Horror 101: The Essentials

I've been soooooo busy all month, I feel like I've barely had time to breathe! But don't you worry. I've been watching my horror movies and THEN some. Sites everywhere have been popping up with their lists of the best horror movies of the last 15 years (and mine is coming too hopefully, tomorrow...), but that got me thinking that the CLASSICS needed some love. I haven't always been the horror junkie I am today. It's been a gradual ascent these last five years, but if you'd rather take a short cut to becoming a horror expert... you're going to need to watch all of the following.

10. Scream. 

The Number 10 spot was the hardest to fill. There were SO many great options that were so close to sneaking in here, and while I didn't necessarily want to crowd my list with slasher flicks (not that I'm against them, I just wanted to diversify my list...) I couldn't help but think the meta take Scream goes for was a game changer for the genre. Also, like another film on the list, it made the brilliant choice to shockingly kill off the character you'd least expect, far too early on. Unfortunately after this film, the sequels didn't dare take the same risks and played it safe with who was able to survive. Still, this film is a lot of fun for horror buffs and full of just the right amount of scares. And gory deaths.

9. Evil Dead II.

Like #10, this spot was incredibly hard to fill as well. After consulting my friend Kent, I agreed that putting the best entry from the Evil Dead series was a must. Evil Dead 2 is absolutely outrageous, but so much fun. It might be the first and still best film to truly master the horror comedy (though its predecessor is pretty funny itself.) It has absolutely made a lasting influence on that subgenre as other subsequent horror comedies seek to match its ability to blend exaggerated, yet humorous gore and genuine scares.

8. Poltergeist.

Poltergeist might just be the best haunted house movie ever made. At first it starts off innocently enough, where it seems that whatever entity is in the house, it's simply performing parlor tricks. Eventually the terror is dialed up, and there are moments that really stick with you. My favorites undoubtedly are the SPOILER (highlight to read) pool full of skeletons and the nightmare where he pulls off his face. /end SPOILER. Plus it creates a world where the unseen is more terrifying than anything you can imagine....which is one of the problems surrounding the sequel. Sometimes less is more.

7. Rosemary's Baby.

Rosemary's baby is the perfect example of how unsettling a horror film's atmosphere can be. There is a sense of claustrophobia to knowing how much danger Mia Farrow's Rosemary is in, but has no one to turn to. Her situation seems utterly hopeless, and that fills the audience with unbearable tension. The direction and style here is pitch perfect; its artfulness elevates it from your typical horror movie. The last scene is honestly one of the most unnerving scenes in cinema history.

6. A Nightmare On Elm Street.

I finally got around to watching this one this year (I know, I'm awful...) and I loved it. The premise is so fantastic: a killer who can only kill you in your dreams. Sleep is a necessity in life and attempting to go without it is literally exhausting. That exhaustion transfers onto the audience and you start to feel the impossibility of defeating Freddy.... which of course, led to a billion sequels. Not having seen all of them, I can't comment on their quality, but nothing can be better than the original right? Plus with time, there's just something fabulous about this particular horror film. It's campy, horrifying and fun all at the same time.

5. Halloween.

With so many knockoffs, you might not think there's much use to watching Halloween...but you'd be wrong. The opening scene and its reveal alone are completely worth your while. That setup makes Michael Myers particularly sinister because he basically has no soul. He is an absolutely ruthless villain, and his counterpart Laurie Strode (played by Jaime Lee Curtis) is absolutely one of the finest final girls of all time. Unlike films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Friday the 13th, we actually get closer with our heroine and as such we're more invested in her survival.

4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Even though Halloween has the superior final girl, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre manages to be so incredibly INTENSE. The film gets off on the right foot immediately with the introduction of the mysterious hitchhiker. You can tell from the get-go that this guy is OFF, and this to me is one of the most effective sequences in the film. The film makes a commentary of how much trust we place in strangers that they will follow a certain code of conduct, but what's horrifying here is the notion that you really can't just trust everyone. Even after that intensely creepy beginning, it still manages to continually top itself through the film. The finale pumps up the adrenaline in a way that not many horror films have been able to match. Truly terrifying. 

3. The Shining.

If you're a fan of the horror genre, there is SO much to love about The Shining. For starters, we have perhaps the most iconic Jack Nicholson performance of all time playing Jack Torrence, a father suffering writer's block who has agreed to be the caretaker for a haunted and isolated hotel. Then there's Jack's son Danny and his creepy imaginary friend who constantly takes over warning of MURDER. And that's not even to mention all the horrific imagery that hides within the hotel's walls. The Shining is expertly made and an absolute must for horror fans.

2. The Exorcist.

I finally bucked up and watched this one this year, because I knew I couldn't wait any longer to get this particular horror street cred. I was expecting the very worst from this one, but luckily I've built up enough of a tolerance that it didn't disturb me quite as much as I expected. That's not to say it isn't disturbing. There are parts in this movie that are downright messed up and the definition of horror. For me though, when I set out to write this list, I expected this to be the clear #1 (and I'm sure for many of you it is,) but the first half of the film is undeniably slow. Its setup isn't as great as its payoff which is why I'm giving the #1 spot to...

1. Psycho.

Psycho isn't just a great horror film, it's a great film period. In fact, it's perfect. It's Alfred Hitchcock's most famous film, and in my opinion, his best. This film has had such a great impact on the genre and really defined it. Psycho was a game changer that made it so anything could happen. It changed our expectations on both protagonists and villains... and it made twists a staple of the genre. Psycho is an absolute must see film and perhaps the single greatest influence of my love of the genre.

Honorable Mentions: The Changeling, The Ring, Friday the 13th, Carrie, The Omen, Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project, Night of the Living Dead.


Sarah said...

To be truthful, this isn't my favorite genre, so I've only seen two of these movies (Psycho and Poltergeist), but from everything I've heard the rest of these movies are solid choices for this top 10 list of yours.

The Former 786 said...

Not a bad list, Emily. Although I did take issue with your statement that Evil Dead II "might be the first and still best film to truly master the horror comedy." Um. .. are you forgetting about An American Werewolf in London? That preceded this film by almost 6 years and, in my humble opinion, is the better horror/comedy. Swap out Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with your honorable mentions of Night of the Living Dead, The Changeling and The Blair Witch Project and your list and mine would be pretty similar for Classic Horror.

Johanna said...

Kudos to you for your bravery!