House of Geekery’s Favorite Horror Movies
October is the time to celebrate our love for horror and what better way to do that then to discuss each of our favorite movies from the horror genre. Presented here, in no particular order, is one favorite horror movie from each of our writers.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
In the 70’s and 80’s the slasher film exploded on the scene and among the holy trinity of slashers (along with Halloween and Friday the 13th) was A Nightmare on Elm Street. In 1984 Wes Craven created a slasher film with a unique twist that hasn’t been matched to this day. Instead of just a silent undead killer stalking teens we got Freddy Kruger, who did something entirely different; he killed you in your dreams. Kruger was a child murderer who the parents of Springwood banded together to kill. Years later Kruger came back to exact his revenge on the children of his murderers by killing them in their dreams.
A few things make ANOES movie my favorite horror movie. First, the originality and sheer terror of someone haunting you in your dreams. These teenagers force themselves to stay awake for fear of not waking up at all. Tina’s death scene is perhaps one of the most famous scenes in horror history. And of course, their parents don’t believe them. Which means heroine Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) must take matters into her own hands and fight back against Freddy. She’s the other reason why I love this movie so much. Nancy Thompson is the ultimate horror heroine (and proves it even more in ANOES 3 and New Nightmare). Her final face-off with Freddy is the perfect climax for what is, in my opinion, the perfect horror movie.
– Jamie Z.
From the moment I first heard about Re-Animator I knew I had to see it, with Jeffrey Combs as a mad scientist, I had to find it! And find it I did, however my first experience was with the longer rated version, containing no gore or anything of the sort. I finally managed to track down the unrated cut, and what I got was one amazing and crazy film!
Re-Animator upon that initial viewing of the unrated cut became my favourite horror film. It was so much fun, it had great actors turning in outrageous performances, the make-up and gore effects were top notch and still hold up pretty well today. This film introduced me to a successful horror comedy; something that doesn’t always work but when it does it really is fantastic (Dead Alive, Evil Dead II also come to mind). It also introduced to me to the works of Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and my favourite Scream Queen Barbara Crampton. For me there is no better time to be had with a film than this one, I’ve seen it many times and I’ll be watching it many more times as the years roll by.
– Super Marcey
Haute Tension (2003)
If you ask me what my favourite film of all time is, I’d automatically come to one response – the 2003 French horror film Haute Tension, directed by Alexandre Aja and starring the fabulous Cecile de France. I saw it when I was about 14 or 15 and this was my introduction to French horror. This wasn’t just a movie; this, for me, was an experience. Haute Tension is an intense ride from start to finish. The movie had me on the edge of my seat and scared me shitless, and for the gore fans out there, this movie has some great death scenes all with practical effects. No CGI in this film! A big part of what makes this film works is Aja’s amazing eye. He reminds me of a French John Carpenter, because not since Carpenter has a director really created such a suspenseful movie. Aja knows how to frame a shot beautifully and he isn’t afraid to scare you or play against the rules, plus this man loves his gore…and that right there gets my respect.
Not only is it a gory and entertaining movie, but also it is well written. People have claimed that the film doesn’t play fair but I disagree with that statement. I think the movie does play fair and it all just depends on how much you notice. The movie is all a flashback told from a certain character’s point of view…so this is all her story from her point of view. That is what makes this film so brilliant; it blurs fiction and reality. This movie proved that just because you’re a slasher film, you can still be smart and have interesting characters. I’d be stupid not to point out our tough heroine Marie. She watches the family of her best friend murdered and once her best friend is kidnapped she goes after her. She kicks ass and de France created a heroine to be remembered. For me she deserves to join the ranks of Laurie, Nancy, and Ripley as a truly great heroine. This is one movie I never get sick of and I have seen so many times, to the point I’ve learned how to speak each and every French line in the film. If you love your horror twisted, sick, scary, and smart seek out Haute Tension.
– Bryan E.
The Descent (2005)
The Descent is not only my favourite horror film but it’s one of my all-time favourite films, securing a place in the top 10 easily. Following a group of girlfriends on a caving holiday the film takes a slow burn to start with, following these girls through the caves as things go wrong and the underlying sense of dread gets more and more evident. Things just slowly build up, from things moving in the dark to strange noises and even rusted old hooks still embed in the walls of a cave that’s never been explored. The horror is built up bit by bit so when it strikes it strikes hard and doesn’t let up until the end.
Neil Marshall does an amazing job, particularly through his use of light, there is no natural light in the caves, for most of the film the screen is covered in darkness with the only lights coming from the helmets of the girls, by using the dark like this Marshall is able to make the film more terrifying and more tense.The Descent is a modern day classic and it earns the title, with fleshed out and interesting characters, truly terrifying creatures, a liberal amount of violence and brilliant direction from Marshall, this is a great horror film that you all need to see. Although make sure you see the UK version with the proper ending.
