was the point. For me, a film like The Shining is perfect in its eternal ability to unsettle. Even after numerous viewings of this film, I’m still shaken by it. It still gives me goose-bumps. It still feels dark, surreal, and deeply disturbing watching Jack Nicholson’s psychological deterioration.  The cinematography alone is masterful and visually arresting. After seeing this I realized, you don’t necessary need the gore to scare audiences. You can terrify them psychologically and still make it impossible for them to turn away.  


2. HALLOWEEN (1978)

This is my all-time favorite slasher film and Michael Myers, in my opinion, is the scariest villain of the genre. As much as I love Freddy Krueger and Jason, they have nothing on Michael Myers! In the words of Dr. Loomis, Michael is “purely and simply evil.” Plus he is the only slasher to ever give me actual nightmares – so that’s something. The film is intensely creepy but also incredibly exciting to watch. John Carpenter’s skillful directing and the compelling story put this heads above many slasher flicks. The most unnerving moment in the film was when Michael knifes a teenage boy, pins him to the wall and stares at him, vacuously. And then, just very slightly, he tilts his head. That’s always chilled me to the bone. Then throw in Jamie Lee Curtis as our final girl and Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis and you truly have a deliciously dark slasher masterpiece on your hands.

3. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors of all time. His ability to create suspense remains unparalleled. Anyone making a film with elements of suspense, terror and horror has studied Hitchcock on some level: especially if they want to do it right. Although in this day in age, many viewers would describe this film as a suspense thriller and probably not a horror film. You have to remember the time Psycho came out and what kinds of movies were being made then to truly appreciate the genius of a film like this. This film was inspired by a monstrous real-life serial killer named Ed Gein (Google that name sometime late at night). Hitchcock took risks that were inconceivable at the time, which ranks this as one of the most daring films ever made. For me, my personal adoration for it is because it was the first horror film that made me a fan of the genre. I mean, with its female anti-hero (Janet Leigh) and a psychotic killer with mommy issues (Anthony Perkins), what’s not to love?

 4. ALIEN (1979)

With ominous atmosphere, spine-chilling tension, and cool special effects, this is a brilliant science-fiction horror film. I mean, what an awesome concept turning the “haunted house” movie on its head and making it a “haunted” spaceship with a lurking, unfathomable beast in the midst. The art design is impressive. The entire look of this film is amazing. The terrifying alien is now a cinematic and pop culture icon in itself. The film bristles with realism, even though the slow pacing may make some viewers antsy. For me, the pacing allowed the dread and paranoia to increase to point where the terror is palpable. I read that Ripley was originally written for a male actor. So glad the director made Ripley a woman and cast Sigourney Weaver. I can’t imagine this film without her. 

5. SCREAM (1996)

We should all be thanking the horror movie gods for this film that re-energized what had become a dying genre. Scream’s impact continues to resonate. I was in high school when this film was released so it holds a special place for me. It was so smart, so funny, and so self-aware. It was a horror film reflection of a generation that was desensitized to blood and violence; kids who grew up on the 80’s horror flicks and knew all the “rules” of how to survive. Despite its pitch-black humor, it had its share of well-earned scares. It’s a film that’s cemented in 90’s pop culture and as well as my horror movie heart forever and ever.

6. THE ORPHANAGE (2007)

Nothing I love more than a creepy supernatural horror flick. When done well ghost stories can be absolutely terrifying, they can even be scarier than films about monsters and serial killers. There’s something innately terrifying about the unknown. The best ghost stories play on this fear of what we don’t understand and what can’t be explained. The Orphanage is one of those ghost stories. It’s not only emotionally compelling but it’s profoundly eerie. This film is centered around a woman who discovers horrific secrets about the childhood orphanage she lived in. If I say anything more about the plot, I’ll give away too much. The film is atmospherically chilling with genuinely scary moments but it’s also absolutely heartbreaking.


7. ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)

I’ve always admired Roman Polanski’s work. There’s always a very subdued atmosphere that ironically grows more paranoid as his films progress. He’s incredibly skilled with creating a sense of dread. Personally, these kinds of horror films stay with me the longest after the credits roll. This is especially true of this film. The real horror whether it be the idea that Rosemary may possibly be impregnated by Satan himself or that she is victim of her own naiveté whenever in the presence of her overbearingly kind neighbors is ripe with tension and terror. As Rosemary’s fear grows, so does the viewer’s. This is not simply a horror film but also a psychologically thrilling, wickedly funny, compelling emotional drama.

8. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Hannibal Lecter. That name alone makes me lose my appetite. He is a villain so ingrained in our culture, I’m not sure if there is anyone or anything more monstrous. The human monster and all of his darkness festers in Hannibal. Yet he’s intriguing. We are intrigued by the very evil nature of him. It’s his strange connection to FBI agent Clarice Starling that makes this film resonate so deeply, which is what made me such a huge fan of it. There is no denying the chemistry between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. What I found most captivating is the premise: it takes a monster to lead you to a monster. (Just don’t let that monster get into your head.)

9. THE DESCENT (2005, ORIGINAL UNRATED CUT)

I was drawn to this film instantly when I discovered it was about a group of women on an adventure in the Appalachians and they discover something horrifying beneath the surface of the earth. This film is intensely suspenseful with its share of chills and thrills. The final act of the film becomes a gruesomely bloody battle for survival and I was completely engrossed. These women are never written as victims. They are all bad-asses in their own right and their friendship is given the kind of complexity and realism that is rare in many films of any genre. This film is impressive, the camera work excellent and the feeling of claustrophobia is palpable. Let’s just say I won’t be spelunking anytime soon. If ever.


10. CANDYMAN (1992)

Even to this day, you won’t see me standing in a mirror saying “Candyman.” I had a long debate with myself over which Candyman film would make this list. Both one and two are very strong films. I guess I am partial to part two because we are given Candyman’s origins. He’s not just a villain. In this sequel, he becomes a tragic figure. It wasn’t until years later I’ve come to truly appreciate the full magnitude of this film. The fact that Candyman was black was already exciting and intriguing. This wasn’t your typical horror film set-up, which made it all the more refreshing. The fact that the sequel dared to give Candyman a real backstory and one that was compelling makes the film so significant.

I always tell people to re-watch this film because it is definitely better than you remember it being. If you look deep enough, there’s even a little food for thought beneath all the blood-splattered bodies.

11. THE BABADOOK (2014)

How does a film that came out just last year become one of my favorite horror films? Probably because I’ve never seen anything quite like it. To be so unexpectedly riveted and unsettled by a film that had me thinking about it for days is incredibly rare. Yet it happened. The Badabook is such a gripping horror film. It’s a story about the monstrous ways in which grief can destroy our lives if we deny it long enough. This grieving mother and her young son had one of the most complex relationships I’ve even seen on film. I was uneasy from the first minutes the film started. Just like The Orphanage, the theme of grief is used so powerfully and so effectively that you become completely unraveled as the characters unravel.  There’s almost nothing more terrifying than a children’s book turning into a real-life nightmare. Mr. Babadook symbolizes a lot of unspoken things but he’s never more chilling than the pain itself that haunts a family that hasn’t coped with their own brutal reality. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Candyman (1992), Carrie (1976), An American Werewolf In London (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Halloween II (1981), Ganga & Hess (1973), The Skeleton Key (2005), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Sixth Sense (1999), Angel Heart (1987), Repulsion (1965)



About The Author 
R. Shanea Williams is a writer, filmmaker and script
consultant who currently resides in Queens, New York.
She directed her second short film “Contamination” in
2013. This acclaimed and award-winning short film blazed
the festival circuit in 2014. Williams is a movie buff,
a music junkie, and a proud nerd. Follow her on Twitter (@rshanea722)





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