The genre has a long and rich history. Do you know it?
Below is a list of what I personally feel are historically important films to the genre and a brief reason why. My film, Death House has drawn inspiration from every one of these in some way.
This does NOT include obscure or heavy cult films. The following are staples of the genre, and Horror 101. If you havent seen them, get on it.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Why? Critics often consider it the first true horror film. A psychological mind screw that rankled the post WW I establishment and brilliant in its art design. The term "horror" will not come into vogue until the 1930s. Tim Burton borrowed art design for Beetlejuice and even Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
Why? It's a classic and one of the first that set a standard for the "vampyre" style predating the original Lugosi Dracula.
Haunting, stylish and a triumph in art design and makeup.
This is the full movie, copyright free in the public domain. A major influence on Tim Burton to the point Christoper Walken's Max Shreck in Batman Returns is named after the actor playing vampyre, Count Orlock.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Why? One of the many films to feature the legendary "Man of a Thousand Faces" Lon Chaney. While Chaney will become a horror standard (if you don't know his name, you need to) for his painful transformations into characters, horror evolved because of his master work in makeup effects.
Why? It was the standard setter and kicked off the glory days of the Universal Studios Monster Movies. Bela Lugosi would forever be associated with the role. All vampire roles to come would be measured by Lugosi's performance until Christopher Lee stole the legacy in his own right during the Hammer Studios heyday.
Why? It made Boris Karloff a star and raised the bar for makeup effects, set design and cinematography. Karloff's Monster (It's "The Monster" not "Frankenstein" Frankenstein is the doctor who made the Monster) is still a touching and human portrayal that's never been equalled after scores of remakes and variations. James Whale brought the monster movie and mad scientist movie together. The flat top
make up design was trademarked and to this day can not be used without permission from Universal Studios.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931)
Why? The first horror film to net an actor a Best Actor Oscar. Frederic March set the standard for the twisted doctor experimenting with things left alone by man. Solid performances, great visual and makeup effects, it continued horror's Depression era rise.
Why? Dracula director Tod Browning's follow up. This masterful piece of social horror used real "freaks" against a nightmare circus backdrop that still shocks to this day. England banned for decades. High on a number of horror filmmakers top ten lists as a career influence.
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Why? The first of many adaptations of The Island of Dr. Moreau, it fuses science and spiruality in the science fiction/mad doctor plot line. A masterful performance by Charles Laughton in a film that pre dated genetic engineering.
The Mummy (1932)
Why? Another makeup icon triumph for Boris Karloff. The image of Universal's Mummy would be hard to beat all the way up to the 2000's reboot.
White Zombie (1932)
Why? It's considered the first full length zombie film that set the archtype for all other zombie films to come. While the acting is hit or miss, it is considered on of Bela Lugosi best post Dracula roles.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Why? Groundbreaking special efefcts and an Oscar worthy performance by Claude Rains. Another bar-raiser for visual effects as cinema expanded and horror helped to elad the way. A must see.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Why? One of the best sequels to a great film ever made. Stylish, ground breaking with a female monster that rivals Karloff in the icon race. A standard-bearer from the great James Whale who already killed it with the original Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. It will be followed by Son of Frankenstein which was the last Universal Studios "A" monster movie (and saved the studio from bankruptcy) and the last time Karloff would play The Monster in a feature film. Lon Chaney, Jr. would take over the role in Ghost of Frankenstein.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1941)
Why? The first "A-List" remake that tried to destroy every copy of its predecessor. The 1931 Frederic March film was almost considered a "lost film" because of the studio attempts to destroy ever vestige of it. One of the first high profile horror remakes.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Why? The makeup effects. One of the first great uses of time lapse photography that created a standard hard to beat until American Werewolf in London. Lon Chaney Jr.'s best known role. It's tragic, fun and was a great staple to Saturday afternoon Creature Feature viewings.
