Horror is a strange genre, and not an easy one to tackle. A horror film first and foremost must provoke the watcher to emotions, often negative. First and foremost this is fear, but also disgust, tension and harder to describe feelings like unease, or anxiety; the idea something is not right. A good horror film has something that gets under your skin and will not let you go to bed easily. Because of this the horror genre has to be visceral, and filmmakers have to get creative. Sight and sound must be used to create the above feelings, all while the audience is sitting safely in their seats.
George Méliès, something of a grandfather of all movies, already experimented with horror in the 19th century. Since then the genre had its ups and downs but proved its staying power with more than a century worth of titles, and horror has been enthusiastically adopted by a wide variety of cultures.
In this list the goal was to find classic films in a variety of horror-subgenres, years of release and produced in different countries, but above all films that have proved themselves over the years. Every time subgenre, time period and culture have different fears and anxieties that filmmakers can draw on to create their horrors. As it turns out the medium of film is well suited for instilling fear in people. Here are the greatest horror movie classics you’ve probably never seen.
10. The Brood (1979, David Cronenberg)
David Cronenberg might be one of the most infamous ‘masters of (venereal) horror’ but his early output is often sadly overlooked. ‘The Brood’ falls on the Cronenberg timeline between early cult-classic ‘Shivers, which is more iconic than it is watched, and ‘Scanners’. It is however a classic Cronenberg in the sense of emotions manifesting themselves physically. This connection between mind and physical matter, and the connection between flesh and inanimate matter, comes back in Cronenberg’s work again and again.
‘The Brood’ follows a man trying to reconnect to his wife who is institutionalised and following unconventional therapy by doctor Hal Raglan (a cold Oliver Reed). This therapy has some… interesting results leading to violent effects and is connected to a string of murders.
Cronenberg shoots the film in his characteristic clinically detached style and the eery score by Howard Shore and it all makes for a film experience that is still unsettling some four decades later.
9. Ravenous (1999, Antonia Bird)
The American trek westwards was not without its risks, as the infamous Donner Party can attest. The migrants became trapped in heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada and members reportedly resorted to cannibalism.
This grotesque episode seems to be an inspiration for Antonia Bird’s ‘Ravenous’, where, according to old native American legend, the eating of a man’s flesh gives the consumer the consumed man’s strength. Guy Pearce plays John Boyd, a decorated captain nonetheless sent to a remote 19th century military outpost. There he embarks on a rescue mission for a missing party.
‘Ravenous’ is an interesting film. It is simultaneously ridiculous and well crafted; tension build is nothing short of amazing, the characters and acting solid and it has an intense soundtrack made by Daman Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz). Add to that, that the location (snow-covered outpost in the mountains) is perfect for a horror film. Check it out.
8. Jacob’s Ladder (1990, Adrian Lyne)
The America-Vietnam war has been a thankful subject for filmmakers. The war plays an important part in the conscience of the American public and was instrumental in shaping the way American society saw its government nowadays. It has inspired many directors to make classic films, culminating in the maddening insanity of ‘Apocalypse Now’. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is a completely different take on the war; following a Vietnam vet (Tim Robbins) in a terrifying descent into madness and paranoia.
Director Adrian Lyne (‘Fatal Attraction’) expertly juggles reality, dreams, memories and delusions constantly shifting your expectation of where the film is going. It is more a psychological movie than straight up horror; but it has some of the most visceral and scary scenes put to film. The scene in the hospital and two well-crafted scares alone instil more fear than most horror films do in their entire run time. Therefore it earned its place on the list.
7. Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski)
‘Repulsion’ by Roman Polanski tells the story of Carol Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve) a quiet and sensitive young woman, whose mental state deteriorates more and more after being isolated in her apartment.
‘Repulsion’ is a film that works on the psychological level. That is one of the reasons that it still works today. Carol’s obsessive repulsion against men and sexuality permeates through the entire film; and remains a relevant topic following sexual traumas. Carol’s burglary and rape visions are still disturbing, and there is specifically one moment in this film that makes you jump out of your seat. Overall a strong psychological horror with staying power.
6. Santa Sangre (1989, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Alejandro Jodorowsky is best known for his surreal output with ‘El Topo’ and ‘The Holy Mountain’, however his more conventional (for Jodorowsky principles) horror film ‘Santa Sangre’ is somewhat under watched. ‘Santa Sangre’ follows Fenix who has to act as his mother’s arms (literally) and commit murders in her name.
‘Santa Sangre’ is about a parent completely controlling her son. In classical Jodorowsky-style this horror story becomes free of conventions and thus becomes completely unpredictable and unique. He does not shy violence to deliver his message, and ‘Santa Sangre’ has some of the most strange visual images put to screen. Watch it to take a dive in the deep, scary and strange mind of Jodorowsky.