There’s no doubt that I am a horror junkie. I love everything about the genre: the violence, the scares, the sex, the fact that 75% of the current horror releases are bad movies, and so on. I will always give any horror film a chance because you never quite know when you’ll find the next Sledgehammer, or The Chainsaw Sally Show.
Horror is unique in how difficult it can be to define, as my buddy pointed out in one of his wonderful 31 in 31 series (where he delivers video reviews of 31 horror films every day in October), which you should be watching right here. What scares one person might make another laugh, and what makes one laugh, might put another to sleep. That’s why it’s virtually impossible to try and create a list like “scariest horror movies ever”. Instead, in order to celebrate my favorite genre, and the best time of the year – Halloween – I have put together a list of ten horror films that made me a fan for life.
What’s great about this list is that it will unequivocally be unique to me. I wasn’t brought up with horror movies like some. My parents don’t watch many movies period, let alone any horror films. In fact, I’m honestly not sure why the horror genre intrigued me from such a young age, I just know it has. The horror section has always been where I spent most of my time at the movie store, and without the genre, there’s no chance I’d be writing about film today. I can’t help but wish I was around for the early ’80s, or old enough in the late ’80s to enjoy the VHS horror craze, and the bootlegging that came from necessity thanks to censorship laws. I’ve owned my fair share of VHS tapes, but I was definitely on the tail end of that craze.
That said, the world of the most disgusting and cruel-intentioned films have almost always been at my fingertips thanks to the internet and DVDs, and to see how the genre has progressed past anything that anyone would deem acceptable nowadays is insane. Twenty years ago The Evil Dead, like Mortal Kombat video games in the 1990s, were creating serial killers. Now, we have movies like A Serbian Film and The Life and Death of a Porno Gang making the Saw series of the 2000s look tame. How far will it go? What will the next craze be when the remakes start to slow down? Obviously I can’t answer those questions, but I am absolutely positive I will be sitting at my computer, reading about whatever horror film is the next “must see to believe” piece of entertainment.
I love the horror genre, and here are ten films that helped turn my interest into a lifelong passion (presented in alphabetical order):
The Blair Witch Project (1996, dir. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez)
It’s less the film itself, and more the hype surrounding it. I was a very impressionable 13 years old when this movie was being hyped on every news show and magazine in the country, and I bought in hook, line, and sinker. I still love the movie, but nothing will replace how scared I was before walking in to the theatre to see this with my friend and his mom.
Child’s Play (1988, dir. Tom Holland)
This will undoubtedly be the earliest film on the list because my love for horror started with the mid-90s slashers, and then eventually worked back to the ’80s, ’70, and earlier. That said, Child’s Play holds a special place in my heart as one of the earliest horror films I remember watching. I tell this story often, but I always remember visiting my local Blockbuster (when they were still around, selling VHS tapes) and renting this movie over and over again. I would watch this one, and then Child’s Play III over and over again, always hoping that the next time I went in, they’d finally have their copy of Child’s Play II back. Unfortunately that never happened, and it wouldn’t be until years later that I would see the sequel. Either way, this has helped give me a irrational fear of dolls, and I thank it for that.
Dawn of the Dead (2004, dir. Zack Snyder)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Dawn of the Dead (2004) is why I will always – always – give any remake its fair shake. Not only did this remake help make a horror fan for life, it also made a zombie fanatic for life. I love tales of the undead with all my being, and I have this remake to thank for that.
It should be noted, though, that as much as I love this remake, I adore the original even more, which I just watched in the past year. Romero’s Dawn is an absolute masterpiece, and probably the greatest zombie film ever made.
