By Bess Danielski and Aditi Evans
Halloween made you realize that you’re woefully behind on horror movies? Here’s a list of some of the greatest horror movies to catch you up.
Background: Psychological vs Slasher
As fun as slasher films can be to watch, most people agree that psychological horrors are better movies. National Geographic editor and producer Jay Danner McDonald says that in truly good horror movies, the director “leads the audience to the scare” by building suspense and unease. He elaborates that slasher movies are about gore, “the scene itself is what evokes the audience’s reaction” while in psychological horrors “the audience knows something is wrong, but can’t quite identify what,” putting them on edge throughout the movie. Devot horror movie fan Lila Wilson agrees. “Slasher films are all just gore- they’re boring. In physiological films it’s so much more interesting-you actually get to think about it.” Psychological horrors play on fears the audience has already had, be it through bathing a corridor in shadow or having a shot partially obscured by falling leaves, they leave the audience in a state of internal turmoil.
Top 10 of all Time
1. The Shining
What else would it be? When anyone thinks of horror movies, Kubrick’s film based on the Stephen King novel is always close to the top. Not only does the plot draw the viewer in, but so does the cinematography. The movie begins with wide, expansive shots that “make the viewer feel insignificant” says Danner McDonald. The shots becoming tighter and tighter as Jack Nickleson’s character goes more and more insane, giving the audience a tight, claustrophobic feeling of unease.
2. The Exorcist
One of the major demon possession horror movies, The Exorcist has so many iconic scenes that have been referenced on all sorts of platforms, from the 180 degree head turn to “The power of Christ compels you”. Even people who haven’t seen the film have some familiarity with parts of the movie. With an ending that’s more complicated than the usual “everyone except the protagonist dies”, The Exorcist is a movie that everyone has to see at least once.
3. The 6th Sense
Less scary and more creepy, The 6th Sense is perfect for watching with people who are less fond of horror movies. An interesting watch no matter how many times you’ve seen it, M. Night Syamalan’s most famous work offers a compelling plot and cinematography to set the mood for each scene. Perhaps most famous for its plot twist, The 6th Sense plants hints and layers throughout the movie, making the audience realize just how much they missed the first time around.
4. The Conjuring
The Conjuring focuses on one of the case files of the Warrens, a couple who made their living as paranormal investigators. While drawing its roots from the file, Wan’s film also has an old school vibe as it provides a fresh take on the fairly common possessed house movie. Wan also shows an understanding of one of the most powerful horror movie techniques: don’t show too much of your supernatural antagonist, and fear of the unknown will always be more powerful than any demon. Wan uses jump scares to move the plot along, but he also ratchets the suspense up as the movie progresses, using methods from hand claps to swirling dead leaves blowing in front of the imposing house.
Hitchcock uses framing to set up some of the best scenes in the movie and fill the viewer with apprehension. The best example being the shower scene, even before the woman is attacked, the audience is shown the looming shadow of the killer just outside. The victim hasn’t even been touched, but the audience is already afraid, and this only increases once the murders begin. With the addition of an original and unique plot, Psycho is a must-see for those who enjoy horror movies.
6. The Omen
Like The 6th Sense, Donner’s work is more creepy than scary. With no jump scares, the film uses plot and some gore to build the apprehension that the audience feels. The Omen centers around the family of a diplomat, his wife and his son, who was switched at birth after his child “died” and the other child’s mother died in labor. Once tragedies begin to follow the family, the diplomat begins to look closer at his son, Damien, who he discovers to be the anti-Christ. With setting and subtle methods to set suspense balanced with more dramatic and memorable moments, such as the infamous beheading, The Omen leaves the audience uneasy even after the movie is over.
7. The Ring
An adaptation of the Japanese film Ringu, The Ring follows a journalist and her investigation into a video tape that everyone who has seen it dies seven days later. The movie’s plot is creepy and doesn’t have much gore, but what makes Verbinski’s work stand out is some of the shots and sound effects he uses. Danner McDonald describes Samara as “crawling out of the television at the movie characters, but she seems to be headed right for the audience, it leaves the audience feeling uneasy and gives those who watch the urge to look over their shoulder.” The telephone ringing also adds to this effect, the sound is jarring, but ordinary enough that it doesn’t seem forced.
8. Get Out
Not only is this movie scary, but it also addresses racism. It is interesting in that it is a thought-provoking horror movie as opposed to just a slasher film or thriller. With a compelling protagonist and surprising revelations throughout the movie, the audience is kept invested and twinged with anxiety. Besides that, the movie is classified as a horror/comedy, so if you’re looking for a movie that’ll scare you and make you laugh, Get Out is a great choice.
9. IT (2017)
Much better than the original 1990 version, while still slow in some parts, the 2017 remake is action packed and is genuinely scarier. With better special effects and without the different time periods from the 1990 version, the 2017 version of IT lacks some of the chaos and confusion that presented a problem in the original mini-series. Bill Skarsgard gives an excellent portrayal of the demonic clown terrorizing the town, leaving the audience wishing that the movie’s scares had focused more on that and less on the jump scares. However, by having IT take the shape of what frightens the kids the most, the audience is exposed to a range of terrifying figures.
10. A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place is a film that will have you on the edge of your seat. A psychological thriller that leaves you wondering what will come next. This movie takes advantage of the use of sound and cinematography to turn it into a memorable experience. Wilson says, “I love the dramaticness of it, the shooting was really good and the design was unique.” Directed by John Krasinski, who played Jim in The Office, this movie is sure to make you scared.
Recommended New Horror Movie: Midsommar
Ari Aster’s 2019 horror film Midsommar is not a movie based on the supernatural, which is part of what makes it so unsettling. The horrors are all human. Set during a summer vacation to a rural, Swedish religious community, the famous midnight sun leaves both the protagonist and the viewer on edge. With the characters getting some comeuppance that they really didn’t really deserve and the protagonist slowly losing herself, there’s not a whole lot promised in the vein of a happy ending. The stunning scenery and shots somehow make the character’s actions worse in a horrible juxtaposition.