Seasonal Horror Films

With everyone lining up their lists for Halloween, I thought about what makes a good horror film. Over the decades, tastes have changed a great deal, and what might have been scary once, is now considered to be almost comedy. Genres blur too. What might have once been seen as science fiction films are often marketed as horror these days. The plots are all but exhausted as well, making ‘psychological’ horror more important to attract a new audience.

Types of horror film are fairly easy to categorise. There are ‘Haunted House’ films, ‘Possession’ films, ‘Monster’ films, and ‘Slasher’ films. Modern variations include those involving artificial intelligence, body horror, stalking, and telepathy. In the mix are the old standbys of Vampires, Mummies, Werewolves, Fantasy beasts, and imprisonment and torture. The human appetite for being scared, repulsed, or downright terrified seems to know no bounds.

It is hard for me to comprehend now how I could ever have been scared by Christopher Lee biting the neck of a young woman, in one of his many portrayals of ‘Dracula’. In the same way, the giant ants of the sci-fi horror ‘Them’ from 1954 are now simply real ants, enlarged for effect. So not remotely scary. Phobias and natural repulsion play a large part of course. If you are afraid of spiders, then ‘Arachnophobia’ (1990) will be horrifying. But if you have no fear of those creatures, then you might wonder what all the fuss is about.

Psychological horror may be the most effective, as we can often imagine ourselves in the situations depicted on screen. It becomes a ‘what would I do?’ scenario, rather than an implausible fantasy. But with that sub-genre, as with all others, we face the danger of ‘overload’. Once a particular film becomes popular, (as with ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ (1984)) the producers and directors hear the cash registers ringing, and decide to churn out more of the same, with the sequels becoming less and less scary, and more and more lazy.

If I am going to watch a horror film, then I expect a few things from it.
1) It has to genuinely scare me, at least once.
2) The cast should always believe the terror, and get that across to the audience.
3) It should not just rely on special effects to frighten us.
4) It helps if it is an original idea, or a ‘fresh’ reworking of an old one.
5) It should stand alone, and not just be ‘engineered’ for later sequels.
6) It should never be a poor scene by scene remake of a much better original.

After all that, I should make some recommendations of what I consider to be good horror films, so here are some. I will avoid science fiction, because of the old argument about what constitutes a horror film. So, if you want to watch something different for your Halloween fear-fest, try these.

Nosferatu The Vampyr. (1922)
This is the whole film. The silent original, in a restored print.

When A Stranger Calls. (1979) Make sure you watch this, and not the remake.

Ringu. The 1998 Japanese original only please.

The Blair Witch Project. (1999)

It Follows. (2015)

And saving the best until last.
Martyrs. (2008) Ignore the 2016 remake completely.

63 thoughts on “Seasonal Horror Films

    1. I saw Blair Witch long after all the hype surrounding it. I expected to hate it, but found myself really involved in it. Then came that end scene, which managed to totally creep me out. So I do have a soft spot for it. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I must check Martyrs. I understand your position about sci-fi, but for me, Alien has a lot of the tropes of horror as well(there is a great collection of essays on cinema called Alien Zone, and I remember some fabulous essays about the book and the concept of ‘the monstruous feminine’, the ship as the body, the body invasion….). I haven’t watched Martyrs but it does look pretty scary. I have a soft spot for comedy-horror combinations as well (I never bore of Tremors, although it makes one jump rather than being pure horror). I enjoyed Train to Busan as well, but perhaps what made it great was also the social commentary. And the acting was pretty good as well. Although I don’t find old ones scary now, I do love them. As I child, ‘Cat People’ (the original from 1942 directed by Jacques Tourneur) really scared me, and I think it is a beautifully made movie. There are some movies that are horrifying but I’m not sure they fit into the horror genre as such (Raw or Antichrist by Lars von Trier). I must confess I can tolerate a bad horror movie if it has something going for it, while I find it more difficult with other genres, and I keep thinking I should try and write a horror story, but I’m so aware of how difficult it is to scare people these days… Thanks Pete, great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have long been aware that genres blend, and ‘Alien’ is one of the best examples. However, I stick to my self-imposed division of sci-fi and horror as separate genres, though I pretty much stand alone where that is concerned. I still think ‘Cat People’ is one of the best of its type, and never tire of watching the wonderful cinematography of that film. Although I find comedy out of place in the genre, I agree that ‘Tremors’ is such fun to watch, though hardly real ‘Horror’. One I left out, and perhaps the best ever found-footage horror, is the original Spanish film .REC. Rarely has a film put the viewer into a situation where they can really imagine the terror, with the exception of ‘Blair Witch’.

