Top Ten Lists


The last 10 years have seen the rise of a particular style of film-making that has almost become a genre of its own, and certainly a favourite of little old Celluloid Zombie. The ‘found footage’ movie tells its story either partially or completely from the first-person perspective of a protagonist’s camera, giving proceedings an edge of authenticity and immediacy sometimes missing from standard, third-person storytelling.

Although The Blair Witch Project is believed by many to be the founding father of the genre, the first found footage movie can be traced back to Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 movie,Cannibal Holocaust, based around recovered footage from a group of documentary makers who trek off into the jungle to film a lost tribe of cannibals. Needless to say, this dreadful film represents a rather ignominious beginning for a genre that has since spawned some of the best horror movies of the last decade.

Its a genre that seems to lend itself particularly well to horror, producing a consistently high ratio of success, perhaps because of the realism it brings. No-one seems in any rush to make a found footage rom-com, that’s for sure, although the recent release of Project X, a found footage movie about teenagers having a party, marks something of a low point. But we can pretend that never happened, can’t we. Project what?

So here are my 10 favourite examples of a genre that shows no sign of slowing down.

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10. The Last Broadcast

Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler – USA – 1998

Amateur film maker David Leigh investigates the murders of a group of cable TV presenters after they are killed while hunting for the Jersey Devil in the Pine Barrens, New Jersey. The group’s recovered footage uncovers some chilling secrets.

Made a year before The Blair Witch Project, which was somewhat wrongly hailed as a new direction in filmmaking, The Last Broadcast was unfortunate not to receive similar plaudits. Made on a shoestring budget, with all the actors playing characters with very similar names to their own, The Last Broadcast is an engaging slice of mockumentary with a real sting in it’s tail.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?Admittedly, there is a cheeky slip into third person at the end to avoid that very question. Naughty!

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9. Man Bites Dog

Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel – Belgium – 1992

A camera crew begin following a serial killer named Ben, documenting his psychotic activities. As time goes on, however, the crew slowly move from disturbed observers of Ben’s murderous tendencies to willing participants.

Presented as a black comedy, Man Bites Dog is an increasingly difficult watch but, thanks in large part to Benoît Poelvoorde’s affable, charming turn as the homicidal and charismatic Ben, keeps you watching until the last frame. Man Bites Dog poses the question of when documentary passes over into voyeurism and then onto actual complicity. Uncomfortable, compelling and sometimes funny, in a guilty way.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?  Mainly because these guys end up throwing the shit at the fan. Filming is the least of it.

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8. The Blair Witch Project

Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez – USA – 1999

Three students venture into the woods, carrying cameras, microphones and frayed tempers, in search of the legendary Blair Witch. They find her. Or something. Or do they? Or not? 

Although this insanely successful movie wasn’t the first to use the found footage format, it certainly made it popular. Myrick and Sánchez set loose their actors in the woods with only rough character sketches and instructions on where to go. Then they set about scaring the shit out of them. It’s a technique that lends the movie a high level of authenticity, although it suffers slightly from some tame scares.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?  Insanity, perhaps? These people are still waving their cameras ahead of them when any normal person would be keeping both hands free for self-defence.

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7. Grave Encounters

The Vicious Brothers – Canada – 2011

The presenters and crew of ghost hunting TV show Grave Encounters have themselves locked inside the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital to investigate rumours that it is haunted. The recovered footage shows why they never came out.

The Vicious Brothers (don’t ask me) clearly intended to make a contribution to the genre which, while retaining the authenticity that the format brings, goes a little more over-the-top. In this they succeed pretty admirably, with Grave Encounters eschewing the less-is-more approach for a much more intense ride. The scares are somewhat hit and miss, but there’s enough to make this an enjoyable addition.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?  Self-important presenter Lance Preston clings to the hope that he will get out with his footage until the last. Damn fool.

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6. Cloverfield

Matt Reeves – USA – 2008

A group of young New Yorkers have their celebrations cut short when the city is invaded by a rampaging monster. A handful attempt to make their way across New York to rescue a friend, digital camera in tow. 

One of the few monster movies in this genre, Cloverfield isGodzilla for the YouTube generation, giving us a ground-eye view of what a monster attack would look like. Benefiting from an expertly handled promotional campaign, the hype went viral while it was still being made. The monster itself is not over-used and the addition of little monsters add an extra threat. The only thing that threatens Cloverfield’s realism is the fact that everyone looks like a Gucci model.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?  Give the camera to a dumbass. Problem solved.

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5. The Last Exorcism

Daniel Stamm – USA – 2010

Louisiana Preacher and exorcist, Cotton Marcus, disillusioned with his faith, agrees to take part in a documentary in which he will debunk the practice. He decides a summons to help the daughter of a farmer will be his last exorcism.

The Last Exorcism divided audiences and it is certainly not what you would expect. While there are some disturbing scenes, this is more character study than horror movie, with terrific turns from both Patrick Fabian as Cotton and Ashley Bell as the afflicted Nell. What really caused the schism in opinion is the movie’s leftfield ending, turning everything on its head while giving Cotton the perfect character arc.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?  They’re there to shoot the shit. And I don’t think they saw the ending coming either.

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4. Paranormal Activity

Oren Peli – USA – 2007

Young couple Katie and Micah find their new suburban life disturbed by an increasingly violent supernatural force. Micah decides to rig the house with cameras in an attempt to find some answers. 

Overhyped and ridiculously successful, there is still a very effective chiller at the heart of the craze. Using suggestion and whispers for the most part, this is not for those who enjoy a rollercoaster ride. The original ending was changed at the suggestion of Steven Spielberg and is much the better for it. Already spawned three sequels and all are worth a watch.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?  The blame for this one falls squarely on Micah, for whom the phrase ‘let’s get the fuck out of here’ apparently has no meaning.

