As Halloween is upon us, it’s time to prepare for blood, gore, and a few girlish screams as we count down the five greatest horror films of all time.
The multi-talented Steven Spielberg proves himself as a master of suspense. Jaws’ brilliance as a horror film comes from the fact that the shark (named Bruce) is rarely seen throughout the movie. Its presence instead is implied by the tantalising music of John Williams and a series of low-budget, yet ingenious effects. Unlike a flood of other successive horror films, Spielberg shows us that excessive blood or gore isn’t vital for a story to still be scary. Instead, he cleverly uses our own imaginations against us to create his most frightening film yet.
Trivia: The shark’s name may have been Bruce, but due to the complexity and defectiveness of the mechanical model Steven Spielberg also had another nickname for the monstrous fish – “the great white turd”.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The independently filmed Paranormal Activity shows us that horror films don’t need a lot of money or even more than one set to scare us out of our wits. Rather, its strength as a film, essentially about a haunted house, lies in a number of experiences and thoughts we all share: the vulnerability of sleep, the creaking of the house in the dead of night, and the ability of almost anything to look like a monster once the lights have been turned off. Director Oren Peli, whose own house is the set for the film, infuses simple scare tactics with a story so relatable that each coming night is accompanied with a deep sense of dread (whilst watching and for the next few weeks at home).
Trivia: Just like in The Blair Witch Project , the actors were never given scripts for the movie, rather just general topics to improvise with.
The Exorcist (1973)
Though it’s once remarkable special effects may fail to scare the modern day viewer, The Exorcist still stands as a ground-breaking movie in the horror genre. Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, the film consistently takes the audience out of their comfort zone, distorting the innocence of childhood and questioning the ability of good to override evil.
Trivia: Allegedly the film was cursed. The set was burnt down pre-production and following this numerous actors sustained injuries or illnesses (devil child Linda Blair irreparably damaged her spine when one of the harnesses used to suspend her in mid-air broke).
Evil Dead II (1987, pictured)
Sam Raimi, the pioneering director of the Evil Dead trilogy, fully embraces the comedic capabilities of his leading actor Bruce Campbell in the second of the series. Although 2004’s Shaun of the Dead strived to do so, no film following Evil Dead II has united horror and comedy in such a thoroughly entertaining yet terrifying manner.
Trivia: Sam Raimi’s younger brother Ted stars in the film as a possessed old woman severed into multiple pieces and then blown in to bits by Bruce Campbell. Groovy.
The Shining (1980)
Simply a masterpiece of the horror genre. Novelist Stephen King, who wrote the novel on which it was based, heavily criticised Stanley Kubrick’s adaption for ignoring the central theme of alcoholism and the dangers thereof. Yet Kubrick must be praised for sustaining a sense of unease throughout the entire film. Integral to this potency are the highly disturbing images of the twin sisters, the almost immediate peculiarity of Jack Nicholson’s character, and a series of clever camera sequences following the clairvoyant son and his blue and red tricycle around the hotel. Remarkably, The Shining‘s popularity has only grown over time, condemned initially as not frightening enough, and now revered as a universally acknowledged classic.
Trivia: Kubrick, whilst making the film, used to call Stephen King in the dead of night to ask him somewhat strange and personal questions like: “Do You Believe In God?” No wonder they didn’t get on.
Didn’t quite make the cut: 28 Days Later (2002), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Scream (1996), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Halloween (1978).