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Horror Films: How I Fell in Love with the Genre

I’m always looking for the next scare or for the next horror film that can give me goosebumps or force me to check under the bed one last time. I have drawn up a list of ten of the best horror movies, all of which i love and still send shivers down my spine. Selecting just just ten was an unenviable task and there are countless great films that had to be left off. These horror films all had an important part to play in what has shaped my love of the genre and are some of the greatest horror films ever committed celluloid.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

Two American tourists, David and Jack, are backpacking across the English countryside. When stopping at a local pub, ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’, they are met with some hostility by the locals but given a warning to be weary of the moon, stick to the roads and stay off the moors. After getting lost in the dark and drifting onto the moors, they are attacked by a Werewolf. Jack is savagely killed but David is rescued by the locals after only receiving minor injuries. The beast is killed revealing the body of man, leaving the authorities to believe the attack was due to a madman. David is taken to a London hospital to recover, but is soon haunted by evil nightmares and also his dead friend Jack who gives him the warning that he now carries the curse of the Werewolf. As the full moon approaches David’s worst nightmares become reality as he begins to spend the nights as a werewolf on a murderous rampage around London.

Written and directed by John Landis, this is a horror masterpiece and considered a classic in the genre. With Oscar winning special effects for the impressive transformation scene and with explicit scenes of gore that still shock today, this film is a perfect mix of chilling horror, black comedy and romance. The soundtrack is fantastic with notable references to werewolves such as ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘Blue Moon’ which complements this movie perfectly. This film still has what it takes to make the modern audiences jump out of their skin and make the hairs stand up on the back of their necks. Despite three other werewolf movies coming out in the same year, it makes 1981 the year of the wolf and ‘An American Werewolf in London’ the best of them all. A truly terrifying horror with a perfectly told story which, on a personal note scared the living hell out of me when I was younger and led to many sleepless nights. The best werewolf film ever made and I could not recommend this more.

ALIEN (1979)

The terror begins when the crew of the mining spaceship ‘Nostromo’ is woken from their hyper sleep to investigate a transmission from a desolate planet and leads them to a horrifying discovery. Believing that the transmission was an SOS, they soon discover that it was in fact a warning. The transmission is coming from an abandoned spaceship and inside it are thousands of strange alien eggs. Whilst one of the crew gets too close when examining the eggs, it hatches and the parasite attaches itself to the face of the crewmember. After returning back to the Nostromo, they decide to head back to Earth. The parasite soon dies but little do the crew realise that this alien life form can breed from within a human host. What later emerges from within the host is a terrifying alien, which leaves the crew to fight not only for its survival, but also for the survival of all mankind.

Ridley Scott directs and tells this story brilliantly, with the perfect mix of visuals, sounds and brilliant acting. Scott is able to maintain a desolate, dark atmosphere throughout this film, which gradually builds with suspense until its climax. The clever use of simple effects such as steam, flashing lights and sound effects allows this film to generate a lot of tension especially when its combined with the claustrophobic maze of a spaceship. It’s with this film that Ridley Scott gave birth to the Science fiction horror movie. Some stand out scenes including the notorious dinner ‘chest busting’ sequence, thanks to the brilliant performance from John Hurt, are sure to keep you on edge throughout and leave a lasting impression on you. Some of this films success must be attributed to H.R Giger, whose production design of the alien and the gothic futurist set designs, no doubt added to the powerful visual effect of this movie. The alien itself is ferocious, monstrous, relentless and unforgiving, topping off this film perfectly. ‘Alien’ cannot be discussed without mentioning Sigourney Weaver’s fantastic performance as Ellen Ripley. It earned her an Oscar nomination and rightly so. This film will suck you in immediately and will not let you go. By appealing to the very basic element of horror, Ridley Scott has created a masterpiece, which will scare you out of your wits. Thanks to great direction, originality, genuine tension, truly horrifying scenes and an iconic performance from Sigourney Weaver, this is the flawless definition of what a horror movie should be.