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3. Troll Hunter

André Øvredal – Norway – 2010

A group of students decide to investigate and document a possible poacher in the area following a spate of bear killings. When they finally track down the mysterious Hans, they discover that he is in fact a government sponsored troll hunter, tasked with controlling the population.  

If there is one thing that the found footage genre excels at, it is in making implausible scenarios seem more believable. And they don’t come much more implausible than this. Rooted by a solid performance from Otto Jespersen as the grizzled Hans,Troll Hunter is insane, ridiculous and brilliant fun. They really can smell the blood of Christians, apparently.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan? Hey, if you found yourself looking at a 200-foot mountain troll, you’d want to get proof, right?

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2. Lake Mungo

Joel Anderson – Australia – 2008

After 16-year-old Alice Palmer drowns in a local lake, her family begin suffering supernatural occurences and become convinced that she is haunting them. A collection of home video footage, interviews and photographs begins to piece together the dark truth about Alice.

This little known gem from Oz works as a creepy, atmospheric ghost story, an engaging mystery and a genuinely touching study of grief. Constantly pulling the rug from under your feet and gleefully playing with your expectations, Lake Mungoweaves its slow, deliberate way toward a very chilling conclusion. Outstanding.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?Technically, the shit has already hit the fan by the first frame. This is retrospective shit hitting. But all is not as it seems.

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1. Rec

Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza – Spain – 2007

The crew of a reality TV show accompany a group of Barcelona firemen into an apartment building following a reported emergency and find themselves trapped inside as the occupants fall prey to a mysterious infection.

One of the biggest complaints that this genre receives from is the often slow pacing and lack of action. No such complaints have ever been levelled at Rec which, once it gets going, is relentless. It is also scary, exhilarating and throws in an ending which is leaves you completely off-balance. Genius. Rec 2 is also well worth your time, with Rec 3 due out this year.

Reason for continuing to film when the shit hits the fan?Professionalism, my friend. Pablo the cameraman keeps that camera steady even when there is a fat, foaming, screaming  zombie old lady rushing toward him. We salute you, Pablo.