Cat People (1941)
Why? Horror and sex are like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and this film had the balls to address it. A noirish film that set a new standard in its use of shadows and innovative camera work. It was remade to lesser effect in 1982.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Why? The first real "horror mash up" that will set the tone for "Freddy vs. Jason" and other fan wishful thinking line ups. Wrongfully named because Frankenstein is not in this, The Monster is. It paired up Lon Chaney, Jr. and Bela Lugosi (who finally plays The Monster after turning it down in 1931 with the role going to Karloff). A kid matinee treat, the Universal Monster series was in sharp decline by this point.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Why? It's usually the movie most cited for being introduced to Universal's monsters. Again, Abbott and Costello meet The Monster, not Dr. Frankenstein, but who cares? It will be the last time Lugosi plays Dracula and Lon Chaney, Jr. continues his morose Lawrence Talbot. It was the last hurrah and set the stage for future mash ups. Many fans want Death House to be this style of film, but it is not.
House of Wax (1953)
Why? Color, 3D and Vincent Price. It was a standard setter in the next stage of cinematic horror as the new medium of television gave the movies a run for their money.
Why? It was our Godzilla movie in 1954. Not so much a horror film, but it ushered in the "Bomb Made Big Bugs" era in genre filmmaking. Science fiction, yes, but damn if those giant ants and the sound they made weren't horrific. Giant ants, horror in dark underground storm drains...it boasts a top shelf cast and special efefcts.
The Jaws of giant bug movies--it spawned a number of lesser big bug movies, notably The Deadly Mantis and the MST3K favorite The Beginning of the End. It is important to mention the original Godzilla (Gojira) beat the "Blame the Bomb" plot line and inspired the making of Them!
The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Why? Universal goes to the water and creates an iconic monster that still makes an impact to this day. Often citred as a major influence on future A list directors like Spielberg and Carpenter, the film predates Jaws, especially in its underwater "tracking the swimsuit bather" shot. It spawned several inferior sequels including one in 3D, just like Jaws.
Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Why? Hammer Studios first color horror film and brought into focus the new round of horror stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and a push into "Gothic Horror" that would become a staple of drive in movies and Saturday afternoon Creature Feature programming. Get educated on Hammer films.
Horror of Dracula (1958)
Why? Hammer Studios gave Christopher Lee the chance to wipe away Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the dead then undead Count. It worked. For me, and many others, Lee was Count Dracula and scared the shit out of me on numerous late night TV viewings. Hammer's influence on the horror genre can not be underestimated.
The House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Why? It was a low budget marvel that gave us William Castle, the PT Barnum of low budget filmmaking. It introduced new gimmicks like "Emerg-O" which placed actual plastic skeletons in theaters that "flew" over audience's heads. Its financial success caught the attention of Alfred Hitchcock on the power of low budget filmmaking. Hitchcock would adopt this platform in the making of Psycho one year later. If you don't know who William Castle was, find out horror "fan."
The Tingler (1959)
Why? William Castle continued his winning streak with this nifty little monster film that once again starred Vincent Price. Using a gimmick that put electric buzzers in theater seats to "jolt" the audience, Castle made a film that would go on to become a late night TV scary movie hallmark. It encouraged audience members to scream for their lives during a segment where the screen goes totally black. William Castle was one of a kind. Castle's films would also breed future A list talent like Francis Ford Coppola.
Why? Monsters and aliens were out and horror took a darker turn in 1960 with Psycho. The monster was next door. Hitchcock's horror masterpiece broke rules and conventions and made a star of Anthony Perkins in the role that mirrored his own life. It of course is the basis for the "I don't know why" hit cable show Bates Motel. So much has been written on this film, but you are not a horror fan if you have yet to see this. Period. Without Psycho, there is no Halloween, Friday the 13th and the list goes on. A cult film that serves as an almost genre companion piece is Peeping Tom. Check it.
The House of Usher (1960)
Why? The first of a string of Roger Corman/Edgar Allen Poe "adaptations" that brought together a number of horror luminaries usually led by Vincent Price. They were made under the American International Pictures banner and let low budget indie filmmaking cut loose. This was the real rise of famed low budget filmmaker Roger Corman, who's influence can not be underestimated. Corman gave us A-list talent including Jack Nicholson. Know Corman and his work to be a real horror fan.
Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Why? A colorized, public domain link provided. This gave us future Oscar winner, Jack Nicholson. The film was made by Roger Corman and shot in about one day. It is a marvel of indie filmmaking and shows Corman's prowess. It was later remade into a hit Broadway musical and big budget, hit film in 1986. Its impact on the genre and the way films were made is important. It was a staple of late night TV horror host programming. You know, before Svengoolie came along.
Day of the Triffids (1962)
Why? A color, public domain link provided. The film has been remade several times including as a popular British radio play. It was a staple of late night horror host viewings and fused horror and science fiction together with its man eating plants take over the world premise. Important for its influence during the drive in and late night TV horror golden years.
The Birds (1963)
Why? Alfred Hitchcock continued his push into horror with the enironmental horror, The Birds. It was one of the first to take on nebulous environmental themes and a stray from his "people are the killers" motif. The schoolyard scene is iconic (left) and while some of the visual effects are now seen as "dated" the films strong directorial hand overcomes most of its limitations. Take note that future horror scream queen, Veronica Cartwright debuts before she went on to Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Witches of Eastwick.
Blood Feast (1963)
Why? Horror gets nasty with Herschell Gordon Lewis. Lewis's mark on the genre is taking it to the next level and basically ushering in the "splatter film." This was pure exploitation and he wanted to go where Hitchcock's Psycho only hinted. Lewis set the stage for Friday the 13th, Halloween and all of the machete-wielding, splatter films to come.
Horror of Party Beach (1964)
Why? It set a new "low" for low budget horror. This atomic monster throwback to the 1950s was a financial success and was a drive in hit across the nation. It inspired new filmmakers to get out and make something, seeing that horror was the best genre for making money with no money.
Why? It made Roman Polanski a huge name in horror. This went further than Psycho, and openly addressed the sexual aspect of horror around its central figure played by Catherine Denueve. Future Oscar winner Polanski would go on to direct the ground breaking Rosemary's Baby the cult vampire film, The Fearless Vampire Killers and experience his own personal horror at the hands of Charles Manson.
Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
Why? Hammer Studios continued its successful blend of horror and high concept science fiction that gave further light to legendary horror writer, NIgel Kneale. A staple of afternoon horror matinee TV shows, the film and Kneale influenced future horro directos including John Carpenter. The film also brought back to prominence, horror director Roy Ward Baker.
Mad Monster Party (1967)
Why? Not really horror, but the film lumps together the old school, iconic monsters for a kiddie romp that features Phyllis Diller in a dress-ripping catfight with Dr. Frankenstein's hot, red headed Marilyn Monroe type secretary, Francesca who was my first "horror crush." A huge influence on Tim Burton and his eventual Nightmare Before Christmas.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Why? Sorry "Walking Dead Families" without this, you'd have nothing. Romero's low budget miracle changed the horror scene and low budget filmmaking forever with its flesh eating zombies. The present AMC zombie fest owes everything to this film and George Romero. Period. A copyright free version is provided to the left. Copyright issues will lead to a 1988 remake directed by horror makeup genius Tom Savini that stars Tony Todd and is argued by many to surpass the original.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Why? This film ushered in the coming 70s "Devil Made Me Do It" horror. It is still as powerful as the time it was released. Roman Polanski sets the bar high in the Satan-fueled socilogical horror. This paved the way for The Exorcist, The Omen and a slew of satanic themed horror films in the coming decade. Its importance can not be stressed enough.
Why? Often cited as a precursor or influence for Evil Dead. It is notable for its use of forced persepctive. Not the greatest film or horror film, but it has these hallmarks behind it. A big Saturday afternoon matinee monster flick, that was your best way of catching it.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Why? Hands down for me, Vincent Price's best movie. This is a top shelf horror/comedy that fuses fantastic set design, great script and deft direction. A masterpiece that still holds up and recently rumored to be remade with Johnny Depp. Hopefully not. This is a solid classic and must see for any horror fan.
