Movie Music Mix: 1958


It goes without saying that this has been, to say the least, a disgusting past couple of days. It’s very difficult to reconcile the stupidity of others and the rather incredible modes of selective thinking and delusional rationalizing people embed in themselves in order to deny what is right in front of their faces.

But the reason I’m here is to share with you a jazzy fun mix from the films of 1958. Unlike 1992’s sprawling and unfocused scope, this is direct and punchy, alternating between jaunty bursts and brooding strings, the latter courtesy of Bernard Herrmann. There’s some tragically unknown gems in here, so do yourself a favor and discover these for yourself (thank me later). Next week I’ll have my ‘What I’ll Remember’ post for 1958 as well as the Top Ten By Year finale post. Below is the track listing as well as a link to 8tracks where you can listen to the whole mix. Hope you enjoy!

Movie Music Mix: 1958 

1. “Theme from Mon Oncle” – composed by Franck Barcellini and Alain Romans – from Mon Oncle
2. “The Night They Invented Champagne” – sung by Betty Wand, Hermione Gingold and Louis Jourdan – from Gigi
3. “Good Times” – composed by Elmer Bernstein – from Anna Lucasta
4. “Main Title” – composed by Henry Mancini – from Touch of Evil
5. “Prelude and Rooftop” – composed by Bernard Herrmann – from Vertigo
6. “Blues for Gassmann Parts 1 & 2” – composed by Piero Umiliano – from Big Deal on Madonna Street
7. “The Executioner Theme” – composed by Perry Botkin – from Murder by Contract
8. “Jalshagar” composed by Vilayat Khan – from The Music Room (Jalshagar)
9. “The Ballad of Thunder Road” – sung by Robert Mitchum – from Thunder Road
10. “Générique” – Miles Davis – from Elevator to the Gallows
11. “Scene D’Amour” – composed by Bernard Herrmann – from Vertigo 

Top Ten By Year: 1958 – Poll Results

After successfully incorporating a poll into my Top Ten By Year Project for the 1992 festivities, it was clear this needed to become a tradition. So months later, after viewings and re-watches galore, here we are, arriving at the end of my 1958 research. And to kick things off, I asked all of you to tell me your top films of 1958. Up to 10 were allowed, order not required.

I received 98 responses total from twitter, tumblr and WordPress combined, and 93 different films represented!!! For some perspective, there were 60 responses to the 1992 poll. So thank you so much to everyone who voted for making this a considerably bigger turnout than last!

Keep a tab on Cinema Enthusiast, because over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting the rest of my 1958 series including a Music Mix, What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1958: A Personal Sampling, and of course my own Top Ten. For the 1992 results, my list was tallied in with the rest, but not this time because as of right now I still have a few things to watch and re-watch.

Below I have both the aggregate results and all of your individual responses. As much fun as seeing the collective top ten, it’s far more important for me to post everybody’s response because a. the individual lists are always far more fun that the collective and b. ideally this post should function as a resource for learning about films you may not have heard of, but that person whose taste you really trust on twitter listed it as one of their favorites so maybe you should check it out!

Mandatory reminder (I do this every time) that I use lists as a representation of taste, an excuse to extrapolate, as prompts for discussion and discovery, and, when it comes to my Top Ten By Year project, as a finale to where the real importance lies; the viewings themselves.

Top Ten By Year: 1992 Poll Results

Films not eligible for this list: Wild Strawberries, The Cranes Are Flying, and Night of the Demon (I have them all as 57).