      ‘Martyrs’ is something else. Almost a genre in one film. Unique, unforgettable, visceral, and difficult to endure. That said, I believe all film fans should watch it, at least once.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

    1. I actually laughed at that film, Robbie. Nicholson’s crazy overacting turned it into a comedy for me. πŸ™‚
      I suggest that ‘Ringu’ might scare anyone, if only once.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

        1. That’s why I mentioned ‘the debate’ in my text. I think we have to separate sci-fi from horror, as in ‘The Thing’. That film is sci-fi, because it is an alien life form. Yes, it’s a horrifying film, but it stands as sci-fi for me, as far as genre is concerned. Same deal with the ‘Alien’ franchise. πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

        2. That’s a hard question, V. It’s very subjective. If the actor makes you believe that he or she is genuinely terrified, than that generally works for me. To go into specific performances would be hard, but I could cite people like David Warner, in ‘The Omen’, or Jamie Lee Curtis, in the original ‘Halloween’, or Carol Kane in ‘When A Stranger Calls’. Overall, I think the Japanese do the best horror, and the cast of most Japanese horror films usually appears to be out of their minds with fear.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Well….as you know I am a huge horror fan, and I can never get enough of them. I enjoy all types, from A-list horrors to sometimes hilariously B-type horrors, to shows such as The Walking Dead (which is still my number one favorite tv show ).
    But there will always be some movies that stand out and are a cut above the rest. I have seen all the movies you listed here except one (and that’s one I have been dying to see): It follows. For some reason that one never got released here, nor has it been brought out on dvd. I have heard some really good things about it, and just hope it will get a release here at some point.
    And oh wow: Martyrs….that was one heck of an intense and insane film. Truly one the horror movies that has left a real impact on me. Great list Pete! 😊😊

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I once tried communicating with Author, Steven King because I wanted to collaborate with him on a horror story about a bunch of nursing home patients who were being horrifically abused taking over the facility and dealing with their tormentors.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Then maybe I will take it on as a blog serial, John? I think it could be developed nicely. Let me know if you have a title in mind. πŸ™‚
          I would call it something like ‘Pleasant Acres’, the name of the rest home.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You have to be careful to make sure there is no such place as “Pleasant Acres.” I think a title like “Rest Home” would be sufficient — much the same as “Pet Cemetery” which is already in print. The idea was based on some of the things I witnessed when my friend’s 99 year old Mom was in such a place — There were lots of incidences of neglect — it became a scandal here where I live for a period of time a few years ago —I can contribute notes to your project if you should desire …

            Liked by 1 person

          2. One such note would be: “In the scene, there is one large, bulky, clumsy ox of a nursing attendant who has a habit of stealing the opioid medication prescribed for patients at the Rest Home and either selling them on the black market or using them to satisfy his own narcotic dependency. As hard as the Rest Home tries, they cannot seem to catch him (or her) in the act, but in the end (when the patients have conspired together to take control of the Rest Home into their own hands) the opioid thief is captured by the Rest Home residents, tied securely with strong bonds made from bed sheets and force-fed opioids until he expires … most grusomely — (That would be one such note I could contribute based on my experience with and suspicions of what happens in some of the worse of the Rest Homes.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. Good ideas, John. It will be from an English perspective of course. However, I have a lot of experience of life in elderly care homes, from when I was an EMT. I would use the opoids/pain-killer scenario for sure. πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You might want to include a scene where the kitchen staff of the rest home get their come-uppance for serving badly-cooked food (How about a roasted snake on a platter under a chromed lid) — (as an example) — and the rebelling patients corral the cooks and their helpers and force feed them the worst imaginable kind of garbage, to include animal droppings, rotted carcasses, etc., until they founder? Isn’t that a wonderfully gruesome idea?

