This is it folks. One more day. One more day until the barrier between the spirit world and our world is at it’s thinnest. Another day until ghouls, ghosts, goblins, specters, killers, and anything else evil and vile makes it’s power known. Halloween. My favorite holiday of the year, and I’m assuming yours too, if you’re reading this. 2020 is going to be a very different Halloween for a lot of us. For those going out and acting like nothing is different, shame on you. For the rest of us, who are going to be safe, and keep our distance, there are still plenty of options.
Get those Jack O’Lantern’s out. If you don’t have those, some light-up pumpkins will suffice. Put them on either side of your TV, grab the bowl of candy, keep that mask nearby just in case you get Trick or Treaters, and pop on some classic horror. My go-to on Halloween changes each year, but it always ends with at least a viewing of Halloween. I’ve written a lot about the Halloween series for Fright-A-Thon. For good reason. It’s one of the best and biggest franchises in horror. Everything we have today in regard to scares, owes a bit to John Carpenter’s masterpiece.
So you can feel free to pick from this list, or any other horror films. That’s the beauty of it, it’s up to you. Now this list might make people angry, but remember, at the end of the day, horror is for all. We’re all here to be scared. So enjoy the list, enjoy Halloween, and I hope you’ve enjoyed Fright-A-Thon.
Starting up the list, we’ve got Scream. Wes Craven’s talent was already apparent at this point. So what do you do when you’ve conquered the genre of horror multiple times over? You tear it down. You tear it down to it’s bare parts, show those parts to the entire audience, and basically state “this is dead, we’re not making anymore slasher films”. That’s what Scream does at it’s very core. It peels back the curtain on how to make a slasher film, and tells the audience what they need to do to survive a horror movie.
What it ended up doing was acting as a hard reset for the films after it. Like how grunge killed glam metal in the 90’s, Scream took the excess of horror franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween and laid them bare for the world to see. It was a simple film but one that is skillfully presented. You learn more about making a horror film from watching this, than you do from any other film out there.
As this series went on, it committed some of the grave sins that it presented in this first film. But here’s to hoping that the upcoming Scream 5 can reset the paradigm once again.
9. Child’s Play
The original and most terrifying of the Child’s Play movies. I include this one, because there is not a kid out there, that grew up terrified of Chucky. It’s the worst nightmare for kids. Jason Voorhees? He might as well be Arnold Schwarzenegger. But your toys coming alive and hurting you? That’s too much to bear. Those playthings that are your best friends at times and at other times your protectors from the horrors of the dark, turning on you, is a very frightening thought for a child. So the original by Tom Holland, comes to mind as just one of the best examples of the horror genre.
You can dispute this one all you want, but look at the fervor that this franchise still exhibits. You’ve got a brand new television series coming soon. You had the recent remake, that was either terrible or okay, depending on who you ask. There’s still plenty of room for Chucky out there. While he might have grown into more of a wisecracker in his later years, the original is still where you go for the frights.
8. Fright Night
Whether it’s the original, the sequel, or the remake, I love Fright Night. It’s just one of the best told stories in horror. Not only do you cross vampires with a normal teenage story, but you add in a horror host for the ages in Peter Vincent. It’s no surprise we have two back-to-back Tom Holland films on this list. He’s a vastly underrated filmmaker and writer in the horror-sphere. The original film leaves a lasting impression about the 80’s but it also is one of the best portrayal of a vampire in horror.
Chris Sarandon’s portrayal of Jerry Dandridge changed the paradigm for vampires for years to come. With a new, sexy, seductive take on the tribe that we hadn’t seen since Christopher Lee as Dracula, it sets up a world that is too good to believe.
You’d be hard pressed to find a vampire movie better than this one, but spoiler alert, there is.
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Tobe Hooper’s seminal masterpiece is still one of the shining examples of low-budget horror done right. From the dingy look of the overall film to Leatherface and his pursuit of the main characters. It set the groundwork for horror films to come. Halloween might have popularized the slasher genre, but without Texas Chainsaw Massacre we wouldn’t have some of the tenets of the genre.
Tobe Hooper took basically nothing and turned it into one of the most frightening and surreal films ever made. It takes real skill to do that. While later entries in the franchise, once again, bungled the mythos and feel of the films, this one remains a perfect horror film.
With the upcoming reboot of the franchise, like I said with Scream, we can only hope that it’s in the right hands.
