ERIC'S CANON OF HORROR AND THE MACABRE: IN THE MOVIES
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.
- The ABCs of Death - an off the wall 26-segment anthology; some are downright awful, but some are amazing (I liked C, D, L, O, T, U, V, and W)
- Alien - not really a fall/Halloween kind of flick, but undeniably a top tier SF-Horror movie
- An American Werewolf in London - best werewolf movie of all time
- Army of Darkness - not on the same level as the Evil Dead movies preceding it, but still great
- Bad Taste - aliens dine on a small town in New Zealand; tongue-in-cheek action ensues, with a big helping of gross-out effects
- The Beyond - a wacky, ridiculous Italian gorefest; contains one of the most haunting depictions of Hell I've ever seen
- Black Christmas (original) - possibly the best slasher film ever, and the best treatment on film of the "phone calls from inside the house" urban legend
- Blair Witch Project - I actually don't like this movie anymore; the found footage genre has come such a long way, this one just doesn't cut it now, but you're kind of required to watch it sometime in your life
- The Brood - the most terrifying "evil little kids" you'll ever see
- The 'Burbs - harmless family-appropriate fun; Tom Hanks in his prime
- Cabin Fever - funny as shit, creepy, well shot, and wicked off-beat score
- Cabin in the Woods - a humorous twist on horror cliches with a great roller coaster third act
- Children of the Corn - highly unintentionally funny, still creates some suspense
- Christine - evil car
- The Conjuring - like Insidious, it starts out promising and then goes off the rails; but the "clapping" game totally got me and my family
- Coraline - a beautiful story that actually seriously creeped me out
- The Crazies (1973) - like a zombie movie, but with an insanity-virus; hard to categorize, but solid
- Creepshow 1&2 - hit or miss anthologies, but the "hit" segments are well worth it
- Daffy Duck's Quackbusters - you know you love it
- Dawn of the Dead (1978) - the classic zombie movie; non-stupid people attempting to hole up and wait out the apocalypse, this is Romero's signature social commentary before that aspect of his films became too on-the-nose and ruined them
- Day of the Dead - flawed, but has some deeply haunting scenes, great score, amazing kills
- Dead Alive / Brain Dead - insane gorefest; you'll laugh, you'll hurl!
- Dead Girl - two horny teenage boys find a female zombie in an abandoned warehouse and turn her into their sex slave; a great, unflinching film that could've been gimmicky but isn't
- Dead Snow - zombie Nazis, very fun stupid flick with some inspired gross-out kills
- Deep Red - great straightforward slasher, Italian style
- The Descent - does for caves what Jaws did for surfing; tons of good jump scares
- Dog Soldiers - sort of a werewolf movie that leans to the action side
- Donnie Darko - more offbeat teen science fiction than horror, but it takes place on Halloween and definitely has a dark twist
- Dracula (1931) - not scary by today's standards (though Renfield is creepy as hell), but it has stood the test of time
- Drag Me to Hell - scary, upsetting, typical Sam Raimi humor
- Event Horizon - Lovecraftian sci-fi horror in a haunted space ship, one of my personal favorites
- The Evil Dead (1981) - the cabin in the woods horror movie
- Evil Dead II - possibly the best comedy horror of all time; the comedy version of the original Evil Dead
- Eyes Wide Shut - Young Goodman Brown is one of the great horror short stories, and this is basically the movie version of that story
- The Exorcist - amazingly, still hasn't been matched by the numerous pathetic exorcism movies that followed it
- Fallen - fun little flick about possession, with a young Denzel Washington
- The Fly - one of the most heartwrenching stories ever committed to celluloid
- Forbidden Planet - an early SF-Horror; thought-provoking; unique and incredible sound design and score
- 1408 - oh hell, why not? Entertaining and cool visuals, a good one to watch "with a little help from your friends" I imagine (not that I ever have!)
- Friday the 13th, Part III - the most fun and cheesy Jason movie; amazing opening theme, and in 3D!
- Fright Night (1985) - one of the few watchable vampire movies
- The Frighteners - solid ghost whisperer yarn
- From Beyond - once you've seen them, they can see you...
- The Gate - back when movies "for kids" used to be scary
- Ghostbusters - probably the best comedy horror movie, dammit, who doesn't love Ghostbusters?
- Ghostbusters II - not as good as the first, but spookier (that bathtub scene still gives me goosebumps)
- Ginger Snaps - fantastic high school movie about a girl bitten by a werewolf
- The Grudge (original) - In my opinion, the most effective Asian-style "evil ghost children" movie; sure it's flawed, but also one of the rare films with scary scenes set during the day
- Halloween - duh.
- Halloween II - surprisingly intense and effective sequel
- Halloween III - solid, creepy mystery about Halloween masks that do horrible things to the wearer
- Hatchet - absolutely unbelievable gross-out kills, non-stop; that's pretty much it
- The Haunting (1963) - may not impress modern de-sensitized audiences, but the big scare sequences still have bite
- Hellraiser - awesome monsters, and just the right amount of camp
- Hostel - obviously not for everyone, but if you can handle it, it's worth the ride; "You just... take zem!"
- Hostel II - clever and gratifying sequel (same rules apply)
- House - a weak haunted house movie with some surprisingly effective scares; verges into "so bad it's good" territory
- House of 1000 Corpses - your hometown "haunted house/hayride" experience turned into a movie
- The Howling - second best werewolf movie, with my favorite werewolf design
- In the Mouth of Madness - perfect H.P. Lovecraft homage, great photography, fall scenery, slimy monsters, books that turn people insane... just perfect
- Insidious - cool premise, great music, this deeply flawed movie stumbles in the third act, but it's too much fun to leave out
- Invaders from Mars (1986) - creepy, weird, child-traumatizing effects elevate a conventional alien-paranoia flick
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) - terrific, bleak; the way the pod people point and scream stays with you forever; unforgettable ending
- Jacob's Ladder - a man suspects he's in hell, unable to wake up from a nightmare loaded with uncanny, horrifying visions; one of the few horror films that's emotionally moving and philosophically thought-provoking
- Killer Klowns from Outer Space - the costumes are ingenius; show this to your kids to establish a lifelong fear of clowns!
