I suppose one of the ironies about horror films is that the majority of them are, in fact, not that frightening (if at all). There is a certain absurdity that goes hand-in-hand with horror that allows us to keep a distance emotionally and even intellectually from the contents of the film; compare horror to comedy, for example, and you will find more parallels than you’d initially anticipate. With keeping this in mind I have decided the time was nigh to introduce you all to my top ten favorite movies that have (more or less) nothing to do with our beloved horror genre; indeed, I’m going outside of the box here to do something a bit different. The paradox here, of course, is that many of the following selections are horrific at heart in one way or another as they touch upon a deeper, more personal level than most films swathed with gallons of blood and foggy cemeteries. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be subjective and not objective. Please enjoy and, as always, your thoughts, reflections and your own selections are both encouraged and welcomed!
10. Conan: The Barbarian (1982)
Fantasy films usually have source material but, unfortunately, fantasy films usually also capture nothing of the atmosphere and feel of said source material. The Lord Of The Rings, anyone? Anyway, Conan: The Barbarian captures the essence of Robert E. Howard’s Conan work beautifully and without flaw – the characterization is spot-on and the aesthetic of the sets and landscapes transports you right into the heart of the Hyborian Age. Although Conan: The Barbarian is lacking in social commentary (there is some, believe it or not, as would perhaps be expected from a script coming from Oliver Stone) it is still an exceptional aesthetic experience that is worth numerous ventures therein.
09. The Holy Mountain
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain is quite a psychedelic piece chockfull of metaphorical imagery that, depending upon your spiritual center (or lack thereof), could be interpreted in an endless variety of ways. I have always found the film’s structure to be most satisfying and unique, journeying through the eccentric lives of individual characters that eventually all partake on a journey together themselves ending in one of the most paradoxically climatic and anti-climatic sequences one is likely to see in cinema. I always enjoy hearing interpretations of the ending since it, very much like the film itself, could be deemed meaningful in a plethora of ways. The Holy Mountain is a unique, visually stunning film that comes recommended most highly!
08. Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver is my favorite Martin Scorsese picture and its influence on the more artistic side of cinema cannot be denied. We follow an isolated, existentially conflicted and relatively misanthropic individual around through the more mundane moments of life that ultimately give bloom to an expression of extremity that is one of the most memorable to be found in the world of film. Ultimately Taxi Driver allows the internal state of a character to reflect upon the environment rather than the more common opposite which is something that, to this day, sets this remarkable film apart from most of the so-called competition. Essential viewing!
07. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Sergio Leone pretty much single-handedly reinvented the western genre with his “dollars trilogy”, giving it a much-needed injection of humanity. Westerns beforehand generally focused on a very defined “good guy” and “bad guy” with there being very little room for development within that basic, obsolete construct. Leone gave us characters that, despite their almost mythological and highly romanticized presentation, were undoubtedly driven by human nature as is made obvious by their actions throughout the films. Eastwood’s character in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, for example, is “the good” but not in the archetypical sense and this is exactly the kind of characterization that helped evolve the western into something much more compelling and powerful. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is not only Leone’s ultimate film but the ultimate western as well.
06. Fatal Attraction
Adrian Lyne is quite an excellent director and if this list was detailing horror films Jacob’s Ladder would be right towards the top (although it’s more than just a horror picture, of course); anyway, Fatal Attraction is another Lyne picture and it is by and large the best thriller I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot, actually). Infidelity can quite literally destroy lives – not only those who decided to partake in said infidelity but all those who it negatively affects – and Fatal Attraction epitomizes this very real horror of human desire, nature (?) and sexuality. An intense, culminating and very real film worth seeing more than once.
Capitalism has been covered in a number of films in a plethora of ways but Scarface seems to capture its essence more accurately and romantically than any other movie I’ve seen. Scarface warns of the self-destructive nature of capitalism; it warns us against the disastrous snowball effect it has not only on people’s lives but on the system itself; it does these things, yes, but it also covers the glamorous, hedonistic excesses of capitalism that make those who really benefit from it feel invincible. When Tony Montana expires at the end we experience a moment of disbelief that this seemingly indestructible force of greed and desire was, at long last, destroyed. There is a great balance and harmony to be found in the film itself which is ironic since all of the characters are unbalanced and corrupt in some way or another. Scarface is a masterpiece and will forever remain De Palma’s best and most iconic film.
04. First Blood
Yup, you’ve got it, a Stallone film at number four here. I used to be quite the Stallone fan in my youth and, as a result, have a lot of nostalgia attached to his films; had I seen most of them for the first time yesterday I probably wouldn’t be too impressed but First Blood would undoubtedly be the exception to this. Featuring beautiful cinematography, intelligent action, an ending no one would expect from an action film (instead of the shedding of blood there’s the shedding of tears) and war-time commentary that’s potent enough to get even the most uninterested viewer thinking. First Blood is an all-around great film of the action genre that transcends the genre’s negative stereotypes with flying colors.
03. Salò, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom
Where to even begin with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s breathtaking and heartbreaking Salò? Being banned in several countries and having had to go through intense criticism and scrutiny from most viewers and critics, some say Salò ultimately cost us Pasolini’s life. Salò is, reputation aside, one of the deepest, most intense and strongly inspired films you will ever see although it is also one of the most extreme. If you’re reading this you’re undoubtedly well-versed in horror but no amount of conditioning can prepare you for the emotional and intellectual onslaught you’ll experience amidst the depraved, surreal scenes to be found throughout Salò’s depths. This is an adept and challenging piece of cinema that remains one of the most vivid and important I’ve ever seen.
I was entranced by this film the first time I saw it in my youth and, to this day, I watch it at least a few times a year and never fail to fall under its magnificent spell. The undercurrents of commentary to be found throughout the film meditating on things such as faith and hatred come from such a human place that it’s actually quite easy to relate to Salieri’s emotional disposition throughout the film. Overall the characterization throughout the film is of the utmost quality and thankfully Amadeus falls into none of the one-dimensional pitfalls we generally see with period pieces. Speaking of period pieces, Amadeus is one of the most convincing I’ve seen, every little minute detail making up a whole that is arresting in its grandiose, eloquent and operatic (no pun intended) vision. An incredible film and an all-time favorite of mine.
01. The Godfather
No commentary is really needed for this one, is it? Imagine cinema as a whole and then imagine every possible facet of that whole perfected – that, my friends, is The Godfather.