How I Learned to Stop Being a Little Baby and Love Horror Movies
My top ten favourite films for SPOOKY SZN
I didn’t always like horror movies.
In fact, as a kid, I was terrified of simply the idea of Halloween. Like, terrified. I couldn’t even go down a Halloween aisle at a store without bursting into tears. I was (clearly) an anxious child. I didn’t like unexpected noises or being introduced to strangers or even petting dogs. What if it bit me? I didn’t want to get Cujo’d!
Growing up as a woman didn’t help either. Women are socialized to be afraid – of strangers, of nighttime – since the threat of violence looms more strongly. Why would I want to watch a horror movie where a woman gets assaulted and killed when that happens far too often in real life?
My perspective shifted slightly once I started dating a horror fan. It’s hard to be in a relationship with someone and not watch anything in their favourite genre. I dabbled with The Blair Witch Project and Us. Now those weren’t so bad, were they?
My appreciation for horror grew exponentially during the pandemic. I’d spent my life being afraid of everything that might kill me. Now that the threat was real and no longer in my head, ironically, I could relax a little. Michael Myers and Jason hardly seem scary when there’s a lethal virus ravaging the world forcing everyone to stay inside their homes to stay safe.
And so, where I was once a baby, I am now a fan. Not quite a connoisseur, but definitely a lover of films about all the things that go bump in the night. So without further ado, here are my top ten favourite horror movies of all time!
Please note: I am only counting movies that are considered “traditional” horror; for instance, Black Swan is terrifying, but it’s not a true “horror” movie to me. As well, my relatively newfound horror knowledge is quite limited to the Western canon.
10. Beetlejuice (Dir. Tim Burton, 1988)
Beetlejuice was the first scary movie I ever watched. I saw it far too young at my aunt’s house when I was only 4; Michael Keaton has literally haunted me ever since. Beetlejuice was the first horror villain I was truly afraid of, but there were other things in the movie – the shrunken heads, demonic possession, the sandworm – that absolutely scared the shit out of me.
Watching Beetlejuice as an adult, I’m obsessed with the campy costumes and set, as well as the absolutely dynamite performances from Catherine O’Hara and then-17-year-old Winona Ryder. Beetlejuice himself remains terrifying. (Stream it on Netflix)
9. Candyman (Dir. Bernard Rose, 1992)
Speaking of monsters whose names you shouldn’t repeat is the original Candyman. Somewhere between horror, fantasy and romance is this early ‘90s thriller that follows grad student Helen Lyle researching the urban legend of the “Candyman” in the Chicago public housing project Cabrini-Green. While doing research, she accidentally summons his spirit, who then possesses her, forcing her to kill residents of the neighbourhood.
The score, composed by Phillip Glass, is haunting, eerie, and completely perfect for the film. This is such a nuanced and bold movie thematically, with much to say about white privilege and subject versus object. Visually, it’s also stunning, with the last thirty minutes becoming completely surreal. (Stream it on Crave)
8. Child’s Play (Dir. Tom Holland, 1988)
Haunted Doll Watch! The movie that started the Chucky franchise, Child’s Play is the introduction to the possessed doll that tops them all. While later installments in the franchise go completely nu-metal frat-comedy (I’m looking at you, Bride of Chucky), Child’s Play is a genuinely creepy tale of a serial killer who summons himself into a doll and then gets taken in by a young boy named Andy.
Since the Chucky doll was a radio-controlled animatronic, the visual effects of it running around remain terrifying as opposed to silly, and having the young child as the protagonist is a super-smart play. (Not currently streaming, but available to rent on YouTube, AppleTV and Google Play Movies)
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Dir. Wes Craven, 1984)
“I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy!” The ‘80s were the heyday for slasher villains, with Freddy Krueger being the scariest of them all. A child murderer who was burned alive by parents in the neighbourhood, Krueger now comes after the children in their dreams.
It’s schlocky, it’s campy, and it’s genuinely scary, with some great special effects. Nightmare on Elm Street is a definite peak of the slasher genre. If you’re a Freddy fan, definitely make sure to listen to this great discussion of the film on the podcast You Are Good. (Stream it on Starz)
6. The Babadook (Dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014)
The Babadook is Australian director Jennifer Kent’s first feature, but there would be no way of knowing that based on the mastery of this terrifying-yet-grounded horror film. Six years after the death of her husband in a violent car crash, protagonist Ameila is left to parent their young son alone, a son who becomes convinced a monster called the Babadook is hiding in their house.
