Let me start this with – I am in no way a horror genre expert! I haven’t watched every obscure horror ever – I’ve never even seen the Exorcist. But I’ve seen a few in my time, some just hilariously bad and others epic beyond belief. I’m not just listing here the scariest movies – that’s a completely different list. These five are my favorites, not just because they are scary, but because they are personal, relevant, or just plain different.
5) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street was a favorite for me because of the premise – Freddy could only get you while you were sleeping. It struck me as incredibly creepy that the teenage protagonists had absolutely no chance from the very beginning because of one simple fact – you WILL fall asleep eventually. No matter how much I rooted for Johnny Depp in that movie, his earliest performance on the big screen, you had to know that, as a movie noob, the kid was going to die. I mean, Kevin Bacon was a noob once too, and remember what happened to him?
There was something special about A Nightmare on Elm Street in the simple fact that your worst fear is falling asleep – and you know you will. That stuck with me.
5) The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I couldn’t decide on which of these two amazing movies were my number five, and quite frankly, didn’t have the heart to bump my favorite movie… villain? of all time.
The Silence of the Lambs delves into the psychotic, genius mind of Hannibal Lecter, but Hannibal himself is not the reason I chose this movie as one of my favorites. The movie also has a knack for delving into the minds of its viewers, revealing the chilling contents of our own psyches in a Natural-Born Killers sort of way – we LOVE Hannibal Lecter. We love the way he thinks, we love his charm, we love his attitude, and nothing he does can keep us from loving him. He can tear a man apart and eat his liver, and we’ll cheer him on because something about him draws us.
The Silence of the Lambs made millions of people fans of the insane, the fantastical, and the frightening, and its very success raises questions about how sane WE are.
4) Carrie (1976)
Carrie’s story isn’t really all that unique (minus the telekinesis part). This socially awkward girl, rendered thus by an overzealous, fanatically religious mother, only wanted to fit in, but the girls at her high school would have none of it. Her life was a constant stream of psychological torture by the ‘mean girls’ at school, followed by more of the same at home, where she would be forced to pray for hours in a tiny closet, asking forgiveness for imaginary sins. Carietta White tried her hardest to break free of the cycle of pain and mental trauma, finally managing to attend her senior prom with the boy of her dreams and be voted Prom Queen.
It went downhill from there.
After a disgusting show of pure malice on the part of the school meanies (including the very, very doomed John Travolta), Carrie snapped, and the powers that had been growing quietly inside her were unleashed in one final act of revenge. Sissy Spacek did something amazing here, by portraying a character that was simultaneously unique and awkward as well as relatable. You want to befriend Carrie, to help her, because everyone has felt like her at one time or another. So when Carrie finally wreaks her vengeance, we cheer her on because she did something none of us had the power or the balls to do. The iconic death of Carrie’s own mother in a crucifixion-style is simultaneously horrific and triumphant to viewers, who had been waiting for it the entire movie. If there is one thing Carrie is not, it is forgettable.
3) Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
It is possible that you have to be a woman to be freaked out by this movie, but don’t quote me on that. This movie is an amazing adaptation of an even scarier book by Ira Levin, the author of other classic creepies such as The Stepford Wives and A Kiss Before Dying. It is what I call a ‘pregnancy horror,’ of which there are very few, because it plays on every marginally-maternal woman’s worst fear – that someone is out to get your baby.
In Rosemary’s Baby, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her husband move into a beautiful Gothic-style apartment and we are invited to watch as they begin their lives together. The couple seems unimaginably happy, until one night the young ex-Catholic Rosemary has a terrifying visitation, and the horror begins.
The story is a maze of accusations, suspicions, and conspiracy, where everyone is involved and no one can be trusted. Mia Farrow is extraordinary in portraying a mother driven by her most primal instinct – to protect her unborn child. Any woman over the age of sixteen will be able to empathize with Rosemary, and feel the same, wrenching terror in their gut as they imagine themselves in the same position. The twist at the end is a surprise only to Rosemary, since the audience was aware of what was REALLY going on since the beginning, but this is still an incredible movie. If you are a sensitive current or expecting mother, I do NOT recommend it! It was a ride even for me.
2) The Shining (1980)
The thing about The Shining is that it could have been a thirty second clip of Jack Nicholson walking into a hotel saying ‘This place looks nice,’ and it already would have been a creepy movie. Look, I love you, Jack – I do. I know that you’re a really nice guy and all that, but, well… you have a LOOK. So don’t take it personally, but you just make things creepier. Fortunately for us, the movie was longer than thirty seconds and although Jack Torrance (Nicholson) DID walk into a hotel and remark upon its niceness, but he did a lot of other stuff, too. The Shining is an example of what happens when you let Jack Nicholson walk onto a set and do whatever the hell he wants.
The reason The Shining is creepy is, quite simply, the stellar acting and directing. Stanley Kubrick took a lot of liberties with the book by Stephen King to the dismay of fans, but the movie he seemingly pulled out of thin air was extraordinary. Complimenting Nicholson’s in-your-face acting was Shelley Duvall’s portrayal of Jack’s timid wife, Wendy Torrance. It would have been easy to suck at playing Wendy – she comes off as a weak sort of character, so if the acting were anything other than what it was, we would have hated her and wanted Jack to bash her head in. Fortunately, Shelley Duvall is a genius and her head remained unbashed – largely because despite her timidity, she was not weak at all.
The Shining was fun because it toed the line between understandable and ‘What is this I don’t even.’ There are times when you find yourself thinking “What the hell is happening right now?” but it’s never so absurd that you tune the plot out entirely. You KNOW what happened – the last caretaker went nuts and murdered his family, and you’re pretty sure it’s happening again. It’s like a hipster Christmas tree – even though the decor is nigh incomprehensible, you still get that it’s a tree. If anything, the bizarreness of some of the movie’s elements just give it more flavor. If you can’t think outside the box, then go watch a slasher, because you’ll hate this movie.
1) Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)
I’m not going to do justice to this movie. I know that already, largely because I have no idea why I loved this movie as much as I did. I remember first watching this movie all the way through, on Halloween. When the movie ended and the credits began to roll, I remember gaping at my television screen for a while before actually moving – I was so stunned at how amazing the movie I just saw was.
I want to tell you what’s so great about this movie, I really do, but I can’t. I wouldn’t know where to start. I do sense a pattern in my favorite horror movies, though – I tend toward films that are not particularly gory, have a deep plot, and that make you empathize with the killer. And you empathize with Michael in this movie! You feel terrible for this kid, you really do, and even though you know that things don’t end well for young Meyers, you really wish they could have.
I didn’t like the original Halloween – yes, I said it. I thought it was boring and slow, and although that’s largely because I saw every Halloween wannabe ever made since then, I still thought that the idea was dull and it could have been done better. Rob Zombie read my mind, and created a film that was exactly what I wanted the original to be. Since I don’t really know what to say about this movie since I haven’t been able to stop gaping since last October, all I can say is WATCH IT ALREADY!