Thursday, September 27, 2007

31 Films for Halloween

Halloween is by far my favorite holiday. I went trick-or-treating way beyond the appropriate age, and I can't wait to put a confused Luna in a pumpkin costume. Most of all, I love the excuse to watch a mind-numbing amount of horror movies - it's largely through horror that I fell in love with cinema, the genre by design liberating filmmakers to follow their most imaginative, stylish and unrestrained instincts. So I was thrilled when Ed Hardy, Jr. of Shoot the Projectionist invited me to participate in his survey of the 31 greatest horror films. Sure, I'd been overlooked for the Online Film Community and Satyajit Ray lists, but no matter - this is the one I've been waiting for (and you can participate too, if you like - head over to Ed's blog for details).

The first question, of course, is what defines a horror movie. For me, a film crosses into the realm of horror when it bypasses our intellectual concerns to touch our primal, irrational fears. This does not mean that a movie must feature ghosts or goblins to qualify as horror; horror is a genre, like comedy or porn, defined not by what the film's content but by what it does to us. It's horror if you jump, it's good horror if you scream, and it's great horror if you can't stop thinking about what it is that made you scream. Here are 31 movies (in chronological order) that go for the jugular:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
Black Sunday (1960)
Peeping Tom (1960)
Psycho (1960)
The Birds (1963)
The Haunting (1963)
Onibaba (1964)
Repulsion (1965)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Don't Look Now (1973)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Jaws (1975)
Carrie (1976)
Suspiria (1977)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Halloween (1978)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Alien (1979)
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)
Inferno (1980)
The Shining (1980)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Creepshow (1982)
The Thing (1982)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Fly (1986)
Evil Dead 2 (1987)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Session 9 (2001)

Also, since we're temporarily away from home and our computer, the title card series is taking a break for the month - instead, look for a series of horror-themed top tens and other Halloween goodies. Look out - the boogeyman is coming!


PIPER said...

Good list,

I struggle with movies like American Werewolf in London. While it's a great film and breakthrough for the genre, I don't really find it scary. Interesting and I will admit the Nazi monsters were creepy, but the overall premise doesn't scare me.

I'm not familiar with Onibaba.

And I wanted to like Session 9 more than I did, but found that it unraveled a bit in the end. I did some work with Stephen Gevedon right around the time the movie got released and I found it interesting that he was in it and wrote it because he is otherwise a very funny man.

Dan E. said...

Fascinating that there is is a 38 year jump between 1922 and 1960. Have you not seen many horror movies from that time, or did none of them scare you that much? I know that Freaks scares the living daylights out of me...

Andrew Bemis said...

An American Werewolf in London is one that is more conceptually scary than viscerally scary. The inevitability of the werewolf premise is so tense and ultimately tragic in that film, which makes the laughs all the more effective.

Interesting to hear that about Stephen Gevedon - I actually know him only from Session 9, so it'd be interesting to check out his comedic work.

And I love Freaks, as well as Cat People, White Zombie, The Uninvited and a lot of movies from that period, but none quite as much as the ones I've listed. If you look at my 100 list, you'll see the '40s and '50s equally underrepresented - for whatever reason, I'm stuck in the '70s.

Dr. Criddle said...

I also emailed Ed a list which was very similar to yours: Peeping Tom, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Suspiria, Dawn and Alien were all present and accounted for. Onibaba is a masterpiece and I really wish more people knew about it.

Still need to see Session 9.

Andrew Bemis said...

William Friedkin cited Onibaba as a major influence on the style of The Exorcist, and they definitely share a kind of matter-of-fact approach to their respective subjects that makes the weirdness on display all the more disorienting.

PIPER said...

I only did commercial work with Stephen and he was very funny in the commercial. I don't know that he has ever done any comedy. Even he thought that was interesting how he always got cast in serious roles. Must be the eyebrows. Very serious.