Saturday, 25 October 2014

Top 5 Classic & Modern Horror Films

With Halloween right around the corner the season to be spooked is upon us! As the leaves slowly change and fall from the trees, the cold wind blows in, and jack-o-lanterns light up windows, the world looks a little more ominous. It’s the perfect time of year to get scared out of your mind watching a great horror film. There are generally two camps when it comes to horror films; those who prefer the classics before it because all guts and gore, and those who love the edge modern technology has give to the genre. So, in honor of both of those camps, and Halloween, let’s take a look at the five (arguably) best horror films from each time period. While these are entirely subjective lists, chances are you’ll agree with at least a few.

5 Best Classic Horror Films (Pre-1980)

This classic Hitchcock film has long served as a shining beacon in his trophy case of horror and suspense films. Based off the 1952 novella of the same name written by Daphne du Maurier, it tells the horrific story of what happens when nature turns on man, or more specifically in the film, woman.

Hitchcock based the film around his trademark “Hitchcock Blonde”, this time an unknown actress named Tippi Hedren. Hedren plays the San Franciscan socialite Melanie Daniels in the film who is present to a growing number of mysterious incidents involving birds. After two separate incidents involving attacks by seagulls and sparrows, we soon realize that it’s all the birds that are out for blood. As more and more people begin to report bird attacks they start to increase in frequency and aggressiveness before reaching a frantic climax (which includes the infamous telephone booth scene.)

What the film managed to do was create an irrational fear in all of us since we’ve all been around flocks of birds. Hitchcock was a master at manipulating reality and making his viewers completely terrified of the everyday. The Birds is a shining example and is still regarded as one of the best horror films of all time.

Another gem in Hitchcock’s resume is this 1960 thriller that made all of us completely terrified to take a shower for at least a week after watching it. The film follows Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) as she goes on the lamb after stealing money from her office to help fund her pending marriage. As she flees the scene and tries to evade the authorities she comes across the rundown and largely empty Bates Motel with it’s strange proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who takes care of the hotel and his aging mother Norma.

From there the film delved into completely uncharted territory with its violence and sexuality, but these only served to create even more buzz for the film with lines around the block when it hit theaters. It’s also proved to be one of the most successful horror films of all time with a box office take of $32 million for a film made on only $800,000.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Ira Levin, this 1968 Roman Polanski film put a whole new sense of fear into expectant mothers thanks to it’s creative storyline involving carrying the spawn of Satan. Starring Mia Farrow at the titular character in her most famous role, it follows Rosemary’s difficult pregnancy that sees her become so ill it appears as if she’s slowly dying, a far cry from the typical glow and fullness that typically comes with pregnancy.

As her body is thrown into turmoil she slowly begins to question those around her including her strange neighbors and new friends of her husbands. She soon uncovers the truth about what’s happening to her, the shocking role her husband played in it, and the shocking secrets of those around her.

The film is also notable as a collaboration between Polanski and b-movie horror huckster William Castle (who was reportedly the second producer to have been presented with the galleys [the first having supposedly been Hitchcock).

This film by Tobe Hooper helped to define the slasher sub-genre of horror films, and terrorized millions in it’s wake. Hooper partially based the film on the horrific murders done by notorious serial killer Ed Gein and, with only $300,000, set about to make one of the most famous horror films of all time.

Set in rural Texas, the film follows a group of young men and women who are chased, terrorized, and killed by a psychopath serial killer called Leatherface. Leatherface belongs to a family of butchers, who make a living selling barbecued tourist meat. However dubious the business model may seem, the film just turned 40 this October — and, on the whole, it’s aged quite well. Unlike many of it’s predecessors this film doesn’t rely on the viewers to whip themselves up into a tizzy with suspense, it instead provides graphic depictions of murder by many means. While it’s not the most groundbreaking script or acting you’ll ever see in your life, it always manages to terrify viewers, even 40 years after it’s initial release.

The film was so successful it spawned a horror franchise that is still turning out films to this day, many of which you can watch online or through cable providers like DirecTV. While the quality of them has decreased over time, they’re still very much in the spirit of the original.

Another Polanski film, and the acknowledged black sheep of the list is this Catherine Deneuve vehicle. Created as part of Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” that includes Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant, the film is an intensely psychological thriller that follows Deneuve’s character Carol as she slowly descends into madness, and brings the viewers along for the ride.

Carol is a simple manicurist living in London with her older sister living an altogether uninterested and disenchanting life. Things start to go awry when her sister leaves to go on holiday and Carol is left alone in an apartment that appears to turn on her. A series of hallucinations throw her into an almost alternate reality where her only answer to deal with the unwanted advances of the various men in her life is to kill them.

The film is trippy and almost mind altering in some scenes in a way only something made in the 60’s can be, but really displays both Deneuve and Polanski’s talents. It’s a vastly underrated and underseen film given it was one of Polanski’s British releases and wasn’t as widely released or promoted here in the United States.

