Top Ten Horror Films
In no particular order, these are 10 horror films that I enjoy watching. For the sake of having variety in the list, I’ve tried to include films that span different decades. The films will also be ordered according to the year they were released.
The Wolfman directed by George Waggner (1941)
Starting off the list is an iconic monster film, and my personal favorite from the Universal classic monsters collective of films. Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as Larry Talbot, a man who returns home after hearing of the death of his brother. While there, Larry seeks to reconcile with his estranged father, and he tries to find love in the process. In this film, we get a heartbreaking performance from Lon Chaney, Jr. At just 70 minutes long, that’s the only issue that I have with the film. I wish it was longer, because George Waggner treated the character of the Wolfman as a flawed human whom deserves sympathy.
Rosemary’s Baby directed by Roman Polanski (1968)
The film has John Cassavettes, a charismatic actor and arguably the face of independent filmmaking, and the beautiful Mia Farrow. Throw in Roman Polanski and you have a paranoid, psychological horror film that even has you, the viewer, questioning the motives of your own family members.
Halloween directed by John Carpenter (1978)
I know I said the list was in no particular order, but this may just be my favorite horror film of all time, and Michael Myers is certainly my favorite horror screen presence of all time. John Carpenter’s iconic film still makes me jump after multiple views. Supernatural elements are mixed with horror elements to make this the perfect film to watch on Halloween.
Alien directed by Ridley Scott (1979)
Many people consider James Cameron’s effort to be superior to the first one. While James Cameron is one of my favorite directors, I actually vouch that Ridley Scott’s original is the best in the franchise. The psychological horror film relies on an atmosphere of uncertainty, and I prefer that over the action film that James Cameron made. Ridley’s film has your heart racing as you watch characters turn every corner, and the fact that the Alien is never fully revealed until the last act makes for an engaging audience participation. The audience anticipates the revelation, but they’re also terrified of what this revelation may bring.
The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick (1980)
My mother introduced me to Stephen King’s work while I was growing up, so it’s a given that one of the films based on his writing had to end up on here. Add Stanley Kubrick being one of my favorite directors and this one is automatically cemented on the list. Kubrick’s take on the story is a cerebral one, and although it took some liberties with the source material, it’s become one of the most iconic and most discussed films. What makes it work is not the horror elements, it’s the philosophical discussions that it generates.
The Thing directed by John Carpenter (1982)
John Carpenter. Kurt Russell. Outstanding practical effects. Isolation. Paranoia. The film makes you question who’s good and who’s evil. In the end, you’re left wondering if there’s anyone you can trust from the surviving characters.
Evil Dead 2 directed by Sam Raimi (1987)
The sleeper hit Evil Dead went on to be a cult classic with its main character achieving pop culture status. What I love more about the sequel is that I feel it defined the character of Ash Williams that we were introduced to in the first one. This film is funny, bloody, filled with gore, and shows us a charismatic, everyday man that must rise to the occasion and become the hero that he had no interest in becoming.
Begotten directed by E. Elias Merhige (1990)
If you ever asked yourself “What would a horror version of the story of Genesis be like?” then this is your answer. This black and white silent film seeks to give us an eerie reimagining of the Genesis story. The film has grotesque and graphic images of human suffering, and although it has no jump scares, I can assure you this is the worst movie to watch in the dark when you’re alone at your home.
Dark Water directed by Hideo Nakata (2002)
When it comes to Hideo Nakata, I’ve noticed that his horror films almost always deal with the relationship between a mother and their child. This film is probably the least “scary” on my list, but the powerful story still has its moments that pack a punch. When a recently divorced woman moves into an apartment building with her daughter, strange things begin to happen. A little girl had disappeared some time before, but she is now seen wandering the halls of the building. The woman must then figure out what happened to the little girl, and we see what a mother is willing to do to save a daughter from eternal suffering. The ending to this film, in my opinion, is one of the saddest endings that any film has had.
Silent Hill directed by Christophe Gans (2006)
I had to end the list with a guilty pleasure of mine. Silent Hill 2 might just be my favorite game of all time, and video game films never really turn out so well. This film is far from being great, but I argue that it may be the best video game film that’s been made so far. It emulated the video game series decently, from the disturbing images to the eerie atmosphere that permeates through the film. The movie may have its flaws, but I can forgive them. It did a good job at bringing Silent Hill to the screen, and I only hope that the franchise falls into the right hands so we can see the great psychological horror film that the video game series deserves.
