Halloween is just around the corner and as an avid movie buff, I take time to appreciate all of the horror films that have been made over the years. This year, I have decided to share the scares with everyone else by compiling a list of the top five movies that truly embody the essence of horror and fright. Now I know that there are hundreds of other films out there but I chose these five because I feel they possess the qualities that instill fear in all who watch them. Now enjoy, and beware….
5. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This was the first horror film I ever saw and I did not want to go to sleep for a week after watching it. It wasn’t so much that this movie is horrific in the sense of excess gore, but the psychological terror brought on by this film puts it into a genre all its own. The film tells the story of an FBI trainee Clarice Starling played by Jodie Foster who is sent to question an imprisoned serial killer named Hannibal Lecter, played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins. Throughout the film, Lecter slowly enters Clarice’s mind and makes her tell him all of her deepest and darkest secrets/ fears. While this is going on, Starling is also on the hunt for a killer who goes by Buffalo Bill that has an M.O. of killing young girls and using their skin to transform him into a woman. Silence of the Lambs is an iconic film that truly embodied the element of psychological horror. The film was so well done in its execution that it was awarded Best Picture at the 1992 Academy Awards while Hopkins and Foster also received Best Actor and Best Actress in a Leading Role awards. After I watched the film for the first time, everywhere I went I could hear Dr. Lecter asking me over and over if the lambs were still screaming.
4. The Shining (1980)
Stephen King is one of the most renowned and powerful authors to ever pen a novel. He is also one of the most terrifying. One of the most chilling books ever written by King was entitled The Shining, and when Stanley Kubrick chose to direct a film adaptation of the novel, everyone knew they would not sleep well after watching it. The film tells the story of the Torrance family and how they became caretakers of The Overlook Hotel for the winter months while the hotel was closed down. All alone in the hotel, the family begins to notice horrifying events unfold in front of them. Little boy Danny keeps seeing visions of two girls slaughtered in the hallways while the iconic scene of the twin girls asking him to play with them “Forever and ever and ever” echoes through his mind. Wife Wendy Torrance begins to notice her husband slowly losing himself and screaming in his sleep while his type writer has the same famous phrase typed over and over on pages and pages of work: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. However, the most horrific portion of the film is watching father and husband Jack Torrance, played by the always eccentric Jack Nicholson, slowly begin to lose his sanity as the months in the hotel go on. Jack begins to see people in the hotel that have been dead for decades, is seduced by a woman who turns out to be a decayed corpse, and attempts to go on a killing spree of his entire family with an axe. Perhaps the most iconic moment in this film is when Nicholson bashes through a door with the axe, pokes his head through, and yells, “HERE’S JOHNNY!” The Shining is one of the most frightening films I have ever seen because for an entire two hours, you see one man slowly drift into madness while his family suffers the consequences of a haunting the likes of which nobody had ever seen at the time. Thirty-four years later, The Shining continues to terrify all who feel brave enough to endure its horror.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Mostly all horror movies involve victims being chased around by a killer while they also choose to make the absolute dumbest survival choices. However, Nightmare on Elm Street breaks this rule by having the killer attack victims in a place where everyone feels the most safe: In their dreams. That’s right, while most people go to sleep to wind down after a long day and relax in peace, A Nightmare on Elm Street introduces a villain that slays his victims in the most gruesome of ways while they are sleeping. The killer of this movie is the infamous Freddy Krueger, a completely burned specter who is best known for slashing his victims using gloves with blades protruding out of every finger. The plot of the movie is that Freddy is seeking revenge on the members of a lynch mob that killed him by entering the dreams of the children of the mob members, and butchering the children in their dreams which causes them to be murdered in reality. This movie is truly terrifying because it causes the main characters to fear the one thing everyone had believed to be safe and peaceful: sleep. The protagonists do whatever they can to stay awake for as long as possible in fear that their next nap or nightly rest would be their last. The film also established Freddy Krueger as one of cinema’s most iconic horror villains. Totalfilm.com did a list of the 30 cruelest horror movie villains and ranked Freddy as number 2 on their list. Needless to say, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy Krueger have horrified people for thirty years and will continue to do so for many years to come. So the next time you have a nightmare and quickly wake up, make sure to look around to make sure Freddy doesn’t have his bladed hand to your throat. Sweet dreams.
2. Halloween (1978)
How can we do a Halloween-themed story without bringing up the movie that took place on the day itself. John Carpenter’s Halloween is a truly terrifying movie because it shows just how dangerous mental illness can be. The killer of the movie is not a dream specter, giant demon, or murderous clown. Instead, the killer is a man named Michael Myers who was institutionalized as a child for murdering his sister. However, when he breaks out on the day before Halloween, then his true psychotic nature is unleashed as he stalks a group of high school teenagers. As he continues his murder spree, Myers is chased by his psychiatrist who is the only one who truly understands the danger that everyone is in. Some of the most chilling moments of the film comes when a potential victim looks up to find Michael staring right at them while wearing his iconic white mask. From that point on, the infamous Halloween theme begins slowly playing in the background, indicating that someone was soon to fall victim to Myers’ blade. Halloween redefined the horror franchise because it introduced a serial killer that was not a monster or ghost, but a regular person just like any one of us. The true horror of the film comes not when Myers is stabbing someone to death, but when his psychiatrist confesses to the sheriff that Myers is actually pure evil down to his soul. Confessions like this are what made this film so frightening because it introduced viewers to the idea that regular people had the potential to be so evil that they could be consumed by a murderous rage. After Halloween was released and even as it is still viewed twenty-six years later (sometimes as a Halloween tradition), people began to think twice about the people they associated with.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
No film will ever come out that can rival the sheer horror and fear that The Exorcism has brought on and continues to bring on decades later. It was a movie that showed viewers that even the most innocent of people can fall victim to the most horrific of forces. While other horror movies had a physical individual commit acts of murder or psychotic activity, The Exorcist brought introduced an antagonist that everyone has come to fear at one point or another: The Devil. In the movie, young teenage girl Regan begins to develop some very odd symptoms like seizures, violent outbursts, and physical changes. When several medical tests can not find any definite cause or diagnosis for Regan, her mother turns to a priest who is conflicted with his faith. The priest observes Regan and concludes that she has been possessed by Satan himself. He realizes that the only cure for Regan is to perform an exorcism on the girl, a religious process that had not been undertaken for hundreds of years. However, the priest finds a colleague who also believes that the girl is possessed because he too had an encounter with the devil years before. The true horror of this film comes during the exorcism when Regan (played brilliantly by a young Linda Blair) begins to convulse, speak in a foreign tongue, completely rotate her head 360 degrees, and vomit repulsive green slime over everyone in the room. The idea alone that demonic forces could possess any person at any time and cause them to do the most violent of things had viewers on edge and frightened the moment they stepped out of the theaters. Despite having little gore and violence compared to other horror movies, The Exorcist makes up for it by being one of the first films to introduce the grandest of all evils to the cinematic world as well as bring forth an iconic character in possessed Regan, who truly has become one of the most frightening individuals to ever appear on screen.
Horror movies have and will always be a key aspect of cinema. They instill a sense of fear and suspense that no viewer can get anywhere else. These are just a few of many horror films that have stood the test of time. So this Halloween, take time away from being possessed, staying at an empty hotel, or escaping from a psychiatric hospital and pop in one of these timeless classics in honor of the scariest of all 365 days of the year.