October is the time of year to indulge in horror films, but there are so many great ones to choose from, it is often difficult to even decide what to watch.
I composed a list of 11 films every horror fan should see in preparation of our favorite holiday coming up. I chose these specific films because they have captivated fans over the years, inspired many filmmakers, and made an impact on the industry.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Considered to be one of the greatest, and most controversial horror films of all time, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is credited with originating many elements of the Slasher genre.
The story follows five friends who are visiting their grandfather’s homestead in the country. They soon find themselves in a nightmare, being hunted by a chainsaw-wielding psychopath and his family of sadistic grave-robbing cannibals.
Marketed as a true story to attract a wider audience, the film was banned in several countries in 1974 when it was released. Many American theaters stopped showing it due to the complaints of its graphic violence.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most terrifying films ever made. The film became a commercial success, and has had a significant impact on pop culture. Its popularity lead to a franchise that spawned many sequels and remakes.
Nightmare on Elm Street
Written and directed by Wes Craven, this film introduced the world to the iconic Freddy Krueger, a serial killer who murders people in their dreams, resulting in their real-life death.
Freddy Krueger’s weapon was a custom made glove with razor knives in place of fingers. While attacking a group of teenagers in their dreams, they soon discover they are being punished for the real life actions of their parents.
Nightmare on Elm Street was a huge commercial success because the audience related to it.
The adults in this film were villains themselves. Damaged emotionally and not much help to the victims, this film displayed many traumatic experiences associated with adolescence. The strong leadership skills of Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) showed the power of youth, and was a positive symbol of feminism as she was the last one standing and defeated the killer.
This imaginative horror film made the audience question their own perception. It wasn’t always clear if what you were seeing was a dream, reality, or a dream within a dream.
Nightmare on Elm Street became a franchise with numerous sequels, documentaries, a television series, a remake, and even toys.
The Shining was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, and based on the Steven King novel.
The story follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a writer who becomes a caretaker at an isolated hotel in Colorado with his wife and son. As Danny (Danny Lloyd) is tormented by psychic premonitions of the dark secrets in the hotel, Jack’s mind unravels turning him into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on killing his family.
Kubrick used different forms of symbolism, and well-placed objects to make the audience feel vulnerable. The perception of the viewer was challenged as one is never sure who was really alive or dead in the film. The Shining is a balance of psychological terror and gore that haunts people to this day.
Both parodies and homages to The Shining are exist in many films, music, television, and even video games.
Directed and scored by John Carpenter, Halloween shocked audiences in its opening scene as six year old Michael Myers murdered his older sister with a kitchen knife on Halloween night.
Fifteen years later, Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to his home. While stalking Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends, Michael’s doctor suspects his intentions, and tries to prevent him from murdering again.
Halloween introduced the world to a horror villain of a methodical nature, and made use of seeing events through the eyes of the killer. The music and jack-o-lanterns set an unsettling mood for the entire film from the beginning.
Halloween is a masterpiece that has spawned a franchise of sequels, and a two-part reboot.
Night of the Living Dead
Before Night of the Living Dead, the zombie was depicted in film as a mindless creature that was generally a victim controlled by another. This independent film revolutionized the horror genre, and the zombie that we know today as a flesh-eating monster.
The film revolves around seven people trapped in a rural farmhouse which is being stalked by flesh-eating ghouls.
George A. Romero and his crew used innovative tactics to make this film with a small budget. Everyone in the project had a multiple roles, including investor Ron Harris who was also a butcher. Harris brought liver, intestines, and other animal parts for consumption to make the cannibalism realistic.
Released in 1968, the film was nationally shown as a Saturday afternoon matinée which attracted adolescents. Pre-teens were seen running out of the theater crying in fear, they were totally unprepared for the horror they just witnessed.
Night of the Living Dead was a remarkable film that went away from the classic hero structure. It was relevant to the social problems in America at the time, and inspired an entire subgenre of horror.
This film follows high school Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a student in a small town who becomes the target of a killer who apparently has seen too many horror films.
Scream was brilliantly written, filmed, and kept the audience unsure of the killer and their agenda until it was reveled. This film shifted the Slasher genre into the 90s by using clever forms of mystery, comedy, violence, and self-aware characters.
The film has spawned three sequels, and inspired a television series.