PSYCHO (1960)

Marion Crane is in love with divorcee Sam Loomis, who will marry her once he has paid off his ex-wife. She is fed up of working and desperate to change her life so she decides to steal $40,000 from her employer and flees the city. On escaping with the money driving down the highway, Marion becomes caught in a torrential rainstorm that forces her to pull over and take refuge until the storm passes. Exhausted from the drive and stress from the crime she has committed, she decides to spend the night at the ‘Bates Motel’. The isolated run-down motel is ran by Norman Bates who is a shy and strange man that appears to be dominated and controlled by his invalid mother. After settling down for the night and after taking a shower, Marion disappears. An investigation soon begins which eventually leads back to the Bates Motel.

At the time when Psycho came out, most horror films had monsters, zombies and vampires in them. Psycho changed this and introduced the world to an original psychological thriller all thanks to Alfred Hitchcock. This film is highly regarded as a masterpiece and I couldn’t agree more. Thanks to Hitchcock’s ability to create tension and suspense in a way that has never been seen before. This chilling horror classic has a stellar cast with some fantastic edgy performances from Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. Anthony Perkins portrayal of Norman Bates as the ultimate psychopath with his subtle creepy, twitching, shy performance is brilliant and shows that the killer in a horror movie doesn’t have to a ranting, raving, murder happy maniac. This brilliant cast supports the wonderful script and combined with spine-tingling tension and some moments of intense violence, makes this one of the scariest films ever made. The music is also  pivotal in  creating such a fantastic atmosphere and a heightened sense of fear. The now iconic ‘shower scene’, will remain one of the most terrifying scenes in motion picture history. It has been spoofed in so many movies which has helped Psycho to become known over the world and is often referred to as the bench mark for truly great horror. A brilliant twist at the climax of this horror story is the icing on the cake and will shock you beyond belief. This film basically kick started the ‘slasher’ genre. If you have not seen this film, do not be put off by the fact that it is in black and white, as this film is a cinematic masterpiece and is one of the best thrillers ever made. Psycho will remain one of the best horror films ever made by a man who knew how to scare us, Alfred Hitchcock. Remember to lock the bathroom door in future.

THE EXORCIST (1973)

Divorced young actress Chris MacNeil has just arrived in Washington to act in a new role with her sweet and innocent daughter Regan. Strangely and gradually, Regan starts to feel different. Her appearance becomes brutally deformed and she starts to have violent outbursts, yet medical experts can’t find anything wrong with her. However, Regan’s sickness is beyond the reach of any sort of medicine or psychiatrist. She has become possessed by the devil. Her worried mother gets in contact with two priests Father Merrin and Father Karras who decide that the only way to save the demonically possessed little girl is to perform an exorcism.

Back in 1973, no one was expecting a film like this. Cinema was in its infancy and religion was practised a lot more than it is today. With many scenes that are frighteningly harrowing and disturbing from green vomit to masturbation with a cross, its no wonder that some people, especially religious, find this film far too horrific.

Dubbed a video nasty, this film also spent a great deal of time banned in many countries. When religion is mixed with a demonic horror movie in such a way, the effects are powerful and unpleasant. Sheer terror has haunted people that saw this film when it was released and it still does today. It’s easy to see why this film is regarded as one of the scariest horror films ever made. The acting in this film is fantastic topped off by a brilliant performance from Linda Blair who plays poor possessed Regan. The script was adapted from the novel by William Peter Blatty and is perfectly directed by William Friedkin. The camera work in this film is brilliant and it leaves a lot to the imagination. Director William Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths to abuse the cast and frighten them to get the desired startled effect on film. He reportedly fired off guns from behind them and slapped another just before shooting the scene. He even put Linda Blair in harnesses and had the crew yank her violently. Needless to say, he got the effect he wanted. With scenes that will send shivers down your spine, a soundtrack that will twist your nerves and groundbreaking special effects that still shock today, this film is sure to terrify you like never before. ‘The Exorcist’ will haunt you for a very long time if you choose to see it, many of the scenes truly are extremely disturbing.

RINGU (1998) (THE RING)

Young Journalist Reiko Asakawa finds out about an urban legend of a certain videotape that caused a teenager to die of a sudden unexplained death. It is said that after watching this video, whoever watches it will die after seven days. These rumours become all the more real when Reiko finds out that the other teenagers friends were also killed at exactly the same time in the same circumstances. Reiko soon begins an investigation and visits the cabin where the youths had been staying seven days before their death. An unlabelled video is found and the only way Reiko can solve the murders is by actually watching the tape, which starts a chain reaction of strange events and mysterious phone calls. As time starts running out in a race to solve the murders and save their lives from an impending death, she and her ex-husband are led to a tragedy stricken volcanic island and the story of a strange girl called Sadako.

