Writer-director Patrick Graham loves horror movies. Watching Evil Dead II (1987) and Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness (1992) at the age of 10 made him want to be a filmmaker. In the years since, he’s studied how these films effectively build suspense and stage scares, how elements of them can be used as metaphors to make social commentary and how well-worn tropes can be turned into something fresh. “It was an education for me watching sequences that appeared so simple but worked so well,” he says.
Graham’s next project is Betaal, a Netflix horror series in which a group of Indian Army officers must face off against an undead, colonial-era British army, with a group of villagers caught in the crossfire. Ahead of its release, here are 50 films he loves and recommends, divided by subgenre:
FILMS RELEVANT TO BETAAL:
Director: James Cameron
The ultimate military-horror film with a great ensemble cast of well-drawn characters. This contains elements of the old-fashioned siege movie as well as monsters that have never been bettered. It takes its time to unfold and build up, the action not really starting until you’re almost an hour in and Ripley is one of the greatest characters of all time.
28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Directors: Danny Boyle, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
The first film was literally responsible for reinvigorating the zombie genre, making way for the zombie renaissance that saw the likes of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, World War Z and an endless number of low-budget zombie flicks. It may have even persuaded George Romero to come out of retirement and make three more, admittedly not very good, zombie films. It also introduced the ‘turbo-zombie’ to the mainstream and, with its use of lightweight DV Cameras by Dogme 95 stalwart Anthony Dodd Mantle, no other mainstream film looks quite like it. The sequel deserves a mention because of the amazing opening scene (directed by Boyle himself) and some cool military vs infected scenes later in the film.
Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985)
Director: George A. Romero
The importance of these films cannot be overstated. Night of the Living Dead heralded a new wave of modern horror and also invented an entire genre that is still alive, or undead at least, to this very day. They also established the rules of the zombie-siege horror, where the inhabitants of a barricaded base end up turning on each other and letting in the zombies because of their own inability to work together. They also established the idea that zombies could serve, in many different ways, as great metaphoric tools for subtle, or not so subtle, social commentary. It should be noted that Richard Matheson’s amazing novella, I am Legend, is clearly the inspiration for the birth of this genre. To this day, these remain the best zombie films ever made. Dawn of the Dead is one of the few horror genre epics.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Director: Zack Snyder
Zack Snyder exploded onto the scene with this film and has never done better. Using the turbo-zombies of 28 Days Later and setting it within an American shopping mall, it gave reverential nods to its namesake while feeling completely modern, novel and new. Extremely stylish, with amazing action and suspense sequences, it set a benchmark for opening and closing title sequences that people, LIKE ME, keep referencing to this day.
Evil Dead II (1987) and Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness (1992)
Director: Sam Raimi
These films made me want to be a filmmaker around the age of 10. At the time, the camerawork seemed so thrilling and creative that it made me really think, for the first time, about how films were made and how I wanted to be the one making the decisions regarding how to imagine and design shots. Not to mention the fact that they are extremely funny, surreal and always creative, Bruce Cambell as Ash is an icon that is still beloved by so many to this day. Groovy. Evil Dead 1 isn’t on the list because I came to it later in life and it didn’t resonate so strongly with me. It is worth mentioning that the Evil Dead remake is actually very good as well.
Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (2014)
Director: Tommy Wirkola
I wanted to get some Nazi zombies on this list. Most Nazi zombie films, to me, miss the mark slightly – but this one got the balance of blood, guts, gore, high camp and large-scale zombie Nazi mayhem just right. It deserves special kudos for the bit when the zombie Nazis blow up two pram-pushing mothers with a tank shell and flying baby wipes. Amaze. We don’t see that kind of thing enough in cinema.
