What is it about horror films that make them so enticing? The vast majority of people I know aren’t particularly fond of being scared, yet spine-chilling spook-em-ups are apparently worthy of their time and money. Perhaps it’s the adrenaline rush — to want to turn away from the screen, to hide one’s face behind the sofa cushion, to want to escape from the horrifying events depicted on-screen is eerily intoxicating, yet we are still filled with a desire to keep on watching. It’s all so exciting, isn’t it?
Some horrors have stood the test of time, becoming classics of the genre, while many have not. Now-iconic villainous monsters have been created in some, while other laughable antagonists may as well be holding a teaspoon instead of the knife they’re carrying. To truly frighten a viewer, to set their brains to “terrified” mode, to unsettle them while entertaining them is a massive accomplishment in the world of film. Some succeed, many do not. This list is of the top ten, for me, that do.
10. “The Fly” (1986) — We start with David Cronenberg’s superior remake of Kurt Neumann’s 1958 sci-fi horror of the same name. A gory depiction of a man who slowly-but-surely turns into a hundred-and-eighty-five-pound fly, Cronenberg’s deeply unsettling re-imagining is an oddly touching body-horror held up by stellar performances from Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Not one to be swatted.
9. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974) — As a grisly, darkly humorous splatter-shocker, Tobe Hooper’s controversial, blood-soaked horror has become a popular cult film over the years. Still carrying the ability to horrify today’s audiences, it’s set in sweaty Texas, and follows five teenagers as they’re violently offed one-by-one by the iconic chainsaw-wielder Leatherface. As brutal as the title suggests, but brilliantly effective.
8. “Jaws” (1975) — Perhaps the least scary of the list, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” nonetheless remains a filmic PowerPoint on how to utilise cinematic tension. The monster is nothing more than a hungry, man-devouring shark — a great white that’s stalking the waters of Amity Island. Roy Scheider, playing the local police chief, goes out on a boat with Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw to hunt down the ravenous sea-beast. Suspenseful as hell, “Jaws” is a tour de force in fabulous filmmaking that will leave most viewers hesitant to go back in the water. This film, swallow you whole.
7. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) — Filled with allusions to racism and the Vietnam War, George A. Romero’s black-and-white “Night of the Living Dead” is one of the most influential zombie movies ever released. Certainly ahead of its time, it revolves around several individuals as they barricade themselves in a house surrounded by undead flesh-eaters. Braaaaains. This film has ’em.
6. “Halloween” (1978) — A standard-setting stalk-‘n’-slash picture, “Halloween” was the first film to feature masked-maniac Michael Myers. John Carpenter’s madman-on-the-loose horror hosts a whole plethora of scares and surprises as Myers cuts his way through his childhood neighbourhood. In Jamie Lee Curtis’ film debut, she plays the unsuspecting babysitter who ends up being Michael’s primary target. Trick or treat? Or maybe die?
5. “Alien” (1979) — The only entry in the list to be set in space, Ridley Scott’s masterful “Alien” never fails to send an unnerving chill up one’s spine. Even scarier than your mother-in-law’s bare-naked physique, it charts the attempts of a space crew at killing a bloodthirsty extraterrestrial that’s run amuck on their ship. Images of a miniature creature bursting out of John Hurt’s chest are far more joyfully ghastly than almost anything being produced today. Bleurgh.
4. “The Thing” (1982) — Without a doubt one of the most sickeningly gory movies to ever spray across a cinema screen, “The Thing” is a chilling tale of 12 men living in an isolated base in Antarctica who are forced to battle a shape-changing alien. The outer-space life form can mimic any anatomy, leading to painstaking tension as the increasingly paranoid characters accuse each other of being the heinous creature. An unforgettable showcase of fantastic practical effects and utterly nerve-wracking anxiety. And Kurt Russell with an awesomely bushy beard.
3. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) — As writer and director Wes Craven’s quintessential horror masterpiece and a creative landmark of the genre, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was the first of many outings for professional dream-stalker Freddy Krueger. The burn-faced, catchphrase-cackling, merciless child murderer, played effortlessly by Robert Englund, pierces his young victims with a razor-fingered glove while they sleep in this expertly executed teen-slasher flick. Quickly springing to the title of a horror icon, Freddy Krueger has become a significant key player in movie-related culture. Freddy’s the man/dream-demon.
2. “Evil Dead 2” (1987) — The low-budget sequel to the best tree-rape movie ever, “Evil Dead 2” showed how slapstick comedy can work alongside supernatural horror, with awe-inspiring results. Starring a hunky Bruce Campbell as cowardy-custard Ash Williams, the hysterical horror-comedy had over-the-top spirits and soul-swallowing demons tormenting the poor frightened fellow in an isolated cabin in the woods. Sam Raimi’s hilariously manic direction fuels what is an insanely entertaining and side-splitting horror with physical humour reminiscent of The Three Stooges. Groovy.
1. “The Shining” (1980) — And finally, taking the top spot as the best horror movie ever made (well, according to me), it’s Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” Based on the 1977 novel by horror maestro Stephen King, this haunting masterpiece was the perfect opportunity for star Jack Nicholson to gnaw on some scenery. He plays Jack Torrance, a writer who becomes the caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel for the winter. Staying with his wife and son, Wendy and Danny, in the vast hotel, he starts to become distracted, hostile, and is seemingly driven insane by the long-residing evil living within the resort, taking to trying to murder his family with an axe in the film’s thrilling climax. A definite must-see for horror fans everywhere. Heeeeeeere’s a great movie. And wheeeeeeeeere’s Jack Nicholson’s Oscar?