I’ve been a fan of horror movies my whole life, and for much of t hat time the best of the genre invariably came from the US and, to a lesser degree, the UK. The likes of George Romero, John Carpenter and Wes Craven defined the genre through much of the 70s and 80s. However, over the last decade Western horror seems to have lost its way, becoming mired in an endless cycle of torture porn or tedious remakes of old classics, with only the occasional standout moment of success. It’s no accident, then, that a large portion of US horror movies are also remakes of films from a part of the world that seems to have cornered the market in accomplished, well-executed and downright scary entries into the genre. Hollywood is looking across the pacific toward Asia, and this is where all dedicated horror fans should be looking, too. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong. This is where Horror’s new home is. Often heavily influenced by the ‘J-Horror’ of Japan, with its vengeful, lank-haired, Onryō ghosts, Asian cinema produces horror movies the way they should be; creepy, brooding, psychological, extremely atmospheric and devoid of comfortable outcomes. Here are Celluloid Zombie’s Top Ten from the continent that’s putting the horror back into horror movies. _________________________________________________________________________________ 10. Kairo (Pulse) Kiyoshi Kurosawa – Japan -2001 A solemn, moribund study of isolation and loneliness in the technological age, Kairo sees spirits from the other side use the internet to manipulate the living into disconnection and suicide. Those that do not kill themselves simply fall so into hopelessness that they become nothing more than shadows on the wall. We are the ghosts in Kairo. What Kairo obviously lacks in laughs it more than makes up for in depth and mood. There are some chilling moments but Kairo is more effective when simply crawling under your skin and dragging you into its apocalyptic world. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2005 as Pulse, with the original’s ponderous atmosphere replaced with more direct horror. Not a bad movie, but lacks Kairo’s sense of despair. _________________________________________________________________________________ 9. Noroi: The Curse Kôji Shiraishi – Japan – 2005 One of the few ‘mockumentary’ style movies to come out of the Asian horror wave, Noroi is a movie that rewards patience and attention span. Mostly revolving around paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi’s attempts to solve a series of unexplained events, a host of seemingly unrelated characters and occurrances are gradually drawn together to an unforgettable conclusion. Noroi has a remarkably unsettling atmosphere throughout, which is all the more remarkable given that for much of the movie very little happens. However, as the truth behind Kobayashi’s investigation becomes clear, there are moments of bone-chilling horror and an ending which will stay with you for a very long time. Hollywood Remake: No, and not very likely either. Too weird. _________________________________________________________________________________ 8. Alone Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2007 Thai woman Pim lives in Korea with her boyfriend Wee. Pim was separated from her Siamese twin Ploy when they were teenagers and Ploy died as a result of the operation. When her mother falls ill, Pim and Wee return to Thailand and to Pim’s family home, where she finds herself haunted by her dead, vengeful, sister. Is it real, is it guilt or is there something else? The second movie from writer/director team Pisanthanakun & Wongpoom is probably the most Western-influenced horror movie in this list, but don’t let that put you off. Crammed full of great shock moments, a particularly mean ghost and a neat twist in the tale, Alone is scary and a lot of fun. Hollywood Remake: The rights have been bought so expect the US version soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 7. Creepy Hide and Seek Masafumi Yamada – Japan – 2009 After a series of bizarre disappearances involving students and colleagues, schoolteacher Ryoko discovers they had all been playing a ritualistic game called ‘creepy hide and seek’. The game involves all the same rules as normal hide and seek, except that what comes looking for you isn’t quite human. Crap title, great movie. A little known gem, Creepy Hide and Seek has everything you could want from a good J-horror. The action is slow, deliberate and extremely atmospheric, helped in no small part by a very unsettling soundtrack and expert camerawork. At least it lives up to that title. Hollywood Remake: Not yet, but this is exactly the kind of movie that American filmmakers like to assume they can do just as well. Expect one soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 6. Audition Takashi Miike – Japan – 2000 When middle-aged widower Aoyama decides to look for a new partner, he holds fake auditions for a movie role to meet women. He is immediately taken with the young, seemingly shy Asami and begins a relationship with her. However, he soon discovers that cute little Asami has some really strange hobbies. And she wants to share. The movie that made everyone sit up and take notice of unique filmmaker Takashi Miike, Audition is the kind of story that could put you off dating forever. Featuring a truly terrifying performance from Eihi Shiina, Audition is a horror movie with an emphasis on the horror. Hollywood Remake: No. And with its mixture of torture, abuse and vomit-eating, there’s not likely to be one anytime soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 5. A Tale of Two Sisters Jee-woon Kim – South Korea – 2003 Jee-woon Kim’s highly acclaimed story of two sisters enduring an unstable, abusive step-mother and seemingly indifferent father is an intelligent, layered, unsettling film which reveals its secrets slowly and keeps you guessing right up until the end. Quite possibly one of the most beautifully shot horror movies in recent memory, A Tale of Two Sisters marked out its director as a talent to watch and he hasn’t disappointed since. This one has a brand of horror for everyone, ranging from the supernatural, through the psychological, to the purely physical. Jung-ah Yum, as the step-mother, is at once appalling and sympathetic. No mean feat. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2009 as The Uninvited, which gave us a lot more teenage flesh and a lot less atmosphere. _________________________________________________________________________________ 4. The Eye Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang – Hong Kong – 2002 Blind violinist Wong Kar Mun has a successful cornea transplant and begins seeing ghosts wherever she goes, some friendly and some otherwise. Together with her doctor, she determines to find out the identity of her eye donor. The Eye starts off as an effectively spooky ghost story, but deepens into something more heartbreaking as the mystery behind Wong Kar Mun’s new eyes is uncovered. The ghostly encounters make the hair stand up on the back of the neck, and just when you think the story is resolved, The Eye throws in a surprise ending. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2008 as The Eye. Jessica Alba, while easy on the eye (did you see what I did there), just doesn’t have Angelica Lee’s sympathetic appeal. _________________________________________________________________________________ 3. Ju-on (The Grudge) Takashi Shimizu – Japan – 2003 The third in Shimizu’s Ju-on series, but the first to get an international theatrical release, The Grudge centres on a cursed house and the characters who come into contact with it over varying timelines, usually to their extreme detriment. Complex, layered and disturbing, The Grudge is also very, very creepy. This one will definitely make you feel less safe under your covers, which is traditionally where you are supposed to feel safe. Neat trick. The movie spawned further sequels, and while Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge 2 was also very good, this remains the finest of the series. Hollywood Remake: Yes, by the exact same director and starring Buffy, no less. Shimizu also directed the American sequel. Not awful, but neither matched his homeland efforts. _________________________________________________________________________________ 2. Shutter Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2004 Photographer Tun and his girlfriend, Jane, hit a girl with their car as they are driving home from a party. Tun insists that they flee rather than aid the girl, much to Jane’s consternation. From that point on, they are subjected to a series of spooky occurrances from which secrets begin to emerge. The debut feature from Alone’s collaborative writer/director team. Shutter is a sleek and well-oiled machine of a movie. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, it takes the elements that had made Asian horror so successful before it and weaves a well-paced, twisting tale around a series of consistently spooky scenes. Great ending, too. Hollywood remake: Remade in 2008 with the same title but far from the same result. _________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Ring Hideo Nakata – Japan – 1998 Journalist Reiko’s niece dies, one week after viewing a mysterious video tape. Reiko views the tape and is warned, by a phone call, that she now has only one week to live. After her son watches the tape, Reiko and her ex-husband, Ryuji, try to discover the secret behind the cursed video. The Granddaddy of all J-Horror and a hugely influential movie, Ring is heavy on atmosphere from the outset. Rather than subject the viewer to a series of shocks (although there are one or two) Ring slowly builds itself up to a single, extremely scary, moment. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2002 as The Ring. Overcooks what the original leaves simmering. You only get one chance to see this for the first time so choose wisely. Go Japanese. _________________________________________________________________________________ .

Violence is a funny thing. Few of us actually enjoy participating in it, but most of us will at some point thoroughly enjoy watching it in a movie. Ah, the magical catharsis of cinema!

The movies are replete with scenes of battle. Fight scenes are the meat and potatoes of the action genre, and most thrillers will either end on one or throw a couple in somewhere. Picking only ten was always going to leave this list with a whole heap of contenders unfairly cast aside, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and write fifty of these bastards.

So here are my favourite ten. For the sake of making the choice easier, I’ve left out battle scenes between entire armies. Perhaps another time. Please feel free to add your own top ten, if you have one, or simply chastise me for omitting your single favourite. Maybe we can settle it outside.

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10. John Smith v Jane Smith

Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)

After five (or six) years of a slowly stagnating marriage, John and Jane Smith discover that not only are they both secret super-assassins, apparently using the marriage as cover, but they are also each others’ next target. Possibly the most contrived set-up in this top ten, but who cares? The resulting gun-play, fist-fight and kitchen utensil carnage as the Smiths (the couple, not the popular 80s band) do bloody battle in their big, suburban house is great fun.

Probably Jennifer Aniston’s favourite movie scene ever, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie convincingly beat the crap out of each other. I wonder if they’re like this in front of the kids.

And the winner is: There’s make-up sex. Everyone’s a winner with make-up sex!

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9. Channel 4 News Team v Evening News Team v Channel 2 News Team v Public News Team v Spanish Language News Team

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy ( 2004)

Legendary news anchor Ron Burgundy and his team are out on the town, on their way to cheer themselves up by shopping for suits, when they find themselves confronted by several rival teams, all looking to take each other down. In the world of syndicated news broadcasting it’s best to be armed. Clubs, chains, machetes, hand grenades and even tridents can be the divide between life and death. Just don’t touch the hair or the face.