Halloween H2O: Twenty Years Later (1998, dir. Steve Miner)
When this came out in 1998 I had already been a fan of Michael Myers. He’d been scaring the hell out of me for years thanks to AMC always playing the Halloween marathons around the holiday. I would love to scare myself every night and try to fall asleep to these, which would mostly be the sequels. I honestly don’t know when I finally got around to watching the original, which is now one of my most admired horror films (for both the content, and the fact that Carpenter made it on such a small budget), but it was this one – Halloween H2O that really made its mark on me back in the late ’90s. To this day, whenever I hear the “Mr. Sandman” song, I get goosebumps. I remember feeling the need to own this movie on VHS, which was very uncommon for us back then. Michael rocks in this movie, and it’s still my favorite of the sequels.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997, dir. Jim Gillespie)
Though I wasn’t quite old enough to see Scream in theatres, apparently my parents felt that I matured a lot in between ’96 and ’97 because I vividly remember seeing this one in the theatre. I went with my mother’s friend, who I would go on to have lengthy discussions about virtually every major horror release for the next few years, and was blown away. This scared the hell out of me, and presented me with my first crush in the form of JLH (that’s Jennifer Love Hewitt for you Millennium babies). I ran to see the sequels right when they were released in the following years, and even though I now know that the Scream series is far superior, the I Know series will always hold a special place in my heart.
Ju-on: The Grudge (2002, dir. Takashi Shimizu)
This is a special entry because it opened up a whole new world of horror cinema for me. Thanks to an awesome rental deal I had at Blockbuster (and all the time I had on my hands back then), I would go to the store and rent a boatload of movies, then come back and watch them. I’d rinse and repeat all week long (couldn’t beat $0.99 rentals back then). I finally got it in my head that I needed to finally try one of these subtitled movies, and Ju-On was that inaugural film. This was unlike anything I’d seen from the States. I was literally scared to death in the middle of the day. The subtly and brilliance of the scares took the horror watching experience to a whole new level. I’ll never forget how this movie made me feel, and will always appreciate the fact that it is the film that introduced me to the horror of Asian cinema.
The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski)
I went to the movies a lot during my high school days (2000-2004), but there were only a couple of films that I went to see more than once in the theatre, and only one film that I literally skipped school to go see again (the only time I’d ever do that). Of course, The Ring is that film (the other film I saw multiple times was Signs). There is something about this film that just intoxicated me, and I had to watch it as much as possible. It was scary, beautifully shot, and simply effective. It showed me that horror movies can be as beautiful as they are haunting. The sequel set me up for one my biggest cinematic disappointments of all-time.
Saw (2004, dir. James Wan)
You know those movies that you wish you could go back and watch for the first time again? Saw is the epitome of that for me. I’ll never forget the first time I watched this film. The violence and special effects were at a level I’d never seen before, and the final reveal left me speechless. Saw taught me how disgustingly realistic horror movies could be, and I haven’t looked back since.
Scream (1996, dir. Wes Craven)
I was only ten when this one came out, and didn’t see it in theatres, but I have an even greater appreciation for this movie now that I’m older because I realize that this, along with I Know What You Did Last Summer, helped shape my obsession with all things slasher film. Though I didn’t understand most (any?) of the references when I first saw this movie (on VHS in my friend’s basement), I knew I loved it. Now that I am on the “in”, so to speak, it remains one of my favorite horror films of all-time, and one that helped cement my lifelong obsession.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003, dir. Marcus Nispel)
Not much matters more to a 17-year-old boy than sex, and Jessica Biel is the epitome of sexy in this movie. Not only is it incredibly bad ass in terms of the action and violence, it really opened up the world to me by introducing me to the classic (which I didn’t see until after this remake). Thanks to watching the original here, I went back and gained a whole new respect for older horror films, which is why this is on the list.
As you can tell, this list is heavy on films from the late ’90s and early 2000s. This makes sense because those were my most impressionable years (teenage years). It is also slasher crazy, which surely explains why that – along with zombie films – is my favorite sub-genre in the horror canon. But that’s me. What about you? What movies made you a lifelong fan of your favorite genre, be it horror, romantic comedy, musicals, or something else entirely? I’d love to hear from you and see what films made you the film fanatic you are today.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.