It is that time of year again when we celebrate the Halloween season with spooky and scary movies. In the spirit of the season I have put together a top 10 list of my favorite horror movies. Because of how much ground the horror genre covers, I could make dozens of top 10 lists focusing on each specialized sub-genre but for this list I decided to focus on films that have made the biggest impact on me either by blending the perfect mix of horror and humor, scaring me really badly, disturbing me so badly that I never want to see them again or making a big impact on horror itself. Some of these movies I will see every time they come to the revival theater and put in the blu-ray on Halloween and others I may never see again. All of them mean something personally to me and as such should not be considered a definitive best of list but rather the 10 movies in a genre I love that have made the biggest mark on me as a film fan. I’ve added poster images as well as trailers. As per usual, I am interested to hear your feedback in the comments section. Please include your own list if you don’t agree with mine and remember that the 10 horror movies I like the most does not in any way inform the readers of my sexual preference nor my ability or lack thereof to have sex. Nothing on this list will revert me back to being a virgin no matter how much you might fervently hope it will. Also, if you care so much about my preference in movies that you become concerned with my private life it would probably be a good idea to talk to someone in a professional setting. So with all that out of the way, on to the list:
10. Alien (1979): This might not be the first movie that leaps to mind when considering horror movies but that is mostly because of the sequels eschewing horror for sci-fi action. I saw this when I was 10 just after Aliens came out on video. My parents let me watch Aliens because they figured if there was a little girl in it then there was no way the content could be too bad. This was typical logic with them when there was something they wanted to see and they were bargaining with no one in particular about the appropriateness for me to see it. Aliens was awesome. I was way too into space marines blowing the shit out of aliens to be scared and I was very interested in seeing the first movie. With no credible leg to stand on regarding the R rating, my parents relented the next night and I watched Ridley Scott’s original. It scared the holy living shit out of me and I spend the next few months inspecting the ventilation grates in the house for face huggers. Scott drew the tension to a painful degree and the isolation and lack of knowledge about the xenomorph made it terrifying. It is hard to watch Alien with that eye now because we know so much about the franchise and it has gone in some bad directions, but the first film was terrifying to a 10 year old expecting to see more of Ripley punching the xenomorph queen in the mouth with a loader.
9. House of 1000 Corpses (2003): A love letter to 70′s exploitation horror, House of 1,000 Corpses manages to transcend the source material to become a much creepier and more desperate film than those from which it drew inspiration. Following a well-worn formula of a group of travelling young adults running afoul of a family of psychotic sadists, director Rob Zombie has the benefit of years worth of refinement to deliver a movie that looks raw and dirty and has absolutely no mercy. It is creepy and unsettling and leaves you feeling like you need a shower. The feelings of desperation and hopelessness are palpable as you watch hope fade for the unlucky travellers as even would be rescuers fall victim to the family. There is some cynicism about Rob Zombie as a director but frankly I think he understands this kind of film better than anyone else that didn’t pioneer it.
8.The Mist (2007): When I was about to sit down to watch the Mist, based on a Stephen King short story from the anthology Skeleton Crew, a friend of mine asked what I was going to watch and when I told him he shuddered and said ‘wait until you get to the end.’ I brushed it off and pushed ahead. The movie, about a small town dealing with a deadly mist that rolls into a town carrying monsters, is an intense character study that looks at how people react in a crisis and how quickly it takes to turn on one another. The monsters outside are only marginally more dangerous than the ones inside and the Frank Darabont directed film is intense and engaging but it wasn’t really frightening or particularly messed up. Then I got to the end and shouted ‘what the FUCK’ and my friend just nodded and said ‘yep.’ I will not spoil the ending but the Mist has stuck with me for years and the ending still makes me cringe every time I think about it. It doesn’t rely on startles and jump scares but rather puts all its money on dread and creeping terror. It is very effective and I probably will never watch it again…but then I don’t have to because it is burned deep on my brain.
7. Descent (2005): Claustrophobic and taut this Cavers-running-a-foul-of-subterrainian-cannibals movie freaked me out in a fairly big way just a few years ago when I finally saw it. I used to cave once upon a time so the film might have more traction with me given that I have been in a lot of caves and am familiar with the experience. I don’t think you need to have caved, though, to appreciate the fear inherent in not having any space to manuever and having a bunch of hungry flesh craving bastards chomping at your bits. The film uses this to great advantage using darkness and sound to heighten the sense of terror and lack of balance. There is no safety in the dark and not knowing when the monsters are going to come for you makes it that much worse. The movie takes an activity that is scary in and of itself and then ratchets it up in a way that is credibly scary as opposed to campy or silly. Even seeing this in my thirties didn’t dull the impact of the tension in this movie.