POLL RESULTS — Top Ten By Year: 1958:
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, US) – 74 votes
2. Touch of Evil (Welles, US) – 64 votes
3. Mon Oncle (Tati, France) – 35 votes
4. The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa, Japan) – 27 votes
5. Some Came Running (Minnelli, US) – 23 votes
6. Elevator to the Gallows (Malle, France) – 21 votes
7. Ashes and Diamonds (Wajda, Poland) – 19 votes
8. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Brooks, US) – 17 votes
9. Man of the West (Mann, US) – 16 votes
10. The Magician (Bergman, Sweden) (tie), The Tarnished Angels (Sirk, US) (tie) – 13 votes each

The rest:
12 votes: Bonjour Tristesse, The Music Room, Horror of Dracula
11 votes: Cairo Station, Gigi
10 votes: Party Girl, A Night to Remember
8 votes: The Blob, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Murder by Contract, The Defiant Ones, Equinox Flower, I Want to Live!
7 votes: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
6 votes: The Fly, Ivan the Terrible Part II, Le Beau Serge, Separate Tables, A Time to Love and a Time to Die
5 votes: Auntie Mame, South Pacific, Bell Book and Candle, The Lineup, The Long Hot Summer, Giants & Toys, The Horse’s Mouth, A Movie, The Lovers
4 votes: The Big Country, Terror in a Texas Town, Enjo, Fiend without a Face
3 votes: Ice Cold in Alex, “Robin Hood Daffy”, Run Silent Run Deep, The Last Hurrah
2 votes: Look Back in Anger, Carry On Sergeant!, Thunder Road, The Ballad of Narayama, Free Radicals, Buchanan Rides Alone, Les raquetteurs, Eroica, The Left Handed Gun, Cowboy, Bridges-Go-Round
1 vote: Varan the Unbelievable, Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys!, The Goddess, Stolen Desire, Endless Desire, The Matchmaker, Damn Yankees, The Great Gila Monster, Ajantrik, Wind Across the Everglades, No Time for Sergeants, The Last Day of Summer, Le Chant Du Styrène, War of the Colossal Beast, The Quiet American, Glas, Anticipation of the Night, The Expanding Airport, Attack of the 50ft Woman, Gunman’s Walk, The Fearmakers, Cop Hater, High School Hellcats, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Les Miserables, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Teacher’s Pet, The Vikings, China Doll, Bomber Moon, Days of Wine + Roses (Frankenheimer), Machine Gun Kelly, Marjorie Morningstar, God’s Little Acre, The Very Eye of Night, King Creole, Gideon’s Day, Nazarin

Individual responses:

Vertigo, Mon Oncle, Separate Tables, The Big Country, The Blob, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Cairo Station, The Magician, The Music Room

@TheEndofCinema (Sean Gilman of The End of Cinema; The George Sanders Show, and They Shot Pictures podcasts):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Some Came Running, Murder by Contract, Mon Oncle, The Music Room, Ivan the Terrible Part 2, The Hidden Fortress, The Lineup, Bonjour Tristesse

@salesonfilm (Kristen Sales of salesonfilm, Movie Mezzanine, FilmFracture, etc):
Mon Oncle, Ashes and Diamonds, Touch of Evil

@faithx5 (Jandy of The Frame):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Elevator to the Gallows, Mon Oncle, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Gigi, South Pacific, The Fly, Some Came Running, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

@DeusExCinema (David Neary of Next Projection, etc.):
Ashes & Diamonds, The Defiant Ones, Ice Cold in Alex, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Varan the Unbelievable

1. The Hidden Fortress 2. Vertigo 3. Touch of Evil 4. The Music Room

@SeriousFilm (Michael Cusumano of Serious Film):
Vertigo -Touch of Evil, Mon Oncle, The Music Room, Hidden Fortress, Big Deal on Madonna Street, The Blob

@FernandoFCroce (Fernando F. Croce of CinePassion):
Some Came Running, Man of the West, Party Girl, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys!

@Flixwise (Flixwise Podcast):
The Magician, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Elevator to the Gallows

@stcve (Steve Christian):
Party Girl … (nine others)
Shout out to I Married a Monster from Outer Space

Touch of Evil, A Night to Remember, The Tarnished Angels, Ivan The Terrible Pt 2, Vertigo, Bell Book & Candle, Terror in a Texas Town, Mon Oncle, Gigi, Some Came Running

@gmanreviews (Andrew Robinson of gmanReview, The Movies You Love Podcast, etc):
Touch of Evil, Vertigo, The Hidden Fortress