Featuring more cameo appearances than an entire season of Saturday Night Live, the news team street fight proves that even clueless, musky-smelling morons can be heroes.

And the winner is: Burgundy and his Channel 4 News Team are gonna straight up murder your ass.

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8. King Arthur v The Black Knight

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

During his noble quest for the Holy Grail King Arthur encounters the dread Black Knight, guarding a bridge (or a small plank of wood over a pathetic stream). Refusing to allow the King past, a mighty battle ensues. Well, mighty-ish. Actually, it’s just silly.

Arthur severs the Knight’s arms, only to be told that it’s just a scratch as the undeterred Knight then resorts to kicking the King’s ankles. Even having both his legs lobbed off doesn’t dampen this warrior’s ire and Arthur eventually gives up and leaves the wriggling torso of his foe behind, crossing the plank to cries of, ‘Come back here you yellow bastard! I’ll bite your legs off!’

And the winner is: Arthur, of course, although the Black Knight is having none of it. ‘Let’s call it a draw’. Loony.

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7. Ripley v Alien Queen

Alien (1987)

A classic bitch-fight and one of those David and Goliath moments when you know you should put your money on the smallest. Having escaped and nuked the planet LV421, with all its nasty little xenomorphs, Ripley returns to her ship to find a very pissed Queen has hitched a ride and is looking for a rumble. Never one to shy away from an invitation, Ripley grabs a mechanical power loader and gets busy.

Limited by the effects of the time, much of the action is seen only at head height, but it’s still one if the coolest, and most original, brawls in cinema.

And the winner is: I’ll give you three guesses, and since there’s only two participants, if it takes you three guesses you’re a moron.

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6. Léon v Half the NYPD

Léon (1994)

Having seriously pissed off both the Mafia and a corrupt New York cop in his quest to avenge the murder of 12-year-old Mathilda’s entire family, hitman Léon and the girl find themselves besieged in a hotel room with half the city’s police force trying to find a way in. Luc Besson’s perfectly choreographed scene sees the wily Italian allow a group of officers into the room, only to shut the door behind them and take them all out, unseen.

When the door reopens, the next group of hapless cops find themselves face-to-face with the slippery assassin, as he hangs upside down in the doorway. Inspired!

And the winner is: In this particular round, Léon. But give the guy a break, there’s a lot of people out there.

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5. Neo and Trinity v A Small Army

The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves may not be the greatest actor in the world, but at least he looks good running in slow motion with a machine gun. And Neo and Trinity may have stupid names, and rarely crack a smile, but when it comes to tearing up a building lobby full of security guards and a SWAT team, they don’t even have to take off their cumbersome long coats or remove their sunglasses indoors. Oh, to be so cool.

With lots of slow-motion gunfire, running up walls and picking up M16 rifles while performing cartwheels, this was one of the most refreshingly executed fight scenes for years.

And the winner is: Never underestimate people who dress only in black. Neo and Trinity don’t even get a scratch on their sunglasses.

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4. George Nada v Frank Armitage

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s last great movie contains a strong contender for the longest fist-fight (outside of a boxing ring) in any movie. Ever.

After discovering that the American elite are all aliens in disguise, controlling a docile population with consumerism and subliminal messages, Nada is understandably keen to share his revelation with someone. Unfortunately, the aliens can only be seen with special sunglasses and George’s co-worker Frank isn’t feeling particularly co-operative. Cue a hilarious, brutal, six-minute brawl in a back alley as George and Frank bludgeon each other to bloody pulps.

And the winner is: Let’s just say Frank ends up wearing the damn glasses.

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3. Indiana Jones v Big Nazi Guy

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

He’s already been through the mill and has a gruelling truck chase to come, but first our intrepid archaeologist has to deal with the imposing Nazi mechanic who stands between him and the Ark-carrying plane. Tired, dusty and visibly fed-up with throwing punches, Jones proceeds to get the shit kicked out of him.

Clearly not a student of Eastern combat philosophy, Jones is a brawler and has no qualms about using wrenches and a little arm-biting in an attempt to overcome the German behemoth. All to no avail. Not even a sudden flurry of professorial jaw-socking is going to slow down this Teutonic brute.

And the winner is: Indiana Jones, with no small help from a whirring propeller blade. Look out, behind yo…never mind.

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2. Yu Shu Lien v Jen Yu

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s sumptuous epic features a whole bunch of fantastic fight scenes, but the greatest is the lengthy dust-up between Michelle Yeoh’s noble Yu Shu Lien and Zhang Ziyi’s angry young Jen Yu. Jen is armed with the indestructible sword, Green Destiny, and Shu Lien breaks an insane array of different weapons against the sword in an attempt to defeat the petulant child.

The breathtaking scene is so beautifully choreographed it’s more akin to a dance than a battle. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than watching two graceful women locked in passionate combat. Or is that just me? Whoops.

And the winner is: Jen does a runner eventually, so we’ll give it to Shu Lien by default. Yay!

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1. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn v Darth Maul

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

This is what we turned up for. The single greatest lightsaber fight in the entire franchise. Having sat through two hours of trade disputes, Natalie Portman’s clown make-up, petulant little Anakin’s feeble attempts to endear himself to us, and Jar Jar Bloody Binks, die hard Star Wars fans were treated to this triple-header between Jedi and Sith.

Horny badass Darth Maul takes on two Jedi with the aid of his indescribably cool double-ended sabre. The glowy blades whirl around like the original trilogy’s fight scenes on fast forward. This was the moment when cool got a little bit cooler. Magic!

And the winner is: Having dispatched Jedi Master Qui-Gon, Darth Maul gets his ass handed to him by a mere apprentice. Fail!

