Top five terror tales

Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

FILM fans — prepare to be incensed.

Nothing gets the cinema-goer’s blood boiling like a top... list counting down the best of a particular genre.

The genre in question — being October, when such things come to mind — is horror films. Actually, I think about it throughout the year — having a strange fascination with horror films, I often find myself googling the latest low-budget offerings in search of a Friday night film.

But the top five? That’s a tough one, because first, we have to determine what makes a good horror flick.

Is it guts and gore? Not in my eyes – the best spine chillers leave lots to the imagination.

Box office success? You only have to look at the ongoing Saw saga and other torture franchises to know that it’s not always a sign of quality.

Then, there’s the fact that many films can be slotted into the genre despite a lack of ghosts and ghouls or knife-wielding maniacs — Jaws, for one, or Hitchcock’s less obvious creature feature, The Birds (of course I last watched this in a tent, in the middle of a field, with a projector that failed and plunged the place into darkness every ten minutes...adding something of a chill factor).

There are the classic horror films — the Draculas and Frankensteins in all their incarnations — which may instil a sense of dread, without being terrifying to watch.

Then, there are playful takes on the horror genre — the Evil Dead trilogy, cult Brit flick Shaun of the Dead and this year’s Cabin in the Woods.

But, like the songs that will forever mean something to you, a best of for horror films remains something of a personal list.

First on my list is a television two-parter, adapted from a Stephen King book — and which turned an entire generation into coulrophobics.

I am, of course, referring to It. Yes, it’s all a bit made-for-TV, but tell that to a five-year-old me, who walked in on a sibling watching Pennywise the clown terrorise a group of children not much older than myself.

The circus has never been the same again.

Then, there’s the film which scared a generation out of the woods – myself included, as I once tried (and failed) to watch it in situ.

The film in question is The Blair Witch Project — hokey to generations previous, perhaps, but enough to put me off the great outdoors for a while.

Next up is a tie — two films of similar genre, from which I can’t pick a favourite: 28 Days Later and [Rec].

Both are zombie tales, and both are scary in different ways: the British film because of those opening scenes of a deserted, ravaged London and the Spanish flick because it’s set in a tiny apartment block: cue claustrophobia as well as fear of the undead.

My next offering is a piece of genre-bending Scottish folk horror — The Wicker Man.

Eerie, unsettling and close to home, it’s a horror film I could return to again and again.

And last but not least, I give you the film voted as one of the scariest of all time (pipped to the post by The Exorcist — which would feature in my top 10 — in a recent Time Out London poll).

I first watched The Shining with a skittish friend, in a caravan, aged 15 — which should paint enough of a scene as to why it scares me.

A wonderful film by any genre’s rules, the tricks of cinematography and knife’s-edge score tip it into my top spot.

I hope my choices provide some inspiration for a Hallowe’en horror fest — and feel free to share your favourite spooky films with us on Facebook (/ExtraSouthside) and Twitter (@ExtraSouthside).