There seems to be a variety of definitions for the horror genre out there. Wikipedia defines the horror genre as “seeking to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears.” Here at Moviefied my partner, Myrna, defines horror as something that causes her to cover her mouth to keep from screaming, and to cover her eyes to keep from seeing—yet all the while peeking so she won’t miss what, in some odd way, might be visually beautiful. I, David, personally like the cinematic experience of being disturbed and visually awed at the same time—well, that, and screaming like a thirteen-year-old girl (I’m a masochist). Whatever the definition is, this list has been our own personal horror to compile. Because we were limited only to five films, we were forced to face our own “primal fears” and omit many great movies and many personal favorites; their blood-curdling screams of “what about me?” will forever keep us awake at night. In celebration of Halloween, we present our five best horror films.
—David and Myrna, MoviefiedNYC
David’s Top Five Horror Films
2. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s claustrophobic Overlook Hotel is one of cinemas most unforgettable terror playgrounds, a modern-day haunted castle. There are plenty of scenes and images to shock the viewer: a deluge of blood pouring from the elevators doors, Jack’s son speeding on his Big Wheel through the eerily empty hotel, the murdered twins, and, of course Jack poking his head through a bashed-in bathroom door announcing, “Here’s Johnny!” Kubrick’s attempt to make logic of Jack’s (Jack Nicholson) psychotic decline to ax his wife and son successfully bridges the gap between the logical and the supernatural. The music is effectively creepy, and Shelley Duval, although often times annoying, screams really well.
3. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1921)
Myrna’s Top Five Horror Films
Even in a pop-culture landscape littered with vampires, Let The Right One In stands out as a beautiful and romantic coming of age story as well as a bone-chilling horror film. Based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, Sweden’s Let The Right One In is hypnotic, horrific, and is groundbreaking. It follows the classical rules of vampire lore, but takes those very same rules we are accustomed to and updates them in new and exciting ways. Paced, and patient in building its world to set us up for some horrific moments. Beautifully shot, moving yet unsentimental and consummately performed. It has its moments of restrained fright, but never shies away from the gore when needed. A classic of modern horror cinema, and easily the most fascinating vampire film to appear in recent years.
It has been called the scariest movie of all time, certainly the most frightening of its era. This notorious battle between good and evil was nominated for eight Oscars when it was originally released in 1973. The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin and adapted by novelist William Peter Blatty, is based on the latter’s bestseller about the last-known Catholic-sanctioned exorcism in the United States. The little girl Regan, played by fourteen-year-old Linda Blair, is suddenly prone to fits and bizarre behavior. Regan proves quite a handful for her actress-mother, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn). When Regan gets completely out of hand, Chris calls in young priest Father Karras (Jason Miller), who becomes convinced that the girl is possessed by the Devil, and that they must call in an exorcist: Father Merrin (Max von Sydow). His adversary proves to be tougher than your average demon, and both the priests and Regan suffer numerous horrors during their tribulations. The film’s special effects still hold up well today: pea soup never looked so good. Not for a moment—not when Regan is possessed by the darkest of spirits, not when the bed is banging up and down and the furniture is flying and the vomit is welling out—are we less than convinced of her demonic possession. Partially an exploration (and exploitation) of religious faith, The Exorcist’s timeless ability to terrify relies on its strong performances.
Suspiria is considered by many to be the best work ever by Dario Argento and one of the greatest horror films of all time. The film follows American ballet student Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany only to discover that it is controlled by a coven of witches. Argento’s many film trademarks are all displayed in Suspiria, such as closeups of the eyes, the use of imaginative shadows through lighting, daring use of color, choice of camera angels. The intense violent nature of the murders of beautiful women create a sinister and surreal shroud of dread and angst. The secret purpose of the school and everyone employed there develops slowly before building to a climax of intensity and sheer horror. Suspiria also includes one of the most memorable soundtracks of all time. Goblin, who would score numerous other films for Argento, provide a haunting score, one that uses strange human vocals, the sounds of whispers and gasps to complement the music. It’s an artistic choice that lends itself well to the film. Suspiria’s visual and stylistic flair, use of vibrant colors and lavish settings are a relentless attack on the senses, and I do mean that as a compliment.
The Devil’s Backbone is a Spanish-Mexican thriller written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, set in Spain, 1939, during the final year of the Spanish Civil War. Carlos, a twelve-year-old whose father has died in the war, arrives at an ominous boy’s orphanage, where he discovers the school is haunted and possesses many dark secrets that he must uncover. An old-fashioned tale that is frightening and unsettling, part gothic horror, part political drama and part exploration of the events that turn children into adults way too soon. Atmospheric in detail, The Devil’s Backbone is a superior supernatural psychological film with subtle special effects and painterly cinematography. The movie’s visuals are its strongest point, all bright amber in the daytime and creepy moonlight green by night. The Devil’s Backbone could be the saddest and most visually poetic horror movie ever made.
The Mist is a novella by author Stephen King in which writer-director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Walking Dead) truly sinks his teeth into one of King’s favorite themes—how quickly panic corrodes the semblance of civilization—an allegory on mob mentality and the price of fear. This grocery store survival drama is dominated by Marcia Gay Harden as a shrill fundamentalist, a fanatic Mrs. Carmody, stirring up the flock with visions of hellfire and Judgment Day looming. This black-and-white version of the film has contrasts which bring great claustrophobic tension to the delicate balance of civilization when dogma grows deadlier than any harassing beasts or monster. Brace yourself to be shocked by its ending; Darabont does take it to a significantly darker place than I think even King imagined.