Tuesday, October 18, 2005


The 10 Best Horror Movies of All Time

Still feeling very Halloween-ish. Yesterday I wrote about some of the cool monster match-ups in the movies over the years, and it got me to thinking about horror films in general. I love horror films (so did my father) and I grew up on a steady diet of them on TV and then in theaters. There was a point, in my teenage years, when I would go anywhere, to any theater, to see the latest horror film that opened that week. (And back then, before the dawn of homevideo, a new low budget horror film DID open every week.) So, I saw some of the best and worst horror films ever made. Following is a list of what I think are the best -- listed from 10 to 1:
10) An American Werewolf in London (1981): Some may consider this too much of a black comedy and not enough of a horror film, but I disagree. Laughter and screaming are closely related and director John Landis was masterful in manipulating the audience into doing both with this film. It features the best werewolf transformation scene ever on screen (and won Rick Baker his first Oscar for make-up). Plus, the nightmare sequences in this film are still the best jump-out-of-your seat moments in horror cinema.
9) Friday the 13th (1980): As I said yesterday, this film introduced audiences to the monster Jason Voorhees, but he's not the killer in this first film in the series. He does show up just in time to give us one last jolting scare. Friday the 13th truly began the cycle of the "80s horror movie franchise," while others (like A Nightmare on Elm Street) followed. At its core, it's a classic horror movie. Teenagers alone in the woods on a rainy night...and then the lights go out.
8) Frankenstein (1931): In many ways, this film is the iconographic horror film. Grave-robbing. A mad scientist. His hunchback assistant. A gothic tower, on a rainy night. And a creature brought to life from pieces of dead bodies and a psychotic's brain. Once you see it, the images are forever in your memory, even if it's been spoofed endlessly since.
7) The Ring (2003): It had been years since I saw a good horror film, and then The Ring came along and creeped me out of my skin (which isn't that easy anymore, having seen so many horror films to that point). The surreal images of this movies are edited so cleverly you start to lose the line between reality and the horror that lies beneath. See it alone and then I dare you to go into that back room, with the lights out.
6) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973): I don't care how many people tell me it was funny after they saw it, I know deep down in their guts, (and that's where this film aims --the guts) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the first from director Tobe Hooper) scared the hell out of them. Based on the real life crimes of Ed Gein, the movie is relentless; and what makes it so scary is that all of the crazies in the film (including Leatherface himself) play it straight. This is their day-to-day life -- and we are being given a bird's-eye view of the carnage.
5) Poltergeist (1982): When I first saw this film, I was in awe. It's a masterful combination of Steven Spielberg fantasy and Tobe Hooper horror. What a ride! Poltergeist opened the same summer as Spielberg's own E.T the Extraterrestrial, John Carpenter's The Thing and Paul Schrader's Cat People. What a summer! But for me, this film was at the center of it -- all at once fascinating and terrifying. Jerry Goldsmith's score and ILM's effects have never worked together better. In my opinion, the all time greatest ghost story.
4) The Exorcist (1973): What makes this film work so well for me is director William Friedkin's ability to tell it straight. The Exorcist came out in a decade of gritty moviemaking, when films, in general, felt more real. Especially films by Friedkin, who had already won the Oscar for directing The French Connection two years before. Endlessly spoofed since, but it was the number one I-dare-you-to-see-this-movie movie at the time. Catholic guilt personified. It doesn't want to make you jump as much as it wants to crawl under your skin and stay there. The first horror film ever nominated for Best Picture. It won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.
3) Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Before The Godfather Part II came out, this was considered by many to be the best sequel ever made. And it's easy to see why. All of the elements of the first film are back, plus, a haunting score (missing from the first) and the creepy Dr. Pretorius (wonderfully played by Ernest Thesiger) -- a second mad scientist who forces Dr. Frankenstein to create a mate for his first monster. Peppered with truly touching moments, and a brilliant performance by Boris Karloff, this film should be watched as a double feature with Frankenstein. It's also the film to introduce the infamous lever (if pulled) that destroys the entire lab!
2) Psycho (1960): Alfred Hitchcock, himself, said he considered this a black comedy. But, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was to follow a decade later, the characters here play it straight. (It only becomes an in-joke after you've seen the film.) Also based on the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, which inspired the Robert Bloch book upon which this film is based, Psycho is the granddaddy of what would become known, by the 80s, as slasher films. Coming when it did, at the end of the 50s, Psycho was, for many, the first glimpse anyone had seen of graverobbing, cross dressing, or mass murdering -- still Norman Bates couldn't look more normal. Think about this film next time you take a shower. What was that noise you heard on the other side of the curtain?
1) Halloween: Director John Carpenter, when he made this film, learned from Hitchcock that less is more. It's a testament to this film's power to scare you that so many viewers thought they saw more blood than they actually did. Like Psycho, much of the terror here is in the waiting and the helplessness you feel for the characters being slaughtered. Carpenter didn't need blood. He relied on classic elements of horror as well. The feeling of being alone. The notion of the bogeyman waiting outside your door. The darkness. And he sets it all on Halloween night, after building and building and building the suspense for the audience to that point. When The Shape attacks, it's almost a relief. The score, also by Carpenter, is simply one of the best ever written for a film. Forget the needless sequels that followed. In my opinion, Halloweeen is the most brilliant horror film ever made.

Because of some error in HTML or something like that the greatest horror film of all time--The Shining--failed to make your list. You should definitely look into the problem and resolve it at once!
-Guess Who
Great list of top ten. Good to see The Ring in there, and Halloween at the top.
Forgot "The Others" and I also agree with anonymous...."The Shining" is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen.

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