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Every director starts somewhere. There’s always that first picture. For many directors, their first movie is either a trial-by-fire (see David Fincher and Alien3), a promising start (see Neil Marshall and Dog Soldiers) or something that they, and we, would rather forget ever happened (see James Cameron and Piranha II: Flying Killers).

There are some debuts, however, that announce a new talent completely. These are not just first movies, but manifestos. They scream out ‘this is what I can do, keep watching this space’. After this, the filmmaker either makes good on his promise or spends his career struggling to escape the shadow of it. That is the double-edged sword of a great debut. It really can be a blessing or a curse.

Here, for your delectation and sport, are my ten favourite directorial debuts. It was a tough one to whittle down. What would you have added, or subtracted, from the list?

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10. Night of the Living Dead

George A. Romero (1968)

The movie which, along with Psycho, is credited with giving birth to the modern horror film, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is a master class in low-budget success. With its simple premise and unpretentious style, Romero creates a gripping, chilling experience which has influenced every zombie movie since. Made for only $114,000, Night of the Living Dead was also one of the first movies to feature a black lead actor in a predominantly white cast.

Romero has continued adding to the zombie movie canon with no less than six entries in his ‘Dead’ series, inspiring the likes of Edgar Wright who paid homage with Shaun of the Dead.

Went on to make: Dawn, Day, Land, Diary, and Survival….of the Dead

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9. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

George Clooney (2002)

When original director Bryan Singer dropped out of making this story of the life (fictional or otherwise) of game show host, and CIA spy, Chuck Barris, actor George Clooney stepped in. Clooney brought to the movie not just a keen eye for a shot, and a some entertaining panache with his scene changes, but also a refined sense of 60s and 70s period detail brought with him from his childhood spent with father Nick Clooney, who actually had his own game show during that period. Look out for the quick, very funny, cameo appearances from Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.

Clooney followed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind with the equally accomplished Goodnight and Good Luck, again paying homage to a magic era of television.

Went on to make: Goodnight and Good Luck, Leatherheads

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8. This is Spinal Tap

Rob Reiner (1984)

Rob Reiner, son of director Carl, didn’t just direct his debut movie, but also shared the writing credit with its three stars as well as taking a lead role. The now legendary mockumentary follows fictional English band Spinal Tap on tour in the US to promote their album ‘Smell the Glove’. Along the way the pretentious, dim-witted trio paint an hilarious picture of the shallowness and ridiculousness of the music industry. With endlessly quotable dialogue, mostly ad-libbed, This is Spinal Tap is the very definition of ‘cult movie’.

Reiner enjoyed a fantastic spell for the next decade, but his output has waned in the last ten years.

Went on to make: The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery

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7. Citizen Kane

Orson Welles (1941)

Having terrorised half of America with his radio production of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles turned to cinema and produced what has become the default No.1 in many a movie critic’s list of top movies. The tale of a fictional newspaper magnate, Citizen Kane is an astounding debut feature. Welles’ extensive use of deep-focus and low-angle shots was innovative, as was the non-linear narrative told from multiple viewpoints. And, despite the real-life magnate William Randolph Hearst’s attempts to kill the project through his own media empire, Citizen Kane has gone on to become one of cinema’s greats.

Although Welles made some other great movies, topping Citizen Kane was a very tall order. A lot of crap followed.

Went on to make: The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil

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6. Airplane!

Jerry and David Zucker, Jim Abrahams (1980)

An extremely rare triple debut here, with the two Zuckers and Abrahams (or ZAZ) sharing both writing and directing duties on their hugely successful and influential comedy. Spoofing the disaster movie genre in general, and the 1957 movie Zero Hour! in particular, ZAZ created one of the most popular and oft-quoted comedies of all time. Featuring inspired turns from an array of 60s and 70s icons and a joke at least every 30 seconds, Airplane! has an inexhaustible energy which doesn’t let up until the credits have stopped rolling.

The movie set the pattern for the bulk of ZAZ’s work, but only Jerry Zucker achieved the same level of success again with Ghost.

Went on to make (between them): The Naked Gun movies, Ghost, Hot Shots

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5. Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton (1955)

Actor Charles Laughton’s one and only movie still counts as a debut. And what a debut it is. Dark, brooding and nasty, Night of the Hunter features a career best performance from Robert Mitchum as the psychopathic Reverend Harry Powell, who charms his way into the family of widow Willa, in an attempt to locate the whereabouts of her executed husband’s stolen loot. Heavily influenced by German expressionism, Laughton paints stark, surreal vistas and fills the movie with a cloying sense of paranoia and fear.

Poorly received on its release, Laughton never made another movie and died seven years later. This was a real loss to the medium, such is the wealth of talent on evidence here.

Went on to make: Nothing

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4. The Evil Dead

Sam Raimi (1981)

It’s amazing what you can achieve with just $375,000, a swimming pool worth of fake blood and Bruce Campbell. In Sam Raimi’s case you can achieve one of the most successful, and creative, horror movies of the 80s. When five friends go to stay in an old cabin in the woods, they become possessed by demons, one by one, until only one of their number remains to survive until morning. With no access to expensive special effects or equipment, Raimi demonstrates remarkable ingenuity with his camerawork.

The Evil Dead gave cinema its first glimpse of Raimi’s love for over-the-top, slapstick violence, dizzying camera movement and torturing Campbell.

Went on to make: The Spider-man trilogy

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3. Donnie Darko

Richard Kelly (2001)

Given his big break by Drew Barrymore’s production company, Richard Kelly produced one of the most original movies to have come along for years. Donnie Darko is a strange brew, mixing time-travel, high-school angst, 80s nostalgia, existentialism and Patrick Swayze in a haunting, complex and sometimes downright bemusing tale. This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s breakout role and he’s the perfect fit for the troubled, intense and disjointed Donnie. Kelly later released a Director’s Cut which didn’t really improve on the original.

