I'm pretty fed up with horror movies nowadays. I'm a fan of the horror genre as a whole, but let's get real; aside from some minor exceptions, they're awful. Everything is either pornographic, gory, shot on a camcorder or all of the above.
Back in their heyday, horror films didn't rely solely on blood, guts and naked women to shock audiences; they legitimately tried to scare us. If a horror film is done right, it has a mixture of suspense, disturbing images, an attractive cast and even sometimes the right dose of comedy. (This is where a lot of today's sequel-driven horror films fail; they allow their antagonist to become a comedian, cracking jokes and killing people in such ridiculous ways that they lose any sort of mystery or scariness that attracted audiences to the character in the first place.)
So why do people turn to horror films? I think it has something to do with the adrenaline boost. A lot of people enjoy getting scared because it gives them a thrill they don't find in an average American work week or school week. Horror films tickle our senses and then yank at our emotions whenever something jumps out at us. Horror films make us feel alive, and, in some dark corner of our minds, they make us feel powerful.
We never morn for the blond who gets butchered. We don't care that Lon Chaney has to suffer through being transformed into a werewolf. When we watch horror movies, we may not admit it, but we're ultimately relieved that none of this stuff is happening to us. It's a weird notion, but horror films often comfort a lot of people.
My favorite brand of horror movie are the slasher films (although most if not all of them get butchered—no pun intended—by the sequel.) The slasher subgenre evokes a realism that other horror films can never quite achieve. The scariest part of these films is that the antagonists are people just like you or me. Crazy, of course, but all the same human, which makes the fear of the chase all the more frightening (except Freddy Krueger—we'll get to that later).
For the record, I do not spend all of my weekends watching film after film, but I consider myself a horror movie buff. I've seen everything from Argento to Zombie, and I like to think I've developed some taste when it comes to the genre. So, without further ado, I give you my "Top 5 Horror Films: Slasher Film Edition."
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)— In this famous Wes Craven flick, 16-year-old Nancy Thompson finds herself and her friends being stalked and killed by a severely burned man who wears a glove with knives attached to it. Oh, and he kills people in their dreams. The scariest part of this film is that there seems to be no viable way to bring down the madman, Fred Krueger, who appears to be just a figment of the teenagers' imaginations. They don't know how or why he is pursuing them; he just appears in their dreams and starts torturing them. The concept is frightening. The nightmare boogeyman became someone who could harm you in real life. Nightmares became reality, with no way to stop it.
4. Psycho (1960) — Psycho was so far ahead of its time. Slasher movies weren't even a gleam in Hollywood's eye at the time, and Alfred Hitchcock's tale of a mama's boy with a screw loose is still regarded as one of the scariest, most brilliantly crafted horror flicks ever made. Psycho should be praised not only for its suspenseful direction or astounding performances, but because it cashed in on the slasher subgenre before it was even a thing. Hitchcock’s masterpiece continues to be a pivotal piece, and still knocks competition out of the park.
3. Scream (1996) — Scream is the epitome of teen slasher films. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson started noticing all the stereotypes in the subgenre and felt that it needed a lift from the usual painful sequels and rip-offs. Scream manages to both scare audiences and lampoon the ridiculous cliché the genre had become. The characters are obsessed with horror flicks, reciting specific rules one must abide by when trying to survive a horror movie. (Don't drink, don't have sex, and most importantly, don't ever say "I'll be right back," because you won't be back.) Certainly one of the newer classics, this film successfully combines a well-thought storyline with complex characters, witty dialogue and an emphasis on not taking itself too seriously.
2. Black Christmas (1974) — This is one horror film that does not get nearly as much credit as it should. Starring Olivia Hussey (Romeo & Juliet) Black Christmas tells the story of an escaped madman who breaks into a sorority house's attic and antagonizes the woman boarders with threatening, obscene phone calls. None of these women ever realize that the calls are coming from inside of the house. I love this movie, which is a brilliant screen adaptation of the urban legend "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs." The antagonist, Billy, spews a creepy, cackling, sexually provocative, multi-voiced diatribe at the girls, building tension throughout the movie. The most chilling scene is when one girl talks back to him. Billy drops the banter and says in a flat, monotone voice: "I'm going to kill you." Beautifully done and horribly sadistic, Black Christmas is one classic everyone should get acquainted with.
1. Halloween (1978) – Halloween is one of my favorite films of all time. It remains the instant classic, the first film that pops into everyone's mind when they think of slasher flicks. It stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, a 16-year-old, and her teenage friends, played by Nancy Loomis and P.J Soles, as they are stalked by the mysterious shape known as Michael Myers while babysitting on Halloween night. The film itself, no matter how many times you see it, will make you jump at least once every time. What is really terrifying about Michael Myers is that, in the first film, nothing is really known about him; all the audience really knows is that he's this ominous, creepy and seemingly indestructible force of evil that will keep pursuing no matter how many bullets are shot into him. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie with a likable ease, allowing the audience to both root for and identify with her pure morality and subsequent strength. The film set up a general plot line for multiple rip-offs to come (I'm looking at you, Friday the 13th) and brought revitalized strength to the horror genre. Here was a film that was scary and tremendously well-made; a first for the horror genre in this decade. Halloween set a standard for the next 20 years of horror films, and its general feel and plot line is still copied and revered in to this day.
Notable Mentions: The Strangers (2005) , Peeping Tom (1960), The Last House on the Left (1972), A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors (1987), Child's Play (1988), and Friday the 13th (1980).