October is coming to an end and so the days of our favourite bloodsuckers, slashers and rotting undead have begun. For this feature I tried to assemble five of the most watchable horror gems whereby every film is approaching the genre from a completely different angle. This article will lead you through the 1960s until the present day, and I hope it will not only satisfy existing horror fans but also those of you who are only starting to approach the deep abyss that is the horror genre. Even if you haven’t enjoyed horror films so far, maybe this Halloween one of these movies can change your mind.
It’s always the Native American’s graveyard: The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick was a master of many different genres. So when he decided to make a horror movie, it had to be the scariest and most monumental horror movie of all time. And in many respects Kubrick didn’t disappoint. He adapted Stephen King’s book of the same name about a haunted house in the mountains – an old hotel which a family decides to take care of over the winter, even though the last man to do so was driven insane and killed his family. And of course the house has an effect on the family this time, too. The father is played by no other than Jack Nicholson, who gives a hell of a memorable performance. Many have argued that Nicholson has played the father as overly insane to begin with, making the character’s progression towards insanity lose impact. But in my opinion, Nicholson redeems this fact by his unique performance that simply could not have been done by another actor. In addition, Kubrick took many liberties from the original book, keeping it more ambiguous to whether the house is actually alive or if it’s all part of the family’s imagination. But that’s exactly the greatest strength of the movie. Kubrick experiments with cinematic space and sublime visuals that slowly creep to the back of your head. The Shining is arguably the most impressively unsettling movie ever put to film.
Every Boy’s Best Friend is His Mother: Psycho (1960)
The second film on my list is the best known Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece that brought the horror movies to the suburbs. Psycho was Hitchcock’s attempt to scare his audience to death despite the fact that he wasn’t actually allowed to show graphic violence. And he succeeded without a doubt. The story centres in a hotel outside the city run by a man and his mother. When a young female guest of the hotel is reported missing, a private detective is hired to solve the case. The key to Psycho’s brilliance is how well the story is constructed, alongside the unmatched directing skills of Alfred Hitchcock – the plot is the finest example of Hitchcock creating suspense. While the events always keep you guessing, you will be even more invested in the fate of the characters who always know less than the viewer. Finally, Hitchcock took the intensity of horror in the 1960s to a whole new level. Just by his creepy voyeuristic shots, the mantling use of shadows and the horrifying combination of cuts and music – which made the particular shower scene so famous – he created an unbelievable tension that many movies of today are still lacking. It’s a terrific thriller on its own but also a great introduction to the slasher movie, as this is where it all began. If you haven’t seen it already, you should definitely check it out.
A Poetic Tale of Horror: Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Why not start your Halloween party with a black and white French art film? Surprise your guests with how sophisticated you are and bring them back to a time when the evil came from dark castles and mad scientists performing weird experiments in their basement. Eyes Without a Face captures everything that was fascinating about the early horror films from the 1920s and 1930s and pushes it even further. The story really isn’t important here. A strange doctor seems to kidnap innocent women to perform cruel experiments on them. What makes Eyes Without a Face so intriguing is the style in which the narration unfolds. It’s like the poetry of Edgar Ellen Poe made visual. The balance between exciting and calm moments is brilliant; some scenes are completely silent and focus on the subliminal horror drawing their tension from the natural background noises without any soundtrack. But there are others that build up to be tension-filled scenes, including one of the most explicit gore scenes the world had seen at that time. If you want to explore the aesthetic and poetic capacities of the horror genre Eyes Without a Face is the film for you.
Blood and snow: The Thing (1982)
If you are more of a science fiction enthusiast you mustn’t miss John Carpenter’s The Thing. In this 1980s alien movie a crew of American scientists in the Antarctica discover that a nearby Norwegian research station has been wiped out. It’s revealed soon that whatever killed the local Norwegian scientists has found its way into the American station, too. The Thing is actually a remake from an old 1950s alien invasion movie called The Thing from Another World, however Carpenter’s remake stays much closer to the original book by John W. Campbell, Jr., which both movies are based on. And for Carpenter, that’s a good thing. Instead of a walking plant monster, we get an undefinable alien entity in The Thing that is able to imitate everyone in the station and therefore making everyone suspicious. The paranoia within the small group of men is further intensified by the fact that a blizzard is isolating them from the outside world, while nobody knows when and how the alien might attack next. The most outstanding feature of The Thing is the outrageous special effects. The designs for the alien are filled with so much creativity that they are still a delight and a thrill to watch today. The Thing shows the horror when you are not prepared for it and when it’s shown you won’t believe what you just saw.
If you are chased by a killer… split up!: The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
This movie excessively celebrates everything you love and everything you hate about the horror genre at the same time. And it’s awesome! The story starts like every generic modern horror movie… ever. A group of college students go on vacation to an old house in the woods. They have lots of fun until they discover a strange object in the cellar. From here on I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling the fun. So all I can say that there is much more to this movie than this generic plot. And that there is a merman involved. Even though the characters resemble the usual group of stereotypes, it’s fascinating how Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon still managed to give them an interesting personality. Whedon is known for his cleverly written dialogues, and The Cabin In The Woods is no exception. The clever twist of this film is how it constructs its own very unique universe using all the rules and formulas we horror fans are used to. However, the clichés don’t make up the story. They become objects which the story self-reflexively addresses and uses in its favour. By these means, Whedon and Goddard have managed to make a movie that can be enjoyed for its self-reflexive comedy as well as for its insane horror story.