12 September, 2009

10 Iconic Horror Films To Start Your Collection

Now that I've got my mind on Halloween, I simply can't get it off. Not that that's a bad thing - Halloween being my favorite holiday of the year and all. Have I told you yet the story of how I got into being a horror film fan? Well, today's agenda isn't to discuss my favorite horror films (blast from the past), but to discuss 10 (because 10 is a nice round number, and perfect for a list) of the most classicest most iconicest horror movies of the past half-century. If you're a horror fan, you've probably seen these movies so many times that you're either absolutely sick of them, or completely fanatic about them. And if you're not a horror fan, this might just be a good place to start...

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock is rightly regarded as a master filmmaker, and Psycho is one of his most popular (and iconic) films. While it may be dated by today's standards, it's one of the classic examples of a suspense thriller, featuring a disturbed psychotic as the antagonist. You don't even have to have seen the film to recognize the gory (for its time) shower scene (and accompanying score) - that's how iconic it is!

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Before George Romero, zombism was a voodoo curse that wealthy white imperialists contracted warlocks to cast on deceased (or soon to be) sharecroppers in order to acquire cheap slave labor (and you probably think I'm kidding!). Romero resurrected the "ghouls" as brainless rotting re-animated corpses, slave only to their hunger for living flesh, whose prodding slowness is made up for in sheer numbers. This film is a dark, paranoid, survival horror (and still surprisingly good for its age) that (re)defined the subgenre.

The Exorcist (1973)

An intense, draining experience of a movie about an innocent little girl suffering from demonic possession, The Exorcist is the end-all be-all (the alpha and the omega, if you will) of religious horror. I was first exposed to this film while still in the single digits (presented to me by my mother of all people!), and back then, its effect on me was more of disgust than impression - though you could say it had its effect. Interestingly, I recently re-watched it, and, being disavowed of religious superstition, yet still quite frightened of hospitals, the part of the film that made me most uncomfortable was the extensive medical testing our little possessee has to endure. If I might make a recommendation, don't bother watching this film on cable TV, as it's guaranteed to have its teeth removed - and for a film of this caliber, that's akin to blasphemy!

Alien (1979)

I've said it before, and I will say it again - Ridley Scott's Alien is the epitome of sci-fi/horror. The construction of the film is, in a sense, Poeific, in that all the elements, from setting and filmography, to score, to characters and character relations, to creature design - everything works together to create a truly frightening atmosphere. The horror is genuine: at once terrifyingly familiar (primitive body horror), and mysteriously alien. And speaking of which, H.R. Giger's design for the titular xenomorph has become a true horror icon (its frightfulness only mildly diminished by the recent crop of crappy cross-over cash-ins).

Poltergeist (1982)

Paranormal ("ghost") movies tend to be hit-or-miss. Despite its connection to Steven Spielberg (burn), Poltergeist manages to scare, helped in no small part by a big special fx budget - possibly in contrast to the idea that ghosts, being largely invisible, don't require much in the way of elaborate fx (although that's probably just a cop-out). Poltergeist and its sequels managed to plant quite a few specific scenes of terror into my young head which had a habit of haunting me from time to time. And ever since this movie came out, the world has been awakened to the very real supernatural peril of building on top of ancient Indian burial grounds. Don't believe me? I dare you to try it. Yeah, that's what I thought.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre should need no introduction. And I probably say that because despite hearing about it again and again, I'm still not sure I've actually seen the original version (although I do recall watching a modern take on it). But who can forget the stories of how the movie was so scary, people would vomit in disgust and flee the theaters? These days the cannibalistic country folk plot has been beaten to death (and then eaten?), but Leatherface and his chainsaw remains an icon of horror.

Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter accomplished greatness with his take on the holiday of horror - Halloween - inspiring an entire industry of slasher flicks featuring teenagers being picked off one by one at the hands of an unnamed killer. But Halloween remains excitingly fresh, even as the emotionless masked killer repeatedly satisfies his unquenchable bloodlust. In a truly terrifying scene, our heroine runs screaming, from house to house in a calm suburban neighborhood, with the very Bogeyman himself on her heels, and the neighbors ignore her cries, likely thinking it some prank. The filming of the scene is so normal - no ultra-panicky camera chasing after the heroine, or crashing orchestral cues - that it just feels so very real, and thus that much scarier. Ironically, modern horror could learn a few things from one of the most imitated horror movies of all time.

Friday the 13th (1980)

Continuing in the slasher vein, Friday the 13th locates itself in a cozy (but deadly) summer camp, and actually provides some meaning behind the oft-recurring theme of the slutty teenagers being the most in danger of getting slashed. Certain elements which I am hesitant to mention here - despite this being the sort of movie that you know all the secrets from, even if you've never seen it - keep this title relatively fresh and exciting. Interestingly, Jason doesn't don his ultra-iconic hockey mask until the third film in the series! And while we're speaking of icons, trust me, you know the soundtrack to this film. ch-ch-ch, ah-ah-ah

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

What A Nightmare on Elm Street adds to the slasher formula is moving the killing field into the realm of dreams. A scary thought, is it not? Sleep - that period in which you are most defenseless, and when your dreaming mind is most open to suggestion. And noone can go very long without needing to enter that realm, despite the risks. The iconic antagonist, Freddie Krueger, also adds a macabre sense of style to the slasher's wardrobe, with his striped sweater, hat, and fingerknives. Don't miss a very young Johnny Depp finding himself the source of an impressive fountain of gore (you have to see it to believe it) - and speaking of gore, this is another film I'd recommend not watching on cable TV, as the gore fx are quite impressive (oh, don't be one of those people), and thus not to be missed.

Hellraiser (1987)

I feel like Pinhead is infinitely more iconic than Hellraiser itself, but no matter, it's an excellent film. Based on a Clive Barker story which I have yet to read (but I've read others of his penning), the subject matter alone is enough to make you squirm. Picture, if you will, an occult puzzle box which, when properly solved (think of it as the devil's Rubik's Cube), summons the cenobytes - sadomasochistic demons (or angels, depending on your persuasion) intent on giving the puzzle solver the gift of ultimate pleasure (by way of ultimate pain, of course). Pinhead, the unofficial leader of the cenobytes (I'm rather fond of Chatterer, myself) has been known to get fanmail from rabid fangirls who want him to father their children. And you thought I was kidding about the "angels" part.

There's your start, now get to it. There's a whole world of horror out there - with every conceivable flavor of nightmare on offer. Apologies to vampire and werewolf fans. Also to puppet fans - puppets have never been very scary (or very funny either, for that matter) to me. Sorry. And also the oldies monster fans - Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, The Mummy, Boo Berry, etc. - that era is outside the scope of my primary interest. In spite of these deliberate omissions, keeping in mind that this list is about iconic horror films, and not personal favorites, feel free to chime in and add titles you think would fit on the list. And hey, it's only mid-September, but don't be ~afraid~ to start your Shocktober early this year!

1 comment:

  1. P.S. I feel compelled (although in no way forced, I assure you :p) to mention that it was a good friend who hounded on me to see Hellraiser (knowing my penchant for demonology), after which I instantly became a fan of the movie, and subsequently of the author.