This is a topic that I am sure has been debated to death across pubs, lunch rooms and workplace coolers for a while now, but I thought I’d give it the good old college try. I really believe that unlike science fiction which has made many quality movies over the years, horror has only a limited number of movies that qualify as cinematic works of art.
The vast majority of horror flicks are gorefest, slasher movies that either are just sickening, hilarious or just plain stupid. While there may be a handful of other excellent movies that I left off this list, they are very few and far between. Let’s get down to business shall we.
Of the movies that did not make this list, these few are notables worth mentioning ; Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and though I despise gross-out, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 28 Days and Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses must rank right up there. I would begrudgingly say that the first installment of Nightmare on Elm Street would qualify for an honorable mention here as well. Yet I remember watching this movie while in high school and laughing my arse off at it. It may have had a lasting legacy, with what seems like 17 useless spin-offs (Robert Englund made a career out of playing Freddy) including the recent Freddy Vs. Jason bombast. But I still think it is juvenile at best. Hack ‘n slash movies have neither plot nor purpose, except to gross out an audience of pubescent halfwits. The same goes for Friday The 13th and it’s many, many, many spin-offs.
However, I would like to give a nod to Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and Vincent Price for basically creating the horror movie genre. Their old back and white movies are pure classics. Collectively, their movies are priceless treasures that have long ago established themselves in the pop culture kingdom. Let’s review the top five now, shall we.
5) Jaws (Universal Studios, 1975)
This is, simply put, the best animal horror movie ever made. With novelist Peter Benchley and then soon-to-be legendary director Steven Spielberg at the helm of this spectacle how could you ever go wrong. Richard Dreyfuss was flawless in his performance. When Jaws was released it swept the US and Europe terrifying both beachgoers and those that never bathe alike.
Arguably, the suspense-building music of ‘dum-dum, dum-dum’ is the most recognizable piece of film music ever created. Jaws is a timeless classic. It forged deep rivers of influence within western popular culture. Who can forget the infamous ‘shark-at-the-door’ skits from Saturday Night Live. Even Benny Hill spoofed the movie. How many movies and television shows over the years have used the ‘fin-in-the-water’ image to conjure fear or insinuate a sense of dread ? And for those of you that think you’ve seen Jaws already, think again. Check out the special 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition DVD for deleted scenes, exclusive footage and behind-the-scenes material including the original theatrical trailers. Also a bonus for movie buffs in Quebec and France, it’s subtitled in French.
4) The Birds (Universal Studios, 1963)
Alfred Hitchcock was a master craftsman. Armed with his legendary side profile, he created some of the most engaging and suspenseful movies in history. Nothing quite equals The Birds for sheer terror. This cinematic masterpiece will quickly induce panic attacks in even the calmest of our species. Who could forget the scene where Melanie Daniels (played by Tippi Hedren) arrives in picturesque Bodega Bay searching for hot-to-trot bachelor Mitch Brenner (played by Rod Taylor) and she is inexplicably attacked by a seagull. For you trivia buffs out there, Rod Taylor also acted in a couple old Outer Limits and Twilight Zone episodes back in the day. This is a movie that will make you think twice before cursing out that blackbird that just soiled the new wax job on your car. Simply stated, The Birds is one of the best ‘nature-gone-berserk’ movies of all time.
The recently released DVD has deleted scenes including the original ending, exclusive footage, the original storyboard sequence and behind-the-scenes material as well as the original theatrical trailer. And like Jaws this movie is Quebec and France friendly, because it’s subtitled in French.
3) Hellraiser (Anchor Bay, 1987)
The first time I saw this movie I was utterly blown away. This is a movie that teaches you that sensual experience is not always a pleasurable thing. It also teaches not to mess around with golden Rubik’s cubes that just happen to be lying around abandoned houses or ancient ruins. Writer/Director Clive Barker captured a vision of Hell that Danté could not have envisioned. Hellraiser conjured forth brutal, sadistic images of a stygian purgatory. Who could forget the cenobites, the labyrinth, Pinhead in all his decadent, evil glory ? Clive Barker is a genius of the vulgar and unusual. As they say in the Southern fundamentalist states here in America, “this be one movie that’ll getcha thinkin’ ‘bout Jesus.” To be blunt it will scare the hell out of you.
Actually, Hellraiser II was very scary and very good as well, which is rare in a sequel. Sorry Quebec and France, but no subtitles here.
2) Psycho (Universal Studios, 1960)
If Jaws has the most memorable music track in all horror movies, then Psycho has the most memorable scene in horror movies. And just maybe its one of the most memorable movie scenes of all time, yes, I’m talking about the notorious “shower scene.” Psycho is a masterpiece of the macabre. But then again we would expect nothing less from Alfred Hitchcock. Norman Bates was one of the most twisted and mentally disturbed movie characters ever, only rivaled by Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. Come to think of it, Psycho’s “shower scene” has a pretty memorable music track as well. Which leads to the question, is it the movie theme from Jaws or the “shower scene” music from Psycho that is the most recognized movie theme of all ? Write in or email and let us know what you think.
Oh and please, don’t even waste your time, much less your money, on that utterly pathetic remake that came out a couple of years ago. It was nothing more than a big flaming dildo of cinematic junk. I am surprised that Winona Ryder and her ‘rock musician boyfriend of the moment’ didn’t star in it just for beer money. Ok, so who’s keeping count, is she dating the guitarist from The Strokes or the drummer from Jet these days ? I heard she was moonlighting with crunk master Giggly Wiggly from the A-Town posse and getting freaky with the beetle juice.
1) Exorcist (Warner Brothers, 1973)
My number one selection for horror movie of all time is the Exorcist. This movie is intriguing, terrifying and will chill you to the bone marrow. There’s nothing like having Satan infest a little girl and turn her into a trash talking, head twisting bitch of a demon spawn. Of course, this movie is set in Washington, DC and this sort of thing happens there on a daily basis. When I lived there back in the mid 90s, I visited the site where the famous “priest falling down the steps” scene was shot. It has a dark, eerie feel that permeates the whole block. I could see why William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty wanted to shoot that scene in that specific locale. Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ also makes a splendidly eerie theme for this movie.
And yes Quebec and France, there are French subtitles. And I must tell you there’s nothing like celebrating Bastille Day, dressed only in your underwear, armed with a loaded shotgun, a fifth of ripple and the Exorcist DVD. I scared the living daylights out of family vacationers in this manner once while renting a house in Languedoc, but that is another story for another time.
Michael Lohr is a freelance writer living in America. His writing has appeared in such diverse magazines as Rolling Stone, The Economist, Flight Journal, Hiking Magazine, Men’s Journal, Outside Magazine, Vermont Living, Vermont Life and Southern Living, to name a few.
Michael’s URL : www.internet.is/music/writer/michael_lohr.htm