6. Evil Dead 2 (1987): A classic of horror comedy, this movie really needs no introduction. Given how much Ash and the Deadites have embedded themselves in to pop culture, it is hard to think of this movie, which offers a ton of laughs amid a parade of surreal effects, as terrifying or scary but my first experience with it left me sleeping on the floor in my parent’s room shaking in fear. I didn’t actually see Evil Dead 2 when I was 11 but my parents took me to a movie at the drive in, I have no recollection whatsoever what that movie was, and I looked at one of the other screens and saw an out of context scene from Evil Dead 2 and that was all it took. That scared me long enough that my parents wouldn’t have been too far off taking me to a psychiatrist to have me looked at for emotional problems. In high school I went with friends to see Army of Darkness and, after loving it, I was told it was a sequel to the Evil Dead movies. I was shocked and couldn’t reconcile the two experiences. I rented the first two movies and while the first movie is still a legitimately scary movie, I was delighted by part two and wondered how I could have ever found it scary. Scary or not Evil Dead 2 is a horror masterpiece that broke horror conventions by trading the Final Woman for Bruce Campbell’s Ash and gave him a story arc that took him from weak and terrified victim to flat out crazy hero. This also went a long way toward legitimizing the horror comedy format and has inspired many a film maker in the years since.
5. Scream (1996): While we are talking about films that redefined genre, the first Scream film was a shock when it first came out. I remember seeing trailers for it and blowing it off as another cookie-cutter slasher movie but co-workers at the video store I worked at kept badgering me to see it. I finally relented and was immediately taken by the humor, the brilliant self-awareness and the tension inherent in the murder mystery as it unfolded. It is easy to be cynical now after the sequels have tarnished the brand a bit as well as the litany of copy-cat films, but the first movie was a game changer at the time and it deserved to be. From a Hitchcockian fake out in the beginning to its constant giving of clues only to take them right back again, Scream managed to be intense and creepy while keeping the audience guessing. I saw the movie in the theater several times, each one dragging a friend along who hadn’t seen it yet just to watch their faces as the movie went on. As far as I am concerned Scream is one of Wes Craven’s best works.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): Not to belabor the segue, but one of Wes Craven’s other best works is A Nightmare on Elm Street, a movie that scared me so much that I had nightmares about Freddie Kruger for years afterward. An inventive take on the slasher genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street did something that no other movie had done before it nor has done since: The slasher could actually come after you when you weren’t in the theater or watching it on TV. Sure you can have nightmares about Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees but those guys are physical beings that would have to lay hands (or machetes) on you. You dream about them, that is no big deal, they aren’t real and you know it is a dream. The beauty of the concept of a monster who can kill you in your dreams is that when you stop watching the movie and start to dream, the guy is there threatening you in his native environment and your subconscious continues the movie for Craven. My fear of Freddie was so great that I learned lucid dreaming just to get the nightmares to stop. A Nightmare on Elm Street is the horror gift that keeps on giving all year round.
3. Nightwatch (1997): The story of a night watchman at a morgue who becomes embroiled in a rash of serial killings, Nightwatch is hands down the scariest movie I have ever seen. I saw it for the first time when I was 23 and it freaked me out in a very real way. Some people might charge that this is less of a horror movie and more of a thriller but I think for as scary as it is it definitely needs to be included. When I worked at a video store, one of the most common and most difficult questions I was asked was ‘what is the scariest movie you have?’ Because people are scared by a variety of things and in different ways it is pretty hard to make a recommendation for a definitively scary movie. That changed after I saw Nightwatch. I recommended it for years and I have yet to have anyone come back and tell me it wasn’t scary. The performances from Ewan McGregor, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Brad Dourif and Patricia Arquette are terrific and the inherent creepiness coupled with a patient director who has confidence in the material enough to stretch out tension to a razor sharp edge makes for a truly terrifying movie.
2. Fright Night (1985): Fright Night is one of my two favorite movies of all time. A fantastic example of how to blend horror, gore, satire and comedy together, Fright Night manages some baseline creepiness but is mostly concerned with sending up Hammer horror films with love and affection. Fright Night is from a simpler time before vampires sparkled and effects were all CGI and one of the great things about it is that its effects still work today. The movie hold us up just as well now as it used to aside from that fact that it is now the equivalent of the sort of movies it was sending up. But that is okay because the intentional cheesiness is all part of the fun. I enjoyed the 2011 remake but, for me, the original will always be the best if only because it did it first. This is also the movie that made me a horror fan as opposed to a huge wuss afraid of my own shadow.
1. The Cabin in the Woods (2011): Okay so yeah, this was finally released this year and you might be balking at the idea that such a new movie is number one but if you are doing that then you either have never seen the movie or we probably would never speak in polite company. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard and directed by Goddard, the Cabin in the Woods is the most spot on deconstruction of the horror genre I have ever seen and does it so well that horror movies following it are going to have to try really hard to distinguish themselves. The movie is absolutely hilarious and gives some of the best what the fuck moments of any movie in years. If you are a serious horror fan and know the genre inside and out there is so much to love here. There are those who might find it smug and patronizing but I think they are watching it outside of the way it is intended. It is a love letter to horror films that rivals the sweetest romance and plays with genre conventions so well because it knows them inside and out and loves them even more than that. Someone who hated horror films could never do this and it invites repeat viewings by being chock full of Easter eggs and details. If you don’t know what it is about, don’t let anyone spoil it for you. Don’t even watch the trailer below this entry because THAT gives too much away. The Cabin in the Woods is incredible.
So there it is. Remember these are my favorites and not necessarily the best. If you want to comment then please do below and let us see your list!