There is a big challenge in defining the “best” of anything, especially when the subject is horror.
The first challenge is that the horror film category is a composite of many sub-categories. My own particular grouping looks as such:
Classic – vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and general monsters
Psycho – humans wielding knives at others because they are psychotic
Science – not exactly sci-fi but the source is “out worldly” or scientific based. Zombies actually fit in this category.
Demonic – possession and general trouble caused by demons or poltergeists
The second challenge is that there is a lot of crossover between science fiction and horror fiction. For example, where do films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Jaws, and Aliens fit in? They are definitely science based, but the “scare” factor isn’t really relevant to the science at all. I simply resolve that issue by placing them into either the Science Horror category (Alien, Invasion of) or the Classic category (Jaws).
The third and most important challenge is “what” exactly the criteria for “best” in horror are. Does it have to be a completely new idea? Is it based on the “first” time we saw it or how it holds up over time? Do the special effects play a significant role in the decision?
Again, all I can do is create and share my own criteria for my selection. I think the most important criteria is this: Did the film scare you when you first watched it? And perhaps even more important is, “did the film stay with you?” Therefore, it does not have to be a new idea and it may in fact be a remake. Yes, it should be based on the “first” time. And yes the special effects play a role, but only as they compared to other films of that time period. I would hate to rate Star Wars if the film had been made in say 1955.
So my 10 Best Horror Films are based on the first time I saw them and their effect on me long after the curtain closed and I left the theatre or the safety of my sofa. Now, I will admit that today some of these movies do not have the same effect as they did at the time and in some cases may even be laughable. At the time, however, leaving a night-light on was a very real and viable option.
10. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – This was actually an ABC made for television movie from the 1970’s. Hardly a scare in the modern age, but at the time it gave me plenty reason to be afraid. It’s basically about these little troll like creature that are released from the basement and want the house’s female occupant to become one of them. The thought of little monsters plunging the house into darkness and dragging one to the basement played very well for a kid afraid on his own basement. With all the remakes I’m a little surprised no one has taken a shot at this one.
9. Halloween – If you are under 40 this probably seems pretty mild compared to the slash films of current. In my 12th year, however, this was a brand new concept. Sure Alfred Hitchcock had done Psycho and that was a great film, but this was very different as we dealt with a completely indifferent and seemingly unstoppable psychopath. Before this movie, the “scary” stuff could be shrugged off as “unreal” but now we had something that could actually happen.
8. Exorcist – I saw this on television and then years later on vhs, and then DVD. Demonic possession when accompanied with head turning, deep voices, and upside down crab walks down the stairs is creepy. If you disagree then go sit on a dark staircase, alone and call to Regan (the girl in the movie)…bet you won’t do it. I think the scariest part is any day or night the person you live with could become possessed. Hell they may be turning right now as you read this…go lock your door I’ll wait.
7. The Evil Dead – I watched this recently on DVD and they “cleaned” up the film quality…, which ruined the movie. The director (Sam Rami of the Grudge) obviously had little money, but the bad effects were hidden by a grainy film…clean up made it very noticeable. Great film at the time when me, my friend Chris, and our girlfriends went to see it at the theatre. Bunch of kids at a cabin release a bunch of demon spirits.
6. Phantasm – Once upon a time, there was this cable station that played odd “B” movies that you couldn’t see in theatres. HBO is a lot different now, but back in the day, this was served up in “prime time.” The film is about the guy “the Tall Man” who is grabbing up people and sending them to Hell. All night scenes with a very surreal, dream-like quality to them. The follow-ups (2 & 3) were not nearly as good. The best scene is the ending.
5. The Omega Man – I Am Legend has been done three times, the first with Vincent Price follows the book pretty close, the last with Will Smith was great, but this 70’s version with Charlton Heston was by and far the scariest. The vampires/rabid things are albino type witches, cloaked in black, and active at night. They hide inside buildings and pop out of windows onto Mr. Heston when the sun sets. This one gave me nightmares for weeks and lived on to scare my brother and me for many years to come. Well worth the watching if you liked I am legend.
4. Darkness Falls – I actually wrote my story “the toof berry” before this movie came out so of course I loved the concept of a tooth fairy gone mad. The movie was creepy, but nothing stuck with me as much as the opening scene. What I loved about it, is it goes right to the heart of every reason you have for being afraid of the dark…cause that’s where the things are waiting for you.
3. Jaws – Okay, maybe not what you would think of as horror per se. Funny though I still watch this anytime I come along it while channel surfing. I think I was in the summer of third grade when this came out. I can honestly say I wish I had never seen it as it ruined my love for the ocean. Today the movie itself is not scary at all; however, every time I go swimming it comes to mind…that is a long-term effect. I think what was captured here was a primal fear and that is what makes this movie number three.
2. Paranormal Activity – Surprised? A recent film and many might argue not scary at all (you are so, so brave). I would disagree (and think you are unimaginative if this movie didn’t spook you a little). First of all the camera work was a very cool way to shoot the movie. Second, the scariest is some of the stuff we don’t see but can only imagine (like when she goes downstairs at the end or gets dragged down the hall). Third, if you live with anyone, imagine waking up and seeing him or her “rocking” like that? Yep this one scared me and I’m damn proud of it.
1. The Grudge – The movie loses its effect after you watch it a couple of times. The “idea” has now been done to death. However, the first time I saw the movie it stayed with me for a looong time (and it’s not like I am was a kid). I could name off at least four or five scenes that made me jump or that I worried about later (particularly that under the covers scene). The bottom line is that after years of waiting for a decent horror film…and one that didn’t have a 2, 3, 4 or 5 after the title…this one delivered.
Well there is my list. I find it interesting that some (maybe most) of my favorites were produced with a very low budget and little special effects. I had several more that could be on it but I’ll save them for my top twenty for the website page over at Nightmirrors.com. Got your own list? Post it here. I’m willing to debate the attributes of a good horror flick with you.