First off, let me begin by telling all of you Happy Halloween. This may mean a range of things for most of you. Some of you may take your kids trick or treating. Maybe a few of you are dressing up and going to a party. Or maybe, like myself, you intend to watch horror movies until you are almost catatonic.
Now I watch a great many movies, and enjoy a lot of them. Horror movies prove no exception. There is just something primal about having yourself scared silly by a movie. The problem I have with horror movies is that the genre is far more prone to producing two of the things I hate about modern cinema: poorly made films and a long line of shitty sequels or remakes (the Saw Franchise anyone?). The result, is often that watching the movie scares you, not due to content of the film, but where they scrounged the money to make it in the first place.
Luckily for all of you, my dear readers, from my many nights spent watching horror movies, I have managed to create a list of what I consider to be the essentials of the horror movie genre, ones that are increasingly important as the horror genre increasingly resigns itself to remakes or sequels. The result is, that you have in front of your eyes, you have a list of the cream of the crop of the scary movies, one I hope you put to good use.
Ridley Scott’s first successful film, this science fiction thrill ride gives the meaning of the old phrase ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’ Using scene and lighting to good effect as well as showing us the various terrifying Xenomorph, whether it be the facehugger, chestburster, or the good old Alien itself.
-An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Probably my all time favorite werewolf film, it is both scary and deeply entertaining. While the transformation scene from this film is probably its most famous, the story of a young American abroad nightmarish battle with the beast within, this film is quite enjoyable. All that was missing was a Warren Zevon single for the cover track.
-The Amityville Horror (1979)
Based on a true story that itself is quite scary, this film is probably the best haunted house film ever made. Following the story of a young family as they move into their dream home, which the year prior was host to a grisly murder, this tale quickly descends into a nightmare. Also, there is a 2005 remake which is decent, but I still prefer the original.
-The Birds (1963)
I admit to being a fan of Hitchcock’s work, this film follows a small town brought to the brink by a string of attacks by the local birds.
-Black Christmas (1974)
A cult classic in certain circles, this film is the one of the original sources of the now common ‘Voice over the phone’ trope. One part sorority slasher, one part whodunit, it is certainly worth a watch, even if it has not aged well.
-The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The idea that everybody wishes that they had thought of first, this was the first film based off of ‘found footage’ to make a big splash (‘Cannibal Holocaust’ and ‘The Last Broadcast’ notwithstanding). While simple in concept, it delivers well, following three amateur film makers trying to uncover the story of the local legend of the titular Blair Witch, and one by one, falling to her.
-The Burning (1981)
Another slasher on a rampage at a summer camp film, separating itself from the other ‘Friday the 13th’ clones and earning its spot on the list for its unusually high gore level, and a few ways it breaks away from the rest of the pack – including being one of the few American horror movies I’ve seen that is not afraid to kill small children on-screen.
-Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Among the most controversial films of all time, it is also probably among the more hard hitting films on this list. The film boasts a creepy score, graphic violence unmatched until the release of ‘Hostel’, and a social commentary that bites harder than the namesake cannibals. The film follows an anthropologist sent to the Amazon jungle to recover footage from a lost documentary crew, and review of the lost footage. At the time advertised as based on a true story, the director was arrested (and later released) because the authorities thought he had made a snuff film. For those of you with an open mind, and a strong stomach, I urge you to see it.
In the modern day where news headlines are plastered with tales of bullying, I am almost of the opinion where this should be mandatory viewing for all school age kids, as it taught me more reasons not to bully other kids than any amount of PSA’s or guidance councilors ever did. Following the story of Carrie, a shy teen girl, who between her domineering religious mother and increasingly cruel schoolmates, has a truly miserable life. One she avenges tenfold once she discovers she possesses psychic powers.
-Children of the Corn (1984)
Following a group of puritanical child cultists who murder any adult that wanders into their midst, this creepy film boasts one of the eeriest opening scores I’ve yet heard.
Perhaps the only movie I’ve ever seen with a demonically possessed car, which alone is worth seeing this movie.
