Horror stands alone as a form of cinematic entertainment. Like a shot of adrenaline, the best examples are often measured by their ability to stimulate the senses. Rarely will one find Oscar-worthy monologues or painstaking character development. Even basic logic can be hard to come by yet such movies overcome any notions of rationality. Horror movies are not overly concerned with logic or rationale and they are mostly produced for the sake of providing entertainment.
Great horror also functions as a cathartic outlet and a streamlined one at that. Tapping into deeply-rooted fears and desires, the genre cultivates a whirlwind of primitive indulgence. Viewers can experience the thrill of running from a monster or just barely surviving through the night. If there is a pretext, it is that audiences leave their lofty ideals and moral judgments at home. With an open mind one can strap into their seat and take a proverbial roller coaster ride. It is no wonder that the genre has such a dedicated fan base. That is not to say horror goes short on symbolism or social commentary. On the contrary, many of the best horror films are filled to the brim with metaphor and prescient subtext.
The Birds (1963)
A small seaside town is under siege by killer birds and no one can figure out why. Upon the movie’s release in England, Hitchcock kept the scares coming even after the final credits rolled. That’s when cinemas would emit the sound of screeching and flapping birds through loudspeakers as audiences were leaving.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George Romero’s intense tale of flesh-eating “ghouls” (i.e., proto-zombies) kicked off a new appetite for gore and terror among audiences. Made for just $114,000, it’s considered one of the most successful independent films of all time. Unfortunately for Romero, he was duped out of the most profits by savvy distributors.
Roman Polanski’s first English language film is a psycho-sexual triumph of claustrophobic intensity. Catherine Deneuve plays Carol, a repressed woman who drives herself crazy inside an apartment. Look for a cameo from the director, who appears dressed as a woman toward the end.
In space, no one can hear you scream, which proves particularly fatal for the crew on spaceship Nostromo. Ridley Scott’s breakout smash remains a milestone in horror cinema. That’s partly thanks to artist H.R. Giger’s visionary alien concept and Sigourney Weaver’s legendary turn as Ripley.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Along with a spine-tingling score came this equally scary movie, in which a woman gets impregnated by the devil. Among the film’s bevy of memorable scenes is one where lead actress Mia Farrow walks through traffic while pregnant. According to legend, that scene was not scripted and the traffic was real with director Roman Polanski telling the actress that “nobody will hit a pregnant woman.”
Alfred Hitchcock was already the “master of suspense” by the time “Psycho” was released, and yet his ability to induce terror took on a new dimension. A secretary turned thief (Janet Leigh) flees town and shacks up at the Bates Motel. When she crosses paths with the motel’s twisted owner, the plot shifts and so too does film history. TW