Why? This indie "enviro horror" was a CBS late night movie hit and drive in cult favorite. A good cast and a scar premise with intelligent rats. It was the kickoff for two trends in 70s horror: animals striking back (Ants, Day of the Animals, Night of the Lepus, The Swarm and the eventual 1979 Prophecy) and the Devil.
Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971)
Why? An overlooked, quiet, slow burn social horror with a new age type of vampirism. It was a staple of late night scary movie watchings and scared the hell out of me. Paranoid and a stellar performance by Zhora Lampert. It opened the door for John Hancock to direct Jaws 2 however he was fired and I often wonder what his dark vision would have been like.
This is a small classic and needs to be seen.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Why? Important for Wes Craven and the fact that it caught the attention and support of famed critic Roger Ebert. It elevated the slasher film into a revenge-social horror that resonated at the close of the Manson hippie crash.
The Exorcist (1973)
Why? It is the gold standard for Satan/possession movies. A rare convergence in the genre of solid direction and Oscar worthy performances that dodged an original "X" rating. It's the first and only horror film to be nominated for Best Picture and slew of Oscars with Jason Miller being robbed of the statue for his tortured performance as Father Karras. The most important horror film of the 1970s but also one of the most important ever.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Why? This little made for TV gem scared the hell out of millions and became a cult hit until remade with Katie Holmes in the 2010s. It continues the paranoia kick of the 1970s and fuses it with a nifty haunted house flavor. A tiny classic that still entertains.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Why? No, it's not a true story. No, it's really not all that bloody. However it gave us Tobe Hooper and a slew of new horror icons. It was a drive in hit and played on the close of the Manson hippie movement. Intense, visceral it gave us the "did it happen or didn't it?" type of marketing campaign and showed again, what indie horror filmmakers could do.
It's Alive! (1974)
Why? Larry Cohen shows what can be done with no money and a budding effects wizard like Rick Baker. A small diversion from the "Devil Child" motif kicked off by The Exorcist. This touches on social paranoia and government conspiracy...all the things happening in the country at that time. A nifty little horror flick whose trailer terrified me as a child when seen on TV.
Why? The film that changed the way films were made and distributed forever. The first summer blockbuster that made Spielberg a household name. Enough is written on its production to have a series of classes on it. It's nature strikes back at its best and inspired countless rip offs. Not sure I classify it as horror but it has wonderful, horrific elements. The simple shot of the ripped yellow raft nudging the surf is iconic. if you haven't seen this yet, hang your head in shame.
Trilogy of Terror (1975)
Why? Another TV classic that gained a huge cult following. Its most famous installment in this anthology was about a Zuni warrior doll chasing Karen Black. It was the stuff of numerous late night TV viewings and still holds up thanks to Richard Matheson's writing and smart story telling.
Why? It made Stephen King a household name while also giving us John Travolta and Sissy Spacek in an Oscar worthy performance. Stellar casting and Brian DePalma at the helm, it changed teen horror forever and is still the best of its kind despite two remakes and a sequel.
The Omen (1976)
Why? "Damien" as a name would never be the same. Richard Donner's dread-filled satanic piece is not an Exorcist ripoff. Instead it's a fast paced, truly scary social horror that brilliantly fuses supernatural and Biblical elements. An Oscar levl cast brings the great David Seltzer script to life. Forget the remake, this is the one.
Audrey Rose (1977)
Why? This top shelf, star studded cast horro film took a detour from the "possession movie" and instead used reincarnation as its hook. Directed by acclaimed director Robert Wise, its a nail biting film that still works and gave us a diversion from The Devil in the 70s. There countless rip offs after this, but see this one.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Why? Wes Craven hits again with a great social horror that touches a little science fiction along the way. Action packed it gave us a new set of icons as Dee Wallace and Michael Berryman. See? Wes Craven did do things before Scream.
Why? An underrated zombie film that predates Dead Snow. Amphibious, Nazi zombies, Brooke Adams in a bikini and Peter Cushing....how can you go wrong. The CBS Late Night Movie played this a lot and I caught it almost every time it was on. Excellent effects, solid directing from Ken Wiederrhorn, it was an under the radar entry to the zombie genre that needs to be seen.
Why? Dario Argento's masterpiece of the supernatural, social paranoia and dread. Noted for its brillaint use of colors and cinemtography it boasts a scary script, excellent acting and hailed as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Unfortunately it is set for a remake at the time of this writing.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Why? George Romero tops his original Night of the Living Dead with a masterpiece of high social satire. More than a zombie film, it elevated the genre to something more. Almost hit with an "X" rating, the film brilliantly handled bloody cannibalistic zombies with action. Tom Savini shines with his makeup effects and while remade in the 2000s, this is the standard setter that The Walking Dead emulates.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Why? There is a reason why this remake gets on the list and the original does not. This version was truly a social horror film. Ridden with paranoia and dread, it is brilliant and for me one of the scariest films I have ever seen. It is also more relevant to day with its social implications and a world becoming more and more bland and conformist. Veronica Cartwright, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum...horror staples all shine here. See this. You'll never forget the last 30 seconds.
Why? It made John Carpenter a household name. The best performing independent film for awhile there, it set the stage for the slasher revival of the 1980s. The best of all its sequels, remakes and reboots. It is simple, seamless and made a star of Jamie Lee Curtis. Its impact can not be understated. If you haven't seen it, you are no horror fan. It was followed by a truly inferior sequel in 1981 and is up for yet another reboot in the next year.
Why? Alien IS a horror film with some science fiction elements. Like Halloween, it is a perfect horror film. Excellent performances, streamlined screenplay and excellent effects, it is better now than when it was released. Followed by a possibly superior sequel, Aliens in 1986, it hit the skids with several inferior sequels. It launched the gimmick Alien vs. Predator junkfood series and is now experiencing a rebirth with its prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.
The Brood (1979)
Why? David Cronenberg rising. Another tight, social paranoia/enemy within horror that pushed the indie genre boundaries. High concept and tightly directed, it moved Cronenberg up the ranks to his 80s horror heyday.
Why? Another supernatural image fest that seemed inspiration for Evil Dead. Quirky, with a metaphysical bent, it was one of the last of the "mystic horrors" of the 1970s as the slasher would dominate 80s horror. It spawned sequels and rumored remake but it is a cult favorite to this day.
Why? This gets the booby prize for me. One of my favorite bad "enviro horror movies." A mutated bear goes on a rampage in the Maine woods and gives a classic "sleeping bag slaughter" scene. An A list director and cast couldn't save this turkey and its importance is simply the lesson that despite big money, horror usually works best on the indie scale. A lot fo fun to watch. Stephen King agrees.
Salems' Lot (1979)
Why? Supernatural horror had one good party with this CBS miniseries based on the best selling Stephen King vampire novel. While a pale adaptation of the book, this film works on a number of levels and breathed new life into the vampire genre. Paul Monash's script is tight, the makeup and special effects give us several iconic images and it ends with one of the best vampire stakings ever put on film. It was the end of an era with the making of this film and this is its milestone.
Altered States (1980)
Why? Ken Russell's visual treat starts the new decade with an A-list of science fiction and horror. This film started William Hurt down the stardom path. Brilliant makeup effects and solid story made for one hell of a ride and influence on the genre.
The Changeling (1980)
Why? It might be the best haunted house ever made, although it's not about a house. Brooding, scary and an interesting choice by George C. Scott. It features the late, great Melvyn Douglas in one of his last screen performances. A big hit on HBO and cable, the film has rightfully earned a place as a solid horror film and ghost story.
The Fog (1980)
Why? John Carpenter's follow up to Halloween and he scores again. A throwback to Hammer gothic horror, it is a brilliantly simple ghost story headed by the sultry Adrienne Barbeau that made her a horror icon. A solid genre cast with the great Tom Atkins, it continued Jamie Lee Curtis' foray into Scream Queen territory. As a bonus, Jamie Lee and her mother Janet Leigh (Psycho) star side by side. It was remade in the early 2000s and was rightfully not received well. See the original.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Why? Intended as a Halloween rip off, it spwaned a franchise and an eventual following for Kane Hodder while bringing Kevin Bacon to the spotlight. It's been remade to lesser effect, this film really focused the "sex and die" motif that became the hallmark of the slasher 80s. If you haven't seen it, you don't know horror. Get educated.
The Shining (1980)
Why? I include this because of its importance to the basics of horror, however I feel it is one of the most overrated horror films ever made. The legendary Stannley Kubrick takes on horror to mixed results with a slow pace and an over the top performance by Jack Nicholson that leaves fans of Stephen King's great novel wanting better. On the plus side it is brooding, atmospheric and creepy. High qualilty and it has resonated with fans and part of the "Horror 101" series.
An American Werewolf in London (1980)
Why? It set the new standard for werewolf movies and rightfully earned Rick Baker an Oscar for best special effects. Dark humnor, great performances and deft direction from John Landis, you can't claim horror fandom without seeing this. Stay off the moors.
Galaxy of Terror (1981)
Why? It gave us Robert Englund. Roger Corman stayed busy ripping off Alien and Jaws with a number of films in the 80s. This one takes the cake for Alien rip offs. Featuring an eclectic cast of Sid Haig, Englund, Ray Walston, Edward Albert and Erin "Joanie From Happy Days" Moran (?!) It also features the first worm rape I've ever seen. Mentioned for its cast importance to the genre.
Ghost Story (1981)
Why? The last hurrah for a number of horror folks: Dick Smith's makeup effects still stun in this. it was the last major film for its entire male lead cast of veterans led by Fred Astaire and John Houseman. A weak adaptation of the best selling Peter Straub novel, it still works as an effective, atmospheric ghost story with the ethereal Alice Krige at its horror center.
The Howling (1981)
Why? Dee Wallace continues the werewolf comeback with Joe Dante at the helm. Considered one fo the best of the genre it brings a horror studded script to the screen and led by Rob Botin's brillaint makeup effects that set a new standard in transformation visuals.
Basket Case (1982)
Why? Frank Henenlotter is often overlooked in the genre. He brings another "horror pulp" piece to the screen with his cult hit, Basket Case. Henelotter's low budget work is a tiny sub genre in the horror field and should be seen. Get to know his name and start with this film that has endured to this day.
Why? Horror titans Stephen King and George Romero combined forces to bring this unique horror anthology to life. A tribute to the old horror EC Comics, it's a Twilight Zone/Tales From the Darkside outing that boasts a brilliant cast witgh memorable performances from Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook and Leslie Nielsen. Beautiful art design, it truly feels like a comic book come to life. A must see.
Season of the Witch (Halloween III) (1982)
Why? It needs a break! This is NOT part of the Halloween storyline but Universal Studios didn't tell folks that back in the day. See my take HERE. On its own, it is an effective sci fi horror with a great performance by Tom Atkins and Dan O'Herlihy. You need to see it to understand how the filmmakers wished to do something new and the studio that released it had other ideas. It's now found a new respect after all these years.
Why? Forget the needless remake. Spielberg continued his 80s domination with a venture into horror led by Tobe Hooper. While it was PG, the intensity of the action should have brought the PG 13 argument to the fore sooner. Brilliant effects, great performances-- this film breaks the rule that big budget horror usually doesn't work. A must for horror fans.
The Thing (1982)
Why? Not only John Carpenter's greatest film, it just might be the greatest horror film ever made. It is not really a remake of the 1950s film of the same name. That film had little to do with the original Campbell story. Carpenter made a faithful new adaptation of the source short novel "Who Goes There?" and it is a masterpiece of tension, paranoia and horror. Rob Botin's special effects still amaze. NO CGI in this film, folks and you still sit there asking, "how the hell did they do that?" It failed at the boxoffice but thankfully found new life on home video. Followed by a decent 2011 PREQUEL of the same name.
