Whenever a new horror film emerges, there seem to be two schools of thought in terms of attendance: “I can’t wait to see it!” and “They don’t make ’em like they used to.”
Already backed by a ton of critical praise, the release of this week’s Insidious—starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne—has horror film fans in a tizzy. But it led MM to wonder: What are the movies that inspire today’s most talented fright-masters?
Here, Insidious director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell—the makers of Saw—tell us which movies scare them most.
My Top 10 Favorite Horror Movies
by Leigh Whannell
Okay, when you’re compiling a list like this, it gets difficult. The two film critics that live in my brain start bickering like those guys in “The Muppets” who sat in the balcony. Which film has had more of an impact on my life? Which film has more re-watch value? It’s exhausting, and you want to get it right. The number one slot however, isn’t hard at all. With comedy, the only litmus test is: Was it funny? With horror, the question is: Was it scary? That’s all. And when I ask myself that question, there is one film that stands head and shoulders above everything else…
This is the scariest film I’ve ever seen, then and now. I still couldn’t watch it late at night if you tried to make me. Horror is a very technical genre—everything is a fraction of a fraction’s difference between scary and not. Kubrick’s masterful combination of sound, music and imagery is note perfect.
Some may argue that this is not a horror film at all—that’s it’s an “adventure” film. I say no. This is a classic monster movie, and the monster movie sub-genre falls firmly under the umbrella of the horror genre. As I get older, this film is not as scary as it was to me when I was a kid. The first time I saw this, at age five, I could not sleep with my legs under my blanket at night for fear that Jaws would somehow swim up and bite them off (I was a strange child). Hell, I could barely take a bath. That is a psychological impact. Today it is merely a masterpiece that I can watch over and over without ever getting bored. It is my favorite film of all time, and it deserves a place on the horror mantel.
It is a sad state of affairs when one of the scariest films you’ve ever seen isn’t even a horror film. Lost Highway needs a place on this list though, because whatever it is, it is damn scary. David Lynch is the reigning king of dread. He could train his camera on a coffee table in the middle of a brightly lit furniture store and somehow make it scary. I bet he could make waffles scary. The first half of this movie is a masterclass in dread and tension. It’s awesome.
If there is one country that knows how to do ghost films right, it’s Japan. Over the years I’ve seen so many awesome Japanese horror films, but this is my favorite. I liked the remake, but there is something about this original that cannot be replicated. Try watching the ending and not recoiling in your seat. It is impossible.
Over the past few years, in the wake of Saw, I have had MANY conversations that go exactly like this:
PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “I haven’t seen Saw, sorry. I can’t watch horror movies, they’re too gory.”
ME: “Well… what about The Others? That’s not gory.”
PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “No, The Others is a thriller. I’m talking about horror—gory stuff, you know.”
I have had this exchange countless times. Allow me to pick a bullhorn. The Others IS A HORROR FILM—NOT A THRILLER. HORROR DOES NOT MEAN GORE. GORE IS ONLY ONE PART OF THE GENRE.
Sorry about that, but I had to make myself clear. There is a lot of confusion out there about what exactly a “horror” film is. A horror film is anything that is intentionally trying to scare you or shock and unsettle you. Sometimes marketing people call horror films “thrillers” because horror is a dirty word and they want to class it up. Make no mistake: The Others is a horror film. A great one.
This is another film that get’s called “sci-fi” because there are space ships in it. Whilst there are sci-fi elements to it, to me this is a horror film in space. When people talk about a golden age of horror in the ’70s and bemoan the fact that throughout the ’80s horror became a cheap, trashy genre, they are getting nostalgic about a film like Alien. Think about it, though the ’70s and early ’80s, directors like William Friedkin, Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick all made horror films. If directors of that caliber were making horror films today, it would not be a dirty word.
Evil Dead 2
I had to pick this one over Evil Dead, purely for the nostalgia value. I was obsessed with this in high school. Before I saw it I was deathly afraid of it. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to handle the gore. Jittery, poor quality VHS videotapes of it were passed around amongst my high school friends like black market goods. When I finally worked up the guts to watch it, I couldn’t believe how funny it was. This film made me an instant Sam Raimi fan and I devoured everything else he ever did. A classic.
This film changed the haunted house genre. I actually think it becomes less scary as the film goes on and descends into special effects, but the first hour is amazing.
No horror list is complete without mentioning this masterpiece—the only horror film ever nominated for Best Picture (unless you count The Silence Of The Lambs as horror). I actually caught this pretty late when I was in my later high school years, and so it didn’t scare me as much as it did some people. But it did disturb and enthrall me. The characters are so real and detailed that we really believe in the crazy goings on that come later. That was a real lesson for me.
What is it about kids? Especially ones with the mark of the beast on their scalp?
My Favorite Horror Movies
by James Wan
It seems so cliche to cite this movie as one of the scariest movies ever made. But it truly is! A film that has stand the test of time and is still extremely disturbing with how extreme it gets and its religious subject matter.
Carnival of Souls
A low-budget, forgotten gem. The black and white photography and the cheap makeup add to the eeriness of this film. It’s the kind of movie one would catch on late-night TV while half-asleep on the sofa, and have the images creep into your mind like a dream-induced nightmare.
The Sixth Sense
Simple, economical, brilliant. Filled with atmosphere and genuine chills, with one of the best rug-pull in cinematic history. Yes, I was a sucker and fell for it.
A brilliantly crafted movie that is pure cinema at its finest. Right up there with Spielberg’s Duel as one of my all-time favorite movies. This film has scarred me for life, and I’m terrified of the ocean because of it.
I saw this movie when I was seven, and boy, and I have been terrified of clowns and dolls ever since. Hmm, I’ve noticed that the two movies that have scarred me are both Spielberg productions!
An investigative whodunit in the vein of the best Agatha Christie mysteries, shot like a horror movie and told through the macabre and baroque sensibility of the Italian Hitchcock, Dario Argento. This film has the coolest rock score.
An underrated masterpiece. One of the finest modern day slashers. The “kills” in this film aren’t necessarily bloody, as they are just outright suspenseful and scary as hell. The “killer-is-calling-from-inside-the-house” conceit here predates another movie with a similar twist.
No one does David Lynch like David Lynch. Greatest horror filmmaker who technically isn’t a horror director. The scene where Bill Pullman encounters Robert Blake at a party is one of the creepiest and coolest scenes ever committed to celluloid. MM