October us upon us, which means the horror movie marathons will start and everyone will remember the classic movies that gave them nightmares. Recent horror films seem to concentrate more on gore and shock value, but the classic films were full of suspense, dread and fear. Films by Wes Craven, Stephen King and even Roman Polanski knew how to create an atmosphere of unease. There are five standout movies that come to mind when someone wants to know the best scary movies to watch. The films are classic, often being rereleased in theaters around Halloween or shown on television.
5. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)
Wes Craven wrote and directed this film that introduced the iconic villain, Freddy Krueger. The story revolves around a small group of teenagers who are attacked and killed in their sleep. The most frightening aspect of the movie is that the teens were helpless while they were asleep. They were completely vulnerable to his attacks. Robert Englund played the child murderer turned creature of nightmares and it is discovered that Freddy was murdered by local parents. With a budged of only $1.8 million, the film proved to be a financial success, spawning a television series, video games, seven sequels and a remake in 2010. Freddy Krueger has become a cinematic icon, easily recognizable thanks to his trademark sweater, hat and glove. Also, this film was the first time an audience got to see Johnny Depp. Wes Craven went on to become one of the “master’s of horror”.
4. “Halloween” (1978)
John Carpenter wrote and directed “Halloween”, which helped pave the way for future slasher films. It also established several tropes that became a part of almost every horror film. Jamie Lee Curtis, who played Laurie Strode, went on to star in several more films in the horror genre, including the film “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later”. Curtis’s character was one of the last ones alive in the original movie, which helped create the “final girl trope” which is where all of the other characters are systematically killed but the chaste, virginal girl lives to tell the story. It was also the beginning of the scream queen, a female protagonist who is also a constant victim. “Halloween” is so iconic, it has been mentioned in more current films. “Scream” even alluded to it when discussing the rules of surviving a horror film, such as no sex, no alcohol and no illicit drugs.
3. “The Shining” (1980)
One of the things people tend to remember most about this film is Jack Nicholson’s near flawless portrayal of Jack Torrance, a writer who takes an off season job as a caretaker at a hotel. There are many memorable scenes, from “Here’s Johhny!” (which was improvised at the director’s encouragement) to the twins standing in a hallway. While it did not have a solid beginning, it has steadily gained popularity over the years. Stanley Kubrick, who is known for his strange and often controversial films, directed “The Shining” after reading the Stephen King story. The film has become a financial success as well as a cult classic. Not only did it explore the paranormal but it looked at what isolation can do to a person’s mind and how it can cause them to go completely mad. One thing Kubrick helped make popular was the use of the Steadicam, which is a mount for cameras which help to make scenes look more fluid and less staccato. This film helped the horror genre become more mainstream and show more ways to present a movie to the audience.
2. “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)
Based on a novel of the same name, “Rosemary’s Baby” centers on a pregnant woman who is paranoid about her neighbors. The titular character, Rosemary, is played by Mia Farrow. She is living in an apartment with her husband, a struggling actor but she believes her neighbors are in a cult. It is revealed that the child was conceived by rape and that her neighbors are planning to use her son in a satanic ritual. What made the film so terrifying is that it made people unsure of whom they could trust. If her neighbors turned out to be religious cult members, couldn’t anyone be suspicious too? Even more chilling is that the baby, typically seen as a symbol of innocence and purity, is suddenly something more sinister. The world is not what Rosemary once thought it was, which causes her to question everything. Perhaps one of the scariest scenes is when Rosemary is dazed and confused and wanders into traffic while she is pregnant. Roman Polanski, who directed the film, followed her into the dangerous path of cars with a hand held camera. Ultimately, it is a terrifying tale of a woman who is raped my Satan and births him a son.
1. “The Exorcist” (1973)
Perhaps one of the most notable horror films of all time is “The Exorcist”, a film adapbed from a book about a 1949 exorcism of Roland Doe. “Entertainment Weekly” and movies.com have called it the scariest film of all time. The Library of Congress has selected this film to be forever preserved as part of the National Film Registry. It was the first horror movie to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. In 1973, it was the highest grossing film of the year and remains one of the highest grossing films of all time. It also helped to create the “demonic child” subgenre of horror films, along with “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Omen”. The movie did have several sequels, none of which had as much financial success, as well as a prequel.
Linda Blair became a household name with her portrayal of Reagan, the young girl possessed by a demon known as Pazuzu after playing with a Ouija board. Her mother Chris (played by Ellen Burstyn) is an atheist who calls on a Catholic priest when she cannot think of any other way to help her daughter. The film created an atmosphere of dread and tension by giving minor characters flaws that would affect them later. Father Damien Karras is shown to have his own personal demons when he admits to losing his faith after his mother’s death.
The film had many scenes that were both shocking and horrifying. Some of the more famous ones include Reagan doing unmentionable things with a religious object, doing the now infamous spider walk down the stairs and the often parodied projectile vomit scene. Perhaps just as famous as the film are the rumors about the project being haunted. Several sets were destroyed in a fire, yet Reagan’s bedroom remained perfectly in tact. Whatever the truth is, “The Exorcist” will always be one of the most terrifying and thought provoking horror films of all time.