Happy Halloween! All of October I have been covering Halloween-related topics in my Top Fives (Movie-Inspired Costumes, Classics for Kids, Halloween Scenes from Non-Halloween Films, and last week’s Slasher Flicks). Since horror is my favorite genre, and this list falls on October 31st, I’m ending the month with a special Top Ten list. Here my Top Ten Horror Films.
The following films will not be making an appearance because they have been covered on a previous list: The Conjuring (2013), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Halloween (1978), Scream (1996), and Psycho (1960).
10. Fright Night (1985)/(2011)
I’m cheating a little with this one but it’s okay because either film could hold this spot on its own but it’s better with both. I grew up with the 1985 version, seeing it well before I was old enough, and was definitely cautious when I heard they were remaking it. This was an 80s classic camp horror flick. How could they possibly recreate the tone and joy of it? Then I saw the remake and realized the only thing I had to fear was Colin Farrell’s Jerry, the vampire. The remake was pure black comedy gold that they hid under a darkened mood and image. The result was a film that paid homage to the original and took enough successful chances to make the story its own.
9. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Every good horror list needs a good haunted house film on it and this one is the best. Supposedly based on a true story, it tells of a young family that moves into a house they learn soon enough is haunted by an evil spirit. The thing that is especially creepy about this film is how the haunting affects members of the family differently. George Lutz (James Brolin) seems to be going insane the longer they stay in the house, waking up at 3:15 am every morning and obsessed with fixing the cold temperature. While Kathy (Margot Kidder) slowly grows more terrified and paranoid with each new aberration. The more Kathy learns about the house’s history, the more convinced she becomes that it is imperative that she get her family as far away from it as possible. Both James Brolin and Margot Kidder are excellent as the young Lutz couple, and the story is good and scary. My advice would be to watch it at night with the lights off for optimal effect.
8. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
I could have chosen any number of zombie films but this one kept popping up in my mind. It certainly isn’t the first but it is one of the most influential. It popularized the slow-moving zombie, as opposed to the fast, runner zombie that would appear much later in films like 28 Days Later and Zombieland. Slow zombies are a little less scary because they can be successfully outrun but they are just as deadly and creepy. I wouldn’t want to face either. The film also kick-started the trope of being locked in somewhere remote with strangers, banding together to survive. Being stuck in one place with no sign of a feasible escape, while creatures from the dead bang at the door, is such a disturbing thought, what the hell do you do? The film ends on a rather hopeless note, with the characters having fought amongst themselves the entire time, many of them dying as a result of their inability to work together.
7. Frankenstein (1931)
The original monster (possibly even “zombie” but I won’t go there) movie. It is the story of a mad scientist who brings life to a corpse he has assembled from various body parts he has collected. The creature runs rampant in the town, hurting all those it comes in contact with, before the townspeople eventually hunt it down. It is a rough interpretation of Mary Shelley’s novel of the same name, which deals with man’s disruption of nature. What happens when people are exposed to something unfamiliar and strange? They reject and attack it. By that same vein what happens when something is introduced into a world it doesn’t understand, and fears? It attacks and defends itself, even violently when necessary. The main takeaway from both the film and the novel is that terrible things happen when humans meddle too much with forces of nature they can’t control.
6. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This may be a controversial pick for the list. Does it really qualify as a “horror” film? Obviously I think so and my reason is simple; Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) is a boogeyman that lives in the real world and is the stuff real nightmares are made of. He stalks his victims before capturing, torturing, and skinning them to provide material for his human suit. There is an appearance of a secondary character that is just as creepy, if not more so (okay, probably a lot creepier). Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is disturbing in his own right but don’t forget that he is simply a supporting character in this story. He adds a good chill to the spine here and there but the true monster of the film is Buffalo Bill and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) the true “Final Girl.” That last chase in his basement of terror is one of the most tense and uncomfortable scenes in movie history. What more “horrific” evidence do you need?
5. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
John Landis’s wonderfully weird take on the werewolf film follows two American tourists as they backpack across Europe. While traveling through England, they are attacked by a wild animal. Jack (Griffin Dunne) is killed but David (David Naughton) survives. What comes next is an hour and a half of over-the-top gore mixed with black comedy and Rick Baker’s amazing creature special effects. Seriously, he won the inaugural Academy Award for Best Makeup because they were that awesome. The transformation scene is particularly noteworthy for its incredible makeup and production design. The beautiful Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run) costars as the love interest of our tragically fated young protagonist. The resulting film is overall an entertaining scare. Just remember, “stick to the road, stay off the moors” and forget they ever made a sequel.
4. The Thing (1982)
Initially unsuccessful at the box office, over the years The Thing has become a cult classic, rightfully earning its spot among other great horror films. Its understated tension and paranoia paired with solid performances create a delightfully uneasy atmosphere. A small American research team in Antarctica discover a strange lifeform in a Norwegian camp after a bizarre encounter with them turns deadly. After they bring it back to base, horrible things start happening and crew members start disappearing. Everything happening around and to the characters is made scarier because the monster is conservatively shown in the beginning of the film. John Carpenter allows the audience’s imagination to drive their fear. This is my favorite horror film. I saw it when I was way too young and impressionable and after it was over, my parents went out and purchased stuffed animals for my sister and I, in the form of husky puppies. I have been simultaneously scarred and fascinated by the film ever since.
3. Alien (1979)
This may be another controversial pick for this particular list. Is it Sci-Fi? Is it Horror? Why can’t it be both? Every time I watch it, this film scares me over and over. It’s in a great science fiction setting with a killer monster. The crew of the Nostromo responds to a distress beacon on an unknown planet. While out searching, something attaches itself to one of them and they rush back to the ship. After he is brought back on board and miraculously recovers, it is revealed that the alien lifeform deposited something inside him when, in a most memorable scene, a creature explodes from his stomach. We then get a thrilling cat and mouse kind of chase where the crew battles this thing that keeps picking them off one by one. It’s an excellently told survival story with each scene amping up the tension level.
2. The Shining (1980)
The ultimate cabin fever film. This has haunted house, ghost, and possession stories all rolled into one. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) brings his family to the Overlook Hotel, where he will be the winter caretaker for the season. He is warned beforehand that the previous caretaker went crazy and ended up killing his family and himself but he takes the job anyway in the hopes of using the extra uninterrupted time to write. Jack Nicholson is brilliant as Torrance, gradually breaking under pressure and little by little losing his sanity as he tries to get through the winter. Under Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous direction the narrative slowly builds, getting creepier and more tense as the mysteries of the hotel start to be exposed. The result is a classic telling of a great horror story.
SPOILER ALERT (DON’T WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM)
1. The Exorcist (1973)
I would fear for life if I didn’t have this as my number one. It is historically one of the most disturbing and terrifying films ever made. Based on the book of the same name, it’s a rather simple idea; a girl becomes possessed by a demon and terrible things happen all around her. The execution of that idea is what is so perfectly done and worth noting. I have not read the book but I absolutely love the film. Possession is one of those ideas that sounds truly awful. To not be in control of your own body would be an alarming experience. It’s even worse to think of a child in that situation. I’m not sure why but stories involving little girl ghosts or demons always seem to be the most frightening. Maybe it’s because children are supposed to be so innocent and seeing them do and say horrible things is disconcerting.
SPOILER ALERT (DON’T WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM)