By Monte Yazzie of The Coda Films
An American Werewolf in London (Dir: John Landis)
“American Werewolf in London” was released in 1981, all that time and the werewolf transformation scene is still the special effects scene to beat. John Landis, coming off “The Blues Brothers” and “Animal House”, made this darkly comedic werewolf film into a standout genre film. Rick Baker’s Academy Award winning special effects steal much of the spotlight but the narrative is inventive and humorous while still levying a generous amount of gore and jump worthy scares.
Candyman (Dir: Bernard Rose)
The best movies stay with you because they evoke an emotion. Fear is a strong emotion and “Candyman” captured my fear. Whether the haunting score by Phillip Glass or the gothic poetry spoken by the monster, this movie directed by Bernard Rose stuck with me. Based on a story by Clive Barker, “Candyman” has all the misery and dread found in Barker’s work. As it is in most of Barker’s tales, the monster is the most complex character of the story.
Dawn of the Dead (Dir: George Romero)
First was “Night of the Living Dead”; the second was “Dawn of the Dead”. George Romero’s script is filled with satire and social commentary and the reflection of the emotions and attitudes of the time. In the current state of popular culture, where zombies are everywhere, Romero’s films are a direct influence for all of them. For Romero zombies have always been used for commentary, which makes it interesting to see how “Dawn of the Dead” still reflects many of the issues from the past in our present. Even though the 70’s are on clear external display, the undertones are inherently timeless.
Evil Dead 2 (Dir. Sam Raimi)
The first “Evil Dead” was a straightforward, low budget horror film. The second, still to its core a horror film, added a healthy dose of humor and unleashed the charisma of Bruce Campbell. Director Sam Raimi mixes slapstick and horror with ease, making it okay to laugh while our hero Ash is put through the ringer of horrible acts. Raimi’s style was patented here, a distinctive quality that can still be seen in nearly all of his films. Bruce Campbell’s manic comic acting turned the film into something lighthearted at times but it never stops being relentlessly horrific.
Kairo (Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
“Kairo” is a cautionary tale. In a technology fueled world people have isolated themselves to near zero communication. Instead using numerous forms of electronic communication to connect with the rest of the world. Suicide becomes rampant and the ghostly images of the recently deceased begin to communicate through technology. Horror films have always been used as social commentary; here the topics of depression and suicide are examined. Communication has changed to the extent that human interaction happens through artificial sentiments looking into the glow of a screen. How will this change people? “Kairo” may not offer scares that keep you up at night, but the questions offered might keep you thinking longer than expected.
Nosferatu the Vampyre (Dir: Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre” is a beautiful, dread-filled film. While holding many of the strengths of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic, Herzog embeds his patented designs throughout the film. From the use of nature that hints at something dangerous behind the scenic fronts, to the color that continuously expresses emotion with vivid and muted renditions, to Klaus Kinski’s pitch perfect performance of the character made famous by Max Shreck; this is more than just a run of the mill vampire film. In the hands of one of the great filmmakers, horror is made truly beautiful.
The Shining (Dir: Stanley Kubrick)
Stanley Kubrick has created some of films most revered works of art. “The Shining”, based off a Stephen King story, is in the horror hall of fame. Down every hallway and through every door of the labyrinth that is the Overlook Hotel Kubrick draws fear with subtle and deliberate imagery. Flooded elevators of blood and ghostly images are still effectively startling today. Not to mention the performance by Jack Nicholas, which can only be classified as iconic. “The Shining”, regardless of how many times I watch it, continues to stay with me long after the credits roll. That’s the mark of a true horror film.
Shivers (Dir: David Cronenberg)
“Shivers”, alternatively known as “They Came From Within”, is a low budget horror film from the bizarre and brilliant mind of David Cronenberg. This film displayed the skill that would be further implemented in his later work, but the effectiveness of “Shivers” is that it doesn’t utilize the typical genre characteristics to scare. The gore and violence happen relatively off screen and the special effects are used sparingly, instead Cronenberg focuses on the characters in the apartment and the uncontrolled threat of the parasites turning people into sex-crazed maniacs. Cronenberg has transitioned in his current work, away from the horror of the body and more into the horror of the mind, but the past has proven Cronenberg one of the most unique directors of our time.
Suspiria (Dir. Dario Argento)
I was fortunate enough to watch this film on a 35mm print with a crowd full of horror enthusiasts, some watching Dario Argento’s masterpiece for the first time. It was an experience to say the least. From the assaulting introduction complemented with a score by Goblin, the young American ballet student walks into a European school of horror. The unpleasant mood builds with nightmarish imagery with little concern about adhering to structure. Rendered with deep blues and bright reds, visceral gore, and innovative design, “Suspiria” is less a story and more an atmosphere. A genre spectacle conducted by a master of horror.
The Thing (Dir: John Carpenter)
“The Thing” is potentially one of the best genre remakes every made. From director John Carpenter, whose film catalog could have populated this list completely, “The Thing” is a benchmark of special effects wizardry from the hands of the great Rob Bottin. It’s also terrifying. Carpenter, having “Halloween” and “The Fog” underneath his belt, utilizes the isolated Antarctic research facility to portray a story where no one can be trusted. With tension filled scenes, Carpenter builds anxiety, shocks you with scare, and then follows it with a gory mutation whose effect still holds up thirty years later.
Here are ten more that could have easily made this list on a different day.
- Black Christmas
- Bride of Frankenstein
- Carnival of Souls
- The Devils Backbone
- Fright Night
- The Lost Boys
- Return of the Living Dead
- Rosemary’s Baby