Cult director Ben Wheatley picks his five fave horror films

New movie 'In The Earth' is a tense and terrifying thrill ride – its creator reveals some of the influences

Film fans might know Ben Wheatley from his minutely detailed indie movies that are stuffed with throwback references to classic films. Blockbuster junkies might know him as the director of upcoming shark sequel Meg 2: The Trench. At NME, however, we’ve come to know him as the man who’s watched nearly every horror ever.

As the cinema enthusiast and filmmaker releases his latest fright feast In The Earth – a trippy woodland thriller with lashings of gore – he hops on Zoom to take us through the most terrifying titles in his extensive collection.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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“This has influenced me a lot. It’s a perfect film in many ways, with lots of different compartments: there’s comedy in it and it’s got action – it’s a police procedural at the beginning and then it’s a siege movie. But it’s also a satire. Director George A. Romero found a very original and sly way of talking about consumerism which feels fresh. Now it’s become a kind of cliché, but when that movie was made no one was talking about things like that.”

Standout moment: “The taking over of the mall by zombies. It gives you an incredible sense of space and you know exactly what’s going on, but it’s like silent cinema as well. They establish every area – and it’s exciting and it makes sense which is quite rare in cinema these days.”

Evil Dead II (1987)

“I bunked off school when I was about ten and I went to the cinema. Randomly I ended up watching this on my own in an empty theatre at four o’clock in the afternoon. It was so incredible that I took all my friends to see it the next day.”

Standout moment: “When they stamp on the lid of the cellar and the eye comes out and flies across the room into the screaming mouth. I thought I was going to pass out I was laughing so much.”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

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“I came to it quite late because it was a video nasty and it had been banned everywhere. It was quite hard to get hold of when I was a kid. I had no expectation of what it was when I watched it. I thought it was gonna be more like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 which is quite a lot more of people running around with chainsaws, but it’s quite a well-considered film. The drip-drip-drip of uncanny imagery throughout it is important – it’s always got time to look in the corner and see a spider or something made out of bones or a chicken standing on a skull. That’s so oppressive all the way through the movie. It made me realise design could terrify you even more than seeing graphic stuff.”

Standout moment: “I think it’s the moment when Leatherface hits the guy on the head and then slams down the steel shutter. It’s so violent.”

Come and See (1985)

“It’s not strictly a horror film but it is a film that’s full of horror. It’s about the Russians fighting the Germans in Belarus during World War Two. It’s one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen. I bought it and it sat on the shelf for five years because I was too scared to watch it. I started watching it one night at 11pm – and then I had to watch the whole thing all the way through. I sat there just completely stunned.”

Standout moment: “There’s a scene where they’ve gone back to the main character’s house but the stove is still on and his family have obviously just eaten a meal though they can’t see them. As they leave the girl he’s with looks around and sees all their bodies up against a wall. They’ve all been shot. He misses it and doesn’t look, but she doesn’t say anything. It’s unbelievably horrible.”

The Thing (1982)

“This is on the entertainment end of the register. It’s endlessly fun and I’ve watched it a million times. It’s the perfect setup and the prosthetics are absolutely genius and don’t ever seem to age. Sometimes you think these movies will never get old and then you’re watching them and you spot something that shows their age. The Thing never seems to show it’s age to me. I watched all of John Carpenter’s films during lockdown.”

Best moment: “When the head drops on the ground and turns into a spider. You can’t get better than that! I kind of know how they did the practical effects, but it shouldn’t work as well as it does.”

Ben Wheatley’s new horror film, ‘In The Earth’, is out in UK cinemas now

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