Horror fans, this one’s for you. This list is recommended for adults and mature teens.
Many might disagree with me about which films deserve to be on this shortlist of the five greatest horror films, but few would argue that these aren’t great films. These movies really set the standard for modern horror films, and their influence on most recent horror films is usually not hard to find. For movie buffs, it can be fun to trace the origins of some of our favorite horror conventions, but these films are guaranteed to give all movie goers a good scare.
“Psycho” (1960) Director: Alfred Hitchcock
“Psycho” might be the original slasher film. The movie isn’t gory throughout, and most of the film would be better classified as a dark psychological suspense thriller. You’ll find some of the character interplay and mystery often found in other Hitchcock movies, but Hitchcock took his villain to another level with Norman Bates, the creepy, paranoid, voyeuristic anti-hero. The famous (or infamous) murder scene in the shower set a new standard for violence and sexuality portrayed on film. Movies were never the same, and the horror genre was born.
“The Birds” (1963) Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock clearly established himself as not only the master of suspense, but of horror, with “The Birds.” The idea of nature turning against humanity with malicious intent has been done countless times since then, but never so well. The birds are mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it any more. They seem to want revenge against human beings, perhaps for their destruction of nature. Or perhaps it’s the sign of an impending apocalypse, as one character believes. The film’s heroine Melanie (Tippi Hedren) falls victim to the birds in increasingly terrifying episodes.
The film’s star Tippi Hedren opened up about Hitchcock’s shocking treatment of her on the set, and her account was made into a movie called “The Girl,” starring Sienna Miller. It aired on HBO last week. Hedren’s story is significant and should be acknowledged. The film itself can still be appreciated as a masterwork of classic horror.
“The Exorcist” (1973) Director: William Friedkin
Ten years after “The Birds,” the first tale of exorcism hit the big screen. Exorcist films have become a subgenre of horror, and their popularity has exploded in the last decade. But all must measure up to the standard of this original masterpiece. It may be the greatest horror film ever made, and it’s also one of the best movies ever made. The film is deeply disturbing because it portrays a child possessed with demon spirits, with child actress Linda Blair as Regan at several points spewing profanities after she is possessed. Yet the inclusion of these intense and disturbing scenes is vital to the story to portray the insidiousness of the demon spirits, and why they post such a challenge to the priests attempting to exorcise them. The film has exceptional acting, writing, and directing.
“The Omen” (1976) Director: Richard Donner
Another classic of 1970s horror, “The Omen” also explores the work of the devil on earth, but in a different and equally disturbing way, in the form of a child with reportedly satanic origins. The child is responsible for horrific events, even deaths. It’s terrifying to watch and also a great piece of cinema.
“The Shining” (1980) Director: Stanley Kubrick
A best horror film list wouldn’t be complete without “The Shining.” Based on a novel of the same title by Stephen King, the story about a man hired to take care of a remote hotel in winter time is frightening. The film follows the devastating psychological impact the solitude has on him and his behavior toward his family. The hotel is haunted by dark forces, and so ultimately is the husband and father portrayed by Jack Nicholson.
What are your favorite horror films?