Kelly’s penchant for inscrutable storytelling continued with his next two movies, but escaping the shadow of his debut has proven difficult so far.

Went on to make: The terrible Southland Tales and the intriguing The Box

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2. Withnail and I

Bruce Robinson (1987)

Bruce Robinson’s 1987 directorial debut is one of those that can curse a subsequent career. Not because it is bad, but because it is brilliant. An extremely tough act to follow. Based on Robinson’s unpublished novel, which in turn was based on his own experiences as a young actor, Withnail and I is without doubt one of the best British comedies of all time. Anchored by a magnificent performance from Richard E. Grant as the manipulative, drunken Withnail and littered with an array of bizarre characters, Withnail and I has since gathered a huge cult following.

Robinson reunited with Grant for 1989’s How to Get Ahead in Advertising but, as yet, has not achieved the same success as he did with his debut.

Went on to make: Very little.

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1. Duel

Steven Spielberg (1971)

Fresh from directing stints on various TV shows, the young Spielberg was handed his first feature-length assignment, a made-for-TV movie based on a Richard Matheson short story, which was in turn based on the writer’s own experience with a particularly nasty truck driver. Spielberg took the story of a travelling salesman’s (Dennis Weaver) relentless pursuit by a truck and crafted a tense, stylish movie which was eventually rewarded with additional shooting time and a cinema release.

Duel demonstrates much of the themes that would become signature for the director; the everyman protagonist in an extraordinary situation, action scenes on the move and the relentless, pursuing monster. It is to the movie’s credit that you never see the face of the truck’s driver.

Went on to make: Everything

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It’s that time of year. Well, that day of the year. Cupid is abroad in the land, drawing back his bow and forcing men everywhere to do the things they really should be doing all year round, without his chubby help.

No doubt, part of the Valentine’s rituals across the world will be the sitting down to watch a romantic movie together. With that in mind, here is a list of my ten favourite movie couples. Be warned, though, I like movie couples who are a little bit different so you won’t find the likes of Dirty Dancing, Pretty Woman or Casablanca here. So, if you’re getting tired of yearly re-runs of Love, Actually, why not give one of these a go instead.

And, please, let me know who your favourite movie couples are.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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10. WALL-E and EVE

WALL-E – 2008

Who would have thought a relationship between two robots who barely have any lines could be so moving? Pixar did, and they were right. Alone on a desolate Earth, waste disposal robot WALL-E falls head over wheels for shiny, sleek and sophisticated EVE when she arrives on a scouting mission. She’s not sure at first. WALL-E is a bit low-brow, and conversation is not his strong suit, but she is soon won over by his complete devotion to her. Not a dry eye in the house.

EVE: Name?
WALL-E: WALL-E.
EVE: WALL-E? EVE.
WALL-E: Eeeee… aah.
EVE: “EVE”! “EVE”!

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9. Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton

The Remains of the Day – 1993

James Ivory’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel revolves around the lives of the backroom staff at the home of Darlington Hall, England, during the build-up to World War II. Head butler Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) is absolutely dedicated to his work and his master, Lord Darlington, to the exclusion of all else. The arrival of a bright and headstrong new housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) stirs feelings in Mr. Stevens which are at complete odds with his rigid and professional demeanour. The unexpressed and unrealised relationship between them is utterly heartbreaking, propelled by career-best performances from both Hopkins and Thompson.

Mr. Stevens: Do you know what I am doing, Miss Kenton? I am placing my mind elsewhere while you chatter away.

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8. Alvy Singer and Annie Hall

Annie Hall – 1977

Woody Allen’s semi-autobiographical Annie Hall is almost a love letter to ex-girlfriend Diane Keaton (she was born Diane Hall and her nickname was Annie) which tries to explore just why relationships don’t always work out. Comedian Alvy and Singer Annie make an adorable couple, even if the cracks are there from the very beginning. Both are neurotic, both exist on the fringes of ‘normality’. They seem ideally suited to each other, but the things that make them ideal are the things that make the relationship doomed from the outset.

Annie Hall: So you wanna go into the movie or what?
Alvy Singer: No, I can’t go into a movie that’s already started, because I’m anal.
Annie Hall: That’s a polite word for what you are.

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7. Charlotte and Bob

Lost in Translation – 2003

Aging movie star Bob (Bill Murray) is stuck in Tokyo to film an advert for whiskey, but grateful to be away from his marriage and life. Young graduate Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is stuck there with her new husband, a photographer who is more interested in his work than his wife. When they meet at a hotel bar Bob and Charlotte connect through their combined alienation and detachment from their own lives. Sofia Coppola’s movie, filmed on the fly in Tokyo, creates a touching, heartbreaking relationship between the two most unlikely partners. Murray and Johansson have a palpable chemistry, despite the age difference, leaving you wishing for the impossible, just as they are.

Bob: I don’t want to leave.
Charlotte: So don’t. Stay here with me. We’ll start a jazz band.

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6. Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – 2004

Withdrawn and insecure Joel (Jim Carrey) strikes up an unlikely relationship with the emotionally unpredictable Clementine (Kate Winslet), both of them little realising that they are in fact former lovers who both went to Lacuna Inc. to have their memories of each other erased. Their relationship is revisited in Joel’s mind during the erasure, as he and Clementine struggle to hold on to each other. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a touching reminder that even the most volatile and self-destructive relationships can have something worth saving.

Clementine: This is it, Joel. It’s going to be gone soon.
Joel: I know.
Clementine: What do we do?
Joel: Enjoy it.

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5. Guy and Girl

Once – 2006

These two didn’t even get names but still manage to pull your heart-strings as effectively as the struggling Dublin musician twangs those on his guitar. When he meets a Czech woman, and fellow musician, they begin to collaborate on some songs together, while a romantic attraction begins to flourish. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, both real-life musicians, wrote all the songs for the movie together and subsequently became a couple during the promotional tour for the movie. Awww.

