GONZO SHARK’S GUIDE TO HORROR: TEN DEFINITIVE FILMS YOU NEED TO WATCH FOR HALLOWEEN
The season of spooks and shocks has descended upon us and there isn’t a better time of the year to scare the s*** out of yourself with a good fright flick. I love horror films and always have since I was just a little kid. I grew up watching many of these pictures and, in many cases, have shaped who I am because of the incredible inspiration they’ve brought me in the realm of writing and filmmaking, and my absolute love for them. To me, watching a horror film is a practical exercise in one’s own fear—your heart races, your skin crawls and the goosebumps surface, you may break out in a feverish sweat, you may have to cover your eyes or look away, you may even have to get up and leave—and as unsettling or unpleasant as some of these films may make you feel, if you make through a film that keeps you awake in your bed or forces you to consider the purchase of a slew of night-lights then you have come out a stronger, more fearless person.
There isn’t a better time of the year to watch than right now! I have already watched about twenty horror films this month and I’m not even close to being done. To try and list ten definitive horror films is very easy because there are so many more than just that. Here are some of the greatest, most epic and truly iconic films to ever grace the horror genre and, furthermore, are some of my absolute favorites that have helped to shape and evolve the category as we know it.
Prepare yourself: Every one of the films on this list are viscerally jolting, psychologically tormenting and visually shocking—and you OWE IT TO YOURSELF to watch them!
This gem is a throwback or an homage to classic horror movies like The Exorcist or Psycho. The film feels old and gritty but is shot with an exquisite, modern-day style and elegance. To me, this film is the crowning achievement for director James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring 2). It completely proved Wan’s ability tell a great story while incorporating many traditional style scares, and without making the film feel like its ripping off the classics. This is a flick that proves the horror genre isn’t dead!
The film is based on real investigations conducted by paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren in the 1970’s at a haunted farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. They came to help the Perron family who had been experiencing hauntings at their new house since they purchased it, and what they discovered didn’t disappoint! I live about three miles from the real house and cemetery depicted in this film, and drive by it frequently. It is very unassuming and looks like any other farmhouse but harbors a legend of epic proportions.
In the dark and ferocious Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New England lurks a violent, man-eating great white shark that is hunting the tourists of Amity Island—what more could you ask for? The ultimate psychological mind-f*** about fearing the unknown of open waters; a spectacular, massive fish with rows and rows of razor sharp teeth; and the notion of it being hell-bent on devouring human flesh. There is much less blood than you may expect and much more terror than you may have ever anticipated. Many people don’t realize that JAWS was the fourth major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg and revolutionized the genre in many ways as being the true first of its kind. The experience was something new and fresh that captured the imaginations of people all around the world.
It is number forty-eight on the AFI Top 100 Films list and has one of the most iconic, gripping and tense film scores in cinema history.
8. The Descent
With fewer and fewer great horror movies being made, this 2006 film is in a league of its own. Director Neil Marshall created an American classic of the genre during an era when films like these were becoming increasingly few and far between. The picture follows a group of females who are setting out to explore an uncharted network of caves, but soon become trapped and lost within the system and realize that they are far from alone! It will make you want to close your eyes, keep you guessing and make you want to jump out of your own skin!
A wildly original and imaginative effort that sinks its teeth into you and doesn’t let go until the mind-blowing conclusion. A MUST SEE for any movie lover!
7. House Of 1000 Corpses
Rob Zombie’s 2003 directorial debut is one of the most authentic, eccentric and ambitious horror films ever made. It’s a real tribute to the “B-Style”, low-budget horror releases of the 70’s and 80’s and is absolutely terrifying, abrasive, jaw-dropping and sadistic. A group of friends are searching for the legend of Dr. Satan in rural Texas and a flat tire leads them to the House of 1000 Corpses, which is inhabited by the Firefly Family, a group of kinfolk so bizarre that they make The Manson Family look like your next-door neighbors!
Nothing can prepare you for what you will see and you may want to wash your eyes out with soap when it’s all over!