-The Crazies (2010)
One of the better horror films released in the last decade, it is a remake of a 1970’s Romero film. Following a handful of survivors of a viral outbreak in their small town, as they try to escape both the crazed infected and military enforced quarantine.
A series of separate sketches that could best be described as a demonic version of the Twilight Zone, while not scary, it is a deeply entertaining film.
-Dawn of the Dead (1978)
My favorite non-comedic Zombie film, this film is bloody and hard hitting, for both it’s portrayal of an undead apocalypse and it’s swipes at American consumerism. Also boasts a 2004 remake by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) that is every bit it’s equal. Both are classics and must sees.
-Dead Alive (1992)
Also known as ‘Braindead’, this zombie film laced with dripping satire was directed by Peter Jackson prior to his take on the Lord of the Rings. By far, one of the bloodiest movies I have ever seen, and yet I cannot stop watching.
-The Decent (2005)
Following a group of adventurous friends as they go caving, and get trapped in an unexplored cave system, which happens to be home to a savage group of remnant cavemen. As you could expect, the films setting plays a huge part in the terror, taking the claustrophobia and isolation one would expect to another level.
-The Evil Dead (1981)
The film responsible for the careers of both Sam Rami and Bruce Campbell, it has been a favorite of mine since a buddy introduced me to this trilogy. Following a group of college friends who go to a secluded cabin in the woods and accidentally unleash ancient demons. The film is very gruesome, and has since become a cult classic, along with it’s two sequels and main character Ash Williams.
-The Exorcist (1973)
Almost universally hailed as one of the most frightening films of all time, and rightly so in my opinion. Part of a trend of movies in this era involving demonic children, this film follows a family’s desperate bid to reclaim their daughter after she becomes possessed by the devil, and of the struggle of two priests who are attempting to expel the demon from her. The cinematography is top notch, as is the acting, with the portrayal of the demonically possessed child being one of the most terrifying performances ever given. Without a doubt, a must see.
-Final Destination (2000)
Giving a very vivid explanation that you can never cheat death, this film follows a group of people of survived a freak accident as Death reclaims them one by one.
-The Fly (1986)
A terrifying tale of a man, quite literally, falling to pieces. Jeff Goldblum portrays a brilliant scientist, who after an accident during an experiment with teleportation, fuses himself with a housefly. What follows is a gruesome and terrifying showing of him losing his humanity, in every way imaginable. The special effects and make up jobs are phenomenal.
-Friday the 13th (1980)
The film that paved the way fro the modern slasher film, as well as giving the world the silent machete wielding, hockey mask wearing Jason Voorhees. A hallmark on the genre that influenced horror movies for years to come, for better or worse.
-The Grudge (2004)
While I admit to preferring the original Japanese film, Ju-on, I admit, that the American remake is frightening in it’s own right. Sara Michelle Gellar gives her first real post-Buffy performance.
Like a smarter version of Friday the 13th, it too has made it’s mark on the genre, giving us another famed slasher, Micheal Meyers. Although some might be wary about another slasher film with an escaped lunatic as the villain, the film does well to use atmosphere and lighting rather than gore to frighten it’s audience.
Graphically disturbing, Hellraiser tells the story of a family that has it’s life changed forever upon the solving of a demonic puzzle box. It has a devoted cult following and launched the career of Clive Barker, as well as a long string of sequels.
-The Hills have Eyes (1977)
One of Wes Craven’s earlier films, this movie follows a vacationing family as their car breaks down in a desolate stretch of highway, and follows their attempts to survive being hunted by a clan of deformed cannibals that call the region home. Violent to the extreme.
-The Hitcher (1986)
Proving the age old advice to never pick up hitchhikers, this film follows a man driving cross country who not only picks up a hitchhiker, but picks a sociopathic mass killer who stops at nothing hunts him over the course of the movie.
I will be honest; This is the only horror movie that has ever to make me sick to my stomach over the sheer amount of gore. And yet, one cannot deny that this film about a few backpackers adventures gone terribly wrong, all the torture porn aside, is without a doubt terrifying. I don’t know whether to love or loath it, but I know that I feel dirty just thinking about it.
