Caroline Groff, Staff Writer
As Halloween creeps closer, lists of the best horror movies have started to circulate and every year it gets harder to define what horror truly is. Not every horror movie has incessant jump scares and enough gore to fill a hospital. Some do, but others have become classics for their style, innovation in the genre and sometimes for outright absurdity. For these picks, it is all about starting your movie marathon with some horror essentials.
Can there be a list of horror movies for the spooky holiday without Michael Myers? John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978) is a classic to start your horror excursion. Michael Myers, played by Nick Castle and referred to as “The Shape” in the film’s credits, has been in an institution for 15 years after murdering his sister on Halloween night when he was six years old. He escapes during a transfer and makes his way to Haddonfield, Illinois, on Halloween night once again to terrorize a group of unsuspecting teens. The score by John Carpenter features mostly simple, synth keyboard riffs and is timed perfectly with every moment. Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Laurie Strode. Donald Pleasence stars as fan favorite Dr. Loomis in a performance that plays so dramatic it is almost absurd in the best way possible. By today’s standards it is not as outwardly horrifying as most, but the simple hometown atmosphere makes for some eerie terror in the suburbs on Halloween night.
The success of “Halloween” was followed with the box office failure of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” in 1982, but the film has retroactively garnered a cult following. There is some favoritism at play with two Carpenter movies in a row, but for good reason. Follow a rag tag group of scientists located on a research base in Antarctica as they encounter a mysterious dog that brings the presence of an alien creature with the ability to take on the shape of its victims. R.J. MacReady, played by Kurt Russell with an impressive beard, leads the pack on their quest to find out who is still human. It is a perfect blend of sci-fi nerdiness and gory horror. Just make sure you don’t accidentally watch the 2011 prequel, or you’ll regret it.
The themes of paranoia and isolation continue with Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, brings his wife Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall, and their son to the Overlook Hotel which has an unclear and violent past, after being hired on as caretaker over the winter. As the family starts to uncover some of the hotel’s secrets, cabin fever creates tension between the three. Forget that this film adaptation almost completely disregards the Stephen King novel it is based on and this movie is fantastic. A ghost hotel, blood elevator, and an axe wielding Jack Nickolson. What more could you want?
Director Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977) brings a horror flick fueled by German rock music and technicolor. The audience sees American dancer Suzy Bannion, played by Jessica Harper, arrives at a ballet school in Germany. Goblin, a German prog-rock band, collaborated with Argento on the film’s intense and awesomely chaotic score. The film mixes its unique aesthetic with absurd set design and lighting, leaving the viewer feeling like have just fallen down a very disturbing rabbit hole. In Janet Maslin’s review of the film for the New York Times, she said, “his distorted camera angles and crazy lighting turn out to be much more memorable than the carnage.”
Any discussion of the horror genre usual begins or ends with “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), especially if you’re talking zombies. Director George Romero is credited with creating the modern-day zombies with this film, even though the film itself never refers to them as such. Alison Wilkinson, writer for Vox, said, “We wouldn’t have ‘The Walking Dead,’ ‘World War Z,’ ‘Shaun of the Dead’ or ‘Zombieland,’ either — in ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and its sequels, Romero invented the rules that guide our modern ideas about zombies.” This film is the first in a trilogy exploring an apocalyptic world where brain eaters inhabit the earth. The first entry to the series sees a group of survivors boarded up together in a farmhouse as the undead try to make their way in.
The horror umbrella is large and all-encompassing and making a list that everyone can agree on is impossible. There could and should be countless other films included on your Halloween watchlist, but this can work as a horror starter pack.
So, what’s your favorite scary movie?
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