- Lake Mungo - a girl saw a "warning" that her death was coming, and now her ghost is haunting her family's home; slow but extremely eerie documentary style horror
- Let the Right One In - a unique take on vampires, not scary but quite good
- Lie Still - a guy checks into a room, and then can't leave; not the most original premise, but this creeped me the heck out; very atmospheric
- Lord of Illusions - a little-known Clive Barker film about black magic set in modern America; the opposite of Harry Potter, the sorcery here is sinister and gruesome
- Lost Highway - one of the scariest first 30 minutes ever to open a movie
- Monkey Shines - a totally laughable movie that's great to watch with friends over a few beers
- Near Dark - vampires in the wild west... excellent story; maybe more of a summer movie
- Night of the Creeps - parasite slugs turn preppy douchebags at school into zombies, nerds fight back with flamethrowers - enough said!
- Night of the Living Dead (1968) - perhaps still the best zombie movie of all time
- The Nightmare Before Christmas - a work of genius; it sickens me to see emo teenagers walking around with Jack Skellington hoodies and backpacks, though
- Nightmare on Elm Street (original) - arguably the best of the franchise, and one of the few that has a point to it
- Nosferatu - everyone knows about it but few have seen it; this is actually an incredibly slow movie, and I consider the Bela Lugosi Dracula a better film overall; but there's nothing like that makeup!
- The Omen - a child may be the spawn of Satan, and only one man knows the truth; what the hell do you do about it?
- Paranormal Activity - scary as hell, the sequels mostly sucked
- Pet Sematary - (see Re-Animator)
- Phantasm - cheesy fun, with lines like "don't bother with warning shots, that's bullshit!"
- Picnic at Hanging Rock - a group of schoolgirls vanish without a trace at an Australian rock formation; a slow, confusing, frustrating movie, but fans of the weird and creepy will find it interesting
- Piranha 3D - pure shameless derivative fun
- Poltergheist - I pretty much have to include this
- Pontypool - when people are exposed to certain words in certain combinations, they enter a violent, self-destructive mass hysteria; a very intellectual, unconventional horror film, and quite well executed
- Prince of Darkness - one of the great movies that is the most scary after the credits roll; as bleak as it gets
- Re-Animator - classic Lovecraft adaptation, people being brought back from the grave but no longer themselves, etc.
- [REC] and [REC]2 - zombies in an apartment building, shot on handheld cameras; among the cream of the crop for both zombies and found footage
- Return of the Living Dead - top tier zombie movie (with running zombies, too); played for laughs, but still has genuinely creepy moments
- The Ring (US) - I hesitated to include this (after reading the book, the movie lost most of its shine), but hey, people are still talking about it and it is very suspenseful and scary; the uncanny soundtrack of the VHS tape is unforgettable; it has earned a place in the canon
- Rosemary's Baby - good paranoid portrayal of a young wife impregnated with the seed of Satan
- Se7en - superlative thriller that was so macabre and grisly that I always thought of it as an honorary horror film
- Shaun of the Dead - a parody of zombie movies that manages to be a solid one in its own right
- The Shining - breathtaking, hallucinatory haunted hotel experience
- Shrooms - hilariously retarded, a rare "stoner horror"; it's not stoner comedy, I'm not sure it's even intentionally funny, it's just delightfully bad
- Sleepy Hollow - a real funyon, one of best products of Burton and Depp's eternal bromance
- Stephen King's It - flawed in the ways most King adaptations (and books) are, but Pennywise the Clown is an amazing monster, perfectly played by Tim Curry
- The Strangers - simple, but effective; the realism makes it scary, those goddamn masks make it even scarier
- Suspiria - one of the more visually creative horror flicks
- Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight - good times
- Terrorvision - so outrageous and campy it's in a class all by itself
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - disturbing and brutal in a way today's horror movies rarely are; when Leatherface hangs someone on a meat hook, you can practically feel it in your back
- The Thing (1982) - a perfect horror film and one of my life-long favorites
- Tourist Trap - not very good, but the opening sequence, and a few other scenes, scared the everloving shit out of me
- Trick 'R Treat - I only saw this once and too recently to really give it an appropriate evaluation, but it was neat and I expect to revisit it from time to time down the road
- Troll 2 - the ultimate "so bad it's good" movie
- Tucker and Dale Versus Evil - two gentle rednecks are besieged by a posse of evil city slickers in this entertaining reversal; this is a comedy, but they don't hold back on the violence and gore
- 28 Days Later - nice alternative zombie fare, nice soundtrack
- V/H/S 1&2 - my favorite horror anthology series, mostly shot POV-style; the second one is better than the first
- Videodrome - good for anyone who was ever afraid of their TV coming to life (me); includes social commentary on our over-stimulated culture
- Village of the Damned (1995) - a riot; one of Christopher Reeve's most enjoyable performances
- Waxwork - surprisingly engaging episodic, with vampire and werewolf vignettes that are better than most vampire and werewolf movies
- Wes Craven's New Nightmare - the only "Elm Street" sequel as scary and good as the original
- The Wolfman (1941) - tame by today's standards, but a damn fine movie all the same
- Zombie - great kills, cool music, and the undead are way more decayed and messed-up than Romero's "blue" zombies
- Zombieland - a horror movie for people who don't like horror movies, this one is too charming and, dare I say it, heartwarming, not to be listed
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
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