The online home of the Central Focus

Courtesy of MGM Entertainment

Courtesy of MGM Entertainment

Legends of horror

Editors’ picks for the top ten horror films of all time, and why, in no particular order

Across all genres of film, through all contemporary history, none have been as shocking or as controversial as horror. It makes just over a century that film directors across the world have been striving to rouse screams throughout theaters by eliciting a range of emotions, chief among them: fear. A vast variety of methods have been employed, from clever plot design, to meaningful camera movement, to the development of suspense in film (its greatest weapon), but in the myriad of terrifying films produced and released to the general public, there are some that stand out far above the others – some Olympically so, in a realm entirely of their own. Definitively, these are those films. Their capacity to shock the body with adrenaline and flood the amygdala with fear is unparalleled; their brilliance in film technique, original storybuilding, setting, and score design truly establishes them not only as horror films for the ages, but cinematographic triumphs in the greater canon of film culture. Prepare to be terrified.


 

1) The Shining

 

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment 

Details:

  • Released: June 1980
  • Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick
  • Author: Stephen King (1977)
  • Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
  • Runtime: 2 hours 26 minutes

Premise:

After moving with his family to a remote hotel as caretaker for the winter, a father and author left in solitude to write becomes influenced by a mysterious evil force, while his psychic son has horrifying visions about the past and future.

Legend:

Director Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, “The Shining”, often contests with Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” as the best horror film ever made. Viscerally disturbing, but with a subtle, normal-esque exposition and rising action that begins to increase exponentially in suspense and terror, this film sticks, hard. Jack Nicholson’s classic performance of the slowly descending father, Jack Torrance, is a brilliant exhibition of his range as an actor, yet his climactic “Here’s Johnny!” moment pales in comparison to the horrific, elegant, incredibly disturbing ending. While taking a veer from complete adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 bestselling third novel, Kubrick stays true to the theme that extends far beyond simple horror, strikes at the primal fear of losing safety of the mind, and explores deeply the dark capability of mankind for evil.

 

2) The Silence of the Lambs

 

Courtesy of MGM Entertainment

Details:

  • Released: February 1991
  • Director: Jonathan Demme
  • Author: Thomas Harris
  • Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins
  • Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes
  • Awards: 5 Oscars, 1 Golden Globe; 2 Oscar nominations, 4 Golden Globe – “The Big Five” – Best picture, best actress in a leading role, best actor in a leading role, best director, best writing/screenplay; best performance by an actress in a motion picture

Premise:

A young F.B.I. cadet with a knack for serial killer analysis is assigned to learn from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, an extremely intelligent psychologist and cannibalistic psychopath, in order to catch a mysterious serial killer who kills and skins his victims.

Legend:

“The Silence of the Lambs” is a powerhouse – regarded by many as the best horror has to offer (only in competition with Kubrick’s “The Shining”), and one of the best movies of all time overall. Brilliant performances of both the protagonist, Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), and the relative antagonist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) contribute widely to the capacity at which this film disturbs and explores the psychological depths of the human mind. Dr. Lecter stands as one of the creepiest, most elegantly unsettling characters in contemporary film’s history, and director Jonathan Demme’s facility to bring Thomas Harris’ book to life on screen is real and tangible; this is a film that strikes deep in the mind, and lasts for many years – an elite of the elite of the horror genre.

 

3) The Exorcist

 

 
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment 

Details:

  • Released: December 1973
  • Director/Author: William Peter Blatty
  • Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow
  • Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes
  • Awards: 2 Oscars, 4 Golden Globes; 8 Oscar nominations; 3 Golden Globe nominations – Best writing/screenplay, best sound; Best motion picture – drama, best supporting actress, best screenplay, best director

Premise:

A young girl falls under sudden psychological illness and worsens, until her mother calls two priests to come save her, following suspicion of her possession by an evil force.

Legend:

Across the board, from all generations, “The Exorcist” is regarded as the scariest film ever made, period. Members of its debut audiences would flee the cinema in tears or leave in shock, and later keep the book, authored by William Blatty, in a separate room of the house. The film, directed also by Blatty himself, strikes viscerally, unflinchingly, brutally, and disturbingly at one of our deepest-seated fears: the loss of our own minds (much less that of a little girl’s!). Fourteen-year old Linda Blair’s unsettling performance and descension into insanity as Regan MacNeil is immortalized in all cinema as one so scary, it turns horror from being entertainment into horror as a true, very real, terrifying experience.

