It is October, and I’m thinking about Halloween. Call me morbid, but it’s my favorite time of the year. Like Christmas, Halloween has its own magic. As a kid in Southern Illinois, I lived for that one night where I could be somebody, anything other than myself. But, of course, with growing older comes sacrifice. I got too old and too gangly to fit into my costumes. I didn’t want to be that guy still out collecting candy in high school. Still though, I wanted to capture that same spooky magic that comes along with the holiday.
As a teenager, I fell in love with horror films. Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th—I loved that stuff. It’s a genre of film that too often gets lost in the shuffle. The easiest to discount and write off as trash. I can understand that. The excessive violence. The out-of-this-world situations. I resist this notion though. Even under the gallons of fake blood, there is still art in the genre.
There are horror films that are important—that have a message. So, in the interest of entertainment and art, I have compiled a top-five list of horror films that I think go beyond the blood-and-guts notion…that entertain, enlighten, and, of course, frighten. Here goes:
5. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
For some, it might be easy to write off The Thing as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi/horror film. However, John Carpenter’s film, with close inspection, is less about an alien entity, but more about the paranoia present in the United States during the Reagan administration. Kurt Russell gives an outstanding performance in this claustrophobic masterpiece.
4. David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983)
This film, starring the always creepy James Woods, is both visually stunning and thought-provoking. In Videodrome, Cronenberg examines the merging of human and machine, sexuality, sadomasochism, television, and the impact of technology in the modern world.
3. Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977)
Speaking purely of plot, this is one of Argento’s weakest films. However, what makes, for me, Suspiria so worthwhile is Argento’s brilliant vision for color and atmosphere. Everything is ultra-vivid. The colors are robust. The scenes dream-like (or nightmare-like). He has often been compared to Kubrick in his use of color. Suspiria proves that these claims are legit.
2. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Not necessarily a “horror” film, but Del Toro’s 2001 meditation on the Spanish Civil War is haunting in its approach. This is a very hard film to pin down. Like all good art though, it is evocative, dazzling in its ambition, and leaves you with the experience of being changed.
1. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)
Stephen King may have hated the adaptation, but I loved it. Kubrick takes King’s novel about the disintegration of the family unit, and moves it towards illustrating the effects of isolation, alcoholism, and history. While slow and plodding, this film is chilling. The overlook feels vast and foreboding. The landscape is a wasteland. And Jack Nicholson, well, he’s Jack Nicholson. The film that even horror-haters can agree on for its sheer horror.
Others that missed the cut:
Eyes Without a Face
Carnival of Souls
Jeff Haynes is a first year MFA student in Poetry. He is from Illinois, and loves The X-Files.