Thursday, 17 April 2014

My Top 5 Horror Movies by Mark Morris

This is the first in what I hope will be a monthly series where we ask someone to pull together a list of their Top 5 Horror Movies and write a few words on each.  First up is rightfully respected horror novelist Mark Morris who has been responsible for some of the finest genre novels I've ever read.  If you're a fan of written horror and are unfamiliar with his work I highly recommend you track down Toady (1989), Stitch (1991) and The Immaculate (1993) which, in terms of quality, represent one of the finest opening salvos from any author I've ever read regardless of genre.  More recently his career took an interesting and wholly unexpected detour when he was tasked with writing the novelization of Darren Aronofsky's Noah which found this writer, best known for his work in the field of horror, with a book in the Top 10 Religious Fiction Classics chart over at Amazon.  He has a busy 2014 ahead of him with a number of new novels including Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital and Wolves of London which is the first installment in his new paranormal Obsidian Heart Trilogy.  I'd just like to finish by saying thanks to Mark for agreeing to do this.  It's an exceptionally interesting selection.  Without further ado...I'll hand you over to Mark:


I really love horror movies. I have a vast collection on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray, and the thought of choosing only five out of the hundreds that I adore is almost mind-bogglingly impossible. For me, choosing a horror film to watch for the evening is all about what kind of mood I'm in at the time. Sometimes I might go with an old black and white Universal; sometimes I'll fancy something made by Hammer or Amicus; sometimes it'll be a J-horror; or a slasher flick; or a monster movie; or a giallo; or a ghost story; or something more cerebral and disturbing. To be honest, I'd find it much easier to choose my Top 100 horror films than to choose my Top 5. At least then I'd be able to include a bit of everything that I like. However I've been instructed to choose 5, and so that's what I'm going to do. Please be aware, though, that the 5 I choose today may not necessarily be the 5 I would choose tomorrow.

PSYCHO (1960)

I had to include a Hitchcock film, and although I could have chosen THE BIRDS, FRENZY or even REAR WINDOW, all of which I adore, PSYCHO, for me, is in many ways both the perfect horror movie and the perfect slasher film (other favourites in this particular sub genre being both HALLOWEEN and BLACK CHRISTMAS - the originals, of course). PSYCHO is brilliantly paced and structured, brilliantly directed and brilliantly played by an exemplary cast. The script, by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch, is slick and lean, but also intelligent and multi-layered. Of course we're all now familiar with the shower scene (probably the most famous scene in horror cinema) but at the time the gruesome murder of Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) halfway through the movie - who, despite stealing money from her boss and going on the run, was ostensibly portrayed as the film's heroine - was seen as incredibly shocking and audacious. And, of course, in Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates we have one of the greatest screen monsters of all time - on the one hand, timid, uncertain and sympathetic, and on the other ferocious and utterly, terrifyingly deranged.


I grew up largely on Hammer and Amicus movies, and have incredibly fond Friday night memories of being genuinely terrified as a pre-teen by the likes of THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. However my favourite Hammer film of all is THE REPTILE, which as a 12 or 13 year old I found particularly terrifying due to its isolated Cornish location, which made the hero and heroine seem incredibly vulnerable, and its eerie, almost mystical atmosphere of ancient curses from exotic, unknowable climes. The eponymous reptile - a kind of were-snake, played by the sensuous and mesmerising Jacqueline Pearce, who later went on to find greater fame as the villanous Servalan in BLAKE'S 7 - may look slightly comical by today's standards, but as an adolescent I found her *terrifying*, with her long-taloned hands, her mad boggle-eyes and her hissing, fanged mouth. Another detail that I found particularly horrifying as a youngster was the fact that the faces of the reptile's victims, when bitten, turned black, and that thick, white froth poured from their mouths. To my fevered, adolescent imagination I couldn't conceive of what appalling changes must be taking place in a human body to make a person look like that!


Another slasher movie, and I'll admit not a particularly notable one. However the reason for its inclusion here is quite simply because it was the first proper horror movie I ever saw, and as such is probably the film that has scared me more than any other. At the age of eleven or twelve, I wasn't even remotely prepared for its intensity and its brutality, and as such it not only scared me, it *traumatised* me. I still vividly remember lying on the settee after it had finished, literally shaking with shock. Until that moment I had absolutely no idea that such graphic and gruesome depictions of violence existed onscreen. Even today, the film exerts a strange and powerful grip on me, though nowadays I'm more likely to experience a thrilling frisson of nostalgia than a sense of shock or discomfort. Having said that, the sequence leading up to the first murder, in which a bunch of swinging London twenty-somethings creep around a spooky, abandoned house is genuinely eerie, and the killings are savage and surprisingly bloody. THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR will never appear on anyone's list of classic horror movies, but for me it opened a door to a world of thrills and wonders that I previously had no idea existed.


I *adore* Amicus portmanteau movies, and I sometimes think that if the only films I was allowed to watch for the rest of my life were DR TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, ASYLUM, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, TALES FROM THE CRYPT and the rest I could be perfectly happy. FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is the best of Amicus's output, and a truly brilliant and thoroughly entertaining horror film. It features my favourite actor of all time Peter Cushing in one of his finest, most mischievous roles as the proprietor of the antique shop Temptations Ltd, from which are purchased - or under-handedly appropriated - the various items which lead to the individual customers' stories. Each story is strong and varied, the stand-out being the genuinely unnerving tale of a seedy, hen-pecked husband who is drawn into the peculiar home-life of an ex-serviceman match-seller and his eerily watchful daughter. Led by Peter Cushing, the cast is a role call of wonderful British character actors, including David Warner, Donald and Angela Pleasance, Diana Dors, Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Ian Ogilvy and Nyree Dawn Porter, all of whom are an absolute joy to watch.


I'm gutted that I haven't had room to include the likes of THE HAUNTING, THE WICKER MAN or THE INNOCENTS in this list, all of which number among my favourite horror movies of all time, and all of which had a huge influence on me while growing up. However I'm also acutely aware that my choices so far contain a) no modern movies, and b) no European/Asian movies. For my final choice, therefore, I've decided to redress the balance by selecting one of my favourite non-English speaking films of recent years. This final slot could just as easily have been filled by my favourite Dario Argento movie DEEP RED, or by Mario Bava's wonderful portmanteau film BLACK SABBATH, or indeed by any one of several more recent 'foreign' horror films such as PAN'S LABYRINTH, RINGU, THE ORPHANAGE, ANTI-CHRIST or MARTYRS, all of which are superb in their many and varying ways. However the film I've decided to go for, partly because I want more people to hear about it, and partly because it is simply brilliant, is DOGTOOTH. a bizarre, darkly comic, deeply disturbing, wholly original and unsettlingly erotic Greek movie about parents who keep their three teenage children contained within their house and grounds in order to protect them from the outside world. The home that the parents create for the children is like an eerie fairytale environment of weird beliefs and skewed morals. By turns shocking, sad, funny and repulsive, it's a film that both defies categorisation and brims with outlandish, original ideas.

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