            Liked by 1 person

          2. In the event you don’t care for the rotten snake under a chrome server lid, you might consider that the kitchen staff has secretly been using parts of the bodies of mysteriously deceased residents of the facility — (The cannibalism scenario) — LOL

            Liked by 1 person

  4. The only film you mention that I’ve seen (and a very long time ago) is “Nosferatu.”

    I guess “Elvira’s Haunted Hills” doesn’t qualify as the gut-wrenching, horror-inducing mother of all fright films?

    Perhaps the horror film most fun to watch is Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” (unrated director’s cut), starring Alison Lohman.

    However, my favorite film to watch at Halloween is “Sleepy Hollow” (Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Walken). Although it has its humorous moments, it also has genuinely scary ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to have a VHS of ‘Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark’. ( I had my reasons for that… πŸ™‚ )
      I avoid horror films with intentional humour as a rule, but ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is very well done indeed.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nosferatu is one of the best, and psychological horror films do it for me…. Don’t Look now ticked all the boxes when I first saw it, and the monochrome Les Diaboliques with Simone Signoret was good when seen in the old Curzon Mayfair with the 125s rumbling overhead!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Love the list Pete. I’ve seen them all except The Ring and Martyrs. I avoided The Ring–probably not my kind of horror–and have never heard of Martyrs–I’m going to look this one up. So glad to see When a Stranger Calls here. Nosferatu is an amazing film. So utterly creepy.
    To that list I would probably add: Peeping Tom, An American Werewolf in London and The Bride of Frankenstein.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Pam. ‘Peeping Tom’ is a long-time favourite of mine, and I featured it on my blog previously. I managed to frighten the wits out of my step-daughters, with the DVD of ‘When A Stranger Calls’. And any mention of “Have you checked the children” still gives them a shudder.
      I cannot recommend ‘Martyrs’ enough, but that comes with a warning. I only watched it once, and I am not too sure if I could sit through it again. That said, it is inventive, and simply amazing to behold.
      Make sure to check out the original subtitled film though. I can’t speak for the remake, which I refused to watch, but it had poor reviews.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No worries Pete. I always avoid the American remakes (usually American) of subtitled films like the plague. They are usually infuriatingly lame. That said, I liked remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–not as much as the original, which was wonderful, but I still liked it. A lot. I know you didn’t. Ha!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, John. I have long been recommending ‘When A Stranger Calls’ and ‘Martyrs’ to anyone and everyone. My small list here covers a few sub-genres, and I agree that they all work well.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well you know me and horror movies! The only one of these I’ve seen is The Blair Witch Project, which I found quite funny and not really scary at all. The only other horror film I’ve seen (and the reason I no longer do them!) is the original Halloween, possibly the first (not sure) slasher type horror, with Jamie Lee Curtis in her first film role, and the wonderful Donald Pleasance. The Mike Myers character was godawful scary to me, and the soundtrack did a number. After I’d seen it (at the pictures) I would sometimes here that theme tune played over a radio advert for the movie and would still get spooked. It deserves a mention in your post anyway!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The original Halloween is a classic, though perhaps not served well later, by the making of far too many sequels.
      I thought the final scene of The Blair Witch Project was genuinely unsettling, hence my inclusion of the film here. I guessed you wouldn’t be a fan of any of those on this list, FR. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.