My favourite horror films

Too often have I used Google to recommend me horror films worth watching and since some of the films listed in this post didn’t appear, I felt like sharing my personal list of “Best horror films”. Ever since I was 17 I have repeatedly attempted to write down a list of my favourite horror flicks but it wasn’t until this year that I really got serious about it and started thinking about possible candidates. As with any of these “best XYZ” lists, my picks are the result of my personal taste and thus the ranking is highly subjective. Therefore consider this list as my personal opinion on what makes a horror film “good”. 1-10 are basically my favourite films (films I have watched more than 4 times).

————————30 horror films worth watching (IMHO)———————

1)      -Event Horizon: Great mix of sci-fi with horror.

2)      -Identity: one of my all time favourite horror films. Excellent acting (and cast). The film also features one of the most incredible and smart plot-twists imaginable.

3)      -Cube, Cube: Hypercube and Cube Zero: The ultimate mindfuck-movies. Ever tried solving Rubik’s cube? Imagine you’re trapped in one of those, but this time it is an inmense cube with thousands of squares (rooms), some of them filled with deadly traps. It isn’t as gory as other entries on this list, but it is nevertheless an outstanding movie, as it relies more on psychological horror.

4)      -Eden Lake: I am not a big fan of Michael Fassbender, but his acting on this movie is excellent (don’t take my word for it, I am not a connoisseur in this field). This movie exploits the “evil children concept” in a smart way. As with any good horror film, the environment in which the plot takes place is felt by the viewer as claustrophobic, lonely and pretty much far away from safety. This film is as immersive and exciting as it is depressing and upsetting. Great ending, too.

5)      -In the mouth of madness: strongly recommended. If you are into all things Lovecraftian, you will surely enjoy this one.

6)      -The Shining: It goes without saying that this film is a must-watch for anyone interested in horror films.

7)      -Chernobyl Diaries: One of the highlights of 2012. Featuring an excellent OST by virtuoso sound designer Diego Stocco, the movie is both depressing, upsetting and exciting to watch. Despite featuring a cast of less-known actors and lots of “too dumb to live” moments, the movie succeeds at being extremely immersive and absorving. The ending is probably one of the best one could imagine.

8)      -1408: Watch it. That’s all I’ll say.

9)      -Frozen: very, very depressing. Three friends, a frozen mountain, lots of darkness. This film isn’t as scary as it is disturbing.

10)  -Sphere: A psychological horror film with a great cast and story. Not everybody’s cup of tea, though.

11)  -Hostel 1: Another film that started a trilogy and even a whole new genre. The film that pissed off half of Slovakia and made seasoned horror fans feel disgusted is sure worth watching.

12)  -Train: This is a film that follows the path set by Hostel and other torture porn movies (that’s apparently a new genre of film making): You’ve got a group of young, party-obsessed Americans trying to make their way across Ukraine (yes, Eastern Europe again). The train they have boarded suddenly turns into the worst place to be. I personally enjoyed this one much more than hostel, although they differ in some aspects, as this one is less about naked women and more about brutal, pointless violence.

13)  -Sunshine: This film isn’t as scary as it is absorbing and fascinating. A great mix of horror and sci-fi, “Sunshine” is the kind of film you’d call “beautiful”, and not only did the visual aspects of the film appealed to me, but also the soundtrack.

14)  -Men behind the sun: This is the kind of film I wouldn’t recommend to people that are easily disgusted. The most disturbing thing about this film is the fact that it is based on real events. Not really the kind of film you’d want to watch more than twice.

15)  -House of 9: Not suited for gore-enthusiasts, House of 9 is the perfect film for fans of claustrophobic environments filled with neurotic, unpredictable people.

16)  -The midnight meat train: Probably as gory as Cannibal Holocaust. Vinnie Jones delivers. Even though the effects look cheesy and very unrealistic at times, the film succeeds at being a visual rendition of Clive Barker’s less scary story of the same name.

17)  -Trick n´ Tale: This one is fun to watch. Not as scary and as gory as the other films, but the acting is superb and the stories are original enough to keep you interested throughout the film’s length.

18)  -Dreamcatcher: Yet another film based on a tale by Stephen King, this one is more on the sci-fi side of things.

19)  -Cannibal Holocaust: The fact that it was banned in around 10 countries says enough.

20)  -Final Destination 1: The one that started a saga of films that for some reason kept getting worse. Definitely worth a watch.

