This October, you have a solemn duty to watch as many horror films as possible. Hundreds of thousands of people worked months and years of their lives for the sole purpose of creeping you out; all you have to do is watch their movies, which is – let's face it – the easy part. We'll even do the heavy lifting of recommending which movies you should watch. Each week in October, we'll be presenting a new Buzzlist of horror films based on a particular theme. Could it be any simpler? Well, yes, if you woke up strapped to a gurney in a dank basement and were forced to watch horrific images by a deranged scientist – that would be simpler. But this is both simple and fun.
Certain films are not only well-made and scary-as-hell, they've also got the weight of history behind them. They represent a pivotal moment in the genre when things changed forever: a new style was born or a new concept introduced. It's not always easy to pin down when a particular idea entered the common consciousness, but some films are emblematic of their ideas, jumping into our minds anytime someone mentions a common horror theme. Just in time for Halloween – the high holy night when we worship fear in its many guises – here's our Top Five Chilling Classics Buzzlist:
Psycho (1960) – Hitchcock's thriller presented the notion of fractured identity in a way that blindsided a generation of moviegoers with its intensity. Anthony Perkins deserves much of the credit for his brilliant portrayal of Norman Bates as a shy, sensitive lad with an unfortunate fixation. The plot starts out with a familiar crime-story setup involving embezzled money and a woman on the lam, then veers into deranged mayhem in a manner echoed by many subsequent films including 2007's No Country For Old Men. Psycho popularized the idea of the serial killer, and painted the human mind as a twisted realm of boundless dread.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) – The first of the now-ubiquitous zombie movies, George Romero's first feature not only gave us the idea of the zombie but also the metaphor of the zombie. Something about hordes of undead creatures clawing to get into our homes speaks to a fundamental truth of modern life. Whether it's our fear of disease, our fear of conformity, our fear of consumerism, or our fear of the violence that threatens to overwhelm society in the 21st Century, the zombie has become a universal symbol of humanity-gone-insane. This film started it all, and it still brings chills to the spine today.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – The recent trend of so-called “torture-porn” can be traced back to the exploitation tradition of the '60s and '70s, and this film falls squarely under that label. The poster asked, “Who will survive, and what will be left of them?” yet the film itself shows surprising restraint, implying most of its brutality. It's not the violence that makes this a groundbreaking work, it's the sense of unhinged possibility – the feeling of utter madness festering in forgotten places, ready to eat us alive. In many ways, it set the tone for generations of transgressive horror to come, daring viewers to withstand its wild, nightmarish ferocity.
Halloween (1978) – Not the first slasher film but the first to find blockbuster success, John Carpenter's vision of a silent, masked figure stalking hapless teenagers defined an entire sub-genre of low-budget features. What sticks in the mind isn't the murders themselves but the image of Michael Myers standing among the dead leaves of a suburban street. He's there one moment, gone the next, bringing relentless terror into the peaceful reverie of an autumn afternoon. The film nails the haunting elusiveness of evil – our inability to know where true evil comes from – and it remains far superior to most of the imitators that have followed in its wake.
Alien (1979) – The seminal example of sci-fi horror, this film takes believable working-class human characters and pits them against an entirely new form of life: part insect, part machine. Not just a monster film in space, Alien uses outstandingly otherworldly visual design to outline an entire dark universe where human beings are little more than hosts for a more evolutionarily efficient species. In addition to exploring themes of genophobia and loss of control over our environment, it opens Lovecraftian vistas of the cosmic unknown that have rarely been so well-depicted since. This masterpiece manages to make the concept of biological life itself seem foreign and horrifying.
Check out Buzzine's Top 5 Chilling Classics on our Amazon Listomania!