Girl: How come you don’t play during daytime? I see you here everyday.
Guy: During the daytime people would want to hear songs that they know. I play these songs at night or people wouldn’t listen.
Girl: I listen.

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4. John Book and Rachel Lapp

Witness – 1985

Philadelphia cop John Book (Harrison Ford) meets Amish woman Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) after her son witnesses a brutal murder. Although they are virtually from different worlds the spark between them is there from the beginning, and when Book is forced to hide among the Amish community the attraction is given ample time to smoulder. If you saw these two characters individually you wouldn’t think for a minute that they would work so well together, but they are one of cinema’s most electric pairings, enhanced in no small part by the great chemistry between Ford and McGillis.

Rachel Lapp: Are you enjoying your reading?
John Book: Oh, yeah. I’m learning a lot about manure. Very interesting.

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3. Andrew and Sam

Garden State – 2004

Zach Braff wrote, directed and starred in this little gem of a movie, garnering much praise in the process. Andrew, a disillusioned actor suffering severe depression returns to his home town for the funeral of his mother. He meets pathological liar Sam (Natalie Portman) and they begin a tentative relationship over the funeral of Sam’s recently deceased hamster. It is impossible not to root for this couple, so cute are they. Portman is at her most kooky and Braff is all that’s likeable in a lost soul.

Sam: Are you really retarded?
Andrew: No.
Sam: Ooh, great job man! I really thought you were retarded. If there was a retarded Oscar you would win, hands down, kick his ass!

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2. Macon Leary and Muriel Pritchett

The Accidental Tourist – 1988

Ever since the murder of his son, travel writer Macon Leary (William Hurt) has emotionally withdrawn from the world around him, including his wife and family. When she leaves him and files for divorce Macon meets the eccentric dog trainer Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis), and so begins Macon’s journey back to himself. Featuring an inspired, Oscar-winning, turn from Davis as the unconventional Muriel, whose big heart eventually breaks through Macon’s tough shell, The Accidental Tourist is not about finding the right person, but finding the person who brings out the right you. We all need our Muriel Pritchett.

Muriel: You ever go to movies?
Macon: I really don’t care for movies. They make everything seem so close-up.

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1. Parry and Lydia

The Fisher King – 1991

Terry Gilliam’s New York fable contains a love story so quirky, between two characters who are so clearly made for each other, that if your heart doesn’t drown in its own mush there is something very wrong with you. Homeless Parry (Robin Williams), his mind fragmented by a terrible tragedy, and clueless Lydia (Amanda Plummer), withdrawn and lost in New York’s noise, are brought together by both fate and the actions of a man seeking redemption. Williams and Plummer are adorable together.

Parry: I’m not coming up to your apartment. That was never my intention.
Lydia: You don’t want to.
Parry: Oh, no, I want to. I have a hard-on for you the size of Florida. But I don’t want just one night.

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I love a good ghost story. They are without doubt my favourite strain of horror movie. Vampires are fine, werewolves are fine, psychotic killers with masks are just fine, but for me there’s nothing quite as terrifying as a ghost. As a kid I would scare myself witless with tales of the supernatural, both fictional and otherwise, aided in no small part by my father, an anthologist of Victorian ghost stories.

Cinema struggles a little with ghost stories. In literature the best of the genre are usually short stories, and some of the finest on-screen examples were a series of British TV shorts based on the stories of M.R. James (Whistle and I’ll Come to You, Lost Hearts, A Warning to the Curious). Often, in trying to fill a 90-minute running time, feature-length ghost stories can lose much in terms of atmosphere and momentum. Also, a good ghost story requires subtlety and suggestion in addition to shocks, qualities which most modern horror movies seem unable to cultivate.

Here is my list of the 10 best feature-length ghost stories. I’ve strictly limited it to scary movies, so there’s no place for the likes of Ghostbusters or Always, even though I adore those movies. After all, ghosts are meant to be scary.

I also have a question. You’ll notice that the majority of the ghosts featured here are female. Personally, I believe that women make scarier ghosts than men. I have no idea why, though. Do you agree? And if so, why do you imagine this is? I look forward to hearing your theories.

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10. Carnival of Souls

Herk Harvey – 1962

Made for a paltry $33,000 dollars, and shot in just three weeks, this was director Herk Harvey’s only feature-length movie. The story follows organist Mary Henry, who begins seeing strange apparitions after surviving a traumatic car accident. As she tries to rebuild her life, Mary finds the haunting becoming increasingly worse. Harvey builds an unnerving mood, using some excellent locations. Candace Hilligoss, in the role of Mary, was the only professional actor involved in the movie and projects an iciness and detachment vital to the part, as it builds toward its final revelation. One which M. Night Shyamalan clearly remembered.

Meet the ghost: Harvey himself appears throughout as ‘The Man’, a pasty-faced, raccoon-eyed spirit with a message for Mary. And he’s not the only one after her.

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9. What Lies Beneath

Robert Zemeckis – 2000

Back when Zemeckis was still making live action pictures, he used the six-month break in filming Cast Away (so Tom Hanks could do some serious dieting) to put together this Hitchcock tribute. Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer star as the couple whose lives are interrupted when Pfeiffer becomes convinced there is a ghost in their house. As she digs deeper, she begins to uncover some very dark secrets. Although it is a little heavy-handed at times, What Lies Beneath has a great atmosphere. Zemeckis fills the silence of the big, old house and its garden with unsettling sounds, making the ghostly presence felt even if it is rarely seen.

Meet the ghost: It would be giving away too much to give you the full details of this wrathful spirit. Suffice it to say she’s young, angry and nowhere near as dead as her killer would have liked.