@Phil_On_Film: (Philip Concannon of Phil on Film, Little White Lies, Sight & Sound, etc):
Touch of Evil, The Music Room, Some Came Running, Equinox Flower, Bonjour Tristesse, The Magician, Ice Cold in Alex, The Tarnished Angels, Stolen Desire, The Hidden Fortress

@filmactually (Shane of Film Actually):
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Auntie Mame and The Defiant Ones

@notjustmovies (Jake Cole of Not Just Movies, Movie Mezzanine, Slant, etc.):
Vertigo, Some Came Running, Man of the West, Touch of Evil, Music Room, Mon Oncle, Murder By Contract, Party Girl, Elevator to the Gallows, The Hidden Fortress

@WeRecycleMovies (Anne Marie, writer of A Year with Kate project over at The Film Experience):
Vertigo, Auntie Mame, Defiant Ones, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Long Hot Summer, The Matchmaker, Touch of Evil, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, I Want To Live, The Big Country

Vertigo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Horror of Dracula, A Night to Remember, and The Fly. Maybe Fiend Without a Face

@mrbowers (M.R Bowers):
Vertigo, Horror of Dracula, The Fly, Touch of Evil, A Night to Remember

@michelledeidre (Michelle Buchman):
Vertigo, The Fly, The Blob, Damn Yankees, Mon Oncle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, South Pacific

@SchmanthonyP (Brian Schmid):
Vertigo, Giants & Toys, The Hidden Fortress, Elevator to the Gallows, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Man of the West, Ashes & Diamonds, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Cairo Station, Mon Oncle

Cairo Station, Ashes & Diamonds, Elevator to the Gallows

@BtPardy (Brett Pardy):
Vertigo, Party Girl, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Hidden Fortress, The Music Room, Touch of Evil, Cairo Station, Some Came Running, Ashes and Diamonds, The Horror of Dracula

@DepartedAviator (Andrew Kendall of Encore’s World of Film & TV):
Vertigo, Some Came Running, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

@alexkittle (Alex Kittle of and 366 Weird Movies):
The Hidden Fortress, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Horse’s Mouth, Vertigo, Bell Book and Candle, The Giant Gila Monster, Enjo

@bmrow (Brent Morrow):
Ballad of Narayama, Wind Across the Everglades, Some Came Running, Equinox Flower, Murder by Contract, Ajantrik, Cairo Station, Vertigo, Mon Oncle, Man of the West

@redroomrantings (Justine A. Smith, Chief Film Editor and podcaster at Sound on Sight):
Vertigo, Bonjour Tristesse, Touch of Evil, Terror in a Texas Town, The Tarnished Angels, Elevator to the Gallows, Mon Oncle, Some Came Running, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Blob

@wormatwork (Seema of They Shot Pictures podcast):
Touch of Evil, Bounjour Tristesse, The Music Room, A Time to Love and a Time to Die

@whynotanna (of Start Focus End):
Horror of Dracula, Mon Oncle, Fiend Without A Face, Robin Hood Daffy, No Time For Sergeants

@willow_catelyn (of Curtsies and Hand Grenades):
Touch of Evil, Vertigo, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Bell Book & Candle, Horror of Dracula, It Came From Outer Space

Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Gigi

@JigsawLounge (Neil Young of Neil Young’s Film Lounge):

@FCardamenis (Forrest Cardamenis of Forrest in Focus, Spectrum Culture, The Film Stage, and Movie Mezzanine):
Free Radicals, A Movie, Eroica, The Last Day of Summer, Le Chant Du Styrène

@astoehr (Andreas Stoehr of Pussy Goes Grrr, Movie Mezzanine, etc.):
Equinox Flower, The Horse’s Mouth, Man of the West, Mon Oncle, The Music Room, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Some Came Running, The Tarnished Angels, Touch of Evil, Vertigo

@tnyfrontrow (Richard Brody of The New Yorker):
Giants & Toys, Party Girl, Mon Oncle, Cairo Station, Some Came Running, Bonjour Tr, Equinox Flower, War of the Colossal Beast