 

4) The Blair Witch Project

 

Courtesy of Haxan Films

Details:

  • Released: July 1999
  • Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick
  • Stars: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams
  • Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes

Premise:

Footage is found from three college film students who disappeared after they ventured into the Maryland forest to make a film over the infamous Blair Witch, a centuries old folklore horror well-known to the town elders. The initially gung-ho group suddenly finds themselves lost, and must find their way out whilst also escaping a seemingly haunting presence, and their own minds.

Legend:

The quintessential “found-footage” film of the horror genre, “The Blair Witch Project” offers a rare example of a terrifying film experience without a directly tangible antagonist, save the protagonists’ minds themselves. Hopelessly lost, starving, and trapped in the extreme eeriness of the silent forest, every unnerving minor detail builds the viewer’s suspense to a crescendo, only to be left with more unending trees, darkness, and fear. Vivid and realistic performances by the students make this film one of the genre’s most unsettling, especially after the unbelievable, unforgettable ending.

 

5) Psycho

 

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Details:

  • Released: June 1960
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Author: Robert Bloch
  • Stars: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh
  • Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes
  • Awards: 4 Oscar nominations, 1 Golden Globe – Best actress in a supporting role, best director, best cinematography – black and white, best art direction/set direction – black and white; Best supporting actress

Premise:

After making off with $40,000 in embezzled funds, a Phoenix, Arizona secretary checks into the Bates Motel, where she meets a shy but charming innkeeper who turns out to be more than he appears.

Legend:

There are few scenes in horror more notable than the infamous “shower scene” of director Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece genre revolutionizer, “Psycho”. Constrained by black and white colorization and limited special effects capability, Hitchcock’s use of suspense and cinematography is legendary in producing the raw eeriness and timeless terror of the film – immortalized by actress Janet Leigh’s shower performance. One of the most famous horror movies of all time, and movies in general, the classic story of the Bates Motel overturned horror as a genre, and validated its new presence as a powerhouse in cinema.

 

6) Halloween

 

 
Courtesy of Compass International Pictures

Details:

  • Released: October 1978
  • Director: John Carpenter
  • Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
  • Runtime: 1 hour 31 minutes

Premise:

Fifteen years after a young boy brutally stabs his holder sister to death, he escapes from confinement at a mental hospital and begins to kill again.

Legend:

Actually taking place on Halloween night, director John Carpenter’s horror tour de force is the classic figurehead of well-known “slasher” films, featuring a mask-wearing, knife-wielding killer (Michael Myers, played by Tony Moran) who is simultaneously both brilliant and simple, stalking and brutalizing, and normal – yet completely abnormal. “Halloween” is an icon of the genre, and stands a testament the power of old-fashioned, tense, brutal, screaming, thrilling horror.

 

7) A Nightmare on Elm Street

 

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment 

Details:

  • Released: November 1984
  • Director: Wes Craven
  • Stars: Heather Langenkamp; Johnny Depp
  • Runtime: 1 hour 31 minutes

Premise:

A group of teenagers begin to encounter an evil serial killer who enters their dreams and hunts them while they sleep.

Legend:

There are few antagonists of horror more unsettling and terrifying than “Freddy Krueger,” the evil killer being that appears in teenagers’ dreams. Director Wes Craven’s mastery of visual special effects after directing the well-known “The Hills Have Eyes” takes to the forefront of this film – delivering a captivating and imaginative film that, quite literally, keeps viewers wide awake. Taking aim at one of our most feared neurological experiences, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a classic example of terror in its purest form.

 

8) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

 

Courtesy of MGM Entertainment

Details:

  • Released: October 1974
  • Director: Tobe Hooper
  • Stars: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger
  • Runtime: 1 hour 23 minutes

Premise:

Based on a true story, two siblings and three friends drive into the Texas countryside to visit their grandfather’s grave, and are attacked by a vicious neighboring family of cannibalistic psychopaths.

Legend:

Director and horror legend Tobe Hooper’s most accredited film, the notable initial eeriness soon punctuated by sheer brutality and adrenaline remains one of the most lastingly horrifying film experiences in the genre. Hooper’s unconventional documentary-style of filming accompanied by Marilyn Burns’ famous performance as Sally Hardesty and Gunnar Hansen’s as the classic buzzsaw-wielding “Leatherface” made the film a groundbreaking and disturbing piece in the new vision of the horror genre. When the chainsaw roars…. run.

 

9) Poltergeist

 

Courtesy of MGM Entertainment

Details:

  • Released: June 1982
  • Director(s): Tobe Hooper, Steven Spielberg
  • Screenplay: Steven Spielberg
  • Stars: JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Craig T. Nelson
  • Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes
  • 3 Oscar nominations – Best effects – visual and sound, best music – original score

Premise:

A middle-class California family lives business as usual, until strange occurrences begin in their house, and a more sinister host of ancient ghosts begin to show their teeth.