21)  -The house on haunted hill (remake): I like this one mainly because of the actors. You have seen each of them in more “normal” movies before and now it’s all about surviving a night in a haunted mansion. By the way, this is one of those few horror movies where the black guy doesn’t die in the first half. Amazing.

22)  -Ghosts of Mars: more like a sci/fi-horror movie. Great for watching with friends.

23)  -Descent 1: Very interesting film with a great ending.

24)  -Se7en: A classic in its own right. Pretty much a go-to horror film.

25)  -Virus: Very good mix of sci-fi and horror.

26)  -Ghost ship: kind of a cheap film, yet effective.

27)  -Mindhunters: Great mix of action and horror. A go-to horror film, actually.

28)  -House of Wax: I believe most people watched it solely to see Paris Hilton being impaled by that creepy guy wearing a wax mask. It is good, in spite of the now abhorred “teenagers/youngsters driving alone through the country get assaulted by mentally deranged maniacs”-schema which seems to be the foundation of 80%  of all horror movies nowadays.

29)  -The girl: Might be too disturbing to some. It is the kind of film that makes you hate the victims and empathize with the “evil” guy (or rather girl).

30)  -May: From the same director/producer of “The girl”, this one is kind of slow, but does the job.

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OK, that’s it! I hope at least one or two of these films were unknown to you before reading this post. If none of these movies prove to scare you, then I’d suggest having a look at Dir en Grey’s videography.

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On Music making

Making the most out of creativity when composing music

Ever since I started using online resources to broaden my knowledge about music making and music in general I have come across many articles in which artists are given advice on how to write music and what to do. This is my humble, yet hopefully useful contribution to this body of work. I hope it reaches someone.

1-Theory is not overrated

If you´re like me and like to know how other musicians think and go about music making, you probably know one or two musicians that claim not to know a bit about music theory, although they create good music. I actually know many of these musicians and in all honesty, I do not think it’s wise to believe anyone that claims one can create music without knowing how it works. Of course, there are quite a few “musicians” out there trying to find the “right” notes without knowing how music actually works. Imagine a blind man making his way across a dark labyrinth with nothing but a cane. Attempting to write music without knowing anything (or few) about theory means you will spend much more time trying to figure out which chords sound good, which notes a melody should have and so on. Are you willing to waste that much time?

So you may wonder: Why do they claim such a thing? Specially rock musicians will be prone to make the statement quoted above. The reason why they so often state they “never took lessons or read a book on music theory” is because it doesn’t quite fit the stereotypical image of a rock musician that is ingrained in your head. VH1´s “Behind the Music” and the media as a whole continue to foster this view, which on the other hand my opinion is partly guilty for the increase of “bad” music. You do need to know your theory, maybe not everything there is to know, but enough to understand the way beautiful music works.

2-Music should make sense

I like giving feedback to fellow musicians. Not only because I like getting feedback in return, but also because I believe you can learn more by identifying frequent mistakes others are doing, in order to avoid them yourself. I have come to notice something fascinating about music that actually serves as a good criterion to discriminate between pros and amateurs. By professionals I do not necessarily picture the kind of producer that is behind such artists as Lady Gaga or Nelly Furtado. A pro is someone that may not be a virtuoso nor in theory nor in the practice, but he knows how to avoid mistakes amateur producers do.

Which mistakes am I talking about? Monotony is one of them. Listen to commercial music. Take a song by a famous female singer. Is it simple? Yes. Is it annoying? Yes. Is it mediocre because it only uses around 8 chords? Yes. Is it monotonous? No. Is music allowed to be simple, annoying (as in, this music sounds silly and immature) and mediocre? Of course. But is music allowed to be monotonous and never change? Not at all. I remember reading in this one book that monotony is a “crime” in music. Now that may sound a bit dramatic and exaggerated, but apparently most people will be quickly annoyed by music that never changes and is static. What are the consequences of this? The song´s structure, for one, should make sense and not be like AAAAAB or BAAAAAB. Notice how many great songs follow this pattern: intro verse PreChorus Chorus Verse PreChorus Chorus Solo Chorus outro (Also notice how many songs end like they start).

Another important thing is being consistent across a single piece. Make sure to come up with a leitmotif, a melody that gives the song its identity, and that is easily recognizable. Maybe you have a cool melody going on. Repeat it throughout your composition no more than 8 times and at different points. It will make the whole thing more cohesive and make the whole piece more memorable.