This psychological horror film from Alfred Hitchcock was groundbreaking in cinema, and has won several awards over the years.
Upon its release, Hitchcock evoked a no late admission policy. At first theater managers were upset, and afraid they were going to loose sales. They soon became pleased when they saw lines forming around the block of people waiting to get in to see the film.
Psycho follows Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who embezzles money from her employer, and ends up at a motel with a disturbed owner.
The master of suspense did things that were unprecedented in cinema, and Psycho was a huge example.
The depiction of sexuality was apparent in the opening scene as Crane was seen in her bra with her lover in the same bed. This was taboo in Hollywood at the time. Psycho was also the first time a flushing toilet was ever shown in a film.
Psycho was shot with 50 mm lenses on a 35 mm cameras. This trick mimics human vision, and helped pull the audience into the story. As the audience invested emotions into the protagonist, the film shifted in a dark direction.
The pivotal shower scene is one of the most famous in American cinema. Created with special camera angles, 78 shot set-ups, and an ear piercing music score of strings, Marion Crane is brutally stabbed to death while taking a shower.This scene took over seven days to film. It took extensive editing for Hitchcock to get around the censors, and although you never see the blade actually cut, this scene is more unnerving than most you see in Hollywood today.
Killing the lead character at the end of the first act shocked the audience in the 1960s. Psycho changed the way Hollywood made films, has had three sequels, numerous documentaries made about the film, and a current television series that is a prequel to Norman Bates’s madness.
Another successful and controversial film, The Exorcist is the story of a demonic possession of a 12 year old girl Regan (Linda Blair), her mother, and the priests who try to save her.
The film was based on a novel of the same name, which was inspired from a series of exorcisms performed in 1949 on a boy documented under the pseudonym Robbie Manheim.
This supernatural horror film had a troubled production from the beginning which included a set fire that destroyed everything except Regan’s bedroom. The film itself is still considered by many to be evil and cursed.
Mercedes McCambridge provided Regan’s demonic voice; her dedication to this role is often overlooked. Before recording, McCambridge chain smoked, and forced herself to vomit a mixture of raw eggs and mushed apples to achieve a rasping tone of voice.
Check out the original teaser trailer for this film that quickly was banned from theaters.
Linda Blair received death threats after the release of The Exorcist. Warner Bros. hired body guards to protect her for six months.
The sounds of the demon leaving Regan’s body were actual recordings of pigs being led to slaughter.
The Exorcist received ten Oscar nominations, won Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay, and was the first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
This German silent horror film is an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Names and details were changed because the studio was unable to obtain rights to the novel.
Count Orlok (Max Schreck) summons Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) to his Transylvanian castle in the mountains, and seeks to buy a house near Hutter and his wife. After Orlok reveals his true nature, Hutter struggles to escape the castle while Orlok’s servant prepares for his master’s arrival.
Nosferatu was the only production by Prana Film. The company declared bankruptcy after Stoker’s estate sued for copyright infringement and won. The court ordered all copies of Nosferatu to be destroyed, however a copy was sent out for world distribution and was kept alive over the years by being duplicated from its cult following.
Nosferatu is the first example of horror cult cinema, and is considered an significant piece of film history.
The Blair Witch Project
This found footage horror film is the story of three student filmmakers who get lost in the woods while documenting a local legend known as The Blair Witch.
The Blair Witch Project was one of the first films primarily marketed by the internet. Their website featured fake police reports, and sparked a debate over whether the movie was a real documentary, or a work of fiction. During screenings of the film, flyers were passed out at festivals asking people to come forward with information about the missing students.
This film caused quite a stir when it was released, and showed its audience that what you can’t see can scare you the most. The Blair Witch Project was a commercial success, and is still one of the highest grossing independent films of all time.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a musical comedy/horror film that was made in the United Kingdom, and initially panned on its release in the United States.
The film tells the story of Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) who find themselves with a flat tire in a storm. After discovering the mansion of transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) and other wild characters, the group engages in elaborate dances and rock songs.
After being moved to midnight showings, the film developed a cult following in New York City when the audience began to return to the Waverly Theater and participated in the film.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show continues to play in theaters to this day. It is the longest running release in film history.
What are your favorite films to watch this time of year? Let us know in the comments section below.
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