Horror remains a difficult genre to master. Often, it falls short of our expectations, running from the kitsch to the gratuitous in its dealings with the macabre. But something keeps bringing mainstream audiences back to the genre. In the words of master director Dario Argento, "Horror is like a serpent; always shedding its skin, always changing. And it will always come back. It can't be hidden away like the guilty secrets we try to keep in our subconscious." Here are some truly scary horror films. If you can get through these before the end of the month, you'll have officially won Halloween.
Session 9 follows an asbestos removal crew as they clean out The Danvers State Hospital, a hospital for the insane and mentally disturbed. The on-location shooting (the movie was actually shot within the walls of Danvers, rumored to have created the pre-frontal lobotomy) and the gritty look of digital cinematography makes this film surprisingly eerie. Whether it's alternate personalities or malignant spirits, some kind of evil inhabits the place and its inhabitants. We are left to decide what it might be.
This film is a slow-burner that tricks you for about half it's runtime. What starts as a simple story about a middle-aged widower (Aoyama) looking for new romance morphs, somewhere along the way, into a surrealist horror-noir filled with grotesque and bizarre imagery. The film builds to an infamous final sequence. Aoyama manages to start dating again after several years tending to his son as a single father, but the means by which he "auditions" for his new girlfriend are less than honest. As a result, he may have to pay a heavy price.
This may remain one of the bleakest on-screen depictions of fatherhood. Inspired by several troubled years Lynch spent in Philadelphia as a first-time dad, Eraserhead has all the pent up anxiety and fear of those emotions turned into a black-and-white nightmare. The great thing about the film is its ability to jump from comical to terrifying in a matter of seconds. Watch this film alone and with all the lights out and see how menacing the everyday objects in your own home can look with the right perspective.
Teeth tends to do more emotional damage to male viewers. The very idea of "Vagina Dentata" makes our whole bodies involuntarily tense up. It plays on some very common horror themes: sex and teenagers. However, the movie doesn't just give us the typical "horny teens get killed" scenario that's so easy to predict. It takes the particular quirks and darkness within those scenes and puts it under the microscope, giving us an exceptional film about sexual identity and revenge. Admittedly, it relies some on shock value.
Try watching this movie without your eyes watering. Dario Argento crafts one of his most viscerally intense films about Betty, a young opera singer, who is forced by a mysterious psychopath to have her eyes taped open while she watches each of her cast members get murdered. The motivations of the killer are unclear, and the haunted, theatrical venue in which most of the film takes place provides the perfect backdrop for Argento to let his garish death-scenes shine.
Bong Joon-Ho's film, The Host, uses a monster movie format to examine familial relationships. A middle-class family is torn to pieces over the supposed loss of their youngest, a girl named Hyun-seo, to the clutches of a strange monster. When they find out she might still be alive, they band together to find her again. This is one of those perfect films that finds the right balance between drama, comedy, and horror all while telling a chilling tale of a monster born of human negligence and malpractice. It should also be mentioned that the film is a biting satire on U.S. foreign relations.
Freaks is the oldie on this list. That doesn't make it any less scary. Tod Browning, the director, insisted on using actual sideshow performers and other individuals with physical deformities as cast members in the film. The story follows Cleopatra, the trapeze artist at a circus. She tries to take advantage of the good-hearted side-show midget Hans in an attempt to get her hands on his inheritance. The other "Freaks" at the circus catch wind of this plan and decide to enact revenge. This flick remains a progressive and terrifying piece of art to this day.
A married couple travels off to a cabin in the woods in order to grieve over the death of their young son. Little by little, insanity and dark forces from the woods worm their way into their lives. This movie attracted a lot of controversy when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 due to scenes of explicit violence and genital mutilation. There is something bleak and hateful yet beautiful about this movie. It's very compelling.
Monkey mutants, flesh-dissolving vomit, and a spectacular maggot birth all help put this film on the list. This is also paradoxically one of David Cronenberg's more emotionally touching and romantic movies. The Fly is a horror classic remake that is debatably better than the original and about 100 times as gory and shocking. Jeff Goldblum has never been more sympathetic and disgusting at the same time.
PTSD, an aggression-inducing drug known only as "The Ladder," Danny Aiello as a chiropractor, and shape-shifting demons inhabit the mind of a character named Jacob Singer as he desperately tries to make sense of his vivid hallucinations and crumbling sanity. Adrian Lyne followed up Fatal Attraction with a subdued and heartbreaking horror film starring Tim Robbins as a postman in trouble. Let the images hit you before you start asking questions.