Hi — this is Jay of the Dead, the host of Horror Movie Podcast bringing you a 5 Minutes of Horror presentation.
I have a good friend at work named Sarah, who recently asked me for some good Horror movie recommendations for Halloween. While asking her about her tastes, I quickly realized that Sarah appreciates Horror but really isn’t what you would call a die-hard Horror fan. I discovered that she hadn’t even seen most of the essential classics…
So, I’m recording this episode for Sarah to make her a Must-See short-list of what I would consider the 10 Most Essential American Horror Movies That Best Represent the Genre. You could also think of this list as the 10 movies I would select for a time capsule to show future people what Horror is… Not all of these are necessarily my personal all-time favorites, but I feel these 10 best represent the American Horror Cinema. Assuming the person is new to Horror, I start milder and move toward more severe.
1. James Whale’s “Frankenstein” from 1931. This film is one of the first (and still one of the greatest) examples of a “sympathetic monster.” It also depicts our fears toward scientific advancements.
2. Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” from 1975. Among Horror cinema’s finest examples of the “Man vs. Nature” conflict, and it has well-sketched characters and engaging storytelling. “Jaws” mostly scares us with what we don’t see, and the verbal re-telling of the fate of the USS Indianapolis is one of the most horrifying parts of the movie!
3. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” from 1960 is a precursor that greatly influenced the future of Horror cinema. It’s one of the best examples of the Horror convention where mental illness breeds monsters. “Psycho” has an excellent twist, and it demonstrates that the “monster” can actually be likable and basically imperceptible.
4. George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” from 1978 shows us that often it is actually we humans who are the monsters. And in this Horror movie, instead of a group of victims versus one monster, you have the victim-group versus many monsters. And also, “Dawn of the Dead’s” subtext demonstrates how Horror cinema can be a commentary reflecting our fears and concerns about society.
5. John Carpenter’s “Halloween” from 1978 might just be the most iconic Horror film ever made. It had the strongest initial influence on the Slasher sub-genre as we know it today, and “Halloween” also brings us the first of what I would call the Modern Monsters with Michael Myers. On this list, Michael Myers stands in for Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Pinhead and and all other Horror super-beings, because he was the first of their modern ilk.
6. Ridley Scott’s “Alien” from 1979 is a beastly freak, creature-feature whose monster is obviously an alien, which is an age-old human fear. This film represents the mastery of that 1950s, Atomic Age-blend of science-fiction and Horror. “Alien” is also one of the very best examples of gore in an explicit kill scene.
7. A second John Carpenter film! — “The Thing” from 1982 is, I believe, the all-time greatest adaptation in the history of the cinema — of any film in any genre! (More on that in Movie Podcast Network Special Features Episode 006.) It’s another alien / science-fiction, fear-of-the-unknown Horror film that shoves the weird and the unnatural right up into our faces, causing palpable feelings of discomfort, suspense and paranoia among its viewers to match the onscreen experience of its characters! And to me “The Thing” is Horror cinema’s ultimate example of practical effects. A masterpiece!
8. Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” from 1980 is another Horror masterpiece primarily because the person in the family who is supposed to protect them from monsters becomes the monster. “The Shining” has supernatural Horror elements, even ghostly aspects, so nobody can say that sub-genre isn’t represented in my list! This film is truly scary.
9. My personal all-time favorite Horror film is Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” from 1974. It is a nightmare adapted to film, except it seems absolutely real, like you’re living in the moment… Creepy. Unsettling. Transgressive. There is a scene involving a very old man, a hammer and a terrified girl that changed something inside me after I first saw it, and I have never been the same since… The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made! Another masterpiece!
10. Last but not least is William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” from 1973. For me, as a believer, this Horror film is almost too effective. This movie is arguably the scariest Horror film ever made — it’s not my personal scariest — but I would bet that most non-Horror fans would consider this the all-time scariest Horror film. Infamous. Supernatural. Demonic possession, and its victim is a child who has been possessed within the safety of her own home. What could be scarier? A mother has no idea how to save her child… “The Exorcist” is a Horror film that I hardly ever watch because I don’t like the way it makes me feel.
That’s my list of the 10 Most Essential American Horror Movies That Best Represent the Genre for my friend Sarah and anyone else who wants to explore some of the all-time greatest classics of American Horror Cinema. These are the show notes for Jay of the Dead’s 5 Minutes of Horror. You can check out our long-format episodes on the Movie Podcast Network at Horror Movie Podcast.com, where we’re Dead Serious About Horror Movies.