@Kza (Kent. M. Beeson):
The Tarnished Angels, Buchanan Rides Alone, Man of the West, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Horse’s Mouth

@VIFFSTER (Tom Charity):
Touch of Evil

Vertigo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Some Came Running, Mon Oncle, Ashes and Diamonds, Elevator to the Gallows, Long Hot Summer, The Quiet American, Touch of Evil, The Hidden Fortress

@JoeCaou (Joseph Caouette of Kino in Purgatory):
Cairo Station, Ivan the Terrible Part Two, Mon Oncle, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Man of the West, Les raquetteurs

@UnpluggedCrazy (Arlo J. Wiley of the Gobbledygeek podcast):
Vertigo, The Hidden Fortress, Touch of Evil, Ashes and Diamonds, A Night to Remember, I Want to Live!

@alexyoungen (Alex Youngen):
Glas, Les Raquettuers, Anticipation Of The Night, Mon Oncle, Man Of The West, The Magician, Fiend Without A Face, The Expanding Airport, The Defiant Ones, Ashes and Diamonds

@cine_scope (Giovanni Battista of CineScope and The Metropolist):
The Magician, Hidden Fortress, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Elevator to the Gallows, The Music Room, Ashes & Diamonds, Enjo, Mon Oncle, Cairo Station

@JiffySquidward (Steve Maple):
Vertigo, Some Came Running, The Music Room, Mon Oncle, Ashes & Diamonds, Touch of Evil, Cairo Station

Touch of Evil, (Horror of) Dracula, The Magician, The Lineup, Fiend w/out A Face, Gunman’s Walk, The Fearmakers, Cop Hater

@Vincent_Nijman (Vincent Nijman)
Elevator to the Gallows, The Hidden Fortress, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Fly

@CriterionRefs (David Blakeslee of CriterionCast):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Lovers, The Magician, Hidden Fortress, Ashes & Diamonds, Equinox Flower, Mon Oncle, The Horse’s Mouth and Elevator to the Gallows

@Cinematic_Life (of This Cinematic Life):
Auntie Mame, Vertigo, Mon Oncle, Touch of Evil, The Hidden Fortress, Elevator to the Gallows, Ashes & Diamonds

@awolverton77 (Andy Wolverton of Arts of Darkness):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Defiant Ones, Separate Tables, Man of the West, Thunder Road, The Magician, Run Silent Run Deep, Horror of Dracula, Teacher’s Pet

@cinemasights (James Blake Ewing of Cinema Sights):
Mon Oncle, Vertigo, Robin Hood Daffy, Ivan the Terrible Part Two, The Hidden Fortress & Touch of Evil

Auntie Mame, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Elevator to the Gallows

@adamhopelies (Adam Batty, Lecturer and founder of Hope Lies At 24 Frames Per Second):
Elevator To The Gallows, Mon Oncle, Touch Of Evil, Vertigo, Le Beau Serge

@toro913 (Miran Terzic):
Vertigo, Mon Oncle, Elevator to the Gallows, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Lineup, Cairo Station, Some Came Running, The Hidden Fortress, Murder by Contract, Touch of Evil

China Doll, Bomber’s Moon, Days of Wine + Roses (both Frankenheimer directed), Machine Gun Kelly, The Big Country, A Time to Love and a Time to Die

@fistithoughts (Andrew Ellington):
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Vertigo, Separate Tables

@railoftomorrow (Scott Nye, writer and podcast co-host at CriterionCast, etc.):
1. Vertigo, 2. The Tarnished Angels, 3. A Time to Love and a Time to Die, 4. The Lovers, 5. Bonjour Tristesse, 6. Touch of Evil, 7. Party Girl, 8. Ashes and Diamonds, 9. The Magician, 10. Touch of Evil

@doctor_morbius (Christianne Benedict of Krell Laboratories):
Giants & Toys, Vertigo,  Touch of Evil, Man of the West, The Vikings, The Hidden Fortress, Enjô, Run Silent Run Deep

@oblongpictures (Chris Salt):
Mon Oncle, Touch of Evil, Ice Cold in Alex, Equinox Flower, Carry on Sergeant, I Want to Live

