Run for your lives! It’s October, the unofficial horror movie month! Horror is consistently one of the most popular genres in film, with even middling movies guaranteed to make money. Why? Because audiences want to feel emotion from their entertainment, and no emotion is easier to evoke than fear.
Fear comes in many forms, everything from being startled to deep psychological terror. Few movies reach that final level, but when they do they leave a scar on our culture. With that in mind, let’s talk about the twenty most significant horror films. These aren’t necessarily the best or the most scary or even my favorites, but when you die . . . these will be on the test.
1. Night of the Living Dead (1968): The importance of this film cannot be overstated. This film brought horror movies to adult audiences. Before ‘Dead,’ horror was costumed monsters aimed at kids. The film also kick-started the zombie craze which continues unabated today in film and within the Democratic party, and it established all the conventions for the zombie subgenre. “Yes we can . . . yes we can.”
2. The Omen (1976): ‘The Omen’ spawned the “Satan is coming” subgenre and gave us Damien Thorn, a figure who now represents pure evil in popular culture. There are even indications this film influenced the American view of Satan and the ‘Book of Revelations.’ And Gregory Peck playing Damien’s father made it respectable for big name stars to do horror movies. “Let him that hath understanding count tonight’s lotto numbers: 6 – 6 – 2.”
3. The Exorcist (1973): Before ‘Rosie O’Donnell’s Potty-Cam Extravaganza,’ ‘The Exorcist’ was considered by many to be the scariest movie of all time. This film brought exorcism to the public consciousness and spawned a demonic possession craze in modern horror films. It also introduced the now-clichéd idea of pitting a demon against a priest who lost his faith . . . gimme $20 on the priest. “The Power of Christ compels you, and your little dog too!”
4. Alien (1979): ‘Alien’ brought modern horror into the realm of science fiction. It established director Ridley Scott (who would redefine science fiction with ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’) and it taught us that some aliens want to do worse to us than probe our nether regions. “In space, no one can hear you squeal like a pig, boy!”
5. Jaws (1975): ‘Jaws’ sparked a nationwide panic over and fascination with sharks, which continues to this day. ‘Jaws’ is particularly noteworthy for waiting to reveal the monster until later in the film to build suspense, though ironically this wasn’t intentional. The filmmakers just had a hard time making the mechanical shark work. Serves ‘em right or hiring a union shark. “Be a real shame if something happened to your boat.”
6. Halloween (1978): Though tame by modern standards, ‘Halloween’ established the slasher film in popular culture. The shocker gave us Michael Myers, as a masked, speechless, killing machine who escapes a mental hospital and returns home to kill his family and everyone else in town. And they say you can never go home again? This murderous Marcel Marceau has become the template for modern slasher villains.
7. The Shining (1980): One of the most iconic and oft-referenced horror films, ‘The Shining’ is the story of Jack Torrance, who ostensibly goes insane while working as the winter caretaker of a haunted hotel . . . ** cough ** drama queen. This movie, more than any other, defined Jack Nicholson and made Stephen King stories a staple of horror films (though, ironically, King wasn’t happy with the film). “All work and no play increases Jack’s take home pay!”
8. The Ring (2002): At a time when slasher flicks had become the norm, this film brought a Japanese sensibility to the genre – visions of creepy, but non-gory children – or Hello Kitty – terrorize the heroine. It also taught us how bad computer viruses can get. A whole slew of knock-off films followed (e.g. ‘The Grudge,’ ‘Dark Water,’ ‘The Eye,’ ‘Children of a Lesser Godzilla,’ etc.). “It’s the Michael Jackson sex tape!”
9. The Haunting (1963): This oft-remade and copied story of a group of paranormal investigators who deserve everything they get for spending several nights in a HAUNTED house established the haunted house subgenre. Seriously, what part of HAUNTED did they not understand? Idiots.
10. 28 Days Later (2002): This movie revived the slowly dying zombie sub-genre by introducing fast-twitch zombies. Suddenly, zombies became a whole lot more menacing. “Repent, the end is extremely f**king nigh.”
11. Resident Evil (2002): ‘Resident Evil’ helped prove video games could be turned into successful film franchises for which we’re all thankful. It also popularized the use of scantily-clad, young women as the butt-kicking heroes, for which we’re all thankful. “You’re all going to die down here. . . and not in a good way.”
12. Poltergeist (1982): This anti-clown diatribe introduced the country to the poltergeist, not a ghost but a malevolent force that haunts people rather than places. This has since replaced simple hauntings in films. It also told ghost hunters what kind of equipment they’re supposed to bring, and it introduced ideas like the blinding white light you see after paying your taxes. “They’re here. . . and they brought beer!”
13. Friday the 13th (1980): The story of risen-from-the-dead, hockey-mask-wearing, chainsaw-wielding Jason Voorhees, this film added a supernatural element to the silent, killing-machine first seen in ‘Halloween.’ It also gave us motive-less killers who can’t be stopped no matter how many times you shoot, stab or drop a piano on them . . . unless you use dip. This movie also taught us not to go skinny dipping when you’re in a horror movie. “They call this place Camp Psycho-Bait.”
14. Scream (1996): The story of a killer who’s watched too much ‘Sesame Street,’ ‘Scream’ revived the horror genre for younger audiences by setting the film around thirty-year-old teen charactors and following like a hipper, totally like cynical, tongue-in-cheek style or whatever. “Obama let me down!”
15. Saw (2004): A snuff film with little else to recommend it, ‘Saw’ opened the door for modern torture porn, which all but abandons story in favor of 90-minute, sadistic bloodbaths . . . a real leap forward for the human spirit. “Let’s play a game. How about Clue?”
16. The Blair Witch Project (1999): Shot like a home movie, this story of three film students, who vanish chasing an urban legend started the “found footage” horror film subgenre. “We shouldn’t have meddled!”
17. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): ‘Elm Street’ gave us Freddie Krueger, who can kill you in your dreams . . . just like noctosoriasis. This film is referenced in dozens of later movies, inspired numerous sequels and copies and encouraged slasher films to step up the special effects and creativity by 16 percent. “Your eyes are getting sleeeeepy.”
18. The Amityville Horror (1979): Father goes crazy, repeats the murderous rampage of the prior owner, blames house. Now that’s creative lawyering! This film popularized the fake “true” horror story, which has become a bit of a cottage industry. “Honey, I got a killer deal on a repossession!”
19. The Evil Dead (1981): Gory, silly and primitive, ‘Evil Dead’ is not a good film, but it has a devout following among horror aficionados who will hate this sentence. The story of four people in a cabin who prove things actually can go wrong when you open a doorway to hell, this film made Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi Hollywood names. “Pass me some sugar, baby!”
20. Rosemary’s Baby (1968): Four out of five Satanists think Rosemary’s baby is the Antichrist. This film made Roman Polanski famous before he made himself infamous. It also taught us that perfectly normal looking people could be Satanists. . . or Obamatologists. “He sleeps above his crib. . . three feet above his crib.”
Again, these aren’t necessarily the best or scariest movies, nor are they my favorites. But they will be on the test, so know them. And if you’ve missed any, October is the perfect month to catch up on them.
So what did I miss? Or better yet, what are your favorites?