As promised, I have compiled a list of my favorite horror movies. The following nine movies are presented in no particular order, except the order in which they popped into my head.
1. M (1931)
Directed by legendary Fritz Lang, who also brought us Metropolis, this film is a study in suspense. Peter Lorre delivers a terrifying performance as a child murderer, who not only horrifies his young victims and their parents, but also convincingly portrays the agony of his affliction. One of the first films to focus on the concept of a serial killer, M is a natural starting point for any budding horror movie enthusiast.
2. The Shining (1980)
Also directed by a legend, Stanley Kubrick brings his dark, meticulous vision to the Overlook Hotel. From a superbly selected score to a lead actor in the form of Jack Nicholson who plays crazy just a little too convincingly, this movie is chilling from start to finish. However, it is the bloody images of two eerie little girls that always cause me to watch the scenes from between the cracks of my fingers.
3. High Tension (2003)
After this small French film, Alexandre Aja went on to direct the spectacularly brutal (and much more successful) remake of the Hills Have Eyes. But it is his lesser known piece that sticks with me. A clear homage to the slasher flicks of the 70’s & 80’s, there are many things about this film that should not work. From situations we’ve seen many times before, to a familiar, faceless killer, to the plot twist all filmmakers seem to employ nowadays, Aja somehow makes it all feel brand new. Add to it Cecile De France’s command performance as Marie, and you get a very bloody, very passionate movie.
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Not only does this movie provide some of the most paralyzing moments on this list, it is arguably also the best film of my lifetime. One of only three movies in history to sweep the Oscars, Anthony Hopkins gives life to an iconic character and Jodie Foster reminds me why she’s one of the smartest actresses working today. A couple of trips to the doctor’s cell and some clever cross-cutting later, the climax of this film still leaves me breathless, even though I know by now that Agent Starling defeats Buffalo Bill in the shadows of that basement.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The precursor of the slasher flicks, this movie proves that less can be more. Without the amount of sex and gore of the subgenre it helped shape, this film proved how effectively scary the statement ‘based on a true story’ could be. No more real than the masked killers it inspired, this movie nonetheless delivers with its claims of veracity, its stark soundtrack (the movie itself is scoreless) and its collection of unforgettably creepy characters.
6. Halloween (1978)
If Leatherface is the stern daddy figure that spawned the infallible masked killer prototype, Michael Meyers is the cooler, older brother everyone wants to be. The first of the Unholy Trinity (joined in ’81 by Jason Vorhees and ’84 by Freddy Krueger), this movie makes my list for simply being the best of the slew of movies these three would eventually inspire. A simple premise, illustrated by a disturbing point-of-view shot in the beginning of the film, and lots of blood, sex and mayhem later, Halloween became Carpenter’s classic.
7. Jaws (1975)
Proving once again that necessity is the mother of invention, Steven Spielberg had to shoot around a malfunctioning mechanical shark. Using water-level shots and John William’s ominous score, the viewer’s imagination is left to fill in much of the horror. The result of not seeing the shark on screen until a substantial portion of the movie has passed is still causing viewers to scream in fright and keeping potential swimmers firmly on the ground. Wildly successful, this movie launched the concept of ‘blockbuster.’
8. Psycho (1960)
A master in his trade, Alfred Hitchcock built a career out of the subtle art of surprise vs. suspense. This movie has a bit of both. Surprise is when Janet Leigh meets her untimely end in the shower less than halfway through the movie. Suspense is when we know a killer resides at the Bates Motel for the rest of the film, while the rest of the characters do not. With possibly one of the greatest lines ever in a horror movie, Psycho still has us going a little mad almost 50 years later.
9. Scream (1996)
In the mid-90’s, Wes Craven reinvented the horror genre with his clever, self-aware Scream trilogy. Employing the slasher flick cliches, while at the same time poking fun at them, Scream will make you laugh just as often as its titular reaction. Beating out even Psycho with its shocking murder, Craven kills his blond bombshell in the opening act, a small role performed smartly by Drew Barrymore. Video-store-geek Randy’s rules for surviving a horror movie should be a mission statement for any horror film aficionado.
So that’s my list. Not meant to be comprehensive, it’s just a fun collection in honor of Halloween. I invite you to leave your favorite horror movie in the comments. Unless, of course, you can’t stomach the genre. In that case, you could write about the movie that scared you so much, you can no longer watch anything scarier than Fox News.