Warfield’s Top Ten Great Horror/ Scary Films – Have you seen them all?
While I am a fan of horror classics that feature slasher blood & guts, from (original) Halloween and Friday the 13th, to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, my personal favorites tend to have more subtle and nuanced weirdness.
These are obviously established classics that would show up on just about any list – but each of them had a deep and lasting impact on my psyche. And yes, I am a traditionalist, and I am not forgetting Freddy Krueger, Dario Argento, Hammer Films, or the beloved zombie and vampire franchises—we will address these later!
The List - in no particular order:
The Haunting (1963)
Robert Wise’s The Haunting kept me freaked out for a long time after I saw it on TV when I was a kid. It’s the kind of movie that played on late night TV. It’s still great! Presented as a grown-up drama, rather than a “horror film” aimed at a youth audience, Wise made the film right before he directed The Sound of Music. Talk about range! The image of the heavy wooden door being pushed in is one of the most indelible scary images ever.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
I didn’t see Georges Franju’s Les Yeux Sans Visage until a few years ago, while I was exploring Euro horror and exploitation films. It’s just weird, and has the rare quality of enveloping the viewer in a curious mood of dread. Awesome.
The greatest of them all. Yes, it is over-analyzed, and while egghead critics usually pick Vertigo as Hitchcock’s best, I choose Psycho for its astonishing turns, elegant simplicity, mesmerizing mood, and enduring cultural impact. I first saw it at a college campus revival screening when I was 16, and it rocked me! Please—no more remakes/ sequels!
The Shining (1980)
Kubrick was peculiar in is ability to jump across genres with every film, yet still maintain his unique auteur purity. The Shining, perhaps the film that was most out of his oeuvre, remains a hypnotic and eccentric masterwork. After scores of viewings, I particularly enjoy watching the first half of the film. I had the pleasure of seeing it on its opening night.
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
William Castles’ House on Haunted Hill is my pick for camp classic—silly yet proto-typical, the film contains numerous indelible creepy images. Another late night TV mainstay, the film has stayed with me since I was a kid. Love the acid bath!
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
In the days before VHS and cable, catching a movie on late night TV was magical. You couldn’t pause, rewind, or repeat—and you never knew when you would get to see it again! Released during the greatest decade in film history, and directed by James Whale, “Bride” is a triumph of style and mood. Elsa Lanchester is, uh, sexy.
I saw the film on opening night at the Ellen Theater in Bozeman, Montana. Superior in everyway to its bigger, louder sequels, Alien advanced the monster movie by huge leaps. To this day it’s rare to see a film creature without Alien-inspired slimy organic features. It is to Ridley Scott’s everlasting credit that he recognized the work of H.R. Giger as a source of design inspiration. Breathtaking. And where do you think the wardrobe inspiration came from for Sandra Bullock in Gravity? Just sayin’.
King Kong (1933)
Bigger is not better, Peter Jackson! This classic, viewed countless times on late night TV when I was a kid, remains the film that, for me, has the greatest ability to transport the viewer into a fantasy world. The film’s enduring cultural impact and fame is unequaled. Versions with various offensive bits removed or restored have been issued and re-issued over the years. It’s one of those movies that is subject to endless and valid Freudian, racist, or gender role interpretations of subtext. There may be no more iconic image from cinema than Kong atop the Empire State Building.
Night of the Hunter (1955)
The year that Disneyland opened in California, Charles Laughton’s movie was released. Ah, the duality of man! The great actor’s only film as director remains perhaps the most stylish study of good vs. evil ever. I first saw it in college, screened in a theater. (It is also an example of Shelly Winters’ uncanny ability to show up in amazing films—Lolita or A Place in the Sun, anyone?) Certainly a filmmaker’s film, who knows how many have been inspired to have LOVE and HATE tattooed on their fingers? Ask Spike Lee… Oh, and Laughton was married to Elsa Lanchester.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
One thing we don’t see so much now are genre films made by master directors and with major stars in the cast—and therefore transcending the genre. This wasn’t so true in the past. A horror film could also be a prestige film. While we can name exceptions like The Shining, wouldn’t it be great if the Coen Brothers or Paul Thomas Anderson turned their skills to a top-drawer horror movie? That’s what we got in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. I saw it in a movie theater in a revival, some years after its initial release. It is sick and awesome, and probably did more to perpetuate the satanic ritual myths and urban legends than any other single source. If you remember the McMartin pre-school witch-hunt hysteria of the 80’s, I think it can be traced in part to this film. It continues to be invoked in such films as Ti West’s retro-80’s In The House of the Devil.
Oh rats, I forgot The Bad Seed (1956)…