We are lucky to have a fine back catalog of horror films, both in the sense of our modern world, but also literally, in terms of what ACPL has gathered. I know that those of us who have been fortunate to see the great horror produced just fifteen years ago look at the current trend of over-produced, high budget work and we might think, “Really?”. But it is that defeatist attitude that we must persevere through!
And what a truly blessed year it is for the genre! With the remake of It, as well as the thoroughly entertaining The Cult of Chucky, horror movies are once again starting to claw their way out of the pit that the PG-13 soft death of the genre had ascribed them to.
Purely rhetorical though it may be to ask, what, exactly, is the appeal of a horror movie?
To me, a horror film is often best characterized by one of two things: a sense of charm and an interesting point of view. At least in my opinion, how “terrifying” something is doesn’t really account for much. I feel like the horror genre in particular has to be approached by the would-be creator with a humble sense of self-knowledge, no matter how dirty and cheap or clean and stream-lined the project is. In some of the most famous cases, even purposefully playing on one’s own phobias as well as a DIY mentality to the whole process made necessary by a low budget - made famous by the likes of The Evil Dead – makes for some of the most famous and well-regarded work in the genre’s canon. This is not a universal truth, but it is a large part of the appeal of the genre to me.
Below you will find a list that I consider to be some of the best that horror movies have to offer, ones that I purposefully chose to point out as great starting points for people interested in the genre. And I realize only now how much I love the magical realism or the shock of the monsters that Spanish-speaking countries have provided over the years. Oh well, at least I am capable of owning up to my biases.
A sincere celebration of everything wonderful and horrible about the genre - The Cabin in the Woods. Is this movie a testament to the fact that people making horror movies aren’t thinking outside of the box, allowing this movie to still remain notable for everything truly groundbreaking that it managed to accomplish in its run time, or is it truly as fantastic a movie as many say it is? Either way, if you’re interested in a blood-and-guts send up/parody of seemingly the whole genre, this movie should not be passed up.
David Lynch’s reputation precedes him – Mulholland Dr. This movie is a solid introduction to the specific sense of nightmare logic that Lynch has perfected. It may very well be the seminal work that is moored to what resembles a reality that an audience can identify with – to a point. In my opinion, this work could be classified among his most unnerving. It is worth watching before diving headfirst into his particular strange mixture of dark human id, where dream and superstition can transfigure things into something very, very dark and strange.
The moody ghost story brother to Pan’s Labyrinth’s tragic fairy story - The Devil’s Backbone. One of magical realist Guillermo del Toro's lesser known films, it is invaluable as a truly tense, emotional, and dark entry point into his body of work. This movie that exemplifies del Toro’s unique talents: his eye for taking the fantastic and the macabre, as well as a deep-abiding love of not just outsiders, but monsters, and making them hauntingly beautiful and tragic.
Found footage horror at its very best - Rec (Red Light). Replicated to far less effect with an “Americanized” version, this movie features a cast that is both believable and likeable. The threat is far more effective than the English-language version whipped up to appeal to people with a fear of subtitles. Seeing this film and the reigning king (queen?) of “found footage” horror, The Blair Witch Project, reminds me of the appeal this type of horror holds. It truly feels as though you are trapped with a threat that is not just physically overpowering, but is also metaphysical in origin.
Cosmic horror done in a way that has long since been abandoned by big Hollywood productions - The Void. Lovecraftian horror is a specialty that is rarely done well these days, let alone when it’s not tempered with comedy. This movie feels like it’s a throwback to the days when studios knew how to spend the oftentimes meagre budget set aside for their movie, and spent it on quality actors and creating an ambiance throughout the film that haunts you.
True horror bleeds through horrific fantasy – They Look Like People. There are certain people who are basically all but immune to the experience of a movie, due to the fact that they shrug and say, “well, it’s just a movie.” The stuff happening on screen is just too fantastic or out there to feel “real” to them. I recommend this movie to those type of people, especially to those who were disappointed by the depictions of mental illness in Split. This is a tense one that I should recommend with a trigger warning for how much it does key into the very real transformation of reality into something nightmarish and sinister for someone suffering from intense, untreated paranoia.
This does for vampires what This is Spinal Tap did for rock n’ roll – What We Do in the Shadows. Whether or not you’re a The Flight of the Conchords fan, I feel safe in saying that if you’re a lover of the strange comedy of a Christopher Guest movie, then you’re sure to have a fantastic time watching this palate cleanser of a pseudo-biopic documentary. Silly would be putting this movie mildly.
A good flick in the vein of 80’s kids’ movies – Monster House. A CGI piece with an utmost respect for the Halloween spirit, this movie has a credit list to be proud of. The screenplay was co-written by cult favorites Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon and production credits go to Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. This movie has a ton of charm, humor, and heart, and darn it, but it does my blackened heart good to see a movie about old-fashioned stake-outs and breaking and entering – for kids!
A much-celebrated return of physical effects and slow-building dread in (mostly) black and white – The Similars. If the cover art didn’t give it away, this movie wears its vintage-era influence on its sleeve. To me, however, this movie has less to do with the Hammer Horror-era and more to do with Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. It deserves more praise beyond even how it accomplishes the goal of raising up the same moody nightmarish tension of the best Twilight Zone episodes, however, as the purposeful and scant uses of color and the moments of genuine shock indicate the work of a truly mindful and creative team that worked on this film.
Kayla loves all things weird, wonderful, and macabre. Her soul’s in writing, and her hobbies include gaming, watching movies and television shows, and reading anything and everything. Her black cat’s TOTALLY, 100%, not evil.