The original Halloween directed by horror master John Carpenter is nothing short of a classic for numerous reasons. It introduced us to a great actress in Jamie Lee Curtis. It brought us the iconic slasher Michael Myers and forever cemented the groundwork for the slasher film. While movies like Black Christmas and Psycho helped develop the idea of a slasher, it was Halloween that perfected it and ultimately made it into the cash cow to become in the 80’s and 90’s. It introduced the masked killer, the backdrop of the escaped mental patient, the introduction of a holiday (Halloween), and the teenage victims who are punished for their lack of morals. It certainly is one of the most important films in the horror genre along with cinema in general for how big of an impact it made to the genre.
However, legacy aside, it is one of the best horror movies ever made for a reason. Carpenter injects suspense into the movie and you immediately feel it from the eerie opening credits. There’s literally no gore in the movie and it relies on tension and suspense to frighten you. Carpenter shows at an early age how adept he is as a director with his use of shadows, sounds, and his iconic music for the movie. The cast is excellent as well with Jamie Lee Curtis playing the sweet Laurie Strode and Donald Pleasance as the “Ahab” of the movie Dr. Loomis. Michael Myers embodies the concept of the boogeyman perfectly as he quietly moves through the shadows looking for his next victim. Halloween has become such a iconic movie in terms of the Halloween season despite having been filmed during the summer in L.A. just shows how fantastic this movie really is and how it relishes in the Halloween spirit.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The concept of a movie that marries comedy with horror is not a new one even when this film saw release in 1981. Most horror/comedies take the approach of using the horror to produce laughs and while this works in rare cases (such as Bad Taste) it rarely hits the mark. In An American Werewolf in London director John Landis keeps the two genres on different sides of a fence and while this shouldn’t work it somehow fits together perfectly to create a brilliant and surreal piece of schlock. The scary scenes are suspenseful (the underground chase), gory (the zombies in the porn theatre) and fantastically choreographed (the traffic pile-up) whilst the goofball humour becomes it’s own beast. Strange, small town residents, cameos from the likes of Frank Oz and dealing with waking up naked in a public zoo make for fine comedic material.
Then there’s the surrealism that glues the horror scenes and comedy scenes together. The frightening dream-within-a-dream scene that sees our hero David arrive safely home only for demon Nazi’s to burst through the windows is a highly original sequence while the confrontations with his past victims is the perfect kind of black humour, especially when they all start goading him to kill himself. An American Werewolf in London is a completely unique experience, right down to the ground-breaking special effects, and any attempt to capture a similar tone has failed – especially the dire sequel.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Dawn of the Dead is the second in a series of movies made by the grand originator of the modern zombie movie, George Romero. The original Night of the Living Dead was a sleeper hit, not really gaining attention until years later. Dawn… after all didn’t debut until 10 years after the original. It picks up quite a while after the events of Night.., USA, and quite possibly the world, has been overrun by the zombie plague that was raising the flesh hungry dead. As the zombie horde grows and grows, 2 SWAT officers and a romantic couple take refuge in a mall. Dawn… is classic horror. The fear is completely based on the survival of our protagonists. The zombies do not have enough charisma to make us root against the heroes like so many slasher flicks do. It is full of excellent practical gore effects, finds a nice balance between drama and comedy, and even a rowdy biker gang.
What makes Dawn… really stand out is Romero’s use of social satire as a framing device for the thrills. As the zombie horde shuffles their way to the shopping center without any provocation, our heroes ponder “why?” They come to the conclusion that it is some kind of instinct or memory. The dialog kind of hits you over the head with a philosophy regarding our reliance on meaningless commodity, but it is starting to seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Romero luckily had the good sense to be a little more subtle as the plot progressed. That really obvious line of dialog becomes the set-up for the most brilliant scene in the whole movie where our heroes treat themselves to free luxuries from the mall while the world literally falls apart.
The Shining (1980)
When it comes to horror movies these days I find myself searching for something cerebral that could lodge itself deep into the back of my mind and scare the living crap out of me. I’m not a slasher movie fan and haven’t gotten much enjoyment out of the big name horror franchises over the years, but there’s one movie that always stood out to me and cemented itself as a truly frightening experience, and that’s The Shining. Kubrick’s horror classic is one that helped bring the psychological thriller into Hollywood mainstream while doing its best to define that genre. The focus of the story centers on Jack Torrance, a writer who takes a job offer to stay at the secluded Overlook Hotel for the winter with his wife and child. However the place is not what it seems and slowly but surely Jack starts going restless as he slips away from reality falls deeply into pure insanity. The film takes a very simple setting of a man losing his mind in a secluded, demonic hotel and executes it in a way that few would be able to. There are two things that make this movie a triumphant staple of the horror genre, and they are Stanley Kubrick’s vision and Jack Nicholson’s performance. Nicholson really went off the deep end on screen here and completely sold his downward spiral into utter darkness. There are moments where he’s violently expressive and hamming it up for the audience and there are moments where he slowly and quietly builds towards the escalation of madness that we see transitioning before our very eyes. It’s a masterfully iconic performance and without it the movie would never become the revered and lauded horror film that it is today.
