• Daniela Urzola

Top 10: Influential Horror Films

DISCLAIMER: The lists and rankings in my blog have no intention of universality. These are personal lists I make from my knowledge in horror and, of course, in most cases, my personal taste. I would love to read your comments and opinions but remember this is all from one point of view! There’s horror for everyone out there!

For the first top 10 of our #halloweenspecial, I’m going to talk to you about 10 influential films in the horror genre or, in other words, 10 films every horror fan must watch at least once in their life. Although some of the films included here may not be part of my personal favorites, these are movies that I believe have undeniably impacted the horror genre, whether it was by creating a new subgenre, giving birth to famous tropes, changing the way we understand horror, or expanding its horizons one way or another. For this list, I did not include any of the Universal monster movies nor early twentieth century flicks like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Nosferatu. They are obviously influential films that paved the way for horror, but I wanted to focus strictly on modern horror, from the 1960s to today.

10. Psycho (1960): Of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece had to be on this list. Hitchcock is the father of modern horror and his 1960 masterpiece, Psycho, was so innovative and original back in its day, that its legacy has even shaped horror well into its current form. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates would not only become one of the most iconic movie villains of all time, transcending the horror genre, but would also define the character of the modern serial killer, terrifying audiences by showing what true evil was capable of doing. The shower scene alone is probably the first hint of what the slasher subgenre would achieve. Plus, it has one of the best plot twists ever made… and we all know the horror audience loves a good plot twist.

9. Alien (1979): Ridley Scott is a famed and well-established sci-fi director that is still very active to this day. But back in 1979, he released a film that would mix two genres in one and successfully disseminate the sci-fi horror subgenre. Most people agree on the fact that Aliens (James Cameron) is the better film, but as a horror fan, there’s no way you wouldn’t choose this one over Cameron’s action-packed entry. The first Alien is pure horror. Its very effective tagline says it all: “in space, no one can hear you scream…”. The practical effects in Alien are amazingly done as well and they helped create one of the most iconic monsters in horror: the xenomorphs. Moreover, it established one of the most iconic tropes in all of the horror genre (one that I obviously love): The final girl. And this is not just any final girl. Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley is undoubtedly one of the most badass female characters in the entire history of cinema.

8. Evil Dead II (1987): I admit I was tempted to include the first Evil Dead onto this list instead of the sequel because it is my favorite movie from the franchise and also quite influential; however, there is no doubt that Sam Raimi achieves so much more with the second entrance of the series. Evil Dead II is the film in which Ash becomes the gloriously iconic character he is: chainsaw in hand and everything “groovy”. The film was unprecedented -truly crazy for its time- and thus absolutely game-changing. Unlike its predecessor, Evil Dead II transcended the horizons of horror and entered the then barely known genre of the horror comedy (but we’ll discuss this further on another list). Whereas The Evil Dead is a classic example of early horror, Raimi’s follow-up adds an element of tongue-in-cheek humor that was never before seen and that would become a staple of the horror genre in the next decade -enter Wes Craven-. Plus, the practical effects and the claymotion sequences showed how innovative a horror director like Raimi could be.

7. Ringu (1998): The early ‘00s weren’t particularly influential for the horror genre; it was a decade that consisted mostly of poorly executed remakes of horror classics. But this does not go to say that there weren’t any good films released during this time -because there are-, but overall it wasn’t a decade that added much in terms of originality. However, if there’s one thing that stands out, it is the rise and proliferation of Japanese Horror, or as it came to be known: J-Horror. I can’t stress how important this is because it was one of the first times that a foreign horror industry permeated Hollywood in such an extensive way. And the film that started it all was Ringu. Gore Verbinski’s adaptation in 2004, The Ring, catapulted the trend of remaking Japanese horror films for the American audience, eventually giving way to an entire subculture, “Asian horror”, which extends onto films from Korea, Indonesia, and so on. Moreover, Ringu brought to the bigscreen one of the most iconic monsters of modern times. I think it’s safe to say that the image of Samara Morgan crawling out of a TV set will forever be engrained in the minds of every single millennial.

6. Get Out (2017): You’re probably wondering, how can such a recent film be listed among the most influential of the genre? Well, it’s because of the brilliant mind of Jordan Peele. Released in the midst of a political storm surrounding issues of race and discrimination in the United States, Get Out came out as both a social commentary relevant to present times and a horror film like no other. Its premise is so novel and unprecedented that it has forever changed the way we see and make. It is no coincidence that this film now belongs to what has come to be known as a decade of “Horror Renaissance”.