-The Howling (1981)
Another werewolf film from the early 1980’s, this film is significant in regards to the flexibility it gives werewolves, including the ability to transform at will.
-Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Probably one of the greatest remakes of all time, in this case of the classic 1950’s science fiction film, this film is quite the accomplishment. Boasting a strong cast, and all the potency of the original, this film shows an alien race creating perfect duplicates of the human race in hope of taking over the planet, and much unlike the original, leads the audience to believe we will lose. I recommend it highly.
Among my all time favorite films of any genre, Jaws is so much more than just a horror movie. The film gave birth to the summer blockbuster, the career of Steven Spielberg, and has kept generations of beach goers wondering if it really is safe to go back into the water. Boasting a musical score that is often used as the very essence of terror, it also has a superb cast who gives an all around great performance. For all of you who have not seen this classic about a killer shark, go see it at once.
-Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven’s first film, the movie follows the story of a young woman who is abducted by escaped convicts. After she and her friend is brutally raped and murdered, the convicts take refuge with her parents, whom exact a fitting revenge on them. Also has a recent remake which is fairly good in it’s own right.
-Let the Right One In (2008)
This Swedish film had a recent American remake that is at the same level of quality, but I myself prefer the original. Following the story of a young boy who is constantly bullied and his friend that is not just a young girl, but also a vampire, and the bond they form. Its one part horror movie, one part film of a child’s first love, and either way it draws you in. By far one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen.
-The Lost Boys (1987)
An excellent teen-vampire movie (100% sparkle free at that) staring the Corey Haim and Feldmen at their buddy-buddy best. On the downside, I am fairly sure this movie played a role in the recent uptrend of teen vampire media. Nevertheless, it is a good movie.
-Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The one and only, this movie is without a doubt a must see. Giving the general public the first major appearance of non-voodoo related zombies in cinema, even almost half a century later, these flesh eating ghouls still haunt us on the silver screen. Following the efforts of several people attempting to survive an outbreak of the risen dead, Zombie enthusiast or not, this terrifying film is a must see.
-A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
My personal favorite slasher film, it tears the boundaries between what is real and what is not, with Freddy Krueger killing teenagers in a place most people would think to be completely safe: Their dreams. With blades for fingers and wisecracks ready, Freddy is more than able to take bloody vengeance on the various teens that fall asleep.
-The Omen (1976)
Starring one of my favorite actors, Gregory Peck, you know that you are in for a treat with this movie. One of the many demonic children films released around this time, ‘The Omen’ follows a family as they find out that their adopted son is the Antichrist. And more importantly, that there is almost nothing they can do to stop him. And in this regard, the film does so well at turning a child, so often a symbol of innocence, into this demonic figure. Top it off with a good soundtrack and splendid acting jobs, and you have a classic.
-Open Water (2004)
Based on a true story, the movie follows a couple accidentally abandoned in the Pacific by their dive group. Capturing the full extent of both the terror and psychological torture of the two as they deal with isolation, sharks, and no hope of rescue. Haunting and chilling, the film is a must see for fans of more unique horror films.
-The Others (2001)
A brilliant haunted house film starring Nicole Kidman. With a superbly dark and dreary atmosphere, as well as good acting work, this is one of the better horror films released in the last decade.
-Pet Cemetary (1989)
This movie deals with so many sacred cows and slaughters them all with such ease. The story follows a family that lives near a pet cemetery, that just so happens to be an old Indian burial ground. One that brings what ever is buried there back to life. I won’t spoil it for you, but in the ultimately unheeded words of the character Pascow, ‘Sometimes, dead is better.’
Following another family that moved into a house built on top of a cemetery, and the many hauntings they have because of it. And if that isn’t enough, there are rumors that the movies themselves are cursed.
A masterpiece by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock, this film gave birth to the the horror genre hallmark known as the slasher. Even if you haven’t seen the whole film, chances are good you have at least seen a version of the infamous shower scene. With that in mind, go see the whole movie.