6. The Devil’s Rejects
Director Rob Zombie’s 2005 sequel to House of 1000 Corpses is a masterful piece of nightmare cinema. Here, you get to see Zombie come into his own as a legitimate filmmaker with a crafty, unrelenting, beautifully shot picture that is incredibly disturbing and completely f***ed up! It will manipulate your emotions to the beat of Zombie’s ominous, evil drum. Prepare for the most horrific, appalling game of cat-and-mouse that has ever hit the screen!
If the first Rob Zombie film didn’t make you feel like you’ll had to take shower after it was all over, this one probably will!
5. The Silence of the Lambs
One of the most brilliant horror movies ever made. Largely inspired by real-life serial killers, this film is utterly spellbinding and extremely creepy. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster deliver performances that are second to none and completely enthralling. The story follows a young FBI cadet (Foster) who must seek the help of a brilliant psychiatrist and deranged killer (Hopkins), who is locked away for his own brutal murders, to catch a serial killer who is skinning his victims alive. This is not a film for the weak at heart or for the easily disturbed, but it’s is by far one of the greatest horror films!
The picture won five Oscars and is number 65 on the AFI Top 100 Films list, which is an extreme rarity for the horror genre. Good luck sleeping after this one!
4. The Shining
One of the most important and legendary horror films. This Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, based on a Stephen King novel, is a film that literally stands alone among its cinematic peers. Kubrick effectively removed much of the unnecessary shock and awe that was prevalent in the genre at the time. He replaced it by pairing a relentless psychosis that gradually built throughout the duration of the film with absolutely masterful cinematography that boasted many beautifully stunning and terrifyingly shocking visuals. Any bit of shock or awe in this film meant something. This is Jack Nicholson at his best and in his prime portraying an author suffering from writer’s block who takes a job as a winter caretaker of a remote hotel in Colorado with his wife and son. The story is built on Nicholson’s increasingly sever condition of cabin fever and his son’s psychic ability to see visions of dread and horror from the past and future.
A totally mind-bending viewing experience that will linger on your senses and psyche long after you’ve watched it—a once in a lifetime kind of movie!
3. Friday the 13th
Not only should you watch the first one, but you should watch all eleven! That is exactly what I did at the beginning of this month and after watching it on Blu-ray, in front of an awesome television and with surround sound, I have a whole new outlook on these films. It was important for me to watch them all back-to-back over a week or so to get the complete experience and a deeper understanding of the franchise. I believe that the Friday the 13th brand revolutionized the horror movie experience because the films were equally frightening and fun. These movies didn’t just scare the crap out of you but they were also uncharacteristically fun to watch. The ultimate adventure of terror that will likely make you never want to camp again…EVER!
Do yourself a favor and watch these films, you can thank me later…
The definitive, end-all-be-all of the slasher film. Although Halloween 1 & 2 are the best of the franchise, you should still watch all of them (including the Rob Zombie revamps) because every single one is great and this collection (along with Friday the 13th) are the most highly-touted, iconic and popular in American horror cinema. If you haven’t at least heard of Michael Myers (or Jason Voorhees) you are absolutely lost and you should take my direction! Myers is the quintessential bogeyman and cinematic monster—just a seemingly average man with an expressionless pale white mask, and you don’t see his eyes but black holes instead. He lurks the suburban neighborhood of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween to kill his sister and niece throughout much of the franchise. These films (particularly 1 and 2) revolutionized horror by bringing it right into typical American neighborhoods that exist in almost every state of the country.
You have the creepiest killer of all and a wholesome, tale that is the prototypical nightmare. Watch it!
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece of insanity and cannibalism is, in my opinion, the best horror film ever made. There isn’t a more psychologically traumatizing or unnerving film experience that is as great of a movie as this. Some have come close, but none have ever captured the realism or madness the way Hooper’s 1974 classic embodied it. There is very little blood and it was shot so effectively that it almost feels like a legitimate snuff film at certain times. It is disgusting and deliberate—a visual opus into the darkest corners of hell on earth and a relentlessly disturbing, eerie presentation of what type of evil could be behind any random door in this country. I don’t want to tell you anything about the plot because it will take away from the full experience.
Just know this: you will not find another film on this list that is as sinister, perplexing or discomforting as this one! You’ve been warned…
Until next time, The Gonzo Shark checks out…