Southern Comfort (1981)
Director: Walter Hill
Not quite a horror film but deserves a mention – a great example of a great ensemble cast starting off on a routine mission that goes very, very, wrong because of their own insensitivity to the local area and the locals themselves. Made by Walter Hill who is also responsible for The Warriors which is Just. So. Good.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Director: Neil Marshall
Hasn’t aged too well but was an inspiring example of effective low-budget filmmaking. Totally focused on its job, which was to tell a story about some soldiers having to hold off a family of werewolves in an old farmhouse and very little else – its pace is breathless, frenetic and it builds the suspense nicely.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Director: John Carpenter
One of the daddies of siege-thrillers. This film is just so cool, understated and sinister to this very day. With one of the best film-scores ever made and a coldness and matter-of-factness to it that just seems to work. Whenever I’m thinking of siege-thrillers and trying to come up with ideas I have the amazing score by John Carpenter pumping from my speakers full blast. Fuck my neighbours.
Director: Peter Jackson
AKA Dead Alive, worth mentioning because this was when Peter Jackson was in his pre-Lord of the Rings, low-budget, schlocky prime. It seemed like he had a lot of gore to get out of his system and, with the lawn-mower vs zombie climax, he certainly had a good stab at it.
Director: Ari Aster
The best horror film of the last ten years in my opinion and one of the best of all time. I had to watch this three times at the cinema and twice again at home because it’s just so perfect. Absolutely shocking, disturbing and, especially in its last act, terrifying. This film should have been nominated for multiple Oscars, not the least for Toni Colette’s staggeringly good performance.
The Innocents (1961)
Director: Jack Clayton
An absolutely essential classic. It still utterly holds up to this day, with a great screenplay and great performances, especially from the children. An unofficial adaptation of the equally scary Turn of the Screw by Henry James, it is a beautifully made film and a high-point of golden-era British horror filmmaking.
The Others (2001)
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
A modern update of The Innocents. Meticulously made by a director who was working at the peak of his craft. It introduced the mainstream to a generation of great Spanish genre filmmakers and films and along with, it a bunch of tropes that we STILL see today (i.e.kids doing fucked-up drawings that really freak out their parents and the audience). Above everything else, this is simply a really good drama as well as being a great horror.
Director: Hideo Nakata
Freaked me out so much when I first watched it that I had to put it on fast-forward (this was back when VHS was a thing) for the last thirty minutes. The Japanese take on technology and ghostly horror was a breath of fresh air at the time, was one of the few films that I remember totally freaking me out and introduced J-Horror to the world, which, incidentally, Indian horror cinema loved so much that it has been copying ever since, when everyone else stopped about 15 years ago. STOP IT NOW. PLEASE.
The Eye (2002)
Directors: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang Phat
There were some excellently staged scares in this film that are still great to reference to this day. Worth a mention because the scene of the woman in the lift, with a strange man in the corner facing the wall, will always freak me out.
The Orphanage (2007)
Director: J. A. Bayona
Like The Others, this was a great example of the seemingly innate skill a crop of Spanish filmmakers had – to marry great horror with brilliantly written drama. This film works on so many levels as a character study of a mother who can’t get over the disappearance of her son. It also has a wonderful scene of ‘Grandmother’s footsteps’ with a single camera take that I just love.
The Haunting (1963)
Director: Robert Wise
Sixty years before Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House was the original adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s incredible novella. The book itself is easily the most scary reading experience I’ve ever had at the tender age of 14, and will never be beaten. The faithful adaptation was made with innovative and technologically advanced flair back in 1963 by no less than the editor of Citizen Kane (and director of The Sound of Music, randomly enough) and has one of the best spook scenes, as something tries to open the door to our terrified protagonist’s bedroom, ever. The way the film is stylistically shot and the creative camera-work makes the film look far younger than it actually is.
Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick
The king of first-person horror and still awesome to this day. Everything just worked, especially the creative marketing campaign that really used the early days of the internet to its advantage.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Heralded Mike Flanagan as one of the world’s best horror filmmakers. This film is nicely constructed with a cool centrepiece – a haunted mirror. One of those films that really left its mark when I first watched it, not knowing what to expect. The short film it is based upon is worth seeking out and watching if you’re a fan.