@007hertzrumble (of The James Bond Social Media Project):
1. Vertigo 2. Mon Oncle 3. Touch of Evil 4.Big Deal on Madonna Street 5. Terror in a Texas Town 6. The Fly 7. The Lineup

@Lena_Houst (Lena Houst of Film Misery)
Vertigo, Mon Oncle, A Movie

The Tarnished Angels, Party Girl, God’s Little Acre, Vertigo, Ashes & Diamonds, Some Came Running, Mon Oncle, Touch of Evil, The Left Handed Gun, Elevator to the Gallows, Man of the West

@labuzamovies (Peter Labuza, Author of Approaching the End, host of The Cinephiliacs, contributor to Variety, etc.)
Cowboy, Bridges-Go-Round, Vertigo, Gigi, Tarnished Angels, Murder by Contract, Cairo Station, Ashes/Diamonds, Hidden Fortress,

@tmibugbee (Teo Bugbee of The Daily Beast, Grantland, The New Republic, etc.)
1.) Vertigo 2.) Bonjour Tristesse 3.) Gigi 4.) Tarnished Angels 5.) Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

@ch_williamson (Chuck Williamson of The Missing Slate)
1. Vertigo, 2. The Tarnished Angels, 3. Enjo, 4. The Very Eye of Night, 5. The Fly, 6. Touch of Evil, 7. A Movie 8. Man of the West, 9. Mon Oncle, 10. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

@mattdegroot (Matt DeGroot):
Vertigo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Touch of Evil

@p2wy (Patrick Goff):
1 Vertigo 2. Bonjour Tristesse 3. Gigi, 4 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 5. Elevator to the Gallows

@timothyeraw (Tim Evans of Verite, CineOutsider and Grolsch Film Works)

@ohrachelleigh (Rachel Leigh of
Vertigo, Le Beau Serge, Elevator to the Gallows, Gigi, The Defiant Ones, A Night to Remember, Horror of Dracula, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Touch of Evil, I Want to Live!

@jchristley (Jamie N. Christley):

@ericgregersen (Erik M. Gregersen):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Murder by Contract, The Hidden Fortress, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ivan the Terrible II, Terror in a Texas Town, The Horse’s Mouth, Bridges-Go-Around, Giants and Toys

@abielkova (Adriana Bielkova)
1. Touch of Evil, 2. Mon Oncle, 3. Les Amants de Montparnasse, 4. Le Beau Serge, 5. Look Back in Anger, 6. Vertigo, 7. Elevator to the gallows, 8. Separate Tables

@thefilmtemple (Max B. O’Connell of The Film Temple, Indiewire):

@TyleKurner (Kyle Turner of Movie Mezzanine, The Movie Scene, etc.)
Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Night to Remember

@mimbale (Miriam Bale, programmer and contributor to various publications including Film Comment and the New York Times)
1. Vertigo 2. Bell, Book & Candle 3. Bonjour Tristesse 4. Party Girl 5. Tarnished Angels 5. Man of the West 6. The Lovers

@GeraghtyDarren (Darren Geraghty):
Vertigo. The Hidden Fortress, Touch of Evil, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Elevator to the Gallows, The Tarnished Angels, South Pacific, A Night to Remember,  Le Beau Serge,  Ashes and Diamonds

@adam_the_k (Adam Kuntavanish, director of Special Features and Sr. Staff Critic at Next Projection):
1. Vertigo 2. Touch of Evil 3. Bonjour Tristesse 4. Mon Oncle 5. Equinox Flower, 6. Eroica 7. Giants and Toys 8. Murder by Contract 9. Man of the West 10. Endless Desire

@ME_Says (Murtada of ME Says):
Vertigo, Cairo Station, Auntie Mame, I Want to Live!, South Pacific, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

@bybowes (Danny Bowes of Salt Lake City Weekly, and Indiewire):

@Andrew_Bemis (Andrew Bemis of Cinevistaramascope):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Dracula, The Hidden Fortress, The Magician, Some Came Running, Elevator to the Gallows

