This Stanley Kubrick classic is the horror edition of fine wine, aging gracefully over decades, because who can deny the psychological terrors that reside at the very core of our very being? Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, it brings together freezing, silver landscapes of the Colorado Rockies, a grand, off-season hotel empty but for its caretaker and his family, and one man’s descent into dreadful, delicious madness. Jack Torrance isn’t your everyday character, and Jack Nicholson isn’t an ordinary actor. Smooth direction and a tumultuous background score—nothing about this movie is less than exquisite. Its beautifully barren location, almost reflective of the delirious human mind, is no exception. You could watch it for a hundred reasons, just make sure the lure of difficult landscapes is one.
-Sohini Das Gupta
Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster ruined many things for filmgoers: skinny dipping, oceanfront resort towns, and every other shark movie that followed. The setting is Amity Island, an inviting seaside tourist trap with a frolicking beach culture, which is gripped by fear as a massive shark lurks nearby, attacking locals. Left with no choice, three men—a cop, an oceanographer, and a deranged shark hunter—embark on a Moby Dick-style adventure to finish the predator. Spielberg directs the film with the stealth of a great white as he keeps the shark off camera in pivotal moments and ratchets up the dread, scene after scene, relying only on a dorsal fin ominously tearing through the waters to a brass score. Jaws defined the modern monster fish canon, and even after all this time, it has not been outdone.
Years before Disney’s cute-fest stormed televisions worldwide, a Sundance indie of the same name had already thrilled a smaller, distinct audience. Far from the realm of fake blood and jump scares, Adam Green’s underdog offering takes a plausible reality—three twenty-somethings stranded on a ski lift in a remote, frozen part of New England—and spins the simple premise into an increasingly twisted buffet of life-and-death scenarios. Visuals of egg-white ski slopes framed by Mount Holliston, and a chilling exploration of human helplessness in the face of providence, gives this de-glam dark horse the same appeal of existential memes: messed up, but totally relatable.
A still from Midsommar.
Ari Aster’s Midsommar is every bit as compelling as it is unsettling. Although filmed largely on the outskirts of Budapest, the on-screen Swedish folklore-horror tale is set in a pastoral village nestled somewhere in Hälsingland—the home of the Hårga folk. The plot follows an American clique—each embroiled in their own turmoil—who arrive to join the summer celebrations of a flower crown-bearing, white linen-donning, pagan cult. The rituals—which initially seem tranquil, hallucinogenic, and perhaps even appealing—soon take a sharp turn towards the truly outlandish. But it is the convincing performances of the actors (particularly Florence Pugh), matched by The Haxan Cloak’s eerie score that is sure to make your skin crawl.
Jordan Peele’s spine-chilling horror movie will have you at the edge of your seat, but not for the reasons you think. There are no gory ghoulies and long-pan silences. The horror is present in the beautifully woven script around race, juxtaposed with dark humour. An African-American photographer, Chris Washington, despite misgivings, decides to visit the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage. Within the first few minutes of the movie, the duo hit the road and travel to rural Upstate New York. At first glance, the Armitage family seems to be the overcompensating ‘woke’ white family apologising for their privilege, but what soon follows…will have you screaming for Chris to…get out!
A year before the blockbuster Parasite released, Burning tackled the dramatic income inequality in South Korea with equal alacrity, while also adding a cunning travel narrative along with a serial killer, pyromania, love angle, and mystery. The story is loosely based on Faulkner’s 1939 short story “Barn Burning,” which in turn inspired Murakami’s 1992 short story “Barn Burning,” which in turn loosely inspired director Lee Chang-dong’s (a former novelist) film. The audience spends time in the rural town of Paju, full of poverty and patriarchy, smack dab next to North Korea, where each day means listening to propaganda blasted across the border. This atmosphere is set against Seoul’s posh Gangnam neighborhood, full of Porsches and pompous affluence. The action does not disappoint.
Alfred Hitchcock’s travel-horror flick stirred much drama upon its release. A then New York Times review read, “Psychiatrists have mumbled that it is liable to induce a state of shock…and fearful parents have shuddered for their young.” Compared to the gratuitous violence now portrayed in modern films, Psycho is a walk in the park; however, the wonderfully eerie quality Hitchcock cultivates is par to none, something every viewer who watches the horror unfold at The Bates Motel can agree upon. Hitchcock adored the plotline so, the picture hit cinemas with an audio recording of the author petitioning the audience to keep the crux of the mystery a secret, a request we shall honour.
The most terrifying monsters are the ones in our head. Emil Ferris’s come a close second.
Her graphic novel, My Favourite Thing is Monsters, is a ghastly-gorgeous murder mystery: Precocious 10-year-old Karen Reyes is out to find out who murdered her beautiful upstairs neighbour, Anka Silverberg, a Holocaust survivor. But everyone around Karen harbours a secret—jazz musician Sam Silverberg, ventriloquist Mr. Chugg, and her own brother who seems tormented by his past. Set in the Chicago of the 1960s, the book is Karen’s personal diary, drawn in the style of B-horror imagery and pulp monster magazines. Ferris’s crosshatched figures are breathtaking and powerful, unleashing demons real and imagined.
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