17 October, 2011 & 22 October, 2014 - Eric Ford-Holevinski

10/22/2014: Today I added 21 entries to the list; that's 21 horror films found or released in the past 3 years. For a life-long horror fan, that's a treasure trove. For every good one on this list, there's a bad one I had to sit through. It encourages me to know that good horror continues to emerge, and that even a veteran like me still uncovers the occasional old gem. One thing I've noticed over the years is that if you search for "best horror films," the same 10 or 20 movies come up again and again. Well, everyone has already seen those movies, and sometimes you need something new and fresh to keep the spirit alive... or undead, as it were. This list is intentionally big so that even the most hardened horror-lover might find something he hasn't seen yet.

10/17/2011: It's that time of year, and you need to be watching Horror films. In the same way spicy food seems to clear your sinuses, now and then a good scare is good for aerating your mind. I've spent a lifetime sniffing out the best (or in some cases, the most fun) movies out there, and here they are. This is not meant to be a short list; there simply aren't enough good horror movies for it to get that long. The good news is, this is more movies than you could possibly watch in one Halloween season - isn't that wonderful? In fact, it is my sincere wish that this list will grow over the years. These are also not all necessarily Halloween seasonal movies. There are many horror films I prefer to watch in the winter, such as The Shining and The Thing.

Here comes the really icky part... I made a casual tally of the type of movies above, to see which subgenres are successful and which are perhaps underserved. This was from 10/17/2011; updates from 10/22/2014 will be marked as "+1," etc.

Categories (some overlap)

Zombie: 15 +3
Demons / Satanic: 13 +2
Slasher: 12 +2
Ghosts: 11 +3
Documentary / Found Footage: 5 +2
Monsters/Animals/Mutants (unclassifiable): 5 +3
Aliens: 4 +2
Vampire: 4 +2
Werewolf: 4
Clowns: 2

10/22/2014: Note that I added 2 vampire movies to this list, and they were 2 of the most famous vampire movies ever made. I had simply not seen them yet as of 2011. Note also that no new werewolf movies have been added, even though werewolves are supposedly "trending" in 2014 (yeah right). Yes, I really believe there are only about 4 good werewolf films that have been made. If you're open to getting your werewolf fix from a book, well it just so happens I wrote a novel about werewolves.

In my opinion, found footage continues to be where the most innovation is happening in horror now. The success of found footage proves that usually, the worse a horror movie looks, the more scary it is; and the grainy, low-quality visuals also serve to cover up bad special effects and make them look like good effects, including CGI. Very clever. Meanwhile, Insidious is a gorgeously shot movie, really pretty to look at, and when the monster shows up it ruins everything. Found footage has gotten so good that I can no longer sit through Blair Witch Project; I find it horribly lame and boring. Don't get me wrong, I love a good slow horror movie like The Haunting, but Blair Witch is just 3 obnoxious people throwing tantrums while walking around the woods in broad daylight. I want no part of that. Nothing happens in the movie, except maybe in the last 5 minutes. The use of found footage in V/H/S/2, on the other hand, is damn clever and a hell of a ride.

I have a soft spot for anthology movies, even though there's not one in the world where every segment is good. That's just not possible. But with anthologies you can always skip the bad segments without missing anything. Anthologies work so well because the short form is an ideal match for horror. Horror short stories are almost always better than novels, and horror short films are usually much better than short films of other genres.

10/17/2011: You know, it is to my great surprise that Fright Night is the only real vampire movie on here — The Burbs and Near Dark don't count because, while they're about vampires, they aren't horror movies. Let the Right One In is so out there and non-traditional that it almost doesn't feel like a vampire movie. I hated Bram Stoker's Dracula, Salem's Lot was mediocre, I haven't seen Nosferatu or the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi, and what else is there? 30 Days of Night was an embarrassment. What's amazing is that so many more vampire movies are made than werewolf movies, and yet for all that, there aren't many more good vampire movies. It's ludicrous to say that vampires are underrepresented in film, because they're one of the most overrepresented. But people just have no idea how to bring them to the screen. Most vampire material is either a mega-lame Dracula re-tread, or the endless "emo vampire" sentimental shit. The Waxwork vignette was right on the nose, because (a) the vampires were scary and evil, (b) they were romantic, but in a devious way that logically stems from (a), (c) there was violence, blood and guts, and that gluttonous feasting that harkens back to the old EC Comics vampires, (d) it didn't turn into a black-leather action movie, and (e) there was a pitch-perfect tongue-in-cheek delivery underneath it all. Sweet.

