Top Ten Introductory Horror Films
The other day my girlfriend and I were discussing the hypothetical notion of introducing someone to horror films that had little to no experience with the genre otherwise; the question quickly became, of course, what films to show such a person? If one were to pick ten films to introduce someone to horror which ones would they be and why? Well, here’s my answer to said question. I ordered the titles alphabetically and attempted to explain why I included each one of them on the list. Feedback, as always, is more than welcome!
What better introduction can there be to European horror cinema than Black Sunday? Mario Bava’s 1960 masterpiece was quite ahead of its time and has had a reverberating effect on the whole of European (and otherwise) horror since. The gothic sensibilities of the film are unmatched by the standards of both then and now and Barbara Steele’s performance (one of the genre’s most hailed actors) is one of her best. An essential, captivating classic.
David Cronenberg is my favorite director so it’s only natural for me to include one of his films on this list. The Brood is perhaps Cronenberg’s most straight-forward horror film although, like all of his work, the approach is unorthodox, surreal and somewhat science-fiction influenced. No less, as in the Cronenberg tradition, The Brood has a unique concept and is quite grim thematically; in fact, this is one of David Cronenberg’s bleakest films alongside Dead Ringers, The Fly and Spider. After seeing this one you’ll certainly be taking second-glances at kids in red and blue snowsuits! Perhaps the most “unorthodox” pick on the list here.
Stephen King is one of the most well-known proponents of horror (if not the most well-known) so including a film based off of his work for this list was pretty essential. Whilst The Shining is a great film and an even better book I feel that De Palma’s interpretation of Carrie is more sincere and powerful than Kubrick’s exaggerated take on The Shining. Revenge is satisfying, of this there can be no question, especially when orchestrated with the kind of romanticism and conviction displayed in Carrie; the last twenty minutes or so of the film are truly iconic and the performance of literally all of the film’s actors are first-rate. A horror tour de force. The cash-grab remake of Carrie coming out later this year (not to mention the atrocity that came out in 2002) has no chance of even coming close to De Palma’s heralded classic so, for your sake, if you’re going to see a Carrie film see the original.
Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are both quintessential classics but The Exorcist took the concept of demonic possession to staggering new heights. The extremity displayed in Friedkin’s theatrical take on Blatty’s book of the same name eclipsed the competition at the time tenfold and, ironically enough, the cut folks were seeing back then in theaters wasn’t even the full director’s cut of the film! Most of the subsequent VHS, DVD and blu-ray releases feature the full, uncut version however. The impact The Exorcist has had on horror is gigantic and it is often hailed as the scariest film of all-time; regardless of how you feel about it fright-wise, there can be no question of the mastery that possess every second of The Exorcist.
It’s true, Psycho is generally regarded as being the first “slasher” film and while it’s influence, legacy and caliber are beyond criticism I feel that John Carpenter’s Halloween is, coming from a strictly horror perspective, the ultimate slasher film. Set on Halloween night, the film takes the viewer on a nightmare-ride that gets grimmer and grimmer with each passing frame. John Carpenter’s sense of direction throughout the film is immaculate, allowing for empty, black spaces in many of the shots to constantly remind the viewer that something or someone is potentially lurking around every corner. Indeed, the sense of dread and terror created throughout Halloween’s duration is almost overwhelming but that’s just the point, isn’t it? Halloween has had a tremendous impact on horror filmmaking and will remain one of the genre’s best, no doubt.
The Last House On The Left (1972)
Wes Craven has a number of classics to his name: A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, Scream and, of course, The Last House On The Left. All of the aforementioned are iconic, true, but none of Craven’s work comes close to the realistic, visceral brutality of The Last House On The Left. Most horror films are rooted in some kind of supernatural phenomenon whilst Last House certainly subscribes to the notion that reality is the most brutal thing of all and that we are all vulnerable to the many horrors of the so-called “real world.” To this day Last House remains an extreme piece of cinema that, due to its nature and conviction, comes across as more gut-wrenching than nearly all modern bloodbaths. If you find yourself enthralled with Craven’s The Last House On The Left than I highly recommend Bergman’s The Virgin Spring which is actually the film that Last House is conceptually, albeit loosely, based on.
Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
Zombies are quite the rage thesedays and, like most fads, are also devoid of substance; back in the 60s, 70s and even 80s, however, numerous zombie flicks had a point and purpose beyond what was being seen on the screen. George Romero’s legendary debut, Night Of The Living, is one such film and, in essence, really catapulted the zombie genre to new heights by integrating social commentary and atmospheric cinematography into the mix of undead madness. If there is to be one zombie film to see it is this one – mandatory viewing!
Nosferatu: The Vampyre
Although Murnau’s original vision from 1922 is unquestionably more influential and well-known than Herzog’s 1979 interpretation I feel that Herzog’s take is more accessible to those uninitiated with the genre. Mr. Ebert once said, in regards to Nosferatu: The Vampyre, ” … the most evocative series of images centered around the idea of the vampire that I have ever seen …” and I wholly agree with him. Vampire films are a staple in the horror genre, ranging from the campy (The Horror Of Dracula, The Vampire Lovers) to the modern (The Lost Boys, Nadja) to the traditional (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and whilst Nosferatu: The Vampyre owes itself more to tradition than anything else it also manages to transcend the genre stereotypes completely whilst staying true to their source material (Slavonic myth, Bram Stoker’s Dracula story). The hyponotic atmosphere and elegance of Herzog’s Nosferatu: The Vampyre is unparalleled and is a must-see for horror fans of all shapes and sizes, including those new to the genre.
Horror and comedy are an often convoluted combination in which the results are less than desirable; Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, however, is quite the exception. Being very loosely based off of H. P. Lovecraft’s grim tale Herbert West – Reanimator, Re-Animator instead goes for a totally different aesthetic that is, ironically enough, quite un-Lovecraftian but, nevertheless, it works. You will most certainly find yourself laughing at the bone-dry humor set amidst some of the most over-the-top scenes one was likely to see in the 80s. Re-Animator is an undisputed favorite that reminds us horror doesn’t always have to horrify.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Like The Last House On The Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a frightening voyage into the realistic realm of horrific possibilities that was partly inspired by the notorious serial killer Ed Gein. The grimy, gritty feel of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre adds to the disheartening atmosphere of horror that quickly spirals into forty minutes of nearly relentless pursuit and insanity – it is certainly something that needs to be seen to be believed and, to this day, I would rank The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as one the most genuinely terrifying films I have ever seen. A true masterpiece and a milestone within the horror genre.