Forget that this is a Japanese film and it is subtitled, forget the unanswered questions and try to forget about the American re-make (The Ring) that was made four years later in which the true story of ‘Ringu’ was slightly lost in translation. The original film ‘Ringu’ is one of the most impressive, creepy and unique horror films in recent cinema history. It’s grainy, gritty and genuinely disturbing. Director Hideo Nakata has a true gift of being able to horrify us in ways that we never knew we could be. The true fear of this film comes from knowing that something terrible and evil is coming, but not knowing what it is or how to stop it. Make sure you see this original film if you can, it’s a genuine ghost story and it will scare the living daylights out of you.

THE THING (1982)

In the winter of 1982 an American research facility in the Antarctic are shocked when a Norwegian helicopter begins to circle them whilst shooting at a dog. After the crazed Norwegian pilot is killed and the helicopter destroyed, the dog is given refuge into the American base. An investigation led by helicopter pilot J.R MacReady leads them to discover the Norwegians base is completely destroyed. They also discover remains of a mangled body that looks like it used to be a human, which they bring back to study further. Soon after their return, the crew find out that the dog they took in and the remains of the body they bought back, contains a parasitic alien life form with the ability to imitate and transform into anyone. Fear and paranoia being to fill all members of the crew, as they struggle to trust each another as they don’t know whom the alien has taken over and imitated. MacReady and the other remaining crew must fight for their lives in order to protect the human race.

‘The Thing’ Directed by the horror master John Carpenter uses incredibly stunning visuals to build this chilling version of the 1951 classic ‘The Thing from another World’. With mind-blowing special effects for its time, this is a horrific horror film. It’s one of the goriest and most powerful films made and despite the large amounts of blood, guts and slime, it’s not the gore in this film that causes the sense of dread, it’s the isolation, distrust and fear of the unknown that will keep you biting your nails. There could not be a more remote setting that Antarctica which only adds the fear of being alone and on your own. Carpenter manages to deliver a shocking fear factor as well as keeping an element of mystery. The unbearable tension in this film builds as the group of men become suspicious of each other. They all painful wait to find out who is and will be taken over next by the alien takes a fearful hold of them. First class acting from the cast completes this movie especially due to Kurt Russell’s performance as J.R MacReady and is arguable one of his best ever. The special effects of the alien are down to Rob Bottin and his team that really do make it look terrifying and fearsome and still carries the same effect today as they did then. Hot on the heels of Alien this is another brilliant science fiction horror film that delivers on all fronts. This is a rare breed of horror that combines a clearly told story with shocking violence, fantastic dialog, a genuinely creepy atmosphere and stunning cinematography. A stunning horror film that will have you hooked from the beginning.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

Vandals have desecrated a graveyard where Sally Hardesty’s grandfather is buried.  She along with her wheelchair bound brother, Franklin, travel with their three friends to investigate and visit their grandfathers abandoned farm in Texas on the way. They pick up a hitchhiker on the way who turns out to be crazy and cuts himself as well as Franklin with a knife. The five friends manage to get rid of the hitchhiker but are forced to stop a little while later down the road as they needed to get some fuel for their van. On hearing the sound of a generator in the distance, they stumble across a farm and an old clapboard house, which is far from welcoming. It just so happens that this house belongs to the hitchhiker and his evil family of demented cannibalistic psychopaths. Trapped in a nightmare, the five friends are hunted, tortured and killed by a leather-masked wearing chainsaw-wielding maniac and his family of grave robbing cannibals.