Maybe I'm a little biased toward movies featuring demons and satanic forces. To me, that is the most frightening subject. I mean, when your soul is on the line, the stakes don't get any higher than that! It really, really freaks me out, and when the good-guys lose in these movies, it seriously disturbs me.

Everybody loves to hate documentary horror where people are walking around with a camcorder, but come on, they can be great, and they provide new, low-budget filmmakers a potentially powerful platform. I do think they are a good measure of how much imagination you have. This entire subgenre is based on letting your mind fill in the blanks, and people who aren't willing to open up and do that, well, I feel bad for you. These movies also capture a lot of the feel of sitting around in the dark telling urban legends and wondering "is it real?" or "could it be?" That's what makes movies like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity so effective, isn't it? It's not that we believe any of it actually happened — but the events are credible and intimate. We could see them happening in our own neighborhood. Horror has been in a very bad place since the rise of CGI — just compare the original The Haunting to the remake for a lesson on why. The only good special effects you see nowadays are blood 'n guts effects, the monsters are more and more just bad CG, and in this environment it makes sense to get back to basics, turn out the lights and let whatever imagination audiences have left do the rest.

Zombies and slasher flicks are easily the biggest cliches and most overdone things around, but duh, if you're fishing in a bigger pond, you'll catch more fish. For all the cliche, these subgenres also tend to be the most inventive, because filmmakers have to distinguish their movie from the other gazillion things out there. In some ways it has gone too far, with movies like Fido I have no interest in seeing, ever, or the reprehensible Zombie Strippers. When it comes to slashers, I've always understood and many people have said to me, that there's something deeply, timelessly scary about a lone, remorseless, nearly unstoppable killer with a human face. That's why The Terminator gave people nightmares in the '80s. In principle I kind of hate slasher flicks, they are like the cookies 'n cream ice cream of horror, but what can I say? Even I like cookies 'n cream now and then.

I actually don't even wish there were more clown movies. What can you do with them? The scary clown thing is so obvious and universal - do you know anybody that likes clowns? — yet so easy to screw up. Killer Klowns and It are not particularly good movies, but they pretty much cover all the bases, don't they? What I would enjoy seeing is a treatment of It in the same vein as Kubrick's The Shining, meaning they throw out all the cheesy Stephen King-isms, condense the best elements of the book and re-tool the plot into something that works as a movie. That would be sick. Unfortunately, Kubrick has bought the farm and I don't know who the hell could pull off something like that in today's environment.

There are no good mummy movies. That is just wrong. Mummies are very creepy. Haven't these Hollywood people ever seen a mummy?

You know what, I love a good ghost story/movie. I think it must be the oldest subgenre in all of horror, and you would expect such a rich tradition to spawn some really solid, frightening movies. And indeed it has. Generally, if I know something is a "ghost story" or a haunted house yarn, I fear the cliche that someone experienced a "wrongful death" and is only trying to find justice or revenge. There is a lot more you can do with ghosts, as The Shining and Lake Mungo prove. It is also interesting how different cultures approach the idea of ghosts, although the Asian "evil ghost child" movement ran its course pretty fast.

Keep in mind that the above list and tally reflect horror movies I like, and are completely subjective. These do not represent all of the horror films I've seen, many of which are terrible, and not in a good way (Freddy's Dead, anyone?). Good new stuff will always be coming out, it's just uncommon. I hope to update this page as more good horror movies emerge.

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All work © 2011, 2014 Eric Ford-Holevinski