“It’s subtle moments like this that help his transition become truly horrifying”
My favorite aspect of this entire movie is embedded in the way it’s shot and edited with that trademark Stanley Kubrick style in every single scene. Most horror movies today suffer from characters we barely get to know and a rushed pacing that throws the frightening moments in your face at lightning speed. Kubrick is the polar opposite of that and it’s the methodically slow build-up that makes the character transition all the more terrifying. We see Jack meticulously going through each and every moment of his transformation from loving father to deranged; butchering psychopath and we’re with him every step of the way. The movie is rooted in an atmospheric overload of drab colors, harshly cold surroundings and a very distant, off-putting reality that makes you awkwardly uncomfortable. You can’t possibly explain that feeling with every detail you see on screen but watching this movie is like teleporting yourself directly into the hotel with Jack as you follow alongside his spiral into chaos. There are prolonged shots of Jack sitting in the darkness with wide camera angles that show you just how easily one could get lost in this hotel, a metaphor for Jack’s shrinking touch with reality as he gets “lost” in the emptiness of his own mind. The film’s climax is chockfull of nerve-wracking chase sequence and one very iconic line that is now muttered at every single horror convention. All of these things and more make The Shining a unique and horrifying movie experience that is perfect for your Halloween viewing parties.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)
Before Bela Lugosi, before Dracula ever even appeared on screen there was Count Orlock in Nosferatu. The film was very much based on Bram Stoker’s novel, and without the permission of his family, which is the main reason for the change up in character names. Now I will divulge a terrible secret, one that may get me shunned by my fellow undead lovers, but I have never been a huge fan of Dracula, he was always just a little too frilly and overly romantic for my taste. However, Murnau and Galeen were able to change the image of the Count into something far more demonic, sinister and terrifying mostly due to the amazingly talented Max Schreck.
Now, I know you may be horrified by the very thought of watching a silent film, I know I was hesitant for a long time, but this is a film that needs no dialogue, no sound effects and can match up to any modern vampire film that has either. The music adds to every scene, creating suspense and horror when necessary, Murnau even controlled the pacing of the acting with a metronome, so the entire film is like a symphony beautifully choreographed. The reasons why Nosferatu is one of my all-time favorite horror films are twofold: the creepily fantastic Schreck and the special effects. Watching Schreck’s Orlock is like watching a snake slither around the screen, he is fluid and haunting without doing much at all, you understand him just through his movements and his eyes. As for the special effects, I am a huge fan of the practical effect and obviously that is what they were forced to use in early filmmaking and how I wish more films went back to that old style. The use of lighting to stretch and manipulate Orlock’s image around the set, the way mirrors and smoke, simple devices, create effects that would be done with big machinery or computers today, is stunning. Any fan of the vampire genre needs to take the time to understand where many of the original devices and themes come from, this masterclass in horror.
Tremors will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s a celebration of B-horror movie monsters. It’s fun and original, and really made me love Michael Gross as an actor. It’s also a nice movie to throw into any Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon argument. Tremors is about a group of locals in the remote town of Perfection, Nevada. The town is in a valley ringed by mountains and cliffs, and has a single road connecting it to the nearest town. Through events in the movie, a rockslide closes off the road and traps the locals in the valley.
Residents that live outside the town proper begin to fall victim to large, subterranean creatures. Soon the remaining locals seek refuge in the town store as the Graboids (so named by the owner of the store) try to get to them. No help is coming and they have to get out on their own.
A tree that eats you whole, a muddy pool with skeletons, monsters in your closet, deadly clowns under your bed, chairs that move by themselves, TV’s that kidnap you, spiritual mediums and an ancient burial ground. You can get all that in one of my favorite horror movies, Poltergeist; the epitome of haunted house films. Created through the colaboration of Tobe “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Hooper and Steven “Seriously do I need to tell you what has he done?” Spielberg that resulted in the only film that managed to give me nightmares. It was the perfect mix of horror sensibilities with filmic fantasy magic.
There’s a whole debate on whether Hooper directed or not the movie, that it was all Spielberg’s doing while deciding not to take the credit because Universal didn’t allow him to direct anything since he was in the middle of making E.T. The fair version is that Tobe Hooper was a very laid back guy who just allowed Spielberg to give all the input he wanted and I can safely say that that’s what gave this classic film its spooky fantastic feel.
Despite there being multitudes of memorable horror movies, we narrowed it down to just our favorites. So you tell us, what is your favorite horror movie and why?