THE SHINING (1980)
It’s Stanley Kubrick making an adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Two masters of their respective crafts coming together to make what many consider to be the greatest horror film of all time. Every single aspect of this film; pacing, cinematography, acting, sound design, themes, lighting, editing, all are amazingly executed and work together to create a horror movie that will stick with you for weeks afterwards. On every subsequent viewing you will likely notice a detail you missed before, and every time it feels as if it’s your first time watching it. No one who considers themselves a horror fan, or even a casual appreciator of film, can be excused for not watching this movie. If you haven’t seen it already. Watch it. Pay attention. You’re watching a master at work.
THE EXORCIST (1973)
The Exorcist is one of the first and undeniably greatest exorcism films ever made. The acting is phenomenal, but where The Exorcist truly shines is in its use of graphic special effects and sound design which combine to create a truly unsettling atmosphere. It’s filled with horrifying scenes that still resonate with audiences to this day.
Alien is a classic example of a story as old as time (a group of people trapped in an isolated location being picked off one-by-one) being made to feel fresh and new. It builds tension slowly and beautifully, has naturalistic dialogue and editing, and notably pioneered the idea of outer space being claustrophobic in nature. The creature design was done by H.R. Giger, with a particular emphasis on Freudian imagery explicitly designed to make viewers uncomfortable. It also features perhaps one of the greatest female protagonists in the history of cinema: Ellen Ripley.
Roman Polanski’s first English language film is a mind-bending journey into the world of schizophrenia. While it isn’t a 100 percent accurate portrayal, it’s still much closer than almost any other horror film has come to representing the horrors of mental illness. It’s dark, surreal, and twisted. Don’t expect to sleep comfortably after watching this film.
It’s the horror movie that began an entire subgenre of horror movies. Hitchcock at his finest. While a good deal of the psychology is wrong and the film stumbles briefly in the third act, these are minor quibbles. There are so many little nuances that suck the viewer in and refuse to let them go. Hitchcock’s use of identification and introduction of the themes of sexual frustration and violence lead to a climax halfway in that has never been topped in the history of horror.
THE THING (1982)
John Carpenter’s “The Thing” was originally released only two weeks after “E.T.” and portrayed a very different kind of alien visitor. Originally given strongly mixed criticism, over time it has been reevaluated and is now considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. Carpenter does a magnificent job of combining isolation and paranoia with sudden bursts of horrifying creature effects that are sure to terrify to this day.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Night of the Living Dead played perfectly on American fears during the height of the cold war. It also defined what we think of when we hear the word “zombie.” Hell, almost every single aspect of this film is revolutionary, from the idea that we are a greater threat to each other in times of peril than any monster could be, to commentary on race relations. It’s grim, gritty, and sobering. It’s also definitely worth your time.
EVIL DEAD I (1981) & EVIL DEAD II (1987)
A delightful mix of gore and black humor that put Sam Raimi on the map and are still considered some of the best horror films ever made. They simultaneously pay homage and poke fun at the horror genre, while still managing to be quality horror films in their own right.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)
Made during the height of the McCarthy era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers perfectly captures the heightened sense of paranoia at the time. It shares many similarities with one of the most famed episodes of “The Twilight Zone”; “The Monsters are due on Maple Street.” Although quite a bit more subtle, it still reflects and comments on the attitudes of the time. Genre Fiction is famed for its ability to reflect the period it was made in, and Invasion is a classic and extremely well made example of this.
Every single vampire in cinema, from Bela Lugosi to Robert Pattinson, has taken their cues from Nosferatu in one form or another. It might not stand up to the modern eye as well as others, but it’s still an engaging and compelling film in its own right, as well as a piece of film history that deserves to be seen. To this day the image of Count Orlock’s shadow upon a stairway is instantly recognizable. As an added plus, due to the nature of copyright law, it is available online for free. If you haven’t seen Nosferatu, you are doing yourself a disservice.