I love horror where the monsters are metaphors for emotions; in this case, the Babadook is a physical manifestation of Amelia’s grief and pain. If you enjoyed Hereditary, this has similar themes of family trauma. The Babadook himself is also, strangely enough, an LGBTQ+ icon. Slay, queen! (Literally). (Stream it on Prime and Starz)
5. Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele, 2017)
Get Out is one of the few true contemporary horror films I loved even when I wasn’t a big fan of the genre. It’s a masterful nod to the tropes of classic horror films and then expanding them past their limits, ultimately becoming a psychologically thrilling takedown of neoliberal white supremacy. The performances of the entire family are pitch-perfect, but it’s star Daniel Kaluuya’s role as their latest victim, Chris, that truly makes the film soar, as well as director Jordan Peele’s keen eye for detail.
Get Out is one of those films that’s even better on the rewatch, with small Easter eggs planted everywhere that you only notice after you’ve seen it before. I really liked Peele’s second film Us as well, but overall I think Get Out is his masterwork thus far. (Not currently streaming, but available to rent on YouTube, AppleTV and Google Play Movies)
4. Rosemary’s Baby (Dir. Roman Polanski, 1968)
Rosemary’s Baby is one of the most classic horror movies of all time and a film made even more disturbing by the truth of Roman Polanski’s life. The original novel was published by horror novelist Ira Levin, who also wrote The Stepford Wives, in 1967 and was optioned for a film before it was commercially released. The movie stars Mia Farrow and John Cassevetes as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, a young couple who move into a beautiful (and cursed) apartment in New York City.
When Rosemary becomes pregnant, what should be cause for celebration becomes the source of her constant dread and delusion. Thematically, Rosemary’s Baby is what I live for: monster as metaphor for patriarchy. The film is one of the most beautiful-looking I’ve ever seen, from the apartment’s interior design to Farrow’s iconic fashion and hairstyle. (Not currently streaming, but available to rent on YouTube, AppleTV and Google Play Movies)
3. Hereditary (Dir. Ari Aster, 2018)
Hereditary is one of those movies I heard so much talk about that even though I was terrified to watch it, I had to just suck it up and do it. Thank Satan I did! The terror in the film comes not so much from the genre elements as it does from the severe emotional pain of constant real-life tragedy. Hereditary asks: What if the worst real thing that could happen to your family did?
Just like The Babadook, the monster-in-the-closet is familial trauma and grief. Not only is Ari Aster’s filmmaking brilliant, but Toni Collette’s performance is her all-time best. The practical effects, while limited to the last act, make the ending disturbingly haunting long after the movie’s finished. While I loved Midsommar as well, I think Hereditary is overall the more frightening (and better) watch. (Stream it on Netflix)
2. Carrie (Dir. Brian De Palma, 1976)
Brian De Palma’s interpretation of Stephen King’s first novel is the defining version for me. The film stars Sissy Spacek as Carrie, a bullied high school outsider with telekinetic powers. After being asked to the prom by the popular crowd, the teen rite of passage goes awry for everyone who ever dared to mock her. Carrie is pure teen girl rage revenge, but it’s hard to not empathize with her, even as she destroys everything in her path.
Brian De Palma’s shooting style is pure ‘70s bliss; the colours of the film are vivid and beautiful to watch, particularly during the slow-motion prom sequence. Spacek’s performance is unnervingly on the nose as a grown-up Matilda done wrong. To paraphrase The Dark Knight, “Some girls just want to watch the world burn.” (Stream it on Shudder)
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974)
The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is only 83 minutes long, but those 83 minutes are some of the most unnerving and malevolent cinema I’ve ever experienced. Written and directed by Tobe Hooper, the film was made on a shoestring budget with a cast of unknown actors on a brutal shoot that injured virtually all of the cast. Following a group of teens over the course of one night, the group goes into the woods and stumbles upon Leatherface, a large man with a mask made of human skin, who kills his victims with a chainsaw before devouring their flesh to feed his family of cannibals.
The low-budget means the shooting and effects have a gritty and dangerous feel to them, while the unknown cast makes for an excellent stand-in for the viewer’s horror. While The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might seem like any other vintage slasher, the truth is that it’s a narrative composed out of one primal emotion – sheer terror –making it one of the ultimate in the genre. (Not currently streaming, but available to rent on YouTube, AppleTV and Google Play Movies)
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