The horror genre is the Marmite of the film world – you either love them or you hate them. It is probably the genre that divides people the most. Considering the success of recent runs of horror films, namely the money-making franchises of Saw, Paranormal Activity and Final Destination, the horror genre is actually one of the lowest grossing genres at the box office and is often one that loses the studios the return on their investment (NB: ours will make billions. Just sayin’). For the full breakdown of profitable genres see the article of SNL Kagan’s recent research.
Horror has the most sub-genres out of all film types – slasher, vampire, body horror, psychological horror to name but a few. It is a vast, still unexplored genre that is producing consistent material in amongst the debris of other less successful attempts. The beauty of horror films is that they play on a primal fear of the unknown – though we know that vampires, werewolves, ghosts and zombies probably don’t exist it doesn’t stop us from wanting to fear them, and the success of a great horror film is bringing you in to that world and immersing you so completely that you fear it because it seems so real. That becomes more about the jumps, the scares and the gore – it’s about the story, the characterisation, actually liking your characters and not wanting them to die horrible, gory, exaggerated deaths. It’s about making it real enough to believe – the adrenaline pumps so much more if you can immerse yourself so completely.
So if you love them, if you really love them, then what better time to wax on some of the best than at Halloween? All Hallows’ Eve – the night of frights? We don’t need an excuse to talk film but it seems apt so here is our definitive, all-time top 5 horror films in no particular order.
JAWS: Of course it’s a horror film – what else would it be? The beauty of Jaws as a horror film is how it plays on everyone’s fears but it uses something real, something of this world that most people can categorise as a fear – a great white shark. The film has many iconic moments and quotes, and has taught many filmmakers preceding it the art of suspense. Who can forget that head popping through that boat? Or when Jaws crashed on to the back of the boat? And who can forget THAT score?
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: Now this one may divide opinion but it has most of the elements of a great horror film. It has suspense – the opening scene with the hitchhiker is an inclination of what’s to come – it has the rough, handheld shooting that gives an edge that makes you uneasy, it has an isolated location and a mysterious, brutal antagonist in Leatherface. It’s enough sometimes that these killers wear masks to enhance their presence but when that mask is made of human skin it gives an extra dimension to this characters story – it doesn’t matter why he’s killing; if he wears a mask made of skin it’s clear he doesn’t have a motive! True the characters are pretty one-dimensional and there’s not much you can give in the way of sympathy when they enter that house but when the film steps it up a level and introduces the family, you know this is a world that could quite possibly exist.
THE EXORCIST: Often billed as one of the scariest films of all time you can kind of see why because it has stood the test of time since its release in 1973. It is a scary film, no doubt about it. The idea of possession has a strong subtext anyway but when being possessed by the devil himself it gives a new dimension that allows the filmmakers to also tell a story about a priest facing doubt about his faith. There are plenty of iconic scenes that are referenced and parodied to this day, but one of the scariest (revolving head aside) is the scene that was originally cut from the theatrical release: the spider walk scene down the stairs. The way it has been edited is what it makes it so scary – if you haven’t seen it, do so now!
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: A classic that defined a genre and inspired many filmmakers, Night of the Living Dead is one of the great modern horror films. It’s zombies in their scariest form: slow and shambling with an unwavering hunger for braaaiiiiiiins. Alone they might not seem such a challenge against a quick, agile human but together in their packs their unrelenting force is terrifying. They have a hunger for death and they function with nothing but that hunger. Romero’s use of black and white only adds to the tension, the colour not necessary to accentuate the violence because the fear is so evident in the characters. It inspired a wave of terrible takes on the zombie genre but this still proves that it’s the way the characters react to the zombies rather than the zombies themselves and this is none-more evident than in the final scene.
HALLOWEEN: Though this list isn’t in order we’ve certainly saved the best ‘til last. Though Peeping Tom and Psycho were the original slasher films there’s no denying John Carpenter took the sub-genre to new heights with this film. It’s such a simple premise yet it has everything in it a horror film should have that makes it great: a powerful, mysterious antagonist with a warped agenda; tense, iconic music that accentuates the tension; a lead female character with depth. From the iconic opening sequence through to the last scene John Carpenter excels with simple yet tense camerawork. The long shot of Michael Myers walking across the road to Laurie who is desperate to get in the house is perfect horror filmmaking – it builds tension and suspense with the cuts back and forth, maintaining the long shot on Michael and the close-up on Laurie. Though it was one that inspired many poor sequels the original still maintains the perfect blend of ingredients for the perfect horror film: and it doesn’t show hardly any blood – the gore is all in the viewers mind.
We believe that film is about opinion – everyone’s tastes are different so if you have any thoughts to add on these choices or selections of your own, let us know.
Honourable Mentions: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Martyrs, Let the Right One In, Rosemary’s Baby, Hostel.