Refer to the worldly famous and thus instantly recognizable theme by Beethoven from his famed 5th symphony. Most people would agree this theme defines the symphony. Non-musicians may not notice this, but the first theme is repeated afterwards for a determined number of times. It doesn’t sound monotonous or boring. The rhythmical structure (values) is the same. The notes and the register of the notes, however, does change. This adds movement and richness to an idea that is actually quite simple.

Another great example for how simple some music actually is, is this piece by Mozart “eine kleine Nachtmusik”. Notice that the theme exposed in the first two bars is repeated a second time but with a different harmonic background and more important, with other notes.

(…)

Don´t repeat the same idea (melody or chord progression)  more than 4 times without some sort of variation of the musical structure. More than 8 repetitions are generally considered to be annoying and tiresome. Notice that changing the sound of the instrument won’t make the idea sound any less bothering.

Here are some simple composition tricks to help you avoid monotony when writing melodies:

-Change at least two notes from the main melody.

-Don´t repeat the highest note of the melody more than twice

-A melody (or a phrase) shouldn´t stretch beyond more than two octaves

-Reverse the melody

-Play the same melody, but with a different technique

-Play the melody in half time.

-Reference or quote the melody´s rhythm by using another instrument. If the piano has played C D E F as 2 quavers followed by 2 semiquavers , let the drums play the same divisions at another part of the tune. This works as a cue for the listener that he´s still listening to the same tune.

You may wonder if classical composers had a music theory book on their desks while they were working on their stuff. I am sure they did not. Thing is, after years of studying all of this, the knowledge became a part of them and eventually they didn’t consciously think about which harmony or counterpoint rules they were following. Though I am sure they did consciously think about them when breaking said rules. That leads me to my next point.

3-Know the law. Break the rules.

Somewhere in time, after the first half 19th century, the young French pianist fails his piano final for the last time. Although talented, the Achille-Claude´s penchant for the “wrong” notes and unorthodox dissonances and intervals cant simply be understood by his teachers. Later on, Debussy would inspire generations of composers to come with his “impressionist” style (a term that he actuall despised when applied to his own music).

Of course, in order to break the rules and use the “wrong” notes and chords, you need to know which ones are the right ones. i VI iv V7 is a normal, proper chord progression (Em,Cmaj, Am, B7). Em7 Cmaj7#4 Am7 B7 sounds interesting, but is less orthodox. Eminadd9 Cmajadd9, Amin add6 and D#dim will sound even more interesting and will likely be regarded as progressive. Now, Emin, Cmin, G#min, Dmaj7 sounds very cinematic, but will make you wonder how “right” the chord progression is. My point is: knowing the rules will allow you to break them without having to wonder how “right” your creation is. Truth is: it doesn´t matter as long as you know what you´re doing.

I will now address issues that are less related to music theory and more to the practice of music making.

4-You can´t force creativity

As I have previously stated, most people cannot get creative whenever they want to. I like to believe creativity is some kind of entity that exists outside from us and only from time to time will it reach its invisible hands and try to touch us and make artists create. There are some practices commonly believed to enhance creativity, such as drinking yourself to unconsciousness, smoking weed, standing on the peak of a mountain and breathing thin air.

These are not the kind of things that will inspire you. At best they will turn you into a dumber person but they won’t do anything (good) for your musical endeavours.

If the muse is prone to strike you at uncommon/unusual places where you can impossibly record or play music (such as a bus, a classroom or the bathroom) make sure to take mental notes. If the idea is good enough, you will be able to remember it. If you are struggling to come up with ideas but fail at it, then it’s time to take a breath, make a pause, turn off the guitar amp, and/or hide your laptop. Let the music find you.

5-Enrichen yourself

You can´t force inspiration, but you may be able to increase the likelikehood for it to reach you. Most of the times, the routines in your life are keeping you from coming up with new things. Needless to say, you can´t create something new with a brain used to normality. How about learning a new language, reading a new book, meeting new people, travelling to other places, learning more history? Cultivating yourself will prove to inspire you. Obviously, listening to new music or new artists will prove to be inspiring. Dare to listen to stuff you hate and try to appreciate it. Listen to what others are doing, but not to copy, but to understand and learn what works. Are you trying to go beyond the limits and write experimental music? Listen to artists doing just that and learn from them. Another situation: do you want to write a potential hit? Listen to commercially successful tunes and take notes. What is going on? What kinds of tricks are being used? What is the structure of the song? Which chords are more likely to appeal to the public?

Do you want to know more?

Of course there’s a lot more to this topic than what I’ve written here. Feel free to dig further into this field.

PS: Should you find any inaccuracies in this text, don’t hesitate to point them out so that I can  correct them.

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