From its early days, the horror industry was built over the foundations of systemic racism, so it’s no wonder that we can easily recall from the slasher classics of the ‘80s and ‘90s that the usually only black character in the films was either a mere sidekick or -more often than not- the first to die. And even though horror is becoming increasingly inclusive with the passing of the years, Get Out has completely divided the history of the genre in two (at least in terms of racial representation).

This film is influential within the horror genre, but outside of it as well. And because of this it is a film that, no matter how recent, should never be overlooked.

5. Night of the Living Dead (1968): Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know the name George A. Romero? Horror geek or not, Romero is known for his infamous Dead trilogy, which popularized the now fan favorite and high grossing zombie subgenre. Now a days we have all kinds of zombie flicks: from 28 Days Later to Shaun of the Dead, and even stuff like Zombeavers. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, the idea of people rising from the grave and coming back to eat us alive is an extremely crowd-pleasing subject -one that I think will continue to live on for a long time-, and it all dates back to Romero’s 1968 debut. And although the genre really earned its popularity with his second and third installments -Dawn of The Dead in the ‘70s and Day of the Dead in the ‘80s-, none of it would have been possible without Night of the Living Dead. Plus, much like Get Out, this film too was a reflection of its sociopolitical context, giving us the first black hero in horror.

4. The Blair Witch Project (1999): I’ll never tire of repeating this: I. Did. Not. Like. The Blair Witch Project. I’ve never found it scary and quite honestly, I think it’s rather overrated. However, I can’t deny importance of this movie within the horror genre. The Blair Witch Project was a gamechanger back in 1999 because it gave birth to a subgenre that has become immensely popular: “found footage”.

There are so many found footage films nowadays -and frankly most of them are bad ones- but back in the day no one had ever tampered with creating something so original as the shaky handheld camera and the apparently unscripted story. It gave horror a newly terrifying sense of realism. And that’s probably why it was, and still is, such an effective subgenre: because it lets the audience feel close to the story, even immersed in it.

3. The Exorcist (1973): Just as it happens with zombies, a demonic possession might be one of the most common and overplayed tropes in horror cinema. But in 1973, the idea of a teenage girl being possessed by none other than the devil himself was equal parts outrageous and terrifying. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist single-handedly established the possession trope within the genre, all the while becoming the most frightening film anyone had ever seen. I think it’s safe to say that even considering the range of brilliant possession themed films we have today (The Conjuring, The Babadook, just to name a few), The Exorcist still ranks up pretty high. The makeup effects, the sound mixing and editing, the score… it all comes together in one of the most frightening films ever made. Talking about iconic scenes, turning heads and a flight of stairs will never be the same.

2. Jaws (1975): If there’s a film that has been influential in both film and popular culture, it’s Jaws. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece not only created an entire horror subgenre but also enhanced a collective fear of sharks that still resonates with anyone who’s trying to have a good time at the beach. Jaws was a pioneer back in its day because it revitalized monster horror by letting an animal take the place of the movie villain, thus bringing the fear into the real world. Unfortunately this created a terrible -and undeserved- reputation for sharks; and while this is rather problematic, sharks became absolute icons in the history of cinema and within the horror genre.

Now, although the subgenre has gradually deteriorated, it has created an immense fanbase that has given sharks a fundamental spot in popular culture. I, for one, love cheesy shark films -however bad they may be-. There’s just something about the thrill and the fright of thinking this could happen to you on your next summer vacation. That’s what Jaws achieved, and why it will forever be one of the greatest horror movies of all time.

***HONORABLE MENTIONS: Scream (1999), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Thing (1982), Saw (2004), Suspiria (1977).

1. Halloween (1979): Halloween takes the #1 spot on my list and there’s no wonder why. This movie gave way to “the rise of the slasher” -and we all know how much I love slashers-. There is and would never have been a slasher without Halloween. No Freddy or Jason without Michael Myers, no scream queens without Jamie Lee Curtis, and quite frankly, no horror without John Carpenter.

With Halloween, Carpenter changed the entire culture of horror, creating a serial killer that I dare say will never ever be forgotten -I mean, how genius was it to set the film on Halloween night? Talk about timeless-.

Even if it’s not the first slasher ever, it certainly was the slasher that set the rules and the formulas with which the subgenre developed in the ‘80s, beyond its deconstruction in the ‘90s, and for decades to come. This is the film that started it all. It’s the film that landed Carpenter his reputation as “grandfather of horror”, and it’s the film that made us forever scared of October 31st.

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