A few weeks back, Deep Red Rum posted a list of horror films that she would show to newbies as an introduction to the horror genre, and seeing as I’m too fucking busy with my thesis to write anything close to a coherent film review right now, I thought I’d take up the challenge too. Feel free to comment with your own choices or make a list of your own!
Perhaps I’m biased here, seeing as Poltergeist was the first ‘proper’ horror film I saw (my dad got it for me when I was about 8, and I was obsessed). At the same time, I think it belongs on the list. It’s not hugely scary but it’s still a damn entertaining film, and the distinctive Spielberg vibe makes it an easy crossover for anyone unfamiliar with the genre, There’s also some pretty awesome 80s fashion, an eight-year-old with the most impressive collection of Star Wars merchandise I’ve ever seen, an evil tree, and Zelda Rubinstein.
Alternatives: A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Fog
As far as the subgenre of found footage horror goes, this is one of the best. This low budget Spanish film has a pretty basic plot: a film crew are following firefighters who are called to investigate a disturbance in a block of flats. However, people in the building are contracting something that fills them with inhuman violence, and they all end up in lock-down together. What makes it remarkable is the tension and building sense of hopelessness, as well as the spectacular gore. And the ending… jeepers. A genuinely unnerving film.
Alternatives: 28 Days Later, The Descent
3. The Silence of the Lambs
Some might argue that this doesn’t fall into the horror genre, but this is my blog and it’s my favourite film, so I’m going to ignore them. Fantastic performances, a great story, some genuinely disturbing moments, and the introduction to many of the most infamous serial killer in fiction – Hannibal Lecter.
Alternatives: Se7en, American Psycho
4. The Masque of the Red Death
Any of Corman’s Poe films are good, but this is my personal favourite. It’s a great introduction to my imaginary husband and horror icon, Vincent Price, and is an incredibly lush and decadent film.
Alternatives: The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum
5. Trick ‘r Treat
This makes the list for being just a really fun film, It’s proof that horror doesn’t have to be grim and nihilistic. Trick ‘r Treat is a great modern take on the anthology film – various storylines are woven together to tell the tale of one Halloween night when the spirit of Samhain exacts grisly revenge on anyone who doesn’t celebrate the holiday.
Alternatives: Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt
6. Black Christmas
The film that set of the 70s slasher movement, and I think it might also be my favourite within the subgenre. The premise is simple: girls in a sorority house are picked off one by one as they prepare to go home for Christmas. It might seem like a cliche now, but this was the first of its kind. Black Christmas also manages to be really creepy – the sinister phone calls the girls receive, the corpse left sitting in the attic window, the eye of ‘Billy’ staring manically at our Final Girl through a crack in the door. A great introduction to slasher films.
Alternatives: Halloween, Scream
You can’t ignore the classic Universal monster movies, and this in my favourite. A retelling of a classic tale which gave us an iconic monster and made a star of Boris Karloff. The film is beautifully made, and Karloff gives real pathos to the creature who never asked to be created and is continuously rejected in his attempts to interact with others. It’s pacier than its predecessor Dracula, marking the time when film makers figured out how to effectively use dialogue in cinema.
Alternatives: Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein
8. The Innocents
A brilliant adaptation of Henry James’s novella, The Turn of the Screw. The cinematography is stunning and Deborah Kerr shines as the repressed governess who believes that ghosts are trying to possess the children in her care. A brilliant and eerie introduction to the haunted house movie.
Alternatives: The Haunting, The Legend of Hell House
9. Shaun of the Dead
I had to put a horror comedy in here. Simon Pegg puts a hilariously British spin on the zombie apocalypse tale, as Shaun and his friends attempt to get to their favourite pub whilst avoiding being eaten by the undead. Horror comedies are a good option for people who scare easily or don’t enjoy films that are too grim.
Alternatives: Zombieland, Tremors
10. The Horror of Dracula
The list needed a Hammer studios film, and this is one of their earliest and best. It’s also a great vampire film. I’ve said it before, but Hammer films are fun. They’re gory and sexy and don’t take themselves too seriously. Plus, a young Christopher Lee sexing it up in a cape? Yes please.
Alternatives: The Curse of Frankenstein, The Devil Rides Out
BONUS FILM. The Shining
I think this is my favourite horror film of all time. My dad recorded it for me off the TV when I was 12 and I read the book immediately after. I love them both, even though Kubrick did take plenty of liberties with King’s text. Still, the haunted Overlook Hotel and Jack Torrence’s descent into madness remain iconic. I put this as a bonus simply because I’m selective about who I show it to. I have to be pretty sure the person will enjoy it, because I know I’ll be sad if they don’t.