My Favorite Horror Movies.

Oct 31

In honor of Halloween 2013, here’s my top twenty horror movies.

exorcist The Exorcist. Forty years after its release, this one still disturbs me. Though it hasn’t aged well in parts and I no longer believe in organized religion (or its accompanying scare tactics about a mythical hell), this film about the possession of a young girl by a demon (or Satan himself?) and a priest’s attempt to save her still has the power to shock and frighten. Never, ever watch this one at night.

Psycho. Though this one certainly looks its age (released in 1959) and is much slower-paced than most horror films, this flick still delivers courtesy of director Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. It’s the tense exchanges between the characters, the atmosphere of dread hanging over every scene, and of course the famous shower scene which keeps Psycho among the all-time great horror films.

The Silence of the Lambs. Responsible for truly introducing the world to one of motion pictures’ most memorable villains in Dr. Hannibal (The Cannibal) Lector. The story of a young FBI agent’s efforts to track down a serial killer with the help of the incarcerated Lector makes this a fascinating detective drama laced with moments of genuine terror and suspense. Anthony Hopkins Oscar-winning portrayal of the charismatic, terrifying Lector makes this movie among the most chilling ever.

Night of the Living Dead. Shot in 1968 on the cheap in black and white, Night of the Living Dead elevated the previously campy B-film concept of zombies into a truly terrifying notion of the flesh-eating undead. Forced to work on a tight budget, director George Romero used light and shadow to create a masterpiece of horror. This film remains an influence for aspiring filmmakers. Some have tried to duplicate Romero’s success with the zombie genre, but he’s the only one (with Dawn of the Dead) to do it well.

Alien. The best science fiction horror film ever made. A mining ship answers a distress call on an alien planet and inadvertently brings an alien life form back with them. The actual creature isn’t seen often, and its attacks on the crew often appear in darkness or off-camera, but that merely ratchets up the suspense and fear. It contains only one truly graphic scene – when the “baby alien” bursts through a crewmember’s chest – but it ranks among the most famous in horror movie history. Alien is a perfect example that sometimes less is more.

Halloween. Like Night of the Living Dead, Halloween was shot on a limited budget with virtually a no-name cast (Donald Pleasance was the only known star at the time). Director John Carpenter drew upon his film influences (such as Hitchcock) to imply horror rather than using graphic “in your face” style so common today. Indeed, Halloween was credited (or blamed) with creating the slasher film genre of the indestructible villain murdering horny teenagers, but it’s a far better film than that. Halloween relies heavily on suspense and holds up well 35 years later. It truly launched Carpenter’s directorial career, as well as the career of lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

Rosemary’s Baby. A young couple moves into an apartment surrounded by strange neighbours. When the wife (Mia Farrow) becomes pregnant, she begins to fear for the safety of her baby. Directed by Roman Polanski and starring a cast of skilled veteran actors (including John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon and Ralph Bellamy), this film piles on the suspense and paranoia, leading to a chilling dramatic conclusion.

The Birds. Another classic from Alfred Hitchcock, this one about birds which for no reason begin attacking people at a small seaside town. No true reason is given for the birds action but it is irrelevant as this films turns into one family’s battle for survival against the avian onslaught.

An American Werewolf in London. A horror-comedy which delivers on the scares without deteriorating into a farce. Two young Americans are attacked on an English moor by a werewolf. One is killed, and the survivor begins to notice strange things happening to him. The iconic scene of his full transformation into a werewolf remains among the high points of special effects makeup.

Jaws. While this film gave birth to the blockbuster film, catapulted director Stephen Spielberg into superstardom and stoked an irrational fear of sharks into millions, this story of a great white terrorizing a seaside town is a riveting take on the “sea monster” film.

The Sixth Sense. Director and writer M. Night Shymalan’s work has gone downhill in recent years, but this story of a young boy who communicates with the dead and the child psychiatrist who tries to help him was Shymalan at the peak of his powers. This film delivers on many emotional levels, with a shocking surprise ending both heartbreaking and uplifting.

A Nightmare on Elm Street. Murdered pedophile Freddy Kruger returns to life via the dreams of the teenage children of the vigilantes who killed him to take his revenge. Though best remembered for the over-the-top villain, it was the unpredictable ways in which Kruger stalked his victims which made this film truly memorable. Too many sequels turned Kruger into a punchline, but the original still delivers plenty of genuine frights.

nosferatu Nosferatu. The first true silent horror film, this 1922 German take on the story of Dracula introduced the world to the horrifying vampire Count Orlok, who remains among the most iconic monsters in horror movie history. The scene where Orlok pops straight out of his coffin still shocks nearly a century later. Nosferatu became the template for all horror films – especially about vampires – which followed.

Dracula. Based on Bram Stoker’s famous novel, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of the infamous vampire Count Dracula was among the most iconic in film history. Though the acting today seems hokey, it’s the suspenseful plot which (though now well familiar) still makes this movie among the memorable horror films ever.

Frankenstein. Another film drawn from a classic novel, this story of Dr Frankenstein and his reanimated human creation owes much to the directorial skills of James Whale and of Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster,which remains among the most memorable horror movie characters of all time.

 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Another film made by an aspiring director (Tobe Hooper) on the cheap with an unknown cast, and based loosely on the story of cannibal Ed Gein, it would become the first true slasher film, though much of the violence was implied rather than revealed. It has a dark, almost greasy feeling to it, yet at the same time provides ample punch in the terror department without sinking into a cliche. Unfortunately, much of its impact had faded due to countless remakes, sequels and rip-offs.

The Blair Witch Project. Still another film made on the cheap with an unknown cast using mainly hand-held cameras, this story of found footage of three missing young filmmakers in search of the mythical Blair Witch made millions and became a media sensation in 1999. A subsequent backlash against the hype and a poorly-made sequel nearly pushed this film into irrelevancy, but it’s since begun to receive the praise it richly deserves, both for its suspenseful pacing and as an inspiration for other films based on the “found footage” genre, such as Cloverfield, Quarantine and Paranormal Activity.

the thingThe Thing. A remake of a 1950s sci-fi horror film, this story of an alien creature seeking human hosts at an Antarctic science station delivers plenty of punch. The scene where the disembodied head of one of its human victims sprouts spider-like legs and attempts to scuttle away from its human pursuers remains as shocking today as it was during the film’s 1981 release.

Scream. Renowned horror director Wes Craven’s wicked send-up of his genre also conveys a true horror story, as local teens are stalked by a killer using the ‘rules’ of horror films. Scream breathed fresh life into a tired genre, providing plenty of chills while brazenly exploiting every horror film cliche in the book. As with most horror films, however, the sequels failed to measure up to the original.

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Made in the late-1950s against the backdrop of the Cold War and the aftermath of the communist witchhunts, this film of a doctor discovering the population of his town is being taken over by alien replicants was the perfect metaphor for its time, but it stills holds up well by today’s standards.

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