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8. Ghost Story

John Irvin – 1981

Based on the novel by Peter Straub, the simply titled Ghost Story does just what it says on the tin. The tale is spun around four old men, who get together every week to tell each other ghost stories. When one of their number loses a son in bizarre accident, and his brother comes to them with a story of his own, they realise that the very old secret they all share has come back to haunt them. Set within a snowbound New England town, Ghost Story takes all the classic ingredients of the genre and serves them cold.

Meet the ghost: Alice Krige gives an intense and chilling turn as the vengeful Alma, probably one of the most brazen spirits in movie history. She doesn’t just go after you, but your entire family. This is one girl you don’t want to piss off. Or kill.


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7. The Eye (Gin Gwai)

Danny and Oxide Pang – 2002

Blind violinist Wong Kar Mun has a successful cornea transplant and begins seeing ghosts wherever she goes, some friendly and some otherwise. Together with her doctor, she determines to find out the identity of her eye donor. The Eye starts off as an effectively spooky ghost story, but deepens into something more heartbreaking as the mystery behind Wong Kar Mun’s new eyes is uncovered. The ghostly encounters make the hair stand up on the back of the neck, and just when you think the story is resolved, The Eye throws in a surprise ending.

Meet the ghost: Actually, make that ghosts. There’s a whole buffet of grisly spirits on offer here. Highlights are a great scene in an elevator and a very angry schoolgirl. Oh, and you’ll never look at the hanging food in Chinatown the same way again.

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6. The Devil’s Backbone

Guillermo del Toro – 2001

Something of a companion piece to del Toro’s more famous Pan’s Labyrinth, since it is also set during the Spanish civil war, The Devil’s Backbone is a rich and complex tale of a boy, Carlos, who arrives at an orphanage while his father fights in the war. Carlos finds himself involved in the nefarious plans of one of the orphanage’s staff and attracts the attention of a resident ghost, who warns Carlos of impending disaster. A great ghost story and much more besides.

Meet the ghost: Wandering the orphanage and watching events from a distance, Santi is just one of the mysteries waiting to be solved in The Devil’s Backbone. With the help of minimal special effects, Santi carries the haunting signs of his murder with him, in the form of an ever-bleeding wound.

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5. The Fog

John Carpenter – 1980

Carpenter, a huge fan of ghost stories, gave the genre his all with this tale of drowned mariners returning to the coastal town of Antonio Bay, 100 years after they were betrayed. Originally intended as a straight ghost story, Carpenter was unsatisfied with the finished result and re-shot large parts, upping the violence somewhat but still retaining the brooding atmosphere and sense of foreboding that mark out the best of the genre. It even starts with a ghost story from John Houseman, a prelude to his role in…Ghost Story.

Meet the ghost: More a crew of ghosts and a ghost ship. For the most part Blake and his men are shadowy figures, masked by the fog, and they’re all the creepier for it. Something the creators of the dismal remake failed to grasp.


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4. Ju-on: The Grudge

Takashi Shimizu – 2003

The third in Shimizu’s Ju-on series, but the first to get an international theatrical release, The Grudge centres on a cursed house and the characters who come into contact with it over varying timelines, usually to their extreme detriment. Complex, layered and often disturbing, The Grudge is also very, very creepy. This one will definitely make you feel less safe under your covers, which is traditionally where you are supposed to feel safe. Neat trick. The movie spawned an American remake and further sequels but this remains the finest.

Meet the ghost: Another movie boasting more than one spectral star, including another little boy. However, it is the crawling, bloodied woman, Kayako, who sticks most in the mind as the final credits roll.

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3. The Haunting

Robert Wise – 1963

Based on the 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, Robert Wise’s movie sees paranormal investigator Dr. Markway invite a carefully selected, eclectic group of people to spend several nights with him at the supposedly haunted Hill House. Almost immediately the group are besieged by a series of terrifying things that go bump in the night, all of which seem to focus on the shy, reclusive Eleanor. Wise makes sure that it is what you don’t see that scares you. Never has thumping on a door or voices heard through a wall been so utterly spine-tingling. Just make sure you stick with the original rather than Jan de Bont’s laughable 1999 remake.

Meet the ghost: Or not. The Haunting leaves the finer details to your imagination, and it works beautifully.

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2. Ringu

Hideo Nakata – 1998

Journalist Reiko Asakawa’s niece dies, one week after viewing a mysterious video tape. Reiko views the tape herself and is warned, by way of a phone call, that she now has only one week to live. After catching her son watching the tape, Reiko and her ex-husband, Ryuji, race against the clock to discover the secret behind the cursed video. A hugely influential movie, Ringu is heavy on atmosphere from the outset. Rather than subject the viewer to a series of shocks (although there are one or two) Ringu slowly builds itself up to a single, extremely scary, moment.

Meet the ghost: Sadako is one of the scariest ghosts ever committed to film. Although she is very rarely seen until the end, her reputation is cleverly crafted beforehand, priming you for her grand entrance. And what an entrance it is.

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1. The Woman in Black

Herbet Wise – 1989

The Woman in Black is a little known (and hard to find) English TV movie, based on the novel by Susan Hill. A lawyer is sent to a coastal town to settle the estate of a recently deceased widow. Once there, he finds the locals reluctant to discuss both her and the mysterious woman who sometimes appears around the town. Deciding to go alone to the widow’s house and unravel the truth, he attracts the attention of something utterly malevolent. If you enjoy an old fashioned spine-chiller you won’t find anything better than this on film. It is the perfect ghost story. This year’s Hammer produced remake has a lot to live up to.

Meet the ghost: She’s glimpsed only a few times and yet remains a constant presence. And when she does appear, particularly in a scene toward the end, The Woman in Black is terrifying.

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Who says Top Ten lists have run out of ideas? Check out Top Ten: Movie Characters With Fur on Celluloid Zombie!

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