@CocoHitsNewYork (Conrado Falco of Coco Hits New York):
Robin Hood Daffy

Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Magician, Mon Oncle, Ashes and Diamonds, Elevator to the Gallows, The Music Room

@oldfilmsflicker (Marya Gates of Cinema Fanatic, creator of Noirvember):
Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), Bell Book and Candle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones, The Goddess, I Want to Live!, The Long, Hot Summer, Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds), Some Came Running, Touch of Evil

Adam Kohrman:
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Ashes & Diamonds

Tumblr responses:

Vertigo, The Blob, Elevator to the Gallows, Attack of the 50ft Woman

Bonjour Tristesse


Vertigo, I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, Touch of Evil, Look Back in Anger, Mon oncle, A Night to Remember, The Big Country, Carry on Sergeant (long live Kenneth Williams)

Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Hidden Fortress, Mon Oncle, Gigi, Thunder Road, Horror of Dracula

Touch of Evil, Vertigo, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Les Miserables, Run Silent Run Deep, A Night to Remember, Gigi, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The Ballad of Narayama

touch of evil, vertigo, hidden fortress, the blob

vertigo, touch of evil, man of the west, some came running, the hidden fortress, the last hurrah

Vertigo; Ashes and Diamonds; Touch of Evil; A Movie; The Blob

Vertigo & Mon Oncle


1. Vertigo 2. Party Girl 3. Touch of Evil 4. The Music Room 5. King Creole


Gideon’s Day and Equinox Flower

WordPress responses:

Paul Boyne:
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Some Came Running, A Night to Remember, The Blob, The Hidden Fortress, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, South Pacific, The Magician, Le Beau Serge

shadowsandsatin (of shadowsandsatin):
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones, Some Came Running, I Want to Live, The Long, Hot Summer, Separate Tables, Marjorie Morningstar, Party Girl, Vertigo, and Touch of Evil

Joel Bocko of Lost in the Movies:
1. Vertigo, 2. Free Radicals, 3. Some Came Running, 4. Touch of Evil, 5. The Hidden Fortress






Calling All Submissions for the Top Ten By Year: 1958 Poll!

I’m in the final stretch of my research for Top Ten By Year: 1958 (I’ve got about 8 viewings left). With my previous year, 1992, I conducted a poll with all you fellow film lovers, asking what your choices would be. It was such a success that I’ll be making it an inaugural kick-off of each year in the Top Ten By Year Project. So next month, be on the lookout for a series of posts that cover 1958; a Movie Music Mix, Personal Remembrance, the Top Ten, and to start it all off; the Poll Results.

Order doesn’t factor in for results, but you are more than welcome submit them that way. If you are struggling to come up with ten passionate picks, a single digit submission is equally acceptable. I don’t want 10 for the sake of 10.

Leave your lists in the comments section. Voting is open for another 4 days.

Review: The Babadook (2014, Kent)


This review was posted on CriterionCast on November 6th, 2014:

It is altogether rare when a horror film works as equal parts psychological character excavation and a genuinely scary piece of cinema (to be fair, not all horror aspires to both). In Jennifer Kent’s debut film The Babadook, the two are bone-chillingly inextricable by making a grief-ridden mother-son relationship the nucleus from which a storybook monster’s infiltration is born. Statements like this are not usually in my deck of words, but after seeing this heartbreaking and deeply disquieting tale of woe, it is hard to deny that The Babadook is the best horror film of the decade so far.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is spent. Her husband died in a car accident while driving her to the delivery room. She is raising their child Samuel (Noah Wiseman), now six, on her own. He is, to put it mildly, a handful. He suffers from serious behavioral problems and has trouble connecting to peers. He is beholden to impulses and outbursts; usually some form of shrieking is involved. And he is fixated by the idea that there are monsters lurking about. He has built dangerous defense weapons he has and brings them to school, resulting in his expulsion.