-The Ring (2002)
The first, and still the best adaptation of a Japanese horror movie, the entire plot revolves around a cursed video tape that after 7 days of viewing it, you either die, or show someone else the movie, thus repeating the process, the namesake ring. Not only is the plot original, but the film relies on story line and atmosphere rather than gore to deliver it’s frights.
-Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The last of what I’ve dubbed the Satanic Child Trilogy (The other two being ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Omen’), this film follows one woman’s ordeal of having to give birth to the Antichrist. Certainly one of the scariest movies of all time, without a single ounce of gore.
While these days remembered for giving birth to a long string of crappy sequels, one must remember what gave birth to this long string of torture porn. The first film (and only one I have watched more than once) provided audiences with a slasher, calling himself Jigsaw, turning himself into a sort of gamesman, and in the process allowing a dark look into human nature, and what people will do to live.
While admittedly, not your typical horror movie, where instead of slashers and monsters, it chooses to deal with psychics and birth defects. Nevertheless, it is a good movie, and one where heads explode at that.
This film happily uses and parodies many of the horror genre’s cliches. With a cast that in hindsight just reeks of the nineties, the story follows a slasher calling himself Ghostface as he picks of the characters, which with the high level of awareness from the cast, certainly hits home harder then the normally ambiguous idiot teenagers that get picked off like scabs. With it’s dark humor and plot, it gives the audience a smarter-than-the-average slasher film that I admit is a must see.
-The Shinning (1980)
Perhaps the most frightening movie ever made, this Stanley Kubrick film is one of the few that every time I watch it, it still surprises me. Ignoring Jack Nicholson’s amazing and terrifying performance, between the camera angles, relentlessly increasing terror, and brutally effective ways of scaring the viewer, there is almost nothing wrong with the film. I urge everyone to see it at once.
-The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Probably the only horror movie in history to have won an Oscar for Best Picture, it has fully earned that pedigree. Both Anthony Hopkins and Jodi Foster provide the performance of a lifetime, and it has a storyline with some legitimately creepy moments. And of course, giving birth to the character Hannibal Lector.
-The Sixth Sense (1999)
M. Night Shaymalan’s first and best movie. The film deals with a child psychologist who is helping a young boy who sees spirits of the dead. It’s gripping, suspenseful, and the ending is probably one of the most famous twists of all time.
-Sleepaway Camp (1983)
The most insane ending from any horror movie I’ve ever seen.
-The Stepfather (1987)
The film tells of a man who having just murdered his last family, has set up a new identity and has remarried. As the daughter grows more and more suspicious of her stepfather, his carefully crafted personality collapses, with bloody results. Terry O’Quinn’s performance alone is worth watching the film for. A sadly under rated film.
Flamboyant and inovative, this may be one of the best looking horror movies of all time.
-The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Following a group of unfortunate travelers whom happen to stop and ask for gasoline from a group of inbred cannibal hillbillies, led by one called Leatherface. While it is another slasher, it relies mainly on suspense and atmosphere, and the setting is one thing I always found interesting, with its portrayal of the west as a barren wasteland that spits in the face of the long held and treasured visions of the old west.
-The Thing (1982)
Another gem from John Carpenter, easily one of my personal favorites. The isolation and paranoia proves just as terrifying as the alien beast that hunts the cast. A must see.
-Zombi 2 (1979)
An unofficial European made sequel to ‘Dawn of the Dead’, it has two very famous scenes, one of which is a zombie attacking a shark. It also boasts one of my favorite horror movie twist endings.
-28 Days Later (2002)
A brilliant Zombie film from the UK, with one of the better examples of ‘fast’ zombies. Following the main character as he wakes up from a coma to find a virus having turned almost the entire population island of Britain into a bunch of bloodthirsty psychopaths. This movie helped kill the tradition that all zombies are slow and clumsy.
And that is my list of what I consider to be horror movies every one should see. If you think I forgot one, or disagree with my picks, feel free to tell me. And more importantly, if you feel up to the challenge, watch them all… if you dare…
Happy Halloween everybody!