The Shining (1980)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Obviously has to be on any list. Like Dawn of the Dead, this is one of cinema’s true horror epics. Stanley Kubrick was God.
The Innkeepers (2012)
Director: Ti West
Simple and actually really effective horror. Set in a great location with a kind of goofy, light, tone to it at the beginning – it actually descends into something really classically scary by the end of the film, if one is a ghost fan that is. Also has Kelly McGillis from Top Gun in it.
The Conjuring (2013)
Director: James Wan
James Wan proved himself to be one of the best horror auteurs out there with this film. He had already shown a flair for building up scares with a smooth, roving, camera but he really came into his own with The Conjuring – which on every level is a really SOLID film. Classy, effective and damn scary, it dialed itself back and focused on seeming as real and understated as possible. Watching it in a packed Mumbai cinema, I remember someone from the audience screaming, ‘I just can’t take this anymore’ before leaving.
The Thing (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
One of the greatest horror films ever made. The practical monster effects still look better than anything made today (compare the 1982 version to the 2011 ‘prequel’ and see what I mean). This was John Carpenter at his peak, if the film had had a better reception at the time of its release, it would have been interesting to see what other big-budget horror films he would have come up with. Has aged like a fine-wine, everyone should watch this film.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
So over the top and so much fun, with a fantastic performance from Gary Oldman and a hilarious one from Keanu Reeves. There are some truly innovative camera tricks in this film and it’s fascinating to hear about how they were achieved (the bit when John Harker is lifted into the horse-drawn-carriage at the beginning for instance). Art direction and cinematography were superb, pure 90s excess and also referencing film techniques and cinema from the turn of the century, perhaps one of Francis Ford Coppola’s last great films.
Director: Toby Wilkins
No one seems to know this film but it’s actually really good, a siege-thriller with a highly original monster. It’s extremely suspenseful and the monster looks great. Totally recommended.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Director: John Landis
They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. John Landis was the eccentric director most famous for comedies like Trading Places and Coming to America and, of course, The Blues Brothers, so it’s quite amazing how this collision of horror and comedy works just so well. It’s genuinely scary and established the ‘shutting the bathroom mirror and seeing something behind you’ trope that is now riffed and parodied. The final act mayhem in Picadilly Circus is truly awe-inspiring – how the fuck did they do that? No way that would ever be possible today. Michael Jackson loved this film so much he asked Landis to direct him in the Thriller music video.
The Mist (2007)
Director: Frank Darabont
Actually a really good modern Steven King adaptation. Lovecraftian monsters that, for the most part, work pretty well. It’s a tense and disturbing ensemble piece with an ending that is SO HORRIBLE that it’s almost funny. Not to be confused with the appalling series.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
A forgotten masterpiece, this film is totally compelling and utterly beautiful. I usually find vampires a little boring, but this one really offered an interesting spin. The book is also totally worth reading.
The Fly (1986)
Director: David Cronenberg
Not a big fan of body-horror but this is just so damn good. The bit when he vomits acid on that guy’s arm and leg is just, like, fuuuuuuuck. A classic.
Director: Ridley Scott
A masterpiece, hard to know which is better between this and Aliens, but they work so differently, they don’t really need to be compared. Such a gritty and down-to-earth atmosphere, incredible actors, mysteries and questions that DON’T NEED TO BE ANSWERED and a terrifying monster. Let’s all pretend that Prometheus and Covenant don’t exist.
Director: John McTiernan
An extremely solid actioner which just works on every level. An amazing monster, extremely well-put-together action sequences and sequences of suspense, Arnie at his prime, tough soldiers being out-toughed by a brilliantly designed alien. This film will never be beaten.
Director: Ron Underwood
Watched this on repeat as a kid, so much fun, so exciting, such horrifically disgusting monsters. The bit when the woman gets pulled underground in her car totally freaked me out.
Director: Gordon Douglas
This film about GIANT RADIOACTIVE ANTS takes itself totally seriously and is all the better for it. An insightful glimpse into what would ACTUALLY HAPPEN if giant ants attacked rural USA. B-movies at their best.
