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10 best slow burn horror movies

Writer: Casey Chong



Silence is golden in "A Quiet Place".

The buzz surrounding John Krasinski's latest directorial effort, "A Quiet Place", has been strong and universally positive, going as far as earning a remarkable 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (though it is expected to drop when more reviews pouring in).

If you have seen the trailer, "A Quiet Place" does evoke the kind of slow-burn horror premise that favours the power of suggestion and character development over cheap shock tactics.

As we are anticipating the arrival of (sshhh!) "A Quiet Place" this week, here are the 10 best slow-burn horror movies you might want to check out too!

1. "Rosemary's Baby" (1968)

Mia Farrow discovers the truth about her baby in "Rosemary's Baby".

Sure, "Rosemary's Baby" may have been famously known for Mia Farrow's pixie haircut styled by the legendary Vidal Sassoon, but this 1968 horror classic was also largely considered as a milestone in the evolution of its genre - where it involves Satan's use of a body of an innocent human to impregnate for an evil child – and it is even hailed as one of the best by Roman Polanski. Polanski, who adapted the screenplay from Ira Levin's bestselling novel, perfectly captured Rosemary's (Farrow) fear and anxiety of facing her own pregnancy for the first time. The pace is meticulous as Polanski emphasises heavily on a sinister mood and a sense of foreboding dread right down to the chilling final revelation.

2. "Don't Look Now" (1973)

Donald Sutherland in a scene from "Don't Look Now".

"Don't Look Now" is another slow-burn horror masterpiece that doesn't rely on cheap jump scares to evoke a reaction. Instead, director Nicolas Roeg explores the underlying psychological impact and the fragile state of John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie), as they try hard to move on with their lives following the death of their young daughter (Sharon Williams). Despite the movie's supernatural theme, Roeg relies on mood and atmosphere to build up the tension and dread in a deliberate manner. Those who have seen this movie before would never forget the shocking reveal of the mysterious red-cloaked figure.

3. "The Shining" (1980)

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy".

Stephen King has famously dissed Stanley Kubrick for ruining his novel adaptation, and believe it or not, "The Shining" even surprisingly picked up two Razzie nominations including Worst Director for Stanley Kubrick (!) and Worst Actress for Shelley Duvall. But today, Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie is hailed as a horror masterpiece. Faithful or not, Kubrick sure knows how to build up to a slow-burn tension that takes time as to develop Jack Torrance's (played to sinister perfection by Jack Nicholson) emotional and mental states. By the time Jack reaches to the breaking point, it's 'all hell breaks loose' and Kubrick escalates the intensity with one of the most terrifying climaxes ever seen in a horror genre, beginning with the axe-pounding scene and the now-iconic "Here's Johnny!" line.

4. "The Blair Witch Project" (1999)

One of the iconic scenes in "The Blair Witch Project".

Found-footage horror movies used to be a unique piece of genre cinema. Today, the shaky-cam technique and whatnots used in found-footage horror movies are now seen as the same old, tired cliches that offer more of the same. But back in 1999 when such a genre was still relatively fresh and novel, "The Blair Witch Project" stood tall and was even considered as a landmark for found-footage horror movies. Kudos also go to the ingenious marketing strategy, promoting the disappearance of three aspiring documentary filmmakers while exploring the Blair Witch mythos in the Maryland woods as if it was "real". Shot with a minuscule budget with a relatively unknown cast, "The Blair Witch Project" works so well because the way Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez utilised the power of suggestion to amp up the fear and terror in the woods. It's a shame that subsequent sequels, "Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" and "Blair Witch" failed to capture the essence of what made the 1999 original such a successful found-footage horror movie in the first place.

5. "Session 9" (2001)

A scene from "Session 9".

"Session 9", which revolves around a five-person asbestos abatement crew assigned to clean up an abandoned mental asylum, is an unsettling psychological chiller by the once-promising director Brad Anderson. The movie made a terrific use of the real-life setting, the Danvers State Mental Hospital in Massachusetts, to evoke genuine fear, horror and dread as if the building is alive. It also helps that each character here including a pre-"CSI: Miami" David Caruso delivered solid performances altogether.

6. "The Orphanage" (2007)

A creepy scene from "The Orphanage".

Long before J.A. Bayona made it big-time with "The Impossible" and soon-to-be-released "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom", the 42-year-old Spanish director first gained his reputation with "The Orphanage", an old-school ghost story about a little boy who befriends an invisible new "friend" after his family move into an old orphanage. With Guillermo del Toro served as the movie's executive producer, "The Orphanage" successfully emulates the same old-school supernatural vibe of a classic horror trope. Here, Bayona favours more on traditional scares such as the use of shadows, shapes and sounds than relying heavily on CGI-laden frights.

7. "Let The Right One In" (2008)

A scene from "Let Right One In".

Forget about how Tomas Alfredson screwed up big-time in last year's insipid psychological thriller, "The Snowman". The Swedish director was polar opposite when he made "Let The Right One In" almost a decade ago. It's a vampire horror minus all the familiar horror tropes normally associated with this kind of genre. It's less gory and even less supernatural, but more of a character-driven drama that touches on the unusual relationship between a lonely boy and a mysterious girl who turns out be a vampire. Just like the wintry Swedish landscape of the movie itself, "Let The Right One In" is a chilling piece of horror that builds slowly to a terrifying final act set in a swimming pool.

8. "The Babadook" (2014)

A scene from "The Babadook".

This Australian import, which marks the promising directorial debut of Jennifer Kent, tells a story about a widowed mother (Essie Davis) and her son (Noah Wiseman) terrorised by a pale-faced monster known as Mister Babadook. "The Babadook" is a superb atmospheric horror as Kent uses mental states like trauma and depression to make the movie more unsettling and emotionally involved. Plus, the cursed pop-up book of the titular character has never been this creepy.

9. "It Follows" (2015)

Maika Monroe in "It Follows".

You know what makes a horror movie really scary or creepy? The fear of the unknown and that is where David Robert Mitchell's "It Follows" excels the most. The premise itself is a pure nightmare: a college student named Jay (Maika Monroe) begins to experience haunting visions as if someone is following her after engaging in unprotected sex. This "someone" in question is a supernatural entity of sorts and also a curse. In order to break the curse, one must commit a sexual activity with another person. While the synopsis might sound like a bad joke, the execution is something else entirely. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell successfully captured the essence of the old-school horror tropes, paying more attention to camera placements and eerie musical compositions to instil a sense of dread and paranoia. And above all, "It Follows" brings a uniquely abstract if flawed metaphor-heavy storyline involving STD and teenage sex.

10. "The Witch" (2015)

Something sinister is lurking in the jungle in "The Witch".

Robert Eggers' 17th-century of New England-set horror movie about a family being terrorised by an unseen evil lurking somewhere in the secluded forest, is a prime example of how to nail a true slow-burner. This is a kind of movie where tension is largely built from mood and atmosphere rather than cheap tactics like excessive gore and jump scares. "The Witch" sure requires an utmost patience to appreciate for this well-crafted horror masterpiece.

Cinema Online, 04 April 2018


Related Movies:
A Quiet Place (05 Apr 2018)
Blair Witch (15 Sep 2016)

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