This film, directed by Tobe Hooper, is one of the most scary, influential, upfront masterpieces that really bought fame to the horror genre. The story and plot builds to create a scenario that is realistic and believable which adds to this films real fear factor. It’s the unrelenting, savage, take no prisoner approach that gives this film its edge. Tobe Hooper never resorts to overwhelming mayhem to scare you but relies on the creepy sound effects, the repetitive musical score and sporadic acts of cruelty. The power with this film lies with strongest kind of fear, the fear of the unknown. The growing paranoia will creep over you and fill you with dread as you watch and wait in anticipation to find out the fate of the five friends as they try to survive this horrific ordeal. This film is about relentless horror and terror not blood and guts. Despite being banned in several countries probably due to the fact the title of the film includes the words ‘Chainsaw’ and ‘Massacre’, this film has a notable lack of gore. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ was once dubbed a video nasty, but the real scares in this film are delivered in the actors performances and the haunting overwhelming tension filed atmosphere that the film creates.  This film is not for the feint hearted. Be prepared to be shocked and scared like never before.

THE SHINING (1980)

Jack Torrance gets the job of a caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the isolated mountains of Colorado. Despite warnings from the manager that the job is psychologically demanding due to the long period of isolation and the previous caretaker going mad and butchering his family, Jack still takes the job. Jack brings his wife Wendy and son Danny with him as the hotel is closed down over the winter months and they will be the only residents for a long time. Danny has a mysterious power of being able to see terrible gruesome images from the hotels past including the previous guests that have died there through a telepathic gift called ‘Shining’. As cabin fever sets in for Jack, the hotel’s ghosts and demons slowly drive him insane. After meeting with the ghost of the previous caretaker, Jack becomes violent and aggressive and his family fears that they may be about to meet the same fate as the previous occupants that were murdered. Time is running out as it’s down to young Danny’s ‘Shining’ to save them.

This film has the perfect blend of classic Hitchcock mystery with the terror of a modern day thriller. Taken from the novel of the undisputed master of horror writing, Stephen King, and directed by visionary director Stanley Kubrick, it’s easy to see that ‘The Shining’ is not only a brilliant film, but also a fantastic psychological horror movie. The slow build up helps this film generate tension that builds and builds to tremendous effect, sucking you in form the very beginning. The atmosphere is everything, like ‘The Thing’ the dramatic effect of isolation and claustrophobia only adds to the uncomfortable fear of the events that are unfolding before us. Kubrick builds suspense with this chilling musical score that escalates along with Jack Torrance’s insanity. There is no doubt in my mind that this film would not have been as effective without the stunning performance by Jack Nicholson. Nicholson’s portrayal of one mans decent into lunacy is flawless. The delivery of his lines and the look in his eye can literally steal the scene and makes this film all the more believable and terrifying. Not forgetting the brilliant performances from Shelly Duvall as Wendy and Danny Lloyd’s memorable role as the young tormented Danny. There are also some unforgettable truly haunting iconic scenes in this film including the “Redrum” and “Here’s Johnny” ones, which are utterly terrifying to watch and they still even remain a part of popular culture today. Like most horror masterpieces ‘The Shining’ knows that the most terrifying fear of all does not come from a made up monster, but a regular human being. Especially when it is one of your own family, who has been driven to insanity from the isolation and nightmares of the hotel. This film is superbly directed, gloriously and graphically filmed with uncompromising scenes of violence, terror and torment not to mention one of the best endings in cinematic history. ‘The Shining’ will not disappoint, it will manipulate you with fear, anxiety and suspense all at the same time gripping you until the very end. I could not recommend this iconic horror film enough to anyone who has yet to see it and genuinely wants to watch sometime horrific and terrifying. ‘He came as a caretaker, but this hotel had its own guardians – who’d been there a long time’.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

The story goes that three film students have travelled to Burkittsville in Maryland, USA to film a documentary about the local urban legend, The Blair Witch. They all went into the woods armed with little more than camera’s and tents for a two-day hike, and they never came back. A year later, the film footage has been found and turned into the film ‘The Blair Witch Project’, which unfolds to tell the story of what happened to them in the woods.

This film puts the realism back into horror film making with a move away from conventional Hollywood horror. Be prepared for your senses and imagination to be pushed to the limit, as this is one of the most haunting, psychological horror films ever made. Once you have bought into the film it will reward you handsomely as when darkness falls you will be begging for the daylight again. Delivering suspense and chills in buckets. Gripping from the beginning and building beautifully to a terrifying crescendo of a climax that sends shivers down your spine.