Horror is a bit of a loose term, usually used to describe films with blood, guts, gore, and creepy special effects. Then you have your sub lineations like psychological thrillers, horror flicks, gore porn, drama and suspense, and so on.. For this list of mine, I’ve decided to define horror as any film that burned itself into my mind, whether solely on its atmospheric levels or the ability to creep me out with its storyline, themes, and visual imagery. Horror is a beautiful, all-encompassing genre, and there are always new masterpieces being created(one recently created is known as La Cueva by Alfredo Montero, along with the thriving independent horror scene of this day and age.
With that said, I’ll try and be brief for most of the films, and the order I feel they should belong in, in my opinion.
David Cronenberg films are always a trip, and while he has moved onto more psychological territory along the lines of Cosmopolis, A History of Violence, and Maps to the Stars, but Videodrome has a special place in my heart. I saw the first few minutes of it when I was 14, was terrified by the relentlessness of the film in cruelty and horror, and didn’t fully watch it until I was sixteen or so. When I saw it all the way through, I was astounded by the film: James Woods brings it as the sleazy cable network programmer, and “The Medium is the Message” is twisted around as a horrid mirror of our technology-obsessed selves.
Not all horror movies are gore exploitation fests, as I have mentioned before. Some films just scream out to you, goosebumps on your arms as the atmosphere takes effect and the true terror of brutal human reality and evils come into effect. I can describe no better a film with this effect than Fritz Lang’s M. No overblown effects or Hellraiser monsters: the human monster, flawed and empathetic and horrible all at the same time, and Peter Lorre is hypnotic to watch in this German film. Watch his eyes throughout the film: a whole character history is right there, in this great film.
3. John Carpenter’s The Thing
I will state my bias straight out and say I am a huge John Carpenter fan: I think, even with his latest films, he understands horror. His remake of The Thing from Another World, titled simply The Thing and released right around the same time as E.T, and infinitely worthier of praise, this is one of the hallmarks of horror. Add Kurt Russell and fantastic,practical special effects and you have a real treat to watch.
4. In The Mouth of Madness
My favorite semi-adaptation of HP Lovecraft lore, and another John Carpenter production, it’s a severely underrated film, starring Sam Neill. Sam Neill plays an investigator of corporate frauds, hired to find the mysterious and enigmatic horror writer Sutter Cane. What he finds in his search is far worse than any normal white-collar case: he, and the audience, as well, find ourselves drawn into a world already foretold by the Great Old Ones, of Lovecraft lore. Watch this film.
5. The Shining
THE Quintessential horror, and psychological trip of a film, straight from the mind of Stanley Kubrick distorting Stephen King’s original material, and infusing his own take on the perils of a family trapped by their own resentment, and the superb performances of Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson, trapped in the Overlook Hotel, create a mesmerizing effect of chilling, foreboding horror.
A Japanese surrealist-absurdist-black-humor-tinted film of psychedelic proportions, and a great film, to boot. Trying to put into words the plot of this film is tough, because it’s the usual cliche of a group of Japanese girls going to visit an out-of-town spinster aunt. Fantastic visuals and just a fun, grindhouse-like film to watch.
7.Night of the Living Dead
While there were other zombie films dating back to Warner Bros. and Universal Monster Studios Films, this is the granddaddy of them all: the best film George Romero ever made, next to the original Dawn of the Dead, of course. What is most surprising about this film, in retrospect, is not only the lack of hardcore gore in a zombie film, but the way the subtext of racism is blended in, and creates an amazing impact with the ending.
An underrated little gem from Robert Rodriguez, The Faculty shouldn’t work: it’s rushed, paced to an eleven, cliche “aliens took over my teachers and want to take over the school and then the world” storyline, this film works because it pays tribute to classic horror films, while taking off with the group dynamics and the great performance by Elijah Wood.
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978 version
I am partial to this version of the film mainly because there is no subtext of Soviet infiltration, along with the fantastic performances, the way the whole “Body Snatcher” idea becomes interwoven with cult-like symptoms, the chilling ending sequence, the chase through the Body Snatcher Power Plant/Garden, and fantastic performances from Leonard Nimoy and Donald Sutherland are all you need to enjoy this great flick.
10. They Live
Roddy Piper is fantastic in this film that stands the test of time: this film deals with the horror of a governing body already being sold out to the higher elites, and the lower masses, poverty-stricken and powerless, are killed en masse, until a hero comes and finds out the truth. In short, a classic film.