The Birds (1963)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
His only true horror film. Alfred Hitchock was just so good at methodically building tension and suspense. Growing up obsessed with film, it was an education for me watching sequences that appeared so simple but worked so well – for instance, the build-up of birds in the playground behind Tippi Hedren, the utterly still top-shot of the town with the birds entering in the foreground, the section-zoom towards the corpse with its eyes pecked out, etc, etc, etc.
Director: Matt Reeves
This was just so well made and so exciting to watch. First person camera was nothing new but this film is perhaps one that utilises it to such big-budget effect. Nothing quite like it out there.
It Follows (2015)
Director: David Robert Mitchell
A great piece of modern-horror, most people I show it to seem to hate it for some reason but I love its simple premise and its spookiness. Very understated and very indie with an amazing John Carpenter-esque score.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Director: Philip Kaufman
This is, in my view, the best Body Snatcher adaptation ever made. Brilliantly shot, with great performances from great actors and mature 70s sensibilities. It has one of the most brilliant endings in cinema history. Everyone should watch the film just for that ending.
My Little Eye (2002)
Director: Marc Evans
A forgotten gem. Told, in the early days of reality TV, through a plethora of hidden cameras as contestants are placed together in an isolated house where STRANGE and SINISTER things start happening. Is one of Bradley Cooper’s early roles and should definitely be tracked down and watched if you can find it.
The Sacrament (2013)
Director: Ti West
I don’t know why more people don’t know about this film. Made by then-aspiring horror auteur, Ti West, this film was surprisingly good. A first-person fictionalisation of the Jonestown massacre, this film just works really, really, well. Find it.
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Another first-person camera gem, so exciting, so well done, and some really scary zombies. The reveal that the zombies are POSSESSED by demons rather than ‘infected’ makes it even scarier by the end of the film. The final ‘patient zero’ zombie in the attic is nightmare inducing.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Will never forget the effect this had on me when I first watched it at the age of 17. It was so raw and so disturbing, something so sick and 70s about it, and it just showed how creative one could get with a minimal budget. The moment when Leatherface first emerges and puts the woman on the meat-hook was just so shocking when you don’t really know what to expect. It all just looks so real.
Director: John Carpenter
Gave birth to the slasher genre and is probably one of the best horror films ever made, just purely because of how innovative it was at the time and how it has been repeated ad infinitum ever since. Again, John Carpenter made one of the greatest film scores ever with this film. Attentionally challenged viewers, who seem to dominate audiences nowadays, should remember that this film is a great example of BUILD-UP, fleeting glimpses, ominous atmosphere, for an hour before people start dying in earnest.
The Exorcist (1973)
Director: William Friedkin
Has to be on any horror list, it was just so disturbing. I finally saw it when the ban the UK had placed on it was lifted, I think in 1998, and I saw it with my brother in the cinema. It’s interesting because the actual story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it doesn’t matter because you’re totally invested in what’s going on on screen.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Director: Greg McLean
This film is here because it’s just so shockingly effective, it goes to such a dark place and it looks so brutally real. This film had a profound effect on me and my then-housemates as we huddled around a tiny little television to watch it. It’s desperately unpleasant.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Again, it’s an aspiring filmmaker’s dream come true to watch Hitchcock put together his meticulously planned shots. It’s the track-out of the dead woman’s eye, around the motel room to the window that just made me really realise the power of manipulating the audience’s gaze when I watched it as a kid. The ending is still so shocking to the few that don’t know the film’s secret.
Director: Brian De Palma
Just so damn amazing. Brian De Palma, obsessed with Hitchcock, had that flair for concocting suspense and nowhere is that more evident than in the build up from the beginning of the prom scene to the moment in which the chord is tugged and the bucketful of blood spills over. The split-screen montage where Carrie reveals her powers to the school has never been re-attempted in this fashion and I DON’T KNOW WHY. One day I will make the ultimate split-screen horror moment as my tribute to this amazing film. Possibly one of De Palma’s best.