This is a film that does not rely on gory or excessive amounts of blood or violence, but instead allows for the natural noises of the forrest and night to fill that hole in your imagination that has been created by mythes and stories only to be filled with dread and fear. Praying on your deepest darkness thoughts as what scares us most is what we can’t see and what plays on our imaginations at night. The effort that has gone into production and marketing the film paid off big time. Even releasing missing posters of the cast to further add to the mystery and intrigue surrounding the film was a masterstroke.

The shacking cam found footage style of the film only adds to this uniquely frightening experience. It was in fact years before this was really used again as its potential was fully realised resulting in a market that is flooded with similar styles almost creating a sub genre for itself as ‘found footage horror’. The Blair Witch Project remains a terrifying ghost story of mounting uncertainty with guaranteed scares that is still just as effecting days and even weeks after watching it such is the accoplishment of the film. This truly is a highly original unnerving psychological horror that has been able to deliver a masterclass in suspense. Brave filmmaking at its heart that has been executed to perfection and genuinely one of the scariest and most tense films potentially ever.

HALLOWEEN (1978)

On Halloween night 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers returns home from trick-or-treating and slaughters his teenage sister with a knife. 15 years later from being under the supervision of psychiatrist Dr Loomis, Myers manages to escape during a storm from the mental institute where he has been kept. Dr Loomis knows that Michael is going to head back to his home town of Haddonfield to unleash hell. While Dr Loomis attempts to alert police, it may already be too late for some. Myers spots bookworm Laurie Strode and her three friends and follows them, constantly appearing and vanishing covering his face with a sinister white mask. Laurie and her friends have been making Halloween plans which, ends up with Laurie doing two babysitting jobs, while Annie and Lynda are across the street messing around. It’s now Halloween night, the scene is set, and Michael Myers has returned home to continue a murdering frenzy to finish what he started 15 years ago.

‘Halloween’ is the greatest and scariest horror film of all time and here’s why. Director John Carpenter has created a truly terrifying film that still scares the life out of people even today. This film like many of the best horrors does not rely on graphic gore and violence like many of today’s modern horror films, instead it delivers a spine tingling atmosphere, nail biting suspense and an iconic horror symbol in the form of Michael Myers that combine to terrify us to our core.

The atmosphere that Carpenter creates is so creepy and the fact that it is set in the middle of suburban America is testament to his brilliant visionary ability to create fear anywhere he wishes. Relying on simple special effects such as shadows, subtle lighting techniques and creaking doors, it really makes this film an eerie and uncomfortable spectacle. The simple yet effective musical score, composed by Carpenter himself, only adds to the suspense and fear in this film with magnificent effect. The music will leave a scar in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

The most effective horror films that give us the most realistic and genuine fear comes from a human rather than monster or any other mythical creature. Michael Myers, for many including myself, personifies the ultimate horror film villain. He never speaks, he kills without mercy with a knife, he only walks and never runs and it seems that he cannot be killed. The most terrifying face of evil is no face at all, and in this case the few explanations about Michael Myers’ motives only add to the tension in this film. All of this makes Michael Myers the most terrifying psychotic serial killer ever to grace the cinema screen.

The cast is also brilliant in this film and launched the career of young Jamie Lee Curtis as she played the nerdy babysitter, Laurie Strode, perfectly. Her performance as the lovable, nerdy, virginal schoolgirl victim is believable and set a benchmark for future horror films that would try and replicate this masterpiece. Donald Pleasance also delivers a memorable performance as Dr Loomis. Carpenter leaves a lot to our imagination, which is the perfect tool that adds the extra fear factor to a horror film. ‘Halloween’ single handily gave birth to the ‘slasher’ film genre and still is the inspiration for many aspiring filmmakers looking to create a truly scary film. Each sequel that has resulted from this original only adds to this films legacy as the best ever.

This movie is a testament to how much a small budget can work to the advantage of the finished product with the use of creative camera work, lighting and imagination not to mention one of the most memorable musical score ever written. ‘Halloween’ is a chillingly dark story of pure terror that drags you in to this nightmare from the very beginning. This film is what nightmares are made of and it will continue to scare people until the end of time. John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ is the epitome of a classic horror masterpiece.

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2 thoughts on “Horror Films: How I Fell in Love with the Genre

  1. Great post! I really do lack horror genre knowledge I have only seen a couple of these, but this blog post has given me the idea of which films I really should catch up with!

    Liked by 1 person

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