Pick eight films for the revered British Film Institute? Whew, that’s a daunting task. All the same, here are some suggestions, given in no particular order. I am especially partial – this will not surprise you – to suspense films, so that is what you will find below.
My favourite film of all time – this may surprise you—is Sorcerer, William Friedkin’s remake of the great Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. Some may argue that the Clouzot film is better; I beg to disagree.
Nevertheless, my second pick would be Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, his suspense-horror masterpiece, as terrifying now as it was back in 1955. He out-Hitchcocked Hitchcock.
For supernatural horror, I like Peter Medak’s film The Changeling, starring George C. Scott in perhaps his last great screen role. There are no monsters bursting from chests; just a child’s ball bouncing down a flight of stairs was enough to scare the daylights out of me.
Although it’s old school, I love Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, a pretty wonderful adaptation of M.R. James’s story, ‘Casting the Runes’. Tourneur was a disciple of Val Lewton, which means the horror here is pretty understated, until the very end.
And while on the subject of British horror (wrapped in an SF bow), you can’t do much better than Village of the Damned, directed by Wolf Rilla and – like Night of the Demon – shot in beautiful black and white. It’s an adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham, and George Sanders does a stellar job as the schoolmaster tasked with teaching some very strange pupils.
From Spielberg, his first: Duel, originally shot for American TV. It’s his most inventive film, and stripped to the very core: one man, one truck, one fight to the death.
Speaking of terrifying road movies stripped to their very basics, how about The Hitcher, directed by Robert Harmon, from a script by Eric Red? What sets this apart, other than some spectacular stunts, is the amazing performance of Rutger Hauer as the mysterious and homicidal John Ryder. “Where did you come from?” asks the terrified kid Ryder is chasing. “Disneyland,” Ryder whispers back.
While we’re talking about terrifying men who come from nowhere, there’s The Stepfather, with Terry O’Quinn as the murderous (but charming) psycho looking for a family to love him. There’s that classic moment when he goes blank and says, “Saaay, who am I this time?” before bludgeoning his wife with a telephone.