Best Horror Movies – From murderous ventriloquist dummies to Giallo horror masterpieces, there’s something for everyone.
Malignant, according to a buddy who saw an early showing, is by and away from the worst picture from James Wan, the filmmaker of The Conjuring and Insidious, and a contender for any “worst of 2021” list. That description elicits one emotion in this writer: overwhelming enthusiasm for whatever nonsense Wan has concocted. The poorest films elicit no emotions at all, and I struggle to recall any precise details by the time I get home from the cinema (or go upstairs after settling for a home premiere, as 2021 often allows).
That is not the case with Malignant.
In his newest horror film, James Wan goes big. Yes, there are some dubious decisions in its 112-minute runtime (including, um, the 112-minute length), but they are ones made by a filmmaker who has made it clear over the last 17 years that he is not interested in portraying any semblance of realism in his films (cue Dom and Brian in Furious 7 driving through not one but two skyscrapers to land in a third). Wan loves to push himself by accepting the inherent hokeyness of something like a huge crooked ghost and then figuring out ways to terrify you nevertheless in his Conjuring flicks, even when dealing with something based on reality. He is generally successful.
And he certainly has a lot of love and regard for the old horror masters, whose names are frequently cited alongside his when discussing the genre’s great craftsmen. An astute horror fan should feel right at home in Malignant, as the script (written by Wan, Ingrid Bisu, and Akela Cooper) draws inspiration from Italian films from the 1970s and 1980s, as well as Dark Castle’s late 1990s/early 2000s funhouse thrills, Hammer horror, and the more polarising entries in Wes Craven and John Carpenter’s filmographies. With the clever camerawork, (indoor!) fog machines cranked up to 11, and brilliant reds and blues that have been a staple of all hi-def films, it’s still undeniably his previous genre exercises.
The approach may throw someone who only knows Wan for his billion-dollar blockbusters like Aquaman and Furious 7 for a loop. Even those who are familiar with the Conjurings (which keep their strangeness to a bare minimum) may benefit from a refresher on previous horror flicks that sprang to mind while they watched it. Consider this: if you placed these six films in a blender and projected the results, you may get something that looks like Malignant.
[Ed. note: This list contains spoilers for James Wan’s Malignant; if you don’t want to be spoiled, see the film in theatres or on HBO Max.]
When Wan’s sophomore picture, Dead Silence is one of the all-time Best Horror Movies, was released in early 2007 (between the release of the third and fourth Saws), it was expected to be a big smash, but viewers couldn’t connect with the film’s wacky puppet-driven storyline or Hammer horror style. Despite being tonally confused as a result of studio interference (Wan and collaborator Leigh Whannell intended a PG-13 feel; the studio wanted R rated Saw-like gore), Dead Silence established a number of aspects about the filmmaker’s canon moving forward:
a commitment to jaw-dropping plot twists delivered with a straight face, unusual supernatural elements, an outdoor world that seems overcast at all times (the low-budget Saw had no exterior scenes), and — most importantly to Malignant — a commitment to delivering jaw-dropping plot twists with a straight face The rated version of Dead Silence is preferable, but if you seek it out and want both choices, the unrated version includes even more gore.
Many of Dario Argento’s gialli include an innocent person seeing a murder and being accused of it, but Tenebrae’s version is the most similar to Malignant since the evidence suggests more than simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here, author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is troubled to learn that someone is murdering people connected to him through the release of his new book (his agent, an obsessed fan, etc. ), just as Malignant main character Maddie (Annabelle Wallis) reveals that the people whose deaths she keeps watching all treated her like a child. It is all time Best Horror Movies.
In comparison to Lucio Fulci, Argento is virtually Disney-level mainstream, whereas Fulci is probably not as skillful as his contemporaries or, at the very least, wasn’t as frequently gifted with competent crews.
The Psychic is one of the Best Horror Movies, released in 1977, isn’t his finest picture, but it’s one of the last classic Giallo films he did before reaching his pinnacle with Zombie and his other more well-known undead flicks, and it’s the one horror fans will remember during Malignant. The narrative revolves around a lady who has visions of deaths she wasn’t present for, at least for the first half of the film until the major reveal. Fans of Quentin Tarantino will remember the film’s theme song, which he previously utilized in Kill Bill.
MY SOUL TO TAKE
In an ideal world, this, rather than Scream 4, would have been Wes Craven’s final film (actually, in an ideal world, neither, but you get the idea). My Soul To Take, released a few months before his final picture, was also written by the director, making it a “truer” Craven film than another Williamson/Kruger-penned return to Woodsboro. Craven’s story about a serial killer’s soul being divided over seven children born on the same night in a small Massachusetts town is classic lunacy from the director, who previously dabbled in the subject of souls in his would-be franchise starter Shocker.
There are plenty of wacky plot ideas in the horror genre, but they’re generally created by individuals who can’t even point a camera. Seeing it from legitimate directors like Craven or Wan is what elevates such bizarre concepts to must-see status, if only for the sheer boldness of committing to something so out of the ordinary.
It’s Argento all over again! If Tenebrae left you wanting more, check out his 1993 comeback to Giallo-Esque entertainment (and first solo picture filmed completely in America), which has a “revenge on the doctors” background, but one that is even more absurd than the one in Malignant. It also includes a unique weapon made from one of the victims’ personal effects:
While Malignant’s Gabriel utilizes the sharp end of his first victim’s Caduceus Award, Trauma’s murderer employs a surgical tool-based “Noose-O-Matic.” Annabelle Wallis reunites with Wan after appearing in the original Annabelle, and the two share murderous doll movie royalty and Brad Dourif, the man behind Chucky, appears in Trauma.
If you’re merely looking for more films like Malignant (bless you), or don’t mind spoilers, it’s safe to say that Wan’s picture isn’t the first to have a conjoined twin who never completely developed as the enemy. You may have noticed some tweets about “a film that I can’t name without giving away Malignant’s twist” – yes, that film is Basket Case, Frank Henenlotter’s directorial debut. This film informs you exactly what’s going on straight away.
Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his mutant twin Belial (Kevin Van Hentenryck) were separated when they were younger, and now the two seek revenge on the physicians who separated them, with the bigger brother carrying the other in a basket while they carry out their revenge plot. It is on the other end of the financial scale and has a very different tone, but it’s a wonderful illustration of how a single concept can have dramatically diverse results depending on the filmmakers’ resources and preferences and it is one of the 6 Best Horror Movies.