A paragraph that started about Amelia instantly became about Samuel. That’s because as we witness her everyday routine in these opening scenes, it is clear she is a non-entity in her own life. Samuel’s name is shouted countless times; we hardly ever hear hers. She is depleted; her frayed blonde hair, bare face, and barely pink uniform make her look like a shabby peach. Hell, she can’t even masturbate in peace. She has exhausted the good will of her sister (who doesn’t like to come round to her house because it’s too ‘depressing’) and a potential romantic interest turns out to be a total non-starter. Samuel is all Amelia has, and vice versa.

One night, as per their nightly routine, Samuel picks out a bedtime story book from the shelf called Mister Babadook. Amelia has never seen the book before, but nevertheless begins to read it aloud. The grotesque pop-up illustrations, which channel Dave McKean, are simple and prophetic in their black-eyed directness. And so the Mister Babadook of the macabre tale begins to invade their already vulnerable domestic space.

The Babadook of the title is a specter, an invader, a possessor, and a curse of sorts. He looks like an upright Lon Chaney in London After Midnight; its mobility is contrasted with unnerving stillness. In another of several invocations of silent cinema (magic is another through line, with Georges Méliès bridging the two) it often faces Amelia, Samuel and us dead-on and from afar, a projection of fears and the unspoken. The equally utilized use of sound tracks the insect-like clickity-clacks of unseen movement, and of course that croaky scrawl of “Bab—ba–doook. Dook. Dooooook”.

The titular creature is all of these things, and disturbing in his own right, but he is first and foremost a metaphoric manifestation of Amelia’s grief, the lurking presence of unresolved loss. Horror is so often about the lingering, about spiritual entities that have yet to reconcile their own stories. And it can easily become an uninvolving cliché because its inherent function as expository resolution. Here, the lingering belongs to the living, the Babadook an outgrowth of the taboo feelings of resentment and futility Amelia has towards her son. She loves her son, yes, but she also kind of hates him too. This film is chockfull of uneasy emotions and depressions laid bare that films tend to sideswipe and/or simplify.

Writer/director Jennifer Kent uses the roots of domestic horror to amplify the increasingly isolated central dynamic. What is supposed to be a safe space becomes distorted, the nature of family turned upside down. Amelia and Samuel’s home looks dreary despite its otherwise lovely essence. The monochromatic color palette of remote blues and grays, colors that are warm and familiar in small doses, are cold and claustrophobic in their totality, like a more naturalistic (by comparison) Possession.

Ambiguity is upheld, but Kent does not stake a claim there. At the end of the day, the question of the Babadook’s existence doesn’t really matter. What matters is that either way, all the film’s terrors and evils are borne out of real emotional turbulence. Roles and control shift into upsettingly resonant formations.

How have I drifted this far without mentioning the film’s true anchor, Essie Davis? A marvel by any measurement, her Amelia is fragile, achingly lonely, and at a loss. And then a force of nature; looming, ferocious, and unhinged. She is fighting with herself, giving in and getting out with everything she has got. She hits every single beat with an all-too relatable humanity, especially as she struggles in more way than one to be a person again. We watch as she registers the unfamiliarity she has with herself.

It is a testament to the writing and performance by Noah Wiseman that Samuel, for all his grating qualities, remains sympathetic. This is crucial; for all its other qualities, the film would not work if we felt no empathy for him. Sure, there’s no way we would want to spend a day with him, placating and smoothing things over. But Kent is always clear on the fact that Samuel is troubled and not an insolent brat. At one point, he asks his mother “Why don’t people like me”, and it is heartbreaking. The character is a tricky high-wire act of acting, editing, and directing.

Jennifer Kent brings a classical eye to her compositions, assured and stoic. The hard-hitting frights play for keeps (in other words, simple jump scares not wanted). In-camera effects are heavily relied on and it makes a considerable difference. Never underestimate the power of tangible physicality. And rest assured horror aficionados, this one gets under the skin; ambiguous without hinging entirely the internal, terrifying without ever playing its scares as an exercise. An exacting nightmare portrait of single motherhood, grief, and the unspoken complexities that can come with child-rearing, led by the ferociously powerful performance by Essie Davis, try as you might; you can’t get rid of The Babadook.