10. Dream Home
This extremely gruesome horror comedy is an extended shaggy dog story about the soaring price of a sea-front flat in Hong Kong. Over one night, bank employee Miss Cheng (Josie Ho, in a committed, intense performance) invades a luxury block of flats and commits a series of ultra-gory, horribly absurd murders for reasons which only become clear in doled-out flashbacks that explain how she came to be fixated on living in this place and the circumstances frustrating her. Rooted in the horrors of estate agent’s and pre-credit crunch mortgage broking, there’s an undeniable sense of liberation in the killing frenzy – though some scenes (the asphyxiation of a pregnant woman, using a vacuum cleaner attachment) will cross a line for many – and writer-director Pang Ho-cheung stages the massacre with an infectious glee.
When the dead rise to eat the living, survivors cower and squabble in an isolated farmhouse. Made well away from Hollywood, George A. Romero’s low-budget independent film changed the face of horror film and established a mushroom growth of zombie apocalypse movies. Black and white, raw and sometimes amateurish, gruesome but shot through with satirical jabs, it mixes a groundswell of gloom and dread with sudden shocks and nasty plot turns. Of course, it’s a State of the Nation address wrapped up in a horror comic, which gives it a power lacking in any number of first-person-shooter zombie-kill spinoffs.
Almost forgotten until this DVD release, The Frighteners offers cruel little half-hour stories, with squirming performances from dependables like Clive Swift, Geoffrey Bayldon and John Thaw. Oddly, it kicks off with a few standard crime stories, but gets into its stride with a run of unsettling non-supernatural horror stories. ‘The Manipulators’, a science fiction-tinged piece written and directed by Mike Hodges just after Get Carter, is a standout. Also memorable are ‘The Treat’, with OAPs tormenting a male nurse (Ian Holm) on a nice day out, and ‘Bed and Breakfast’, with a wonderfully sly Ian Hendry as an unwelcome guest.
7. Death Line
Tea‑drinking Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence) cuts through red tape (represented by Christopher Lee in a bowler hat) and learns that the inbred descendants of 19th century navvies still haunt the London tube. Meanwhile, down in the tunnels, the last cannibal (Hugh Armstrong) lives out his pathetic, leftover life, expressing himself through the only words he knows, ‘mind the doors’. It includes a wonderful, apparently-improvised drunk scene from Pleasence and a breathtaking 360º pan around a dripping, dank, corpse-strewn underground lair. Director Gary Sherman’s gruesome film is at once an exploration of the byways of London transport history and a horror classic.
Adapted from Catherine Storr’s novel Marianne Dreams – later filmed as Paperhouse – this six-part ITV teatime serial lingered in the nightmares of the generation of kids who saw it on its first broadcast. Young Marianne (Vikki Chambers), bedridden after a riding injury, takes up sketching and dreams herself into the stark, strange world of her drawings, where she and an invalid boy are menaced by standing stones with human eyes (a horrific image) and her own frustrations fuel some of the worst turns taken by her magic pencil. Kids’ TV in the ‘70s could be strong stuff, and this offers some genuinely harsh plot turns.
Writer-director Andy Mitton’s The Witch in the Window, one of the strongest under-the-radar horror films of recent years, is a ghost story with a lot going on under its surface. A father (Alex Draper) and son (Charlie Tacker) work to renovate an old house by a lake. The property has a bad reputation because its previous owner died sat in an armchair staring out of the window. The witch lurks where she died like a matter-of-fact Woman in Black and a pervasive air of dread begins to consume the incomers, but third act developments prompt radical assessment of what witches and haunted houses actually are.
An unusually intelligent Hammer horror, with a surprisingly sensitive touch. Angharad Rees, the daughter of Jack the Ripper, suffers an urge to stab people with whatever sharp object comes to hand whenever she is kissed. Proto‑psychoanalyst Eric Porter assumes her to be the victim of a childhood trauma rather than demonic possession, but is unable to prevent her pinning Dora Bryan to the door with a poker, shoving a fistful of hatpins into a prostitute’s eye or taking a shard of broken mirror to a housemaid’s throat. Rees and Porter are remarkably good and there’s a moving finale set in St Paul’s.
Jack Gold’s adaptation of Peter Van Greenaway’s novel fuses Carrie/Omen-style horror with the then-popular disaster movie, as French copper Lino Ventura and American psychiatrist Lee Remick try to save London (and the world) from psychic coma patient Richard Burton, who wreak havoc with his mind. Burton, glaring between bandages and venomous in voice-over, strains to bring a cathedral down on the gathered Establishment. Packed with British acting talent (Harry Andrews, Michael Hordern, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Brett) and astonishing shocks (including one which resonates even more after 9/11), it’s a gripping essay in bizarre carnage with a side order of social criticism.
‘Well I had enough of a surprise when you murdered my poor uncle Ernest – which is illegal!’ TV horror specialist writers Clive Exton and Terry Nation and Hammer horror director Peter Sykes created this splendid vehicle for funnyman Frankie Howerd, which works as a spooky mystery as well as a comedy vehicle with a decent laugh rate. Victorian ham actor Foster Twelvetrees is lured to a house full of eccentric maniacs (Ray Milland, Hugh Burden, Rosalie Crutchley) who want to kill him. In one classic unsettling scene, the supporting cast dress up as dolls and sing a bone-chillingly odd song.
1. The Ghoul
Dying Egyptologist Professor Morlant (Boris Karloff) insists he be buried with a valuable jewel taped to his hand, so he can revive in the tomb and perform a ritual he believes will give him eternal life. Various parties scheme to get hold of the jewel. Having become a horror star in Hollywood, Boris Karloff returned in triumph to Britain for this splendidly atmospheric homegrown gothic melodrama. Ernest Thesiger and Cedric Hardwicke match Karloff in gurning eccentricity, while fresh-faced Ralph Richardson enjoys his screen debut as an unctuous curate who is secretly filling the cellars with gunpowder for an explosive finale.
Kim Newman Contributor Empire | The Guardian | Sight & Sound