Why? Dee Wallace was robbed of an Oscar nomination at the least in yet another Stephen King adaptation and one of the best. Continuous tension builds around a solid script and climaxes with a terror filled assault by director Lewis Teague.
This is "nature horror" at its best.
Psycho II (1983)
Why? One of the best sequels ever made. What could have been another lazy entry into the slasher genre, becomes a fresh new take on Norman Bates and the happenings at his motel. Written by the legendary Tom Holland who would give us Fright Night and Child's Play, this has one of the best endings to a horror film ever put on screen. Brilliant and click HERE to see why.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Why? It's the first gender bending horror film that made a star of Felissa Rose and became a cult hit that endures to this day. Its last 25 seconds had audiences freaking out and was ahead of its time. It turned the "summer camp slasher" formula on its ear.
Why? David Cronenberg's trippy sci fi horror was way ahead of its time. Boasting fantastic practical effects and an Oscar worthy performance by James Woods, it broke rules and set the bar higher for the genre. Must be seen to be experienced.
Why? Big budget meets low budget horror with this Spielberg produced, Dante directed film. Yes, this IS a horror movie and fueled the PG 13 frenzy. Chris Columbus' original script was even darker than what made it to screen and Phoebe Cates' story of Santa Claus made it clear this was a horror film. A major hallmark of 80s filmmaking and a monster boxoffice hit during the "Golden Year" of 1984 for American movies.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Why? Robert Englund became a household name with his onscreen persona. Wes Craven reinvents the slasher and launched the career of Johnny Depp. Not bad. A top notch young cast is framed out with a solid script and directing that betrays its budget. The first of a franchise, and the best, the film still resonates today and is a timeless classic of the genre. Havent seen it? Stop saying you're a horror fan.
Fright Night (1985)
Why? Tom Holland's love letter and adieu to a dying era of horror filmmaking. This film brought vampires back into fashion. Without this, you have no Buffy The Vampire Slayer and...unfortunately, Twilight. Roddy McDowell IS Peter Vincent (a play on genre names) The Great Vampire Killer and Chris Sarandon changes up the vampire model and is "so cool, Brewster." Know your horror history to fully appreciate this. One of my top five films, see why it's important HERE. It was followed by an underrated and badly distributed sequel with a stellar vampire by the equally "so cool, Brewster" Julie Carmen.
Why? A game changer in practical effects, it continues Barbara Crampton's movement into the genre. A major cult hit that endures today, the film gave us something new in the mid-80s and took on Lovecraft at the same time while the slasher film was in decline at the boxoffice.
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Why? One hell of a fun romp that soldified the idea that zombies eat brains. Excellent practical effects, Beverly Randolph and a fun script...this all worked. Made because of a continuing legal battle between the original Night of the Living Dead filmmakers, it is not a sequel to the Romero zombie series.
Why? A film sequel that honors the original. Where Alien was the funhouse, this is the rollercoaster. James Cameron brings Sigourney Weaver back and launches a franchise that earned her an Oscar nomination. This is must viewing. Game over!
The Fly (1986)
Why? David Croneberg peaks in horror and makes Jeff Goldblum a sex symbol all at the same time. A brilliant remake that goes in an entirely different direction, it is superior to the original Vincent Price melodrama. Breathtaking effects, solid performances and a script that is brought to terfrifying life. See it.
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Why? Tom Atkins heads a fun zombie romp that was arguably the end of the zombie run for awhile. A fusion of camp and 80s horror, it's a buit of a time capsule and in a way the Fright Night of zombie films.
Why? A new franschise was launched in the wake of the slasher film. As the 80s drew to a close, the psycho slasher was fading at the boxoffice. Pinhead and his gang of Cenobites picked up the responsibilities. Some inventive practical effects, it gave us Doug Bradley with this Clive barker produced supernatural horror fest.
The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Why? I lump these two together because they're a weird kind of original and remake/quasi sequel. You need to watch both to understand. This one was a game changer for the zombie film. It's a supernatural demon movie, with undead-like zombies and Three Stooges slapstick led by a career-making performance by Bruce Campbell. If you have only seen the remake, shame on you. These two films are game changers.