Legend:

In a genre so saturated with hopelessly haunted houses, “Poltergeist” is the quintessential film of its kind – the continuously terrifying and vivid product of director and horror legend Tobe Hooper’s collaboration with the mind of Steven Spielberg as producer. There are few images in contemporary horror than that of the child entranced before the television set, gripped by the forces that lay beyond its glass.

 

10) Alien

 

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Entertainment

Details:

  • Released: June 1979
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt
  • Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes
  • Awards: 1 Oscar – Best Visual Effects

Premise:

Far in the future, an economic space vessel’s crew is awoken from hibernation following an unknown distress call. One of those sent to investigate is brought back after being attacked by a mysterious lifeform, but they quickly realize it is growing, intelligent, and vicious.

Legend:

Widely regarded as the best science fiction horror ever made, and one of the best sci-fi films of all time alongside “2001: A Space Odyssey”, director Ridley Scott is mainly credited for the masterful combination of science, suspenseful horror, and darker observations about the nature of the human mind. Officer Ellen Ripley (played famously by Sigourney Weaver) is also notable for becoming one of film’s greatest female protagonists and heroines, determinedly moving through the USCSS Nostromo in order to salvage her crew and escape the unknown creature.

— Honorable Mentions —

 

1) Jaws

 

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Details:

  • Released: June 1975
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Author: Peter Benchley
  • Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
  • Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes
  • Awards: 3 Oscars, 1 Golden Globe – Best sound, best film editing, best music – original score; best picture

Premise:

A New England island beach resort suddenly finds itself host to repeated fatal attacks on swimmers by a mysterious, vicious shark. Assisted by a marine biologist and a local fisherman, the town sheriff ventures into the water to hunt the creature down.

Legend:

Initially appearing more thriller than horror film, Spielberg’s classic tour de force is a film staple for its excellent cinematography, clever storytelling, and universally recognized, eerie original score. The entire film was originally relegated to a B-roll position in Hollywood, operating under a small budget and featuring a cast of relatively unknown actors, but it was quickly realized as a powerhouse, most notably due to the lifelike animatronic metal shark Spielberg’s team actually built, and for Robert Shaw’s brilliant, haunting supporting performance as Quint, the fisherman. “Jaws” is a classic example of the raw power of suspense in storytelling and horror, not inherently needing a giant big-ticket budget to succeed.

 

2) Friday the 13th

 

 
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Details:

  • Released: May 1980
  • Director: Sean S. Cunningham
  • Stars: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor
  • Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes

Premise:

A child drowns at a summer camp, closing it for good. Years later, a group of camp counselors attempt to open it again, but are brutally stalked and murdered by a rogue killer.

Legend:

While regarded as cheesy (to a degree), the movie that inspired pop culture’s true triskaidekaphobic fear of Fridays on the 13th day is tense, dark (literally), and unflinchingly brutal. Widely regarded as the quintessential camp horror film, and most notably featuring one of the most shocking (and lasting) endings of a horror film to date.

 

3) IT

 

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

Details:

  • Released: September 2017
  • Director: Andy Muschetti; Author: Stephen King (1986)
  • Stars: Bill Skarsgard, Finn Wolfhard
  • Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes

Premise:

A group of viciously bullied kids in the Maine town of Derry discover the reasons behind its abnormally high disappearance rate when a demonic shapeshifter in the form of a clown begins to hunt them.

Legend:

This readaptation of one of renowned author Stephen King’s first novels, following a 1990 version directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and featuring the legendary Tim Curry as Pennywise the demonic shapeshifter clown has reached high popularity amongst today’s millennial viewers, due to its balance of witty humor, fictional horror, and the real horrors of neglect and bullying. Bill Skarsgard, starring as Pennywise, was not shown in full character to the protagonal group of kids (chief of whom featuring Finn Wolfhard, who stars as Mike in Netflix’s “Stranger Things”) until the first take, and their reactions brilliantly showcase their real sentiments. “IT” doesn’t reach the olympic level of classic horror hall of famers, but remains a poignant exhibition of a deeper, darker theme beyond Pennywise himself, and features a demon clown that is, to say the least, very, very scary.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Savory Halloween sweets
Too old for trick-or-treating?
What should you do this Halloween?
“IT” (2017) Film Review (SPOILER FREE)

FHCtoday.com • Copyright 2017 • FLEX WordPress Theme by SNOLog in