5 Best Modern Horror Films (Post 1980)

Although it wasn’t met with the warmest reception by most critics upon its release (with Roger Ebert being one notable exception), the film is now widely considered a masterpiece both in horror and in film in general. Based upon Stephen King’s eponymous novel, the film was directed by Stanley Kubrick, and featured Jack Nicholson in one of his most famous roles as “Jack Torrance,” a down-and-out writer and recovering alcoholic who takes a job as a winter caretaker of the Overlook hotel outside of Boulder, Colorado. He uproots his family to the hotel, which becomes snowed in during the winter, so he can have some solitude to write. Unfortunately, the hotel was built on a Native American burial site and the peace that Jack was looking for never comes.

As the families stay drags on at a slow pace, things slowly begin to get stranger, including his sons increasing nightmares and a growing curiosity about room 237, which they were warned not to enter. With the growing snow fall outside, cabin fever begins to set in and viewers aren’t quite sure if what they’re seeing is real or not, and neither are the characters in the film. Paranormal experiences, ominous dreams, and a growing tension and sense of fear lead to an intense and frantic climax at the end of the film featuring, of course, the “Here’s Johnny!” scene.

An edge that modern films have over their predecessors is the growing availability of technology, resulting in all new ways to instill fear into the viewer. A prime example of this is James Cameron’s sci-fi/horror film Aliens. The film is the sequel to the very popular 1979 film Alien, and has itself lead to many more films in the franchise.

The film follows Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) as she is saved after spending 57 years floating in space in a state of stasis following the explosion of her ship at the hands of an Alien. She soon learns that the planet where her old ship first encountered the alien has become colonized by human terraformers, however contact with the planet is lost and she soon joins a mission to investigate what’s happening at the planet. What her and her crew discover on the planet is both terrifying and dangerous for them. With the aliens growing numbers, the crew doesn’t appear to have a fighting chance despite a strong amount of firepower.

Also notable are the design work by the late (and magnificently talented) H.R. Giger.

This film was a rule breaker and created a whole new genre upon it’s release in 1999. Despite being directed by two relative unknowns (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez) on a budget of only $25,000 it became one of the most successful independent movies of all time after pulling in an astonishing $248 million at the box office. What set this film apart was the style in which it was filmed and presented to the audience. Instead of a traditional third-person filming style it appears as if the entire film was documented by the stars and was presented to audiences as a real story using real footage recovered from the victims.

The “real story” involved three student filmmakers who were creating a documentary about the Blair Witch of Burkittsville, Maryland, who reportedly drove a man to kidnap, torture, and murder seven children in the woods during the 1940’s. The witch was supposedly hung in the woods during the 18th century and since there had been a series of mysterious disappearances and deaths. As the students begin to explore the woods where the witch brought the children, they become lost and are trapped in the unsettling woods.

Through the film a growing number of unexplained events happen, the students become shaken and despite their best efforts, are unable to get out of the woods. As the students begin to disappear from the group, those remaining are driven into hysterical fear for themselves and the others. From the shaking camera footage to the powerful acting, this film makes viewers feel like they’re part of this doomed group, making horror afictionatios all over the world (rightfully) praise it.

Another film directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written/produced by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist tells the gripping story of a family in a pleasant Californian suburb whose home and lives are invaded by some unfriendly spirits.

The film follows Steven and Diane Freeling along with their children Robbie, Carol Anne, and Dana as they begin to experience a series of unexplained events. The first disturbing event happens when we see Carol Anne stared dazed at the static on a television before a force flies from the television and produces an earthquake prompting Carol Anne to deliver one of the most famous lines in film history; “They’re here.

Following that night a growing number of unexplained events shake the Freelings including spontaneously breaking glasses, silverware bending on it’s own, and moving furniture. As the family brings in experts who inform them of the presence of a poltergeist, the events begin to escalate and one called Beast begins to control Carol Anne. Despite the family's best efforts to protect themselves the spirits aren’t having any of it, leading to an intense and bizarre ending.

No horror list is complete without this classic Wes Craven film first released in 1984. Set in the sleepy town of Springwood, Ohio, we’re introduced to a group of teens who are being haunted by a series of intense and dark nightmares. As the teens nightmares become more vivid and happen more frequently they’re reduced to a state of near constant terror from their own minds.

What the kids don’t know, but soon find out, is that the man in all of their dreams is Freddy Krueger, a serial killer who was responsible for the murders of 20 children. Despite being arrested for the crimes, the was released through a technicality. The teens parents, who were just teens themselves at the time, decided to exact revenge on Kruger and burned him alive. To avenge his own death, he’s come back to earth to terrorized the beloved children of those who killed him.

From there the film alternates between dreams and reality, leaving the viewer never quite sure which state their in, but terrified none the less. The film was so haunting and popular that it’s spawned eight spinoffs and cemented Freddy Krueger’s place in pop culture as one of the icons of horror.

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