The 10 Horror Films You Must See to be a Well-Rounded Film Fan
There are some folks out there that don't watch horror movies. Some see the genre as nothing but boring trash, others don't like to be scared, and some just never got over a bad experience as a child. These are all valid reasons to not watch something: with more media than ever at our fingertips, why waste time watching things you know you won't like?
Still, in order to be a truly well rounded lover of film, you have to be willing to outside your comfort zone. You have to get past your dislike of black-and-white films to watch Citizen Kane, your annoyance with subtitles to watch the masterpieces of Bergman and Kurosawa, and accept all the discomfort that comes with watching The Birth of a Nation.
And yes, it means getting past whatever fears and objections have kept you away from horror movies. Fear is the engine that drives many of the movies you love, horror movies just take that idea to it's terrifying, logical conclusion.
Turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and don't be afraid to close your eyes if you have to. They're only movies after all.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
While a subset of the current generation of horror filmmakers are in the middle of an arms race to see who can make the most graphic film imaginable, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a testament to the power of idea. While the movie is shocking, it's not particularly graphic; there's very little blood on account of the filmmakers thinking they were making a film that would get rated PG. TCM is a movie that doesn't need blood to be scary, however; sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes those bad things involve cannibalism and chainsaws.
Dracula may have been first of the iconic Universal monsters, and The Mummy may be a better movie, but Frankenstein is the icon. With Jack Pierce's makeup effects and Boris Karloff's charisma, the film gave birth to a character that still exists in pop culture to this day while delivering a fantastic movie along with it. You may know Dracula and the Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but when it comes to the confederation of baddies from Universal Frankenstein will always be the best.
8. The Blair Witch Project
Movies are expensive, but horror is the one genre that regularly sees low budget films break in to the mainstream. Made on a budget of $35,000, The Blair Witch Project took a simple idea (the video of a college project gone horribly wrong) and made millions with it. It's the template that many a young horror filmmaker has taken in the years since its release. If you want to know why so many found footage horror movies exist and how the horror of the real can be powerful, you have to start with The Blair Witch Project.
Fear of the unknown is one of the most powerful fears of all, and no film represents that better than Alien. One of the great things about the film is that the characters in danger aren't dumb; they may be working class, but they're logical. The problem is they run in to something that's completely - sorry for the pun - alien that they had no way of preparing for. It also features some of the greatest creature designs in the history of film and some breathtaking sets.
Horror transcends language. Every culture has their own set of monsters and scary stories, and every culture has their own take on the horror film. Audition comes from Japan, and is the simple story of a widowed man looking for love under false pretenses. If this were a romantic comedy, the girl would find out, she would be upset, but things would work itself out before the credits started. That's not how horror works, and before all is said and done things get real, real dark. Don't believe it? Well, just know that it ended up at #11 on the list of scariest movie moments for a very good reason.
Jaws has what is perhaps the greatest jump scare in history, which alone would be enough to get it on this list. Jaws is also one of the few legit horror blockbusters, a movie that transcends the genre and gets labelled as a "thriller" by folks who don't believe horror movies are any good. While it's not a constant thrill ride, it does have its moments of pure terror. It also has one of the top 2 most iconic scary music cues of all time.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Decades after Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man had ceased to be scary, '80s audiences got their own trilogy of bad guys to call their own. While Halloween's Michael Meyers and Friday the 13th's Jason have their legion of fans, to the masses Freddy Krueger was the king of the slasher. While the sequels are less scary and more comedy, the original film that introduced audiences to the razor-gloved menace is a great, interesting film with some awesome effects work and crazy atmosphere.
Some movies eventually obtain that "you have to watch it!" status, even when we're not even sure why anymore. Sure, you can vocalize your love of The Godfather or Gone With the Wind, but when someone tells you they've never seen it your immediate response is, "you have to watch it!" In horror, that movie is Psycho. It doesn't matter why it's a masterpiece, it just is. If you absolutely need a reason, just know that "the shower scene" is the most iconic scene in the history of horror.
2. The Exorcist
There was a time when horror fell into one of two camps: you had the real - with murderers, deadly animals, and the like - and you had the fantastic - the monsters, demons, and so on. By combining the two, by taking a very real spin on the fantastic, you have a horror movie that hit audiences like a bomb. There's a reason that even now PR folks looking to drum up publicity for their films try and find that review that claims their film is "the scariest since The Exorcist." When it comes to horror there's before The Exorcist and after The Exorcist, and that's how it will always be.
1. The Shining
If Jaws is "the blockbuster", Psycho "the classic", and The Exorcist "the game changer", The Shining is "the epic." That's a weird label for a movie that takes place in one (giant) location, but Stanley Kubrick didn't make small films. The combination of large sets, amazing camerawork, and a running time that allows you to really get to know the characters before everything goes wrong makes the film less a movie and more an experience. The film may be the story of a family in crisis in a haunted hotel, but in the hands of Kubrick it becomes one of the greatest ghost stories of all time.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.