Halloween is upon us, which means it is the best time to completely numb your senses with fear with your favorite horror movies. The horror genre isn’t the genre that is the most respected or taken seriously, but part of that is what makes it so great. Film makers don’t always have to worry about the dramatic presentation or the production values of their horror movies, because it’s all about the scare. I love me a good horror movie, so in light of this wonderful holiday, I’d like to share my 10 favorite horror movies of all time.
10. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
I remember watching the trailer for this movie when it first came out and thinking how insane it looked, but I really had no idea until I actually sat down and watched it. Antichrist is the story of a Man (Willem Dafoe) and a Woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who retreat to their home in the woods after the sudden death of their young child. What happens next can only be seen to be believed. Demonic talking animals, the brutalization of the most sensitive of body parts, and a twisted and depraved sexual escapade into the most primal and dark parts of the human psyche. Lars von Trier is an amazing film maker and his work on Antichrist is incredible, and while it’s one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, it is also one of the most visually beautiful and haunting.
9. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
I firmly believe that some of the most frightening movies are from the silent era of film. The fact that there is no sound is odd enough, but the soundtrack and eerily grainy visuals is enough to make me squirm. One of the finest examples of this is Nosferatu, a movie about “Dracula” that came way before the Universal classic. While the vampire is known as Count Orlok (played by Max Schreck, in one of the most mesmerizing performances ever put onscreen), the story is still based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. There are images in this movie that will stick with me until the day I die. One being Orlok’s shadow as he’s walking up the stairs, and the other being his rise from the coffin. Sure, there’s no sound or dialogue in this film, but Schreck’s performance and the nightmarish visuals are out of this world.
8. Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)
Here we have another silent film (sort of) that was actually released in the beginning of the sound era of film. That being said there are some sounds in this film, but it is still all about the visuals. Not only the visuals, but the amazing special effects that still have me baffled. Shadows dance along the walls and a man’s spirit leaves his body for a haunting walk through a field. Like the previous film, Vampyr is also the story of a vampire. In this film we follow Allan Gray (Nicolas de Gunzburg), a traveling student of the occult who becomes mixed up with a family who has been attacked by a vampire. When I say this movie feels like a nightmare, it really feels like a nightmare, one that I’d be excited to wake up from. The story plays out at a slow pace and the camerawork plays tricks on the viewer in ways that was surprising for the year 1932. Not only is this an outstanding horror film, it’s also, in my opinion, one of the most important movies in film history.
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Now we’re really getting into the gritty stuff. Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains one of the most brutal and no holds bars horror movies ever, even though it had its 40th birthday this year. This is the story of a group of friends on a road trip to a graveyard when they come across a sadistic and murderous family of cannibals who begins killing them in gruesome ways. This film introduced the now iconic character Leatherface (played by Gunnar Hansen in this film), and spawned a series of sequels and remakes that never came close to Hooper’s original vision. The actors and film makers were put through hell making this movie with uncomfortable and cramped sets and heat that made many of them sick. While it was shot on an unreasonably low budget and starred a group of unheard of actors, this film has still become a landmark in the history of horror, not because of how beautifully shot it is nor how well acted it is, but simply because of the terror that it evokes.
6. Dead Alive/Braindead (Peter Jackson, 1992)
Before making the record breaking Academy Award winning Lord of the Rings series, Peter Jackson and the rest of his crew were making much more different films, one of them being the cult class Dead Alive. Originally released in its home country of New Zealand under the title Braindead, it was soon released in the United States under the title Dead Alive. Not only does this movie combine horror and comedy almost seamlessly, it has also been crowned the goriest movie ever made, and that’s just awesome. In this film, the timid Lionel (Timothy Balme) has to fight an endless horde of zombies caused by a mutated rat-monkey, while taking care of his mother (Elizabeth Moody) and winning the heart of the girl of his dreams (Diana Peñalver). Probably the most notorious scene of the movie features Lionel face to face with a room full of zombies armed only with his trusty lawnmower. The result is what can only be described as geysers of blood, which confirms the hundreds of gallons that Jackson went through making this movie. Not everyone could probably stomach the gore in this movie, but you just have to remember how much fun you’re actually having watching this ridiculous film.
5. Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987)
In the same vein as Peter Jackson’s gorefest, I bring you the only other horror comedy that could possibly top it: Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II. In 1981, Raimi and his friends made the first Evil Dead on a shoestring budget that had some pretty impressive effects and scares, but was ultimately still viewed as a horror comedy. After the surprising success of his first film, he released the sequel in 1987, but this time upping the gore and the humor, as well as turning Ash (Bruce Campbell) into one of the best heroes you’ll ever see. This film pits Ash against the demonic forces in the forest that possess household objects, kills his girlfriend, and even takes over Ash’s hand forcing him to cut it off which results in his trademark arm chainsaw. This movie isn’t necessarily scary, but it still does have horror tropes like the undead and demons, but you’ll be laughing too hard at this movie to be scared. I absolutely love this movie.
4. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
Here’s a movie that is widely considered the best horror movie ever made, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. This is the movie that is known for making grown men cry like babies, and for good reason. The idea of the devil and demons is scary enough, but the idea of them taking over your mind, body, and soul is probably one of the worst things ever, which is exactly what happens to the poor little girl, Regan (Linda Blair). The best parts of the movie, however, are the scenes where the two priests (played by Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) face off against the demonic forces that are harming the child. The effects are unbelievable and the sound design is probably the most horrifying part of the story. What is really frightening about The Exorcist is the understanding of what’s happening to the characters in the movie, and anyone who has seen it will testify just to how jarringly disturbing Friedkin’s masterpiece is.
3. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
What’s different about this movie is that it can be argued that John Carpenter’s The Thing is actually a science fiction film more than it is a horror, but I believe it is exactly the opposite. Sure, the story is about a microscopic alien that invades the workers on an Antarctic base, but the horror is what really makes this film memorable. First of all, let me just say that this movie is my pick for best special effects ever. There’s no tricks with computers or digital effects, but instead all of the effects are achieved by practical effects and concrete creature designs and puppeteering. Still, what is just as terrifying as the creature effects and the gore that results from the different transformations is the paranoia and isolation that the characters experience throughout the movie, and how the close knit bonds between them are completely shattered by something that can’t even be seen. I couldn’t recommend this movie more, and I would even say choose this one over the 1951 original, The Thing from Another World. Carpenter’s version is far superior.
2. Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987)
Clive Barker is a name that goes hand in hand with paranormal and surreal horror. His masterpiece, in my opinion is the 1987 film Hellraiser. While Barker is mostly known as an author, penning the books that inspired Candyman and Midnight Meat Train, he still has the credit of directing Hellraiser, while also being responsible for writing the book and the screenplay. This is one of the most demented horror films I have ever seen, and much like Antichrist, succeeds at turning sex into something repulsive. The story is almost too strange to give a one sentence description, but all you need to know is that it revolves around a box that summons beings from another dimension that will take you back to their world and torture you for all eternity. Death is not the end with the beings called the Cenobites, the pain lasts forever, but their goal is to give the taken what they describe as the ultimate in pleasure and pain, which is where the bizarre sexual themes come into play. The make up and effects are great, but so is the story and the suspense, making this one of my absolute favorite horror films ever. But there is still one more…
1. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my favorite horror film of all time has to be John Carpenter’s Halloween. I chose this film for multiple reasons. First of all because of the character of Michael Myers, but also because of the soundtrack, the suspense, and the nostalgia. This is the one that started it all for me. I wouldn’t love horror movies as much as I do if it weren’t for the “night he came home.” Michael Myers is a horrifying icon of horror, with the expressionless mask (which is a Captain Kirk mask spray painted white), the black eyes, and the slow way he chases after his prey. Much of the movie is actually pretty slow, mostly with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) babysitting the neighborhood brat, but also of Michael just watching everyone. Some of the most terrifying horror movies are the ones that could actually happen, and someone stalking and murdering people is one of those things. The fear really comes on strong when Myers’ theme begins and the chase between him and Laurie begins. Nothing gets me ready for Halloween like Halloween.
Horror movies are a special kind of movie that make being scared into something to enjoy. So turn off the lights, grab a beer, and check out some of these movies if you haven’t already. Happy Halloween, fellow cinephiles!