The Blob (1988)
Why? I didn't mention the 1950s Steve McQueen low budget jumpstarter miracle before to save it for here. This is more than a remake, it's an elevation. Chuck Russell directs a solid Frank Darabont script with Shawnee Smith, the great Candy Clark and Kevin Dillon starring. Great effects and a total rehaul of the low budget classic. Highly underrated and a lot of fun.
Child's Play (1988)
Why? Tom Holland brings back the killer doll concept with this breakway hit. It gave us a new "killer name" to join Jason and Freddy with Chucky. it launched a new franchise that still endures and tapped into the "creepy doll" fascination American toymakers were giving us with Teddy Ruxpin type new model toys. Brad Douriff's voice gives Chucky his menace and Alex Vincent brings it home with a great child performance.
Why? It draws on 1950s horror. Stephen King's literally huge best seller got the ABC miniseries treatment with mixed results. Many argue the first half is superior and the last half was plagued by weak special FX. Almost all agree Tim Curry's Pennywise clown stole the show. Regardless it's being remade and its importance is bringing high profile horror back to TV. "IT" showed us people will sit for lengths of time to be scared at home.
Why? Stephen King gets the high brow treatment with Rob reiner and Kathy Bates won an Oscar. The film made slow burning horror cool again and helped to kick off a renaissance of new horror for a new decade. Horror was growing up a bit from the 1980s.
Why? It's Jaws on land. Before CGI choked out monster movies, good old practical effects and another fine genre performance by Kevin Bacon and the underrated Fred Ward opened a new franchise. The 1950s big bug movie came back in the form of Graboid worms with an appetite.
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Why? Wes Craven moves closer to redefining horror with his coming Scream with another inventive "dark suburbia" piece. Craven had his own style and feel to his films. His "family" atmopshere wasdark, satirical and laden with menace. This hearkened back to a 70s horror film, Bad Ronald with a similar "hidden people in the walls" motif.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
Why? Tom Holland's Fright Night paved the way for this. However while the film had a tepid response at the boxoffice, it was the first quiet move toward "Designer Horror" of the 90s. It would spawn the wildly successful TV show that designer labeled horror on TV and on the big screen.
The Stand (1994)
Why? Stephen King continues his ownership of the genre with another high profile miniseries that helped pave the way for The Walking Dead and American Horror Story. It continued the return of horror to the small screen and the coming genre renaissance of the coming 2000s.
The Craft (1996)
Why? It allowed "Designer Horror" to take shape. See my piece on that topic here: http://horrorfuel.com/horror/reviews/the-90s-designer-horror/
The film continued the march of horror toward the lucrative "Tween" and "Middle School" demographic. For better or worse. It also made the highly underused and underrated Fairuza Balk a big thing for a moment.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Why? These kind of Designer Horror "sexy teens in peril" films were mostly spearheaded by the slick,"knows how to package teen angst", Kevin Williamson, who is arguably a negative mark on the genre aside from Scream. These kind of horror films helped bring on Twilight and the dillution of the genre that would form a counter movement with the rise of hard core torture porn horror by the close of the 1990s. Williamson would have a detrimental effect on the Halloween series as well. Williamson is often seen as the R.L Stine of horror, dumbing it down for pre teens hooked on the superficial.
Halloween H20 (1998)
Why? Designer Horror hits its peak with this vanilla film that capitalizes on blind fan loyalty and nostalgia. Beautiful model type cast chased by man in mask with Jamie Lee Curtis exploiting her "return" to the film franchise that made her a star. Kevin Williamson gets the blame for this mess and shoulders more blame for neutering the genre.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Why? Horror ends on a high note with the film that was the first viral website hit. The first real Internet movie, it is often hit by critics who say The Last Broadcast beat it to the punch for the new "found footage" sub genre. Blair Witch works. Effective, smart and lean, it does for the woods what Jaws did for the water. It showed the industry that the growing Internet was the marketing key to the future.