6. The Exorcist
Now for what most might say is the ultimate in horror. This movie has probably caused more nightmares than any other in human history. The Exorcist is a benchmark for horror. It rides the line between actual cinematic achievement and pure horror. What I mean by that, is that this would be and is a film that is recognized by cinema academics. Some of the other films on this list, are not. So when you combine cinematic excellence with pure horror, you get The Exorcist.
It’s a film that certainly scared me as a child and kept me awake thinking about. From the absolutely smashing makeup to the chilling shots of the demon Pazuzu, it still scares millions to this day. I don’t enjoy rewatching this film for how disturbing and frightening it is. But I can recognize it’s place in horror history.
If this one had failed, would we have horror today? Probably, but this one set off the entire course of events that has led us to today’s climate of horror. Sure, you had Nosferatu before this, but this was a horror movie with SOUND. Watching it back today, you don’t get the same scares that an audience back then might have gotten.
What you do get though, is a dream-like experience. From the backgrounds, to the utter lack of sound in certain places, it’s a film that relies on atmosphere above everything else. I’d argue that Bela Lugosi’s performance as Dracula in this film is the most iconic performance in horror. Universal set the tone, set the bar, and created the first Cinematic Universe with this film.
It’s still quite an experience to watch this one these days, which you don’t get from a lot of older films.
The Exorcist didn’t stop people from going to church. Halloween didn’t stop people from trick or treating. Jaws stopped people from going to the beach. Go ahead and tell me that Jaws isn’t a horror movie. I’ll wait. Because it is. And it’s one of the finest ever made. The shark in Jaws might not be as frightening these days, but don’t you think for a second that if you’re out in open water, the classic John Williams theme doesn’t play in your head.
It’s got everything that a horror movie needs, you have a frightening force, you have morons trying to pretend the force doesn’t exist, and you’ve got the hero trying to stop it. Quint’s speech about his shark filled past still gives me chills listening to it.
This was the first New Hollywood “blockbuster” and it’s totally deserving of a high spot on this list.
Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. You can debate which of his films is the best on your own, for my money, it’s Psycho. It has all the hallmarks of a classic horror film. It spawned one of the greatest villains in film history with Norman Bates. You get an absolute tour de force performance by Anthony Perkins in this one. Changing from two personalities on a dime with seamless acting.
The lasting effect that this film has on cinema is still felt to this day. It set up tons of different motifs, tropes, and techniques. Scream paid it’s due to Psycho with it’s opening scene. Also, the film pushed boundaries in cinema that weren’t even thought of in 1960. The famous “shower scene” might be one of the most popular in horror clip compilations, but it’s for good reason. It pushed the envelope and remains a stone cold classic to this day.
Really, you should talk about film and horror like this: BP and AP. Before Psycho and After Psycho.
An icon. The start of a craze. THE. SLASHER. MOVIE. I’m sorry to fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, or any other slasher that precedes Halloween. They might have had a big impact on horror, but they didn’t have the earthshaking, titanic, impact that this film did. Like Die Hard, you had movies after this that just blatantly copied the film. Sure, you have films that might take from the formula and tweak it, but you still have to come to Halloween for the basis of all slashers.
You have the final girl, Laurie Strode, you have the ultimate slasher villain in Michael Myers, you have the badass elder statesman in Dr. Loomis, and it’s all tied together with the most iconic horror theme ever. The series might have lost it’s way, but you can’t deny that the original Halloween was and is, a true masterpiece.
1. The Thing
This one might be a bit of personal bias. The Thing is my favorite movie ever. I think it’s absolutely perfect. It’s not every day that you can say a movie is flawless. That term might get bandied about a bit too much. But this film, does not have flaws. From the cast, the direction, the writing, the music, the sets, the effects, it has no equal in terms of quality and horror.
Speaking of those effects, Rob Bottin put his heart and soul into the creature effects for the film. All that hard work, and him almost dying from exhaustion, pays off tenfold in this film. It’s a perfect film that shows you how you can make basically what amounts to a stage play into a feature film. It’s a cramped, isolated, dreary movie that gives off those vibes in spades. You won’t be left feeling great after watching this one, but you will be a more enriched horror fan doing so.
You might be disappointed that certain films didn’t make this list, but like the rest of Fright-A-Thon, it was difficult to find space for everything to write about. There are no limits to horror these days. And there’ll be plenty of topics for next year, with Fright-A-Thon 2. So to fans of other films, I’m sorry, but you can let me know all about your favorite horror films in the comments or on Twitter.
For more on horror, Fright-A-Thon, or any other spooky territory, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.